Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 18, 2007

Educated, involved electorate is the most important gift

I’m making my list and checking it twice for items I’d like Santa Claus to bring to South County:

• Redistricting reform – Legislators talk about reforming the current redistricting system that’s rife with conflict of interest and transforming it into a system that puts residents’ interests first, but they never manage to pass reform bills. Legislators are addicted to the power to create safe districts after every census; they really aren’t interested in creating districts that concatenate communities with common interests.

I wish for a well-written, successful initiative that transfers redistricting authority to a nonpartisan third party, similar to plans that work well in several other states.

• Sunshine laws – Gilroy city councilman Perry Woodward recently proposed a sunshine ordinance for that community that includes several reforms that I applaud. The most important change requires that most closed sessions be videotaped. Each tape would be released after the matter under discussion is resolved.

In years of covering local politics, I’ve heard lots of off-the-record tales alleging closed session behavior that violates California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act.

Videotaping closed session protects privacy while it’s needed, but the eventual release of tapes allows residents to monitor their elected officials’ words and deeds. Videotaping closed sessions provides a strong incentive for elected officials to stick to the narrow closed session topic at hand.

While I’m encouraged that Gilroy’s city council might soon adopt a sunshine ordinance, I believe that lack of adherence to closed session rules isn’t limited to its city council. A myriad of legislative bodies represent South County residents – from other councils to school boards to special districts focused on water and public transit – and they all ought to be held to the standards enumerated in Woodward’s proposed ordinance.

I wish for legislation similar to Woodward’s that applies to all legislative bodies currently covered by the Brown Act. Perhaps one of South County’s representatives in Sacramento – Assembly members John Laird or Anna Caballero or state Senators Abel Maldonado or Elaine Alquist – will introduce just those kinds of bills in the upcoming legislative session.

• Flood control project completion – While Congress approved $65 million for the five-decades-delayed Llagas Creek flood control project in a recent authorization bill, that’s not even half the battle.

Next, Congress must include funding as needed in appropriation bills. Currently, $1 million is needed. The current estimate for the total cost of the flood control project is $105 million.

Also, the project must stay on the Army Corps of Engineers’ to-do list.

Getting $65 million in an authorization bill was important, but it’s not nearly enough to get the flood control project finally completed.

I wish for the Llagas Creek flood control project to stay on track for a quick, if long-delayed, completion.

• Schools first in Gilroy – Gilroy officials approve the construction of lots of houses that bring lots of students that need to be educated in Gilroy public schools. Unfortunately, school impact fees set by the state don’t come close to covering the cost of building facilities those students need.

State law currently limits school impact fees to $2.63 per square foot, but school officials estimate those fees need to be $6.61 per square foot to cover facilities construction costs.

Gilroy needs a two-pronged solution, I believe: A city council willing to say no to developers until the current school facilities crunch is resolved – providing those developers with a strong incentive to voluntarily and dramatically increase their contributions to school facilities – and a legislative solution from Sacramento that realigns the school impact fees with current construction costs to prevent similar problems from developing in the future.

I wish that Gilroy’s city council members and state legislators will soon implement the two-pronged solution that ensures that Gilroy’s public schools can keep pace with the students the city’s liberal housing policies bring to town.

•••

Compiling this list led me to two important realizations: First, my list is far from complete. I could add perchlorate cleanup, vital downtowns, eminent domain reform, fixed sidewalks, an end to spending on the BART-to-San Jose boondoggle and much more to the list.

Second, and even more important: We don’t need Santa to make any of these things realities. We simply need an educated, involved electorate that communicates with its elected representatives and holds them accountable at the ballot box.

We can be our own Santa Claus. This year especially, with pivotal congressional and presidential elections quickly approaching, I’ll have to revise my list: I wish for an educated, involved South County electorate.

Everything else follows from that.

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Responses

  1. […] his speech tonight, Super Tuesday. It really is up to us. That’s why I’m so passionate about voting, about an educated, involved electorate that holds its government […]

  2. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


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