Citizen groups play checks, balances role |

Citizen groups play checks, balances role

This fall Grass Valley voters will have a powerful tool available to them that many believe has been severely lacking in recent times. Average Grass Valley folks will have a direct voice on our future as a City, via as many as three ballot measures.

Local pundits like to tell you to leave our future to our elected officials, as we are a “republic” (elected officials represent us) not a “democracy” (the people make decisions). A contemporary definition might argue that it is republican elitism versus democratic populism, and that those elected are the product of a carefully managed process that has little to do with open debate on issues and a lot to do with connections and simple rhetoric.

Who can be against “a healthy economy, less government regulation and strong support for police and fire,” a very successful strategy to get elected in this area without really requiring a plan of substance?

Having local politics defined by what many consider to be well-connected insiders has led to the creation of several unpaid, hardworking citizen groups over recent years formed to combat the paid and self-serving lobbyists representing various business entities and interests.

The ultimate irony is that these citizens groups are using fundamental tools and rights granted to us, indeed encouraged, by our Constitution, yet they are usually disparaged in the press for being involved participants in our community.

So this is written to those who still believe in the Constitutional right to “petition the government with grievances,” giving the collective “little guy” a chance to go head to head with powerful interests and somewhat even out the playing field.

In November, voters will see the culmination of years of efforts by various, sometimes competing groups to give to the people who live here a direct voice in shaping how our community grows. There may be as many as three ballot measures intended to do what elected leaders cannot or will not do: Give the average citizen a direct say in what happens to our town.

All of the measures address growth, either directly or indirectly. One measure, the managed growth initiative, attempts to undo what many consider were several years of disastrous undermining of the community’s plan for growth, the 2020 General Plan, by previous city councils.

This initiative was put together on a shoestring budget with an unprecedented level of citizen involvement in an incredibly short time in order to give voters one last chance to keep local growth manageable and sustainable (despite the “doom and gloomers,” it will not destroy the economy and in fact, according to a massive, but ignored 2005 city study, would be the best option for taxes and jobs.)

Recently, an alternative growth measure, endorsed by Grass Valley’s mayor, is being put forth that offers an alternative to the community group’s measure and attempts to address some of the concerns raised in recent years by citizen activists. This too, shows promise that locals may have another option for overturning some of past council’s ambitious, aggressive and what I consider ill-advised actions.

The final possible measure is a resurfacing attempt to get the growth-enabling Dorsey freeway interchange funded by asking local taxpayers for more tax money. Unfortunately for voters, measure sponsors have lumped the questionable interchange issue together with a secondary, but more important issue of raising money for much needed road improvements, thereby taking away the option of voters to choose what to support.

It is all too easy for the average person to be cynical about politics, as all too often it seems that one’s voice is not heard and government just does what it wants anyway.

Though ballot measures are vulnerable to the same manipulative forces – misrepresentation, scare tactics, etc. – that define modern politics, they have two major values: One, they give citizens more choices, not less, and two, they show the importance of a well-informed, active and involved citizenry.

Rather than being disparaged for “meddling,” Grass Valley needs to thank those unpaid citizen groups whose tireless years of hard work have given voters more opportunities to determine their future. It is our local form of checks and balances.

Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley.

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