December 8, 2006

The Public Forum . . . El Foro Publico

Community Groups May Be In Danger of Losing CDBG Funds

You might already know that the Community Develop Block Grant (CDBG) monies are divided into two large pots. One pot is allocated by the Council as a whole for city-wide projects. The other is given to Council districts based on the proportion of families in each district who have moderate incomes or less. Council members decide the allocation of CDBG funds for their individual districts.

Some of my friends in the City Administration Building report that the Mayor wants to stop dividing CDBG monies into those two main categories and simply have one city-wide allocation process. The goal seems to be to give CDBG funds to larger projects and city-wide projects first, then use the remaining funds to repair and replace infrastructure, which should be paid for by the General Fund. You know how short the General Fund is.

Smaller projects and smaller non-profit uses, arts activity, and environmental support might be eliminated under the proposed scheme. Although the proposal hasn’t been formally announced, my friends assure me it is real and in the final stages. Perhaps you saw the recent opinion pieces in the paper by Carl DeMaio of the Performance Institute and Steve Francis, a mayoral candidate in the last election. They seem to be part of the Mayor’s public relations effort to prepare the city for

his block grant proposal.

If your group or those you work with or others in your community use CDBG funds as a source for funding good projects, you should consider carefully whether those projects in your area are worth keeping. They might not survive if the Mayor’s CDBG fund proposal is forced on the Council.

You might want to contact your Council member about this. The Council can jointly resist the proposal and retain the present arrangement for block grant funding. That will preserve the smaller non-profits and smaller projects in the communities.

Retaining the present division of CDBG funds isn’t something you can leave to others to do. It’s a matter of urgency for each of us as individual citizens and it’s a matter that requires followup. A single call or e-mail or letter won’t suffice. This needs continuing pressure from a lot of citizens. Good projects and activities are in jeopardy if the Mayor’s proposal is allowed to happen.

CDBG funding was always intended for supplemental projects and quality-of-life projects, beyond what the General Fund does. It should not be changed now to relieve the General Fund of its responsibilities, no matter how short the City is for money.

Jim Varnadore
City Heights

San Diego Has No Right to Ban Wal-Mart or Other Superstores

On Tuesday the San Diego City Council voted to ban retail stores of more than 90,000 square feet that use 10 percent of space to sell groceries and other products that are not subject to sales tax. The ban targets Wal-Mart and similar large stores.

Neither the residents of San Diego nor their representatives on the city council have a right to prevent Wal-Mart from opening a store there.

Wal-Mart violates no one’s rights by opening stores on its own land and should be free to do so even if local residents are against it.

Wal-Mart deals with its customers and employees by voluntary means. Wal-Mart offers products that people can choose not to buy and jobs people can choose not to take. That millions shop in Wal-Mart’s stores and thousands line up for job openings in the company is evidence that huge numbers of people find value in dealing with Wal-Mart.

While local retailers may indeed lose their business to Wal-Mart, they have no right to be protected from competition and from Wal-Mart’s ability to offer lower prices.

Likewise, while local residents may be inconvenienced by a surge in traffic or by the sight of a Wal-Mart store, they have no right to prevent Wal-Mart from opening a store in their city.

If the residents of San Diego—or any other American city—don’t want Wal-Mart to succeed, they should not shop in its stores.

Dr. Andrew Bernstein
Visiting Professor of Philosophy
Marist College

Mel Gibson, Apocalypto, and the Chicano Community

In late November, I had a chance to see the first advance screening of the completed version for Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, which will be released this month. The film is being promoted as the first Hollywood film in an indigenous language, set in the pre-Colombian era, and shot on location using local talent both in front of and behind the camera. Likewise, the marketing of the film reflects a strategic alliance between Latino business and Latinos in the entertainment industry. We would appear to have the makings of a “perfect storm” with the convergence of a Hollywood “A” list actor-director’s production with Latino demographics, income generation (for Latino business), employment opportunity (for Latino actors and behind-the-camera positions), and media representation (of the Latino population). So, how do we reconcile Gibson’s apparent altruism toward Latinos with his recent drunken tirade against women and Jews? Is the latter just an aberration that now undermines the former? Or is there a larger logic, or dare we say Conspiracy Theory (to reference a Gibson film), at work? I turned to Apocalypto for an answer.

The film appears to be set 500 years before the Conquest, and yet it ends with a shot of ships setting anchor. It depicts the Mayans, and yet shows them engaging in ritual sacrifice—which was the Aztecs. So in terms of historical detail, the film—co-authored by Gibson—has enough faults to negate it as an accurate depiction of the Mayans. Instead, it must be seen as doing something else: offering an allegory about the evil of any societal organization beyond the familial and (small) tribal. It is the big city—with its slave trade, free markets, government, and organized religion—that results in the downfall of the Mayan civilization (and the small tribes it enslaves). When the Spaniards arrive, it is clear that things will only get worse. Whatever the film may say about Mayans, or Latinos, it clearly makes a general statement against modernity. In other words, the film argues against the very type of higher-level organization that Latino groups are undertaking to market the film! Therein lies the paradox of Gibson’s appeal: his message has been that of the loner who suffers great pain, yet triumphs, even in death and even as the entire world is going to Hell. But that appeal depends upon and is a commodity within a global news and entertainment industry—which is to say, modernity.

In the end, Apocalypto is the Chantico of Hollywood cinema. You may remember Chantico as that short-lived Aztec chocolate drink from Starbucks, the one whose marketing I found problematic on several fronts, and yet whose taste was sublime…. Well, Gibson knows and excels at the most fundamental thing about cinema, the moving image, such that Apocalypto could easily have been a silent film, and not just a subtitled one. Beautifully shot and edited, the film visually conveys physical movement and broad characters and emotions within a simple chase narrative. The performances, like Gibson’s own roles, are more pantomime than “realistic” or dialogue-driven. I could not help but be impressed that, as I picked apart the holes in the story and its message, the film-as-film captivated me. Alas, as with Chantico, consumers may want more….

Chon A. Noriega, Director
UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

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