It''s a time-honored response to exclusion: play your own game on your own terms. In early April, following three dramatic public forums on the rising cost of housing, the Mayors'' Association formed a committee to find short-term solutions to the mounting crisis. Originally intended to encompass mayors of several cities, planners and county supervisors, the roster soon expanded to include not just environmental concerns and the League of Women Voters, but builders, Realtors and apartment owners--everyone, it seemed, but tenants and struggling workers.

"We saw that the mayors'' ad hoc committee wasn''t really a representative group," says Bill Meléndez of the League of United Latin American Countries (LULAC). "I thought it would be helpful to bring people together to discuss the needs of minority communities."

Meléndez, who is also a member of the Coalition of Minority Organizations, found sympathetic parties in various groups who didn''t see themselves represented on the mayors'' committee: local unions, the Pacific Grove Teachers Association, the Buena Vista Land Company Tenants Association, the Monterey County Interfaith Council on Social and Economic Justice, and the Fort Ord Environmental Justice Network. The fledgling coalition, operating under the aegis of the Coalition of Minority Organizations, held its first meeting on April 18 and its second on April 24 at the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union''s Pacific Grove headquarters.

The emerging agenda, says Mark Weller, a researcher for the hotel workers union, is a three-pronged approach designed to protect "essential workers"--the teachers, firefighters, government employees, agriculture laborers and hospitality workers who form the backbone of the community. The strategy is to raise wages, control housing costs, and establish permanently affordable housing that cannot be resold at market value.

"I say it''s gotta be a mantra for us," says Meléndez, who is chairing the committee, "a living wage and permanently affordable housing for essential workers."

A living wage campaign for Monterey County is in the infant stage, and the hotel workers union is interested in launching a labor peace campaign that would guarantee workers the right to unionize in exchange for forfeiting the right to strike. Controlling housing costs could possibly take the form of rent increase guidelines for landlords that, unlike those proposed earlier this week (see News Briefs, page 7), would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. That''s a measure that Sam Lipsky, who represents tenants of the Buena Vista Land Company, has been advocating since his landlord raised his rent $200 last November. (The landlord later reduced it to $125.)

"This is Monterey''s dirty little secret, that two thirds of its people don''t own homes," Lipsky says. "You know that book The Other America? Well, there''s The Other Monterey, which isn''t all about the AT&T and Pebble Beach. That''s who we''re trying to get together."

Linda Goulet, who serves as president of the Pacific Grove Teachers Association, is worried that her school district will encounter a crisis in a few years when a number of the older faculty members retire. It''s her hope, she says, that when it comes time for the coalition to make its recommendations to the mayors and county supervisors--who could well view the coalition''s very existence as an affront--everyone will work together in the spirit of progress.

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"There really isn''t any place for ego in all this," she says. "My hope would be that anyone on the mayors'' committee would not be put off by anyone trying to help."

Furthermore, says Goulet, speaking now as an individual and not as a representative of the teachers, the cost of living problem has become so severe that it can''t be ignored--nor should it be.

"For me, there should be a limit on the profit you can make in some areas, and that''s having shelter and health care and food on your table. I know that makes some people nervous, but there''s got to be a place where those things are taken care of."

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