Last week took me on a loop around the greater Bay Area. The trip was a chance to reacquaint myself with the lives of our urban cousins, which are markedly different than our own. I hit both the bright spots (Oakland, Monterey) and the dim (Livermore, Vallejo). Travel, at its best, can give one some insight into one's own way of existence.
Spend time anywhere else, and you see instantly that Humboldt County's defining quality, as a culture, is stasis. Every major decision takes at least 10 years, every battle is fought for at least a dozen. Exhibit A, of course, is the county's General Plan Update. When it is completed -- if it is ever completed -- it will be a comprehensive roadmap to the county's future. But it has been in the works for nearly a dozen years, and a recent political hurry-up maneuver designed to complete the thing before a new board takes over in 2011 will probably fail. When that deadline passes, it will be back to the old schedule -- that is to say, no schedule at all.
But the General Plan Update is only the most egregious example of Humboldt County's natural tendency to do nothing, and to fight the same old wars over and over and over again. You could just as easily point to the non-revitalization of the North Coast Railroad Authority, which somehow continues to be a bitterly divisive topic over a decade since the last train rolled into Humboldt County. You could say it of the battle over Rob Arkley's Marina Center development, which has raged pretty steadily over the last six or seven years. There are undoubtedly some souls out in the hills who are still fighting the Timber Wars, like Japanese soldiers abandoned on uninhabited tropical isles.
Why is this? Why do we persist in these things, long after any non-insane person in any other part of the world would have thrown up his arms and said Who the fuck cares anymore? Win or lose, make a decision and move on! I submit that it is a failure of our politics. Not necessarily of our electoral politics -- who votes for who, and who gets elected -- but of the currents on the ground, the social movement aspect of local political life. Search far and wide: It'll take you a long time to discover anyone with a comprehensive, plausible vision for what Humboldt County could become and the will to make it happen. Instead, almost all energy is spent on simply beating down the other side and grinding its face in the dirt.
There are two broad currents in Humboldt County political life. They go by names opposite to those that classical political theorists would give them. Broadly speaking, Humboldt County left-liberals are dedicated to the proposition that nothing should ever change -- no new development, no new people, new industry only with extreme restrictions. Any of these things will likely have some sort of measurable environmental impact, however tiny, and therefore can and should be opposed to the death. Meanwhile, the "conservatives" seek to tear up the entire rule book, freeing them up to construct suburban and/or industrial hellscapes anywhere they choose in the name of Mammon.
A pox on both houses. Neither would make the slightest bit of sense in the vibrant city of Oakland, where buzzing young people fill the streets and restaurants and galleries and cafes and office buildings with their schemes, their art and a heady sense of possibility. They whinge not, for they have no time to whinge; they are too busy getting it done. Sound familiar? No, it doesn't, does it? Visiting Oakland or Portland is uncomfortably akin to visiting a foreign country.
Who among us can match that energy? They are here, no doubt, perhaps hidden amongst the stoners and slackers at our institutes of higher learning, but their voices are drowned by the county's mopey elder statesmen: Thesis and Antithesis, those ancient relics of battles past. They've been driving on autopilot since the early hippie days, and sadly they always set the tone.
The Journal refuses to accept this state of affairs, and is happy to announce that it has shed itself of at least some of its own sloth. After years of dithering, we've finally signed a lease on an amazing old office building in Old Town Eureka -- probably the least moribund place in the county. We'll be moving house thither in a couple of weeks, and we're throwing a bash on the Eureka Boardwalk to celebrate both the move and the Journal's 20th anniversary. (See ads elsewhere in the paper for details, including the precise lineup of bands that will be playing on the greatest bill in Humboldt County history.)
That's Saturday July 3 -- Arts Alive! night. Come on down!