Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | February 9, 2004

Math institute forgot importance of the order of operations

Early last semester, my seventh-grade son studied the order of operations in mathematics. He learned that math equations are read left to right, and that he needs to solve parentheses first, then exponents, then multiplication, division, addition, subraction and finally, fraction bars.

His teacher taught him a fun mnemonic: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally For Burping – perfect for appealing to middle schoolers.

My son knows that if you do the mathematical operations correctly but in the wrong order, you’ll get the wrong answer.

Unfortunately, it seems officials at the American Institute of Mathematics have forgotten the order of operations, or perhaps believe it doesn’t apply to their dealings with the City of Morgan Hill.

But it does, and it should. The fact that they’ve done so many things out of order when it comes to their private golf course on Foothill Avenue near San Martin is why they’ve had problems with the city, environmentalists and their neighbors for years.

In case your memory has faded on AIM’s long, sad tale of development woe, here’s a refresher course.

The story dates back to at least to 1998, when John Fry – of Fry’s Electronics fame – decided that the former Flying Lady Restaurant and its nine-hole golf course would make a fine home for his pet project, the American Institute of Mathematics.

AIM got permission to improve the existing 40-acre golf course, but apparently got confused on the order of operations and bulldozed, graded, sodded and sandtrapped a more-than-100-acre, 18-hole golf course on the site, which may have been home to rare or endangered plants and animals.

That’s why the right way to do things – under CEQA, California’s environmental law – would have been to prepare an environmental impact report before doing any work outside the scope of the original permit. That way, any potential problems could have been identified before any damage was done.

But, AIM did things out of order and now is trying to piece together an after-the-fact EIR. Problem is, we don’t know what flora and fauna flourished near the Flying Lady before AIM’s bulldozers tore at the earth, and therefore, we don’t know what has been lost.

Because the order of operations wasn’t followed, we will never have an accurate answer.

According to reporter Carol Holzgrafe’s recent story, at last week’s Morgan Hill City Council workshop to review the project’s out-of-order draft EIR, AIM officials and their buddies kept telling City Council members what a fine addition the Institute will be for Morgan Hill. The Institute’s backers even brought a stack of letters from places as far-flung as Oxford University to sing its praises.

Several Councilmembers aknowledged AIM’s desirability, but rightly noted that the pats on the back were beside the point. The point was to try to make whatever sense can be made of an after-the-fact review of the environmental impacts of the Institute’s golf course.

So why did AIM spend so much the workshop bragging on itself, and having others do the same, during a meeting held to review its draft EIR? Could the plaudits have been a veiled threat? Perhaps the accolades contained a warning that if the city doesn’t shut up already about the environmental worries that Morgan Hill might not be graced with AIM’s presence.

I certainly hope not – and if it was, I trust Morgan Hill officials won’t cave under the pressure.

City officials heard from neighbors whose once-lovely view of the nearby foothills are now obscured by a soldier-straight row of cypress trees. The trees were apparently planted very tightly on a raised berm. The cypresses will quickly grow to obliterate the neighbors’ views. There’s one environmental impact we can be sure the project has had, no matter how badly AIM screwed up their order of operations.

Other neighbors told of increased flooding and nitrate levels since the golf course was installed.

It’s too bad the mathematicians didn’t apply the order of operations to its civic life – this entire, multi-year, contentious mess might have been avoided.

But they didn’t, and in the end, I have to concur with Brian Schmidt of the Committee for Green Foothills: “(AIM) destroyed the area first and then did the analysis. The burden of uncertainty should be borne by the applicant who destroyed the evidence.”

Just like my middle-school son bears the bad grade if he neglects the order of operations in his seventh-grade math homework.



  1. […] the history of the golf course, as I recapped it in a February 2004 column criticizing AIM: “The story dates back to at least to 1998, when John Fry … decided that […]

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