One is the opportunity to rid ourselves of the corruption that has been endemic in City Hall. So far, two out of 15 City Council members have been nailed on felony charges. How could the rest of them not know what was going on? And knowing about it, why didn't they do something?
The other lost opportunity has been in emergency preparedness. The city has done a small bit -- mainly in forcing landlords to spend their own money -- but precious little more. It's true that the mayor and city agencies have ordered the neighborhood councils to create emergency preparedness plans, but they failed to follow up with effective leadership.
There is also the problem that our city officials love to lecture us on all the rules that limit our attempts at emergency preparedness, and then they don't do anything to change those rules.
They sure do love to lecture us.
But guess what? The citywide primary election is less than a year away. It's our moment.
Or to put it more precisely, it's that moment when voters could and should be getting involved. Everybody has heard about the top-level races for mayor, City Attorney, and Controller. But where I see mad scrambling and the strong possibility of upsets is in the odd numbered City Council seats. They are up for reelection and I'm going to suggest here that voter frustration will show its teeth. I wonder in particular about endangered Councilman Mike Bonin.
I'm suggesting that the voters get specific on a couple of critical issues rather than just concentrate on the usual platitudes and name recognition games. Vote against bribery and corruption and vote in favor of earthquake preparedness. I'm guessing that other CityWatch columnists will talk about financial prudence. Voters can also get serious about that problem.
We've been talking about emergency preparedness for more than half a decade right here in CityWatch -- largely quoting city employees -- but what the city has actually done is less than impressive.
The geological reality: There are two possibilities to consider. One is that the big earthquake won't come during our lifetimes. Since the likelihood of a big break on the San Andreas Fault is just that -- a statistical possibility -- and since it is even now statistically overdue, perhaps it will continue to be late.
But what if we do have the Big One? In that case, we are terribly underprepared. We could have done a lot more for a very small price tag, but we keep getting the bureaucratic runaround.
Just to give you an idea of the problem, let me give you a couple of examples.
We start with the following assertion: There is a direct tie-in between emergency preparedness and our neighborhood councils because the councils are the feet-on-the-ground in the event of a major disaster.
We have been talking for years about how -- in the immediate aftermath of a serious earthquake -- you should be able to walk to the corner and have access to a volunteer who has a two-way radio. You would be able to tell him/her what you know about people who are injured, about gas leaks, and about other serious conditions.
The example I have brought up from year to year is the guy with a broken femur. This is a survivable injury, but it requires professional treatment. The problem, as the authorities keep telling us, is that the big earthquake would probably knock out telephone service (including much of our cell phone service), as well as electricity and running water. Roads would become impassable due to downed power lines and other debris. And the fire department and police department would be overwhelmed with serious problems. They would not be available to deal with your one guy with the broken thigh bone.
So we have been talking about the idea that my neighborhood council (and yours) could purchase hand-held two-way radios and pass them out to our residents. We could include instructions and, for those who are interested, training in emergency preparedness right up to the level of CERT.
But guess what? Every time we have this conversation, the bureaucrats explain that this would be against the rules. Neighborhood councils cannot just give out $25 radios to the public, even if it were the most direct way to save lives in the immediate aftermath of a quake or other damaging event.
So why not change the rules? The City Council could pass a new rule in an afternoon if only its members were half serious about the seismic future.
This is where we ought to be active and outspoken, starting right now. Every single person announcing a candidacy for City Council should be asked for a commitment to emergency preparedness in terms of cooperating with our volunteer organizations. That will include changing the rules that get in the way, and it will also include directing city departments and agencies to act like they, too, are serious.
Here is another issue that has resulted in much talk and even more frustration: It is possible for a neighborhood council to purchase a plastic bin (roughly the size of a horizontal freezer) and fill it full of supplies to be used by first responders. We have full specifications for what each one would cost, and it comes to about $3700 each. You can spend a little more or a little less, but that's the ballpark figure. Considering that this is about one-tenth of a neighborhood council's yearly budget, why isn't the city full of them? Once again, it is the rules. There has been one pilot project that required an effort going all the way up to a City Council office. What we are not seeing is the 99 neighborhood councils with their total annual budget of slightly over $3 million placing these emergency caches around the city.
Some of this red tape may be as simple as the City Attorney's office being overly cautious about such issues. We've found over the years that when we ask about whether we can do some little thing, we are routinely warned that it might not be a good idea, or that it could possibly be a problem with the law. They don't seem to be there to help us to get our serious work done.
How we ought to be responding to these problems.
It's the final 12 months prior to the 2022 primary. Neighborhood council board members and other participants should be talking to all the candidates and trying to find out their views as to how they will treat the neighborhood councils should they be elected. We should be asking them about whether they will renounce the corruption we have seen in the City Council and whether they will be willing to vote in opposition to other City Council members when it is appropriate. And believe me, sometimes it is appropriate.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].) Image: Getty.