A few weeks ago, Carl Mounteer, a local lawyer, and I were invited to present our views on a local tax issue to the Monterey County Weekly, the local left-wing weekly. Carl and I had written the ballot argument against a tax increase to pay for the government-run library in Pacific Grove. We met with the editorial board--the editor, the publisher, the owner, and two reporters. The tenor and tone of the questions showed that the first three were more interested in testing our philosophical consistency on taxes--and then attacking us for being consistent--than on understanding our specific arguments on this particular tax and its proposed use.
There were funny moments, though not intentionally so, such as when publisher Erik Cushman told us that we were challenging tradition by opposing the tax increase because Andrew Carnegie had started a wonderful tradition with his donated libraries. I pointed out to him that the key word was "donated" and that the advocates of the tax increase were not advocating donations, but taxes.
What I noticed, though, especially on the part of owner Brad Zeve and publisher Erik Cushman, was how upset they were at us for daring to oppose this tax increase.
Opponents of the measure have trotted out familiar arguments opposing taxation in almost any imaginable form; it's not a serious debate.
I had thought that my point about Carnegie being a great example of voluntary action being used to fund libraries had not been familiar to Cushman, given that he wanted to use Carnegie to argue for taxes.
But now fast forward to this week. We have a local government-run elementary school in Pacific Grove called Robert Down School. Over the weekend a bunch of parents and kids . . . but wait, let's let the Monterey County Weekly's Squid columnist (rumored to be the self-same Erik Cushman) tell the story:
ROTTEN APPLES... Only in Pacific Grove would a do-gooder school cleanup turn into a bureaucratic squabble over the planting of apple trees. Squid hears that more than 100 parent volunteers pitched in for Fall Sweep at Robert Down Elementary School on Oct. 25 to do some tidying up and gardening. But a tipster says the Pacific Grove Unified School District's suggested list of bushes and trees consisted of non-native, non-edible plants. So environmentalist and parent Fred Ballerini offered four apple trees, thinking his kids could learn about edible and sustainable gardening on their way to school. The parents planted the fruit-bearing trees without pre-clearance from the school district - definitely a recipe from The Anarchist Cookbook. Come Monday, Assistant Superintendent Robin Blakley got peeved by the rebellious parents and ordered maintenance workers to take out the trees. (That will show those organic-apple-juice-loving parents!) The district's position is that any tree-planting by outsiders has to get PGUSD board approval. And now the fresh cream for this apple strudel: The district plans to remove the trees so they don't root while the project makes its way to the trustees. (A meeting with school officials and parents was planned Wednesday, past the Weekly's deadline.)
I purposely left out the next two sentences. Here they are:
Squid smells rotten apples, or maybe that's the apple-red tape that's strangling Robert Down school. There may be a lesson for the schoolkids after all: if you want to get something done, don't go through government.
So that's the lesson the Monterey County Weekly seems to want the kids to learn. Now the $64,000 question: will the employees of the Weekly learn it?