Tom Fulks’ Tribune Commentary on Feb. 1 (“Secretive members of COLAB use shrill demagoguery to push land development”) is a stale and old-line liberal attempt to distract the public from real issues facing the community by maligning and attempting to discredit The Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business’ members.
In fact, there has not been much land development (other than vineyard expansion) within unincorporated San Luis Obispo County for anyone to “push” since 2008.
Contrary to Mr. Fulks’ wildly uninformed assertions, a key focus of COLAB has been to protect agriculture from excessive regulations, fees and taxes in order to preserve land as farms and ranches. Unfortunately, it’s the county’s constant expansion of regulations and, more recently, its attempts to seize farmers’ and ranchers’ constitutional primary water rights that threaten local agriculture — creating pressure for other forms of development.
By exposing and opposing these forces, COLAB is helping to preserve our rural environment.
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COLAB is open and transparent. It’s a voluntary, private membership-based association of farmers, ranchers, diverse businesses, professionals, realtors and civic-minded individuals who support limited government and protection of private property. It is an entirely San Luis Obispo Countybased 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization. Members of its board of directors are all long-term residents and property owners from throughout the county. Some are multigenerational pioneer descendants. They are well known and are publicly introduced every year at COLAB’s annual dinner and fundraiser, and at various COLAB events held throughout the county.
There are two other COLABs, one in Ventura County and one in Santa Barbara County. These entities have no legal, governance or financial relationship to the San Luis Obispo County COLAB. COLAB neither solicits nor receives public funding of any kind. COLAB generates its funding from member dues and its annual dinner fundraiser, which is held at the Madonna Inn Expo Center in San Luis Obispo.
This festive and celebratory dinner is one of the largest indoor public events in San Luis Obispo County and is attended by 700 diverse and active citizens. A significant portion of the revenue is raised by auctioning donated prizes such as dinners, vacation stays and unique outdoor experiences. Of course the auction is in the open and anyone can see who is bidding.
COLAB’s government affairs director is a regular guest on AM 1440 KUHL and from time to time on other radio shows. He is also a speaker at many service clubs, political groups and business organizations. He is a former local government professional with 42 years of experience as a city manager and county executive officer in Hartford, Conn., Berkeley, Tucson and Santa Barbara County.
Once more, contrary to Mr. Fulks’ misleading and inflammatory assertions, COLAB is not secretive, but in fact publishes its analysis and recommendations on key public issues each week in its COLAB SLO Weekly Update in advance of the various agency meetings. It also publishes a monthly newsletter, which contains analysis and opinion on underlying causes and trends that impact public policy.
Accordingly, COLAB is the pre-eminent countywide government watchdog and the only organization that attends and reports weekly on every Board of Supervisors meeting. It also covers the Air Pollution Control District, San Luis Obispo County Council of Governments, Planning Commission and numerous other regulatory bodies as necessary.
Its coverage is comprehensive, including issues of land use, regulatory abuse, government finance and debt, pension reform, and broader concerns of legal compliance, Constitutional rights and open public participation.
Although it may seem like common sense that before a government body determines a particular policy direction, it should have a clear understanding of the problem, alternative choices, financial costs and impacts of those, and the ultimate effects on the citizens, it is not always the case. COLAB is committed to rigorous administrative analysis of proposed public policies.
Most importantly, COLAB enables citizens to exercise their First Amendment right by speaking out against and exposing coercive or ill-advised government action. While the left is adept at employing the tactics of name-calling to delegitimize opponents and squelch free speech, I trust the readers of The Tribune won’t fall for it.
What its detractors ignore is, COLAB is a broad-based coalition that speaks for a great many people in SLO County. COLAB does not confine its advocacy to the impact of public policy on a particular industry, interest or issue, but seeks a dialogue on the deeper causes and trends underlying the entire range of local government policies. That’s not being cowardly, that’s being open. COLAB discusses the historical, social, cultural and economic causes that have contributed to a particular set of policy choices. That’s not being cowardly, it’s providing valuable perspective.
It is this work and COLAB’s critiques and recommendations that generate the ire and beckon the venom in Mr. Fulks’ commentary. That is because they are fundamentally at odds with his ideology, which tolerates no contradiction or criticism.