This is my quest…
As I continued my quest to better understand this community, I thought about some of the negatives I’ve been hearing about how this community is managed. So I figured I’d ask around.
Claim – The CCSD is in tight with the business community, favoring their wants and needs over the residents. There have been grumblings about secret meetings, special interests, hidden ties… real made-for-TV type intrigue. It has been charged that the “Business Community” gets special treatment and consideration from the CCSD Board and Staff. The thought process I heard was another exercise in pretzel logic; two Directors own or have owned businesses in town. They are/were members of the Chamber of Commerce. Ergo – they favor their business cronies over the citizens. I have a hard time picturing some of our local business people huddled in smoke-filled back rooms dividing up the Pinedorado spoils, or skimming off the top of the American Legion Pancake Breakfast just to keep feeding those desperados on the Board. I mean, who smokes anymore?
Down on Main Street…
My conversation starter was pretty simple. I laid out the suspicion that the business community received special treatment from the CCSD and asked for comments.
First stop – Chamber of Commerce.
First reaction – “what??? The CCSD? They are the water and sewer provider. We really don’t interact much with them.” Pretty much the end of that conversation.
Next stop – a Main Street business that has been in town for quite some time. The proprietors are also Cambrian homeowners, so they receive both commercial and non-commercial services. Same conversation starter. Same semi – “are you serious” look. Then a recitation of the challenges of running a business in town, managing and balancing the use of water – a balance that has, for this business owner, both financial and moral impacts. This owner shared a list of decisions that are made around water usage. And as for special consideration, well, the response was a bit forceful and colorful. None. Nil. If anything, it was the opposite – no breaks are given.
We then spoke about the non-commercial side of being a CCSD customer. There was not a lot of love for the Board actions, and some discomfort around how we got to the high cost of the new Sustainable Water Facility. But there was also a pragmatic view – we built it, we’re paying for it, let’s use it. When asked about growth, the position remained pragmatic. “Why would we keep people from building their dream home? Stay controlled, follow the plans that exist, and be fair. New faces, new ideas, new blood will help keep Cambria the vital, interesting place it is.”
I reached out to other business owners in town, and got similar feedback to the main question. I’ll continue to reach out to fill in the blanks.
Conservation for conservation’s sake is important; nobody I’ve spoken with is cavalier about it. The financial impacts of exceeding water allotments can be significant, and in a town that has such peaks and troughs of visitors every expense is critical.
I reached out to Director Greg Sanders to see if we might find some time to sit down and discuss the issues of the day. I was really looking forward to this session for a lot of reasons. One of the main reasons is probably obvious – he has been on the receiving end of a lot of negative comments, and his integrity and character have been attacked by some who believe that his “day job” as an attorney with a firm that represents businesses who oppose environmentalists (a simple description, I concede, but it doesn’t need to be more than that), aligns him with the dark forces that are skulking about, looking for the opportunity to swoop in and turn Cambria into, (as one activist said) “freakin’ Monticito!” Director Sanders, who has served the citizens of Cambria for many years in many ways, can be very “lawyerly” in his interactions with people at Board meetings, and it has on occasion gotten a bit uncomfortable. He is also incredibly knowledgeable about the history of Cambria’s water situation, and has served as a Board member through many of the key periods of discussion, progress and setbacks.
We met for a light breakfast at Linn’s. (again – love the whole wheat toast.) We discussed a range of topics, from the history of the SWF, to his views on growth and sustainability for Cambria. We touched on a couple of hot-button topics – specifically the perceived struggles the Board has in communicating with each other and the community. We discussed the stated lack of trust, and the accusations of “corruption” leveled by some.
I asked about what I see is a lack of simple, clear descriptions of the SWF. I suggested that a basic document might answer some community questions about what the plant is, what it does, how it works – as well as what it is not and does not do. He acknowledged the value of such a document, but suggested that the pending Draft EIR would address a lot of the questions. The complexity of the multiple pieces of the puzzle that add up to the overall future direction of Cambria probably can’t be simplified, but I still think there are intermediate steps that could be taken to pare things down to a more easily understood level.
