The Morro Bay Elite Don’t Respect Our Voice. That’s Why Our Initiative Matters.

Morro Rock Twilight

How can someone with a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota be so ignorant?

Former Morro Bay City Councilmember Marlys McPherson wrote a rather strange rebuttal to Morro Bay resident Jeff Eckles in this week’s Bay News. To summarize, Eckles touted the benefits of the citizen initiative process (direct democracy), which is commonly understood to be invaluably supplemental to our country’s representative democracy. Instead of recognizing the role that initiatives have in our government, McPherson completely disavows the concept as if it should’ve never existed.

“Why is direct democracy a bad idea? Citizens are busy with their lives,” wrote McPherson. “We don’t necessarily have the interest or time to study complicated issues to make informed decisions. That is why we elect our representatives to do so.”

Translation: McPherson and her big government ivory tower elite cabal believe the common people in Morro Bay are too busy to stay informed on the issues because they’re “complicated.” Yet somehow, the people are somehow informed enough and not busy enough to make the best decisions on who they want to represent them on the City Council.

By her logic, how can we trust people — who are too preoccupied and uninformed — to elect the best representatives for City Council? Apparently, people made a mistake in electing her, right? Results be damned.

How condescending, disrespectful and dishonest.

Direct democracy has been a part of our representative democracy for centuries, dating back to the Progressive Era (from 1898 to 1918). Legislation to authorize citizen-led referendums was codified into twenty-six state constitutions with one of those states being California. There are many examples of initiatives and referendums that were successfully enacted, including California Proposition 13 (1978) and Proposition 218 (1996). Proposition 13 instituted a cap on property tax rates while Proposition 218 gave residents the power to repeal or reduce any local tax, assessment or fee.

When McPherson was sitting behind the dais, the Morro Bay City Council used Proposition 218 to raise water and sewer rates for ratepayers. McPherson was on the council for one out of two rate increases that were made within the span of three years. At no point did McPherson bemoan direct democracy when her council directly benefited from it. I would know. I was part of the movement to count the uncounted Prop. 218 objection letters, which her City Council initially wanted to disavow. Though we fell short on the amount of objections to overturn the rate hikes, the actual process of counting those objections was all made possible thanks to a successfully passed citizen-led initiative.

It’s bizarre for McPherson to undermine direct democracy now when she made no quip about it when direct democracy benefited the City Council when she served. But now that she and her cohorts are no longer in power, direct democracy should be feared and rejected because the people can’t be trusted.

McPherson was on the City Council when they decided, through closed session and contract negotiations, to make concessions to Vistra Energy in exchange for the company granting them access to a property easement for our Water Reclamation Facility. One of those concessions was the facilitation of a binding memorandum of understanding that was originally approved in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — when public participation was understandably but severely limited to infrequent Zoom meetings. At the time, time essentially stopped for everyone. Vaccines weren’t available for the general public until December 2020. People couldn’t work in the office. Kids couldn’t go to school. We were at home. The City Council had an opportunity to seize our undivided attention, facilitate a comprehensive online workshop with Vistra to educate the public about their plans to build a battery energy storage system. They didn’t.

Instead, the public was invited to participate only after the ink was dried and the deal was done behind closed doors in closed session. More than most, McPherson is keenly aware of how opaque and restrictive the public process was back then.

When we see current and formerly elected officials showing a reckless disregard for the public they serve, that should serve as a reminder for why citizen-led initiatives are necessary. Initiatives and referendums provide a check on the power of elected officials. Initiatives amplify public voices on issues that might not be on the radar of elected officials or for topics that elected officials might be hesitant to tackle. Initiatives give people an opportunity to increase their civic participation and the democratic process. Initiatives also help shoulder the burden of addressing controversial issues from the City Council to the people, thereby maintaining political stability or avoid alienating certain segments of their constituency.

Initiatives like the one created by the Citizens for Estero Bay Preservation give residents the opportunity to introduce fresh perspectives and solutions that might not emerge from the traditional public process. This can lead to innovative policy solutions that address complex challenges, including discussions to introduce green and safer alternatives to lithium-ion battery technology that better fit our community.

Don’t let people like Marlys McPherson bully you into silence. Our extensive history of embracing direct democracy should empower you to make your voice and vote known.

7 thoughts on “The Morro Bay Elite Don’t Respect Our Voice. That’s Why Our Initiative Matters.”

  1. Aaron. There are numerous others of the “Elite” who tried to derail the initiative when the Chamber of Commerce and the Harbor Master Leaseholders attacked the Proponents early on. The Government Action Committee of the Chamber had me in a closed door session to challenge the ideas of the initiative. Expect more “noise” from this self-serving group.

  2. I fully support the statement above. I believe former council member McPherson had an agenda that was not necessarily in keeping with the goals and desires of the majority of Morro Bay citizens. We don’t need people of her persuasions running our city council – now or then.

  3. Los Osans for Good Governance

    Well done Aaron!
    Definitely, we’re having a hard time with anti democratic, anti science, non transparent, elite PhD’s who work in State Government or were elected to local office around here? It’s really awe striking and grotesque!

    What’s up with that!?

  4. Follow the $$$$$$$$$$.
    Also CEQA is explicit:
    New Power facilities sited in the coastal zone are eligible to be appealed to the Cal coastal commission (ccc). Being a state agency, politics enters the ccc arbitrary & capricious process.
    The initiative is a great process , probably even better.
    The cat may be skinned many ways.

  5. Good job Aaron as always!!! These people are just arrogant and think their education and position make them smarter than the rest of us.

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