Saturday, December 21, 2013

35 / Applicants Sought

Bill Domhoff and Richard Gendron have written a fun book on Santa Cruz politics. Click here if you would like to learn more. The online resources provided by the authors even include a review by me

The Leftmost City was published in 2008, and the book documents the political history of the City during the 1970's. There is a certain "that was then; this is now" quality to the title of the book. The politics of the City of Santa Cruz cannot really be called "progressive" nowadays, at least not with respect to the way the City Council conducts its business. 

An article in yesterday's edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel reminded me of just how far we have come. The title of the article (in the print edition) is "Applicants sought for new water panel." The story is about how the City Council will soon establish a new "citizen-led advisory panel that will study water supply and management options for at least the next year." 

The establishment of this new advisory group is billed as a way to "reset" the City's conversation with the public about water supply issues. Since at least 2008, the year The Leftmost City was published, the City has been completely dedicated to the construction of a costly and energy-intensive desalination plant. Efforts to get the City to consider "alternatives" have been routinely and summarily dismissed by the Council. Earnest members of the public would get up at Council meetings, and make their case, and once they had exhausted their two minutes at the podium, begging for the City to consider alternatives, the Council would then move on, totally ignoring all these pleas that the City give "alternatives" a real chance. 

As a result of the City Council's unwillingness to listen to the public on desalination, the public went to the streets (in the "progressive" style of politics hailed in the Domhoff-Gendron book). Measure P passed by over 70% of the vote in November 2012. This initiative measure amended the City Charter to give city voters the last say on desalination. 

Shortly after the passage of Measure P, the City received over 400 comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report prepared on the proposed desalination project, almost all of them critical. Among these comments were hard hitting letters from the "responsible agencies," like the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Coastal Commission, that actually have review authority over the City's proposed project. What was the main theme of the critical comments (specifically including those from the "responsible agencies")? It was that the City Council had failed to consider "alternatives," and couldn't properly proceed until it did.

Faced with this situation, the City Council decided it wanted to "reset" the conversation. If that means anything at all, in the real world, the Council will have to turn its one-way conversation with the public (in which the Council tells the public what it should think) into a two-way conversation in which the Council actually listens to the critics.

So...the advisory committee. Sounds like a step in the right direction, but here's the kicker: appointments to the committee will be made by the Council, which means that the Council is going to be listening only to those people that the Council has decided it wants to listen to. The newspaper article says that there will be "three representatives from environmental groups." However, those won't be "representatives" who actually represent the environmental community, and who have been selected by the environmental groups themselves. Instead, the Council is going to determine by a Council vote who should "represent" the environmental side of the desal discussion. Virtually every member of the Council (with one exception) has consistently backed the desalination project, and has refused to listen to the critics.

Personally picking the people you are willing to listen to, and calling it a "reset" in the community conversation, speaks more of press agentry than of a willingness actually to hear from the critics. The Council's planned approach seems pretty much like a continuation of the Council's past "one-way" conversation on desalination. 

At the very least, just in terms of a basic understanding of how democratic procedures work, if someone is going to be called a "representative" of a particular group, or interest, then that person has to be selected by those that the person is going to "represent." Failing to heed this basic procedural requirement (as the Council seems bent on doing) not only maintains the "one-way" nature of the discussion on desal, but turns the Council's heralded "reset" into a further reason for resentment. 

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1 comment:

  1. so, what's to be done about it?
    1) anti desal people should run for city council in 2014 and make that election a referendum on desal.

    2) Prepare to campaign to defeat desal in the future election mandated by Prop P, when the city actually tries to make it happen.

    2. Prepare


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