Have you noticed how little gets done in local politics? Cambria can't seem to get its environmental impact report signed off for its Sustainable Water Facility, because its supporting documents were posted to the public a mere one day before its scheduled vote. The EIR received 200 letters, including eight from public agencies calling it into question. Cambria's hired consultants—including Rita Garcia of Michael Baker International—simply dismissed the letters. Ha! If you think the California Coastal Commission is going to back down, Cambria needs new consultants!
Down in the South SLO County Sanitation District, the vitriol continues to fly against administrator Gerhardt Hubner, who replaced the embattled former administrator John Wallace, who's facing two criminal cases. Hubner—aside from being called a white supremacist, a bully, and illiterate—is accused of keeping district board member and Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill out of the loop and placing plant Superintendent John Clemons and Secretary Amy Simpson on paid administrative leave without cause. No one seems to be able to communicate!
Meanwhile the SLO Democrats and the SLO Progressives, supposedly on the same liberal side, tussled over power. At their June 19 meeting, old-school Democrat and outgoing chair Don Stewart gaveled an abrupt end to the meeting and stormed out in a huff, but Berniecrat progressive and vice-chair Nick Andre took over and got a vote to continue. Sounds like the Tea Party's mutiny from the Republicans!
When people believe all evidence overwhelmingly supports their position only, when all sides ignore or dismiss evidence that disagrees with their worldview, when all sides believe their opponents aren't just wrong but stupid or evil, it leads to exactly where we are today: no hope of compromise, just a tug-of-war for power. I wish I could say one side is more to blame, but that would be falling into the same confirmation bias that has bewitched most liberals, progressives, conservatives, and libertarians whose fossilized thinking has made their positions intractable.
The problem is we just don't listen to each other anymore. Last week I called out liberal 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson and 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill for the shady way they went about trying to shame their conservative colleagues with a Tribune editorial instead of bringing their plan for a $5 million low-income housing program through channels that might actually produce a low-income housing program.
I called the plan "fantastic," which Hill in particular apparently didn't hear, I guess because I scolded the fantastic two for their methodology. All Hill saw was criticism.
Hill then gave the beat-down to our Editor Camillia Lanham in an email, saying I had dismissed "a legitimate idea that was embraced by our leading nonprofit houser," even though I praised the idea and readily admitted that lack of affordable housing is a serious issue. Hill also called me "childish and vindictive," which I obviously am but those are also charges frequently leveled against Hill himself, who's a freaking elected official, not an office appliance that's allowed to spew 900 opinionated words a week. Hill went on to complain that New Times lacks "accountability" and refuses to "admit a mistake." He also wondered why New Times "deserves to survive." Maybe to hold an annual Best Of Readers' Poll so you can win Most Annoying Public Official yet again, Adam?
Taking criticism is clearly not Hill's strong suit. After he saw last week's column, he petulantly canceled a scheduled meeting at our office with Lanham and our reporter Peter Johnson, who instead walked over to Hill's office to talk because he's tenacious like that. Childish and vindictive much, Adam? Sheesh!
Hill has a Twitter account, from which he discusses government business and bashes the press and his political opponents. It's set as a private account, meaning he can select obsequious followers. He recently tweeted about "another dumb Camillia Shredder" for all 112 of the chosen few. Hmm, how's the echo chamber in there, Adam, Adam, Adam?
Hill's not the only one. SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon blocks critics from her Facebook page according to some users. It's like they're taking a page from President Donald "Twitter-Rant" Trump, also a regular blocker of critical Twitter followers. Are you guys trying to make America Great Again? Sad!
Look, I get it! Online trolls suck, and your social media accounts are your private accounts. The problem I see is that you want to not only exercise your freedom of speech but also want freedom from listening to divergent views, and that's not healthy, especially for public officials who ought to have the courage to hear opponents out, engage in discussion, and find areas of compromise for the greater good.
Criticism can be constructive, but even when it's not, knowing what your opponents think is the first step in knowing how to persuade them. If you stick your head in the sand, you get sandy ears and your butt sticks up in the air, which is hilarious but makes you look foolish.
The antidote for the confirmation bias is skepticism of one's own beliefs. Stop the selective data mining, demand to see contradictory evidence and alternative evaluations, and when you receive opprobrium, instead of lashing out in return—canceling meetings, sending nasty emails, and projecting your own faults on your "childish and vindictive" criticizer—how about a little introspection? Stop blocking your critics and talk to them!
Maybe then you can actually get something done. Δ
The Shredder is never wrong, ever! Send ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.