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Op-Ed: Please, Let Us Govern Ourselves

Novato should be the body to decide what's right for Novato.

The infiltration of the Novato scene by influences from the outside is smothering local identity, local enterprise and local government. 

The computer and telecommunications revolutions have made it possible for huge organizations to direct local activities remotely and that is exactly what they are doing. Just because they can, it does not follow that they should. Political parties, business associations, unions, philanthropic, environmental, religious and special-interest organizations all have built local networks to support their national and global aims. The same has happened at state and regional levels.

The constant pressure from these sources has complicated the process of local governance so much that the average citizen has difficulty separating self-serving distortions from fact. In the absence of balanced journalism, we sometimes cede our votes to the last doorhanger in a local election.

Most of us would agree that running government from the top down does not produce superior results. What it produces is propaganda in the form of "outreach" and a state of constant war between the two national political parties. That same effect occurs when news associations blur the line between advocacy and reportage and philanthropy mixes good works with particular views of world order. Similarly, running a town through networks that are operating at higher levels often has disastrous results at the local level.

When you read an opinion piece about what the city of Novato ought to do on ANYTHING, ask yourself what network the writer belongs to, what set of assumptions he is adopting and what groups will be advantaged by the adopted policies. Does this measure primarily benefit Novato citizens or does it primarily benefit Marin County citizens? Does this measure primarily benefit Novato or does it primarily benefit the Bay Area? Does this measure primarily benefit Novato or the state of California?

If some one identifies himself as working with a countywide, regional, statewide or national organization, immediately dial up your status alert for what he says next. If you hear this triple linkage "affordable housing, environmental integrity and social justice," know that you have gone from local to global in just six words even if the emphasis is mostly on the United States.

Your next step is to look for words and phrases such as "a fact-based, respectful housing dialogue," "support our local economy," "delay compliance with housing element law at our [read 'your'] own peril," "[sites] located near transit, jobs and retail," "vitality," "vibrant," "small multi-unit, environmentally friendly residential developments."

If you can find these, know that you have found the one-size-fits-all label on the piece of goods you are being sold.

Your last step is to find one purported fact and to consider debunking it.

Try this one: "The unmet need for deed-restricted, truly affordable housing is obvious. We see this need in teacher turnover rates in the Novato Unified School District …" 

There are many reasons for high teacher turnover anywhere. The No. 1 reason that applies to most districts is that salaries and working conditions are better elsewhere. This idea is not rocket science.

Just as biology is not destiny, propaganda affects but does not determine the fate of every town.  When affordable housing is recommended indiscriminately for Novato with no limits in the number of poor families welcomed, no nod to the additional subsidies required beyond that of housing, no awareness that there is a tipping point beyond which a town cannot produce the necessary social services, and only the presumptuous refrain that [the group] "recognizes the vital importance of affordable housing to our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," you must realize that this person is not showing the whole picture encompassing Novato's well-being.

Those quotes came from "Marin Voice: Affordable housing need is obvious" by Ron Albert (Nov. 27, ). Mr. Albert is the former mayor of Sausalito, a town that not only does not have an approved housing element for this 2007-2014 general plan update cycle but also does not have one for the last cycle. Perhaps Mr. Albert has not cultivated his own backyard.

