Monday, March 14, 2005 | Dear Neil,

In your March 7 column, “Healing the Horrific Rift,” you note that San Diegans are “spellbound by the wreckage” of our municipal government. Like hapless motorists on the freeway, we’ve lapsed into voyeurism. We’re gaping at the carnage and yakking on our cell phones, waiting for somebody to clean up the mess. (Call the FBI/SEC to cart away the casualties, bring in a tow truck, and sweep up the glass so that we can get back to business as usual.)

What’s the deal with this civic voyeurism?

Is this, in part, a generational issue? You refer to Malin Burnham, George Gildred and other members of this city’s “old guard.” I don’t know these folks, except by reputation. I do know that their style of enlightened engagement in civic affairs seems to be passing from the scene. Who stands ready to take that torch?

Where will this city find the next generation of civic leaders? Not from the pool of entrenched interests (business and union), single-issue activists and career politicians. Who will watch the shop? Who will make the case for good governance and civil society and fiscal responsibility? Who will hold municipal government accountable?

This city’s future health depends on the civic engagement of the next generation of San Diegans. Will they be able to float bonds to build and maintain infrastructure, to support education and public safety, to expand opportunities for good jobs and home ownership, and to sustain the arts and culture? What, I wonder, is the future in San Diego for my 25-year-old son?

Who are the current and potential leaders in the next generation? Are they scientists? Builders? Architects? Educators? Artists? Entrepreneurs? Corporate executives? Social and environmental activists? Community volunteers? What, if anything, would draw them into the civic arena as participants … not just spectators?

Might the Malin Burnhams and George Gildreds and their kind serve as active mentors, with each member of the “old guard” taking responsibility for the civic education and training of one or two emerging leaders under the age of 50? They need mentoring more focused and intentional than the informal hobnobbing that happens at venues such as Downtown Rotary and high-profile social events.

Here’s another way to get past voyeurism – civic education.

Most folks, especially those under the age of 50, don’t understand the basic

I think the press has a responsibility to educate through weaving civic education into all press coverage of city government. Every article about local government should include at least one paragraph (sometimes, a sidebar) clearly explaining HOW THINGS WORK. Or, given the present debacle, HOW THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO WORK. And this basic information must be repeated in articles month after month, year after year, because education happens by accretion

Now ponder this: schools attempt to teach students about state and federal government, but who ever had a class on municipal government?

The coming change to a strong mayor system offers a fine opportunity to launch

These proposals don’t offer an immediate cure for what ails our city. But, if we focus on educating and engaging the next generation in civic affairs, we’ll be on the road to recovery. Or at least we’ll be moving again … not just stuck in traffic, staring at the wreckage.


Lee Lipsey

Lee Lipsey moved to San Diego from Virginia seven years ago. She publishes the Peninsula Arts Calendar and co-chairs Point Loma Summer Concerts.

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