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Hansen: Power of one local voice

January 05, 2012|By David Hansen

For Sue Kempf, it started with a hedge.

The Bluebird Canyon resident was not satisfied with the city's hedge ordinance and eventually got it changed.

"I just thought it could be better," Kempf said. "I don't like to complain about things without proposing some ideas or solutions to problems."

National and international politics get the most airtime, but local issues are where regular citizens can wield the most power.

The problem is that too few people take the time to make a difference.

"A lot of times we tend to just gripe about what's going on and not get involved in the process," said Linda Dietrich, a Laguna Beach planning commissioner. "And if we get involved in the process, eventually some of the gripes can be addressed."

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Anne Johnson, an 11-year veteran of the Planning Commission, agrees that more citizen involvement would be better for all.

"The commitment of citizens to engage in the process and put the time in can have a tremendous impact," Johnson said. "Governing takes place in the area of compromise most of the time."

Compromise, gripes, ordinances, committees, procedures, rules, regulations — all of it adds up to frustration and intimidation for most residents.

But democracy is not convenient.

"Most people are working, and they don't have time to do it. They don't have time to get involved," said Kempf, who is now retired and can give back her time.

Kempf was recently selected to the city's Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee, largely because of the leadership she showed during her hedge issue.

"You need to present a cogent argument," she said. "Even if you feel emotional about an issue, you need to take the emotion out of it.

"The council likes helpful suggestions. People going up and ranting and being aggressive or unreasonable is not helpful to the council, and it's not helpful to you. You need to be willing to compromise."

Spend enough time in a city council chamber, and you will hear all the stories. Neighbor against neighbor; business against business; city against county against state. Everyone has issues.

The beauty is all you have to do is show up.

Years ago, in another city, there was a man who made dentures in his garage. He supplied custom false teeth to area dental offices. During the day, he liked to keep his garage door open and entertain the neighborhood kids.

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