Maybe it’s just a symptom of the times, but I’m seeing an unfortunate trend to make everything, even City Government, all about money. Admittedly, there are those who have long advocated that the road to Utopia is best paved by running government like a business. That very case was made recently when an applicant before the Planning Commission used most of his presentation time to explain that “Sonoma is a corporation” and needs to generate the maximum financial return on its assets, namely land within the city. The metaphor was extended by calling Sonoma a “farmer” and its crop houses and hotels.
To advocates of an unregulated free-market economy, government has always and continues to be “in the way.” This attitude was explicitly declared when Ronald Reagan said “Government is the problem.” Having been embraced as an over-arching philosophy by the likes of the Republican Party (and even the mainstream Democratic Party…remember Bill Clinton’s gleeful declaration that the “era of big government is over”?), the free-marketers are now supported by huge PAC money and right-wing think tanks.
Here in Sonoma, we have our own local version of this attitude, and it’s on display from time to time, particularly when someone wealthy gets bored and looks for a way to play with his money. At those times, the typical argument goes, development generates income for the City of Sonoma, which as everyone knows, is desperate for cash. Problem is, the City of Sonoma is not desperate for cash. Moreover, though the city is technically incorporated, it is more importantly the expression of something else we hold dear, namely democracy.
The “business model” is problematic in that the modern corporation is inherently anti-democratic. In fact, though we Americans love the idea of democracy, many of us spend adult life embedded and employed by businesses adhering to a totalitarian model of organization. The “line and staff” structure of business, with its supreme, all-powerful leader at the top of a hierarchal pyramid is familiar to us all, but it’s actually the by-product of none other than Napoleon and his world-conquering, organizational military framework. Democracy has no place in a military organization, nor its modern stepchild, the business corporation.
The motivation to abandon democracy in an efficiency-oriented workplace is understandable; democracy is inherently inefficient. Political democracy, however, enables individuals and vests each person with equal voting power. This, in theory, helps society avoid armed uprisings, riots and the inconvenient disruptions of daily life. In practice, of course, billions of dollars have been spent on propaganda – what we call public relations and advertising – to manipulate the opinions of voters. The corrupting after-effects of Citizens United blatantly reveal how thoroughly the influence of money has permeated politics.
Meanwhile, here in town the ceaseless clamoring for money goes on. Looking for ways to “monetize” a property or an idea has spread even to non-profits. Plans for a community pool include converting Paul’s Little League field into real estate cash flow. The historic Maysonnave House morphs into a wedding event center. Nearly every entity, it seems, is fixated on making money.
In line with this mercantile, “maximize the value of our assets” philosophy, perhaps the City of Sonoma will decide to sell “naming rights” to its various high-visibility properties. How does “McDonald’s Mountain Cemetery” or “AT&T Sonoma Plaza” sound to you?