I was having a conversation with my landlady the other day about county development policy (I lead an exciting life, what can I say), and we started talking about the city of Fort Bragg and I had mentioned that I had an interest in possibly running for City Council at some point, and she said ‘oh no, don’t to that!’ And I said, somewhat flummoxed, ‘whyever not?’ And she said ‘you’d have to move! We’re outside city limits.’
Which is true. We are, just barely, outside of city limits. But I have a Fort Bragg address. So do many people who live outside city limits. We are impacted by policies in the city of Fort Bragg because we live and work here; when the sales tax goes up, we pay it. Parents send their children to school in town. Most of us go to town on a regular basis and thus the condition of the roads and sidewalks is relevant to our interests. Proposed development matters to us because it will change the nature of our lives, not just the nature of the town. Policies about water, sewer, garbage, they all matter to us.
We are not in Fort Bragg, but we are of it. Things that happen in Fort Bragg matter. And that’s why I believe the City Council really needs an at-large member to represent the interests of the community living outside city limits. Because we matter, we have opinions. What happens on city council is important to us. Some of us even attend city council meetings, and comment, and try to participate in civic doings. I’m not asking to be annexed here (oh, let me tell you how much I am asking not to be annexed), but I am asking for more representation.
Fort Bragg is very much in a state of flux right now. A lot of things are happening very fast. Most of them started happening before the economic downturn, after the mill closed and people started struggling to decide what should happen to the town. In all the arguments about what to do with the space in town, where to take Fort Bragg next, what kind of community we want to be, we, the people on the outskirts, also matter. We have a role to play too, and it should be a more active one.
Furthermore, City Council right now is heavily slanted towards older property owners. While I am immensely fond of several of the members and think they do great work, it’s clear that we need more young people active in city government, and that we also need more tenants, because renters are an important part of the community and we are often left out. We are sources of revenue to pay your mortgage, but not full citizens, in a lot of ways. There are reasons why there are age and class divides in local government representation and I’m sure I don’t need to spell them out for you, but I will anyway.
There are fewer young people around town because there are not as many opportunities for us. For 20-30 something people, it’s hard to start a business. It’s hard to build a life. It’s hard to find a community. We can try to build our own, and many of us do, but it’s an uphill battle. If you are trying to run a business, you probably don’t have money to buy a home. If you are renting, you are probably spending too much money to be able to save money to apply to your future, whether it’s retirement or home ownership or opening your own business instead of working for someone else. An older member of the community recently told me that I should ‘just buy a house’ if I wasn’t happy with giving the IRS so much money every year, as a single person running my own business.
As though I had enough money in savings for a down payment, and a steady enough source of income that I could afford to pay the mortgage. As though I had enough to handle maintenance and repairs. Is this what people think, that renters are sitting on pots of money? What I pay in rent each month wouldn’t be enough to cover a mortgage on any kind of reasonable house, and it’s still high enough that I cannot realistically save money for a down payment on my own home. Which I don’t necessarily mind, because I don’t need to own a home[1. Although I confess, the tax benefits would be rather nice.], but for other people, it’s a big problem.
There are fundamental disconnects in the way people engage with each other in this town. I think some people are under the impression that the young people are all shiftless and wander around doing nothing in particular, squirreling away money or frittering it away on foolish things. When, in fact, most of us are struggling to survive. Most of us do not have the time to dedicate to going to City Council meetings and dealing with the other responsibilities of being in local government; these burdens are not light, especially for people who have an interest in being reelected.
Many of us don’t have the connections and clout to run successfully, other barriers aside. Even for those of us who have lived here our whole lives, or most of them, the fact is that we do not have the political pull to go up against an established City Council member. That’s why I never ran when I lived in town, even though I thought representation of younger people and renters was important. As an outskirter, I realise that there’s a third community that is not being represented, and it’s time to change that.