Have you made time to have the talk with your local elected officials? Not the talk about drugs or premarital sex or alcohol, or any of the other pastimes that make life worth living, but you know, the talk. The important one. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Because if you haven’t taken the time to have the talk with them, none of their other constituents will. They’ll rant at them about the Brown Act and throw on an American flag suit and howl about Agenda 21, but those people don’t have what it takes for the talk. (And by what it takes, I mean a core of common sense and empathy. They’re the showboats to your serviceable and conscientious tugboat.)
Sit them down in a comfortable chair—not too comfortable, mind you, or you risk them falling asleep during the talk—and be sure to make eye contact, but not too much eye contact or you risk looking like a serial killer … trust me.
“You clearly thought long and hard about becoming a public servant,” you should say, “so what was it you hoped to accomplish way back when? Were you driven by a desire to make people’s lives better? Was there a woman with a sad, tired face sitting on a bench with a sign that read ‘Hungry Please Help’ and you thought to yourself, ‘well, maybe I could, and not just by giving her 50 cents, but on a larger scale?’ Or did you just think, ‘god, the state of our benches downtown is an absolute disgrace; I know what I’ll do! I’ll run for office so I can install some nicer benches, and maybe a prettier sidewalk while I’m at it?’ Basically, my question boils down to: Did you see the bench or did you see the woman sitting on the bench, asking for help?”
It might seem like a silly question, but I’ve been witnessing a lot of showboating from the San Luis Obispo City Council and staff, and it seems a little disproportionate to what they’ve accomplished. I’m all for a rousing round of “We Are the Champions,” but I just don’t happen to think that being mentioned on a list of America’s best main streets is really the benchmark of successful public service. Especially when you consider the rest of what Fodor’s (the travel guide in question) has to say about SLO: “SLO is less a vacation destination than a pleasant stopover along Highway 1.” We haven’t cured cancer, people. We’re a pleasant stopover. Which is perfectly pleasant and all, but there’s a statute of limitations on how long you get to brag about something. If you’ve spent more time running your mouth about making a list than Mother Teresa spent bragging about her work with poor kids, you’ve probably exceeded your limit.
Someone’s going to have to break the news about this statute to Mayor Jan Marx, who was using the fact that Fodor’s mentioned Higuera Street as a great big “na na na na na na” at critics who thought that spending $761,500 to gussy up a few blocks of sidewalk in downtown SLO was a little excessive. We’ll refrain from informing her that Fodor’s made no mention of the quality of the sidewalks, and of the fact that the city probably could have outright bribed Fodor’s for a lot less money.
I have to wonder how $761,500 could have been applied to the real issues facing downtown, namely the fact that some local business owners complain that they’re being priced out of their locations. The city doesn’t seem much interested in acknowledging these concerns, despite the fact that one of Fodor’s criteria for a good main street was the ratio of local businesses to corporate chains. And while you might argue that downtown still boasts a few local businesses, there’s no denying that Chipotle and the charmingly pungent Abercrombie have more staying power than say Raku or Leon’s. Downtown SLO has more than its share of empty storefronts, and the revolving door of restaurants and shops opening and closing is confusing enough to make your head spin. Well, either that or my weekly exorcism didn’t take.
So what’s a better use of all that cash generated from the half-percent sales tax collected by local businesses: bedazzling two blocks or making it easier for locals to do business here? Sorry, Marx, but I’m not jumping onboard your “woo us” bandwagon, and I’m not cheerleading for the measure until I get the impression that you actually have a valuable use for it. It shouldn’t be your job to try to prove to people after the fact that you made the right decisions. It’s your job to listen to your constituents, and represent them, not condescend to them and lecture them after the fact about how they were wrong. How about listening to your constituents and choosing a project that actually impacts their lives, so you don’t have to spend the next three years arguing with them about your decisions? At least if you did that you’d have me off your back because I’d probably have to weigh how petty I would look poo-pooing your accomplishment against the thrill I get trolling for cheap shots.
And at least then I’d finally have some proof that you understand that you weren’t elected by tourists or the Downtown Association; there were real people with real concerns, and even if you never do answer my plea for downtown beer fountains, it’s nice to be acknowledged.
Shredder’s not really joking about those beer fountains. The tourism bureau can thank me at firstname.lastname@example.org.