A tough choice for C.W. Nevius


It's no surprise the C.W. Nevius thinks the city has too many public services and that "some have to go." Nonprofits that get city funds are an easy target. Some of them aren't too good at paperwork, and have a hard time providing tangible evidence of results. (If you run a violence-prevention program for kids, and some of them still get in trouble, can you"prove" that the others didn't because of your help? Of course not.) And there's no doubt some waste and duplication of services in the system.

Some perspective: When I was on the Board of Trustees of Wesleyan University (as an elected member from the Wesleyan Progressive Alumni Network), I constantly complained about waste in the budget. I wanted to know why we spent so much money on dinners for the trustees (most of whom could well afford their own food and wine) when we were cutting ethnic studies programs and tightening up on financial aid. Colin Campbell, the president, gave me a very good answer:

In any $60 million budget, for any public or nonprofit organization, there's going to be some waste. It's unavoidale. And, he said, there are also going to be things that ought to be in the budget but aren't.

(By my second year on the board, they did cut back on wine at lunch, which may have been due to my complaints but was more likely a result of too many of the older board members getting a little looped and falling asleep during the afternoon meetings.)

So yeah, there are things that could be eliminated in the current nonprofit system. There are also a lot of services that ought to be in the city budget, but aren't.


There's just one flaw in our civic personality.

Tough choices.

We'd rather not make them.

That's correct, and it's true for everyone in California, probably everyone in the United States. We want good schools, clean streets, nice parks, plenty of cops and firefighters .. and we don't want to pay for it.

Taxes in this state, and in this country, are the lowest they've been in decades. State spending is back to early 1990s levels. State cuts have forced cities to take on more and more burdens.

So the tough choice isn't whether we can afford to provide public services. It's whether we have the courage to demand that the people who have seen their tax rates plummet while social problems skyrocket pay their fair share. How about that one, Chuck?