I want to start with the trust issue. President Ronald Reagan developed a phrase as relations improved with the Soviets in the mid-1980s, trust but verify.
Within the city context, we need to examine the term “trust” within the context of the two huge issues that loom over us, water and budget.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that I did not trust the Water Advisory Committee (WAC). I realize now that this was a too simplistic and ultimately unfair indictment. I think that statement requires fleshing out.
I believe that the WAC has done a tremendous job of evaluating a very complex situation under very difficult circumstances.
On the other hand, we had to pressure the WAC to make the meetings more public by televising them. That would not have happened automatically, and certainly not without public pressure on both the WAC and the council.
Furthermore a few weeks ago they had voted unanimously for a November water referendum. We learned later it was more a compromise vote than the final margin suggested. We also quickly figured out that the timeline to get a measure on the November was impossibly tight and ultimately the WAC changed the timeline.
So how does this relate to trust? Trust is not a blank check. It is not synonymous with the term “faith.” On the one hand, we define faith as “confidence or trust in a person or thing.” But on the other hand, we have to add for common meaning, “belief that is not based on proof.”
To President Reagan’s “trust but verify,” we add “trust but verify, scrutinize, and pressure.”
Along the same tokens, we believe that the current city council and even the immediate past city council are far superior to the 2006 to 2010 predecessor. On the other hand, this council blindly passed ZipCars, erroneously installed water rates without a rate study or sufficient and effective public outreach, and failed to actually achieve its $2.5 million personnel cuts.
What we see here are a few factors in trust. We believe that this council intends to do the right thing and has intended to fix past problems.
Toward that end, they have twice passed sweeping budget reforms. And when the water process broke down last fall, they tore it down and have almost rebuilt it from scratch, even now at the risk of the joint Woodland-Davis water project.
Some will argue they have not gone far enough on either.
But there are critical points that should be raised here with regard to trust. Good intentions are not always sufficient to produce good outcomes. Good people make errors in judgment. Good people make mistakes. Good people sometimes support the wrong process or the wrong project.
In short, we trust that the council intends to do the right things, but we also have to acknowledge that these are incredibly complex situations. The budget itself relies not only passing the right policies but getting other stakeholders to agree with them, and if they do not, to legally be able to temporarily impose a new contract that will work.
So to answer the question: do we trust the council? We trust that the council has good intentions, which is something we have questioned in the past. We believe that the council faces real challenges both on water and the budget, and that means that all choices need to be scrutinized and at times criticized.
We can celebrate achievements, at the same time acknowledging that we are not even halfway through the book – a book that has yet to be completed.
Moving on from trust to water glasses. It is odd that our culture has become so fixated on whether the glass is half full or half empty to determine whether people are optimistic or pessimistic.
First of all, I think it is a stretch to discuss optimism and pessimistism as though the terms were complete opposites. I think it is less a dichotomy than a continuum.
When I was young, there was a sermon by my Rabbi in which he discussed his optimism, but he saw optimism quite differently, as a cup of potential and that the optimist looks at the cup as an opportunity and goal that needs to be built up and fulfilled rather than simply looking at it as a finished product that either is half full or half empty.
That definition stuck with me because I do not fit into a dichotomous mold of optimism or pessimism. First of all, it is situational. Second of all, I do not see the terms nearly as antitheses as others do.
I believe in the potential of humanity to overcome its obstacles but at the same time I believe we face daunting obstacles that we often try to whitewash because the task is so overwhelming.
Putting it another way, one of the reasons why I think my view is dim is that pointing out the problems that we face forces us to deal with those problems. Ignoring the problems we face allows us to avoid them, and makes the problems worse.
The Vanguard was initially described to this community as a “vivid description of the dark underbelly of the People’s Republic of Davis.” That sentence has been a remarkably prescient statement of what the Vanguard was on July 30, 2006 and what it remains, as we are just days short of our sixth year anniversary.
The idea of the Vanguard was to provide that description, shine a light on the problems that we have ignored, and have faith that this community, once recognizing those problems, will step up and solve them.
You can view that as a negative and pessimistic vision or you can see that as the positive vision that my Rabbi laid out years ago, where we are looking at the potential of the community and demanding that it live up to its creed, its promise and its potential.
Martin Luther King, in his I have a dream speech, indeed had a positive dream that he fought to make a reality, urging the country to live up to the values and ideals that it was founded on.
But in order to lay out that vision, he had to have an understanding of the dark reality. He spoke of the promissory note that was returned, marked insufficient funds.
In short, whether you view this glass as half empty or half full depends upon whether you believe that our goal is to describe things as they are and ask why, or describe things that never were and ask why not.
No matter how enticing that notion is, without a common understanding of the underlying problems, it is difficult to address them. For too long in this community, we buried our head in the sand and believed people who could speak in calm voices and assure us that everything would be okay, that there was nothing to fear.
The reality is that sometimes the calmest voice in the room is dead wrong. Sometimes the person shrieking is the voice of reason. Sometimes the man shining the lantern is the truth-seeker and sometimes the truth is that the emperor really has no clothes.
And sometimes you have to hit people over the head, over and over again, until it finally sinks in.
Is optimism believing the best of the current situation or believing you can change the world by getting people to acknowledge the flaws of the present?
—David M. Greenwald reporting