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Mark Twain’s line that “Truth is stranger than fiction” has been getting plenty of mileage these days, particularly in conversations about the White House. (Does our current president really believe that our past president tapped his phone at Trump Tower? You just can’t make this stuff up.)

But few recognize this for what it is – a partial quote. First appearing 120 years go in Twain’s book “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World,” the full quote is “Truth is stranger than fiction — but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

It’s that obligation to possibilities — including rumor, speculation and anger-backed assumptions — without a commitment to fact that also gives fiction a jump start on truth, leading to another memorable quote that is often attributed, if incorrectly, to Twain that “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on,” (This is more likely a variation on the Jonathan Swift quote that “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”)

Either way, it’s a quote that’s relevant now more than ever, as a lie can circle the digital globe many times over before the truth can even remember its password.

It’s in this frenetic environment that those of us on The Press Democrat Editorial Board took a step back to make sure that we’re focusing on the right issues. In other words, we know how easy it can be, as overseers of the opinion pages, to simply react to the news and tweets that are happening by the hour and miss out on advocating for programs and issues that are most in need and are developing — or not — over time.

As a result, as we have done in previous years, we have developed some editorial priorities for this year that I want to share with readers. Most are not subjects that are new to our section. But they represent the issues that we believe require regular attention and discussion on our pages. If you think we’ve left something out, let me know.

1. Track and advocate for adoption of clear rules and guidelines and sensible taxing plans concerning the sale and use of cannabis on the North Coast.

Few would probably argue with this one. This is particularly timely given the upcoming Measure A election, which calls for the creation of a cannabis tax for Sonoma County.

Yes, there’s an election on Tuesday, and, as demonstrated by our editorial on page B10, we support it. Measure A is comparable to taxes in cities and counties across the state, most of which have been approved by wide margins.

But given that it’s facing a fair amount of opposition here, including from growers, its outcome is uncertain. Santa Rosa also is planning to go to voters with a cannabis tax in June. Regardless of the success of these measures, there’s no disputing that the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana as well as the issuance of permits and licenses to cannabis-related businesses means major change for this region.

2. Maintaining public awareness of the growing crisis of rental housing in Sonoma County and support the creation of funding mechanisms to provide for the development of low- and moderate-income housing.

This also will be on the ballot in June when Santa Rosa voters will decide whether to overturn a modest rent control measure approved by the City Council in August.

The city’s ordinance would cap most rent increases at 3 percent per year and create other tenant protections. But soaring rents and housing costs is something that many cities are confronting. We plan to highlight what’s being done to keep rent increases down, encourage housing construction and develop tools at the state level to fund the construction of affordable housing in a post-redevelopment world. For more on this issue, see the Close to Home column by John Lowry on Saturday (“Is there hope for affordable housing in our near future?”)

3. Continue advocating for greater transparency on financial challenges at all levels of local government presented by the rapid rise in retirement costs.

This one also should come as no surprise as the escalating impacts of high pension costs at the state and local levels have been a major focus of these pages for some time — and they will remain so. As indicated in a recent analysis, the taxpayer share of Sonoma County’s pension costs this year is estimated to be more than $107 million, up 86 percent from a decade ago.

The county was hoping to see those costs taper by 2024. But now officials say that won’t happen until about 2030 when costs peak at $136 million a year.

But it’s not just the county that’s facing these challenges. The Santa Rosa school board last week cut more than $4.5 million from next year’s budget — with another cut of about $4 million looming for the following year — in part to confront rising retirement costs.

4. Offer regular analysis and local commentary on the challenges of homelessness throughout Sonoma County.

As with the rent crisis, this one is so complex it will be a challenge to monitor the problem let alone the success of programs developed to address it. But we’re pledging to make it a priority and look for ways to keep it in the forefront, as demonstrated by our Friday editorial (“A focused effort to reduce homelessness in Sonoma County”), which applauded the rollout of a “front door” program to coordinate intake for housing programs through a single agency.

5. Be a primary source of community discussion on issues related to climate change and local efforts to reduce carbon emission.

We will go into this in more detail in the coming days, but the reason for this should be evident. Sonoma County, California and the rest of the world can count on little help from Washington on climate change.

On the contrary, the president and GOP leaders appear set on rolling back what limited progress has been made in abiding by our international promises to lower carbon emissions. Moreover, they appear determined to obstruct all efforts to confront this crisis and resistant to any suggestion that the problem is even real. If progress is going to occur, it’s going to have to happen at the local level.

That said, one issue will continue to take precedence above all others — that is holding our nation’s leaders, including President Donald Trump, accountable and combating the rise of “alternative facts.”

Truth may be stranger and slower than fiction, but there’s no substitute for it, no matter what our new administration may say. Facts still matter. Accuracy matters. And making that clear will always be our top priority.

Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson@pressdemocrat.com.

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