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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Publisher’s Notebook:

• Asking Questions •

BY ANNE SOBLE

It is beginning to appear that many of the questions raised during the grassroots effort to get the large-scale Malibu Lagoon construction project put on hold so it could be challenged in court are also under consideration in other communities where some of the same stakeholders are active.
Many of these questions revolve around the relationships between state public and quasi-public agencies and the non-profit organizations that seemingly have lock-holds on policymaking and the allocation of financial resources to implement that policy.
Normally when policy analysts look at the potential for incestuous behavior by regulatory agencies, it is with the industries they are supposed to regulate. This form of co-optation, such as between an energy commission and oil companies, is readily documented, as is the revolving door used by regulatory personnel who take jobs in those industries.
Less obvious is the potential for incestuous relationships between public entities and the non-profits they often “employ” to help design and then implement publicly funded projects. These projects may not adhere to notice and bid regulations or even allow for local government input and oversight.
Critics of the Malibu Lagoon project, which they describe as a “teardown and rebuild what may have never existed” project, contend that the lines between these parties, especially in terms of personnel and membership, have blurred. Some people serve in both public and private capacities and may even play a part in determining their own salaries.
Another concern being raised by these critics is whether some non-profits have become such political sacred cows that no elected or appointed officials will challenge them publicly. Critics assert that the groups help to ensure this by handing out accolades perceived as directly correlated with financial contributions or political largess.
Since serious allegations are becoming increasingly widespread, it is incumbent upon the media to begin to seek documentation to affirm or deny them. Efforts are underway to obtain state records, including financial disclosure forms from the Fair Political Practices Commission, for all of the key players.
The FPPC has not shied away from fining Malibu city council candidates and other locals for violating its requirements. If the critics making these charges take their concerns there and to other state oversight agencies, as well as to the forum of public opinion, answers might be forthcoming.
One of my grad school professors incessantly repeated a variant of the dictum heard by nearly everyone at some time in their education: ‘If you want the right answers, you have to ask the right questions.’
The number of people trying to ask the right questions to determine whether there is the need to put a stop to possible self-serving collaboration that has become a political stranglehold on the environmental community is growing exponentially.

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