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By Douglas Moran

Palo Alto's Woke proto-Authoritarians

Uploaded: Aug 18, 2020

"You don't put civil rights to a vote." That was Mayor Adrian Fine after his position on access to Foothills Park was defeated. I was surprised not by what he said, but that he said it publicly. There appear to be multiple candidates for City Council that likely have similar attitudes, based on my readings of their recent pronouncements.

I deeply resent the amount of time I had to spend on the Foothills Park access issue (blogs, research, discussions). There are many pressing issues, especially those around the response to the COVID shutdowns. People's livelihoods and lives were at stake.(foot#1) It was the attitudes and political philosophies of the supporters of fully opening the park, and the tactics engendered, that elevated the importance of this issue. I knew that being defeated on the Foothills Park issue wouldn't influence them in the slightest against continuing to use these tactics, but their winning could have discouraged people from fighting back next time. I learned long ago that in situations such as this, fighting the small battles is crucial. Forfeiting or losing can be portrayed as establishing a precedent. And using a series of harassing battles to slowly wear down the opposition is an established tactic.

"^Woke^" is a term used by some of the Left to describe their perspective on a wide range of issues about "^Social Justice^" and society. Its intellectual roots are in Marxism, most visibly its emphasis on Identity Politics (the Collective), the conflict between the identity groups, collective guilt, and a focus on power dynamics, with groups being cast as victims and oppressors. ^Intersectionality^ creates a multitude of identity groups, with a group being both a victim and an oppressor, depending on the circumstances. Critics often refer to this as an "Oppression Hierarchy/Matrix".

It can be tempting to excuse zealotry that seems based on good intentions, but remember "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." One of the victims of this zealotry is the debate that is essential for a functioning democracy, with the online comments on Foothills Park vividly illustrating this situation. Many of the advocates for opening the Park declared that their position was the moral certainty, and rejected any need for discussion ("Enough said!"). I was tempted to use a rebuke from my youth "Who died and made you Pope?"

Equally dangerous is that moral certainty absolves one from needing to make valid arguments -- truth is irrelevant and "The ends justify the means." This includes hyperbolic descriptions and demonization.(foot#2)

----The City Council Deliberations on access to Foothills Park----

In the lead-up to the Council meeting, I was dismayed, but not surprised, to see the advocates of removing the access restrictions impute racism as the conscious or unconscious motive of the opponents, as well as collective guilt. I was pleased to see the many online commenters stand up to this attempted bullying.

At the Council meeting, both Councilmember Alison Cormack and out-going Councilmember and Mayor Adrian Fine resorted to declaring that opening the park was the "right thing to do".(foot#3) Disappointing.

During public comments to the Council on this topic, multiple speakers referred to the residency requirement as involving "Show me your papers!" This is a long-established ^trope for an oppressive police state^, most often associated with Nazi Germany.(foot#4) I was shocked when Councilmember Alison Cormack resorted to this characterization.

There were unintended moments of levity in the speakers' comments. My favorite was the speaker who believed that a million dollars would buy you a "mansion" in Palo Alto. Next was the speaker who thought Palo Alto was a "gated community". Since Palo Alto has an ^eruv^, my understanding is that it makes us a walled city (symbolically). But I digress.

----A grab bag of "facts" from ideology and dogma----

Like any self-respecting quasi-religion or ideology, Wokeness attracts adherents by providing a simplistic view of the world that allows them to avoid engaging with details and complexities and to treat ^Virtue Signaling^ as accomplishments, whether you be an attendee at a rally or march, or a speaker with the attendant opportunities for photo-ops and media interviews.

This shows up when the leaders demonstrate that they don't know the difference between their Woke ideology and reality. Let's go to the fuller quote that opened this blog. After losing the vote, Fine doubled-down, stating "You don't put civil rights to a vote. It's something significant here, where we are literally discriminating against nonresidents because they're not wealthy enough to live in Palo Alto and we're not allowing them access to open space." (foot#3)
"Not wealthy enough?" The cities closest to the park have median household incomes 51-80% greater than Palo Alto's.
"not allowing them access to open space?" Foothills Park is surrounded by many large open space preserves (^map^) that they could go to instead.

