Claremont Insider: Mismanaged Risk

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mismanaged Risk


We've written quite extensively over the past several months on the affordable housing project on Base Line Rd. We've chosen the issue because we feel it offers a perfect case study for what has gone wrong in our local decision-making over the past 20 years.

Whether it's fiscal policy, police policy, parks and recreation policy, redevelopment policy, maintenance policy or employment policy, the same factors in mismanagement by city staff, elected and appointed officials, and the social network that ties them all together have been at the heart of all our various crises.

It's been very easy to predict the actions that staff, city officials, and the Claremont 400 will take because they have the same kinds of actions again and again in the past. As the saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Or, "The definition of stupidity is to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

Still, we have to wonder, what sort of growth as a community is it going to take to break out of this stupid cycle?


On Monday we wrote about the lack of understanding of risk that clouds the arguments of proponents of the affordable housing project. The proponents, groups like the Claremont League of Women Voters or individuals like Claremont Democratic Club president Bob Gerecke and Human Services Commissioner Andy Winnick (more on the apoplectic Mr. Winnick in future posts), have criticized opponents who feel that the Base Line project should be moved to a different site because the project's Environmental Impact Report found that the site's proximity to the 210 Freeway will present hazardous pollutant impacts to children.

We find it odd that Winnick, Gerecke, and others who are nominally liberal Democrats in their politics would so eagerly abandon the environmental plank of their party's platform to push this project through. But, as we've said again and again, this sort of hypocrisy is what undermines the credibility of Winnick, et. al., in this particular instance and the Claremont 400 in general.

The ease and willingness with which they contradict and abandon previous positions is why such people cannot be believed. This capriciousness underlines the lack of rational thought involved in their positions on this and other issues. Measured against their own words, they are inconstant, emotional, and insincere - some of the very things they attribute to their opponents.

Winnick and others in the January 8th Claremont City Council meeting railed against the opposition to the Base Line Rd. project in condescending, patronizing and mocking voices. Worse, not only did they choose to ignore the weight of considerable scientific and medical evidence (a 10-year long study by the USC School of Medicine involving 11,000 subjects), but they pretty much called anyone who use such evidence in their arguments ignorant and racist.

In their arguments, Winnick and other proponents of the Base Line Rd. project say that it is not for the city of Claremont, the project opposition, the USC researchers, or anyone else to determine what risks the future affordable housing tenants should take. Winnick and company say that it should be up to each individual tenant to decide for themselves.

It is this Winnickian point that we find most hypocritical of all. One of the main complaints of Democrats with our current economy (Winnick, an economist, should know this) is that the burden of risk has increasingly shifted to individuals, away from employers and away from the government.

Private corporations, for instance, are requiring employees to pay ever larger portions of their health insurance (if it's even offered). And the private retirement pension is pretty much a thing of the past. Employees have to fund their own 401(k)s or other individual retirement accounts.

Or consider the debate over privatizing Social Security. Conservatives argue that individuals would be much better and much more efficient at managing their own investment risks than the government. Liberals, on the other hand, say that Social Security is supposed to be a safety net, a kind of insurance policy, and that it's best managed by the government in the safest, lowest risk sorts of investments.

Yet, in this one particular, local project, the local League of Women Voters, Winnick and the rest - who are all on the liberal to moderate end of the political spectrum - are making the argument for less government intervention (except for construction money) and much more individual risk.


We've been left puzzled by the upside-down world that Winnick and the League have been inhabiting. However, we did manage to find some very useful scholarly advice written in October, 2004, that helps us understand or at least recognize such hypocrisy. The essay we found discussed the need for students to think critically when evaluating information:

By Critical Thinking I mean developing the habit, the routine reaction, to question everything one reads or is told -- and to do so from two perspectives:

First, we have to train our students to always ask – “What is the veracity of the author or speaker?” – which itself has two aspects:

  • Does the person have an agenda, is s/he likely to be trying to persuade in support of some cause and how likely is the person to be shading the truth in support of that cause? – and

  • Even if the person is attempting to be honest and “objective”, even if the person thinks s/he is being “scientific” or as the principles texts call it thinks s/he is “practicing Positive theory” – nevertheless, we have to train our students to ask: “What is her/his ideological perspective?” – “Where is s/he coming from?” – for we must all understand, and we must teach our students to understand, that no one is truly objective.
Good advice from a professor of economics and statistics, to which we might add the question, to what extent are the speaker's words consistent with past statements and positions?

The author of this piece? Andrew J. Winnick, California State University, Los Angeles.