Terry Lamphier: State of disunity 2019: We all live in Paradise
It has been said that we get the government we deserve. Unfortunately, this rarely means we get the government that we need.
Ironically, it is a failing of democracy when we vote for the government we think we want, based on ignorance, misrepresentation (or outright falsehoods), lack of transparency, rhetorical heat without rational light, failure of leadership, lobbying pressures, etc.
Successful politicians know that voters have a wide range of conflicting desires, usually based on very little thoughtful analysis and even less on facts (and who’s “facts,” anyway?). Attempting to sell themselves to everyone, politicians rarely take a stand on anything specific, instead relying on vague, simplistic cliches and pretty pictures of family and pets.
To make matters dramatically worse, too many people these days get their “news” from the “wild west” of social media. It is an unfortunate sign of the times that we have the largest library in human history at our fingertips, yet we rely on gossip, media propagandists, bloggers, professional disinformation operations and “click bait” to learn about the world, versus established news media with verification protocols (hats off to The Union), corroborated scientific research and multiple years of aggregated nonpartisan government statistics.
How informed are local voters?
Recapping last year, locals voted to permanently increase Grass Valley taxes to expand local services such as increasing police hiring, despite mainstream media reporting local and national statistics that showed local crime on a long-term downward trend, versus local social media claiming crime was out of control.
The City of Grass Valley’s (then) web page showed only the previous year’s proposed budget (not the actual budget), which revealed a budget surplus from (then) existing Measure N tax revenues. City leaders were largely silent on the tax proposal (“the mayor speaks for the City” and, when asked, gave a vague, warm and fuzzy endorsement). The Measure N citizen’s “oversight” chairman would not or could not answer questions about several inconsistent aspects of the (then) budget, instead continually referring queries to the City’s finance director. How knowledgeable and independent is a citizen’s committee if they can’t speak to the citizens?
Where are informed voters when silent local governments continue to approve massive amounts of new housing, despite Census data that shows our population is decreasing and the housing that is being built is not affordable to people who live here? When government and community leaders are too intellectually lazy or dishonest to acknowledge population shrinkage and the difference between “housing” (which we don’t need) and “affordable housing” (which we do), they need to be replaced.
Meanwhile, there is irony in the fact that PG&E is being sued for, essentially, following their mandate, i.e., providing power to developments in wildfire prone areas. Arguably, PG&E could sue rural government for the negligent decisions of government planners and developers who seem criminally unconcerned about overloading small rural roads and 100-year-old city streets.
Destruction of our community can’t happen? Recent local fires are telling: a friend of mine who lives in Lake Wildwood said it took him 45 minutes to go the half mile from his home to the exit on Pleasant Valley Road when attempting to escape the Deer Creek fire. Cascade Shores faced evacuation in yet another fire and Grass Valley had a fire come within a half mile of the heart of downtown.
A quick search of local government and fire safety sites regarding fire plans finds little about evacuation routes. Paradise did have an evacuation plan but it didn’t work because people panicked. As electronic communications failed, some folks only knew to evacuate because law enforcement drove around with bullhorns. Note that a major evacuation route for the Paradise area is a four lane-highway, yet several people died in or near their vehicles due to dense smoke, gridlock, fallen utility poles and trees, abandoned cars, etc.
We must do better. The average citizen could be excused for complacency in this confusing world. After all, it is a lot of work to find anything resembling truth these days.
Elected officials, however, do not get a free pass. They are supposed to know better. They have a responsibility to go beyond the day-to-day basics of running a government based on staff recommendations.
They have a responsibility for courageous leadership by being proactive, not reactive, and to communicate to the public, not place-holding until the next election.
Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley.
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