While the political landscape in our country, and here in Orange County, seems to be changing at a rapid pace, we are reminded that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The rules of engagement to debate material issues facing our cities, state or nation have always been a mix of civil debates and sleazy clandestine tactics. As issues arise in good faith for the public and our elected officials to consider, residents and voters ultimately make decisions after filtering the facts, noise and misinformation they receive.
Today, the game changer is that the fight is now moving upstream in the process, where civic issues can be actively suppressed from a democratic process and public debate. One needs to look no further than recent events in Irvine as proof. Large development projects, with potential major impacts on neighborhoods and traffic, as well as even possible “swaps” of public land at material discounts to market value, are now all discussed and approved behind closed doors with little voter input. Logic would dictate openly discussing issues having tangible impacts on Irvine’s highly regarded master plan and quality of life for constituent consideration. However, under the guise of expediency- and to appease preferred paths of developers- officials instead have opted to quickly green light recent items. In response, a growing percentage of the affected electorate are getting more involved in local civic affairs.
An example of such involvement is an attempt by the group called Irvine For Responsible Growth to get a growth initiative (like the ones passed in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, and elsewhere in the county) on the ballot in Irvine. This is a topic that – regardless of your position on it- surely deserves to be debated in open and transparent forums. In summary, Irvine voters would get to decide if, and how much, they would like to deviate from the nationally recognized master plan they all are a part of.
Yet, despite the magnitude of the issue and its implications, to date this initiative and the petition to support it are facing a steep uphill battle. Started and self-funded by a non-partisan group of Irvine voters, the only goal is to have the residents of Irvine decide if they want a larger voice in future decisions that will directly impact their quality of life. Groups such as the Irvine Chamber of Commerce are spending a lot of time wringing their hands worrying about this initiative and its supporters, but won’t invite them to engage in constructive dialogue. Worse, while being very visible, transparent and accessible, the group has been relentlessly targeted by well-funded anonymous persons trying to suppress their position by filling local mailboxes and cyberspace with false narratives and questioning motivations.
Every rational citizen welcomes dialogue and debate. But it is impossible to debate anything with anonymous voices (with likely no ties to the community)- willing to fill the internet and voter mailboxes with disruption, confusion and outright lies.
While there are countless examples in politics where questionable or worse tactics have been utilized, it is unfortunate when this is the only ground on which people wish to engage. Regardless of what side of a particular issue you stand on, our democracy only works when people are willing to put their names on those views and discuss them openly and constructively.
Tom Kwon, Angela Stewart and Jeanne Baran are representatives for Irvine for Responsible Growth, a citizen organization that is promoting a responsible growth plan for Irvine. Our objective is to ensure that the voices of the residents of Irvine are heard over the wallets and greed of the developers. Traffic was THE NUMBER ONE concern for the 2016 elections and we aim to ensure that the elected officials of our city represent the tax paying, voting citizen. They can be reached on FaceBook or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org