I need to rant about local politics for a moment. I realize that this will be intensely boring to readers who are not local, but I’ve been mulling all of this over for some time, and recent events have really instigated a great deal of rumination.
So here’s the thing: I really dislike this attitude that tourism needs to be promoted at all costs, and that tourists are more valuable than locals. I see this attitude from the “promotions committee,” and I see it from a lot of business owners, and it really irritates me.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I think that tourism is an inherently unsustainable industry to rely on. I understand that it is tempting, in a lot of ways, and I respect the fact that most people do not share my views on tourism. But it would be nice to see some attempts at diversification.
According to a local business owner I spoke with recently, the City makes any kind of attempt at diversification really hard by making it extremely challenging to open a new business. The process is byzantine, there are tons of permits and steps that have to be taken, and there’s no real incentive for entrepreneurial people. This has got to stop. We need to streamline the process. We need to clean up the city code. We need to give locals, as in people who live here, a reason to want to start businesses and contribute to their community.
You see, the thing is, we live here. We pay taxes here, and we work here, and we are important. Pretending that we don’t matter, that we have no value, this is not the way to get things done in Fort Bragg. Chasing after the almighty tourist dollar at the cost of local goodwill is a bad move. We need to have local pride. Local property owners should have an incentive to keep their places up, to keep the town looking nice, to spend money locally. Local residents should want to buy locally, should want to be engaged in local issues, should be able to afford to live here.
And you know what? We don’t have that. Many members of the promotions committee are downright rude to locals on a regular basis (even in their own businesses!), and they ride roughshod over legitimate local concerns in a race for the tourists. I find this disrespectful, and ultimately unproductive. They need the support of locals, because without us, Fort Bragg is nothing. There’s no town to visit if the locals are surly, uncooperative, and furious at being treated like garbage. I don’t see why people don’t understand this.
I also don’t understand the resistance to diversification, and the inability to think in the long term. With all due respect, our elected officials are extremely shortsighted, and this is going to cost us in the end. We are in the process of making huge decisions about critical issues, and there’s no way to make everyone happy, I know that, but we must think in the long term. Not just the temporary revenue potentials, but what’s going to happen in 10, 15, 20, 50 years. And that includes branching out from tourism, while still keeping the town a pleasant place to visit for tourists.
You know what tourists would love? A park on the mill site, not ugly, cheaply made housing. A downtown with a nightlife (that includes mixed live/work, because, guess what, the locals have a right to participate in the workings of their own town). Retail establishments without snotty, rude clerks. A really good local theater putting on quality productions. A local museum that is actually open. Good art galleries. Things to do which are interesting and fun. Even I can see this, and I’m not on the promotions committee.
The thing about small towns is that a few squeaky wheels get the grease, and it’s really hard to make legitimate concerns heard and respected over their caterwauling. So you can either give into that, and let a few people dictate how things are going to be, or you can stand up, speak up, and fight for your town. I know that there are a lot of people, like me, who feel powerless about what is going on here, but the thing is, we aren’t powerless. City Council meetings are open to the public (second and fourth Mondays, 6pm, Town Hall), and they like to hear from members of the public. If you ever try writing City Council, you get a response within a day, sometimes from multiple council members. We (and I include myself in this because I have really been slacking here) need to take the initiative and get ourselves heard.
Some things I would like to see:
1. Local small business owners banding together to lobby for a streamlining of the processes involved in opening/running a business. They best understand the issues here, and can speak most persuasively on the need to diversify our economy. Small business and entrepreneur models are sorely needed, and there’s so much red tape that this is basically impossible. I think that they could work with the City to formulate better policy.
2. Serious work on civic beautification. That means making it easy for people who own downtown businesses to repaint and do other necessary maintenance. It means encouraging people to keep up their homes and gardens. Heck, sponsor an inter-neighborhood contest to see which neighborhood can beautify itself the most. Clean up the alleys. Get locals proud to live here, and proud to share their town with others.
3. More respect for locals and local issues, which goes hand in hand with people who are currently remaining silent speaking up. That means that we need to show up at City Council meetings, or write in to Council members about local issues, to show that we do care about what’s going on, we do have productive ideas, and we are not going to let a handful of people make all of our decisions for us.
4. Diversification. We need it. Let’s talk about how it can happen.
5. A cleanup of the City Code. It’s a tangled mess. I think we should scrap it and start out all over again, personally, but at the very least, it needs some serious pruning. In addition, we need to actually start enforcing it; currently, enforcement only occurs when complaints are lodged. Not. Ok.
I’ve been mulling a City Council run for a few years now, and several people have told me that I should run. Honestly, I’m not sure that I am the most ideal candidate for City Council, for a lot of reasons, but I do think that we need some fresh, and yes, young voices on City Council. If no one wants to step up, maybe I’ll go for it, because Fort Bragg needs change, and change is not accomplished without shaking some things up a bit. In the last “election,” there were no opponents, so the council members with terms which were ending were automatically reappointed. Are we really this apathetic, people?