Op-Ed: The slippery slope of special interest

Now that I and many of my fellow baby boomers are turning 64, I say with love and hard, lessons-learned conviction to my 30-something California children (with all due credit to the Beatles): “I hope you’ll still need me; I hope you’ll still feed me.” But continue to make the same democratic governance mistakes your boomer parents have been making for the last 20 years and all of us will soon be eaten out of house and home by local, state and federal governments that increasingly pursue interests that have little to do with maintaining a balanced democracy.

One of our country's greatest current failings is an inability to come to terms with disreputable and dishonest leaders who characterize their actions as “wrong” but “legal.” Day after day the media is filled with one pathetic story after another of contrite, and often born-again, wrongdoers begging forgiveness for acts that have done/are doing irreparable harm to the common good. Tragically, all of us are now obliged to spend more and more of our time sifting through a garbage heap of self-serving excuses.

Public pension fraud, CEO engorgement, the equivalent of three-alarm financial fires in Bell and Vernon, double-dipping public servants a la L.A. City Councilman and former Police Chief Bernard Parks, disability retirements for almost any public safety worker who asks for one. It never ends — and we never get angry enough to do anything about it. Why?

Several months ago, one of La Cañada's elected city council members defended a ruling in favor of a person who had clearly violated one or more of the city's hillside building codes by saying something along the lines of, “ordinances are only guidelines.” Strange, I thought at the time, because when we remodeled our kitchen a year ago, the ordinances were written in stone and not subject to interpretation. In fact, we were forced — at considerable expense — to comply with foundation guidelines so stringent that half of our kitchen will survive a magnitude 9.5 quake. Unfortunately, it is the half without our stove and refrigerator, so don't bother stopping by for a home-cooked meal after the Big One.

Before continuing, I want to emphasize that I am in no way comparing any La Cañada city council member to the charlatans who ran Bell or dozens of other California municipalities into the ground. For the most part, we are well and truly served by a fine group of individuals who tirelessly labor on our behalf without much to show for it. That said, the “ordinances are only guidelines” statement, a statement that to the best of my knowledge has received little or no comment, sadly illustrates how willing we all have become to blithely accept major policy reinterpretations of longstanding rules and regulations simply because it is too much trouble to oppose them.

What's next, I wonder? Do I really have to take my garbage cans off the street after trash day, as the ordinance says, or can I leave them out forever? Do I really have to maintain all those damned oak trees that have ruined my San Gabriel Mountains view, or can I cut away with impunity, safe in the knowledge that city ordinances are only guidelines?

Each and every one of us in La Cañada has a stake in both the appearance and financial well-being of the city. To ensure the continued viability of our wonderful town, each and every one of us must be aware that we always stand at the edge of a slippery slope. If we lose focus and permit the weakening of long-standing ordinances for specious and temporarily accommodative reasons, the speed with which we slide down the special-interests slope will increase so rapidly that we will have lost complete control over our destiny before we know what has happened.

ROBERT LANG can be reached via email at rlang2000@hotmail.com.

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