A grab bag of thoughts: Enron, District 4, housing | TheUnion.com

A grab bag of thoughts: Enron, District 4, housing

I am going to cover a lot of ground in this month’s column: Enron, affordable housing, and the 4th District supervisor’s race. I will be using a broad brush.

— The Enron scandal is a lot bigger than just a few thieves caught defrauding the American public. Enron was recently the seventh-biggest company in the United States. The tentacles of this unscrupulous monster have struck at the very foundations of our capitalist free-market system and hurt many. Unlike socialism, the stock market rewards and places capital where it is most useful – i.e., with those efficiently producing and creating profits while working within the laws of the land. Enron built a house of cards that produced nothing and deceived investors about their profits, thus violating the very purpose of the market. If the investing public feels that the markets are rigged and it’s all an insiders’ game, then we all lose; the great meritorious capitalistic free-market system that has brought us unprecedented prosperity for 200 years is in jeopardy. These wealthy con men will of course defend themselves with “dream teams” to the end, but the facts speak for themselves.

There is one man powerful enough to lead the way to justice and put confidence back in the markets. There is one man who can cleanse the party of business, the Republican Party, from hypocrisy. There is one man who can make sure the 20 or so privileged insiders of Enron who conned investors out of hundreds of millions land directly in jail without passing “Go.” Let’s hope that George Bush rises to the occasion for all Americans.

— For most people coming from the urban areas of our state, all of Nevada County looks like “affordable housing.” Everywhere in the state, there will be a small percentage of people struggling with housing costs. Do we have an inordinate amount of such people? Is there really an “affordable-housing” crisis? No one really knows. People come and go to different areas of the state, often based on housing affordability. If the local governments insist on interfering with the natural supply-and-demand cycles of housing affordability by subsidizing or enticing low-income units, let me recommend the lessor of two evils. Avoid high-density subsidized cheap apartment buildings. Encourage the permitting of small second cottages on rural land and small apartments (granny apartments) in larger city homes. The 90 units recently approved by the Board of Supervisors are a good start that needs to be greatly expanded.

One’s income is not a reflection of one’s character, but we have every right as a community to hope that decent, law-abiding citizens are attracted to our county. A thousand landlords evaluating who will rent their cottages or granny units is far superior to a few indifferent property managers trying to run high-density, low-income apartment buildings. A few bad apples make these places a blight on the community. Evictions are difficult, and lawyers love to sue “slumlords.”

Some cities in desperation try rent control, which always makes matters worse. The ultimate example of government providing affordable housing is the federal housing projects. This condescending and paternalistic thinking by government has destroyed millions of families nationally. The diversity, control and closer relationships between owners and tenants in adjacent cottages and granny units provide for stronger accountability and sense of community pride. Such housing is a much better environment for low-income people and their children.

— The District 4 race for supervisor between incumbent Izzy Martin and challengers Antonson, Sutherland, Harris and Steele will most likely result in an eventual win for Martin. All the challengers are quality candidates but, realistically, only Antonson has a long-shot chance for an upset. Izzy has staked her claim as “the environmental politician” of Nevada County. Environmentalism has taken on a religious fervor in this country, and money from outside her district is easy to raise. Highly motivated “true believers” are easy to come by inside her district.

She has also subtly played the gender card by presenting herself as a super-woman (mom, farmer, supervisor, activist, committee addict, coalition leader, etc.) going up against the (mythical) “good ol’ boys.” This will appeal to a small-but-significant percentage of women voters. Calling herself a “farmer” is a bit of a stretch. It’s a tough combination for a common-sense, local-issue guy like Antonson to beat. You have to respect Izzy for energy and ambition. She takes credit for the county’s great financial shape, but that really is the product of recent statewide prosperity and windfall tax revenues for five years. The next few years are going to require some cutting. With Izzy, expect bigger and more intrusive government, very slow growth and not much development in rural areas.

Michael Schwalm, a resident of Penn Valley, writes a monthly column.

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