Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | October 3, 2003

Moaning about ‘outsiders’ is disingenuous

OK, OK, anyone who’s remotely aware of local politics knows by now that Gilroy First! has ties to labor unions. Yes, they should have been more up front about their connections to the AFL/CIO (they’re ‘outsiders,’ you know), and they have likely lost credibility, at least, with swing voters because of their lack of candor. But the group’s been outed by numerous Dispatch articles, and anyone who follows local politics enough to read the just the headlines knows who’s behind Gilroy First!

I, for one, have had enough of the moaning about ‘outside’ influences on Gilroy politics. It’s disingenuous at best, cynically manipulative at worst, to complain about unions spending money to elect City Council candidates they support without working up an equal amount of lather about the political influence of developers in Gilroy.

If you don’t think it’s good for Gilroy to have the influence of labor union money in local politics because it comes from so-called ‘outsiders,’ you’ve also got to despise the influence that developers from retail tycoons to tract home barons – many of whom are ‘outsiders’ – have on city politics, policies and elections.

Otherwise, in my view, you’re a hypocrite.

In the same way I won’t let Arnold Schwarzenegger get away with calling unions and Indian tribes special interests, but not slapping corporations and businessmen with the same label, I won’t let it pass when people denounce union participation in the local political process without also criticizing developers’ influence.

And should anyone doubt that the developers have held sway in Gilroy over the last decade or so, take a look around. Take note of the retail strip mall Mecca that the east side of U.S. 101 has become. Be awed at the speed with which money was found to rework the U.S. 101/Tenth Street interchange to facilitate the further growth of that burgeoning sales tax empire. Scan the tract homes filling acre after acre of Gilroy’s Northwest Quad. Review Gilroy’s plans to add roughly 3,500 housing units in the next decade, while nearby Morgan Hill will likely add less than 2,500.

And look at the wasteland that has developed in between the two areas of development – Gilroy’s downtrodden downtown, untouched by a plan because developers see too few dollar signs and elected officials see too little political payoff from expending any effort there.

Without making a value judgement on the wisdom of the city’s retail and housing development history and plans, it cannot be denied that developers have and will continue to shape Gilroy.

Many critics of the unions’ recent participation in Gilroy politics are fond of painting them as ‘outsiders.’ It’s true, much of the union leadership is based in other parts of the Bay Area. But a good chunk of Gilroy’s population consists of union members.

It’s disingenuous and hypocritical to paint unions with the ‘outsider’ brush without applying the same criticism to developers. Granted, some development in Gilroy is done by locally owned companies – Glen Loma Group springs immediately to mind – but much of it is done by ‘outsiders.’

What it really comes down to is honest criticism. If you don’t like the politics and policies advocated by unions, that’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion. But above-board union critics should debate the substance of their objections rather than resort to hypocritical criticisms that are equally applicable to philosophical opposite of unions – developers.

Union critics, who are often pro-development, have rightly pointed out Gilroy First!’s ties to organized labor, and have taken the group to task for its lack of forthrightness about those connections.

But those development advocates often fail to exercise the same forthrightness they’re demanding of Gilroy First! when they criticize union political activity in Gilroy. The use of any criticism that can also apply to developers – and big money and ‘outsider’ influence are certainly two that apply to both groups – is hypocritical.

Let’s elevate the level of political discourse in Gilroy and discuss the meat of the matters that face the community: what kind of policies are best for the city for housing, economic incentives, downtown revitalization, public safety costs, health care, to name just a few.

And isn’t that how Gilroy – or any community – ought to choose its leaders?



  1. […] criticized his party in a column in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. I’m no Schwarzenegger fan, but he’s right to decry the rapidly shrinking GOP tent: “An inclusive party would welcome the […]

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