Ah, the circus! Who doesn’t love the circus? Only people who hate fun itself, Pittsburgers. And, among those who truly love a circus are the good people running the City of Pittsburg (“CoP,” because it’s more festive!). Stationed in the center of this Big Top we call home, they summon the crowds to witness their spectacle, for this truly is a circus in the classical sense, a public spectacle put on to distract people from what is really happening.
Unlike traditional ring masters, however, the hawkers of the CoP don’t just use the performance to draw your attention, they try to obscure the meaning of the performance itself. Case in point, turn your attention to center stage, as the CoP crows into a megaphone that the City is once again in a financial crisis.
In Ring One, to thrill and confound you, is the CalPERS crisis. Years ago, the State employees’ pension was fully funded, it had an excess of cash, but in the heady days of the double aughts, the State ran wild with the money, sinking it into mortgage backed derivatives and other seemingly safe markets, and when the financial crash happened, the pension took a bath. It has never fully recovered from the State’s gambling losses and now the State is calling in markers from the cities, to pay according to how many public employees the City has. Is this fair? Hell no! Did the cities or the workers choose the risky investments that made the pension fund lose its shirt? Hell no. Will they be forced to cover the loss? Hell yes! But, here is the thing, Pittsburgers, the thing that the CoP with the megaphone does not want you to notice…
All this has been known for some time. None of this is new.
The show going on in the first ring has been advertised for a long time. Some cities planned for it, because they have effective city managers and planning departments. Those cities can now write the State a check and continue in their business of planning and managing. Not our CoP, though – they would rather put on a show, and pretend that none of this could have been accommodated through reasonable planning. It is just more exciting this way. Which brings us to…
Cast your weary orbs on Ring Two, Pittsburgers, to see the high wire act to thrill and amaze you! Ring Two is all about Measure M. Do you remember the thrilling election show around Measure M? It was not that long ago that the COP sought to extend a sales tax the city had originally gotten as Measure P. Last year, the CoP pitched an extension of the tax to voters as a cure for all our financial woes. The City promised (as they had before with Measure P), better roads, improved infrastructure, better policing services, more community events and programs, it was going to create a garden of earthly delights right here in Pburg! Projected revenues estimated between $3 and $4 million annually, a bounty of riches! Then, much to the CoP’s delight, Measure M passed! All the promised improvements and upgrades we could hope for would be just around the corner. And, of course, the CoP was fully aware of the looming CalPERS crisis as they promised the benefits of Measure M. Which brings us to…
Here in Ring Three feast your eyes on the troop of sad clowns of the CoP, forever chasing balls around the ring, but always kicking them just out of reach again with their comically oversized shoes. Because now, the Measure M money has disappeared into the general fund, and who the hell knows where it is actually going? And the saddest clown of them all, our own city manager (honestly, that title needs to always be followed by a question mark), repeating mantra-like his favorite phrase that “Pittsburg is a blue collar city, and nothing else can be done but to tighten our belts” (not his, of course, but ours. His belt stays loose enough for his clown pants to drop again and again), has done nothing to plan for this crisis.
This brings us to the Grand Finale! All eyes turn again to the center stage as the CoP tries to say that the only way to wrap this show up is to cut funding to… everything. Roads, infrastructure improvement, events like Pittsburg’s car show and farmers’ market, and deep, deep cuts to the California Theater, which has become old town’s main draw. All the things we were promised would not only continue, but that would flourish under the Measure M tent, are all being cut so thoroughly it is tantamount to shutting them down. The COP promised that the mad Measure M money (“mmmm” for those of you keeping track) would prevent exactly this kind of belt-tightening with full knowledge that the CalPERS debt was on the horizon. And, with effective budgeting and planning, this could have been paid for without draconian cuts going forward to the foreseeable future.
For this is the truth of this circus. This is the truth that the COP is desperately hoping you will not see. This show did not have to go on. For all the spectacle and noise, when the performance is done, the whole place is shabby, dirty, and covered in spilled booze and elephant dung. This circus has a whiff of the autumn people, something wicked that this way has come, and when it packs up it will take everything with it. All promises will be broken, all spectators will be caught up in the act, their lives twisted and deformed, and the CoP leaders who acted as carnival barkers for the whole sad show? They will continue to make money and they will be just fine. That’s showbiz!
Unless, of course, the spectators refuse to get caught up in the performance.
Help take down the Big Top. The CoP will be discussing the proposed cuts at the City Council meeting, Monday May 1, starting at 7pm. Be there, make your voice heard. Also, please sign the online petition to try to save the California Theater from the City Council, who just hates to have another competing show in town.
Tell these sad clowns that you see the show for what it is.