Continuing to refuse to accept the legitimacy of the decision, Fine tripled-down. He spoke at a press conference (tiny rally?) at the entrance to the Park on August 12.(foot#5) In his remarks, he said that it was a misdemeanor for non-residents to enter. Ummm, no. At the Council hearing, the city's manager for parks and open space -- Daren Anderson -- told Council that the City didn't use misdemeanor charges for this. Whoops. In the staff proposal to Council, reducing the violation from a misdemeanor to an "infraction" had been added (after being raised in my 2020-07-27 blog (foot#6) ). That is, it was in the motion that Fine seconded. Whoops #2. In Councilmember Kou's substitute motion, this change was explicitly stated.(foot#7) Whoops #3. Fine also seemed to forget that the motion passed by the Council renamed Foothills Park to "Foothills Nature Preserve". OK, that isn't official yet -- it needs to pass a second reading by Council, which is usually a formality.

At this press conference, it wasn't just Fine having problems with facts and logic. Organizer Anjali Ramanathan stated "At the time, when the city purchased the land that is this park, the City of Palo Alto was engaging in racist housing policies including redlining and blockbusting that were essentially designed to keep Palo Alto white." First, "^blockbusting^" is a tactic by real estate agents that moves Blacks (or other minorities) into previously all-White neighborhoods to induce panic selling. So, a tactic that intrinsically required moving Black families in was intended to keep Black families out??????

Second, "^redlining^" is when an organization decides it will not do business in an area, typically because of its racial or ethnic composition. The typical practitioners are financial services companies, such as lenders and insurance. Does Ramanathan understand that she is claiming that Palo Alto residents were unable to get mortgages from banks in the 1950s?? Actually, she didn't say banks had redlined Palo Alto, but rather the "City of Palo Alto", that is, the city government. Somehow she thinks that the city government decided denying services to its existing residents would prevent Blacks from moving into the city.

Third, if the City was trying to "keep Palo Alto white", why did it annex a neighborhood of predominantly Black homeowners (Ventura)?? And why didn't it block Joseph Eichler from selling to Black families?? Details in my 2020-07-27 blog. (foot#6)

Ramanathan is a Los Altos Hills resident who "lives just adjacent to the park, and its exclusivity has perpetually irked her, ..."(foot#8) She was part of the group that wrote "DESEGREGATE" in very neat 10-foot-tall letters at the entrance to Foothills Park on July 11, creating a great photo-op for a drone. But as we have seen with the vocabulary in her above statement, she doesn't seem to understand what the word means.
Note: Please, none of the obvious comments asking when residents of Los Altos Hills became a protected class under Civil Rights Law. They were already a protected class under "The Golden Rule" ("Those with the gold, rule").

This example is highly illustrative of the situation among the Woke: They exist within a filter bubble where their ideology and dogma rarely suffer challenges or non-trivial discussion. Not having to create and defend a cohesive argument, what they have is a grab bag of slogans and ideas that they string together unaware of the logical contradictions and the absurd irrelevancy of their "facts" to the particular situation.

Note: I have used Ramanathan as an example because of her leadership role -- I didn't want an example that could be dismissed as an outlier.

----Speech is violence; Silence is violence; Free Speech suppresses Free Speech----

Social Justice/Woke culture has such an established hostility to freedom of speech that various political compass tests now use support for free speech as a distinguishing factor between "Left" and "Right" (their category names).(foot#9) For many years now, Woke culture has labeled speech that is contrary to their beliefs to be "hate speech", with charges of "racism" being used so frequently and facilely that such statements need to be treated as nothing more than a lexical variant of "I disagree." I strongly disapprove of eviscerating the term "racist", but that ship has long since sailed.

