My Turn: Learning lessons from no consensus
Ralph Waldo Emerson warned us in his essay on Politics, “Republics abound in young civilians, that grave modifications of the policy and modes of living, and employments of the population, that commerce, educations, and religion, may be voted in or out, and that any measure, though it were absurd, may be imposed on a people, if only you can get sufficient voices to make it a law.”
What can we learn from the claimed “community consensus” that was only a consensus of the participants in the May 15 workshop? How can our community prevent any segment from representing their preferences as the voice of the whole community of business people, residents, second homeowners, and in the case of Highway 28 nearby communities (Incline Village, Carnelian Bay) whose members depend on the highway regularly?
I recall at the first workshop Steve Frisch rhetorically questioned what comprises the community. He described several segments of the community and concluded it was good enough to be those who responded to the mailing by appearing at the workshops.
The first lesson would be that the true community is all individuals in the broadest sense that occupy and sustain the community and are thereby affected by whatever is the issue. The closer we get to hearing from the most people of all segments, the closer we are to the whole community.
Another lesson has to do with the depth of reasoning, i.e. how rigorous is the debate of content, facts, and analysis. The depth of examination necessary is a function of the impacts of the issue. Any alteration of Highway 28 must incorporate what historically exists and why, as well as what change is proposed.
Being informed of the latest examples and rationale for “smart roads” or “road diet” in other parts of the country is not education; it is information that is an ingredient in the decision process. Education taps a deeper root that includes critical thinking skills, examination, analysis, and applicability to our local specific circumstances, which are totally unique on the North Shore of Tahoe.
The general interest of the public must be accounted for early in the process. The Project Team that began meeting in 2002 was comprised of so-called stakeholders, but were only representatives of area institutions (Placer County, 5; Caltrans, 4; TRPA, 1; Lahontan, 1; Conservancy, 1; NTPUD, 1; NTBA, 1; NTRAC, 1; later the Resort Association, 1; and a few consultants being paid by Placer County.
At this early stage mistakes were made that Emerson’s cautioned, “That the State must follow, and not lead the character and progress of the citizen…”
This group does not represent the general public nor speak for the broad interests of the public. This team wrote the Project Purpose and Need statement that set the boundaries and focus of the future discussion and made key value judgments that over time distorted the entire process.
We must clearly distinguish facts from value judgments, and be willing to understand underlying assumptions. Individuals will often interpret facts to suit their predispositions. Personal agendas, conflicts of interest should be exposed early.
We must always face the toughest questions that involve value judgments as early as possible in the process.
Placer County should not hire subcontractors to do what is fundamentally the essential work of government. To enable the will of the people to emerge from this process without prejudice is precisely what our property taxes are intended for Placer County. The general public must have on-going accountability, and direct access to each step government takes.
The use of the Internet for information, blogging, opinion pieces, polling, should be employed on issues that affect the whole community. The NTPUD can conduct advisory polls paid for by Placer County to tap their data base. Targeting the various segments and analyzing the results will get as close as we can to what the general community prefers.
Finally, recalling the wisdom of Emerson on politics, “In dealing with the State, we ought to remember that its institutions are not aboriginal, though they existed before we were born: that they are not superior to the citizen: that every one of them was once the act of a single man: every law and usage was a man’s expedient to meet a particular case: that they are all imitable, all alterable; we may make as good; we may make better. ”
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