Gordon was always relieved to find his development applications placed at the end of a Zoning Board meeting agenda. As he put it, being last removed ‘one element of chance from the process’. In the chancy world of public hearings, the most arbitrary and capricious of twists often came in the form of the wild card citizen politician.

Opinions are in fact more like automobiles than asses. Everyone thinks they need one, and automobiles- even the Blazers and Pathfinders- typically drive you down well-worn roads constructed by someone else. Still, expressing any opinion put you in the driver’s seat for as long as you had the floor at a public hearing.

Being last on the agenda meant that the loose cannon and stray bullets from other agenda items had already ricocheted out of the chamber. The only ones left in the room were there specifically to speak to your project; there was no one else listening who might feel compelled to inform the decision with some meaningful insight into precedent or logic or the brilliantly obvious.

Someone like Gillian, come to protest some later thing on the agenda, but in the bored meantime astonished that someone on the other side of town proposed to remove eucalyptus trees to build houses, and outraged that city staff was recommending approval. Gillian often felt compelled to speak.

She was from Australia. She’d lived and worked here for decades, but had demurred citizenship of so incorrect a nation. It wasn’t important any more; after all those years, she was practically a native. As were the eucalyptus. Others claimed they were invasive, a threat to the integrity and health of the local ecosystem. Gillian considered those words nothing short of libel- blatant environmental bigotry. She rose to defend these magnificent trees, so wrongly denied.

The best defense is an offense. She defended the trees- always the right thing to do- by attacking the project. The staff report had mentioned butterflies? Obviously this project would destroy or disrupt valuable habitat. Drainage? This might, no, would destroy irreplaceable salmon spawning reaches. Slopes? Didn’t staff realize that earthquakes happen here? She was practically an expert in all these areas. She was appalled at how little the ‘paid experts’ were knowing or telling about the imminent dangers inherent in such a project, dangers that were all too obvious to her. But of course these supposed experts were in the pay pocket of those standing to profit from the development. Even staff depended in the end on applicants’ fees for their salaries, and unhappy customers might not return. No, only Gillian was free of the developer’s purse strings, free to tell the truth in all her glory; the only reliable source.

When she had finished, the board would vote to continue the item indefinitely for more information on potential hazards. Months later, the City Council would hear Gillian’s appeal of the Zoning board approval, and deny the project. There were just too many potential problems. The applicants were asking for too much.

When one of Gordon’s projects was scheduled early on the agenda, he would graciously request that it be moved to the end. Other’s had such busy lives, after all; it would be a shame to keep them up. He didn’t mind staying late. It was time well spent.