Saturday, September 18, 2010

260 / Who Governs? #2

Who Governs? is subtitled, "Democracy and Power in an American City." The city studied in Who Governs? was New Haven, Connecticut, and the impact of Yale University on the politics of New Haven is evident throughout the book.

This is, of course, no surprise. Large institutions with significant economic power in a community tend to get what they ask for, when they make requests to locally elected officials. And in the case of Yale and New Haven, as Robert Dahl made clear in his book, those with direct ties to the University were often placed in decision making roles themselves.

The same phenomenon is visible in my town, Santa Cruz, California, and perhaps to an even greater degree. One of the more important current political controversies has revolved around the question of "who gets?" There is little or no surplus water in Santa Cruz, and the University of California, now the predominant economic power within the community, wants to grow. In order to be able to grow, the University needs the City's remaining surplus water, and then some.

Despite significant (and from my point of view, justified) concerns that giving the University what it wants will have an adverse impact on both the natural environment and on all of the non-University customers of the City's water system, the University has so far been victorious in its efforts to have the City provide a new commitment of scarce water supplies, to fuel new University growth.

A sociological/political/economic analysis of the Santa Cruz City Council (along the lines of some of the work done by Robert Dahl in Who Governs?) would show that the current Santa Cruz City Council reflects a very closely-tied relationship to the University. There are seven City Council Members. Four or five of them are directly receiving individual or family income from the University for current work, or in connection with their own or a family member's past employment. Those two or three Council Members who do not have a current or past employment relationship with the University went to school there.

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