My friends and colleagues take care of people when they're aging, sick and dying. They teach in our schools. They own businesses that employ local people and contribute to our economy. They create art and music that enriches our lives. They run local nonprofit groups. They spend money in local stores. They raise livestock and grow food. They design and build homes. They save lives and property by responding to fire and medical emergencies. They raise large sums of money to help local cancer patients. They bring in retirement dollars that support local businesses and jobs.
They contribute in more ways than I can begin to list here. They are an essential part of our community even if they do not own large amounts of land or adhere to conservative political principles.
Last week, the county board of supervisors and planning commission met to discuss the updating of the county general plan. That general plan will shape our county for decades. It will affect how each one of us lives, every day, by determining how, where, and how much development occurs in the county, as well as where development doesn't occur.
The general plan will influence everything that makes up our quality of life: small town identity, air quality, roads and traffic, wildlife, scenic vistas, schools, economic health, rivers and forests, agriculture, and more.
Many of the speakers at the three days of general plan meetings had a clear message for those of us who are not major landowners:
You do not count. What you think does not matter. You are not "representative" of the community. If you are a "liberal," or worse yet, went to UC Berkeley, you are especially suspect. Regardless of the contributions you make, only we -- the multi-generation landowners and the developers and pro-development interests who are using us to their own ends -- really matter.This was not unexpected. It's the boiling up of a simmering community conflict that is seldom openly discussed. That conflict came to the fore during the District 5 supervisor race two years ago. Local rancher Brian Oneto ran as the archetypal representative of the old-family, landowner power base and those who agree with a "let us do what we want with our land regardless of what it does to you" philosophy. Mel Welsh, a registered nurse with an impressive record of community service, ran on her record and a comprehensive platform.
Oneto succeeded in portraying Welsh as a Nancy Pelosi-loving, "San Francisco liberal" whose goals was to take away landowner property rights. The message was clear and explicit: "She is not one of us." It worked and Oneto won.
Many of the folks involved in that campaign are now part of the current effort to derail two years of community work on the general plan update.
Events like last week's hearings make me worry about our county's future. If we cannot learn to appreciate and acknowledge the contributions of all of our county's residents, how in the world can we begin to deal with the challenges we face, especially in these increasingly difficult economic times? And what will we do as our communities become more ethnically and culturally diverse?
The way I see it, we can't afford to reject anyone or any idea. We need to embrace our neighbors, acknowledge their contributions, and use all of our collective knowledge and experience to build a stronger, resilient, more capable community. To do anything less is beyond foolish.
No one has all of the answers. But if we work together, we'll come a lot closer to success than we will ever get by discounting the ideas and contributions of people with whom we disagree.