Blogging Bayport Alameda

July 19, 2017

Gray Harris: Remember when things were public?

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:09 am

I was lucky enough to travel to Utah a few weeks ago in my new (to me) fifth wheel trailer. If you’ve never been to Bryce Canyon, I highly recommend that you go walk among the hoodoo rock formations or visit any of the other national parks that our forefathers had the wisdom to preserve for future use by the public. We sometimes need to be reminded that we are all part of the public and benefitting from our public services as often as possible is always a good reminder.

In addition to National Parks, Utah also has large chunks of BLM and Forest Service land. The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service are agencies created to preserve public land for public use. Public funds are what allow us to drive the fifth wheel out into the middle of a beautiful, breezy, barren hillside or a lush green forest and camp. Obviously, this is something you cannot do on private land, often much more crowded and less beautiful anyway, which is what those in power would like to turn this land into. Once it leaves the hands of our democratically elected leaders, it will most likely leave us completely.

Taking advantage of the opportunity to go camping on the BLM is no different than taking advantage of the other opportunities provided to us by public funds. We are able to pick up the phone and call 911 to contact public safety, we are able to rent a book anytime we feel like reading from the public library, we can play in a public park, and we can educate our kids nearby in our own neighborhoods at public school. Therefore it’s no surprise that the same people who want to remove the democratically elected accountability systems for BLM land want to do the same thing for all of our other social services. They can’t win at the ballot box, so they have taken to the courts.

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled on the Trinity Lutheran case, which addressed the use of public school funding for religious institutions. It seems obvious that public funds would not be allowed to be used by private religious schools, but what about laws when it comes to voucher programs? If you were lucky enough to miss the voucher debacle a few years ago, the idea has now returned with Betsy DeVos the new national secretary of education and the over $250 million that has been earmarked to expand voucher programs. Simply put, a family can take public funds in the form of a “voucher” and use the money at a private school even when most private schools have no oversight by a democratically elected board and no accountability to the public to use the money as it was originally intended.

In this most recent attack on public education, the Court’s ruling was mostly positive from the point of view of a person who believes that public funds should be used for public purposes, as it did not allow public school funds to be used for facilities operated by a religious school. That means voucher proponents will continue to face both significant public policy and substantial legal obstacles in any effort to expand school voucher programs. For now we remain in the place where status quo on the preservation of the integrity of public funding is a win. Simply defending the public services we have, let alone expanding any of them, is a victory over those who want profits at all costs.

I wonder if one day I will be able to get a voucher to take my fifth wheel to a country club rather than camp on BLM land?



  1. And there’s yet another fight to protect our legacy of public lands, our marine sanctuaries:

    Shrinking these sanctuaries makes offshore oil drilling easier, and the likelihood of fouled California beaches greater. Follow the link in the article to provide comments to the Commerce Department.

    Comment by Gaylon — July 19, 2017 @ 6:25 am

  2. I don’t want public property to be given to private parties either. Thankfully, Trump has been pretty ineffectual so far, though who really knows what his mid-level appointees are doing behind the scenes (Trump opponents have wisely eased off on chiding him for being so far behind in getting appointed positions filled). Do you see a threat in Alameda? Are we talking about the parklets on the water on the East End or the Crown Beach controversy of a few years ago? Do these concerns also apply to sales or transfers of AUSD property?

    Comment by MP — July 19, 2017 @ 9:03 am

  3. The Trinity Lutheran case concerned whether public funds could be used to upgrade the surface of a playground at a daycare center, so the children using it would not hurt themselves. Otherwise children at the school would be forced to make do with second-class unsafe physical facilities, just because their school is operated by a religious institution. Forcing children to endure hazardous conditions unless they attend a state-approved “public” facility, is actually a form of religious persecution.

    Comment by vigi — July 20, 2017 @ 9:52 am

    • vigi- nobody is forcing anybody to do anything, but the funds for that play area don’t exist in a vacuum. That religious facility has a budget with money they use for religious programs. This is a grant application, but if it frees them to use other funds for religious indoctrination then it’s not religious persecution.

      Comment by MI — July 20, 2017 @ 4:51 pm

  4. Everyone has their choice of parks. You can go to the mountains and maybe see a bear or a coyote. Or to the seashore and snorkel amongst the fish. There are federal parks, state parks, city parks, private parks and foreign parks to choose from. Or one can go to no park at all. Schools offer no such choice. You have to go to the assigned school in the assigned district unless you can afford private school. You school choice is only for those who can afford it.

    Comment by Ed Hirshberg — July 21, 2017 @ 12:02 pm

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