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LA MESA -- Sometimes democracy is messy.
There are times when hours can be spent patiently listening to citizens exercising their First Amendment rights, even when virtually every utterance doesn't add up to a hill of beans.
Tuesday was one such night for democracy in La Mesa.
Two separate groups -- one young and informed, the other elderly and confused -- took up hours of council time to little or no effect.
Let's start with the young and informed.
San Diego Gas & Electric is in the early stages of seeking permission to build a gas-powered electric generating plant just outside Mission Trails Park.
The proposal has energized proponents of solar and other alternative energy sources and also those who want to protect Mission Trails from further encroachment of urban pollution and power lines.
One by one impassioned and intelligent speakers rose (see photo above) and encouraged the La Mesa elected officials to oppose the plant; one speaker, a well-dressed woman executive representing the power company, spoke in favor.
The proposed plant, however, is in San Diego and will never come before this council for any official action that will mean much, if anything, to the final disposition of that proposal. Still, these ardent environmentalists wanted the council to cast a symbolic vote. Spurred by Councilwoman Ruth Sterling's support, the council did agree to have a formal debate between the pro- and anti-power plant forces at the next meeting in two weeks.
In the end, the issue will be settled by others, but all who wanted to be heard on Tuesday had a moment at the mic.
If the power plant portion of the council meeting felt a bit like kabuki theater, what followed was a bit of trip into the twilight zone.
The city staff had proposed some time back changes to the complex way that city sewer bills are calculated and distributed to local homeowners. Their intentions were good, but change is hard for some La Mesans. It turns out it is downright indecipherable to others.
First the facts: Sometime back, the city determined that the method it was using to fix each property owner's sewer bill was unfair to the good citizens who use less water. The formula used to set the sewer bills resulted in heavy water users paying less than they should for sewer services while low-use households, including many senior citizens, were paying too much.
Alas the flyers that tried to explain the suggested adjustments -- probably too influenced by legal niceties -- turned out to be somewhat of a Rorschach test for reading comprehension. About 50 or so, largely elderly La Mesa residents came to Tuesday's meeting loaded for bear, thinking someone was attempting to raise their sewer rates.
One by one the residents rose, expressed varying levels of anger, frustration and stated their adamant opposition to a council action that almost certainly was going to benefit each of these speakers. The two-hour hearing might lay claim to the longest public hearing in which 100 percent of the participants got it 180 degrees wrong.
Still, the council members listened politely, acknowledged a need for more accessible communications -- at least for this audience -- and then voted through the changes with a series of unanimous votes that went directly contrary to what virtually every speaker in the public hearing had requested.
Going forward, the largest water users will pay a bigger share of the city's sewer charges and sewer bills will soon start appearing as part of the county property taxes.
This is, in the end, how representative government works.