The Few, The Proud
Thursday, April 12, 2001
Squid had a vision the other day of a small boy wearing a beanie and short pants, standing guard at the door of a treehouse. Oddly, the kid is bald under his cap except for some white hair around the edges.
"Sorry--all full!" he hollers merrily down to some other kids. "No one else can fit up here!" The other kids grumble, pick up their Tonka trucks and Slinkys and trudge away. Inside the treehouse, the rest of the Tree House Gang giggles.
No mystery where this hallucination came from. Monterey Mayor Dan Albert and the rest of the City Council are racking up a reputation for playing poorly with others, especially when the "others" are political outsiders with potentially kooky new ideas.
In one recent instance of exclusionary behavior, Albert organized the ad hoc committee addressing housing issues throughout the county and forgot to invite any tenants'' groups to the decision-making fun. At the behest of other mayors, however, Albert did reserve party hats for businesspeople.
Of course, there aren''t any tenants groups here--but there are unions who represent large numbers of tenants. At the committee''s first meeting on Friday, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union petitioned to be allowed to sit on the 26-member committee to look out for the area''s 18,000 hospitality workers. But alas, they were told, all the Realtors, apartment owners, mayors, planners and builders took up all the seats. It just wouldn''t be feasible, said Albert, to have everybody participate.
And now for Chapter Two. In preparation for the city''s upcoming general plan update hullabaloo, the free-thinking Monterey Planning Commission sought to bring all sides to the table by forming a committee dominated by political outsiders representing a wide array of interests. The commission envisioned membership including representatives from the Sierra Club, the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, and the League of Women Voters, as well as business types and at least one residential renter. Born of a truly democratic spirit, the idea was to empower citizens who don''t normally have any decision-making power when it comes to city goings-on.
The Planning Commission''s enlightened concept was such a no-brainer that, at the March 20 City Council meeting, both business folk and environmentalists urged the Monterey City Council to accept the Planning Commission''s recommendation for broad participation.
But such a populist process wasn''t a hit with the council, which wasted no time ripping apart the progressive plan.
Councilmember Don Edgren was first out of the cage, eagerly offering his suggestion of appointing sitting members of the city''s various commissions to the committee. Makes sense to Squid. Since those commissioners serve under the thumb of the council, the council could better control the process.
In the end, the council let the Planning Commission keep their committee members, but diluted the peripherally empowering experience by adding eight of their own hand-picked toadies from various city commissions--folks who work at the pleasure of the council and who already have a say in city decisions. Then the councilmembers appointed their own subcommittee to "review the nomination list" of potential general plan committee members and made sure to give themselves the final decision on who gets to sit on the committee.
But fret not, citizens. The councilmembers assured the audience that all are welcome to come watch the committee while they work.
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