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Tim Myers: A shibboleth a day keeps rationality away

Posted: January 17, 2009 7:19 p.m.
Updated: January 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.
a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning.
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

I enjoy a well-turned word or phrase, but I dislike the partisan shibboleth, handy words or phrases that party faithful can turn to in a heartbeat to end any rational argument or discussion.

We all know the national shibboleths.

Republican faithful tout prayer in school to cure all social ills, and deregulation to rescue capitalism.

Democratic faithful demand equal time in irrationality, believing high taxes on the wealthy will somehow always redeem the nation, and all people in commerce wake up every morning ready to implement new methods of cheating the poor revealed to them in their demonic dreams.

But I prefer to examine local shibboleths, since I find them most entertaining and creative. They also seem to resonate almost uniquely in every locality based on local circumstances, so they might seem particularly indecipherable to a newcomer or an outsider.

And so, in honor of the new year, please join with me now in the examination of a few of my favorite local shibboleths.

Newhall redevelopment: During the fat times just ended, the city of Santa Clarita took its windfall and spent it on several nice pieces of infrastructure, like the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons, the Aquatics Center and several elaborate parks.

I feel this probably constituted the best idea, since any attempt to create a reserve would probably fall victim to general investment decline or fatuous investment strategies.

This does not apply to Newhall redevelopment, where I feel we may indeed regret the money spent if times get really lean for an extended period.

Never mind that sane economists uniformly agree impulses for growth (traffic patterns, population centers and transit facilities) constitute such a tsunami they will effectively make puny any municipal attempts to override the tide - the city's efforts at redevelopment, particularly changes in traffic patterns and parking regimens, will go down in history as one of the few times a city effectively destroyed a retail area while trying to redevelop it.

Safe city status: When our family moved here in 1996, the city made much of its status codified by the FBI annual crime statistics as the third "safest" city in the United States.

Several problems exist with this mantra. First and foremost, the FBI produces only raw absolute statistics for cities above 100,000 in population without any adjustment for relative population, so the trick to achieve "safe" prizes relates primarily to achieving a certain demographic while staying close to the 100,000 threshold.

With Santa Clarita populations growing over the last 12 years, the city invented a new category to claim safest city over 150,000 in population.

But overriding these statistics includes a belief that large metropolitan areas constitute very dangerous places, while suburbs provide the best security.

The true facts reveal that in any area, 80 percent of the crime will occur in about 20 percent of the locality, so when one removes the high-crime areas of most major cities, their rate of crime effectively matches the "safest" suburban enclaves.

Oversight and other local advisory committees: I must state again my firm belief that Dennis King of the Hart district Board of Trustees may constitute the only completely honest elected official in the SCV.

Dennis King told me to my face several years ago the Oversight Committee appointed to "oversee" the Measure V bond funds held no actual power and no actual force of oversight.

Thank goodness for the many people who cycled through that committee, since they need not feel culpable about the budget overruns in the remodeling of Arroyo Seco Junior High and the failure to build a Castaic High School.

Add to this the "blue ribbon" committee constituted to vet local applicants for the city council seat vacated in December 2006 by Cameron Smyth, and that should disabuse local citizens of the efficacy of these committees.

In that case, the city council rejected every candidate the committee recommended and chose the single applicant who promised not to run for reelection.

Shop local: With the probable 40 percent to 50 percent reduction in sales tax receipts from Auto Row in train for this year we will hear more of this, but the fact remains that this shibboleth uttered by local Republican officeholders countermands the other shibboleth of the free market.

Got a favorite local shibboleth? Please send to me at

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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