Mar 30, 2019
by Stephanie Hiller
For a long time – for my entire lifetime – we have lived in a distinctly divided world, unable to find the bridge that would connect us, allowing for our differences but recognizing that we face a growing crisis that challenges our beliefs on both sides and could potentially unite us.
Whatever the terms we use to identify our positions, our division is fundamentally between those who are comfortable with the world as it has been, and those who are not. Those in power want to maintain the social order that enriches them, and those who are not, seek change; and whenever, on whichever issue, one side moves forward, the other counters. Instead of a bridge, we have a see-saw. Meanwhile the danger that confronts us worsens. Now we hear words like “extinction” popping up at the dinner table. Each side feels threatened, but instead of finding our shared basis in fear, we divide ourselves by blame.
Last week I attended the meeting of our City Council for the first time since its new configuration. Gary Edwards has left, Logan Harvey has been elected, and Amy Harrington has become this year’s Mayor. Two big issues were on the table – whether to limit the number of wine tasting rooms on the Plaza, and how to respond to a new regional initiative on housing. Both involve money.
The Council voted 4-1 to limit wine tasting rooms – to a number lower than the number that already exist! — and create a new licensing procedure for new ones.
Only David Cook opposed it, claiming government regulation is a threat to small farm-to-table enterprises, hard-working people who have devoted their lives to serving the public.
Logan Harvey articulated his frustration with Cooke’s view that government regulation is always damaging, citing his appreciation for regulations that protect our health and safety.
Rachel Hundley pointed out that we lack an overall vision for our downtown economy, and need to develop one.
Outside council chambers there has long been renewed interest in local economies as the best pathway to resilience in an unstable economy and an unsettled climate. For some, the vision of local business is a step backwards. Lesli John, General Manager of Pangloss Cellars, said, “The pharmacy and the general store are not coming back. We live in an Amazon world.”
Welcome to the Matrix. Amazon, Safeway, CVS et. al., like much of the wine business, are corporate, ruled from far away, reliant on fossil fuels for transport and delivery, using farming amendments like Round Up made of the same ingredients as those used in world War Two. Plastic, please note, is made of fossil fuels.
When we became invested in organic farming, herbal and complementary medicine, crafts and DIY crafts, the corporations tightened their hold on the faltering global economy that threatens to repeat the collapse we might have seen in 2007 when the “liberal” administration of Barack Obama bailed out the banks.
Organic food, a quaint idea of the 60s, became big. But agribusiness has consolidated its efforts to stay on top by beating back or co-opting the emerging movement, which now is described as “boutique,” unaffordable.
None of this is accidental. Land use is dominated by corporations buying up properties to develop them for the inflated housing market or hiring the farmer to do its bidding. Family farms are a vanishing phenomenon, just like family wineries, despite the sophisticated use of words and images to maintain the cozy delusion that these activities are “sustainable.” Advertising (a form of propaganda) has become subtler and more sophisticated. We are bombarded with flashing media images that interrupt our comprehension of the complexities of our world, persuading us that our visions of how the world should be are what the world is, that Big Brother (remember 1984?) is selling it to us.
Into this mess of phony persuasion for corporate dominance comes the attempt to “solve” the “housing crisis” by loosening regulations that sought to protect our streams and air from pollution, exacting financial support from cities and counties (that is to say, us), expediting rapid development without regard for its effect on carbon, and undermining the very bastion of capitalist democracy, namely private property.
Soon all we will have to protect the illusion of our independence is the right to own weapons once reserved for the military. Welcome to the Matrix.
CASA, a Spanish word for home that “means nothing”, i.e. is not an acronym in a lexicon flooded with acronyms, is a perfect example of the use of language to confuse and cloud our understanding by evoking visions of diversity and a happy hearth. For whom? For the few. But Fred Allebach, addressing the Council, thinks it will help “break the logjam” on housing.
CASA, the Committee to House the Bay Area, was developed behind closed doors over a period of 18 months by a group of big developers, buttressed by a few major philanthropies, and a handful of affordable housing representatives like Tenants Together (which dropped out in protest) under the umbrella of a powerful government agency called MTC, (Municipal Transportation Commission), which has subsumed its poorer relative ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) to become the overriding authority on regional land use policy.
Rolling her tongue over a word she says she has relished since high school, Councilmember Agrimonte called CASA “a harbinger…a harbinger of things to come.” (Or perhaps, already here.) Investigative journalist Zelda Bronstein, writing in San Francisco’s 44hills.com, called it a “coup.”
It’s a “compact” described by City Manager Cathy Capriola “as a very aggressive policy approach” which has already begun to launch legislation to implement its ten broad “elements” – with some 200 bills on the horizon, she noted, which city staff is not equipped to review.
What position does the City Council wish to take on this bundle of bureaucratic decisions that will wrest power away from small cities like our own to bail out counties like Santa Clara which have created more jobs than houses, driving up “market rate” housing for the region far beyond what the average worker can afford?
Harrington called CASA “a giveaway to big developers.”
Councilmember Cook was brief. He opposes CASA, because he’s in favor of local control. “When you see me in Safeway, you can talk to me about what you want.”
How ironic – and delightful — that CASA has brought the two ends of the divide to form a circle! The Council voted unanimously to oppose CASA.
Alas, it does not have the power to opt-out of this package if the legislature approves it.
Time for an active citizenry to take its eyes off the obnoxious man in the White House and rise up? You betcha. Or are we going to let the wool be pulled over our eyes once again?
UPDATE 3/21/19: the City of Sonoma has three 5G cell towers under review NOW. We are waiting for the next Planning Commission meeting to see what will happen. That could be APRIL 11, 6:30. Circle the date! Stay in touch for up-to-date info. We need your support! Thank you.
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