The bigger danger is that Woke culture has long claimed "Words are Violence", creating a rationalization for them to use extreme measures against not only those that disagree, but those who want to hear those perspectives. Does everyone who mouths this slogan contemplate using violence to suppress other viewpoints. No, but they are complicit in providing moral support for those that do.

The next escalation was "Silence is Violence". I saw clusters of these signs at recent local protests. This crosses way over the line into authoritarianism: It rationalizes using violence not just to silence opposition, but to force the opposition and neutrals to behave as if they were supporters. Recently I've been seeing more and more article titles with ==I "^2+2=5^"==, although I not sure whether it is inspired by the dystopian novel/tutorial ^1984^ or a less famous work.

How could freedom of speech suppress freedom of speech?? As I understand it, there are two basic arguments. First, the belief that "marginalized people" cannot have their voices heard unless other groups are silenced. What is actually means is that the privileged people who have self-appointed themselves as speaking for the marginalized want to suppress criticisms of their politics.(foot#10) The second argument is that "marginalized people" are intimidated from speaking up out of fear of having to explain themselves and defend their claims. Others having freedom of speech denies "marginalized people" their free speech rights, and therefore it is essential to deprive those others of their free speech rights.

It's easy to say that this would escalate into intimidation and violence here in Palo Alto. Except that the lessons of history are that such escalations can be so rapid that they are hard to stop once a threshold is passed. For example, would you have predicted today's highly tribal politics even four years ago? Six years ago, the situation in Palo Alto politics was getting bad enough that I blogged about it.(foot#11) The more dangerous effect is already being seen in other cities.(foot#12)

----Exacerbates persistent problems with City Managers----

Palo Alto has a Strong City Manager form of government.(foot#13) The City Manager is supposed to lead the professional staff in making recommendations to the City Council on policy decisions and then the implementation of those decisions. As the gateway between City Council and Staff, the City Manager is supposed to prevent individual City Council members from pressuring Staff to support that Councilmember's personal agenda (political or financial).

But what happens when the City Manager arrogates to himself the role of policy decision-maker, by trying to box Councilmembers into rubber-stamping his "recommendation"? He can do this by cherry-picking the information given to Council, obscuring the problems with his chosen policy and the existence of viable alternatives. And should Council pass a policy that he opposes? It can be slow-walked or understaffed. It can be so badly implemented that it creates opposition.

In my 20 years of involvement in Palo Alto politics, we have always had City Managers who have consistently exceeded their role. This has been futilely addressed in earlier blogs.

Recipe for big trouble: Political activists who are intolerant of others' beliefs combined with a few Councilmembers who are similarly inclined and supportive, and add in a City Manager who has an overlapping agenda.

1. Lives and livelihoods:
There are numerous studies on the negative impacts on the careers of students graduating into a recession -- they can be substantial and permanent.
For small business owners, those businesses are not just their livelihoods, but also whether they can afford to retire.
Unemployment can destroy one's self-worth and the longer unemployment goes on, the harder it becomes to get a new job.
Unemployment is linked to suicide and drug use.

2. Demonization of others has been mentioned repeatedly in my blogs:
"^The 'You're despicable' style of politics^", 2016-09-22.
"^Behind contentious local politics: Failed and toxic leadership^", 2017-05-30.
"^Affordable Housing: Complexities^", 2017-02-21.
"^Palo Alto's Culture War: Analytics vs. Aspirationals^", 2013-11-10 (my fourth blog).
"^Demonization: Single-family homeowners are deplorables, especially Palo Altans^", 2019-05-26.
And minor mentions:
"^Visioning or Potemkin Villages?^" ("Our Palo Alto"), 2014-05-08.
"^In Defense of 'Incivility' ^", 2014-10-14.
"^Neighborhood Associations: Why they are still important^", 2015-03-10.
"^Unrepresentative sample of the community?^", 2015-05-15.
"^"the Summit" (CompPlan): Forewarned is Forearmed^", 2015-05-20.
"^Brown Act Inhibits Open Government^", 2015-09-03. More appropriate title: "Brown Act being misused to Inhibit Open Government".
"^Public Discourse: Inverted Totalitarianism, Threshold Models and Cell Phones^", 2016-02-21.
"^Joe Simitian talk: Listening to Trump's America: Bridging the Divide^", 2017-10-15.
"^Moral Panic, again on guns^", 2019-08-22.

