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Golis: Calling our better angels


<i>"It hurts to have people hurl insults at you, scream at you, threaten you and falsely accuse you of things you have not done ... this is grief and anger in its darkest form ..."

— Supervisor Shirlee Zane, posting to Facebook last week after protestors disrupted a Board of Supervisors meeting.</i><br>

For our hometown, it's been a tough seven weeks. The shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez broke our hearts and left us worried about the future. The aftermath exposed divisions of class, ethnicity and geography that were too long ignored and won't be healed without a generosity of spirit all-around.

The tragedy also revived the factionalism that has distracted the local political class from the real work of building a stronger community. In the new year, we'll be waiting for the grown-ups to step forward.

In the past weeks, the responses from elected officials have been instructive, if not always inspiring.

As best it can, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors appears to be working through a list of tasks intended to promote communication and bring services and resources to the low-income neighborhoods of southwest Santa Rosa.

Meanwhile, the responses from the Santa Rosa City Council have gone from non-existent to merely wooden, as if someone is coaching council members on what they're supposed to say and do in moments like this. At a critical time in the city's history, City Hall remains captive to timidity, secrecy, acrimony and litigation.

In this season of charity, it is enough to say that the situation is embarrassing.

Local government is not going to solve the biggest challenges so long as politicians are content to bicker over the smallest ones. Before Santa Rosa can become a city that overcomes divisions between the haves and the have-nots, between east and west, it will need to put aside the divisions between the haves and the haves, most of them residents of the same northeast neighborhoods.

It would be sad to think that it took the death a 13-year-old boy to teach us there is work to do.

For local government, there is another kind of obstacle. It is the hodgepodge of agencies assigned to deal with these issues.

In southwest Santa Rosa, where Andy Lopez lived and died, some neighborhoods are located in the city, and some are located in the county. Some are in the jurisdiction of the Santa Rosa Police Department, and some in the jurisdiction of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. Some are in one school district and some are in another, and another.

No, it doesn't make sense. Best intentions notwithstanding, every task becomes more complicated and confusing; it takes longer to find common ground and move forward.

Just now, imagine the city and county working together on bringing improvements to southwest Santa Rosa. It takes a lot of imagination, doesn't it?

Which means politicians and bureaucrats will be obliged to spend less time thinking about turf and more time thinking about outcomes.

Looking to the new year, our hometown does possess the tools and resources necessary to get the job done. Despite the impacts of the recession, we continue to enjoy what people in most parts of the country would call prosperity.

And we are blessed by a robust network of public and private service agencies, powered by the energy of thousands of people we don't talk about very much. They are teachers and public safety officers, volunteers and philanthropists, nonprofit professionals and public employees — all those people who work every day to make our town healthier and safer.

It's not boosterism to mention these folks. It's giving credit where it is deserved — and it's enlightened self-interest. You wouldn't want to see what your town would look like without them.

So here we are, preparing for a new year and — we can hope — a new determination to confront issues of economic and social inequity.

To do so, we will need to set aside differences that stopped making sense a long time ago, we will need to overcome jurisdictional rivalries that have nothing to do with the people we seek to help, and we will need to recognize that our world has changed.

We will also need to act in good faith, so that the anger and distrust fall away. In the short term, interrupting a Board of Supervisors or City Council meeting may be an understandable reaction, but it's difficult to see how it gets us to the place we want to be.

What we know is that political inertia increases the risk that barriers of class, income and ethnicity will come to define life in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County.

If every child has the opportunity to succeed and every neighborhood feels respected, we will have gone a long way toward achieving a better outcome.

<i>Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.</i>