Power To Speak

Power To Speak

Regarding the idea of re-unionizing America (Power to Speak, 11/24), I’m struck by numerous erroneous assumptions and outright fallacies in the guest essay by Brian Lee Rencher. Interestingly, Mr. Rencher fails to provide any sources for his claims. Let’s examine these statements individually.

First, the phrase “distribution of wealth” throws up a red flag, because it implies that there is some cosmic or utopian ideal regarding in whose hands wealth is supposed to reside. This conviction that one is inherently owed wealth is a prime example of the entitlement mindset. No one is owed anything.

Second, let’s define “wealth.” Does Mr. Rencher mean only income, or total assets? For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll choose income, as seizure of another’s assets is theft.

According to an article published in the New York Times (Floyd Norris, July 23, 2010), “The I.R.S. disclosure of combined tax return information for the wealthiest taxpayers — those with annual incomes of $10 million or more — provides glimpses into the lives of the super-rich. Most people in that rarefied group are there because of their investments, not their work. Only19 percent of [income] came from wages and salaries, much less than came from capital gains, even in such a bad year for stocks.”

So, when Mr. Rencher decries the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, it seems he is faulting them for daring to put their money to work. Using your money to make more money is hardly an unknown or secret concept, but somehow Mr. Rencher labels those who do as “robber barons.”

When labor unions were first instituted, they were a critical and vital force for combating the excesses and exploitation of the original robber barons and their companies. The song “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford encapsulates this situation with crystalline clarity. Yes, the common laborers were relegated to the same situation as medieval serfs, what was in effect indentured servitude. Banding together to stand up to the company ownership and their hired muscle took courage and strength. As with so many human endeavors, however, the pendulum swung too far the other way.

Mr. Rencher’s example of the public sector workers as “the last vestiges of the unionized American worker” is fatally flawed. Public sector workers are not concerned with productivity, profits or competitiveness of their organization.

Since there is no profit to worry about or customers to satisfy, public workers exemplify the absolute worst aspects and traits of “the unionized American worker.” Is Mr. Rencher seriously trying to claim that the people behind the counter at City Hall, the DMV or the IRS (to cover three levels of public sector) are shining examples of what unionization produces?

Let’s look at the effect that a unionized labor force has in a for-profit organization. First, it artificially increases the overhead (operating expenses, which include salaries and benefits) of a company. This increase is not accompanied by any greater contribution of value to the organization’s operations or productivity, which means that the organization’s overall worth actually declines. It also typically makes it more difficult to remove non-competitive employees from the payroll, regardless of the reason. So the organization has increased costs to produce the same amount of profit.

The company passes on the cost to its customers, the very same unionized workers who are demanding ever-higher wages and benefits to buy ever-more costly products and services. Is the vicious cycle becoming clearer now?

As labor unions continually inflated the cost of the labor force, businesses searched for ways to keep those costs under control to continue making a profit. Inevitably, establishing operations in other countries became cheaper than continuing to employ American workers, thanks to their unions. This is not quantum mechanics, dear readers.

I fail to see how the “huge wealth transfer” of “bank bailouts” got “short shrift” in the media. Not only that, the wealth that was supposedly transferred went to the stockholders of those banks, some of it, retirement funds for Mr. Rencher’s unions. So the retirement fund manager who is charged with ensuring that the unionized workers will get money for doing nothing is being demonized by Mr. Rencher for encouraging the banks in which the fund invested to achieve maximum profits no matter how risky the method. Then, when the bubbles burst (as they inevitably do), people like Mr. Rencher rail on about robber barons, greedy capitalists and thieving management. Wow.

Self-contradict much?

Somehow, I doubt that Mr. Rencher has a problem buying any of these products that greedy “capitalists” produce. I’m sure he wears clothing, buys food, owns some sort of vehicle, and probably lives in a domicile of some sort. Funny thing is, all of these things are nearly always produced by greedy capitalists. I just cannot see how profit is a dirty word. I can see, however, that wanting something for nothing is foolish and moronic, as is being convinced that the universe owes you anything. A business owner owes you nothing more than what you can prove you’re able to provide to the benefit of his company, and that is subject to negotiation betwixt the two of you.

Do you want more wealth? Work hard, save harder, invest wisely, and stop whining. Buy from small businesses, preferably local if possible. Be sure your investments are managed correctly and placed with companies that engage in sound strategies and whose ownership and management are fairly compensated. Unions have become part and parcel of the problem, rather than the remedy that they once were. Corporate management whose compensation isn’t linked to company performance is another facet of the same problem. These are all varying degrees of the me-first mentality that has pervaded American society at every level: higher wages for me (the worker) even if the company suffers; bonuses and compensation packages for me even if the company implodes (the executive); keep me (the politician) in office even though I fail to responsibly represent my constituents. The American Dream has always been that you can prosper by the sweat of your own brow, the strength of your hands, and the desire in your heart. It was NEVER a guarantee.

Dion Hansen, a Ventura resident, is an average citizen, critic of all levels of government, Heinlein devotee.   

 

Power To Speak

Power To Speak

Ventura’s Westside Community Plan conflicts with our General Plan and citizen visions.

