The Price of Democracy

“It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.” – John Philpot Curran: Speech upon the Right of Election for Lord Mayor of Dublin, 1790. (Speeches. Dublin, 1808.) as quoted in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations

This quotation is especially pertinent to local city and county government these days. I’ve noticed that more and more of our local government business is being planned and decided behind closed doors, to be trotted out before the public for us to rubber stamp their predetermined plans.

I’m thinking particularly of city and county plans for massive new developments in the so-called “Transportation Corridors” projects, and the Downtown Library cum parking garage fiasco here in Santa Cruz. These projects would drastically change the ambience of Santa Cruz City and County, and would, not coincidentally, benefit local contractors and developers.

I’ve also seen an increase in “Ad-Hoc” subcommittees in local government, the meetings of which are excluded from public attendance, except when citizens have loudly and publicly insisted that they be open to public observation.

The price of democracy is indeed eternal vigilance, whether Thomas Jefferson really said that or not.

 

Smart Growth is an Oxymoron

pexels-photo-109919“They cannot see that growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness, that Phoenix and Albuquerque will not be better cities to live in when their populations are doubled again and again. They would never understand that an economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human.”   ― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

This is one of Ed’s most telling quotes, one that is increasingly relevant to conditions in today’s cities and counties across this overburdened continent.

In my fair village on the Pacific Coast, local government is strangling in problems caused by a rapidly growing, profligate populace. What is government’s answer to the problems of homelessness, drug abuse, gang violence and crime? Why, more growth, of course!

In reaction to the inability of local government to deal with rising social problems, and increasing impacts on the non-human world casued by unlimited growth, common interest groups are forming to bring pressure on government officials to recognize the needs and desires of the local populace, in opposition to development interests fomenting back-door deals outside of public view.

Local government officials have resorted to corporate strategies to limit public participation in the decision making process, such as “charettes” that divide attendees at public meetings into small, moderated groups to diffuse and obfuscate their comments and control the discussion. Participants in public meetings are referred to in bureaucrat-speak as “stakeholders,” a term that equates corporate development interests with local residents. Government commissions and committees are viewed as representing “public interest,” even though the members of these representative groups are not chosen by the public and have no legitimate constituency.

What is needed is more neighborhood and community groups, meeting in homes and public venues, marching to city and county government meetings, writing letters to the editor (if such creatures still exist) and speaking out at every opportunity on behalf of resident interests, the non-human world and untrammeled natural habitat. When dozens of community residents show up at public meetings, government officials are forced, if only to avoid public embarrassment, to acknowledge community interests and modify their pre-ordained plans.

Here are some examples of local groups formed to oppose local government growth mania in Our Fair County: Harbor Neighbors, Capitola Road Neighbors, Don’t Bury the Library, Friends of Arana Gulch, Friends of Corcoran Lagoon Beach, Friends of San Lorenzo River Wildlife.

In the absence of meaningful public participation, government devolves to that which is designed and supported by those who show up, those who wear suits and ties, those who count success in six figure dollars, those who care little or not at all for the natural world that still remains. Growth maniacs who promote unlimited population and economic growth with no thought to its consequences on the human or the natural world.

 

 

The Internet of Laundry

It was inevitable. The Internet of Things has invaded the laundry room at our mobile home park.

This morning I took our clothes to the laundry room in our park’s clubhouse. Four washers, four dryers. You put your clothes in the washer, add detergent, push the buttons and come back a half hour later to hang the clothes up in the drying yard outside the door. Or if it’s raining, put them in a dryer and add even more coinage.

This morning there was a new twist:

The washers sat in their accustomed row, mouths agape, waiting patiently for my dirty clothes and offerings of coin of the realm. But wait! What’s this?

Sometime in the night, someone affixed two red and black signs to the pristine whiteness of each washer and dryer, signs that portend the end of the last remaining stronghold of analog technology.

DSCN7524The Internet had arrived in the laundry room!

In trembling trepidation I read the ominous signs of things to come:

PAY WITH YOUR PHONE”  “DOWNLOAD FREE APP”   “SCAN QR CODE

In truth, the Internet had not completely invaded the laundry. One has to download the appropriate application (“app” to those in the know) into one’s “smart” phone/camera (provided one has one of these ubiquitous devises. My wife and I don’t and never will) and then do whatever is necessary to connect that information to the Internet. Somehow, I presume, the Internet siphons your money from your bank account and tells the washing machine or dryer to start up.

This is a scenario that not even the most imaginative science fiction writers of my youthful reading past ever imagined! Not only that there would be such technology available in the humble laundry room, but that everyday people would be able to use it, or even want to!

