Do we really need to re-litigate Measure B?

Posted on January 16, 2014 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Counterpoint by Ben Boyce. The President emeritus of the North Bay Labor Council recently stated: “The labor movement can and should be focused on all issues that affect the quality of life for families: income inequality, environmental degradation, purity of our food and water, and affordable educational opportunities.” This is the position of the contemporary labor movement here in Northern California. Jerry Bernhaut’s recent Sun editorial makes the false and malicious charge that “local labor leaders will support any project where they can obtain a card-check neutrality agreement regardless of environmental or other concerns.”

I smell a load of sour grapes in his comments. The election is over, and some of the die-hard supporters of Measure B are clearly not ready to come to terms with the fact that they no longer represent the center of political gravity in this community. Rather than engage in the proposed public discussion over development issues, they want to re-litigate their losing cause and attempt to deflect attention by blaming others for the fact that they have lost power through adherence to a failed ideology and politically unsustainable positions.

I was surprised and dismayed by Mr. Bernhaut’s report on our recent brief conversation. We met at a social event and had a ten-minute discussion about the recent election. Dinner was being served and I gave him my card and asked him to call me before he wrote his editorial, so that he would at least have a more informed perspective on my views. He agreed. No call was ever made. Now I realize that he was just using that brief exchange to cull a few pull quotes for his article, in which he impugns my integrity by accusing me of “manipulation by half-truths”. That’s not operating in good faith.

We have to start a genuine dialog with the assumption that all parties have principled positions, whether we agree with those principles or not. Questioning the motives and integrity of those we have disagreements with is not the foundation on which a healthy community discourse can proceed. I am prepared to engage in a respectful conversation in a public forum with Measure B supporters on the difficult issues of tourism and development. Everyone brings a truth to the table. No one owns the table.

I am still waiting for a retraction of some of the most offensive statements made during the campaign. Measure B supporter Will Shonbrun even went so far as to state, in print, that he believed that our labor/community coalition may have fabricated the Living Wage/Card Check agreement! So, it was an elaborate hoax in which the North Bay Labor Council collaborated by advancing the scheme with a press release? Really, now. I expect better than that.

Mr. Bernhaut persists in the threadbare attack on the Living Wage/Card Check agreement, based on a fragment of an early draft of the agreement that was improperly obtained by dumpster-diving tactics. He waves his soiled rag around as if he had a prize. An attorney should have better evidentiary standards than that. When do these folks start to get embarrassed? It’s past time.

In our brief conversation I told Mr. Bernhaut that I would accept his critique if he could show me a better deal on any development in the Wine Country region. He can’t, because it is the first such agreement. He and others in his camp are obsessed with the Living Wage/Card Check agreement. Some of that comes from the fact that it causes them cognitive dissonance. The other source of consternation derives from the fact that it is not a public document, at the request of the developer. Our coalition would be fine with releasing the text of the agreement, since it provides a road map for other developers who want to do quality projects in the region. The template is in place and it can be improved with subsequent iterations.

The private partners, understandably, do not want to release the full text of the agreement, because it contains a lot of proprietary financial information. The statement made by this legally enforceable agreement will not be lost on other development firms in this area: your proposal has to add value to the community, observe high environmental standards, and benefit the workers. They get it. We have raised the bar. I’m proud of my small part in that accomplishment.

Reading Mr. Bernhaut’s remarks carefully will reveal the exhausted ideology on which he bases his case. In our brief conversation, which is now apparently in the public domain, he stated unequivocally that not only should this urban in-fill, general plan compliant hotel project not be built, but “no more hotels should be built at all.” He states, in print: “The wine industry and associated tourist industry is a model of unsustainable development.” Tell that to half the city which makes its living working in those sectors. Try running for office on that platform. That’s why that argument was not advanced during the campaign. It’s a non-starter.

We don’t have to don the hair shirt and go back to living in the 18th century in order to save the planet. Adopting an accountable development policy matrix that integrates jobs, housing and transit networks (coupled with a massive world-wide campaign to reverse population growth and a fully-funded national campaign to retool our energy infrastructure) is the real path to sustainability.

Mr. Bernhaut’s editorial devotes over three hundred words to recapitulating the case on global climate change, as if we didn’t already know the facts. “Global warming” has become an all-purpose signifier that serves the same function on the left as the invocation of “patriotism” does for the right. It’s supposed to be the trump card that ends all further discussion. But the discussion goes on, because we need to think more deeply on these questions and not just fall back on shibboleths.

I had thought I was done with this issue, but I had to take up my pen one more time to dispel the attempt to falsely reframe the election results. I’m sure that others will want to carry on this battle, but I’m done with it. The Measure B partisans who are consoling themselves by latching on to a convenient self-justifying narrative would be better off coming to terms with why the community has shifted away from their position. Getting past denial is the first step toward healing.

The best next step would be the formation of a city of Sonoma sponsored study committee to engage the public in a thoughtful and empirically grounded debate on the role of the hospitality sector, which is a mainstay of the Wine Country economy. That honest discussion requires that we grant all sides the dignity of good faith. That’s the discussion that I’m interested in participating in. That’s what this community needs.

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