We continued the discussion with Board dynamics. Greg acknowledged my comments and observations that at times it appears as if the Directors don’t communicate among themselves, leading to some surprising discussions in the monthly public meetings. While outlining the challenges of time, complexity and the Brown Act rules the Board operates under that can contribute to the situation, he also said that he could do a better job in fostering better working relationships with his fellow Directors.
The issue that really showed me the most about Greg Sanders the person was the discussion we had around the personal attacks launched his way by some members of the community. It was obvious that this pained him deeply – not only the noise directed at him but at other members of the Board and CSD Staff. He stated simply – there is no corruption, no collusion with secret groups of developers, no hidden agenda for future explosive growth. His view is that Cambria’s growth has real limits, and the current rules in place reflect that limit. He cited infrastructure, protection of natural resources and the ability to absorb all the things that come with excessive growth as reasons that he believes Cambria cannot tolerate the unrestrained growth people fear.
Finally, he said very clearly that he is available to speak with anyone about his views and positions, and to listen to concerns and feedback from the community. He said he would go to people’s homes and meet with interested groups, and he was in the book if anyone wanted to contact him. He will not engage in obvious “ambushes” -my word, not his. I don’t blame him, or anyone else for taking a position like that – there are enough examples of this type of behavior at Board meetings, in Letters To The Editor and on Social Media.
My Oldest Brand New Best Friend Who I Never Met
I got an email from Director Mike Thompson, giving me some feedback on my blog. He expressed agreement with some of my observations, and said he thought some of my other views were way off base. The nerve!!!
We agreed to meet for lunch to discuss his feedback and exchange views. Now I know what you’re thinking – Linn’s and again with the whole wheat toast! Partially true – we met at Linn’s Café on Bridge Street, and it was Philly Cheesesteak this time. I learned a lot during this meeting, including that I do not like red onion in my cheesesteak.
Mike came prepared with several pages of notes. He went into his thoughts around my first blog, where I questioned why the GM’s contract discussion was pulled from the agenda. He explained that he was getting feedback from his constituents that they were not pleased with the contract terms as presented, and after giving it a lot of thought came to the conclusion that the right thing to do was to pull back, re-examine the contract and come back with something that would be in better alignment with the community’s wishes. I appreciate his explanation, and his willingness to listen to the people he represents, rethink his position and take the action he felt was appropriate.
We talked about many of the same things I discussed with Amanda and Greg. I came away feeling that some of the “disconnects” I sensed among the Directors aren’t as big as I thought. I also came away with a better sense of Mike Thompson – a straight shooter who is committed to the community he serves.
I continue to be impressed with the openness and willingness to dialogue I found with the three Directors I have met with so far. I have not yet found the time to speak with the remaining two Directors, Gail Robinette and Jim Bahringer. Gail and I did have a brief conversation after the last public meeting and agreed we would set a time to meet for a more in-depth conversation. I’ll reach out to Jim when I’m sure I’m spelling his last name correctly.
I did have a very brief conversation with Dewayne Lee at the September 4th meeting; I introduced myself and mentioned that I would like to find a time to have a conversation around his platform. He agreed and said to give him a call, which I will do over the coming weeks.
Harry Farmer and I spoke briefly at the Farmer’s Market this past Friday. It was a bit awkward, as he was one of the attendees at the gathering I was asked to leave. He actually was the guy who read the infamous secret “blue shirt” note out loud. We briefly discussed his platform, and he gave me his flyer that highlights his views. I’d like to get back with him to discuss them in more detail.
I haven’t reached out to Mr. Kirkey or Mr. Walters yet, but plan to soon. My goal is to be as well-educated as possible before the November election.
Here’s my process for determining who gets my vote.
- Are they doing a good job overall?
- Do they demonstrate integrity and intelligence?
- Do things get done (understanding that there will always be some things that fall short.)
- Can I live with their decisions and positions that don’t align with my views?
- Will the candidate bring a skill or experience to the office that will make it more effective?
- Are candidates running on single issues, or popular buzz words?
- Can they demonstrate that they understand the big picture, and demonstrate the ability to work as a member of an elected team?
- Can they demonstrate critical, independent thinking, and stand on their positions under pressure?
I don’t see the value of changing horses just because you can.
All Politics Is Local…
We expect the best from our representatives. We should expect the best of ourselves. Honesty without compassion is cruelty. So as Elvis said…