The Local Spin
Another Disgrace: Democracy demands better from all of us.
Thursday, March 2, 2006
>> THE LOCAL SPIN
We should be ashamed. The combatants on either side of the local planning war are feeling either angry or elated right now. They should be feeling some shame.
The Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday night was a sad display. If politics is the art of compromise, there was no art in evidence at that meeting. Instead there was demagoguery and self-righteousness, cynicism and arrogance, and a lot of anger.
Nobody has a right to feel surprised by the outcome. And nobody has a right to feel proud or virtuous. Opponents of the general plan initiative won the battle, but they have no reason to believe this victory will prove decisive. If they believe, as they say, that they represent the will of the average citizen, they are kidding themselves.
Supporters of the growth-control initiative have already vowed a lawsuit—that’s an appropriate response which will do nothing to heal the rifts revealed at Tuesday’s meeting.
In fact, nobody in this fight seems to be interested in
healing any rifts, or in representing the will of the people.
That’s a shame.
There’s a lot of blame to go around, but the lion’s share belongs to the three supervisors who voted to block the initiative. This vote will be seen as a travesty of justice, for good reason. The facts show that their vote was an act of deplorable arrogance.
The general plan initiative qualified for the ballot fair and square. The petition to put it on the ballot was largely a referendum on the supervisors, who are seen as beholden to developers. The supervisors took it upon themselves to seek a legal reading of the initiative—nothing compelled them to do so. The law firm they chose to perform this task found evidence that the document might present legal challenges. And three supervisors used these hired lawyers’ opinions as a pretext to kill the initiative before voters could have their say.
However one judges the initiative, this is not good government. If our elected representatives feel any respect for opinions that dissent from their own, they show no such respect with this vote.
Supervisor Fernando Armenta should learn from the heated response he received to a comment he made before casting his vote to kill the initiative. Arguing that it is a mistake to put such issues up for popular vote, he said: “Democracy at what cost?”
Good question. Bad answer.
Armenta’s stated reasons for voting to spike the initiative were either principled or bogus, depending on one’s point of view. He said he believed the initiative would prevent the construction of housing for farmworkers. He indicated that he did not trust the initiative’s authors—citing an old battle over the Moro Cojo low-income housing development, which he supported and environmentalists opposed. And he said he believed people who signed the petition “were not fully informed about the complexities.”
Armenta was passionate in his opposition. He said his hostility to the initiative was based on the fact that it represented “classist oppression.” He gave voice to the opinion that so-called “smart growth” is really designed to prevent the construction of low-income housing for Latinos. The initiative would never have come forward, he implied, if his Spanish-speaking constituents knew what it meant.
During the public comment period Tuesday night, that idea was repeated many times. A crucial legal challenge to the initiative is based on the idea that it purposely excluded Latino voters (it was not circulated in Spanish), and therefore violates the Voting Rights Act. This position was supported by Salinas City Councilman Sergio Sanchez and others.
Carlos Ramos, the political consultant who is responsible for the Voting Rights Act lawsuit, repeated his claim, in angry tones, that signature gatherers deliberately excluded Latino voters—a claim which has no basis in fact. Union leader Ron Chesshire, in the evening’s most disgraceful display of demagoguery, belittled the “15,000 fools” who signed the “discriminatory” petition, and predicted thre would be “blood spilled.”
It’s easy for supporters of the general plan initiative to dismiss all of these arguments. They point out that Armenta gets most of his campaign money from developers. They believe he has sold out his constituents, and serves only the needs of his moneyed patrons—the big developers. They believe the same thing about supervisors Jerry Smith and Butch Lindley. This vote will deepen their harsh judgments of these men.
But the slow-growth advocates should not dismiss the plain fact that not one elected Latino leader has stepped forward to support their plan and they are seen as enemies by affordable housing advocates.
Neither side is willing to compromise or work together. The system is broken and no one seems to have any interest in fixing it.