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Measure W, redevelopment — and the power of perception

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Posted: Friday, March 6, 2009 10:00 pm

Now what? Voters on Tuesday stomped Measure W, the redevelopment measure.

Some advocates of redevelopment said voters just didn't understand it.

We aren't so sure.

We think it is a matter of trust - and a matter of perception.

Citizens don't trust government generally. Lodians are no different. In fact, they may trust their city government even less than most.

That's where the perception comes in.

In the last decade, the city has spent and spent. And spent some more.

On Hutchins Street Square and a new public safety center. On richer pensions for employees. On a high-risk legal gambit. On a utility bond meltdown. On a water deal.

They struck deals with Enron and Lehman Brothers, once-mighty corporate titans now lying in the grave of financial ruin.

RIP, by the way.

Lodians we talk with see a disconnect.

The community is frugal. People here have always been quick to save, slow to spend. They run their households and their businesses carefully and efficiently.

They don't see that at city hall. Not with the gobs of debt, the Wall Street schemes, the forays that, for whatever reason, end up as fiascoes.

What did the city pay Michael Donovan, the supposed uber-lawyer, just to go away and leave us alone?

$1.2 million?

Ouch.

Of course, all of this can be justified. The payment to Donovan may have saved more money long-term. The water deal with Woodbridge Irrigation rebuilt that district's dam and protected a local water right. It may yet turn out to be a very wise investment.

Hutchins Street Square is a beautiful venue of which we can all be proud.

And let's be clear: Those who supported all of the above did so, we believe, with the best of intentions.

But let's shift from intentions back to perceptions.

Many taxpayers see a city that has not been operated on the principles of frugality they demand in their own lives and businesses.

Right or wrong, fair or unfair.

That is the perception.

That is the root of distrust that vaporized Measure W and the promise of redevelopment.

So now what?

How do you change perception?

Some good steps have been taken. The nightmarish Donovan-led legal expedition into the wild has ended. The electric utility is recovering from its dance with financial death. Credit ratings are being righted.

Kudos to the council and administration for all of this.

What's needed?

More of the same.

Keep a fiendish grip on spending. Cut what can be cut. Be firm with unions. Build up reserves. Search out and destroy waste. Invite citizens to help.

Or put another way:

Be rabidly, creatively, desperately cheap.

It isn't about intentions. It is about building a track record now.

That record can be built with a mentality of unrelenting thrift.

That mentality will help the city endure these difficult, difficult times.

And that mentality, over months or maybe years, can rebuild our citizens' trust in their city hall.

Lodi News-Sentinel

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