I prefer the technology of my life to be always within my control, accessible when I want it, dormant when not. I want my thermostat (if I needed one, which I don’t) to be a simple thermal switch, responding only to the change of temperature in my house. I want my refrigerator to keep food cold, and my stove to make things hot. I don’t want them to talk to me or send me emails regarding their condition. I want my car to start up when I turn the key, to not make rude noises or talk to me, to be accessible for simple DIY repairs and maintenance as needed, and to not require a mechanic with a degree in computer programming and a CPA to fix it when it’s broken.

I’ll continue to hoard my quarters, insert them one by one into the proffered receptacle with a satisfying analog clink and press the “Start” button with my very own finger. This is sufficient, with no need for a multi-billion dollar cell phone industry to do my laundry once a week.

I’ll pass on the Internet of Laundry, thank you very much.

Visiting “Civilization”

amtrak

This past week we traveled from our Coastal California home to the Nebraska panhandle for a family reunion (more on that event later). Since we stopped flying in 2007, our trip involved an Uber ride to San Jose, a train ride to Oakland and an overnight stay in a motel, another train ride from Oakland to Emeryville, a long-distance train ride from Emeryville to Denver, Colorado, and a 250 mile drive from Denver to Nebraska. Our return trip was the same in reverse, except the final leg involved a 35 mile ride on a bus and a 40 minute walk from downtown to home.

Whew!

That was all interesting enough, especially traveling over the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies. It was the culture shock we experienced in Denver that I’m interested in here.

I used to visit Denver frequently, back in the 60s and 70s when I lived in western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming. We called Denver the nesting ground of the forty story cranes in those days, due the the ubiquitous tall construction cranes looming over the Denver skyline. Dealing with Denver was reasonable in those days, even though after a couple of days I would flee from the city in panic, seeking the solace of higher climes and quieter venues.

That was nothing compared to Denver today.

Denver Railway Buidling plaque.JPG

The Transportation hub of Denver, and the Front Range, has always been Union Station downtown, even before Union Station was built. When I registered for the Draft in 1967, I came by way of  Union Station to the Armed Forces Induction Center for testing and a physical. Union Station at that time was, well, a train station, right downtown, a short walk to the YMCA where I stayed for two nights during the induction process (it sounds just as mechanical and inhuman as it felt).

Union Station today bears little resemblance to its 60s appearance.

DUSST1950s       denverunionstation_1575x900_ryandravitz_03jpg.jpg

As if the glitzy, tented dayglo exterior wasn’t enough, the wooden pews, squeaky floors and frosted glass ticket booths inside have been replaced by a frenetic, cacophonous termitarium of fast food boutiques, souvenir emporia, WiFi hotspots, coffee shops and trendy restaurants, with overamplified, popular “music” throughout. What was once a place of relative quiet and contemplation of the railroad experience to come, a meeting place for family and friends newly arrived or about to leave, is now a Go To Place for youthful glitterati, an evening venue, a luncheon assignation, the Place to Be and Be Seen.

Tucked into what once was a ticket booth, off to one side, is the almost unnoticeable registration desk for the Crawford Hotel, which has taken over the top two floors of the Old Union Station, as well as new wings off to either side of the main building. The sleek and modern registration desk is flanked by the worn and polished woodwork of the original ticket office, and is staffed by an assortment of young and eagerly efficient attendants, who never knew Union Station in its original incarnation. The rooms of the Crawford are styled as “Pullman” rooms, in memory of the original Pullman sleeper cars that are no longer a part of modern railroad passenger transportation, carrying on the tradition of naming things for that which is lost. Blessedly, the rooms are well soundproofed, filtering out the noisy human activity echoing from the walls and ceiling of what once what the Union Station Waiting room.

Jean Denver 16th Street Mall.JPGThe overweening youth culture of Union Station et al was repeated and amplified as we walked up and down the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. The May D&F Building (now renamed the Daniel and Fisher Tower) stands alone, forlornly shorn of its accompanying and supportive department store buttresses, dwarfed by the new and under construction glass and steel usurpers. The cell phone impaired walk the cement and asphalt floor of  the dim canyons, unseeing and unaware of the snow capped Rockies beyond and the majestic cloud dotted blue skies above. It’s an intensely urban landscape, peopled by intense urbanites who know not what they have lost.

The Train arrives

We greeted the arrival of our train, three hours late due to a freight train derailment in Iowa, with much relief and anticipation. It represented escape from the urban excess of a modern American city, a relaxed trip through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world and eventual return to our our wee and sufficient home on the Central Coast.

Our perspective gained from this time spent in the vibrant environs of what passes for civilization these days has underscored our desire to find a place of balance in this increasingly mad and dysfunctional world. The pace of development, gentrification and modernization will only increase until it fails altogether, in its own unwillingness to acknowledge the finite nature of life on this planet, our only home. We can’t stop it or even derail it temporarily. We can only strategically withdraw to a place where growth proceeds at its slowest pace, leaving at least something alive for the rest of the non-human world.