I wrote this weekend about the how the closing of Nevada City’s lone ice cream store led to some vitriolic online comments. It sparked a good dialog on my blog about our reputation for creating a negative atmosphere for community decision-making.
As Steve Frisch put it, “The negativity does not just come out in the letters to the editor, although it is most accessible there. It comes out in community forums, where people are allowed to speak to each other with disrespect.
“It comes out in the occasionally paranoid observations of elected officials who sometimes think that anyone from outside the community, or their own ideological belief system, is out to get them.”‘
Check out the constructive dialogue, with signed comments:
1. Tom Grundy:
Jeff – Good point at the end: The hate and bile that comes up in so many of the online comments is probably a bigger deterrent to any new business than is the legitimate concern shown by the “lib lefty wacko commie fascist enviro-freaks” (or whatever the slander of the moment happens to be).
Take a look at online comments on any of the Union’s recent articles or opinion pieces regarding the Caltrans detour. Take a look at articles and opinion pieces about the mine.
Heck, if I owned a responsible Bay Area start-up and was looking to move the business to the foothills, and I saw some of these comments, I would run as fast as possible the other way!
2. Steve Frisch:
I could not agree with Jeff and Tom more. Anonymity is a real problem.
You know I think there needs to be some sort of community dialogue in Grass Valley/Nevada City about how unbelievably contentious even the simplest things can be.
It seem like every community decision, action, statement, idea (even things that are fundamentally private or personal) is instantly attacked with vitriol and downright hatred. I am mean really, attacking the owners of an ice cream store in public as a result of a simple newspaper article stating that they are closing. What a waste of time and energy.
I have never seen another area of the region with a more negative atmosphere for community decision-making. And I say that as someone that spends 50% of his time traveling to communities to participate in or observe governance decisions and processes.
I am sure I will be excoriated by my friends down the hill for this observation, but this community really needs to deal with the problem.
I recognize that there are many, many great things that happen in the community, and everyone that does them should be applauded.
But to be frank, Grass Valley Nevada City now has a “reputation,” and it is not good.
The negativity does not just come out in the letters to the editor, although it is most accessible there. It comes out in community forums, where people are allowed to speak to each other with disrespect. It comes out in the occasionally paranoid observations of elected officials who sometimes think that anyone from outside the community, or their own ideological belief system, is “out to get them.”
It comes out in the inability to pioneer a new idea in the community without a fight over ownership, or power, or money or control. It comes out in how the community responds to problems, where it is assumed that everyone is corrupt, or self interested, or has an ulterior motive. It comes out in how the community represents itself at the state and federal level, where GV/NC have a reputation for being the most difficult place to work in in the entire Sierra Nevada.
There are a number of people I know in the area who I disagree with on policy, or approach, or even basic philosophy, but I do not think that they are corrupt, or evil or bad people.
Why does GV/NC have such a difficult time collaborating?
The inability to work together to overcome common challenges is great impediment to progress in the community and at some time someone is going to have to deal with it.
3. Doug Keachie:
GV/NC has long had a chip on its shoulder, and somewhat rightfully so. When I attended Sierra, 1962-1964, the kids who bussed down to the Rocklin campus were second class citizens there, including Dan O’Neill. Even as an outsider from the Bay Area, I heard enough comments to understand this.
Since it is so easy to blame outsiders in the midst as the root cause of all evils, it is done. Such is the way of humanity, all over the planet. We can do better, as Steve Frisch points out.
4. Anna Haynes:
re Steve F’s “I have never seen another area of the region with a more negative atmosphere for community decision-making. ”
It’s a power struggle between cultures, and *everything* becomes fuel for that struggle. Like the Cold War. Or like sibling rivalry among children. An inch on the car seat becomes momentous.
I don’t know that a general “can’t we all be nicer” will help though – our community really could use a Mom, one with experience in these things, & one who can’t be gamed.
5. Steve Frisch:
I agree that it may be a culture war analogous to a cold war, but the same culture struggle is going on all over the region, to different degrees, and has been transcended in many communities.
I am not sure what the causes are in GV/NC, but I have my suspicions (totally observational not empirical):
1. The GV/NC community is in the middle of its transition from resource-based economy, through service economy, and on to its next thing (perhaps innovation economy) and there is a struggle for economic hegemony.
2. The community is in the middle of a transition from late baby boom to Gen X values and there is a struggle for value dominance.
3. The community is made up of old time residents and newcomers and there is a clash of cultural values.
4. The community’s population is divided roughly equally between “conservatives” and “progressives,” and there is a struggle for political leadership.
5. The community has always attracted the “rugged individualist”, both conservative and progressive, and that has created certain cultural and behavioral norms.
6. The community has not had a history of investing in leadership development that would lead to a strong civic infrastructure—leading people to be more likely to prosper from self-aggrandizement than cooperation.
7. The community, long stable in the period between end of gold rush and end of resource extraction economy, has experienced 40 years a profound change, (rapid growth, in-migration, economic dislocation, increasing ethnic and racial diversity), and no conscious effort has been made to recognize or manage that change.
8. Certain community decision-making events in the past 20 years have been managed poorly (1994 GP update, NH2020, political transitions, individual development projects, etc). and have contributed to community conflict.
9. The community has tolerated bad behavior and rewarded people that act out and speak irrationally with political power.
All of this has occurred in the context of broader social and cultural changes that have diminished social connection and tolerance.
I think the issue in your neck of the woods is that all of these things are present concurrently. In many other regions big pieces of the puzzle have been dealt with: the economy has already made the transition, or the power structure has already changed, or there is no challenge to the power structure, or there is a clear majority of ideology, or institutions of civic infrastructure that maintain stability have been retained or created, or processes have been managed well and created new norms.
We could learn a lesson from work being done in other areas of the county to encourage dialogue and reconciliation.
In San Diego, there was a highly successful community dialogue process that helped create understanding between different sectors of the community around health, education, economic competition and cultural issues. The effort has led to real improvement in the prosperity of the targeted community, and an improvement in their ability to work together to reach common objectives.
In Greensboro these was a highly successful process to help improve race relations after the “Greensboro” massacre in 1979, that led to a whole program of civic engagement and community-building. This effort led to a dramatic reduction in violence and racial tension.
Typical tools used to achieve these objectives include intentional relationship building across diverse sectors of the community, community history projects, story telling, study circles, youth development projects, shared values development exercises, and engagement in specific projects, designed to build capacity rather than immediately take on the toughest issues.
Many of the next generation of these processes include an intentional program of building emotional intelligence (the ability to identify, assess and mange ones emotions) social intelligence (the ability to get along well with others while winning their cooperation) and civic intelligence (the ability to transfer cooperation to community decision-making in order to improve society as whole rather than increase personal advantage).
The basis of this work is to attempt to capture each participant’s unique “cognitive profile” (usually done through some form of personality and learning exercise like the Meyers-Briggs analysis) and use it to create outcomes that are collectively approved.
Defining this work was pioneered by Howard Gardner in Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligence), and was originally focused on education and learning at an institutional level, but the ideas have been adapted by community building practitioners (in some cases unconsciously) and have contributed to new school of community building.
The bottom line: someone needs to take the time and trouble to start a community building effort in the GV/NC area. It needs to go beyond the leadership training being done and get to teaching people how to work together to collaborate on community issues. It needs to include all sectors of the community, could leverage some of the existing efforts, and should be an on-going commitment to overcoming conflict.
It is time that an effort to improve community communication and dialogue became intentional. If not GV/NC will continue to spin its wheels and waste time, effort, money, capacity, and people spirits on destructive community debates over picayune issues.