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Tim Myers: A lesson in the industry of self preservation

Posted: March 9, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 9, 2013 2:00 a.m.

I would commend to anyone with an ironic sense of humor the cable TV series "Portlandia," from the minds of Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live and Carrie Brownstein of indie music fame.

In this light, sketch comedy series found on the IFC network and also on Netfilx streaming, one sees character after character sending up the quirkiness of Portland from the women’s bookstore where they never seem to sell any books to an eco-friendly moving company that uses bicycles and takes several months to complete the move of one two-bedroom house.

But my personal favorite regular character and Portlandia foil revolves around Portland’s green bicycling mayor, portrayed by Kyle MacLachlan.

In his first appearance the mayor, ever conscious of civic boosterism and the "competition" between Portland and its much larger neighbor, Seattle, showed Carrie and Fred the various awards bestowed on the city of Portland hung on the wall of his office, including "Best Website of a Pacific Northwest City Under 500,000 Population," an award he proudly states he made up and presented to himself, narrowing the category so that the more urbane and larger Seattle would not find itself able to compete.

Now every municipality, not just the comedic version of Portland portrayed in "Portlandia," engages in a fair amount of self-congratulatory naval-gazing.

The old byword of municipal government related to water and sewage, in that as long as the municipal managers realized that water ran downhill everything else would pretty much take care of itself. However, one could see some difficulty in justifying six-figure salaries and multiple deputies to execute on gravity.

Therefore, an entire quasi-industry arose for municipalities to apply for and grant each other awards for various forms of government "excellence," including the completely misunderstood "All American City" award, where cities existing in miserable microeconomic circumstances and perpetual decline got kudos for making the best of a bad situation. (Remarkably, the City of Santa Clarita competed for this award not once but twice under the city management tenure of George Caravalho.)

Not a week goes by without a press release from City Hall announcing some self-congratulatory award for achievement, leading many local gadflies to wonder if city employees spent a majority of their days seeking out and completing applications for awards for the performance of their otherwise part-time jobs.

Add to this list of award-seeking quasi-governmental agencies the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation ("SCVEDC"), ensconced at the College of the Canyons ("COC") University Center and receiving either significant or primary funding from Santa Clarita.

With four fulltime employees, the SCVEDC generates a lot of "activity" and wins many awards, most recently a second annual award for its Economic Development Guide, presented by the California Association for Economic Development ("CALED"), an organization of similar enterprises seeking to justify their existences.

The SCVEDC got mid-wifed into existence a little less than two years ago when the City Council agreed to provide significant funding for the organization, primarily by paying the salaries of economic development professionals now numbering four.

And while I am sure these individuals diligently spend their days in the "business" of economic development, I wonder what they really accomplished in these last many months.

I can say with pretty much absolute certainty that they did not accomplish much. The newspaper, blogs and radio reports do not find themselves filled with accounts of employers with (relatively) high-paying jobs relocating to the area.

In fact, the most high-profile local business story just under a year ago related to Morton Manufacturing, a longtime Valencia manufacturer of aerospace fasteners, which decided to relocate to the Antelope Valley and take 200 jobs with it, bemoaning its ability to find a suitable location in the SCV.

And while some might cite the "relocation" of the headquarters for Precision Dynamics, an electronic ID company, to Valencia with a putative 265 jobs, this might overstate the case since the jobs probably already existed in a merged company’s footprint.

Similarly, the SCVEDC can probably not take credit for the longterm expansion of the Disney Studio footprint on the outskirts of Santa Clarita, since this project found itself in the preliminary planning stages long before the SCVEDC’s formation.

And yet the SCVEDC will continue to exist and justify its existence with frequent announcements of various awards, evidence of its ineffectiveness, since it would much rather announce the relocation of actual businesses and jobs.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. "Myers’ Musings" runs Saturdays in The Signal.


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