I spent some time today trying to figure out why the second draft of the Delta Plan was such a disappointment. Mind you, I still haven’t concentrated on the Finance Plan or the Water Management section. I won’t ever focus on the Ecosystem parts, for lack of expertise (unless you ask me to). My disappointment was with the horrible new Chapter 1; I haven’t formed opinions about the rest. I realize I have three objections to the new Chapter 1 that are slightly different from “going in a policy direction I don’t like.”
The first two objections are related. The new plan for governance reads like it fell into the hands of a complexifier. You know, one of those people who create intricacy and complex levels that trigger one another and add new flowchart arms for obscure reasons with new process jargon. That’s not my bent, so I’m generally frustrated by having to remember the details that distinguish a “policy” from a “recommendation.” But sometimes that’s my job, so I will, grudgingly. Which leads to my second objection to the new proposed governance plan. This type of process excludes casual users. It protects a class of privileged priests who can read the entrails and tell the natives whether they’ve committed a “covered action” and must atone. This will require bureaucratic interpretation, which takes initiative and participation away from laypeople. Transparency and buy-in gets lost while bureaucrats like me read slides with two columns (Policy=Mandatory, Recommendation=Recommended) to bored folk in windowless rooms.
Those are my intellectual reasons for objecting to the new governance plan. I realized, though, that the difference in drafts hit home for a more emotional reason. The two drafts, back to back, destroyed the growing narrative about fixing the Delta.
The first draft read like the beginning of a story, and since we are all familiar with western story forms, I, at least, was forming expectations about how the story would go. The first draft was setting up the conflict: things are looking grim for our intrepid farmers/plucky smelt, there’s not enough to go around. The arc wasn’t very developed, but that’s OK, since we were promised a serial. We’re used to this form, so we know that the authors are going to pull out something great and Good would conquer Evil after much difficulty.
Then we get to the second draft, and the plan that’s going to fix things is virtually unreadable bureaucratic process bullshit? That was horrible, because it means the authors have nothing. They don’t have a way to move the action towards resolving the conflict and getting the heroes out of trouble. They aren’t offering to make hard choices. They defaulted to the same process-heavy complexity that offends no one that the state has tried for decades. We already know that doesn’t work; it was called CALFED last time. This is the same pattern: complex process hinging on obscure insidery jargon (heh. Quantifiable Objectives, anyone?) that never gets implemented because it doesn’t inspire anyone. The first draft was setting up the story structure that does inspire people; establishing conflict and the rules of the world. There was even foreboding. It said right up front that maybe not all the species would survive.
The contrast between the first and second draft made for an abrupt letdown, especially for those of us who read lots of formulaic books. It is not the job of the Delta Stewardship Council to write me another quest book. They’re out to fix the Delta all co-equally. That might mean some impenetrable process written in bureaucrat-ese. But. Watch the papers. Last time, people were intrigued and involved, debating the set-up of the conflict and whether the rules (no magic, major characters are vulnerable) were formulated right. This time, I bet no one gives them good feedback on their arcane governance process. That isn’t because it is acceptable. It is because people don’t want to admit they don’t understand it and it bores them. It is the very opposite of inspiring; it isn’t a story and it takes the power away from everyone by requiring bureaucratic expertise. We already know that fails.