Local Politics in the Age of W.
I attended my first neighborhood watch meeting last week. Here’s what I learned (short version): My fellow residents love cops and hate kids.
I brought my wife and son, and we weren’t in our seats at Van Nuys’ Church On the Way for more than 10 minutes when we began to feel the bad vibes from many of the 200 concerned citizens who had nothing better to do on a Thursday evening than bitch about things far beyond their control. My son Emmett, though only 2, was coming out to represent for the ‘hood, but frankly, he was a little bored by the politicking of the first speaker, Valley Commanding LAPD Officer Ron Bergmann, who all but begged that we vote for Proposition A, which would increase the sales tax (again!?) and earmark more funds to the boys in blue. He needn’t worry; he was preaching to the choir.
Unfortunately, Bergmann is no Barney the Dinosaur when it comes to winning over youthful constituents. And as Officer Ron droned, Emmett’s mind wandered. He wasn’t crying, and he wasn’t upset. He was just in a mood to talk. This didn’t sit well with the cop-obsessed crowd. It was like, here’s the Valley’s top cop, who – God Bless America – had helped lead the crusade to slash auto theft by 20 percent this year. Why wasn’t this punk-ass kid showing him the proper respect? (That’s my boy, already questioning authority, I thought, wishfully.)
The crowd twisted their mostly floppy, geezerly frames – seemed like all 200 of them – and gave my wife Carrie 400 evil eyes, along with hand gestures that left little room for interpretation: Get that little bastard the hell outta here. NOW. We didn’t want an angry mob on our hands – playing the love-thy-neighbor card clearly wasn’t going to work with these uber law-abiding folks – so Carrie and Emmett went home, leaving me alone, save the sympathetic row of folks who live on my street.
Without the fear of fellow Valley Glenians wanting to rip me to shreds, I anxiously awaited my opportunity to speak about my own local pet peeve – the lazy assholes who don’t pick up after their dogs, leaving me to literally take their shit. The ideal solution is to sit on my porch with a shotgun and take out any dog-walking litterbug who defaces my property in this way, but I’m guessing this stretches the limits of civility. Alas, I never got the chance to address this very important community problem.
Why? The regulars, the ones wearing ill-fitting shorts, socks up to their knees, and LAPD baseball caps, often asked stupid, redundant questions that slowed the already turtle-speeded meeting to an interminable crawl. And in between the questions were the daydreams of the Big Chief, who mused often about the manpower of the Valley’s force vis a vis crime-ridden Newark, New Jersey, which is roughly the size of North Hollywood. “If we had as many cops as Newark has, if you spit on the sidewalk, someone would be on you writing a citation.” That one got a rousing “Good!” from the fawning crowd.
The pace livened with the appearance of Councilperson Tony Cardenas, pinch-hitting for my own District Two councilperson, Wendy Greuel, who was at a zoning meeting. Cardenas faced a tough crowd, addressing queries about terrorist cels in the Valley, complaints about Van Nuys Plywood and Lumber, and the controversy surrounding the building of a new animal shelter, before getting bogged down in questions about the California Lottery. Luckily, Cardenas, a former member of the state Assembly, is well versed with the Lotto – in the Assembly he tried to get funds reallocated so that more money actually reaches the classroom. So he’s a good guy in my book.
But that’s not what this carnivorous crowd wanted to hear. In fact, one woman actually asked if some of the lottery money could be diverted from the classes and funneled to the cops. If Cardenas, a tireless education advocate, was flustered by the ill-informed question, he didn’t show it. He is a politician, after all.
At last, we got to the heart of the meeting – a passionate discussion of road paving and speed bumps. My street has been fighting for both for years. But there would be no satisfaction on this evening. I believe the official response was something like: don’t give up, it’ll happen sometime in your lifetime. It wasn’t the answer we all wanted to hear, but it was nevertheless a refreshing contrast to the cynical fear mongering that is commonplace at the national level. There was no sugar on the pill, but that was okay. Which proved to me once again that we don’t need a big, tough president to hold our hand; merely someone to listen to us would be more than enough.