Wednesday, March 1, 2023

SPECIAL EDITION: Plantation Politics

I was pretty shocked when I read this morning's edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. One of the front-page stories reported on how a majority of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted to deny Third District County Supervisor Justin Cummings the right to make an appointment to the County Planning Commission. Click right here (paywall permitting), to read The Sentinel article for yourself.
Those voting to deny Supervisor Cummings (pictured above) the right to appoint the person whom Supervisor Cummings believed would best represent the Third Supervisorial District have all been serving on the Board for some time. Cummings, and Fourth District Supervisor Felipe Hernandez, who voted in favor of Supervisor Cummings' nomination (and who is also a person of color), are both newly-elected, and have only recently taken office.
Cummings' statement, as reported in The Sentinel, is worth quoting:

Cummings said he was shocked by the vote and told the Sentinel: “This is unprecedented, what’s happened, and a direct attack on my office and my election.”

“It’s really troubling to see that rather than supporting a supervisor who wants to put someone on a commission who is going to fight for affordable housing in this community, that we have board members who are opposing that and opposing my opportunity and ability to put someone on who is of my choosing,” Cummings continued.

Cummings defended Schiffrin’s credentials, saying he has deep institutional planning knowledge and experience and was a key component of Cummings’ intention to push for more affordable housing in the county.

Schiffrin has worked for the 3rd District Santa Cruz County supervisor’s office for decades and recently completed a term at the Planning Commission for the city of Santa Cruz.
"Deep institutional planning knowledge and experience" might be an understatement. Andy Schiffrin worked for me, when I served as the Third District County Supervisor, from 1975 to 1995, and has continued to work for the Third District Supervisors who followed my twenty years on the Board. He has been, during all that time, absolutely dedicated to effective efforts to provide affordable housing in this community. He also has a degree in urban planning from M.I.T.
Supervisor Koenig's statement that “we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” seems to indicate that Mr. Schiffrin's lifelong commitment to affordable housing should be considered a detriment, not a qualification. Supervisor Friend advanced the same justification for his vote to deny Cummings the right to make his own appointment to what is, probably, the most important of all the County Commissions and Committees:
“What we’re facing in Santa Cruz County is a crisis in housing and transportation and future planning that is of crisis proportions,” Friend said. “I think it’s very important to have voices on the Planning Commission that will lead us forward in that effort and not move us in the past.” 
Supervisor Cummings is absolutely correct that what the Board majority did was "unprecedented." Every Supervisor is elected by the voters in that Supervisor's district, to represent district residents. When I was elected, in 1974, I was known as a strong environmentalist, and there was an initial effort by more development-oriented Board Members to deny me the right to appoint the Planning Commissioner I thought would best represent the concerns of those who had voted to elect me. 
Dan Forbus, the First District Supervisor, who differed with me on land use and planning issues, led the effort to deny appointment to the person I had nominated. Ultimately, Supervisor Forbus and the rest of the Board agreed that it is important that each Board Member be given the ability to make appointments, to represent that Supervisor's District, that the District Supervisor believes will best accomplish what the voters wanted, in electing the Supervisor. 

SINCE 1975, that precedent has never been broken. Until now. 

Now, when the first Black Supervisor ever elected to the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors wants to make an appointment (and the appointment of a very qualified person, by the way), three already-serving Board Members decide they know better than the elected representative of the Third District who will best represent the Third District on the Planning Commission. 

The arguments advanced are clearly bogus. If those who denied Supervisor Cummings the right to make his own appointment wanted to try to justify their unprecedented action, couldn't they come up with something better than saying that they cared about affordable housing? If they truly cared, they'd have been outspoken in their support for Mr. Schiffrin. 

This was, as I suggest in the title of this blog posting, "Plantation Politics," and let's just call it what it is. These already-serving Board Members think that they know better than the elected supervisor of the district who would best serve the district? Really? Why is that?

I would like to hope that Supervisors McPherson, Friend, and Koenig will reconsider their votes, and recognize what Supervisor Dan Forbus realized almost fifty years ago, when he initially sought to deny me my ability to appoint the person whom I wanted to appoint to the Planning Commission: The elected representatives to the Board of Supervisors should be allowed to appoint the persons whom they best believe would represent their district. Period. 
That's an almost-fifty year old precedent, and it just "rings wrong" when that precedent is shattered by way of denying the first-ever Black supervisor the right to make the appointment he thinks is best.

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