It has always boggled the mind that the Galactic Empire could secretly develop massive, planet-destroying projects without generating a paper trail as long and uncontrollable as the Hoth asteroid belt. The payroll, the vendor invoices, the endless email threads debating what color of kyber crystal to use in the superlaser: you can’t cut through red tape with a lightsaber without creating more red tape.
In government, even something as mundane as renaming a street after a local hero will generate 150 of pages of paperwork. I know, because I recently filed a request under the California Public Records Act with the City of San Diego for all documents related to the renaming of a residential street after Mark Hamill. The whole process, it turns out, took over seven months, and the ceremony took place on July 30, 2017.
We received email chains, permit applications, cost estimates, and even Twitter direct messages between an elected official and Hamill himself. The paper trail revealed a six-month Jedi’s quest into the depths of bureaucracy, politics and budget priorities, presented below.
Zero Bothans died to bring us this information.
January 12, 2017 "This all started with the Chargers opting to move to L.A.," a city staffer would later write.
The origin of the idea of naming a road after Mark Hamill did not originate with enthusiastic Star Wars devotees but angry football fans. After years of threatening to leave San Diego unless taxpayers threw millions in subsidies their way, the San Diego Chargers announced they were moving to Los Angeles. That same day, residents living along "Charger Blvd." contacted their city council member, Chris Cate, to float the idea of renaming the street. Hamill, who had gone to high school in the area, was recommended by a 79-year-old resident.
February 9-13, 2017 The political intrigue begins as the community learns there that the city can fast track the approval if all 11 neighbors living on Charger Blvd. agree to the rename. Beyond the resident approval, the city will also require a vote by a local community board (i.e.) the Clairemont Town Council) and a full city council vote.
The Town Council agrees to take up the issue, suggesting that it would split the $3,500 cost with the neighborhood’s Chamber of Commerce and the 501st Legion cosplay fan/group.
March 20, 2017 The cost estimate for the project -- which would include 10 new street signs -- climbs to $5,360.
March 27, 2017 The plan starts to crumble. As one city staffer explained:
"[T]he petition signing didn't really go that well for Chuck. He recently celebrated his 79th birthday and while he said he spoke with some residents who seemed to be in favor for the name change, when it came time to have them sign, his health issue and the fact he lost the petition paperwork provided him, he was unable to lead the effort. With Charger being only 11 houses, I decided to help Chuck with his effort. I ran into the issue of some folks not being home/not answering the door, some folks who supported the name change but were renters so couldn't sign, and some folks who didn't want to go through the ordeal of changing their address and everything that entails."
To have a street named after a person, the city required a petition with at least 25 percent of the residents' signatures. In this case, that would be three people. With only two signatures, a plan B begins to germinate: how about changing the name of Castleton Drive, a smaller street where Hamill actually once lived.
March 30, 2017 The renaming of Charger Blvd. officially dies when the Clairemont Town Council refuses to sign a letter of support. It would cost too much and the signatures on the petition were "limited." Plan B is left an open question.
April 11, 2017 City staff discover that council member Cate can pay for the whole renaming from a slush fund reserved for one-off community projects. "Yes, I'm surprised this was okay per our policy," the council member’s chief of staff wrote in an email.
April 18, 2017 With a funding mechanism in place, the City Council Member's team renews the push with a vengeance. The new plan: rededicate Castleton Drive as Mark Hamill Drive through a newly created "honorary" street-naming process. No one would have to change their addresses, and the process would be a cake walk.
April 28, 2017 The Clairemont Town Council gives the thumbs up, not only acknowledging Hamill’s Star Wars career but explicitly calling out his work voicing The Joker and his philanthropy supporting at-risk youth. The council leaders sign off their formal letter to the city council member with "May the Force Be With You."
May 18, 2017 The transportation and stormwater department is pulled into the effort: nothing can proceed without their approval on the E1472 interdepartmental review form. That costs another two weeks of red tape.
June 20, 2017 The San Diego City Council unanimously approves the street name change, a small victory for bipartisanship.
June 21, 2017 Councilmember Cate notifies Mark Hamill of the good news via Twitter direct message. Hamill is charmed, but skeptical of the government, saying:
“There's a very special place in my heart for San Diego & the idea that this idea is even a possibility is an honor indeed. Please let me know if it becomes a reality as it would be awkward to celebrate prematurely in the event doesn't happen.”
Later that day, as the news begins to sink in, Hamill is overcome with joy:
“I am still in a state of disbelief that this is actually happening, but coming from you, I'll take it as positive confirmation it is. I'm humbled so touched by the kindness of the people from my old neighborhood in Clairemont who approved of it made it happen, yourself included. I've always loved San Diego lived some of the happiest years of my life there. To have so their support means the world to me.”
The first two offered dates conflict with Hamill’s commitment to attend D23 (a Disney fan conference), so they settle on July 30.
June 26 - July 11, 2017 The costs begin to crystallize: $825.47 for the new street sign package. $944 for two police officers and two traffic controllers for crowd control. $960 to build the stage and platforms.
June 30, 2017 Hamill’s wife, Marilou, begins handling logistics. She asks for a police escort to help fend off the aggressive autograph dealers. She tells a story about navigating the airport in Orlando:
“[Even] with 5 policemen walking us to the gate, the dealers were pushing and shoving and the police had to ask one guy to back away twice. They pushed me and stepped on our daughter’s dog. They are totally out of control.”
Consequently, Marilou said no autographs would be given at the event, although staff could get selfies.July 27, 2017 Council member Cate formally announces the renaming on Facebook, triggering a small critical backlash. One constituent complains that the renaming should be held on 'May the Fourth.' Another attacks the council member for wasting time and resources that would be better spent tackling gang crime.
Meanwhile, the local chapter of the 501st Legion offers to bring 90 members in Stormtrooper cosplay to the event. 'Dude Vader,' a local steampunk Darth Vader cosplayer, also want to join the event. They each receive boilerplate saying there wouldn't be a "formal role for any Star Wars themed participation," but they should feel free to turn out to support the actor. The 501st interpreted that as discouragement and would instead tell its members to come merely as fans and post questions to #AskMarkHamill Twitter hashtag.
July 30, 2017 The event goes according to plan, with a system of color bracelets allowing Hamill and his guests to smoothly enter and leave the event. Some visitors complain that Hamill gave out autographs after the official announcement clearly said he wouldn’t. Many of the Star Wars cosplayers attended despite the light discouragement from the city, including Dude Vader, a Sandperson, an X-Wing pilot, and a Luke and Obi Wan couple.
July 31, 2017 The city realizes that someone forgot to pick up half the signs. They'll have to complete the job at some other time. No sequel is mentioned.