In a former life, I was a labor lawyer and involved in major economic struggles, including ones that went to the Supreme Court of the United States. I learned from these experiences that when strong interests are set against each other, as they are here, the primary role of government is to avoid, at all costs, a show of favoritism to one side or the other, lest it lose its credibility as an honest broker.
South 32 induced the Board of Supervisors to put its stamp of approval on its park project, a thinly veiled propaganda scheme. Whatever its tactical goals: bragging rights for perceived generosity, proof of community support to impress investors, inducing some residents to trust its good will, the fact remains that South 32 manipulated the Board of Supervisors to confer a demonstrable advantage – favoritism – to mining interests over community well-being.
The Board fell for it: not so much tumbling unawares into a thorny civic dispute, but capitulating to the transparent mining strategy of luring officials into its realm – granting the Board “a seat at the table” as one of the supervisors put it – by spreading money around to create the impression that the mine in Patagonia is inevitable.
Given the facts here: overwhelming community opposition, the preposterous claim that the community needs a park, the absence of due diligence in assessing long-term costs and securing contract commitments, and the absence of any showing that action is needed now, the Board’s action, in my opinion is arbitrary and capricious in violation of the due process provisions of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Voting unanimously to sign this agreement with South32 adds up to an unwarranted intrusion into the economic contest between the mine and substantial elements of the Patagonia community, an intrusion that neither benefits the community nor advances the ultimate settlement of the mine controversy, only aggravates it. The action taints the credibility of the Board when credibility is central to the role it must play in the months and years ahead.
Editor’s note: Stuart Brody teaches in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona and is the author of “The Law of Small Things: Creating a Habit of Integrity in a Culture of Mistrust “(Berrett-Koehler 2019). He is a resident of Lake Patagonia. This opinion is based on the comments he made at the April 13, 2022 hearing before the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors.