Petaluma Politics–Too Broke To Fix?

Much has been written about the divisive & dysfunctional nature of California politics. Two recent newspaper columns touched on the current state of  local politics–Don Bennett’s Argus Column of August 23, 2009 and Pete Golis’ Press Democrat column of July 19, 2009. 

Of course, political divides exist in Petaluma and they are well known–growth vs. no growth (or smart growth vs “development by right”), Big Box vs. Eggcentric, East Side vs. West Side, etc. etc. 

I used to rail against these “divides” and berate those who contributed to them.  Frankly, to do so was  naive.  My only defense–weak though it may be– is that I thought we should reach a certain plateau of common understanding in our public dialogue. 

Achievement of a “common understanding” or consensus is extremely rare–decisions are made by those with sufficient votes to prevail.  There is nothing new in all of this. The fact is that political and social “divides” are hard wired into our Western Cultural DNA. Moreover, thay have not always been resolved by elections or decisions by our elected representatives.

A few brief examples…

  • A President who ordered law enforcement officials to arrest and imprison all who disagreed with him. ( No, not George W. Bush–John Adams. )
  • A President who openly ignored a Supreme Court decision. (Abraham Lincoln)
  • A Congressman (Griswold) who assaulted another House Member (Lyons) on the House floor with a cane–“Griswold was laying on blows with all his might…on the head, shoulder & arms of Lyon.”
  • Gadfly videos on CaliforniaCItyNews where you can witness City government meetings populated with ranting and raving members of the public as well as council members sometimes resisting arrest as they are dragged off the dais.  
  • On a personal note, I recall an instance where I dodged a haymaker punch by an Illinois legislator who took umbrage at a tax question.

The reality of our history is one of constant political conflict–and conflict that frequently includes abuse of power, personal attacks, and sometimes physical assault. This has occurred and occurs at all levels of government. 

At this point, a quote from the Golis column is in order:

The tribalism of our politics is now all-too-familiar. We don’t elect people who think first of what’s best for the common good. We elect people who are pro-business or slow-growth, who side with public employees unions or who oppose new taxes.

Then we are surprised that when these people are thrown together, they can’t find common ground to solve problems before they morph into one crisis and then another and another.

People who are not invested in state and local politics often find that it is irrelevant to their lives – because it is irrelevant to their lives.

Hometown governments are being gutted. A record number of housing foreclosures is devastating neighborhoods and families. Local business are going broke. Thousands of local people can’t find the work they need to support their families.

And what’s going on in local government? The Petaluma City Council is re-arranging the deck chairs on the Planning Commission, and the Healdsburg City Council is taking a firm stand against Starbuck’s.”

Granted, Golis presents a grim view of the situation.  In my opinion, he is pretty close to the mark.  However, his assessment that people find local politics to be “irrelevant to their lives” does need some expansion.  Granted they may perceive politics as irrelevant. But they are witnessing the impact nonetheless… 

August 13 2009 Download 006fountains-online-0051August 13 2009 Download 003

In Closing

Are our local divides so great that they can’t be bridged? 

 Is Petaluma too broke to fix? 

  • I submit that the answers are “Yes” to the first question and “No” to the second question. 
  • In short, nothing is broken. It is just politics as usual–at all levels of government from Petaluma through Sacramento all the way to Washington D.C–And it was ever thus.

In our hierarchical world, it is difficult, if not impossible, for institutions at the bottom of the institutional pyramid to be better than those at the top. Or put another way, excrement always flows downhill.


8 thoughts on “Petaluma Politics–Too Broke To Fix?

  1. Frank, very good writing as usual.

    Our problems are Government, these are the people we have elected.
    They are the ones who make the laws.
    By making the laws, is where our troubles come.
    As Charley Reese a journalist said politicians are the only people in the world
    who create problems then campaign against them.
    Ho Hum wachagonnado
    Maybe tar and feathers then run out of town?
    used to work in the olden days

    • But remember that “government” is “us”–they are our elected representatives. Of course, I suppose the problem is who is “us” and how do the elected representatives decide who the “us” are….? It can drive you crazy. As for me, I have divolved, deconstructed, or settled to be–as the title to the blog attests–a mere spectator. From time to time I may keep score 😉

  2. I believe it used to be us, when we speak (sqeek) we get greased. They are the elected ones,but they are doing what “they” want not for the people who put them there for the purpose of doing the job ,they were elected for.
    I still say the tar and feathers might be the answer 🙂

    • Cheryl–I cannot deny that there is precedent in US political history for the tactic you suggest. I think a more likely scenario–and the one I fear the most–is that the whole apparatus just ceases to function. If so, something else will evolve. It will not be a pretty process.

  3. I personally think we the people of Petaluma who have elected these indiviuals to office should start letting them know what we think. If we voted them in we should be able to get them out of office. Too many people including myself are upset with the alot of the politics in this town.

    But how many of us with stand up and say it.
    Not too many.

    When I came to this wonderful town of Petaluma 45 years ago I was so very proud to be a Petaluman. I can’t say the same today. The Politicans in Petaluma promise you so much amd give back very little.

  4. Yes, I agree, however, I would go a step further and suggest something a little crazey. This is just a wild dream , but what would happen if we changed our city charter and re-organize our city gov’t. Our city council might then represent the people of Petaluma. What a concept. There could be citizens from 6 geographic districts running for election. Then the voices from those districts would have a voice and feel a part of, instead of the west side running their own agenda. OK, so I’m naive too? Or just a dreamer.

  5. Frank,
    My tar and feather is just putting some humor to this subject(elected officials)
    But it could be a good show especially at one of the butter and egg day parades, IF! they are going to be any more!
    Petaluma has always started one thing left unfinished then onto the next, peet and repeat.
    The problem I believe is you see the same faces sitting on those chairs, over and over again.
    There are a lot of actors and one director.

  6. Great blog, Frank. I agree that the problem starts at city government, and goes all the way up to Washington, D.C.
    Forget the common good, they just stick with their ideologies, or do the work of the lobbys, who shower the legislators with money [legal bribery] and legislation that they, the lobbyists have written to promote their selfish ends. I am very concerned about the future of government at all levels. How very sad that we have come to this!

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