In 2005, the city and citizens completed the General Plan Update that rejected expansion areas to focus first on infill development. In contrast, the new Westside Community Plan focuses on expansion — not infill.

Expansion into the North [Ventura] Avenue and Cañada Larga Valley should not be done in a community plan. These 1,600 acres have serious infrastructure deficits that will be costly to upgrade as well as to service and maintain. Because of the dire financial consequences linked with expansion, the concept should wait for the next General Plan Update — when the appropriate citywide public discussion could take place.

We are currently in the worst recession of our lifetimes with full recovery still years away. The city has closed an East-end fire station and our East-end library for lack of funds. City expansion, at this time, under these circumstances, is not in the best interest of the city or it citizens.

Additionally, in previous Westside citizen-aided vision plans, it was the revitalization of the existing Westside Community (inside the city’s incorporated boundaries) that was of paramount importance for residents. Moving forward with the plan for the existing Westside Community makes sense; expanding into the North Avenue/Cañada Larga Valley areas (which takes focus away from the existing community infill) does not.

Including expansion into the North Avenue and the Cañada Larga Valley in the Westside Community Plan significantly increases the cost for the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)-required environmental impact report (EIR) and effectively transfers major planning costs from private developers to city taxpayers.

Additionally, to be ready for CEQA review, the plan needs, well, a plan. Even with a program EIR, CEQA requires, at the very least, clear project parameters. The Cañada Larga parcels have not been pre-zoned, and the special district industrial (SD) zones have a mixed-use development (MXD) overlay where single- and multi-unit residential uses are allowed as part of mixed-use development proposals. To accurately analyze environmental impacts, then, the EIR must look at the maximum level of development possible under the plan, meaning: 1.) SD zones must be analyzed at the highest MXD level allowed, and 2.) the Bonsall parcels (including the Cañada Larga Valley) must have definitive zoning or the EIR cannot properly identify impacts.

The City Council seems to be placing all its eggs in the Brooks/PetroChem project basket, counting on it to be a viable project. One of the principal PetroChem partners, essentially told the City Council/Planning Commission, at a 4/19/10 joint meeting, to go ahead and include it in the North Avenue Plan but there were no guarantees that the project would be viable.

At that same meeting, council members expressed interest in capturing the potential property tax increment gain on the, now, almost worthless PetroChem property by placing it in a redevelopment project area. The problem is, if the project is not viable, it will not be built and there will be no tax increment gain; but because we are rushing this plan forward, the non-viability realization will come too late, and the city will be stuck with the costs of servicing these annexed areas.

The plan has zoned the Brooks/PetroChem sites as university special district (UD) and urban center (T5.5), which “consists of higher density mixed-use building types that accommodate retail, office, rowhouse and apartment uses.” Issues that go unaddressed are: 1.) Both sites sit in the Ventura River floodplain; 2.) both are subject to natural river migration; and 3.) the PetroChem property has industrial pollutants that have not been quantified, identified or removed. Placing student/faculty housing on potentially toxic land in a floodplain is simply not good planning for the public’s health and welfare.

There is serious public opposition to expanding into the North Avenue and Cañada Larga Valley because it will steal focus from good revitalizing infill projects in the existing Westside Community, as well as other incorporated areas throughout the city. Opponents also cite the disconnect in the reasons given in the plan for the expansion such as “job enhancement” and the actions of the plan that convert industrial North Avenue land to residential uses.

Cost of community services (COCS) studies compare the fiscal contribution (positive or negative) of existing local land uses. Regardless of which university conducts the research, the results have been consistent. Twenty years of COCS studies show that agricultural land is similar to other commercial and industrial lands, which all generate more public revenues than they receive back in public services. On the other hand, average residential land uses do not cover their costs; thus, they must be subsidized by other community land uses. Converting agricultural or industrial land to residential land uses should not be seen as a way to balance a local budget.

The 800-acre North Avenue area is currently predominantly industrial. This plan allows the option for conversion of industrial land to high-density, mixed-development residential uses. The City Council’s direction of one-to-one house-to-job ratio has seemingly been forgotten. On the other hand, if the North Avenue stays under county jurisdiction, it will remain industrial, retaining the potential to employ Ventura residents.

The 800-acre Cañada Larga Valley is currently agricultural grazing land with a 40-acre-per-house minimum. People expect a SOAR vote before such a large area can be annexed for more intensive development. Through an unfortunate loophole, the valley can be annexed from the county to the city without a SOAR vote. It is wrong to slide through a city expansion proposal of this scale in a community plan that will take only four council votes to ratify.

The minute we acquire jurisdiction of the North Avenue and Cañada Larga Valley, the city will be solely responsible for the cost of serving the area with police and fire service, as well as other necessary city services. Look at the high-fire-hazard map for these areas. Look at the flood-plain map. Look at recent reports on local water supplies. The city simply does not have the financial wherewithal for these additional resource and public safety burdens in this sour economy.

We need to stop pushing this plan forward in an attempt to grab some redevelopment property tax increment that may or may not appear, because projects may not secure financing or have an adequate market for years to come.

Additionally, the costs to clean industrial pollutants may outstrip the profit that could be made by developing some sites.

