The acrimony occurring at the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is undoubtedly unpleasant. It fills our chambers with tension and defeats the dreams of many who wish we could all just get along. Moreover, there are many who not only expect us to be role models in our decorum and comportment, but hope we will always rise above to the high road, regardless of what’s being done or said.
Then there are those, and count me among them, who believe that when it comes to governing, a commitment to honesty, a respect for facts and a reverence for the authority invested in public office are what create the conditions for civility. Without these more substantive virtues, civility seems like little more than acquiescence and appeasement. How is one to be civil in the face of repeated lies? Is it important to be polite when someone abuses his or her authority and deliberately misleads people? Is it hypocritical to demand courtesy over candor when we know that misinformation and suspicion of others has been more damaging to our current political culture than any harsh words of disapproval spoken directly to a person with more power?
For months leading up to the March 7 discussion on public facility fees — or PFFs — at the board, Supervisor Lynn Compton claimed to her Nipomo constituents that money they were due for parks had been illegally diverted. Compton also used words such as “wrongful,” “stolen,” “secretly taken.” On local TV, radio, newspapers and in letters to homeowner associations, Compton inflamed the emotions of her residents, appealing to their distrust of government, asking they come to the meeting to express their outrage and demand what’s theirs.
A narrative of terrible inequities, with Nipomo as a victim, having had its impact fees swiped and sent to (conveniently) the districts of her two opponents on the board, became Compton’s rebel yell.
But it had been explained to her. The use of PFFs, the planning process of projects, the countywide strategies of leverage and phasing, and the law. County staff, including at least four different department heads, sought to lay out for her why her suspicions were misplaced, showing her the facts, and how it was that Nipomo’s regional park had been tied up in litigation for several years, and how she could champion a project for her community in the way libraries, parks and other important amenities have always been by supervisors.
San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Lynn Compton misled Nipomo residents on the issue of park fees, Supervisor Adam Hill writes. It’s hard to take the high road in the face of such behavior, he says.
But she refused to accept any explanation and instead spread more doubt and suspicion in her community, effectively creating a fake narrative.
She had other choices. Well-apprised of the facts, she could have concluded that regardless, Nipomo deserves more recreational facilities (it does), and worked with staff to bring forward a project or two ready to fund. She could have, as I have, worked with her parks commissioner and advisory council members to identify priorities. She could have used this as an opportunity for positive collaboration with her community. But she stayed on the low road, the facts be damned.
At the hearing, no matter how many of her claims had been disproven, she stuck with the paranoid contrivance. Compton decided not to let truth get in the way of her story, despite already having the two votes she needed to move forward any and all projects she wanted for Nipomo.
I don’t have space to go into even greater detail on this issue, and I also know it’s near impossible to change people’s minds once they’ve been led to believe something by an authority figure. And numbers, divorced from their processes and actual uses, can indeed lie or at least be used to lie. Which is not to say Nipomo doesn’t need more recreational spaces — it does.
So back to civility. The current majority of the board has in several instances shown serious contempt for the efforts of staff and for the proven processes of trying to meet all the county’s needs with limited amounts of funding.
As one who believes we have a moral obligation to facts and the truth, it is seriously distressing to see this obligation tossed aside in the name of pandering to voters and rewarding campaign donors. The PFF issue was not the first instance of this happening, and it won’t be the last. Without any power to change this, we are scolded by some to be nicer, to accept this, in the name of civility. That’s not for me.
I have decided on impassioned protestation with the hope that the majority’s fake narratives, blatant money grabs and lack of interest in compromise will awaken members of the community to what’s really going on.
Adam Hill represents District 3 on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.