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May 9-16, 2007

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Raised by Wolves

It began this way: on April 24, 2007, Santa Cruz County Personnel Director Dania Torres Wong wrote a letter to the county Board of Supervisors.

In it, she pointed out that "as of February 13, 2007, the Board's total compensation"--in other words, the supes' $93,780 annual salary level--"is 23 percent behind" that of eight other "comparable" counties in California.

And, therefore, Wong continued, "staff is recommending that your Board authorize equity adjustments for Board members of 18 percent ..." That would, she noted, bring their salaries within 5 percent of other "comparable" county supes.

And sure enough, equity adjustments it was: last week, all county supervisors except Mark Stone, who said he'd like to see the money go elsewhere (like to needy county programs) voted to cease struggling to make ends meet with their current pay--a mere 250 percent of the $37,650 area median income--and instead treat themselves to a more proper 290 percent. Plus benefits.

And where exactly does the "equity" lie in the supes' declaration that their efforts are worth 300 percent what their constituents' are?

The logic goes like this: Equity is a function of comparable pay, which is a derivation of wage parity (equality of wages between workers in the same occupation but in different geographical areas), which in turn is a corollary of equality, the root value of our culture. Thus "equity," an alleged fourth-order extrapolation of our primary cultural impulse, requires gross inequality.

And how do our elected magicians accomplish this bait and switch? Very simply: somewhere in the middle of the logic show, they demonstratively wave around the shiny whirling widget of equal pay--but with the other, unwatched hand, silently pocket the uglier prop: equal work.

Consider: Wage parity says that the janitor mopping out the vents in Barstow and the one doing the same in Arcata ought to get similar wages. Comparable pay, parity's extension, says that the female librarian and the male shipping clerk lifting 500 pounds of goods a day should be paid roughly the same. Similar work, similar pay. That's the principle.

Equity adjustments, however, demand no such principle. The claim here is far more primitive: they get it, so we should get it too. Anything else is unfair. We are ENTITLED.

Now, was there any substantial evidence that the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors--not as individuals, but as an institution--actually does anything near equal work to that of its supervisorial compatriots in other counties, that would be fine. But no such evidence exists.

Just look at what some other supes have done in the last few years, whether or not in "comparable" counties. San Francisco: implemented a Care-Not-Cash program; 2,100 formerly homeless people are off the streets and into supportive housing.

Monterey: finished its first General Plan update since the 1980s and implemented, in cooperation with its cities, a Tourist Improvement District.

Santa Clara: helped, through its city-county program, to get over 100,000 new housing units online so as to reduce its pressure on its neighboring counties.

Sacramento: turned its wastewater treatment plant into an environmental production facility converting sewer gas to electricity to run the plant, turning solids into marketable fertilizer, capturing steam from the process to make and sell industrial ice, pumping out decontaminated water for parks and open space and using what's left to restore environments for endangered species.

And what have our own supes done since their last self-granted raise of 2001?

Here's what they've accomplished on the No. 1 complaint among lower-income residents statewide, the lack of affordable housing: after six years of delay on a new housing plan, they've rezoned a pitiful number of acres for it after being sued into doing so, and thus are in the same position as in 1999--the state has granted a provisional certification to their efforts, waiting for them to act before signing off.

How about traffic, the No. 1 issue among higher-income residents? Two supes have used their positions on the Regional Transportation Commission to block acquisition of the railroad tracks, while a third, employing the authoritarian rhetoric of "forcing people out of their cars," spent years making sure that buses and cars alike have remained idling and guzzling on 1950s-capacity highways for over a decade.

And on older road problems? Nada. Slides, collapses and partial and total closures have lasted for years. Valencia Road. Granite Creek. Eureka Canyon. Bean Creek. Highlands. Swanton. And Amnesti Road has been closed, requiring residents to drive 17 extra miles on every trip, since the quake of '89.

Jobs and pay? Nope. Not only has the board, whose members ritually promise at each election to investigate why companies often pay Santa Cruzans wages one-third lower than their valley counterparts, failed to do so yet again in this session, but it's also repeatedly refused to pay its own workers the "equity" wages it demands for itself. County workers had to strike in 2001 just to get 14 percent to 37 percent lower wage and benefit packages than their other-county peers, and county temp workers hold jobs for years at a time with no benefits at all.

What about environmental protection, though? Uh-uh. No green power plants. No water recycling program. Yes, they've done a great job requiring other people to do environmental work: electronics stores and many others must now accept toxin-containing goods for recycling. But in their own field of responsibility, keeping the landfills active past their soon-approaching closure dates, all they've done is to contract-ship county garbage off to Marina--a temporary solution--agreeing with NIMBY opponents that any new landfill would tax the county, as it's "too small" to handle its own trash. This while simultaneously claiming that the county can't provide protection to repeatedly burgled rural farmers because it's "too large," can't live with current medical reimbursement levels because it's "too urban" and can't meet its housing or road obligations because it's "too rural."

Even in its supposed area of expertise--neighborhood protection--supes have dallied. "Vacation rental" conversions of homes are downgrading entire neighborhoods into unlicensed hotel zones where families live amid the noise and traffic of short-stay tourism and struggle to keep their neighborhoods alive. And the board does nothing.

In short, there is not one bit of proof that outside of evading, obfuscating and suing everyone it can, from the city of Capitola to Cisco to AMBAG to its own residents, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors has accomplished a single thing in the last six years to justify its old level of pay, let alone yet more.

Now ultimately, of course, this is not the supes' doing, but our own. We, the voters, have allowed this board, as an institution, to decompose into a barely functional reactive repository of mediocrity for at least two decades. We've known it, we've whispered about it, but virtually no one has spoken up.

It's time that someone does. That some stable, skilled and persistent activist group comes forth waving at least three ballot measures: one subjecting supes' pay to public vote, one setting term limits and one capping the percentage of the county budget that supes can divert into their continual campaign of legal harassment against everyone in sight.

Hurry up, please, it's time.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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