Apathy never fixes anything

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.

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