Santa Clarita: Shades of the Old South
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 4-17-2005.
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Y'all got a whole mess of problems in the SCV. Reading the news in your valley, I'm taken a little back at how your politics appear to be just about like the politics of the Old South as it was here in Virginia not so many years ago.
This is the list I've compiled from my readings:
1) Conflict-of-interest problem No. 1: A water board member who signed a court declaration for an outside group that wanted to have the water board pay for legal fees. She helps control the money the board pays out.
You just can't request public money, then turn around and vote to spend the money. Does she think y'all are stupid? Sure looks that way.
2. Conflict of interest problem No. 2: The school district superintendent helps form a "foundation" to help look for school sites and then, going around local laws, finds a site on a ridgeline. Since the state of California controls school sites, the city's ridgeline preservation ordinance is bypassed. After the ridgeline is destroyed for the school site, there seems to be some extra land that wouldn't now be subject to the ordinance. So the "foundation" is having some condominiums built.
Where are the profits from those condo sales going? Back to the school district? You don't know for sure. The "foundation" isn't bound by any public disclosure laws. I'll bet the soon-to-be-ex-superintendent knows. He isn't saying. He, too, must think y'all are about as smart as a stack of fence posts.
3) Racism: One hundred forty years ago this month at Appomattox, Va., two great generals sat down at a table and ended the most horrific war our nation has ever known. More Americans died in that war than all the other wars we've had in our history.
Here in Virginia, they claim it was about "state's rights" and it was. It was about the "right" of a state to approve or outlaw slavery.
The war goes on even today. Only it is moving out of the Old South and into the states that didn't secede.
Now, the first two problems are simple to solve. The individuals involved can be turned out of office. An investigation should occur and, if evidence of wrongdoing is found, those individuals should be brought to justice for violation of any conflict-of-interest laws. Period.
Y'all are smart enough to get that accomplished. During my last visit to Santa Clarita in February, I didn't see many "fence posts" walking the streets of the SCV.
The third problem isn't so easy to overcome.
For a few years after those two generals agreed to end The War, racism was under control in the former Confederate states. Ex-slaves could vote, hold office (and did), and own land.
Then, about 1876, the Union troops left the Old South and went West to conquer the American Indians. Soon after the good ol' boys regained political power, and for the about the next 100 years, segregation and racism were the law.
All of that changed about the time I was at Placerita Junior High in the early 1960s. The "Jim Crow" laws were abolished, and attitudes started to slowly change. I didn't know what school segregation was and couldn't understand how it happened.
Today I do.
I've learned that just about every ethnic group that has moved to California has suffered some sort of segregation and hate crime due to racism. The Chinese who built the railroads and dug the tunnel between the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys died by the hundreds and were buried in a mass grave near Eternal Valley Memorial Park. Few knew about them until the new cemetery was started.
In 1942, Japanese Americans were sent to camps and lost homes and property, freedom and true citizenship. Segregation and racism.
The founder of the Bank of America originally called "Bank of Italy" and his fellow Italian Americans were also segregated and suffered hate crimes.
The local Indians of the Santa Clarita Valley were also segregated from the rest of society and have almost disappeared. But not quite.
And now, to combat racism and additional segregation, the local school board has formed a committee to "study" the problem of hate crimes and racism. They have also hired a consultant to give lectures and study the problem.
Has a hate crime happened at your school? Fill out a form and record the data.
Swastika painted on a locker? Fill out a form and record the data.
A boy of one race tried to run over a girl because she is of another race? Fill out a form and record the data.
If there is one thing I've learned in 36 years of government service, it is this:
Anytime a consultant is hired and forms are to be filled out, NOTHING will change except the consultant makes money.
Attitudes won't change, and racism won't go away.
Change takes real action. Here in Virginia, the change started when those who committed the hate crimes were arrested, prosecuted and jailed.
Forms and consultants don't stop hate crimes.
Police, courts and jails stop hate crimes. In the SCV, the school board can't stop hate crimes.
Find the criminals who committed the hate crimes. Get them arrested. Get them to court. Get them to jail.
It may start to change some attitudes.
I won't be easy. First you have to admit and understand you have racism and hate crime problems. Next, you have to ensure that the existing state and federal laws are enforced. Remember, a law is nothing but words on paper until it is enforced.
Racism and hate crimes can stop happening in the SCV anytime you want. You just have to want.
Isn't it about time the The War was over? It's up to you.
Or did I just write a column to a whole stack of fence posts?
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.