3. "The right thing to do": Fine and Cormack:
"^Palo Alto moves to expand access to 'residents-only' Foothills Park: City Council supports pilot program that would allow nonresidents to buy passes to preserve; looks to send issue to the voters in 2022^", Palo Alto Weekly, 2020-08-04.
Councilmember Lydia Kou made the substitute motion that was passed by Council with amendments. She saw serious misinformation in the various media and posted her perspective: "^My Actions to Protect the Future of Foothills Park (Our Nature Preserve)^"

4. Show me your papers!
Maybe it's just me, but when I have to show my papers -- proof of residency -- I feel no sense of embarrassment at the exclusivity of the ^Palo Alto's Hazardous Waste drop-off^or the ^Sunnyvale Recycling Center (SMaRT Station)^.

5. Fine's press conference at Foothills Park:
"^Mayor wants to change Palo Alto law that excludes non-residents from park^", KTVU-TV, 2020-08-12.
Later: "^Palo Alto to open gates at residents-only park -- slightly^", San Francisco Chronicle, 2020-08-16.

6. Violation reduced from a misdemeanor to an infraction:
My blog "^Foothills Park: City does NOT want to hear from most of you^", 2020-07-27.

7. Reducing misdemeanor to an infraction:
^Draft Action Minutes for 2020-08-03 City Council meeting^, page 5 in the PDF; page labeled 3 in the minutes.

8. Ramanathan in LAH adjacent to park:
"^Citing discrimination, Hills residents & others protest park’s exclusivity^", Los Altos Town Crier, 2020-07-21.

9. Support for Freedom of Speech in political compass tests: Example: is a site that attempts to rate the political biases of various media outlets.In "^What does a 'Lean Right' media bias rating mean?^"I was shocked to find "Freedom of Speech" as a distinguishing factor. For the longest time, it was the Left that strongly supported Freedom of Speech, with the Right often calling for restrictions and rarely giving it more than lip service. The Right hasn't changed much: They are so dedicated to enhancing the powers of the rich and large corporations that they refuse to stand up for even their own supporters who are being suppressed by the social media giants.OK, they will occasionally go so far as to have a photo-op or press conference statement. But compared to a Left that is currently dominated by those openly and actively hostile to Freedom of Speech, this becomes an important differentiator.
Aside:I found the presence of several other items in this list to be interesting indicators of the recent shifts in political alignments.

10. Speaking for the marginalized:
Communism is a well-known example of an ideology that from its earliest days recognized the folly of letting the proletariat decide what was good for them. A Communist Party was needed to provide a ^vanguard party^to represent and advocate for what they believed the proletariat should want. At the same time, they would be educated, and re-educated, those with wrong-think. Some tens of millions of deaths later ...
and many still believed.

11. "^The 'You're despicable' style of politics^", 2016-09-22.

12. "Silence is Violence" violence example:
Shop owners are made to "understand"that a political group's signs are talismans that if posted in their windows will ward off the forces that would break those windows. They may also reduce the chances of vandalism, looting, arson ...In Louisville Kentucky, tithing is being expected.
Warning: Calling this a protection racketrisks being labeled hate speech.
"^'We're not an enemy of the Black community' : Cubans rally to support NuLu business^", Louisville Courier-Journal, 2020-08-02. Interestingly, the Black Panther Party came out in support of the shop owners, at least implicitly against the local chapter of Black Lives Matter.

13. Strong City Manager form of government:
Also known as ^Council-Manager Government^.

An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The ^Guidelines^ for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.
A slur is not an argument. Neither are other forms of vilification of other participants.

If you behave like a ^Troll^, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.