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Fred Allebach
Connecting the Dots
Fred Allebach

Local Control defined

I recently requested a member of the city council, and city staff, to define “local control”, as it has been invoked as a critical principle worth fighting for in the Montini land use issue and perhaps for other City of Sonoma things as well. For Montini, local control is a concept directed to city staff to try and fulfill.

Local control was used by the some on the last council as the primary Montini issue, and I took it at face value. I think the term is used to connote more than what it seems at face value. In this little essay I will break down local control for the covert meanings it may have; since no one answered, I have to figure it out myself.

What does this term mean? Local control may simply be what it says, but vagueness starts to creep in: who are the locals? Control what? For Sonoma, tourists, vacation rentals and out of town buses and limos, out of town hotel chains with national investor portfolios, all of these people are not local but they are in control. In these cases real local is getting overpowered by fake local.

In all tourist Meccas, outsiders invade and start taking over. The actual locals lose control.  Housing is a perfect example, who is driving the rents up so high? Not Uncle Pete. If there was local control of rents, we would take care of our own and not let our neighbors be run out of town.

Measure B proponents were totally local; B antagonists were mercenary outside paid help, $ from who knows where? One current Montini group has over 1000 local signatures, more than twice the other guys, these are locals, should they not control?

What I have found out from a cursory search is that local control is related to States’ Rights. States’ Rights harkens back to Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian views of how best to govern our country. Jefferson stood for rural, agrarian, small town stuff, perhaps looking backward. Hamilton stood for urban, modern systems, commerce, big city stuff, perhaps looking forward. This boils down to a decentralized vs. centralized debate as to who we are as a country. Centralized government implies gains of efficiency and concentration of power. Decentralized implies local control. What is good or bad here? Centralized power could result in a fractal of a Kingdom and risk the same type of abusive despotism the US broke away from in its independence struggle from Great Britain. Decentralized power could end up a fractal continuance of the feudal landscape of Lords and their respective fiefdoms, abusive social relations at just a smaller level. In both cases “liberty” and “freedom” are limited.

But who is liberty and freedom for, who are the people? Who gets and deserves control and why?  

What the American Revolution did was to replace a repressive aristocracy with a new ruling merchant class who claimed rights for themselves and enshrined them in the Constitution. The American Revolution was a merchants’ revolution and as such, only white men with property were intended to be citizens or the people.  As we move forward to today, what has happened is that the merchant class has taken on the same repressive role the aristocracy had in the past. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Back to local control; Local control is code. It is not a simple, self-explanatory phrase. Local control posits a States’ Rights baseline that implies certain selective historical things, with a class-based, ideological twist. The implication of local control: we are States before we are United, all the way down to Jeffersonian Lords of the Manor controlling monopolizing local resources of their respective principalities.

The Federal vs. State (local control) polemic gets to be a black and white, all or nothing, 239 year old debate about who equal men are and what rights are primary. The US Constitution is like the Bible in the sense that it can be cherry picked for supporting statements and all to the contrary is ignored. As William Blake said, “both read the Bible day and night, but thou read’st black where I read white”, same for the Constitution.  

At the bottom of this is a class conflict, a conflict of values as they apply to “rights”.  What are the values behind the code of local control?

Part of the covert meaning behind local control is that the Founders, the people, were seen to be only merchant white men with property. The people, the citizens, were not intended to be slaves, indentured servants, wager laborers, men without property, or women. Thus, anyone other than white men with property is seen as less worthy, as having less of a stake for participating in democracy.  

States’ Rights code gets more covert when we see its recent growth as a backlash against federal moves to support environmental protections, civil and voting rights. Local control was/is a way to defend segregation and continue business as usual to the advantage of local white men.

States’ Rights and local control were used by the South to defend the feudal relations of slavery, and later to defend Jim Crow, and later to subvert federal environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. When Freon was discovered to be damaging the ozone layer, to all of our detriment, and federal steps were taken to stop production, the Rightist Arizona legislature pushed back by passing a bill, against federal law, to legalize the production of Freon in AZ!

It is highly likely that local control goes along with climate science denial, and for those buying into local control in Sonoma, the county climate adaptation and sustainability stuff is probably looked at with a jaundiced eye.

