Letters to the Editor

What’s the matter with Shangri-la? Making a case against Debbie Arnold

Tom Fulks.
Tom Fulks. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

If you vote to re-elect San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Debbie Arnold, you’re probably voting against your own interests.

Unless you own a big chunk of ground and want to turn it into an industrial gravel mine.

Unless you own scenic rural land that could be converted to gated country estates.

Unless you own vast grape acreage and want unfettered ability to siphon everyone’s water.

If you’re a Friend of Debbie, dropping big money into her campaign, you’ve got good reason to support her: protecting your property’s profit potential. (Disclosure: I’ve given $100 to the campaign of Eric Michielssen, Arnold’s challenger.)

Few are better than Arnold at advancing the interests of benefactors while raking in the dough:

▪  $10,000 from some guy in Denver.

▪  $6,500 from folks who’d benefit from a gravel quarry near Santa Margarita.

▪  $2,750 from a company in Scottsdale.

▪  2,500 from some dude in Malibu.

What do they want?

Ask Debbie. They speak the same language: COLABoration.

But if you don’t get the lingo — if you’re just a schmoe with no business interest before county supervisors — and you vote for Arnold, you’re voting against yourself and your neighbors.

You’re voting against preserving your air quality, protecting your water quality and reliability, maintaining your peace of mind, retaining your right to live quietly, to enjoy what you’ve vested to live in your Shangri-la.

And you’re voting against your own property values. How’s that?

Given the chance, those Friends of Debbie would devalue neighboring property values with that industrial gravel mine — or clog local roads with more traffic, perhaps cover beloved natural space with buildings and pavement. It’s what they do — and the degradation benefits few but them.

Books have been written trying to explain why people knowingly vote against themselves. The seminal treatment of this phenomenon is “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” by Thomas Frank.

He describes a radical shift in American political dialogue in recent years, away from social and economic equality toward volatile cultural issues such as marriage equality, transgender bathrooms, conspiracy theories — emotional manipulations to redirect populist anger toward “liberal elites” and government institutions.

Frank argues that the rise of politically conservative culturalism in Kansas allowed Republican leaders to foist economically harmful policies onto state residents.

Locally, this phenomenon nearly played out with the proposed gravel mine. Practically everyone in town, many of whom had voted for Arnold, showed up to a supervisors’ meeting a year ago to oppose it.

Arnold didn’t just vote in favor of the mine, against her constituents. With a slideshow prepared before she’d even heard from townsfolk, she crudely tried to con them that black is white — that her vote against them wasn’t that.

Rather, she pretended her vote for the mine and its horrific impact of heavy truck traffic on the town’s livability and property values was a vote for “affordable housing” — not the rank betrayal of constituents it was.

Disregarding the charade, three of Arnold’s fellow board members voted the project down — for now.

Should Arnold win re-election, and other pro-pavement ideologues from Districts 1 or 3 win seats on the board, the gravel mine most certainly will arise from the dead for another day before a far more amenable board.

On the hustings, Arnold claims to listen to voters, but she appears to hear only like-minded souls. She clearly doesn’t want to hear from voters about worsening traffic congestion.

Arnold voted against putting a measure on the November ballot seeking voter sentiment on a half-cent sales tax increase to make up for dramatic losses of highway money from the state. More than 80 percent of Californians live in counties that have done this.

Arnold insisted that, rather than ask voters what they think, San Luis Obispo County residents should live with deteriorating roads and increasingly aggravating traffic as a way to “send a message” to Sacramento decrying fiscal shenanigans.

As if anyone in the Capitol pays any mind to one of the smallest, most politically insignificant counties in California still not contributing to its own highway infrastructure needs.

Thanks to the same three supervisors, the measure likely will make it to the ballot.

Hearing from voters concerned about crumbling roads, bridges and traffic chokepoints on Highways 101 and 227 plainly is less important to Arnold than holding a doctrinaire, philosophical line against “big gummint.”

Arnold seems like a nice person who’s actually pretty honest. She’s never denied who she truly represents — and whose opinions matter most: developers and their ideological enablers.

If you vote for Arnold, you’re voting for Friends of Debbie — and against yourself.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks is a former reporter and opinion writer. He has been a political campaign consultant for many local races. His column runs in The Tribune every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Matthew Hoy.