Rush to judgment

In our increasingly politically correct and bifurcated world, it seems the human instinct to pass judgment on people or events has only grown more acute. And, with that judgment, the punishment meted is often out of proportion—and possibly wrongly targeted– to the actual event, not to mention seldom without the facts being known or contemplated.

The things that trigger this response of outrage and anger are as varied as the human experience allows.

A prominent celebrity dies by his own hand. There are simultaneous outpourings of grief and vituperation.

A cop shoots a minority youth and the world rises up in arms.

A sports team owner is castigated and stripped of his ownership rights for uttering intemperate thoughts in what was thought to be a private—but turned out to be an illegally taped—conversation.

This is not to say that, in the case of racially or ethnically-charged incidents especially, people should merely accept the initial “official” version of events.

Initial statements regarding any occurrence should always be taken as simply putting out information as it is known at the time. The actual “facts’ invariably come later.

The inestimable Robin Williams died, an apparent suicide, while suffering from a debilitating mental disease. All manner of ill-informed commentary ensued as to his financial status, his well-known history of substance abuse, even the very nature of what depression is and is not.

In the same week, Michael Brown, a black youth, was gunned down by a policeman in a St. Louis suburb and almost immediately there were riots in the streets, death threats against the officer involved, and national protests against police brutality. Within days, however, details surrounding the shooting have made the events surrounding the incident anything but clear cut.

Donald Sterling seems to be everyone’s favorite sports mogul to hate. After all, he uttered the dreaded “N-word”—albeit privately—and for that reason, he can no longer own an NBA franchise. The concern other owners expressed over the relative severity of the punishment, and whether they could be similarly dealt with for unspecified transgressions was similarly demonized. The response was instant, and it was harsh.

I wonder who among us, on reflection, can say they have never made a bigoted statement toward any other person or group in private conversation? If we are honest with ourselves, I would say virtually no one has. Not right, perhaps, but reality.

None of this makes these reactions—and countless other, similar circumstances—right or wrong. But thorough review of facts paints a very different picture than what too many of us react to, or remember. Rushing to judgment seldom ensures a dispassionate or righteous outcome.

There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about “teachable moments.” I think the phraseology is wrong. Most parents and school teachers will tell you that it isn’t what you teach that is important or meaningful to the student. It is what they learn. I wish we would learn something from these events.

Ballot-box planning

There is probably no better example of the flawed thinking that has driven the “land planning by ballot box” crowd than the vituperative back-and-forth now playing out over the controversially named “Open Space” initiative in Escondido.
This ballot measure is being floated by the would-be developer of the former Escondido Country Club site stuck in a quagmire of lawsuits and conflicting stories of outrage and deceit. Emotion has displaced logic and invective takes the place of reasoned debate. Lies and half truths enough to sink a battleship litter the conversation, and the voters of Escondido are being asked to navigate the shoals.

Of course, in this particular case, the stage was set for this by the city council’s caving in to an organized group of homeowners whose interests do not extend past the confines of their enclave.

I have been monitoring social media discussions on the proposed Specific Plan, and am astounded at the blatant disregard for factual representation of it. The most vehement opponents trot out red herrings at an alarming rate, either through ignorance or in an attempt to obfuscate and thus confuse those less fully engaged.

The developer is not blameless in all of this. Stuck in the Rough, the developer, has helped to create the emotional climate that now pervades the issue through a pattern of ill-advised counter measures in the wake of neighborhood opposition. And supporters of the proposed development have sometimes been a bit fast and loose with the facts.
That said, they have put on paper the plans and methodology for the project and they are technically sound. That the project could be better is the sad result of the city council’s decisions that essentially took the drafting of the plans away from themselves and their planning professionals.

While this measure is not being driven by the requirements of Escondido’s infamous Proposition S, the philosophy behind the move is essentially the same: people who are not familiar with the intricacies of government and land planning will be asked to decide what is best for the community rather than trusting the judgment of those they elected and the professional staff they employ.

The underlying premise is that the people we elect cannot be trusted to make the right decisions on our behalf, so therefore we need to do it. Huh?

If the electorate is too ignorant or disengaged in the process to elect the right people to represent their wishes, how can they be expected to make the right ones on such complex issues as land use?

The great fear on the part of homeowners in the Country Club area is that voters will not be sympathetic to their plight or not be interested enough in the whole thing, succumbing to the campaign efforts of the developer.

This issue should never have been put in the hands of voters, regardless of the outcome. That’s called kicking the can down the road. A process bringing all the stakeholders to the table to do what is best for all parties? That’s called leadership.