By Katy Miessner, Emerge California Class of 2013
On June 5, 2005, a decrepit, starving gray cat, which had been hanging around our house, was lying in the middle of the street. On my way home from errands, I drove up to him. Was he hit by a car? He had no apparent injuries. Looking out my car window, I scolded him and he dragged himself over to the sidewalk, barely able to walk, where he plopped down. Since I was only a block from home, I grabbed a cat carrier, cat food and some thick gloves to guard against his claws and teeth, and my husband & went back to catch the cat, intending to have him euthanized. I just couldn’t stand the idea of him dying on my street.
After a successful community effort that stopped the siting of a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas Plant here in Vallejo, one of my compatriots in that fight decided to run for local City Council. I was scheduled to be at her first campaign meeting that evening of June 5, but I went to the emergency vet instead.
Eight years later, Earl, as we named him that evening (why did he need a name? We were having him put to sleep) is now truly dying. Turns out that evening Earl was simply hungry, and to our surprise, he also turned out to be goofy, loyal, talkative, friendly, affectionate, and—after a good bath, some food and the removal of the hundreds of fleas—quite handsome.
Earl is one of the gifts that the town of Vallejo has given us. This town also gave my husband and me a house we could afford in Northern California, in an incredibly friendly, generous, proud & tight-knit community.
Vallejo has also had deep struggles. It was a company town—only two years after Vallejo’s incorporation, more than 150 years ago, the Navy set up its first west-coast shipbuilding facility. A small shipyard in a small straight off of the San Pablo Bay, Vallejo couldn’t accommodate larger ships. And with the end of the cold war, the submarines it specialized in were no longer needed. By 1996, Vallejo’s shipyard was no longer useful and the navy closed shop. Then things got bad, very bad. There was an exodus of residents and those left behind were generally unemployed. Vallejo became a bedroom community and the already established drug and prostitution trade, flourished. In the late 1990s, Vallejo’s murder rate skyrocketed. While the dot-com boom raged in other parts of the San Francisco Bay Area and rents/housing prices were though the roof, a beautiful Vallejo Victorian could be bought for less than $100,000. The City’s revenues were rapidly declining and spiraling towards insolvency—forestalled by the subprime housing price rise, only to made worse by the crash, when our City filed for its historic bankruptcy in 2008.
Prior to bankruptcy, for decades Vallejo struggled to balance its budget. The fights that occurred, the blame accused and wounds created by this struggle are still very deep and quite fresh. Accusations of whose fault it was still fly. Defamation lawsuits were filed against city council members, a city manager and a coworker by a former city employee/local union leader. An Emerge Alumna, along with her City Council colleague (the one who had that meeting on June 5, 2005) had a recall filed against her in December of 2012.
So why do I want to run? Because I believe this town can be better than the lawsuits and the infighting that continues to hamper our success. And because of the gifts this town has given me, including Earl the cat who now lingers at the edge of his life. This town also gave me a voice and the power to believe in myself and my vision of what is good and not good development. It honed my networking skills. As a non-native, I moved here to find a beautiful place in California at the edge of the Napa River. Can it get better than this?
I recognize that running for office won’t be easy. I’ve been outspoken about the city’s poor development and finance decisions, and written articles on these topics for a local website, in order to tell Vallejo’s story beyond the local paper’s insufficient reporting. And so, I very likely will face similar challenges and roadblocks as I try to make my way towards a successful campaign.
And that’s why I’m grateful for the gift of the Emerge Program, which has already helped me hone my communication skills and self-confidence in the few short months that I’ve been in the program!