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Out in the open 

People like to complain about dirty deals being made by local leaders and their supporters in smoke-filled backrooms, but that's not always true in San Luis Obispo County, mainly because many forms of indoor smoking have been banned for years.

Plus, sometimes there's no need for smoke or backrooms at all at least not when one side knows they have the votes to do whatever they want. On Aug. 21, the air was smoke-free except for whatever hazy wisps were still blowing in from the Zaca Fire the fluorescent lights were shining brightly, and the microphones and digital cameras were recording when the three-vote majority of the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted for a viewshed "protection" measure that had been written entirely by the special interest group that has fought all substantive proposals.

This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. I swear a bajillion times on the grave of my sainted mother.

Protect Our Property Rights wrote the measure and, not coincidentally, it was the weakest yet proposed in the years of debate over the issue. If all of the proposed measures were to compete in a weightlifting contest, this POPR one would be struggling with a set of dumbbells in the back, grunting and straining and getting a hernia and probably losing bladder control because of the effort.

Everyone at the meeting acknowledged that the special interest group wrote it all the supervisors spoke openly about that fact just before Katcho Achadjian, Harry Ovitt, and Jerry Lenthall voted for it. The board's own staff and attorneys said at the meeting that they never even had a chance to analyze the measure, which was submitted at the last minute. In the 11-and-a-halfth hour. Just before the buzzer.

And when the board's attorneys had questions about whether parts of the measure were altogether and entirely, ahem, legal, the board called POPR attorney Charlie Daugherty to the podium to work out the nitty gritty details. Just to restate: The special interest group wrote the measure, within full view of the public. You can look it up online, at 9 hours and 22 minutes into the meeting. Get a stopwatch or something. It's available on the county's website. Take a moment to witness your hardworking elected representatives at work. Then take a moment to savor a tall glass of lemonade. You've earned it.

Other politicians feel shame or whatever their kind's equivalent is when they do the bidding of the special interests and seek to hide it, but smoky backrooms are apparently not the style of this board majority. Smoke would only get in the way of the up-yours gesture this vote conveyed to those who would dare oppose the special interests who've basically been invited to write this county's laws.

At least up in Atascadero, they have the dignity and wherewithal to build themselves some cover. That had to be the intent of the barely-a-poll that was paid for, at least in part, with Wal-Mart money, which recently passed for big news with many of the local media outlets. Wal-Mart, believe it or not, found that people want a Wal-Mart there. Hallelujah! And if you can't trust Wal-Mart on this sort of thing, who can you trust? They and their minions are obviously girding for a second shot. Unless they've just been feeling a bit down lately and wanted a pick-me-up.

Wait. I'm seeing a smiley-faced corporate CEO hugging a sheaf of papers, tears streaming down his face, soundlessly mouthing the phrase "They love me! They really love me" over and over. It's a haunting image. Touching. Poignant.

What the "poll" actually found was a total of 169 A-town (a-TASK-a-dare-o, according to survey phonetics) residents who want a Wal-Mart which in this paltry poll led to 56 percent. The margin of error, 5.6 percent, was at the level that approaches rendering the entire effort darn near useless more like an vocal chord exercise for the question-askers than an actual survey but that certainly won't stop those who seek to profit from Wal-Mart from trumping the results up and down the frontage road. Strike up the band! Beat down your opponents! Always low prices are the new black!

But surveys are tricky, tricky things. You can basically twist and shout them until you get the results you want. For instance, if I were to ask "Would you rather kiss an incredibly hideous Shredder or a ravishingly attractive one?" I could then tell everyone that 100 percent of the people polled said that they'd like to kiss attractive me.

Some polls are less a means of measuring public opinion and more a way of swaying it. Questions are orchestrated primarily to test the effects that different pieces of information have on people's opinions about the matter. Think about it. Regardless of how you'd really respond, you're thinking about kissing me now, aren't you? Don't blush.

Or, in the Wal-Mart case, survey-takers were asked to agree or disagree with "statements made by people that support and oppose the Wal-Mart store in Atascadero." Those statements happened to inform people that theoretically Wal-Mart would generate more than $700,000 in annual additional sales tax revenue that can be used to support stuff like public safety, that it would create 450 new jobs most with full benefits available and that $4 prescription drugs would be available.

Granted, there were also phrases like "A new Wal-Mart Supercenter will greatly increase traffic and congestion in the area," but concrete numbers were sorely lacking in the opposition bites. No estimated time lapses of traffic jams or anything.

Also, a big chunk of the people surveyed were starting to push into what at least used to be considered retirement age, so those cheap pills probably sounded pretty good. But hey, they sound good to me, too. And I'm not even close to retiring, even if the government says I can.

Now how about that kiss?

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