Saturday, May 14, 2011

"All Politics Are Local" - How Ventura City Council Demeaned Its Citizens This Week

Hope life has been treating you well, my fellow Politicos! Forgive my lapse in posts, as it's my busy season at work. At a school, the beginning of the year is only second to the end of the year in the amount of work and insanity going on. But I had to share my recent experience with you regarding how, as the old saying goes, "All politics are local."

My dear friend Kathy drug me to a City Council meeting here in our burg. As much as I love national politics, I am not very well-versed in city politics. But of course, Kathy knows me well, and told me how a new law would be affecting her mom (whom I love dearly), and said that, after all, I'm her political friend, so I could serve as her "safari guide" through the local political undergrowth, just like my friend Robin does for me when I go clothes shopping. (Damn, I hate shopping....) Kathy said she just needed my support, that I didn't have to speak, and to just clap loudly when she was done. To make a long story short, she managed to convince me to head out on a weeknight, when my butt was really dragging, to go to a meeting that I didn't think I had a stake in, in order to help her and her mom out. Friendship wins the day.

The Council was considering voting on a new law to bring all the granny flats and mother-in-law cottages up to present safety code. Sounds like a good thing. Who doesn't love public safety, right? That's pretty much what all but one of this Council were counting on. They had asked for community input on this law, and a great group of fellow Venturans rose to the occasion, putting in their time, effort and a great deal of thought to this proposed law. They came up with a list of recommendations for the Council to consider. Not that the City Council ever intended to consider the group's recommendations.
Ventura - Photo by Heidi Haines
Ventura is a little beach hamlet, and I am a native. I love this city. This is home to me, and to my family since the 40's. It used to be a place where you could park for free and look at the waves, or go downtown and check out the funky thrift shops (not overpriced antique shops). It's a place where I went before the planning commission for another friend to get them to ban the funky, flamed mural on his record store so that I could take it forward to the then City Council, who we were sure would overturn the commission's ruling. We used to be able to park for free in our downtown, too. It used to be that we prized our open spaces, our farms and ranches, and we didn't have to fight to preserve them. We all liked the small town beach feel. And it used to be things here were much more equitable for residents, and everyone had their streets paved or their neighborhoods improved on a fair and regular basis.

Now, there are maybe 20 parking spaces in the entire town where residents can queue up to park for a look at our beautiful beaches. The place is being developed wildly, and citizens had to take action to codify the protection of our local landmarks and open spaces. Murals have gone the way of the funky indy stores downtown, being replaced by theatre chains and Ben & Jerry's; all the beautiful trees that used to line our downtown have been ripped out and replaced by generic palm trees in a move to make us look more like a miniaturized Santa Barbara. And each City Council has, of course, developed the areas in which they have had business interests: when Downtown business owners were on the Council, they put money into Downtown. When the Midtown owners got elected, Midtown got its facelift. Meanwhile, for regular Venturans and their families, taxes increased and access to our city decreased. My parents' street has not been paved since I was in high school. Guys, I'm 47. Yeah. Since high school. That's longer than I choose to think about...You can see the dirt beneath the macadam on the street, in big ol' hunks. Grass grows through freely. But apparently,  their street isn't high enough up on the hill to merit the city services that the high property values in "Hobson Heights" warrant. Ventura didn't used to be that way. 

Anyhow, I digress. This time, the City Council has concocted a plan to keep their developer and contractor cronies happy, and I'd imagine, to assure the campaign contributions keep lining their pockets. This law is a bad idea because it hurts middle class families, seniors, and folks barely able to make ends meet. The new law affects the folks who let family use their granny flat, often rent-free. It will hurt folks who rent the guest house out to help them make their huge mortgage payments, keeping foreclosures at bay. It affects Ventura's elderly, whose rrented granny flats gives them enough cash to supplement their fixed income and stay afloat. Y'know who else is affected? Kids. Families who might be able to afford to rent a room or granny flat can't afford to abrent elsewhere. And the ability to rent out the extra unit on their property has helped to keep Ventura's economy afloat in a difficult time. It penalizes working Americans. There are many more reasons this is a bad deal.

But the thing that appalled me most at the Ventura City Council meeting was the dismissive, self-aggrandizing and just plain rude manner in which these elected officials treated their constituents. That, and the knowledge that they used the Safe Housing Committee as pawns in the process. They acted as if they wanted input, but the obviously had no plans to give their recommendations any regard. They were obnoxious to their constituents who had the courage to speak out against this law. They were nasty. Mean-spirited hardly begins to describe it. Bullying fits better. They cut people off when they were speaking, and dismissed the citizens as not knowing what they were talking about. Honestly, these Council members seem to think they're so very important, and not at all the public servants that we've entrusted them to be.

One member, Monahan, was the exception to the rule. He's been elected in Ventura most of my life, and the guy knows on which side his bread is buttered - he'll go with public opinion every time, and I can respect that: at least he's listening to the people that put him in office. This Brennan jackass, however, was so full of himself, and was spiteful toward anyone challenging his assertions. Treating people as if they knew nothing about the issue - these good folks who came out on a weeknight, gave thought to what they were going to tell the Council, and took the time to be active participants in their town's democracy - that's just plain wrong. He needs to be bumped out of office at the first available moment. To take a pass on civility toward the hard-working folks who pay your salary, Brennan, is crass and undemocratic (in a small-d democracy sense). Click here, my fellow Politicos, to reach the City Council's page and give them a piece of your mind as to what democracy really means!

All politics are truly local. The entire experience left me believing that all public servants (and I use the term loosely) are truly in it for their own agenda, and willingly treat the people as pawns in their own self-interest. They seem to have the attitude of "we know far better than you ever can about what this democracy needs," and treat their constituents as unintelligent peons in their own quest toward building their own private empires. Sound familiar? So whether it's the national GOP and culture wars or the local City Council, the majority of elected officials are purely in it for their own gain and inflated sense of self-importance. 

But just like on the state and national level, the people will hit a point of saturation. They will get fed up. They will fight back. And I believe that with my entire being. There will be ballot measures to rescind this unfair law. Citizens are actively looking into whether Ventura has a recall process. Folks are starting to ante up money for a campaign to reverse this law that serves the rich and the egotistical. And if it weren't for the disgusting attitude of the folks on the City Council who treated the people who put them in office so horridly, it wouldn't be my battle at all. But it's my fight, too, now.

So Kathy, dear friend, your speech was amazing, and thanks to the arrogance of the City Council, I am all in. All chips on the table, ready to fight the graft and corporate interests involved in this fight. Because those City Council guys (and gal) don't seem to get it that it's supposed to be about the people that put them in office. It's about making the quality of life in Ventura, my home, the best it can be for its residents. And it's not about the elected officials who duped the people into giving them the power to turn Ventura into a Santa Barbara, or the Council Members that will line their own pockets at the expense of kids, working folks and the elderly. It's about reminding the City Council what democracy really means. Let's get working on that ballot measure. I have a feeling I'm going to be in front of a lot of supermarkets with my ironing board in the near future.