Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Public Works

This is from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

During the Great Depression, president Roosevelt had an idea to help keep people working and keep the country moving forward, despite the economic hardships. He created the Works Progress Administration, which allowed people who couldn’t find jobs to work for the government, doing a variety of public projects: building dams and schools, improving roads, painting murals, writing, even recording music.

Fullerton benefitted from this. Many of the buildings at Fullerton College were built by the WPA.

This idea of government helping people, not by giving handouts, but by giving jobs that, in turn, helped the public, even extended to local government, including Fullerton. In Ostrich Eggs for Breakfast, Dora Mae Sim writes, “During the depression, Hillcrest Park was made larger and more beautiful. The work was done by Fullerton men who could not find jobs anywhere. The city of Fullerton paid the men a small amount of money each day. The men made better roads through the park. They built rock walls. They planted hundreds of trees and flowers.”

Given our current economic situation, maybe Fullerton would benefit from similar types of programs. I realize that such a change would require an overhaul of the way Fullerton currently does public projects. Under the current system, big pubic improvements fall under the jurisdiction of the Redevelopment Agency, a clunky and corrupt apparatus in which contractors who make campaign contributions to city council members get to do the public works, and get paid big bucks by the taxpayers.

This seems counter-productive and stupid. Why not give these jobs to out-of-work residents? We wouldn’t have to pay them a lot—maybe what they are currently getting from unemployment.

Imagine all the beautiful public projects Fullerton could do. I would gladly give up my unemployment if there was the option for me to serve my community instead—planting gardens, painting murals, writing, building stuff.

We could even put homeless people to work. They would get valuable work experience, and maybe more people would see them as a valuable part of the community.


The beautiful mural "Pastoral California" on the side of Plummer Auditorium was painted by WPA-commissioned artist Charles Kassler in 1934.


  1. You are unemployed?? WTF?!?

    The problem with ever-increasing public works projects is that they take money out of the real economy where real people make purchase/non-purchase decisions hundreds of times a day and plan for decades and hand that money to bureaucrats who are supposed to represent constituents when they vote in a committee once a month or something.

    Prices work better than ballots.

    There has already been spending in Fullerton. The TARP project was some road smoothing on Harbor. It cost millions of dollars and created one job for a few months. Now they are installing solar panels at the library. Maybe you can get some of that money.

  2. As an adjunct faculty at a community college, I get unemployment over the summers, so I can pay my bills.

    I'm unclear what the statement "prices work better than ballots" means.

  3. I think what my dad is saying is that it is always better to vote with your dollars.

    Elected officials are not altruistic and will always do what benefits themselves as individuals rather than whats good for everyone in the city.

    Id like to ad that it would be nice to create jobs but the right way to do it would be to create a product or service that is useful rather than busy work. Painting a mural on a building/business, for example, is only useful if it brings more income/publicity to that business. It benefits both the painter and the business owner.

    If that's the case then the business owner should foot the bill rather than take a subsidy from the city.

  4. "Elected officials..will always do what benefits themselves as individuals rather than whats good for everyone in the city."

    If you really believe that, in your heart, then I weep for the future.

  5. Okay maybe it's a hyperbolic statement. People get into politics for the right reason but there's this phrase I found that goes something like:

    Politicians and diapers must be changed frequently, and for the same reason.