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Rage has become the default position in Pacific Grove’s public discourse.

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In America’s Last Hometown, there is only so much tolerance for ideas that challenge the “hometown” mold. Cannabis dispensary? Six years after California legalized recreational cannabis, Pacific Grove voters will weigh in this November. Dry town? It was not until 1969 that P.G. even allowed alcohol to be sold.

There’s a certain charm that comes from clinging to the old ways, and P.G. is indeed charming. But there’s a fine line between charm and hostility to new ideas.

Propose a skatepark, for example, and you may provoke vitriol. That’s exactly what has emerged between proponents of a skatepark and neighbors of George Washington Park who don’t want it sited there.

Skatepark supporters set up a table at the P.G. farmers market for the past two weeks, giving out information and answering questions about things like design and budget. “It’s simple, but it’s been really effective,” says Emily Haselbauer of the tabling effort. “For the most part, we’ve gotten great feedback.”

Their first night tabling, on Sept. 19, Haselbauer was with her two skateboarder sons, ages 9 and 11, and her husband, John Haselbauer. A neighbor opposed to the park approached John, and spewed an angry, profanity-laden rant. It ended with a threat of physical violence, but the man then walked away. (Everyone’s Harvest, the market host, offered to ban him from the market but the Haselbauers declined.)

Two days later, John Haselbauer attended a meeting P.G. City Council to speak in support of the park concept – noting that the location remains TBD – and to share what had happened.

“We will not tolerate this behavior or belligerence towards our children. P.G. is better than this,” he said. “Over my life, and the 60 different skate parks I have visited, I have never once experienced bigotry, racism or hatred like I did at our own farmers market in Pacific Grove.

“I know more than ever that Pacific Grove needs a park that celebrates our youth, our diversity and inclusion.”

The point is especially well taken because P.G.’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force, formed in 2021, is under fire. Haselbauer spoke just after another man, who was so intense in his nastiness toward a DEI Task Force member (and City Council candidate) that the mayor intervened.

“I want to congratulate you on coming up with another useless committee,” the speaker told council. “It was supposed to be woke but now you’re a joke.”

Specifically, the man was there to ask for the resignation of Tina Rau, whose two-month old tweet had just been aired out in local media. “Buy a Bible, don’t read it, and you’ll be a Catholic,” Rau tweeted on Aug. 7. “Buy a Bible, read only what suits you and you will be an Evangelical.”

Rau’s tweet that day, a fiery reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, was hurtful. She plans to publicly apologize at the next DEI Task Force meeting, on Oct. 10.

“I am sorry. I do believe in someone’s right to practice whatever religion they want,” Rau says. “I am going to take this as a learning moment. All I can do is move forward and be better.”

Humility aside, the tweet has prompted questions about the DEI Task Force, some more vehement than others.

One such call is coming from a new group called P.G. Lives. This Lives group – led by Michael and Peggy Gibbs – has the tagline “strong family values, classic education, vibrant businesses, and positive community service.” All stuff that sounds good, but also sounds like a reference to the good ol’ days. The days before skateparks and dispensaries, the days before people of color had power.

Michael Gibbs says if those meanings come through, they are unintended: “We wanted to present a positive viewpoint.” Gibbs also wrote a letter on Sept. 23 calling for Rau’s removal from the DEI Task Force.

This is the same task force that crafted an apology for the mistreatment of Chinese settlers, over a century after P.G. Chinese fishing village burned down, and Feast of Lanterns made it into a spectacle.

P.G. is indeed better than this, and learning to be better every day. The city can acknowledge that it’s not cute to reenact a Chinese-themed play. That a skatepark, and maybe even a dispensary, don’t mean the world is ending. And that when we disagree, we can find a way to talk, without name-calling and demands for resignations.

One old-fashioned principle worth keeping: civility.

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