Opinion » Shredder

At-large and in charge?

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Ah, the tyranny of the majority. It's a sweet spot to be in! You get to make all the rules and ignore minority opinions and desires. Except, in a genuine democracy, that's not cool, man. Minorities also rightfully deserve representation.

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Even Declaration of Independence-writing, slave-snuggling third U.S. Prez Thomas Jefferson knew that, explaining in his inaugural address, "Though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect and to violate would be oppression."

Now, 221 years after that address, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (PRJUSD) is getting hip to Jefferson's jive. Yes, they're doing it under duress, and with a fair bit of whining, but they're finally getting around to giving voice to the 34 percent Hispanic/Latino population of Paso.

Twenty years ago, to remind California counties that minority rights must be protected, the state passed the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), which prohibits use of an election system that impedes a protected class from electing candidates to represent them. What sort of system would that be? Well—and stick with me, this is boring—it's at-large elections, the kind the PRJUSD used to stack their board with white dudes who don't seem too concerned about the needs of brown folks.

Thanks to a lawsuit threat, the school district is finally going to follow the CVRA and our Founding Fathers' intent to restrict the tyranny of the majority by dividing the school district into seven areas of equal-ish population. The voters in those areas can then vote their own board member in and hopefully find representation for the third of the population currently not fairly represented.

"I think this whole thing is shady," Trustee Dorian Baker announced at the board's Jan. 25 meeting, going so far to argue the CVRA is unconstitutional.

"I don't even see how it's constitutional to break people down into protected classes like this," she said. "Junky laws like this get passed at the state and federal levels with little or no pushback at local levels. Yet, we are supposed to be governed from the local level up, not up-down. My constituents are asking me, 'Why are you doing this?' Well, I am not doing this."

She's right. She's not doing this. She was the lone dissenting voice in the 6-1 decision to approve a new district map and obey the law. How does it feel to experience the tyranny of the majority, eh? Sorry. Too soon?

My favorite part was when Baker defended her position by acting as if she's doing brown folks a favor by not giving them representation because if no one steps forward to run from a district—presumably a lazy Hispanic majority one—"then the people wouldn't be selecting. They would lose out on their opportunity to elect a representative at large."

So, because someone might not run, let's not give them the opportunity to? Huh? Your brain's good at yoga, Dorian, but now it's time to pull your head out of your you know what.

Baker worries that giving districts a right to vote their own reps in will "politicize the board," but as Paso People's Action co-founder and perpetual thorn in the board's side Yessenia Echevarria said, "The board is already politicized."

I do have to give a shout-out to Board President Chris Arend, who's usually wrong about everything. On this, he was only half wrong: "I agree this is foolish [wrong!], but we aren't the ones who make the call. In this case, it was the courts in the state of California that have made the call, and that's the way it is with separation of powers [RIGHT!]."

And speaking of separation, how's Operation Hide the Homeless going lately? Pretty good! The city of SLO and the Community Action Partnership of SLO (CAPSLO) recently relaunched a safe parking program at Railroad Square, so between the program at 40 Prado (the city's homeless shelter no one's allowed into because of a COVID-19 outbreak), and SLO County's program at Kansas Avenue by the dog shelter, that makes three.

That's better than nothing for the homeless living in their cars, but what about the homeless in tents or makeshift shelters, under overpasses, or sleeping in doorways? How are those safe camping programs coming? I mean, if you're going to kick the unhoused out of parks, from along the Bob Jones Trail, from encampments near creeks and highway onramps and offramps, where should they go?

Our current system seems to be set up mainly for those who want help, want housing, and want jobs. As CAPSLO Director of Homeless Services Jack Lahey said, "Safe parking is not a permanent solution in the sense that, 'I want to make sure that this is the most functioning site so that you can live here for five years.' It's 'I want this to be stable, safe, secure.' But the focus really needs to be, 'Let's get you back into housing or get you into a more stability-centered point in terms of your housing.'"

I get that some of the unhoused don't want to participate in society in any meaningful way. That's an unfortunate tragedy. Does that mean we simply abandon them? Δ

The Shredder is smoking Jefferson's cash crop. Send comments and suggestions to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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