The often egotistical but always entertaining KGO talk radio scientist Bill Wattenburg earned a roomful of laughs Thursday night at the monthly meeting of the Contra Costa Mayors Conference.
But were they laughing with him or at him?
To his credit, Wattenburg tackled the elephant in the room immediately, referring to his on-air war last year with the city of Walnut Creek over plans to expand a church near his home and his criticism of the city’s new library plans.
In response to his Walnut Creek experience, Wattenburg encouraged city officials to create ombudsman positions, people who would represent ordinary citizens in a local government system he said favors professional developers and their lawyers and views public input as a nuisance.
“Isn’t that what we do?” muttered one city councilwoman under her breath in the packed meeting room of the Oakhurst Country Club in Clayton.
Wattenberg also called for free wireless Internet connection for everyone, a tool he said would increase civic participation by as much as 10 percent.
Walnut Creek Mayor Sue Rainey, sitting at the front table, was polite and quiet.
But in recent weeks, she let Mayors Conference Chairman Abram Wilson, mayor of San Ramon, know about her objections to Wattenburg’s appearance.
“He may be entertaining but this is not an appropriate use of the mayors’ time,” Rainey said.
Coincidentally, Rainey announced her endorsement this week of Judy Lloyd, Abrams’ opponent in the Assembly District 15 race.
Wattenburg spent the bulk of his time bashing the California Air Resources Board, calling its staff high-paid nincompoops promoting the “next scheme they think is green but is really brown all the way down to their shorts.” He particularly railed against pending regulations governing diesel engine emissions.
He also referred to the global climate debate as the “climate of global fear” and told the audience that the construction of nuclear power plants for the production of electricity is the key to reducing emissions on a scale sufficient to impact the planet’s temperatures.
Wattenburg’s diatribe didn’t deter Martinez Councilman Mark Ross, a board member of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, who asked whether or not it does any good to provide free transit on smoggy days.
It’s not a bad thing, Wattenburg said, but only a fraction of the area’s commuters can use public transit because it doesn’t easily take them where they need to go.
But it was Wattenburg’s parting comment that generated considerable chuckles.
He pointed out the window toward Mount Diablo and noted the area carved out of the mountainside for gravel mining If Clayton wants to produce clean energy, Wattenburg said, it could carve out the other side of the mountain and install massive solar panels that move with the sun.
That loud noise you hear is the sound of blood vessels exploding in the head of the Save Mount Diablo chief Ron Brown.
On other subjects, the Mayors Conference never fails to produce a few memorable moments:
During the roll call, there was no “aye” forthcoming from the seat designated for Pinole Mayor Maria Alegria. She was probably at home trying to douse a recall. Residents have announced plans to recall the mayor and two of her colleagues in a dispute over the city manager.
Clayton Mayor William Walcutt confirmed, to a loud round of laughter, that Concord Councilwoman Helen Allen doesn’t live in his town. She used to live in Clayton and was its mayor at one time. Allen has come under scrutiny for splitting her time between a condo she shares with her sister in Concord and a house she shared with her husband of many years in Sacramento.
Antioch Mayor Don Freitas recommended against using a tow truck as a permanent solution to the grueling commute between his home and his Martinez office. Freitas’ said his Honda overheated and he had to have it towed to the shop. Ironically, the shop delivered Freitas to work on time, something he says he doesn’t always manage on his own.
Walnut Creek Councilwoman Cindy Silva, one of the targets of Wattenburg’s on-air rants about his home town, took the opportunity to thank him in person. She says his hostile commentary helped galvanize supporters and lead her to victory in the 2006 City Council election.