Local control today is invoked to resist the Affordable Care Act. Local control proper continues its’ past traditions with push back against “socialism”, centraliized authority and against things of scale that benefit a lot of the Actual People. Fear of central authority is perhaps a holdover from ancestral memories of aristocratic abuse, or maybe it’s just an unexamined meme.

Those who may benefit from central authority, have risen to the level of citizens today, but are seen by States’ Rights local controllers (Rightists) as fundamentally unworthy of participating in democracy. And just like the American revolutionaries, the under dogs of today are pushing back against an unfair sequestration of power. Strategically monopolized power exploits wage laborers today just as the aristocrats exploited the bourgeoisie and colonial merchants in the past.

Rightist local controllers pretty much advocate different rules for different people, more rights for those with more power. Does this sound aristocratic? Yes it does. Rightists are apologists for the 1% new Lords of the Manor. Freed slaves have now just turned into “takers”, this type of non-citizen rabble has to be kept in its place!

“Local control”, in spite of its rather clear lineage to white masters and Lords, is not necessarily a commonly understood phrase. I missed its true ideological freight and significance for years.

Local control can be and is, a weasel word phrase. With weasel words, actual values are not represented; word-use becomes a tactic to spin, muddy the water and win a particular battle. For example, local initiatives to legalize marijuana, ban fracking or plastic bags are all easily construed as local control. Yet States’ Rights adherents hypocritically fight these initiatives with appeals to more central authority. How can this be? I’ll tell you why. Real State’s Righters and local controllers are not about democracy (the will everyman) but about maintaining the positon of power and control for the big people. This is why any local control initiative to raise the minimum wage is fought by local masters.

Local control is code for a Jeffersonian, Libertarian, Tea Party view of “freedom” (which means white men with power only) and as such, if the phrase is used to gloss at face value, it doesn’t work. Local control proper, has to be code for the latter mentioned novo-aristocratic values, not for actual local control. If local control was an actual value that meant what it said, then there should be no problems with any local initiatives no matter what they are. This is democracy, right?

For real local controllers, the Feds and any kind of central authority are the enemy, at least until your own guys are in control of the State House and then you can use them to control socio-economic behavior you don’t like. All of a sudden state and federal control is OK if it’s for something you want. I seem to remember Lord Acton now: absolute power corrupts absolutely. “Local control” is just a prop for keeping power and control; it’s about different rules for different people.

The local control guys love Texas and hate California. Local control guys are basically anti-democracy, anti-majority rule, unless they are in the majority; then they don’t mind foisting their values on you. You can pin the calculated McConnell/ Boehner gridlock of all the Obama years squarely on guys who want coded local control even though they lost the election.

One tactic of local-control, States-Rights types is pre-emption law, to not allow liberal locals to control anything, period. These state-level pre-emption laws have barred cities from rent control, regulating e-cigarettes, giving paid sick leave, making local broadband systems, raising the minimum wage for fast food workers, passing environmental regulations, standing for voting rights and protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. Is it not supreme irony that those whose values stem from a phrase called local control seek to roll back these latter local initiatives?! What about Obama’s decision to let pot smokers be? That’s a nod to local control, right? Marijuana doesn’t intoxicate people, people do, right? No, sorry, too much immorality locally there folks; we need central authority to control immoral takers and pot smokers.

With real local control, the sovereign entity is never the actual people, the sovereign is the modern day Lord. With the current level of income inequality and Wall Street hegemony, these Lords have taken over our democracy. Corporate power and its lackeys and feeder fish have displaced the voting citizenry. This is clearly aristocracy recapitulating itself, with increasingly far-fetched hypocritical rationales.

Pre-emption laws are what big tobacco used to over-ride local anti-smoking laws and what the NRA appeals to, to prevent anti-gun laws. Local control guys eat up centralized control when it suits them. I guess I’d have to say now, after my cursory study that local control is not a value or a principle, it’s a tactic. Conservative states want control from the Feds but then don’t want their localities to bolt liberal, they could lose power by actual democracy. Now the term local control is falling out of favor because of the obvious hypocrisy and a new weasel word has jumped in to take it s place: liberty. That walks like a duck too. Liberty for who?

For us Californians, we can be glad we don’t have to witness these sorts of hypocritical policy sausage making dealings up close in our State House. Sure the drought is tough, and our Republicans, Chamber people and vintner Lords seem all too powerful and with too much influence over our Blue politicians, yet we still have it good compared to Texas or Kansas. We can take joy in that at least we live in the modern world. Our state legislature spares us the medieval jive.

