2020 is almost over and we’re happy to see it go. We’ve been battered by the pandemic, protests and partisan politics. We’ve lost a lot of the things that brought us pleasure: family gatherings, spectator sports, dining at our favorite restaurants and even such simple gestures as a handshake or a hug.
We’ve washed our hands raw, struggled to speak or breath through a mask (until we got the hang of it, anyway), quickly sidestepped people in the supermarket aisle in a panicky attempt to maintain a six-foot “no fly zone” and were struck with a quiet panic when we or a loved one developed a cough.
Jobs disappeared and favorite businesses closed. Things got bad, got a bit better for a while, then got much worse. The prospect of a vaccine raised hopes, but also anxieties that the COVID-19 bug might get you before you got that vaccination. For some people, the “jab” itself was a source of worry.
The coronavirus was only one of many cruddy things that happened in 2020. The presidential campaign was historically vicious and weird and left the impression that half of the nation’s voters hated the other half. Brush and forest fires scorched much of the Pacific Coast as if Mother Nature was determined to fight back against all the indignities she suffered at the hands of homo sapiens.
As this is the final Retorts column of 2020, this is my chance to express my thoughts about some of the things that happened locally that didn’t quite make the TV news. I call them Delights and Disappointments.
Delight: How We Coped: It’s easy to gripe about how imperfect our lives have become, but think about how much more awful it could have been. Local cities and school districts have had to adapt rapidly to unprecedented challenges and did so in a generally impressive way. I know that the school systems are not exactly educating at their highest level under the burdens of the coronavirus, but who can blame them for not being 100 percent perfect. As has been said, they’re “building the airplane while they fly it.”
Disappointment: Despite the best efforts of wise men of science, there is still an apparently irreducible number of people who think the COVID-19 is either a hoax or no worse than a summer cold. They regard mask-wearing as an affront to their liberty akin to having the heavy hand of government throw them in prison or push their aged granny down a flight of stairs. The masks work, says science, and even if you doubt that, do it for the comfort of others. You do cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, right? Wear the damn mask.
Delight: Huntington Beach, like most cities, has really struggled with the homelessness crisis. But, unlike a lot of cities, Surf City has done something about it. After several false starts, HB is opening a Navigation Center – great euphemism, eh? – for the homeless, a facility that will serve not just as a temporary shelter but also a place for those folks to get access to services which could see them no longer forced to live on the street. It won’t solve the problem entirely, as many of the unsheltered frankly don’t want the help, but it’s a worthy start.
Disappointment: As bad as things are for municipal finances all across the board because of the COVID-19, things could get downright fatal for Westminster before long. That city, hobbled by an historically low property tax rate and the fading fortunes of its once-lucrative mall, was $1 million in the red for its 2020-21 budget. It plugged the hole by tapping reserves and cutting staff, but things would have been much worse if the 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2016 wasn’t there. That source of revenue expires in 2022, so putting the issue on the ballot for 2020 was the last chance to avoid the deep end of insolvency or bankruptcy.
According to interim City Manager Sherry Johnson (formerly the finance director), if that money isn’t available, the city will be dead broke by 2023-24. But the city council majority, terrified of anything that sounds like “tax” refused to even allow voters to consider a renewal. Even if the council swallows hard in 2022 and puts the tax on the ballot, it will still deprive the city of millions because the old Measure SS expires at the end of December 2022 and any new tax would not start accruing money until April. Scarlett O’Hara’s exclamation of “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” is not a sound fiscal strategy.
OK, enough numbers. I can see your eyes glazing over. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 2021 has got to be merrier and happier than 2020 has been.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears on alternate Wednesdays.