Saturday, August 27, 2011

Joseph W. Heston v. José Castañeda: a teaching moment?

I've always found Joseph Heston's editorials fascinating: the general manager of KSBW looks straight into the camera and delivers the station's opinion with earnest facial movements and hand gestures. At the newsroom, where we all pause to watch the news, Heston's editorials are usually a welcome break from the routine.

On Friday, he broached the thorny subject of the Alisal Union Elementary district and its board president, José Castañeda. Castañeda pleaded no contest -- essentially a guilty plea -- to one contest of misdemeanor election code violation. That was a negotiated charge, down from two counts of perjury and filing false statements. Had Castañeda been convicted of a felony, he would have been prevented from holding public office. He didn't. Now he can stay in office for as long as the voters will let him.

In his editorial, Heston chastized Castañeda for not resigning in spite of the conviction, for ignoring a "teaching moment" and not only staying in his post, but for urging state administrator Carmella Franco to return full control of the district to the Alisal board. Then, he went on to suggest people of the Alisal go on and recall Castañeda, since it was Castañeda's attempt to recall Fernando Armenta what spurred all this.

Here's a bold prediction: the people of the Alisal won't try to recall Castañeda. Moreover, they're likely to elect them for another term when he's up for re-election in 2013.

With all due respect, here's what Heston doesn't know about the Alisal (which holds true for any other community, for that matter): they don't like strangers to come in and tell them what to do. That's why they resent Carmella Franco, as well intentioned as she is, coming to dictate all the changes that have to take place in their district. That's why many people in Carmel Valley don't want all five supervisors to decide what gets built and what doesn't in their surrounding communities. That's why wealthy school districts are reluctant to let children from other, low performing districts, come into theirs, even when the state says they can.

If recalling Castañeda has not occurred to them, the chances of heeding Heston's advice are slim to none.

Here's another thing Heston doesn't seem to know: in the Alisal, Castañeda is well liked; for some he's almost a hero. Yes, he's almost universally disliked among politicians and community leaders. Like Heston and prosecutor Steve Sommers, who accused Castañeda of having a "tenuous relationship with the truth," movers and shakers don't have the stomach for Castañeda's personal traits.

But in a community like the Alisal, where the needs are immediate and not long-term, where legislation takes forever to take effect and change has to happen yesterday, people crave for people like Castañeda: somebody who rolls up his sleeves, hops on a truck and drives them to a doctor's appointment. Who organizes a barbeque for needy children. Who challenges the superintendent, the California Deparment of Education. Someone who provides immediate relief. Who lives among them, looks like them, speaks like them. Someone who listens to their concerns and respects them.

So no, Castañeda will not be recalled. To the people of the Alisal, Heston, Franco, and me are just intruders, people who don't know what it's like to live hand-to-mouth, to need two or three jobs to support your family and find no support in the system. To be the first district in California to be taken over by the state not for financial reasons.

If not mandated by the state, our advise to them is meaningless.


  1. KSBW and KION are irrelevant to the working class community. A mgmt. and staff change is needed in their organizatioms. A change in Dist Atty. is also overdue. If Castaneda was down with the right money men he would never have been charged in the first place.

  2. If Alisal re-elects him, then it is a determinant to the kind of leadership they espouse to. He lied and then tried to justify lying. That is not the kind a leadership any community needs.