As Apple executives appeared before the Cupertino City Council Tuesday night for final approval to plop its proposed spaceship-shaped headquarters into the leafy bowels of this Silicon Valley town of 60,000, many observers figured the hearing would be perfunctory and that the approval would be unanimous.
They were right. And they were right.
Except for a curious hiccup at the very end of the nearly 7-hour session, which we’ll get to in a bit, the project sailed through with the warm embrace of Mayor Orrin Mahoney and his three fellow council members. A fourth had recused himself because his wife works for Apple, which is not surprising in a company town where the Apple logo grows more profusely than the fruit orchards that once graced this land.
But the hearty bear hug for what might be considered Steve Jobs’ last and certainly largest product launch of all time came after a very, very long evening that was part circus, part Fellini, and even a small part tearjerker thanks to the emotionally-charged, heartstring-tugger of a marketing video that Apple used to soften up the council and audience before the Big Vote.
For what felt like endless days in a desert of small-town bureaucracy, I sat, two rows behind Dan Whisenhunt, Apple’ s handsome leading man this evening and point person for its multibillion-dollar eco-friendly extravaganza. Unfortunately, I also sat in close proximity to a grouchy old guy who had plenty of nasty things to say about my newspaper, some of which he shared with the entire room when he got up to applaud the Apple campus.
After a few minutes of housekeeping, the council members and Apple dove in to their steaming hot tub of mutual flattery. Apple, which had packed the room with its employees along with assorted supporters. They included everyone from the local sheriff to the gal running a little coffee shop in the neighborhood who told the council how much she loved getting Apple engineers wired on her brew, to the town postmaster, who called Apple her biggest and best customer and one whose presence in Cupertino had essentially prevented her postal outpost from going under during budget cuts, giving a whole new meaning to “going postal.”
Much of the evening was devoted to the three-minute paeans to Apple and its project from their adoring fans, many of whom held professionally-produced signs showing support for the campus. Much of the evening was simultaneously hijacked by council member Barry Chang, who felt impelled to ask nearly every single last speaker some sort of little question once they’d made their pitch. Some of the questions kinda made sense. Many of them, though, came out of left field, much to the obvious discomfort of Chang”s colleagues on the dais.
Chang was unstoppable. He didn’t seem to understand that the crowd, as much as they loved Apple, just wanted the damn project approved so they all go home to watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey with their loved ones. Over and over again, the attention-loving Chang fired off his irrelevant questions at the helpless speakers who simply wanted to go back to their seats: Do you own Apple stock? Do you make money at your business? Can you help us bring BART to the South Bay?
On and on the evening dragged. One speaker raved about how much birds were going to love all the trees Apple plans to plant around its spaceship. Another brought her service dog, who sat and looked warily at a guy in a dark suit in the front row while the guy looked warily back at the dog. Neither, ultimately, was bitten.
What WAS bitten, however, were the plates of chocolate and oatmeal cookies that Apple has placed on tables out front, along with pots of coffee and tea to wash them down Oh, and each member of the audience, supporter or not, also received a small rectangular cookie, wrapped in in a plastic bag, tied with a little bow, and embossed with an edible image of the spaceship-to-be.
Finally, around 11 p.m., it was time to vote. But as the council went through readings of several ordinances up for consideration, there arose a slight snafu. Actually, it was a million-dollar snafu.
Things got murky. But apparently, the city wanted Apple on the hook to do something about possible congestion around a large freeway entrance once the project was underway. Up to this point, the evening has been a love fest. But suddenly, Whisenhunt had jumped to his feet, protesting strongly against any attempt to saddle Apple with cleaning up traffic congestion that its building may not have even caused.
Whisenhunt had a good point. As he put it:
There’s no clear impact on the Wolfe Road interchange caused by our project, and it’s important for everyone to understand that. That’s a very speculative solution to something that hasn’t happened yet. And that’s not the way Apple does things. Jumping to a conclusion that we need to improve that interchange is not something we would do.
The council members and staff seemed taken aback. OMG, would Apple pull the string on the project over this? Mayor Mahoney suggested a time-out, and Apple’s legal beagles headed outside and went to work.
Nearly an hour later, the Apple crew returned, the council members retook their seats, and Whisenhunt approached the podium. Apple would agree to pay $1 million to fund a transportation study. But beyond that, nothing would be set in stone.
After the new hastily-composed “text revision” to the motion was read aloud, nearly putting the already sleepy crowd to sleep with a velvet hammer of legalese, Mahoney grinned and said to Whisenhunt: “No wonder it took you an hour.”
The crowd laughed. Council member Mark Santoro asked Whisenhunt: “So if there’s a problem with traffic flow, Apple is committed to fixing it. Right?
Yes, said Apple’s rep.
And with the ensuing and unanimous vote to bring Apple’s spaceship down to Earth, that was that.