Sara December 02, 2011 at 07:57 PM
Citizens United was the crack in the dam and there have been other similar rulings since. Unless we do something it's only a matter of time before the corporate citizens gain the actual right to vote, probably based on the number of employees or maybe their contribution to the GNP (ie they provide more to the 'common good' therefore should have more of a say). Until we reach that Game Over point it is up to us, the human citizens of our nation, to do the work and ensure that we are well informed. Even more so, we have a responsibility to help inform our fellow citizens in light of mass media that is often owned by self-serving corporations.
Suzi December 02, 2011 at 08:19 PM
Thanks Pam! I hope you continue keeping us all so well informed.
Steven Norwin December 02, 2011 at 08:24 PM
I just read in the IJ-online that Judy Arnold is promoting increasing the runway at the Novato airport. You know what that means...Hello large commercial planes and plenty of noise over head. She claims it's a good idea for safety purposes incase of an earthquake...Are you kidding Me? We allo know it's to line the pockets of another. Novato just can't win.
SHROYER FOR SUPERVISOR 2014 December 03, 2011 at 04:33 AM
Pam, Excellent article. Thank you for your steadfast leadership and efforts to help Novato. Keep the conversation alive! Keep at it! Keep up the good work!
janna nikkola December 03, 2011 at 05:15 PM
Gnoss Field is already a source of unwelcome noise with small planes buzzing our rooftops, apparently from student pilots. I can't imagine how our lifestyles would be forever changed if expansion of Gross Field were allowed and we had to cope with more noise of commercial flights coming and going overhead. Many Marin County residents moved here from other part of the Bay Area to get away from noise, congestion and airport noise. Our lives would never be the same and property values would plummet.
Michael Reyff December 03, 2011 at 06:11 PM
Pam: Great article. Thank you for your outstanding efforts on keeping us informed. Unfortunately you are spot on. Institututional politics is controlling local politics. The recent city council election is an example. What is most unfortunate is that most people do not have a clue about the reality of thier local politics and vote for the most popular message. Regarding the Gnoss expansion. You know high density affordable housing is coming to your town when they expand the local runway to accommodate the developers corporate jets. How do I know? I worked for one.
Trish Boorstein December 03, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Pam, what an amazing oped piece! Now the most relevant question is, especially after this election, how do we educate Novato and her citizens before it's too late??!!! Let's all start a campaign "Plug into Patch!"
Pam Drew December 04, 2011 at 03:13 PM
'Plug into Patch' is perfect! It's certainly the place to go for the Novato news up to the minute. The news is straightforward, a quick read, and it's not contaminated by ideology. Brent's standards for good, unbiased reporting are the old standards. He labels opinion as opinion and news as news and he knows the difference.
Tina McMillan December 05, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Pam, thank you for commenting on this OpEd piece from the IJ. I think the point you make about people's motivations when writing opinion pieces is extremely important. Mr. Albert obviously didn't do his homework. Like many, he thought that Novato was an easy target. He also hasn't done his homework about the effects of affordable housing on the tax base that supports local schools. In order for Novato to be able to cover the costs of affordable housing they must make up revenue by having extremely expensive housing on the other side. Without this balance we can never expect to be more than a "low wealth" district for school funding because we have always had more reasonably priced housing in Novato than our southern Marin counterparts.
Tina McMillan December 05, 2011 at 05:31 PM
In addition, all our schools have been impacted by English Language Learners (ELL) and Socio- Economically Disadvantaged (SED) children. The link to the report below explains the difficulties many California communities are having when they try and educate both ELL and ED/SED children. It explains that there are no consistent remedies in place. Mr. Albert's opinion piece purposefully ignores that fact that Novato schools have fewer resources but are expected to carry a greater load. To chastise Novato for questioning density requirements when you live in a city that has three times the funds available to teach in local public schools is the essence of hypocrisy. http://www.lao.ca.gov/2009/edu/academic_success/academic_success_0109.pdf
Robert J. Cleek December 05, 2011 at 09:51 PM
Great op ed piece! That said, what it's really about is the need for critical thinking. Critical thinking is essential to any viable democratic society. Regrettably, the American public, having been fed media pablum for a couple of generations, is grossly deficient in this skill. When televised tripe like "The Kardashians" and "Sister Wives" garner the ratings they do, it's no surprise the electorate is so easily controlled by special interest propaganda.
Liza December 06, 2011 at 03:46 AM
