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Windbags n' moonshine 

Grab your moonshine and stick your tongue down your cousin’s throat—we’re gonna have ourselves a good ol’ fashioned secession! Except this time it’s the north (Atascadero) what’s fed up with the south (everyone else) and its not-destroying-the-environment agenda. The plan—because if you’re going to threaten a secession, you kind of have to formulate one—is as follows:

Which is to say there is no plan. And most of the talk about seceding from the Integrated Waste Management Authority—henceforth to be referred to as the IWMA because the full name is a mouthful of disproportionate size that disrupts the entire flow of my lacerating prose—is actually coming from just one guy.

A recent IWMA meeting, in which a plastic bag ban was voted into existence, was rife with windbags who somehow equate grocery stores not handing out free plastic bags with the demise of democracy, sliced bread, TV dinners, and anything and everything else that is good about America. But in a room full of windbags and blowhards, one man stood out among the rest.

Atascadero City Councilman Jerry Clay fought logic and love for the environment by threatening that if he didn’t get his way, Atascadero would secede from the IWMA. Which is a lot like a spoiled rich kid boo-hooing that if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll take his Daddy’s Ferrari elsewhere. Except that the rich kid could actually make good on his threat, whereas Jerry, well, Jerry’s being kind of a politician about this, to put it politely. To put it impolitely, he’s prioritizing his own ego above the good of the city he purports to represent. Atascadero might be talking about pulling out of the IWMA in a few hushed circles, but by all accounts this town ain’t going nowhere.

You know, maybe you should put down the moonshine and stop necking with your cousin, just while Jerry’s brainstorming a plan for his secession. At the very least, he’s going to need a flag. Might I suggest a suffocating bird motif? It could be trying to gasp around a—ahem—bag, maybe? You know, stick with the direct approach.

What really sticks in my craw, though, is not the idea of secession itself. I mean, it didn’t work all that well for the South, but who am I to bandy history against rash, bellicose fury? It’s the fact that the threat of secession is precisely that—an empty threat. Atascadero doesn’t have the infrastructure to safely back out of the IWMA. And while we’re cataloguing Atascadero’s deficiencies, it doesn’t have the brass balls to sink itself hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt—the city’s still figuring out how to handle its state redevelopment cutbacks—to back Jerry’s blustering.

And I don’t think a city councilman should run around making threats intended to rile everyone up, knowing full well that he can’t back them up. It’s your classic case of the good ol’ boy who cried secession. Worse, the good ol’ boy who cried secession during a recession. Wait, that’s still happening right? Or at least it feels like it is.

I don’t know that the good people of Atascadero are going to be willing to give up public services to subsidize an agency that wanders around the city collecting used batteries, but Jerry probably should have asked them before tossing around threats at the IWMA meeting.

If Jerry really wants his threats to carry some weight, he should look to Stephen Joseph, a lawyer out of San Francisco and commodore—to borrow a title from newly crowned yacht club commodore Pat Hedges (I really need to stop; is there a 12-step program for this?)—of the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition. When Joseph doesn’t get his way, he turns to a weapon that makes even apple pie and secession look downright communist: the all-American lawsuit. Thus far, he’s sued Marin County and Manhattan Beach over their plastic bag bans, though he lost both times. That didn’t stop him from threatening San Luis Obispo County with a lawsuit, which he hasn’t yet filed, quite possibly because he’s gotten his ass handed to him elsewhere.

What’s really galling about all this is the fact that Joseph has no ties whatsoever to this county, or anywhere else he’s sued for that matter, as best as I can tell. I dunno. Maybe he has far-flung relatives or something. So Joseph and a handful of lackeys for the plastics industry are just cruising up and down the state, interfering in local politics, and suing any county that doesn’t vote the way he thinks they should. Which makes the rich kid with the Ferrari look like Mother Teresa. And guess who’s ultimately picking up the tab on his lawsuit spree? The same people who would be financing Clay’s supposed secession: all of us.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe it’s in our best collective interest to allow Clay to secede along with his give-me-bags-or-give-me-death acolytes. They say no man is an island, but I’m willing to fork over a couple bucks for a few yards of land where Jerry and Joseph can proudly hoist their plastic bag flag high into the air, and sue, and secede from one another until they’re blue in the face, like the bird who can’t breathe.

Hell, I’ll even raise a glass of moonshine and toast their new plastic kingdom.

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