Marin Independent Journal
Dwayne Hunn, published June 1, 1994 (unedited version)
In 1985 Marin’s most vibrant city, San Rafael, hired an acclaimed city manager, to re-implement privatization changes he had successfully effected in Visalia’s local government. Long-time Mayor Mulryan, however, didn’t see eye-to-eye on many proposed changes so within a year City Manager Ted Gaebler was gone.
Today Gaebler is co-author of the book, Reinventing Government, which Vice President Gore and other policy wonks proclaim as their road atlas to accelerate more value from each tax dollar.
Representative government, however, isn’t easily reinvented. Cutting 52,000 positions, changing the sector from which some programs are performed, etc., won’t happen fast, if at all. Why? Because our form of governance demands constant vigilance and participation.
To our Founding Fathers this vigilance was cherished. In parishes, townships and cities they pleaded, demanded and reasoned for needed changes. Today, relatively few of us do.
Yet without participation in the governing process, the future only insures echoed screams for more change, without delivery. The active among you have your own examples of how mislaid the goals of local government becomes without participation. Here’s one from San Rafael.
Every 4-6 years San Rafael’s Canal must be dredged to insure its commercial and recreational use. The Army Corps assumes responsibility for the mouth and central portions, private owners for the sides.
The Army Corps doesn’t dredge, they “privatize” contracts to dredgers who charge the federal government. Years ago the Feds quit paying for the dumping of the dredge spoils and continue cutting the dredging budget.
With environmentally and fiscally sound reasoning, the Feds have consistently sought that local “agencies” (San Rafael) provide an “uplands” (local) disposal site. If the city doesn’t find a local dump site, it “privatizes” costs by adding a per cubic yard (cyd) fee to the property owners assessed bill to cover the costs of dumping out of local environmental sight.
In the early 80’s most of the dredge spoils from San Rafael Canal and Bay harbors were dumped into a 140′ Bay hole just south of Alcatraz. By 1992 the hole had become a huge mound with its tip just 34′ below Mean Low Low Water level. Fisherman, shippers and Bay environmentalists had long complained about this disposal method.
Recently the bureaucracy responded with its Long Term Management Study which called for another disposal site and more “private sector involvement in innovative disposal solutions.” The result — a likely new disposal site called Alternative Site 5, fifty long and costly miles outside the Golden Gate Bridge.
Several months ago a private property owner with 80+ acres of diked land near to San Rafael Canal agreed to an ‘innovative’ request from a ‘private’ group, the San Rafael Dredge Committee, to use his site to recycle dredge spoils. Since then three dredging contractors have said they could suction pump dredge spoils to that upland site for between $2.50 – $4.50 per cyd.
Around 1988 the mouth as well as central and private sides of the San Rafael Canal were dredged. The Corps paid about $12 per cyd. for clamshell dredging and barge disposal; private property owners paid about $8.00 per cyd.
At $4. per cyd private property owners could save $192,000 based on 1988’s cost; the Corps could save $700,000. Does government need reinventing before this savings can accrue? No.
Cities across the nation have cost saving situations that are unimplemented. The same cities are filled with Americans griping for someone to fix their complaints about the “system”. But the ‘system’ will not flow as smoothly as a stream until more people dive in.
With public participation San Rafael can enhance wetlands, bioremidiate hydrocarbon toxicized channel spoils, reuse spoils for parks and preserve and create jobs. In Gaebler’s “public entrepreneurship,” the saved money could make a bigger and better park for East San Rafael, fund a Child Care center, or just reduce needed revenues.
Win-win public-private reinventions abound. Whether there is enough vigilance and participation is the question.