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Gary Horton: Library row confounds dogmatics

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: September 1, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: September 1, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Driving down Harbor Boulevard in Ventura last Sunday, Carrie and I saw a sight that brings a wry smile to our lips every time we think of it.

We'd hit the stop light at the intersection of Spinnaker and Harbor. To our left was a driver in an older Volkswagen, appearing way too eager for the light to change.

The unfortunate vehicle in front of him was an equally well-worn Honda. The VW guy was hot to trot, ready to go, edging his car closer and closer to the Honda, impatiently suffering the light.

Finally, the light changed and the Honda pulled away from the stoplight. But not nearly fast enough for VW man, as the VW pulled right back up on the Honda's tail. Back and forth, the Honda pulled ahead and accelerated, but the VW chased right back within a car length or less. This continued for the better part of a mile.

Then we noticed their bumper stickers. The aggressive VW was sporting one of those "COEXIST" bumper stickers, urging peace, love and understanding among the world's varied peoples. The poor Honda with the VW up its exhaust pipe proudly displayed a "Peace Love" bumper sticker.

Apparently, the memo didn't get out between the Peace Love guys and the COEXIST team, encouraging ... coexistive peace and love. Observing this humorous breakdown of collaboration between peaceniks, Carrie looked coyly at me and queried, "Can't we all just get along?"

Isn't that the truth? If a couple of peace-mongering, appeasing, love-is-all-you-needers, can't make love, not tailgating - oh boy, none of us have much of a chance for cooperative living.

Well, the Honda's bumper was saved when the mean VW made a left up the road, forsaking whatever mission from Planet Tailgate he was assigned. But the image of these two seemingly same-team players fighting it out stays with us. Principles, it seems, even profound bumper sticker principles, fade in the face of our individual practicalities. Damn lofty, peaceful coexistence - at least for the moment.

And so it was Carrie shined that same coy smile at me this week as we read of the back-and-forth tussle of the Great Santa Clarita Library Privatization Debate.

"Gary," she said, "the SCV Republicans seem as detached from their principles as those Ventura peace-love coexisters."

You see, four of our five City Council members ignored wide popular opinion, voting for a private corporation to take over our public libraries that have long been effectively managed by the Los Angeles County library system. All hell has since broken loose among our largely Republican citizenry.

Right here in "Government is Bad, Corporations are from God" Santa Clarita, we've witnessed an outpouring of love and more love for socialized services the likes of which I've never seen here before. Until just now, judging from Republican input in our local media, one would conclude government could do no right, manage no budget, restrain no spending - provide no efficient or desired services.

"The capitalist system" is chanted to always provides better services at lower costs. In our Republican town, government is generally viewed as profligate to its core - fit mainly to be starved and drowned in a bath tub.

This line of thinking holds, of course, until a valued community (read: valued socialized) service is threatened. Until a sports program is killed. Until libraries are threatened. All that Republican rancor and rage against government services stops when, individually and as a community, we're forced to face life without the socialized services we really value. Even when in our guts, we acknowledge that taxes are required to pull the trick off. For just this moment, local Republican values are tailgating each other and crashing and bashing as traditional anti-government dogma is suspended in a surging library lovefest.

Mantras, dogmas and bumper stickers stick until challenged by pragmatic reality. That VW Coexister had to get going fast.

Damn coexistence. We love our government (socialized) libraries and want them saved. Damn efficient privatization. The librarians who've served there forever have been great to my kids and your kids and our parents and everyone.

The county library has been a rock of educational and service sanity amidst decades of changing times. We're so proud of our socialized libraries we don't even mind librarians earning plump county pensions. Heck, they've worked for it, "shushing" us all these years.

The City Council says we can save $400,000, and the community shouts back, "It's not worth it." We don't want WalMart libraries with generic, four-dollar Chinese books lining the shelves. For that matter, we don't want Walmart firemen, police or teachers.

This library privatization brouhaha exposes that most Santa Clarita residents understand public servants provide excellent value in most public-service settings. That we usually get what we pay for even if it means we pay our respected public servants a retirement package likely far better than what corporate employees will ever get.

Let's hope the City Council rightly bows to community pressure and reconsiders its hasty library vote. In the meantime, many Santa Clarita residents must reassess their anti-government dogmas, slogans and stickers they've stuck with so long.

Maybe the council didn't get the memo and simply misread the citizenry. It appears many of them have made an unexpected left turn.

We do love our public librarians. In this, we all do get along.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesday in The Signal.


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