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Friday November 06, 1998

- View From The Terrace -

Our United States
Contrary to popular belief, we do not live in a democracy.

By Andrew Ping, Student Columnist

BERKELEY - Most of us believe that the right to govern comes from the consent of the governed. This is definitely what we're taught to believe about our great Federal Republic. Contrary to popular belief, we do not live in a democracy, in which all issues are settled by direct vote, but we instead elect representatives to do the majority of the lawmaking and voting for us.
In the best of times, elected representatives do represent what they think the people of the United States want. At their worst, the people often send mixed messages.
Recently in Berkeley, someone destroyed most of the municipal parking meters. While most people don't approve of the destruction of public property by vandalism, the citizens of Berkeley were openly pleased by this particular act. Citizens were pleased to see a surge in business activity where the parking meters had been rendered inoperable.
Citizens in Berkeley are law abiding and want the law enforced. Tickets should be issued for infractions that endanger the community in general. Parking in a fire lane, driving recklessly, and blocking traffic deserve public scorn. Parking meters are not in the public safety category.
Collection of municipal fees for the use of the public street for parking seems to run counter to the logic of the local business economy. Clearly, parking meters are an example of one of the major dis-economies of City Hall. Parking meters drive away customers of downtown businesses. That's a bad move that only an inefficient government would perpetrate upon local businesses and its customers.
In the downtown economy, customers vote with their feet. City Hall can make the difference between a viable downtown economy and a failing economic engine by recognizing that downtown businesses survive or fail on something as simple as a customer's pocket-change.
There are other matters that complicate the national economy, but the principle is essentially the same. That's something successful politicians in Congress instinctively know but local politicians have never learned.
Nevertheless, if our representatives seek only to enhance their own financial interest, how can any amount of pocket change make any difference to the people? It is simply this difference that makes local business a worthwhile activity. Without that pocket-change local business fails. The more pocket-change feeds municipal parking meters, the less of it there is left to spend in local stores.
City Hall politicos, generally, don't know much about the importance of something as 'trivial' to them as pocket-change. The ignorance of this simple economic truth can make government officials seem aloof or arrogant to voters. No wonder Berkeley City officials were surprised to see how much the local economy had improved while parking meters were out of commission.
It was obvious, this week, that the learning curve was a little too steep, hovever. City Hall just announced that the vandalized parking meters are to be replaced with an indestructible model.
Now is the time to remind newly-elected Berkeley City Hall officials "Its's the pocket change, stupid!"

[Editor's Note. Andrew Ping writes the syndicated 'View from the terrace' Column for the Bulldog Newspaper every Sunday.]

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