Column 4
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Censorship at Beverly Hills High School.

 

The Difference Between Rights and Right, and a Correction to Last Week’s Montage Analysis.

 

Baseball spring training has begun, and I have been distracted by the problems that face my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins.  Due to financial restrictions, the Twins have lost three of their best pitchers.  Anyone who cares about fairness in baseball please join me in praying that the Twin’s young pitchers can take up the slack or that their batters can produce at least 50 more runs than last season.  

 

Closer to home, it appears that Beverly Hills High School has lost one of its most promising teachers.  However, unlike the Twins, this loss appears to have been totally unnecessary.

 

For many years, our high school has had one of the best newspapers in the state.  Such newspaper is named “Highlights”, and has won many prestigious awards over the years.   The person most responsible for this success is Gil Chesterton, who taught journalism at the high school for 32 years until he retired two years ago. 

 

Jennifer Moulton was hired to fill Mr. Chesterton’s rather large shoes.  Ms. Moulton’s credentials included employment as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register, editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, and teaching advanced English courses on the college level. 

According to Mr. Chesterton’s letter to this newspaper last week, Ms. Moulton was doing a good job, but was terminated because she allowed students to publish stories about controversial topics, such as the air quality issues relating to the oil well.  If this is true, then I believe that someone needs to be held accountable.

In 1972, I was a senior in high school and the editor of my high school newspaper.  I lived in Memphis Tennessee and attended a private school.  I was also fairly liberal in those days and had rejected the majority view of my community that black people should be kept in their place.

A couple of weeks before spring break, a black teenager was arrested by the county sheriff’s department.  He was taken to the sheriff’s station, and beaten to death while 19 sheriff’s officers were present.  All of the officers were white, and none of them were willing to talk.  Needless to say, there were a lot of black people and some white people who were concerned about this.  Unless the kid beat himself to death (a theory that was actually espoused), there was something very wrong.

I wrote an editorial about how things like this should stop happening and about breaking the code of silence and holding officers accountable for the kid’s death.  I was not surprised when the faculty advisor rejected this editorial. 

I then asked my editorial cartoonist to draw a cartoon of a headstone with the name and date of death of the deceased teenager and the shadow of a sheriff’s officer looming over the gravesite.  In my mind, this was within the scope of what should have been allowed under the circumstances.  However, on the last day of school before spring break, our faculty advisor commended me for my creativity, but decided that the cartoon was too controversial, because it represented a direct accusation of the sheriff’s department. 

The paper was supposed to go to the printer the following Monday and the faculty advisor was going out of town.  I thought about this for the rest of the day, and called my cartoonist on Saturday.  I asked him to take out the shadow of the sheriff’s officer and just add a simple question mark on the headstone.  On Monday, I delivered everything to the printer, and I spent part of spring break at the printer’s office correcting.

The first day of school after spring break, we handed out newspapers – hundreds and hundreds of newspapers.  The day was going well for about two hours, until I was summoned to the headmaster’s office and sternly lectured about how I had been forbidden to run such a cartoon.  My protests that we had toned down the cartoon were basically ignored.  I was subjected to a variety of punishments.  Also, under threat of expulsion, I was forced to apologize.  However, I have never regretted running that cartoon.

I am not saying that a high school paper should never be censored.  Certain items should be censored, such as items that are hurtful to other students, or items that are lewd, racially insensitive or sexist.  However, in my opinion, political speech should never be censored.

The First Amendment is vital to our democracy.  If you disagree with a newspaper article, the solution is to respond with more speech, not censorship.  If the high school principal disagreed with anything in the newspaper, he had the means to respond, either in an interview in the paper or by a bulletin to all students.

Beginning teachers are subject to termination without cause during their first two years working in the district.  Thus, legally, the high school principal was within his rights not to terminate Ms. Moulton’s contract.  However, if Mr. Chesterton is correct, this was not the right thing to do.

For all I know, the decision not to renew Ms. Moulton’s contract had nothing to do with the First Amendment.  We have heard from Mr. Chesterton, but that is only one opinion.

I am wondering about what the journalism students and the other teachers at the high school  at the high school think about this situation.  Please note that the Weekly will run letters to the editor with names withheld on request, so long as you provide your name and phone number so that we can verify that you are bona-fide.  You can also contact me by e-mail at Gerald@geraldlunn.com.

 If, indeed, Ms. Moulton is an excellent teacher who is being punished for allowing students to cover controversial stories about topics of legitimate concern like the oil well, then the journalism students and the other teachers at the high school should stand up for Ms. Moulton, and I will help them.  On the other hand, if this was not the predominant reason for the non-renewal of her contract, then this matter should go away on its own.

Moving on to a different topic, last week I provided an analysis of the relative contributions of the City and the developer to the Montage project.  Since the developer’s cost budget is confidential, I engaged in an analysis that I identified as “informed guesswork,” and I have now realized that one of my guesses was wrong!  I tried to extrapolate the developer’s overall cost from the projected increase in property taxes.  I also tried to give the developer the “benefit of the doubt” by treating the entire projected number for property, sales and business taxes as property taxes, and arrived at a projected construction cost of $57.5 million and a total investment by the developer of $75 million.

I neglected to account for the fact that most of the property taxes would be retained in Sacramento.  Thus, it appears that the developer’s investment may be significantly larger than my prior guess.  However, the City’s number could also be larger, depending on what the developer will be paying for its eight lots, assuming that the City’s lots are worth the same amount per lot.  Unfortunately, at this time, it’s impossible to know the relative investments of the parties, because the developer’s numbers remain secret

As before, I am still guessing, but I think that the City is putting up at least 25% of the total cost of the overall project.  I have also concluded that this deal and any future deals are going to stink unless the City insists that there be a full sharing of information.  The developer knows all of the City’s numbers, but the public knows almost nothing about the relative contributions of the “partners” or the projected profits from the hotel and condos, because this has been treated as private information of the developer.

This is wrong, wrong, wrong.  The City is taking a huge economic risk and making an investment of at least $65 million of cash, property and zoning concessions into what is clearly a partnership.  Normally, partners share financial projections at the outset, so that they can negotiate a fair deal.  However, in this instance, the City is playing poker with its cards face up with a developer who is playing with its cards face down.

I would feel better about this project if I saw credible projections showing that seven stories are necessary for a viable project.  My intuition is that the project could be very profitable with three or four stories, at which point it would not create more than its fair share of traffic.  However, if the developer would do what the City has already done, i.e. make the relevant information public, I am confident that there are people in this town who can provide informed opinions as to whether a smaller project might be viable and as to whether the City is getting a fair cut of the potential upside.

Alternatively, the developer should provide rock solid protection against the risks that the City is now planning to take.  Remember, the City is agreeing to pay $37.5 million before construction begins, and the developer is being given up to five years to complete construction.  If the developer takes more than five years to complete construction, then it must begin making annual payments to the City of $273,000, $364,000 for the second year, and $455,000 for the third year or any year thereafter.

If you are not disturbed by the preceding paragraph, please re-read it.  The deal contemplates that over a period of eight years, all that is guaranteed to the City from its million investment is $1,092,000, which will cover only part of the interest on the $36,750,000 that the City will borrow to fund the project.  Furthermore, even if the project were completed in the ninth year and the revenue stream of $5.6 million per year then came true, how many years would it take for the City to break even?

I was thinking about proposing that if the Montage project is adopted in its current form, our City should be renamed “Pumpkinville”.  However, I now have an even better name.  Please watch for next week’s column, which is entitled “Viva Montageville.

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