City planning should not be a sprint; it should be a slow and deliberate marathon, ensuring that the short- and long-term consequences are anticipated and addressed. Developers should not dictate city expansion. As far as capturing tax increment, the derelict PetroChem property is not suddenly going to be worth more; we can take our time and do the planning right.

The important physical and fiscal expansion question demands a citywide discussion. It belongs in the next General Plan Update process — not in a rushed-through community plan that leaves taxpayers footing the bills for private development costs. If a project is viable, then a developer would gladly pay the related development costs. The Westside Community Plan should focus on the existing Westside Community inside our existing city limits south to Downtown, and leave the discussion on city expansion to the next General Plan Update process, where it belongs.   

Diane Underhill is a Ventura resident and activist.

Power To Speak

Power To Speak

In his recent writings published in the Nov. 4 VCReporter, Paul Moomjean states that he is a “words guy.” While that may be true, it is plain that he is not a “facts guy” a “truth guy” or an “accuracy guy.” In fact, he seems like a typical “spew-right-wing-talking-points-verbatim guy.” While reading his column, I almost could see Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck pulling his strings like a marionette. Almost.

I find it amusing for Moomjean to say that our Governator is an example of Republican tolerance, when it is plain that Democratic Party opinions run the gamut from ultra-liberal to slightly right of center, while Republican views tend to be right, hard-right and extreme right. Yes, there are occasional social liberals like Schwarzenegger in that party, but I’m old enough to remember when people spoke of “the liberal wing of the Republican Party.” Such a thing hasn’t existed for at least 25 years now, because of the ideological purification purges that party regularly conducts. On the other hand, organizing Democrats is like herding cats, which is the real reason why Republicans win elections, even though they are so vastly outnumbered. “Staying on message” and “being disciplined” are merely synonyms for marching lockstep.

The Juan Williams issue is a joke, too. The bottom line is, Williams violated his employment contract. Since I know that righties like Moomjean like to champion the rights of employers over workers, why would Moomjean reverse himself in this situation? Could it be hypocrisy, Paul? Double standards indeed!

And you should know that Rob Reiner is as much a joke in liberal circles as in conservative ones, so no points to you for mentioning him.

Finally, I would like to ask Mr. Moomjean, and any of the extreme reactionaries who are cheering him on, a few simple questions:

Was it a liberal who bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building? Was it a liberal who bombed the Atlanta Olympics?

Was it a liberal who assassinated legal abortion provider Dr. Tiller? Was it a liberal who shot up a Unitarian church in Tennessee and killed people? Was it a liberal who got stopped by the CHP in the Bay Area, with a carload of weapons and plans to shoot up an activist’s office and kill “a bunch of liberals”? Was it the liberal supporters of a Kentucky senate candidate who curb-stomped a woman who was protesting the candidate? No. The truth is, all the perpetrators of the above acts were conservatives.

While I am not saying that all conservatives are violent nutcases, virtually all violent nutcases who commit political terrorism in this country are conservatives. Yes, there will be a small handful of liberals who have done the same, but vanishingly few within the last 30 years. This is a fact, and while we may debate what that fact actually means, denying that it is a fact simply removes you from consideration as a serious thinker on this issue, Mr. Moonjean.

Plainly, conservatives have much LESS tolerance for opposing viewpoints, to the point that they are quicker to take violent action against those with such viewpoints.

And as far as hypocrisy goes, Paul, you take the crown. In one of your columns when you were railing against “Obamacare,” you mentioned that you didn’t think it fair for anyone to criticize you for being “unChristian” in opposing health care reform. You said, “We Christians simply don’t like to be told how we should exercise our charitable impulses,” or words to that basic effect. Yet, in a column more recently, you bemoaned the waning influence of the religious right, citing issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. So, apparently, it’s OK for Christians like you to hold non-Christians (which really means all non-evangelical Christians) accountable to Christian standards of conduct, but it’s not right for non-Christians to insist that Christians live by their own standards. There’s a word for that, Mr. Moomjean. It’s hypocrisy. There’s also another word for it: sociopathy. Apparently, Mr. Moomjean wants government to be small. Small enough to fit down every man’s pants and up every woman’s uterus.

You also seem at great pains to insist that the Tea Party isn’t racist. Apparently, you haven’t seen the same Tea Party rallies I’ve seen. I have family from the South, and some still live there.  And while the n-word may be said aloud only rarely at Tea Party gatherings, there are certain “dog whistle” words and phrases that, in company that knows it can’t overtly express racism, expresses clear racist intent. You will hear nearly all of those at Tea Party rallies. Words and phrases like, “entitlement programs,” “socialism,” “big government” and so on are all racial “dog whistles” that are tantamount to the n-word with many racist whites. 

You don’t even realize your own superior and condescending attitude when you mention the poor, minorities, women and youth being “easily scammed.” Really? How about the terminally gullible, like yourself, Mr. Moomjean? Don’t you think you may have been scammed by conservative “thinkers”?

Sorry, but you conservatives don’t get to lecture liberals about tolerance until you have a much better record of your own on both tolerance and hypocrisy.   

 

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