There’s something about autumn. It’s hard to pinpoint the magic of a season, but you always know the time of slow decay is upon us when you begin to see 5,000-calorie pumpkin spiced lattes clutched in fat American fists. Other people note the vibrant shades of foliage, the shift from nature’s standard, unimaginative hues of green. Not me. I’m colorblind. Thanks, by the way, for reminding me of that fact. Jerk.
But what I lack in ability to distinguish a red leaf from a green one—as if anyone sees much of either in drought-ridden California—I more than make up for with my superb sense of smell. Autumn is a redolent, smoky vintage that never fails to call to mind the fiery pits of hell. Which, of course, gets me thinking about the seven deadly sins. Not what you generally think about when autumn rolls around? Well, perhaps your mind isn’t as refined as mine.
My favorite of the seven deadly sins is, of course, hypocrisy. Don’t bother telling me that’s not one of the seven deadly sins. If Jesus or Moses or whoever hadn’t been busy fighting burning bushes, they probably would’ve remembered to add that to the list.
I’ll admit that my love for hypocrisy is purely selfish. You can’t throw a cow pie in this dirt patch of a state without hitting a hypocrite or two—and hypocrisy tends to grow in direct proportion to self-importance. Which means you’ll find your fair share at local city councils and other boring meetings you probably don’t attend because you have more interesting things to do. Like watching the leaves change color. Jerks.
Of course, getting to watch Madam Mayor Jan Marx call out contender Steve Barasch for unneighborly behavior at an Oct. 7 Residents for Quality Neighborhoods candidate forum has its perks. Mind you, I wouldn’t know much about being a good neighbor, but—like most people who live in SLO and whose paycheck falls far short of six figures—I do know a thing, or 20, about slumlords. Which is essentially what Marx accused Barasch of being. In response to Marx’s pointed statement that she’d “never owned a rental property that has been declared uninhabitable by the city, as opposed to my opponent here,” Barasch huffed and puffed and declared all of his rental properties to be habitable.
But the duteous (and some might say busybody) Residents for Quality Neighborhoods did a little investigating and found that three years ago the Community Development Department did, in fact, find his rental property at 520 Grand Ave. to be “unfit for human occupancy.” Which is an especially damning judgment, considering the sorry state of many of the habitations local landlords deem fit to rent. Barasch tried to hit back with a $10,000 claim against the city, insisting the concerns were in fact “minor alleged code issues.” But the city won the day, with a rather lengthy list of alleged deficiencies in his rental properties, including heaters in need of repair, lack of operational smoke alarms, cracked shower pan and sink, numerous roof leaks, and rodent infestation.
I suppose all of Barasch’s huffing and puffing could have been justified. Maybe he meant he runs no such properties now. Or maybe he believed it truly is possible to run something deemed unfit to live in while also being a Good Neighbor. Then again, when you live in a lone mansion on a hill, which has been featured in Sunset Magazine on multiple occasions, I guess you don’t really have to worry about trivialities like being a good neighbor. And to give the guy some credit, he’d hardly be the first person to lock students into a lease at an apartment he himself might never deign to spend a night in. Of course, the existence of other sinners doesn’t lessen or justify the offense. And the fact that he denied the accusation when Marx called him out on his less-than-reputable history as a landlord compounds it.
So maybe Barasch is more truth-bender than hypocrite. If I want to make a point about hypocrisy, I should probably be talking about SLO City Councilman John Ashbaugh, who recently raised some eyebrows—mostly those of his competitors for a City Council seat—by being caught using his official e-mail address to solicit campaign donations. Specifically, it was a donation from SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill, who used his personal e-mail account to promise Ashbaugh a $200 donation—the maximum amount allowed according to campaign regulations Ashbaugh himself voted to approve several years back. Well, actually, it was $200 and a bottle of wine. I’m not sure if the bottle of wine technically tips Hill’s donation over the legal amount, but Ashbaugh could probably tell you if it did, since he did, in fact, have a role in implementing these new campaign regulations.
Is it petty to nail Ashbaugh—and to a lesser extent, I guess, Hill—over a bottle of wine and a few e-mails? Yes, a little. It’s not like they pissed on the neighbor’s prize roses. The rules they broke were petty rules, but these are men whose jobs are solely comprised of making what the rest of the world would deem petty decisions on petty issues. That’s not the point. What’s the purpose of having laws if the people we elect and pay to help create and impose these laws thumb their noses at them come election time? It would be one thing if Ashbaugh thought the regulations were silly and unnecessary and opposed them on moral grounds, but these are regulations he helped vote into place, indicating that, in theory at least, he supports what they’re trying to do.
Now Ashbaugh, once essentially caught, did admit he had made an error. So he’s not going to get painted with quite the same brush as Barasch. But there’s no denying that his actions rather snugly fit the bill for hypocrisy. It’s not particularly sexy, but have you taken a good look at the people running for public office? They’re not a group you’d be particularly anxious to catch in a compromising position. ∆
Shredder’s a slumlord at heart, but a renter in practice. Send security deposits to firstname.lastname@example.org.