Opinion » Shredder

Safe word!




An important part of being a foul-mouthed, independent-minded journalist type is feeling comfortable enough in your own liver-spotted skin to talk about the issues that really matter—not just the ones your hoity-toity friends with bank accounts and Greenpeace memberships consider important. So here goes: I’m really concerned that the film version of 50 Shades of Grey will never match the novel for emotionally compelling content. We’re talking about a literary masterpiece that has inspired all of us—even those of you who are too pretentious to admit it—and even played a role in shaping our public policy.

I mean, “binding arbitration?” The only word dirtier and more suggestive than “binding” is “arbitration.” Feel that? All those trilling r’s and hard t’s on the tongue? The City of San Luis Obispo can argue that the term merely applies to a type of negotiation in which a mediator is called in to settle a dispute. But the leopard print handcuffs in the top drawer of the city’s nightstand tell a different tale. Apparently, the city was into some real kinky antics with the San Luis Obispo Firefighters Association and Police Officers Association. Now I, for one, am not inclined to judge. Sure, most of those guys and gals aren’t on anyone’s list for a scantily clad calendar appearance, but have you seen the people who run city hall?

Only now the city’s decided that enough’s enough and the Police Officer Association’s response is something along the lines of, “Safety word, schmafety word. We’ll tell you when we’ve had enough.”

The problem is, Measure S, which passed in 2000 and implemented binding arbitration as the go-to negotiating tool, was repealed by more than 70 percent of voters in 2011 (through Measure B). Sounds like it’s time for the police and firefighters to surrender their warming gel and no-rip sex tape. But no.

Two months after voters decided they were uncomfortable with binding arbitration’s potential to bleed the city dry—the first round of binding arbitration in 2008 resulted in $4.4 million in added costs to the next year’s budget and an additional $1.8 million per year afterward—the Police Officers Association filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board. Of course, this also came at a time when the city was wringing its hands over how to ride out the recession. So yeah, maybe the city’s been giving its cops and firefighters some mixed signals. One minute it’s all about the binding arbitration, and then when it realizes it’s going to hurt a little, it wants out. That’s not exactly noble or courageous, but the city wouldn’t have been able to get rid of binding arbitration without public support. This was an issue decided by the will of the people. And while I still have my doubts about giving some pretentious yuppie who likes to brag that he lives where you vacation a say in any matter of any importance, the reality is we opted for a democratic system of government. Personally, I’d prefer a nice game of kickball or capture the flag. Winner gets to make all the decisions for the next year. But we opt for the terrifically boring approach of allowing everyone to vote and then gloating that when it comes to important decisions, we abide by the will of the people.

Running to the Public Employment Relations Board because both the city and voters decided they no longer want binding arbitration is the equivalent of crying to dad because mom turned down your demand for a candy bar at the grocery story. That is, it would be if I weren’t already moving forward with the S&M metaphor, which pretty much makes it impossible to now add in a parent-child relationship to make my point. It was a childish move, especially because the Police Officers Association waited to see whether voters would take their side in the matter and then, once they hadn’t, went running to the Public Employment Relations Board.

When the Police Officers Association was campaigning, I don’t recall hearing them say that they wanted your vote against Measure B, but if you’re too stupid to support their cause they’re going to have to ignore your feelings on the matter and seek the protection of a higher power. That wouldn’t have sounded very compelling. And when you’re running a campaign—even if it’s a campaign to continue doing the nasty with a city as uptight and pleased with itself as SLO—you want to at least pretend you have some respect for the people whose votes you’re courting.

Of course, the Police Officers Association is hardly the first organization to engage in a little something-something to get what it wants from voters. During the course of the debate, Measure Y got dragged into the discussion. Remember the so-called “Half Cent Sales Tax?” Odds are, you probably still think that’s what it is, because that’s how the city cleverly presented it to the public. The reality is that it’s actually a half percent sales tax, which might not sound like a big difference, but while you’ve been running around thinking you’re paying an additional half of a cent on your purchases, if you’re buying $100 worth of merchandize, you’re actually giving the city 50 cents. It still might not sound like a lot of money, but—and you can call me old-fashioned for this—it’s the principal of the thing that matters to me. It’s the idea of the city deliberately clouding something to voters, to try to finagle them into supporting something they might not actually support.

Of course, when you consider the drama behind Measure B and Y, it sounds like maybe the City and the Police Officers Association belong in bed together. I just wish they weren’t using our tax dollars to finance their hanky panky. 


Guess Shredder’s safe word at shredder@newtimesslo.com.


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