Yes on Measure A
Why I am voting for GPI—though I don’t love it.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
In this line of work, a person tends to lose a lot of romantic notions. Many reporters come to the newspaper business with a passion to expose the dark deeds of villains and to cast a bright light on unheralded heroes. Eventually they figure out that both heroism and villainy are quite rare.
Journalists learn to be skeptical pretty fast, and if they’re any good, that skepticism deepens into a stoic understanding that we do not live in a black-and-white world. Reporting about politics, in particular, requires an ability to see things in shades of gray.
Political reporters soon learn that the good guys will too-often spin the facts of a story to benefit their noble cause, and can be just as petty as anyone else. They also might discover that some bad guy is in fact a decent human being, with honorable intentions, perhaps even right about some things.
People who are engaged in a serious political battle do not generally listen to each other, but reporters and editors have to listen to them all. At this newspaper, as at most newspapers, we make it a point to talk to folks on both sides of our community’s most divisive issues. They all want us to recognize the halos hovering over their own heads, and to see their opponents as the spawn of Satan. And yet we do not find ourselves interviewing many saints or demons.
I’ve been doing this work for more than 20 years, and I have seen very few stories that involved the battle between good and evil. Politics is complicated, and the truth is often somewhere in between. That piece of wisdom is only mildly profound and not very exciting, and it makes my job harder. Oddly, the center is a risky place to take a radical stand. Everyone on both sides ends up pissed off.
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The land-use fight that comes to a head with the Measure A/GPU4/Butterfly Village vote next month forces voters to choose between two deeply flawed plans for the future. One plan, however, is clearly worse than the other.
The General Plan Initiative, Measure A, came about as a reaction to a failed process—a six-year debacle well-documented in these pages over those years (and again this week). At its heart, GPI is a forward-thinking document that embodies the principles of good land-use planning. Unfortunately, the authors of this plan, in their sincere and justified frustration, discarded many of the compromises that would make it a more workable blueprint for the county’s future.
GPU4, Measure C, was passed by the supervisors after anti-sprawl activists had deserted the General Plan process. The supervisors’ proposal has been embraced by local businesses, and has also attracted support from some progressive voices, including Latino leaders concerned with affordable housing. Nevertheless, GPU4 is by far the more dangerous of the two plans.
There are devils in the details, but the most profound problem with GPU4 is that it does not guide growth in any significant way whatsoever. It is a planning document designed to satisfy people who oppose the very idea of government planning.
As everyone already knows, this issue has polarized our community. We have all watched—or looked away—as the debate has devolved into a barrage of ugly attacks and outright lies.
Members of each camp take turns painting their opponents as despicable villains. Measure A’s supporters see all of their opponents as greed-heads or sellouts. In response, the anti-sprawl activists have been called elitists, even racists. The actual content of each plan is misrepresented in a way that derails any honest discussion.
Over the course of this sad dispute, I have met and spoken to many people on both sides of the issue. It’s my judgment that most of them believe they are doing what’s right.
Many farmers and landowners really do want their kids to be able to build homes on their land. Business leaders want to see the economy thrive, and do not want to see the Salinas Valley turn into San Jose. Latino elected officials want houses that working people can afford. LandWatch and its anti-sprawl allies simply want to protect the place we all love.
I also believe that neither the citizens’ initiative nor GPU4 will ultimately become the law of the land. Whichever plan wins, this issue will end up in court. Still, it’s a crucial vote, and we will be much better off if Measure A passes.
It is a plain fact that not everyone involved in this battle has altruistic motives. Without a General Plan that has teeth, Monterey County will be ripe pickings for big-money developers who would not hesitate to turn the Salinas Valley into an unrecognizable mass of subdivisions.
The General Plan Initiative, for all its flaws, can prevent that. I am going to vote for it, and hope that its passage will encourage these political enemies to start talking to each other again.