I got a phone call last month from a reader who wanted to talk to me about the general plan vote and a piece I’d written about it in this space. The column that inspired his call was ultimately an endorsement of Measure A, but it contained some deep criticisms of the plan that the initiative would have put in place. In fact the piece knocked everyone involved on both sides of the debate— and he seemed to like that.
He told me he was 72 years old, a third-generation farmer and rancher whose family had run a place in Carmel Valley— he’d relocated the operation to South County long ago. I don’t want to share his name here because this wasn’t an on-the-record interview — we were just talking.
I believed him when he told me he’d never called a newspaper editor before, but that this campaign had riled him enough to want to complain to someone who might listen. “It’s all obfuscation and misinformation,” he said— I remember that because it had a nice ring to it. My column had come to the same conclusion, but his analysis possessed brevity and poetry.
There was one thing about the piece that he took issue with: If both plans are flawed, then why not reject them all? “Why not just vote no on everything?”
The agricultural landscape used to look different— farms were small, and there was a house on every one.
Before I could respond, he took me off the hook— he had the paper right in front of him and he conceded that the last paragraph explained my reasoning. I restated my belief that we needed to take land-use politics away from the politicians, even if that meant passing a problematic law, and he listened politely, but I don’t think I convinced him.
As I write this late Tuesday night, it appears that most people were not convinced that the general plan mess demanded the intervention of a radical proposal like Measure A. Or maybe they were. That is, they were convinced enough to give the County Supervisors’ plan (Measure C) a thumbs down, but not enough to pass the General Plan Initiative.
The big head-scratcher, of course, is that the same voters who rejected the supes’ plan also rejected Measure B, which would have repealed the supes’ plan. That makes no sense at all. Of course, it was a bonehead move to put those two measures on the same ballot in the first place, unless the whole point was to confuse voters. Hey, what a minute…
Obfuscation and misinformation. Works every time. Or maybe it doesn’t.
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There was a big John Deere parked near downtown Monterey today, plastered with No on A signs. It was a smart play, if predictable— the campaign’s hired strategists spent a lot of money to convince voters that the citizens’ initiative was fundamentally an attack against farmers.
That’s a good strategy because all Americans like farmers. It’s a part of our national character. Thomas Jefferson believed that farmers represent the backbone of democracy.
In 1785, he said as much in a letter to his friend John Jay: “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”
That’s a wise statement, and certainly true, but I don’t believe Measure A would have done much to hurt the kind of farmers Jefferson was talking about. In Jefferson’s time, farmers made up a large percentage of the American population. The agricultural landscape used to look a lot different than it does now— farms were a lot smaller, and there was a house on every one.
In the Salinas Valley today, a person can drive past cultivated fields for miles and not see one home. A lot of those fields are owned by big companies that would love to put a bunch of houses there— but not for any motive Tom Jefferson would call virtuous. Some of Measure A’s most powerful opponents are acting less like farmers and more like big landowners. They’d like to get out of farming and into some residential real estate.
Measure A would have protected the fields of Salinas Valley from sprawl, but it’s a fact that it also would have hurt some smaller farmers, people with virtuous intentions— people like the guy who called me last month. That man would love to protect the integrity of the place his family has loved for generations. But he and some of his neighbors would like to build some places on their property for their kids.
That man didn’t like either plan, so he voted no. No, no, no, no. He wants something better. He wants to see a compromise. So do a lot of other people. Despite the confusion surrounding the election results, that should be clear to everyone who brought us to where we are today. I wonder if they will get the message.