Commentary: Look to the future


Our family loves vacations in Costa Rica — the entire country is like one large nature preserve. There are beautiful beaches with great surf, mountains full of lush forests and colorful wildlife, and bird watching locations where you can get close to exotic birds you only see photos of elsewhere. 

The infrastructure is also good. The primary roads are well-maintained, the electrical grid is efficient, and there are well-designed museums. The larger hospitals and resort hotels are all first-rate. The overall condition of the country far exceeds that of its Central American neighbors.

It wasn’t always this way. Costa Ricans had their share of civil war, deforestation, land exploitation, unregulated development, and corrupt government. But according to our nature guide, in the 1950s after a divisive civil war, “as a people they ‘looked to the future’ to see what kind of country they wanted to create for themselves, and then made the national decision to make that happen.”

They realized the natural beauty of their lands was their biggest asset, and that the most good for the most people would come from protecting and improving their forests and beaches. So they created parks and reserves, established tourist industries and museums, and most importantly, stopped the exploitation of the land by the short-sighted few and allowed the country to slowly recover from years of abuse.

This transformation didn’t happen easily, or quickly. But Costa Ricans “looked to the future” and then made that vision happen. It takes determination and quality leadership, with input from many different sources, to produce such improvements for the common good.

In Atascadero, I think we have a much smaller scale, but similar, situation working itself out. Atascadero is not without assets.  It has small-town charm and authenticity that nearby cities can’t match, and a beautiful, historic city hall. Its housing is more affordable than SLO or Paso Robles, and growing families want to live here. But its tax base is weak, its streets are in terrible shape, and its people have waited and watched while Paso Robles has developed the kind of vibrant, cohesive downtown that Atascadero conspicuously lacks.

There is widespread agreement in Atascadero on the goals of a livelier downtown, a wider range of local shopping, dining and entertainment options, and more local jobs. And the city has infrastructure problems that people of all political perspectives agree need addressing. So what’s holding us back?

What’s holding Atascadero back is that we are not working together to advance those goals. Atascadero hasn’t yet figured out how to move on from our own “civil war.” Instead, old battles over Walmart, a city council that was once divided politically, and a persistently partisan approach to community leadership have kept us from pulling together to solve common problems.

It should be over. With the rise of Amazon.com, the retailing world has changed, and Walmart has decided it’s not coming to Atascadero. Whether you were infuriated, delighted, or indifferent to this news, this is old news. Atascadero needs to move on.  Furthermore, the deep divisiveness of that era need not poison the city’s future a decade later.  Council members and candidates have taken a civility pledge, and we should hold each one of them to it. A city council can include a broad range of perspectives from within the community and still work respectfully with each other for the benefit of the whole community.

What Atascadero needs to do now is “look to the future,” to think about where the town should go. We need innovative leaders who can assess problems, listen to ideas for solutions, develop proposals and then “run the ideas up the flagpole” to refine them in collaboration with those who like them AND those who don’t. We need leaders who recognize the importance of understanding and solving problems, instead of waiting for problems to solve themselves. We need leaders who are more concerned about solving problems for the community than about whether their ideas or friends prevail.  We need leaders who are unafraid to reach across the aisle and willing to consider multiple perspectives with respect.

Susan Funk is that kind of leader, and that’s why I support her candidacy for City Council. Susan offers that visionary leadership. She is the one candidate for city council looking at problem-solving, suggesting new directions and actively working to gather ideas and form consensus. A “take-the-bull-by-the-horns” type of leader, as Susan has been described, who confronts problems rather than people, will be a welcome and refreshing addition to Atascadero’s city council.

If you want fresh energy to move Atascadero forward, elect someone who is willing to focus on solving the problems that keep Atascadero from becoming what people want it to be. It’s time to “look to the future.”

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