Vice Mayor is about democracy -- or the lack of it
Readers of the Pleasanton Weekly may wonder why the selection of Vice Mayor generates so much excitement and probably think "why doesn't the City Council grow up and take care of business?" As with many things in politics there is much more to the story.
As is true in our national and state politics, corporate and other special interests have flooded Pleasanton elections with campaign contributions in recent years, and as a result, they pretty much have their way at City Hall. Locally, this is manifested by business PACs, developers and land speculators, so-called Independent Expenditures and other special interests. To think of this in terms of the current "Occupy" parlance, they are the 1%, while you -- citizens and residents -- are the 99% who have been left out in the cold.
The Council majority of Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Jerry Thorne has been in lockstep these past five years and has consistently voted in support of these special interests. Councilmember Cindy McGovern and I are usually in the minority with a different vision for our city. We have a long history of fighting for the citizens and residents who have been shut out of the process and who have little or no influence at City Hall. The Vice Mayor position is more than ceremonial and allows participation on important regional and state policy-setting boards. The fact that McGovern and I have served only one year out of eight as Vice Mayor effectively disenfranchises this constituency from the higher levels of government decision making. This monopoly on power by the Council majority and these special interests while shutting out the larger community is exactly the point.
Now, Pleasanton is a wonderful city -- great parks and amenities, safe streets, good schools and a great place to live, work and play. It has remained that way only because of committed and active residents who refuse to accept government that is owned and operated by moneyed interests. In recent years we have seen voter referendums and initiatives -- or the threat of the same -- to prevent destructive hillside development, stop big box retail that would exacerbate traffic problems and decimate our locally owned stores, to plan high density housing in a way that is acceptable to the community, and to force a discussion on public employee compensation reform -- and even lawsuits brought by citizen groups to force the Council to do the right thing to protect the environment and our quality of life. You shouldn't have to work this hard! You should expect your city government to work toward the common good, not for the good of powerful special interests at your expense.
The Vice Mayor issue is not trivial, and it is emblematic of the erosion of your democratic rights and symbolic of what's wrong in our city government. If we can make representative democracy work anywhere, we can make it work at the local level. But it won't be easy. And we will only have it if we fight for it.
--Matt Sullivan was elected to the Pleasanton City Council in 2004. He first became active in city government issues 16 years ago when he joined a neighborhood organization opposed to building a West Las Positas interchange at I-680. He was appointed to the city Planning Commission in 1998, where he served until his election to the council. He and his wife Wendi, a teacher at Pleasanton Middle School, have two children.