November 23, 2005

National City Spotlight:

The Message in the Defeat of Prop. B

By Ted Godshalk

When National City’s voters turned down the City Council’s latest tax increase proposal, by 57% to 43 %, the message was clear. Nick Inzunza and the four Council members placed Proposition B on the ballot as the way to support their free spending governing style. To win, the tax increase needed the support of a large number of people in the city, which it did not get. In fact, with Prop. B losing heavily, the message from the voters is that change is in the air.

The opposition to the sales tax received a lot of credit from some on the losing side. Truly grassroots, the campaign to defeat Prop. B was led by long-time community activist Herman Baca and perennial candidate Daryl Gorham. In reality, it wasn’t very difficult to defeat this paper tiger. Baca, Gorham, and others just pointed out to voters that the elected officials of National City have not been responsive to the community. The opposition talked to neighbors and posted signs, effective tactics no doubt, but there are more factors behind this rejection of the Council and Mayor than some people are willing to admit. Here are a few probable factors.

Redevelopment and Eminent Domain: Many voters are fearful that Redevelopment is an unrestrained bully and that Eminent Domain may rear its head any day and devour them.

Utility Bill Manipulation: I know some voters who strongly resent the way the Council raised their trash and sewer bills- especially the sewer bill, which was increased for three consecutive years and then hidden away on the home-owner’s property tax bill.

Us versus You Mentality: Perhaps it is the appearance that, on many occasions, the Mayor and City Council seem to actually be in the business of selling a development project to the public rather than listening and acting responsibly to residents’ concerns.

Double-talk: One certain factor for the defeat of the sales tax was the people’s disgust with the deliberate reversal of good news into news that is supposed to make us fearful. For example, we have heard for years and years that with the robust business climate here—with the Mile of Cars, Plaza Bonita, and the lengthy commercial streets— that National City has an income that is the envy of all other cities in the county. Then this year the message is reversed, and we have a crisis. But this is not the only example of double-talk. In April of this year, Nick Inzunza stated that the city’s reduction in violent crime was so great that it “…deserved an article on B1 of the U-T.” And again on May 17, Nick Inzunza boasted, “…last year we grew faster than Chula Vista and we had the biggest drop in violent crime.” In National City, crime has gone down, yet both Prop. S last year and Prop. B were pitched as necessary to ensure the public’s safety.

False Agendas. Most significant in all of this is the reaction of many people to the false agenda of the City Council and Mayor. Residents have made their wants and needs obvious and they have been disregarded and ignored on numerous occasions. First, after the voters said they wanted an independent police review commission, and after the deportation incident at Plaza Bonita, the Council lurched around, kept the Commission in a helpless state, and lied to the people of National City about bringing it all to a proper and just conclusion. Furthermore, residents have complained about the many high-rise towers planned being without consideration of the impacts to the current residents. Third, the free-spending Council has hired consultants to advise them how to sell bonds to indebt our future, how to build wider roads for more traffic, and how to promote a new, shiny image. A false agenda promotes only politicians, and when it is not funded by public money, then private interests like developers and employee groups are willing to help finance the shifty scheme.

In summary, our elected officials need to look around and notice that not everyone thinks like they do. The Mayor and City Council are now in the minority, and the majority is not going to wait around very long, tolerating a false agenda or another propaganda push. To govern as a minority will be difficult and requires a demanding demeanor and an arrogant approach. If this is the way they want it to be then, to put it bluntly, the voters will answer future demands with increasingly loud opposing voices.

We really can move forward from this budget situation, but let’s start by restoring a balance here before we sink down further. This vote on Prop. B was a referendum on the City Council’s practices of divide and conquer, public deception and spend now and pay later. It is now time to see who is really skillful in leading. It is now time to see who can really plan for our future with known quantities, not wish lists. It is now time to see which politicians are ready to listen to the community they are supposed to work for.

Ted Godshalk can be reached at: paradisecreek@mac.com

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