Saturday, July 16, 2011

Paradise Fragment: Save Coyote Hills

"God opened the flowers before man cut the paving blocks."

--Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

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I am at Fullerton City Hall, wearing a t-shirt I made. It says (with green sharpie): “Listen to the people. Save Coyote Hills.” Coyote Hills is one of the last large natural open spaces left in Orange County. Tonight City Council is voting on whether to let Chevron (who owns the land) build a massive housing/retail development.

There are hundreds of Fullerton residents here, wearing “Save Coyote Hills” t-shirts and buttons. The meeting lasts over 4 hours, because so many people stand up to speak about this issue. Some people are for the development. Most people are against it. I am against it. We want Chevron to sell the land to the city for a park. I listen to people speak passionately. I watch Mayor Dick Jones (who looks and acts exactly like Boss Hog from the Dukes of Hazzard) preside over the meeting like a grumpy troll.

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When City Council member Sharon Quirk-Silva tries to ask questions of City Staff and Chevron, Dick Jones rudely interrupts her, tries to get her to “save her questions for later.”

“You will respect order!” Jones wheezes.

“I’m going to ask these questions.”

He glares at her with hate-filled eyes as she asks her questions about water issues, environmental impacts. Real, relevant questions. None of the other City Council members have any questions. They all took campaign contributions from Chevron. They sit silently, as the voices of their constituents fall on deaf ears. Ears stuffed up with money. Finally, my name is called and I stand up and read the speech I wrote:

“Good Evening. My name is Jesse La Tour and I have lived in Fullerton for over 20 years.

What is democracy? This is a question that has been bothering me for some time. When I was growing up, in school, I learned that democracy means a government of, by, and for the people. I thought people got elected to office because they had the best ideas and the most number of people liked them. I thought elected officials made decisions by listening to what the most number of people wanted, and doing what was best for the most number of people. If people didn’t like these decisions, they could talk to their elected officials and they would listen and maybe change their minds.

As I’ve gotten older, as I ran for city council last year, I’ve learned that this is not how democracy works in America and, sadly, not in Fullerton. They sad reality I have come to learn is that elected officials don’t always make decisions based on what the most number of people want. Instead, they make decisions based on which companies give them the most money for their campaigns.

A good example of this is the issue before us tonight. Should the City of Fullerton change the zoning of West Coyote Hills and allow Chevron/Pacific Coast Homes to bulldoze a native habitat and build 760 houses and a shopping center? Based on the existence of the Friends of Coyote Hills and all the people here tonight, it seems obvious that lots of ordinary people don’t want this.

However, the reality is that Chevron/Pacific Coast Homes gave thousands of dollars to Council Members Don Bankhead, Pat McKinley, and Bruce Whitaker in the election last November, so they could print fancy mailers and ads and signs. I suspect that these men will defy their constituents tonight and vote in favor of money, not people.

City Council, I would only ask that before you vote on this tonight, you consider this: What is democracy? Is it government of, by, and for corporations? Or is it government of, by, and for the people?

Thank you.”

At the end of the meeting, City Council votes in favor of the development, 4-1.

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