Friday, January 14, 2011

CityWatchLA - The Politics of Language

CityWatch, Jan 14, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 4

Ballot Measures:
Political Kabuki

It’s ballot measure season, that time of the year when obfuscation becomes a blood sport and Jabberwocky becomes the battle cry!

There are ten ballot measures scheduled for public vote on LA’s March 8 Primary Election and the people of Los Angeles are well-advised to approach carefully and to read cautiously because all is not as it seems.

This claim is backed up by a simple survey of past ballot measures and sleight of hand proposals such as the recent statewide Prop 22 which was positioned as “protecting” local development dollars and “preventing” another State of California “hand-out” of public revenue.

Somehow the movement of local money to the state level and then back to local schools and hospitals was billed as a “hand-out” while the “protection” of developers at the expense of the community was positioned as a “public benefit”.

LA’s Telephone Utility Users Tax was a thinly veiled plan from Mayor Villaraigosa to preserve an illegal 10% tax by offering the “victims” an opportunity to approve a 9% tax. Several city council members presented the ballot measure as “tax relief” even though voters could have eliminated the entire tax, simply by voting against the proposal.

Somehow an indictment of the City of LA’s court challenged policy of seizing 10% illegally was avoided by offering “tax relief” and discussion was cut short when the city invoked a “218 emergency” which expedited the ballot measure allowing it to pass with a simple majority rather than a two-thirds vote.

LA City’s Measure R from 2006 was positioned as “ethics reform” yet somehow its most significant impact was the extension of term limits for the members of LA’s City Council from two four-year terms to three.

Somehow the promises of “no more free meals” and “no more tickets to sporting events and concerts” distracted the voters just long enough and LA City Councilmembers were given an additional four years to continue the good work of “resisting lobbyists” and “imposing tough reforms on contract bidders.”

Along the way, the public is seduced with “a frank, open discussion” of “community benefits” from leadership that continues to promise to be “honest, effective and accountable to the voters.”

Somehow these promises are offered to the public as if accountability and performance are “going beyond” the minimum standard. Meanwhile, the public is left scratching its collective head in an effort to translate the impending legislation and ballot measures.

Consider this scenario.

A group of Angelenos are walking down the street when they are accosted by a mugger. “Give me $10,000 or else!” he demands. The victims put their money together and discover that they have $9,000 which they offer to the mugger. “But please don’t hurt us!” they plead.

In the language of City Hall ballot measures, the Angelenos experienced “relief” that resulted in a 10% reduction of the original “burden” and the fact that their request to escape physical harm was honored could be construed as a “community benefit” but their behavior appears to be a “hand-out” that could trigger an ethics investigation.

While the scenario borders on the absurd, it is also the basic pattern of “either/or” governance that pits fans of libraries against fans of parks while the disabled and senior citizens compete for budget dust.

Through it all, the clock ticks and “Sell LA” gets underway while City Hall continues the battle cry of “either we give up the crown jewels or we’re firing the staff!”

The people of Los Angeles deserve open, honest, and transparent governance and the most immediate opportunity is with the upcoming City Council driven ballot measures and the full range of options.

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