Any legitimate disagreement about level of government is lost in the sauce from the start, obscured by opportunistic weasel word use about local control that shows there are really no real principles at stake other than power and control. Reading Machiavelli can go a long way to understanding the lengths people go to get and stay in power; try The Prince, it’s a short, good read and 500 years old at that!

Power and control are the real motivations behind local control, but being a naked power grabber is too crass and blunt for most.  Thus, being able to articulate actual values instead of falling back on a term like “local control” could serve the public better, by simply being clearer about the rationales and who stands to benefit. Honesty is the best policy, right? If local control is going to be used as term to drive city policy, we need to know what it means. We need to demand a definition.

The upshot to this essay? Local control as a term brought to bear on the local Montini Preserve, land use question. What is really at stake when this freighted code word is invoked? On one hand are environmental science-based, written, legal, controlling documents about land use rules, regulations and values from a centralized government agency…. whoa, red flag for local controllers!  State Parks and the Ag and Open Space District fit right into the role of corrupt central authorities usurping the rights of local Lords to control their own fiefdoms.

Invoking local control means automatically that Montini is not about facts, or science but about fighting corrupt central authorities. Nothing anyone can say matters other than this. No wonder we talk and no one listens. Environmentalists are nothing but godless communists and naïve pointy headed-liberals, unworthy of speaking or of citizenship from the start. Faceless bureaucrats from agencies enforcing environmental principles on public lands we pay taxes for…, holy cow this is getting bad for Truth, Justice and the American Way, Batman. This is how local control gets to be the central issue on Montini. It’s not about how to interpret the fine points of the science and make that work or fit; or even about which agency has the actual authority; it’s reframed to be about honor, liberty, justice and independence for local Lords.

Any of the science and stuff, well that’s just more regulations, inconvenient truth to be wished away before soaking up a few more glasses of wine and the next fox hunt. The rabble of takers and tree huggers, well, we’ll handle them in the end, we’ve got way more money and power, no need to take into account any messy actual factors or democracy.

And, in a violation of actual local control, central authorities such and State Representative Marc Levine and County Supervisor Gorin are appealed to, to help win a battle of power and control land use preferences. “We’re the taxpayers!” Right? Well shoot, we’re actually all taxpayers here and what does that have to do with anything? Invoking taxpayers is just more code getting back to the covert local control agenda. Might as well throw in hard working families too. Gorin and Levine don’t want to touch this mess with a 10’ pole.

Hewing to the assertion that for local control Rightists, democracy and majority rule do not matter, the 1010 petition signatures gained to support one particular land use, these signatures are entirely ignored, like Measure B. Actual local control, by a majority of local actual citizens, these things are sought to be undone by pre-emptive law.

Canine partisan actors, who desire a certain land use, who otherwise stand philosophically opposed to States’ Rights ideology and see the city as complicit in supporting the Lords over the People, these partisans deftly seek to play out this local control theme to their advantage by appealing to straight up Machiavellian urges and appetites of the local powers that be. Some around town are not business friendly, others are not dog friendly… Let’s conflate and obscure the “facts” as much as possible. Whoever said a local Kabuki theater fusion with The Prince wasn’t fun and entertaining.

We can even look forward to watch and wonder to what extent city staff supports the local control meme. To what extent will local control be invoked as a narrative that this was all really about an honorable handshake among men? Honor is at stake here boys, honor, white chivalrous men don’t need no stinking contract or written agreement. Local control is about honor and loyalty among white guys in the city council club. 

We end up with a tangled web where local control finds itself a weasel word of frightening dimensions and not the representation of an actual value. Maybe some think it is an actual value, hard to tell when no one will say what they mean by it.

The lack of consistency between actual local control vs. coded local control can no longer hide the hypocrisy. All local control means is winning by whatever means necessary. No wonder no one wants to try and define local control: it’s too blunt and too hypocritical to actually say. And then planning director Goodison has to take this direction and form a coherent policy? Ah, Kasparov, how goes it in the engine room?

Even if no one says it outright, the values behind the States’ Rights local control lineage are clear enough: white men with power and property have a “right” to control all the cards; it’s their inheritance. Maybe in the future local control will be further clarified if we have any initiatives for a living wage or rent control.  


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