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Tim Myers: L.A. County solves binary political problem

Myers' Musings

Posted: August 15, 2009 9:24 p.m.
Updated: August 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Today, we discuss the issue of the binary approach to resolving problems or issues that exist on a continuum - the absolute favorite of the partisan politician.

The definition of a binary approach: Someone poses the issue in the form of an either/or question where the problem and its solutions actually exist on a continuum.

Let me provide a perfect example. A marriage begins with the answer of a binary question (yes or no) but then exists, if it continues, on a continuum requiring constant compromise and adjustment.

An old attorney I once knew had a term for those who sought to operate their marriage in a binary fashion - divorced.
We see this problem in spades with the California initiative process.

The voters answer the binary question of a constant commitment of a certain percentage of the state budget to public education with a resounding, "Yes," which then robs the government of any flexibility during times of economic and revenue distress. Sound familiar?

Believe me, partisans love the usage of the binary since nothing can fire people up faster than a false choice.

A very obscure provision in one piece of proposed health care legislation provides the government with funds to pay for the drafting of an advance health care directive ("living will") and receive counseling concerning hospice care.

Immediately, partisan politicians, including our own normally calm Congressman, turned this into a "Soylent Green is People" moment.

If we need to discuss dystopic 1970s films, I much prefer "Logan's Run."

If the society decided to wipe out everyone over 30 then all my problems would quickly end.

But thank goodness the County Counsel and other powers realize that issues exist on a continuum with their drafting of the first non-binary referendum in my memory: The scheduled ballot question concerning the future status of the unincorporated communities west of Interstate 5.

Now the unincorporated communities possess three choices for their future: Annex to the city of Santa Clarita, incorporate themselves as independent cities, or remain a part of the County.

But are these choices really that simple?

Consider the question of annexation to Santa Clarita. Should the city pick off various sections of the unincorporated areas at their pleasure - taking only the sections that suit them and leaving the rumps with little revenue and more problems to the County?

On the issue of forming new cities, should the current unincorporated areas form one largish city or split up into three or four very small areas?

What impact would revenue-sharing "alimony" payments to the County from sales tax generators currently in the County areas have on greater Santa Clarita or the smaller new cities?

And what about the choices themselves? Almost everyone would agree that local government stands a better chance of serving the needs of the local people, but one could also argue that small local governments find themselves more subject to local special interests that cut a much larger wake in the smaller pool.

And what about the overarching issue of several smaller cities sitting on each others' doorsteps and engaging in a dogfight and one-upsmanship concerning the location of sales-tax generating businesses?

It is indeed our great good fortune that County Counsel recognizes the nonbinary nature of these questions and drafted a ballot whereby a voter can vote for not one, not two, but in fact all three of the putative choices for the future of the unincorporated areas.

Now many activists see a conspiracy to maintain the status quo.

They argue that if people can vote for all three choices, and in fact some do, the County can then negate the entire result by stating that the voters expressed no clear preference.

They can then add to this argument the likely low turnout in an odd-numbered November election to further support maintenance of the status quo and need for future study.

I must respectfully disagree. If I were voting on this issue, I could certainly see standing in the voting booth and feeling upset that I needed to go down to the Hahn Administration building in downtown Los Angeles to complain about median maintenance if I possessed IHOP phobia.

But then I could also worry that car dealers really run the city of Santa Clarita, and what if Dave Bossert became mayor of a newly formed city with 24 votes?

So in that state, I could certainly see marking all three choices. To the County Counsel I say, "Genius."

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident and CPA who thinks numbers hold the key to everything. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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