This week on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere, the city observed is Ventura, just to the north of my Malibu, an attractive, still affordable seacoast city, with an authentic straggling main street.
To my transient sensibilities, the city is worth a detour, as it was to me decades ago when commuting most weekends and holidays with the kids to our rustic cabin high in Ventura County, in the Los Padres National Forest, above Ojai, deep in mystic Matilija Canyon. We on occasion ate and shopped in Ventura.
The occasion now for the revisit is the publication of “Talk City,” subtitled “a Chronicle Of Political Life in an All-American Town,’ written by William Fulton, (Solimar), who for eight years served on the Ventura City Council, much of the time as deputy mayor, and mayor.
Of interest to me is that Bill , a friend, is a city planner who apparently brought some design and development sensibilities to the elected positions. He is also a writer of several well received planning texts, and the thoughtful editor and publisher of the informative California Planning & Development Report.This held the promise of something beyond the usual bureaucratic babble and derivative academic dissertations that serve little real planning purpose other to than to pad resumes and pay grade reviews, to collect dust on groaning institute shelves
And as Fulton wrote in a note to me, “bear in mind that some of it is old war stories from Ventura. But a lot of it is what it’s like to be a part-time, overstressed, underpaid elected official in California. That, I think, has some legs beyond Ventura.”
Yes, it does, and perhaps some lessons, too, in particular for my stumbling Malibu, though smaller and more affluent, with some erudite residents, just does not seem to have its governmental act together since becoming a city 26 years ago.To be literal, Fulton does not mention Malibu.
However, in discussing why many small cities in California stumble and stagger presumably including Malibu, he cites the presence of “individuals involved who have taken a high handed approach with taxpayer funds,” and the state’s Byzantine system of local government.
Fulton contends that the progressive strong manager and part time politician approach –originally promoted to thwart corruption – has not worked well. He states this is sadly true when both the managers and politicians are self serving, and when the system “provides the opportunity for public servants to shield their activities from public view. “ That includes their total compensation, trips and gifts.
He adds that the system “also discourages constituents from being watchdogs in that both the governmental and financial system is cumbersome and bafflingly complicated,” and the state’s open meeting law is not much help. So much for transparency.
Among Fulton’s many insights from his years of service is that democracy only works if people pay attention, and sadly oftentimes people aren’t paying attention.
Thank you for the advice Bill, and your service.