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OPINION: The mosh pit of El Cerrito politics

By Betty King Buginas

There have been some unlikely if brief alliances at recent City Council meetings that should cause people to rethink any conspiracy theories they have regarding local politics. There’s an old political saying “You’ve got to dance with them what brung you” that Molly Ivins uses in the title of a recent book. What we have here is more akin to a mosh pit. In case you’re out of the loop here’s a definition from one website: “Members of the crowd will gather at the front and furiously and passionately shove/push/body slam each other in time to the music.”

So we have council member Gina Brusatori hinting Mayor Larry Damon is guilty of misconduct in office and member Mark Friedman defending Larry’s honor. Next meeting we have resident Peter Loubal attacking Damon -- no surprise he’s attacking someone or that it gets vicious and personal; the only question is whose turn it is this time. This time Larry’s unlikely defender is Mike Daley of the Sierra Club, who also quotes Chamber of Commerce President Marge Collins. Then Marge is saying El Cerrito is the laughingstock of the I-80 corridor, and I’m wondering if she studied a different brand of public relations than I did or maybe I just don’t understand what chambers of commerce do. And we have Larry repeatedly cutting off and generally slighting fellow council member Kathie Perka as he has of late and I kinda thought they were supposed to be tight politically. (Far be it from me to suggest this is sexism because it could be political or just rudeness.) And now I feel like I’m getting sucked into this whole weird melodrama because when Kathie ran I never imagined I’d end up sticking up for her.

All these folks had gotten along fairly well for a while. But there is an election coming up so that’s making some act a bit weird. Though, again here, someone must have had different college courses than I did, because I would think they’d be on their best behavior right now.

Of course it may have to do with my second point and that is that sometimes – and the July 11 meeting was a perfect example – some of our elected representatives will start talking and I’m not sure where they’re going with it. My best guess is they’re trying to address the concerns that a few people raised to them in private and have lost sight of the general audience.

Someone once observed that it is hard to believe there are 24,000 people in El Cerrito because it seems like we are always hearing from the same 11. I’m just humbly suggesting that when you start talking at a public meeting with a room full of people, including an unprecedented three reporters, and a cable television audience to boot, that you think big audience -- big audience that doesn’t have all the documents, hasn’t been to every meeting, and mostly cares about the big picture, as in: Are we getting a project on the Mill and Lumber site or not and, if so, what is it going to look like?

And that’s the beauty of meetings like the last couple – there were people in the audience besides the usual suspects. And it was clear their take was different than the most-frequently-heard-from handful.

Not to fault those few. (Though really when you talk at every meeting, are against just about everything, are at times hateful and blatantly inaccurate maybe it dilutes your message just a wee bit.) The rest of us should weigh in more often. And maybe each city official could install sort of a mental filter that if not screens out, at least weights appropriately the voices heard frequently but which repeatedly have been shown to not be in line with what the majority of residents wants. Maybe as a reality check they could once in a while stop people they’ve never heard from and ask their take on things. I’m just taking a wild stab here, but I don’t think the average Joe is going to say, “I’m deeply concerned about what it says on page such and such-and-such report.” I’m guessing he or she will say something like, “What’s happening at the Plaza?” “What’s going in where El Cerrito Mill and Lumber was?” or “Whatever happened to that additional BART parking we were supposed to get?”

Betty Buginas is editor of www.elcerritowire.com .
Run dates: 2001-07-14 - 2001-07-28

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