Things are not always what they seem...SUNN ? http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/seattle-welfare-recipient-lives-million-dollar-home-161252749.html
Lloyd December 06, 2011 at 04:40 PM
Take a look at anything Ms. Arnold advocates and you will probably find an alternative agenda that doesn't represent our best interests.
Lloyd December 06, 2011 at 04:51 PM
Pam the article was a refreshing look into our real world and how corporate and political special interests use their economic or policy platforms to socially engineer and take away our right to self determination by legislating and simply tipping the debate to buy the results they want. It was a brilliant expose' Bob Cleek is spot on. The continued lack of participation in the democratic process has allowed this apathy to threaten our very way of life and liberties we wrongly take for granted. If we don't step up, get involved, ask questions and participate we might wake up one morning and find ourselves living in a very different society controlled by others who will know what is best for all of us. If that thought alarms you it should..
Trish Boorstein December 06, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Robert, I just had the opportunity to view a screening of Miss Representation, a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, that specificaly looks at the way the media represents women in our society as of the late 1970's when media became deregulated under Reagan. I can assure you that the plight of women in this country will continue to deteriorate if we continue to misrepresent women in media. We must educate women of this gross misrepresentation to reverse this trend. Only then will critical thinking return to our greater society as a whole.
Trish Boorstein December 06, 2011 at 06:56 PM
I forgot to include the website, www.missrepresentation.org for anyone interested in this information.
Mike Mills December 07, 2011 at 02:35 AM
Really...We will get exactly what we deserve from our elected officials - Novato will never recover. Novato council rejects housing fees for commercial developer http://www.marinij.com/novato/ci_19483717
Lloyd December 07, 2011 at 03:45 AM
It is time we explain the error of the Council's vote in mass at their meeting the 13th. Every person with a stake and concern should be there. We get what they give us if we meekly stay home and let it happen. Be there and be counted or stay home and wish for someone else to carry the torch.
Bob Ratto December 07, 2011 at 03:58 AM
Mike Thanks for the link, discussion and vote was way late. The meeting just seemed to be messy, with quite a bit of bickering. Linkage fees are not an easy subject at all, as they can cause a "slippery slope"...there would need to be a clear definition of what constitutes a development subject to fees, lest you end up with a local shop owner employing high school kids and being forced to pay some egregious fee to support AH..but on new development such as Hanna, it really did make sense from an economics perspective. SUNN proclaimed it a bad site in a nicely timed piece, but it was unfortunately missing the bigger picture-and the remainder of the City will now have to absorb what will almost automatically be higher RHNA numbers since the advocates have designated Novato as ground zero for their focus, which is fine, but it is disturbing when other areas are not willing to step up and take on what would be a rational allocation. If somebody wants to work to get Pam Drew on council.....
DC December 25, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Taxation without representation is tyranny (James Otis). It is my observation that various City Council decisions do not reflect or "represent" the majority position of the people. We cannot change that unless we hold our elected officials accountable. Verbally challenging a Council Member does not work, and it is easy for them to get re-elected when the powers that be (news media) advertise through editorials as to who should hold office. Renegade Council Members that ignore the majority position must be immediately challenged, and this is where we drop the ball. The peoples' position need be backed by presenting a legal ultimatum whenever necessary. I propose that we do this on the spot at City Council meetings. This would require an additional attorney to sit between the people and the City Council. The attorney must be well versed in Constitutional law and Democracy, and anxiously interject upon the first sign that a Council Member(s) is deviating from the majority position. If the Council Member(s) disregard the attorney's postion that a potential decision threatens Democracy, such Member(s) will need to answer to a writ of mandate that exposes their tyrannical behavior. He shall be called "The Peoples' Attorney" and he shall have power to interrupt a meeting as necessary in order to protect the Democratic process. Any volunteers?
Novato Chess Club December 26, 2011 at 12:40 PM
It is an honor living in the Novato community, a town of intelligence, and well thought out opinions. Keep Novato a town. Where I come from--many politicians sold out the local "will of the people" for larger personal agenda's --and future political jobs. The sad reality is many politicians look at government as long term career paths; instead of service to community. Stay vigilant Novato residents...and support local business growth.

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