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Smith: Emotions are not the right basis for voting

September 11, 2012|By Steve Smith

Years ago, auto pitchman Cal Worthington routinely offered $50 to anyone searching for a new car who came to see him first.

Worthington did this for two reasons, the smaller of which was to give his high-pressure salespeople a chance at closing a deal. For Worthington, it was a numbers game: The more people who came in, the higher number of cars he'd sell. If it cost him $50 every so often, it was a small price to pay.

The larger reason Worthington was content to play Santa Claus was because he understood a basic fact about human nature: Almost all of our daily decisions, big and little, are made on an emotional level, not a rational one. In the auto business, people most often buy the first car they come to see.

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Worthington came to mind in a recent review of Costa Mesa's City Council race.

To an outside observer, the city's decision to convert to charter status is apparently the only issue before voters. And though the charter is but one of many key challenges facing residents over the next few years, the candidates have attached themselves to this one like a barnacle on a pier piling.

The charter decision is a big one, to be sure, but it is not the only big one. And there is one element of the charter decision that actually makes it less demanding of our consideration than, say, the Banning Ranch project.

That element is that the charter decision is reversible. If the city converts to a charter, there is nothing preventing residents, save for a vote, from converting back if it proves to be a disaster.

Banning Ranch, however, is another story. Banning Ranch and the 19th Street Bridge, should either or both come to fruition, will permanently affect the city. Whether that effect is better or worse depends on each candidate.

Another larger, permanent issue is business development. Little mention has been made of the vast improvement of the section of Harbor Boulevard from Nutmeg Place to the San Diego (405) Freeway, yet the new businesses and appearance upgrades have turned a run-down portion of the city's main street into a humming economic engine. Those developments are permanent and they went through, unlike the charter vote, without a direct vote of residents — another reason for voters to do their research.

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