SCGA Public Affairs

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Often attributed to Albert Einstein, who many say wrote it on a blackboard in his Princeton office, its origin is much older than that. However, in this exact form, it appeared in a seminal sociology textbook in 1963 and has been quoted repeatedly since to highlight the fact that certain important matters are simply not amenable to quantification.

And nothing could be truer of what we lump under the general term, “advocacy.” Advocacy operates in ALL the places where the game and public policy intersect. That’s a lot of places – legislatures, regulatory agencies, city councils, boards of supervisors, special districts, water wholesalers, water retailers, planning commissions, advisory commissions, chambers of commerce, allied advocacy organizations, non-governmental organizations of various stripes, and last but hardly least, all forms of media. Not just a lot of places, but a lot of broad issues – water, environment, taxes, land use, labor, etc. And the places and issues are less about transactions than relationships, which are less amenable to quantification than most other things. And not so much personal relationships as business/professional relationships predicated on respect, trust, and credibility. Those of you skeptical of anything having to do with government may find it hard to believe, but one’s word is indeed one’s bond in that realm.

There are no charts, graphs, lists, or sets of metrics capable of providing snapshots of the shape shifting and nuance represented by the sum total of this. There are broad themes, narratives, and overarching strategies, but they too are not amenable to simple quantification.

And there is no better example of the principle than Assembly Bill 1572 (Friedman; D-Burbank). Signed into law by Governor Newsom over the weekend, the bill proscribes the use of potable water to irrigate non-functional turf not directly attached to personal residences. The bill won the overt support of the California Alliance for Golf (CAG) based almost entirely on the appearance of two simple words in the section that defines the “recreational use areas” exempt from the proscription. We have highlighted those two words in the following AB 1572 excerpt:

Recreational use area” means an area designated by a property owner or a governmental agency to accommodate human foot traffic for recreation, including, but not limited to, sports fields, golf courses, playgrounds, picnic grounds, or pet exercise areas. This recreation may be either formal or informal.”

To the degree to which there are likely to be those who may continue to argue that golf is a nonfunctional or non-recreational use of turf, the language embedded in this law argues very definitively otherwise. To the degree to which language like this is often cut and pasted in future legislation, this is the language that will function as the default position for that legislation, putting those arguing otherwise in the position of having the burden of proving why the language merits changing – always a tough hill to climb.

We hope you understand that things like this happen due ONLY to years of focused effort to position the game in a certain way in a public mind that is all inclusive, not specific – a long distance run characterized more by strategy than tactics, not a transaction characterized by simple notions of reduction, e.g., bullet points, talking points, and toolkits.

We hope you also understand that the degree to which we are so routinely able to report positive outcomes in the places where the game and public policy intersect is the degree to which we have been able to work with the game’s allied organizations and stakeholders to advance the game’s value proposition to the 90% of the population that does not play golf. Just as diplomacy is the art of bridging differences between adversaries, advocacy is the art of finding common ground among strangers.

One in a series of occasional looks at the backstory. Next up: A full look at the 2023 legislative session’s front story.

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“CalMatters” is a nonprofit, non-partisan state news service that was created a few years ago to do the kind of in-depth journalism once routinely provided by newspapers and periodicals and now provided scantily if at all only by those media organs funded by charitable contributions or substantial enough to sustain deficits.

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