My last article suggested asking local candidates about their “Vision” for Atascadero and specific types of questions you might ask them. A candidate’s worldview is equally important since how a person sees the world influences how they govern.
One need look no farther than Santa Barbara to see bad government at work albeit for the best of intentions. A ban on plastic straws was passed, ostensibly to prevent marine life from ingesting micro-plastic pollutants and being injured. Who could be against that?
When laws are passed there should be overwhelming data to support the underlying contention that a law is necessary, laws being the last resort to regulate human behavior, all other options being deemed insufficient, such as education, moral persuasion, etc.
Most of us don’t spit on the sidewalk or carelessly discard trash on sidewalks in California as we are self-conscious about keeping sidewalks and streets clean. My late father, raised on the East Coast in a concentrated ethnic culture, when visiting tossed his gum wrapper on a SLO sidewalk. I immediately picked it up and put it in the trash. He asked what was the big deal? I didn’t lecture him but asked him to look around and what did he see? Puzzled, he said, “what am I supposed to be looking for?” I said, “where’s all the litter on the street?” and he said, “I don’t see any.” That was the point which he realized as I explained that the streets in SLO were relatively clean because we didn’t dump our trash on the street. In New York City or New Jersey, it’s hard to find a commercial street that isn’t partially covered with litter, even more so half a century ago. In SLO County, a cultural change occurred when people simply decided that not littering was the best recourse and people would take an extra step or two to deposit trash in a receptacle. Unfortunately, that socially conscious ethic is deteriorating in California as not only litter but unthinkable human waste is routinely deposited on sidewalks of major cities and likely here as values change. But, back to banning straws.
The evidence of plastic pollution in the oceans is quite real but the source has been tracked not to California, which accounts for about 0.02 percent of the total plastic pollution. The bulk (95 percent) of marine plastic pollution is originating from two African rivers and eight other rivers in Asia; the Yangtze River in China alone accounts for 1.5 million tonnes alone. Clearly, California isn’t the problem here nor is any other American city. Nor do we use 500 million plastic straws/day as a 9-year old boy reported seven years ago which generated the current movement. His data was not scientifically validated but a popular myth arose nevertheless, leading to the current virtue-signaling movement to ban plastic straws. No doubt local governments will be besieged by earnest citizens desiring we do our part and pass a ban on plastic straws, utensils, etc, with appropriate penalties for the unrepentant polluter. That’s the problem.
The Santa Barbara ordinance makes no allowances for disabled persons who cannot drink without a straw; even worse, its penalties are draconian. It provides for $1,000 fines per violation along with up to six-month jail sentences for violators. Think about that, a college kid or a single parent working as a restaurant server could be facing a $1,000 fine and six months in jail for each person they provided a straw to, a party of four equaling a fine of $4,000 and 2 years in jail! Proponents are quick to argue that “nobody is going to be sent to jail for giving out a straw” so I must ask, why are we passing laws that aren’t going to be enforced? The reality is that somebody very well might be prosecuted, fined and jailed just to make a point. Does the punishment fit the crime? We live in a state where you can smash a car window, steal a stereo and accompanying stash of CDs and get little more than a summons, a parking ticket. Fail to appear in court and you get another summons as there is no room in County jails to hold you since we’ve filled the jails with felons from State prisons to alleviate overcrowding. Shoplifters can steal up to $950 of merchandise per day and receive only a summons, but give out a straw, we will drop the roof on your head. The worst aspect of this of course is that once you are in the maws of the legal system your life permanently takes a turn for the worse with likely loss of employment, inability to pay rent or car payments, incurring horrendous legal fees attempting to defend yourself and social isolation for years. All for giving out a straw…how is that proportional justice or good government?
I make this point as some people see the world as a conflict between humans and the environment. They’re unable to see people as a legitimate part of the environment, deserving of respect, dignity and compassion. They willingly pass draconian laws in pursuit of an environmental utopia regardless of the human cost. Such a mindset is dangerous to freedom and justice, while being devoid of the essential component of justice, mercy.