From the Publishers

We the people

by Carolyn Chase
olitics is probably the most original and longest running form of theater. And everyone can have their two-minute walk-on. Figure out where and when the meetings are, arrive and fill out a speaker's slip - and you are in the cast. When your name is called, you go the podium. When the green light comes on, you state your name and address and voila!, for the next minute or so the folks in power have to listen to you. Or do they? What can we conclude about a system where most public participation is reduced to 2-minute soundbites or letters no one has the time to read?
Our local political system presents an odd paradox. On one hand, as a representative democracy we elect intelligent, responsible leaders to make important decisions for us (no snickering out there). On the other hand, as a participatory democracy we require these leaders to take public testimony - which they are free to ignore. Of course, as politicians - whether they are truly interested in the will of the people or just getting re-elected - the testimony is probably of some passing interest.
Since last December, SDET has made a point of covering and reporting on regional habitat planning and (as the professionals refer to it) land use issues. During this time, I have attended several City Council, Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission hearings. I've learned the basic ebb and flow of the meeting process. I've learned how terribly inconvenient it is for 50 or 100 folks to show up to be heard - some time between 11am and 4pm. I've seen how items mysteriously appear on agendas without notice - except to certain partisans who are "clued in."
In last month's issue, we decided to try an experiment. We ran a petition to the County Board of Supervisors called the "Natural Heritage and Quality of Life" petition. The purpose of the petition is to let the Board of Supervisors know that enough San Diegans cared about local resource protections and habitat planning efforts to take action.
By the time you read this, I will have presented those petitions to the Board during my allotted two-minute time slice. In three weeks, and with the help of many other local groups and individuals, we collected about 1500 signatures on printed petitions and another hundred or so via the internet. Of these, 200 offered to volunteer and another 100 sent in their computer email addresses. Many thanks to all of you!
What can I conclude about the state of local government and its responsiveness to quality-of-life and environmental issues? Do I think that the Board of Supervisors will respond to the petitions? We'll see.
What I do know is that whether or not the Board responds at this hearing, I've heard from 1,500 folks in our region who care and want to make a difference. And if I can learn about 1,500 in three weeks, I can learn about thousands more, given the time and organization. Ultimately, it is this base of committed citizens that will be needed to get across to elected officials the message that conservation and resource protection are needed to support a healthy economy.
In accepting this year's Earth Day proclamation at the County, I pointed out to the Board the wisdom in the three large and beautiful murals in the Board Chambers dating from the late 1930s. The murals depict three of the key sources of real wealth in the County: agriculture, recreation and conservation.
This is what we need to protect. Because whatever the name of the program, process or ordinance - MSCP, MHCP, RPO, General Plan, or whatever - the bottom line is, what is going to achieve a sustainable relationship with local resources and people?
That bottom line will only be achieved through a working network of citizens standing for the protection of our quality of life and local resources from overdevelopment and unsustainable growth. We will work for those who understand these issues and work against those who do not. We will seek to educate everyone, to resolve the conflicts in a fair manner, and always offer opportunities for participation.
Will this work? Will it be messy? Will there be conflict? Of course! But as Gandhi said, "Each of us may have just a small thing to do, but it is very important that you do it." So, come on along. You too can be a star - two minutes at time.