Jeff Jardine: Honestly, can’t they just be honest with us?

jjardine@modbee.comJune 18, 2014 

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BART AH YOU — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if politicians, bureaucrats and others used plain, simple and accurate terms?

Would the hospital ERs suddenly fill up with cardiac patients if that happened?

Far too often, those in government jumble the language to circumvent the law and usually to raise more revenue. The political parties create their own terms for the same issue, just as the Union and Confederate armies had different names for the same Civil War battlefields. What the North called Bull Run, the South called Manassas. Sharpsburg to the South was Antietam to the North.

Similarly, in Sacramento, “spending” to one side is “investment” to the other. “Budget cuts” – including those involving fire and police – are called “savings.” Of course, there will be fewer responders to save you if you save too much. The words are meant to confuse and diffuse.

Global warming to some is climate change to others, and some folks deny science under any circumstances.

Some ballot measures are written so that voting yes means no and voting no means yes. If they’d just switch, it would be easier to vote.

A new tax now comes in the form of a three-letter F-word: fee. Just ask anyone who lives in a CalFire area or buys paint or lumber at the hardware store. Not only do folks in the CalFire areas pay up to $152.33 annually per habitable structure, the bills homeowners recently received spanned July 1 through the end of this month. That means taxpaying homeowners – even those who maintain defensible space by clearing brush, limbs and grass away from their homes – are being charged extra now for the house that didn’t burn down last year.

Come Jan. 1, gas prices will rise, too. Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, lashed out this week against the 12-cent or higher per-gallon fee being imposed by the California Air Resources Board per AB 32, passed in 2006 to rein greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. She calls it a tax because it looks like a tax, acts like a tax and generates money for the government like a tax.

Of course, resources board officials will tell you its not a tax – it is a fee imposed on businesses to force compliance. If the distributors pass on the cost to consumers, there’s nothing the agencies can do about that.

Tax or fee, gas is going to cost more. Much more.

Water issues have their own set of terms. When land sinks a foot or so because the water beneath has been pumped out, it’s called subsidence (even when there is no government subsidy). Sinking is easier to understand. Percolation to some is recharging the aquifer to others.

And, of course, politicians love to host town hall meetings. The town hall meeting came from an era before there were hundreds of cable channels and the social media to make stars out of everyone. Citizens met, appropriately, in the town’s hall and hashed out the issues of the day. The pols listened, and people were encouraged to voice their opinions. Nobody texted or tweeted during the meetings because there were no cellphones.

Today’s usage of the term “town hall meeting” implies a throwback to the olden days. But often, including the one Olsen is co-hosting tonight at the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, they apply the term to what really are one-sided rallies or, at best, coaching.

“Information will be provided to participants on how to tell the State Water Control Board to pursue win-win solutions to the drought such as storage, recycling and desalination – solutions that will benefit all Californians,” according to a press release promoting the meeting. “The State Water Resources Control Board has curtailed water access to junior water rights holders in California, and will be considering the curtailment of senior water rights holders as soon as July 1. These actions set a dangerous precedent that could be devastating to Central Valley farms, businesses and all of the residents who live and work there.”

There is no invitation for anyone with an opposing view to express it, nor is a state water official expected to attend to explain or defend the state’s position.

Other public events are mislabeled, too. When a farmers market has more craft vendors than produce booths, it is a street fair, not a farmers market.

When companies put fewer goods into a smaller bag, charge more by the pound or per ounce and call it “value added,” I think, “No, it’s not.”

Consequently, whenever someone is straight with you, it’s double-take time. Such was the case this week when a reader posted on The Bee’s Facebook page a photograph of the water-spewing fountain at the confluence of H, Burney and 19th streets downtown. The reader wondered why that fountain operates when the splash fountains kids use to cool off are shut down for the summer because of the drought.

So I called the city’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department. The explanation: The fountain in question recycles and reuses its water. The splash fountains spray water used only once before it disappears into the city’s sewer system. Rgardless, the employee admitted that running the landscape fountain when the splash fountains are dry “does look kind of bad.”

Wow. A moment of honesty. I nearly had a coronary.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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