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CURVE:800-pound automobile

THE BELL

August 03, 2006|By JOSEPH N. BELL

I hate SUVs, even though some of my best friends own and drive them and sometimes take me along. SUVs are the embodiment of American excess, the symbol of what most of the rest of the world hates about the U.S. More size, horsepower, weight, technological muscle — and arrogance. Enough power and fuel to pull a platoon of troops through a swamp devoted, instead, to transporting the infield of a Little League team.

SUVs habitually pull into parking spaces clearly marked "compact," obliterating the division lines and making it impossible for me to open the door of my Toyota Camry when I squeeze into the space between them. They gulp gasoline like a dehydrated camel gulps water at a desert oasis and are probably the greatest single source of the carbon dioxide being spewed into the atmosphere that is causing a dangerously accelerated rate of global warming.

And because more and more well-off Americans like to gallop into traffic shoot-outs from the raised saddle of their family SUV, gutless politicians and an administration in Washington devoted to the money — and therefore the wishes — of large corporations have refused even to consider legislation that would require these behemoths to be redesigned to a moderate fuel consumption. At the very least, every SUV owner should be required to see "An Inconvenient Truth" at their neighborhood theater.

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The two local governments that represent the residents of Newport-Mesa are choosing to deal with policy problems in ways that provide almost a test tube example of contrasting styles, especially vivid and significant in an election year when so many council seats are up for grabs.

The City Council of Newport Beach has responded to a near-hysterical level of division on the location of a new city hall by finding repeated ways of avoiding a decision. This is all dressed up in an unctuous show of determination to explore every possibility to a point where council members can discern — or think they can — majority public approval, which simply isn't going to happen.

This path has inevitably taken them to seriously consider supporting a referendum that would throw the onus of a decision on whatever percentage of voters turn out rather than on the council where it belongs. This is the ultimate extension of town meeting democracy that made a lot more sense in the 18th century than it does today.

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