The Blob

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Small town life. Big city politics

I didn't explain that instead of blogging of late, I've been fighting. Call it Blows Against The Empire. I live in this wonderful town called Irvine, near Newport Beach, in southern California. Denizens of Los Angeles sniff at where I live, chiding us for living in a world Behind The Orange Curtain. I wouldn't think of living anywhere else. Irvine is the largest planned community in the country. That may sound, um, plastic to you, but to me, it's a slice of Heaven. Neighborhoods are carefully laid out to minimize the traffic, clutter and urban blight that litter so many other towns and cities. It's pretty. Crime is low. People are nice. And animals are never far away. And practically every street has a large green belt on one side or another.

There's just one problem. Two words: Larry Agran.

Larry is the mayor of Irvine. How a screamingly liberal Democrat ever got elected to mayor in a strongly Republican town is utterly beyond my comprehension. But all politics, as they say, is local, and Larry is a full-time, professional politician. He doesn't impress me for his speaking abilities or his leadership qualities. But what he can do is organize to win elections, big-city style. Case in point: in recent municipal elections, he was able to get himself elected mayor, and his attorney and a close associate of his elected to the city council, giving them a solid bloc of majority votes. Doing so gave his troika tremendous leverage over matters before the city council.

It's not that I hate screamingly liberal Democrats. Okay, so I lied. But really gets me is that he's betraying his background (he drives a beat-up old Volov, was a vocal anti--war protester while at Berkley, and worked as an attorney for the ACLU) and has apparently allied himself with big business. Larry was once an environmentalist. He once fought the construction of a major international airport only three miles from where we live (and that's what got him elected). He once fought to save a nesting ground for migrating geese. He once had scruples. I didn't agree with him most of the time, but he did have scruples.

That was then. And this is now.

Enter the Centerline project. If you click on the link I just provided, you'll see the propaganda would show that the Centerline sounds pretty utopian. Under most circumstances, I'd agree. But when you look at the details of how the Orange County Transit Authority laid out the Centerline, you start to roll your eyes. To build an 11 mile stretch through part of Irvine would cost $1.5 Billion. And that's by their optimistic reckoning.

It's what they omit that gets me.

On the surface, it's easy to see why a utopian, screamingly liberal Democrat, not to mention the Sierra Club would throw all their collective power behind this project. To hear their side of the story, light rail does not pollute (which ignores the fact that the electricity used to power light rail typically comes from burning oil or coal, but that's never mentioned). But it overlooks a couple of things. First, its original planned layout would tear up neighborhoods. That was bad enough. But they also fail to mention that only 2% of the people of Irvine use public transportation at all. That's a ton of money to pour into a project with little hope to changing that. And if the planned route does not attract riders, it's not an easy thing to move a $1.5 billion investment somewhere else.

It gets worse.

The Centerline project, staunchly championed by the Sierra Club our our supposedly environmentally-oriented mayor would cut through the San Joaquin Wildlife Preserve, permanently destroying a delicate waterfowl nesting area. And for me, them's fightin' words. I might be pretty conservative in my soul, but when it comes to protecting animals, I become a different person. Animals can't vote. Humans can. But that does not give anyone the license to step all over them wantonly. And to see both the Sierra Club and mayor Agran jumping in bed with big business, big money developers has made me rethink the true values of what they supposedly represent.

Even worse, articles have appeared that show Larry Agran becoming closely allied with some very large developers. Measures were quietly approved to allow the construction of high-density, high rise condo projects in a town that has been known for low-density planned communities. In my opinion, he's betrayed his beliefs and sold out to the establishment. Hypocracy, anyone?

Needless to say, I was pissed. Then, the pro-Centerline forces went into action. For this vote, they spent a $ 1 million in a barrage of mailers, advertising, PR and telemarketing. The more they hit on us, the angrier we got. So we fought back. My wife and I, along with a few friends designed flyers focusing on the plight of the San Joaquin Wildlife Refuge and distributed them in neighborhoods throughout Irvine. We launched a viral marketing e-mail campaign, asking everyone we sent the e-mails to (we started only friends - no spamming here) and asked that they do the same.

Total cost: Us: $100. The bad guys: $1 million.

More important, the largest homeowners association in the city included absentee ballots with their regular monthly mailing. Their neighborhood had been targeted for the original Centerline route until they fought back, and the powers that be amended their route - right through the San Joaquin Wildlife Refuge. But trust once broken is often not rebuilt. And on last Tuesday, election day, absentee ballots made all the difference. The result: The people of Irvine voted against the Centerline project by a margin of 52 to 48 percent. It was close. And I like to think that our grass-roots efforts made a difference. But I have a feeling that they'll come back. And when they do, we'll be ready.

There is a sad legacy to all this. I believe that Larry Agran has an agenda. From what I can see, he may well be trying to change the demographic and social make-up of our little town, and perhaps the entire county. And he has introduced the dirty mudslinging and heavy handed pressure of big-city politics to a town that doesn't need it.

We moved to Irvine to get away from that, and it's coming after us. Just when we thought we could settle down, we can't. I've decided to fight Larry Agran and those like him. I'm going to take time to get involved. I hate the thought of doing it, but I hate the thought of my town changing for the worse.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.

I was abducted by aliens - again

So Brian, just where in Hell have you been?

Um, I can explain. Honest. If I told you I'd been abducted by space aliens, you'd probably buy that one. But (gasp!) it's just not true.

I was busy.

There. I said it. Busy. Work basically has sucked all the youth from me. And I mean sucked dry. This is the first week since December that I have not had to respond to an RFP (that's Request For Proposal, for those of you lucky enough not to have suffered through one of these little gems). I wrote about living through this type of hell a few months back if you want to learn more. But suffice to say, the Capitalist Workers' Paradise that I go to every day never felt better.

That said, I am sorry to have been away for so long. And while I'm at it, I'm sorry for these sins and the sins of my whole life.

Good. For your penance, please say three Hail Marys, an Our Father and make the Act of Contrition. Go in peace, young man.

Yeah, right, Father. Whatever.