There was a time when you could count on The People’s Republic of Berkeley to raise high the red banner. Berkeley launched the Free Speech Movement that kickstarted the American anti-war movement in the 1960s. Early adopters of every progressive manner/policy/style, the people and/or government of Berkeley have supported unions of sex workers, free needle programs, and the development of a municipal foreign policy with advisory boards handling subjects from global trade to weapons proliferation. They stipulated the superiority of women vis-a-vis men and of women of color vis-a-vis white women and of poor women of color vis-a-vis wealthier women of color. Demanded leg hair on those women. And dresses on men. Mandatory clown suits on businessmen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.* Hacky sacks. A revolution is not a tea party but a tea party may be revolutionary. Berets. Filterless cigarettes. Speech codes. Jean Genet’s burglary as “liberation.” Murder as a a logical extension of political speech. Judy Chicago. The need to break eggs in order to cook up a revolutionary omelette. The Unibomber. Heterosexual sex as rape. And certainly–most importantly–the inevitability/invariability of violence between all managers and workers, that is, the universality of class conflict.
But no longer. Last week, the union representing Berkeley’s city workers agreed to salary and pension cuts they hope will save their city–and at least some of the jobs of their colleagues.
Why would Berkeleyites do such a thing?
“A lot of the media represent us as being greedy,” Gladys Gray, president of the executive committee of Service Employees International Union 1021, told the Berkeley City Council June 14. “We see what’s going on in the economy . . . we are willing to give back to the city and help balance this budget.”
Sandra Lewis, also on the SEIU Committee, said she believed the agreement demonstrated what could be done when unions and cities collaborate. “We’re hoping we can lead the way for other cities and show what can be done if you really establish a partnership.”
We hope so too. But we have our doubts.
Contrast Berkeley’s willingness to grapple with the mathematics of the pension crisis with our own Costa Mesa where, in a county infamous for its Neanderthal Republicans, we confront union leaders so radical they see reality itself as the enemy.
In one–what’s the word?–grotesque example of its antagonism to truth, the Orange County Employees Association leadership continues to attempt to pin the death of a city worker on the council majority’s budget cuts. Struggling to establish its respect for honest communication, the OCEA hired former Register reporter Jennifer Muir to serve as its spokesperson; but truth is kryptonitic to Muir. She continues to repeat as facts several errors we cleared up two weeks ago.
Then, early this week, there was the awkward showdown between Muir and the OCEA’s own auditor.
In order to prove that the council majority has fabricated a financial crisis to pursue its destruction of the public employee union, Muir’s boss at OCEA hired an outside firm to examine Costa Mesa’s books. With a key budget vote looming Tuesday, Muir handpicked local reporters to participate in a conference call with that auditor, Steve Foti of Harvey M. Rose Associates.
According to KPCC, Foti told the reporters “there’s no indication that the city council has tried to hide money to make the budget situation look more dire and force layoffs.” That did not stop Muir, KPCC reported: “Jennifer Muir of the Orange County Employees Association — the group that hired Foti to look at the budget — disagrees. ‘While he wouldn’t use the term “hidden money,” we certainly would,’ Muir says.”
Of course, she would.**
Muir went on to contradict her own auditor at every opportunity–at the LiberalOC (“This report confirms that the Costa Mesa City Council majority has been hiding money to create a manufactured budget crisis – all to advance their political agenda,” she said), at OC Weekly, in the Daily Pilot (“Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the OCEA, said although Foti had done an ‘independent audit’ of Costa Mesa’s finances, ‘We do believe that the [majority] City Council intentionally manipulated numbers'”).
What’s sad, of course, is that all of Muir’s rhetorical craziness*** has generated a distracting controversy around information that may still generate a really valuable–and honest–conversation about the budget. Because what Foti actually laid bare is a philosophical disagreement about how much money the city ought to save–or “reserve,” in the language of city government–for such things as capital expenses and insurance. We’ve borrowed the best summary of these reserves from our friend Geoff West***:
We don’t need to ascribe evil motives to the council majority in order to have a candid discussion about whether these reserves are “above average,” as Foti suggests, or reasonable precautions, as many of the rest of us believe–whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or progressives. In some ways, that conversation is less dramatic than the high-octane Saturday-morning cartoon rhetoric emanating from Muir’s exhaust pipe; but its implications–can Costa Mesa survive by spending its reserves to fund pension programs that appear to some of us as just unrealistic?–are absolutely dead serious.
* This one is actually from Jello Biafra’s never-ending-campaign-for-Mayor-of-San-Francisco-as-performance-art–and not, therefore, strictly speaking, Berkeley–but you see the point. And, though a businessman in Costa Mesa myself, I’d support this as a dramatic improvement over Casual Fridays.
** It’s pretty clear that Muir hopes to leverage legitimate public mistrust of government by suggesting that Costa Mesa city officials aren’t dealing honestly with their constituents. That’s fair when government officials lie, but that’s not the case here. Indeed, its arguable that the opposite is true, that it’s Muir who’s lying, or at least, mistaken–seeing liars everywhere because she is (if only subconsciously) aware that she herself has come untethered from the truth. She speaks so frequently of “hidden truths,” “secret meetings,” “secret no-bid contracts,” “hidden pots of money” and “hidden money” that you have to wonder if keeping quiet about the (necessarily) secret meetings and (less necessarily) hidden money in and around OCEA headquarters in Santa Ana makes her uneasy–if she’s bugged subconsciously, we mean, by the knowledge that her own organization is not being completely candid about its own high-dollar campaign to destroy the current city council in order to preserve its members’ kick-ass pension and benefits packages.
**** Apologies to Geoff West: We didn’t ask his permission to borrow this and we don’t want to right now because it’s nearly 2 in the morning on Saturday, and he’s had a hell of week–practically living on a cot at City Hall doing a really remarkable job of covering much of this stuff while the rest of us were watching reruns of Green Acres or whatever.