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Diana Shaw: Money talks, and so do people

Democratic Voices

Posted: September 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: September 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Grand visions have changed the tides of history. They captured my imagination and inspired my life. Historical leaders sporting crowns of glory often went through hard times.

Our Congressional forefathers threatened to pull the plug on Gen. George Washington because he had the temerity to complain that his freezing troops had neither food nor clothing. Yet Congress demanded to know why he hadn't taken Philadelphia.

Washington survived on the strength of his moral purpose and inaugurated the grandest of visions - our representative democracy.

Yet, the cacophony of Congressional discontent heaped upon Washington the man, still permeates Washington the city - not to mention Sacramento. It seems to me many elected officials try to get elected or re-elected by creating an appalling narrative regarding the other side to scare people into voting for them.

Notwithstanding that reality, when I was approached to run for the state Assembly, my ideals got the better of me.

Our 38th Assembly District, with almost a half-million people, stretches across the northern San Fernando Valley, most of the Santa Clarita Valley and a small portion of Simi Valley.

To learn about its many communities, I visited neighborhood councils throughout the Los Angeles portion of the district and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee in the SCV. Each comprised volunteers dedicated to making sure their communities work. My exercise turned into a profound lesson in representative democracy.

Here are a couple of examples: Assembly Bill 885, inspired by the federal Clean Water Act, applies to waters where septic systems are identified as contributing to unacceptable levels of pollutants. This is good. Nobody wants fecal matter in their water.

Yet, the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation came up with a scheme to charge septic tank owners $900 for a mandatory inspection that could lead to a sewer hook-up costing up to $100,000. Imagine retirees on a fixed income getting this notice, in an era when you can't even refinance your house if you want to.

There are more than 2,000 septic tanks in the horse country that makes up much of Sunland-Tujunga. I attended a neighborhood council meeting brimming with furious septic tank owners. I heard no evidence presented by the Bureau of Sanitation establishing that the subject water had even been tested.

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian set the Bureau of Sanitation straight, and it looks like this issue is being resolved. But this debacle, a local bureaucracy's take on state law, could have been nipped in the bud had Sacramento been paying attention.

Another example: SCV's salty water problem and its agreement to build a $210 million dollar desalinization plant. Republicans whine about unfunded mandates, insinuating this agreement between City Council Republicans and Water Board Republicans (appointed by a Republican governor) was somehow a Democratic plot.

They wax poetic about their Republican assemblyman who will somehow save the day, notwithstanding that he has been in office, before, during and after the disastrous signing.

I'm not surprised. Creating a blame game narrative is in the interests of those in power, no matter the party. However, this problem could have been nipped in the bud if only Sacramento had been listening.

There is hope. Granada Hills and Porter Ranch have a problem. Someone is making megabucks off ads posted on trailers, leaving them unhitched in public parking spaces. Parents see massage parlors advertised near schools, drivers can't find parking spaces and taxpayers fume when they see them languishing until they fall apart.

Republican Los Angeles Councilman Greig Smith and Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys, were listening. They forged a plan. Blumenfield drafted a bill banning the trailers. It sits on the governor's desk as I write this. That is the kind of representation I want to restore to the 38th district. (My opponent voted against the bill.)

The kind of cooperation between the Smith and Blumenfield is all too rare these days. Because it is expensive to run for office and the next race usually starts the day after the election, many politicians can only hear the jingle jangle of money in deep corporate pockets.

Corporations exist to make a profit (not to provide jobs, as some would have you believe). They invest in politicians who promise a good return on their investment. With money at the forefront of political activity, listening to local concerns and having the will to get the job done, even if it means cooperating with the "other side," takes a back seat.

So, if you wonder why you're not seeing my printed material flooding your mailboxes, now you know: I don't take corporate money. The upside is that I owe nothing to the big guys.

Math wizards: There are about 262,000 voters in the 38th district. How much postage would it cost to send them mailers?

Go ahead, put more than one voter in a household. Still, the answer will take your breath away.

That's the reality into which I jumped. Notwithstanding the sad truths, I'm loving the experience, and learning about what needs to be done to restore faith in our democracy.

This answer is easy: A politician must earn the title "representative." To do that, all they must do is listen.

Diana Shaw is a Saugus resident and is the Democratic candidate, running to represent the 38th Assembly District. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.


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