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Former newspaper editor Phil Trounstine on Santa Cruz progressives and progress.

By Phil Trounstine

LIBERALS IN Santa Cruz have created a crippling double bind.On the one hand, they want the city and county to provide services to the poor; neighborhood amenities like parks, historic preservation and recreation programs; good wages and job protections for city and county workers; strong and humane public safety forces and generous treatment of the homeless, among other things.

On the other hand, they oppose, obstruct or delay virtually every development project that comes along, no matter how benign the impact, whether it's a bayside conference center, hotel or research center--things that would improve the local economy and provide jobs and tax revenues that could fund the kinds of progressive policies and services they want from local government.

It's time for leaders of the environmental, neighborhood and labor left to demonstrate that their heads aren't buried in the sand. I say this as someone who covered development issues for the San Jose Mercury News for many years, keeping a sharp eye on those whose projects were not in the public interest.

There is nothing inherently progressive about opposing every development. In fact, those who claim to be progressive ought to demonstrate some genuine leadership by supporting environmentally sound proposals that provide jobs, boost tourism and increase public revenues to fund the kinds of liberal programs and policies that help distinguish Santa Cruz from other places.

This is not to say environmentalists, neighborhood activists and labor leaders should just roll over and play dead. They have a right and a responsibility to advocate for their constituencies. But in Santa Cruz, instead of beginning from the standpoint of saying "How can we make this work?" the left begins by saying "Over my dead body!" Or by making such unreasonable demands that they would suck any incentive right out of the project at hand.

There's nothing wrong with a developer making a profit by bringing projects to Santa Cruz that improve the business climate and create jobs and tax revenues if those projects adhere to the General Plan and contribute to the health and prosperity of the community. That's progress, which is what progressives ought to be for, not against.

It's time for a debate on the left about what it means to be a progressive in this community.

Phil Trounstine is the co- publisher of, a website covering California politics. He is the former political editor of the San Jose Mercury News, former communications director for Gov. Gray Davis and former director of the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University. He lives in Aptos.

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