To govern, or not?


    Included in letters to the editor this week is one from a member of the Libertarian party congratulating us on a guest editorial that ran last week. Thank you for the kudos, but the editorial was not written by me. An attorney wrote it for the Pacific Legal Foundation and, in the main, I didn’t agree with his premise or the Foundation’s premise that the problem with our world is government.

    I don’t share this almost child-like belief that if government would just leave the environmental problems and energy supply problems alone, the free market would work them out. It seems to me to be sort of Pollyannaish.

    Being a very empirical person, I look at the energy crisis, and at a bunch of free enterprise utilities running to the government and whining about how they were forced into deregulation and about how they, therefore, should be bailed out, and I wonder whatever happened to the free enterprise system. If they made a dumb decision, should we just be saying “Tough”?

    Now having said all this, and having spoken up to defend government, you might well wonder why it is that I truly believe the bad reputation enjoyed by government is frequently well-deserved and often the result of self-inflicted wounds.

    I believe that people dislike government because governments consistently do some of the dumbest things imaginable. And just so you don’t think this is some philosophic discourse, I’m going to give you two very local examples that are happening as we speak.

    Example # 1

    This past weekend, the Malibu Farmers’ Market reopened in the City Hall parking lot after a winter hiatus. It’s no great secret that they’re struggling and they desperately need community support if they’re going to stay in business. To make it a more inviting event, they have food booths and fun things that will attract families with children, to try and create a comfortable friendly atmosphere. To make it work the city gives the space, and has given money directly to the Farmers’ Market.

    So what happens? A sheriff’s department ticket giver, who drives around in a little white sheriffs car with a decal that says “community service officer,” which one could argue is a bit of a misnomer, decides to start ticketing cars that are parked at an angle alongside the Chili Cook-Off site.

    I must admit that he got me, along with a bunch of others. The reason we parked at an angle was because the others before us parked that way. There was no sign that said you couldn’t, and it made space for more cars. It was apparent that whoever gives out tickets–and by the way these are frequently part-time, low-paid and minimally trained individuals, sometimes not even old enough to drink–is running around exercising some very poor governmental judgment.

    Almost everyone I talked to thought the tickets were sheer idiocy and were prepared to go to court to fight them. I think if the sheriff’s department is able to squander its manpower in this sort of silliness, perhaps it simply has too much money in its budget and too much manpower.

    I, for one, am going to take a much harder look at the department’s budget when it comes up again. I would like to see a public explanation about the entire so-called “community service officers” and who’s hired, how they’re trained, how they’re supervised, and perhaps a public discussion about whether or not we really need them.

    Example # 2

    The State of California and the California State Department of Parks want to buy the 1,600-plus acres in Lower Topanga Canyon from the Los Angeles Athletic Club holding company. A budget of $40 million has been allocated for the purpose. The goal is to make that land available to California as a public park.

    However, State Parks won’t take it unless it is vacant and free of tenants because in past deals the department got burned–it took years to get rid of the tenants. So the state wants to throw out all the tenants, but also it doesn’t want to appear to be the heavy; it looks bad when the state uses its power to muscle citizens and small businesses that don’t have the finances to fight back.

    So a deal is cut with an organization called the American Land Conservancy (ALC), which has a contract to buy the land. The ALC is now in the process of throwing everyone off the land and that includes the Malibu Feed Bin, Oasis Furniture, the Reel Inn, the Topanga Motel, the Topanga Ranch Market, Something Fishy Sushi Restaurant, Wylie’s Bait and Tackle Shop, Thai Beach Caf, an assorted group of other businesses and renters, some of whom have been there for 20 or 30 years.

    In other words, the state proposes to tear down the only reasonably priced visitor-serving area in Malibu so it can make room for a new visitor-serving area. If a private developer attempted anything this heavy-handed, people would be laying down in front of the bulldozers. Apparently, this little cute deal has the support of the environmental community and our state legislators because they all want the acreage.

    It my opinion the deal stinks, and when government goes into the tenant removal business and hides behind some shell environmental wheeler dealers, to me, it’s unconscionable. It can only make you wonder if the Libertarian may be right after all. Maybe government really can’t be trusted.