A Winters Tale: For whom the bell tolls

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There’s an Italian word I learned years ago which describes some of what’s going on in Winters today. The word is “campanilismo.”   Here’s what it means. In every small town and village in Italy, there is a campanile, a bell tower. Campanilismo is the attribute of one who lives in the town and knows little, or simply cares little about what happens outside of his own village. That is to say–nothing further than the sound of the ringing bell in the tower.  These are townspeople for whom the outside world isn’t relevant to their ways and customs. Citizens of the next village over, perhaps as close as five miles away, are considered foreigners. They eye each other across the valley with suspicion.   They also tend to live in the past, assuming that life today must unfold in exactly the same way it always has.  They are naive about the forces at work outside their borders. There are some in Winters who are suffering from this very same affliction, campanilismo. I’m afraid that my dear friend and colleague Charley Wallace is one of them. It’s not that old Charley hasn’t been anywhere. He’s traveled the globe. Indeed, I teased him recently that after his latest vacation, he can now legitimately claim to have done a “tour” in Vietnam. But for all his worldliness, he doesn’t seem to grasp how attractive his hometown has become to outside developers, who don’t care about preserving the lifestyle he’s enjoyed since childhood. And as far as clinging to the past, our Publisher Emeritus looks to be suffering from that symptom, too. He seems obsessed with the year 1989. That’s the last time Winters citizens tried to place a growth controlling initiative on the ballot. It failed miserably. Charley contends that the situation in Winters today is exactly as it was then. Hence, the new energetic movement, Keep Winters Winters is also doomed to fail. I disagree.   Thirty years ago, Winters and the state of California were much different places. Indeed, the world was a different place. No cellphones or websites. George Bush was president–George Bush the elder. Climate change meant turning up the AC in your Silverado. Back then, as land hungry developers began swirling around Winters, a group of locals spotted the danger posed to the character of our town. They just didn’t think it through properly. They formed a group called Citizens for Orderly Growth. “It was a terrible name,” one of the original organizers told me recently. The acronym was COG. “It made us sound like a cog in a machine.” Their ballot measure was also famously bloated and confusing. The attempt to rein in development was tied to jobs, businesses at the freeway, percentages. Charley’s dad, Newt, publisher of the Express, called it a fraud. On election day, COG was DOA.  Today in Winters, things are different. There is a new kind of energy, and it’s palpable. It radiates outward from the younger members of established families, glows with the influx of creative newcomers, and is reactive to the realities of a new California, one in which certain established ways of thinking–particularly about housing and jobs–no longer apply. Unlike Charley, these people do see the forces approaching from the outside. They understand that the old rules–build huge suburbs and jobs will follow–won’t make our community a better place. Most importantly, they want to have a greater say in how the city grows. It’s no longer good enough to wait for the City Manager and Council to propose new ideas as to how our children will live and work in the Winters to come, then be asked to give input. They want to also initiate ideas of their own. But first, they hope to rein in expansion of our borders so as to concentrate on improving the town from the inside out.  Their ballot measure, as opposed to COG’s, is clean, simple, forthright.  Any annexation beyond city limits requires a vote of the people. That’s it. Nothing personal, nothing disparaging about the CIty Manager or Council members. When Charley accuses them of that, it’s the fever talking. Charley should also try to move away from his argument that KWW’s leadership is comprised only of meddling outsiders. Polkinghorn, Vallecillo, Springer, VanGalio all live in town.   Charley’s grade school and high school classmate Peter Hunter lives precisely 6/10ths of a mile from the city limits sign on 128.  Does that mean he has no say?   Rich Rominger lives on road 29.  Rominger’s not Winters enough? In Charley’s world, I suppose I should keep my mouth shut, too.  Judy and I live in Golden Bear, and are newcomers to boot. We are true infidels. And so the debate rages. But one thing’s for sure. Keep Winters Winters has already had a major effect on the town we love, a town full of beloved institutions: The Buckhorn, The Tractor Parade, our historic downtown.   And Charles R. Wallace.   I cannot imagine Winters without our favorite curmudgeon. A few weeks ago, Charley wrote in his column, “My plan is to get out of the way and let the next generation take charge of their destiny. I’ll enjoy the ride and the view from the sidelines.” But last week, a change of heart: “I had thoughts about keeping my opinions to myself and retiring this column, but I just can’t help myself.” Alas, one of the unintended consequences of the new citizen’s movement has been to keep a reluctant opponent in the debate. It seems that KWW also stands for Keep Wallace Writing.]]>

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