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A Contentious Alcohol Policy Debate Spurs Cooperation

A Campbell couple takes on the alcohol policy challenge, among others, and hopes to bring residents to the table to work together.

The has managed to get the attention of Campbell residents, and meetings on the issue have elicited raw emotions.

That's what happened with Darlene and David Steele, who attended their first Campbell City Council meeting on for the first study session on the issue and left reeling.

"I had no idea that we had these problems downtown," David Steele says. "I had no idea that the City Council was going to review the policy. I had no idea we had an alcohol policy. These (policies) are great. Why change it?"

The two, who live near , walked away feeling like there was more that could have been done on the issue. They began having meetings with various council members to find out more.

The two attended the Aug. 2 subcommittee meeting and spoke with Campbell Councilman Rich Waterman about their concerns.

"We gotta give Rich Waterman credit," Steele says. "After the meeting, we talked with him, giving him a hard time that the residents’ concerns weren’t being addressed. Rich asked if we’d be willing to put together a group to talk about this. I don't think he expected this."

Indeed, Waterman was a little surprised over the Steeles' interpretation of his suggestion.

"Generally, you want to encourage people," Waterman says. "We certainly have many groups that advise the council, the Lyons, Kiwanis, Rotary ... all of them represent Campbell. All have different interests. What I had said at the meeting may have been misinterpreted."

What the Campbell couple did was take things into their own hands and formed a new organization, "Campbell Working Together."

The organization, a loosely put together group of people representing all facets of Campbell, aims at bringing people together in a safe environment where they can bring their perspective to the table.

"We know what doesn't work—blame, expecting 'them' to fix it," David Steele says. "What does work—what happens during national disasters. People drop their special interests and agendas to support each other and come together as a community to address the issue.

"There’s a need for an organization to address these issues, and that’s why we put together Campbell Working Together," he says. 

His wife, Darlene, agrees.

"We want to make everybody feel like 'I’ve won,'” she says.

The pair's impression of the issue and the various players involved changed drastically once they spoke one-on-one with them.

"The City Council is not out to sell out Campbell," David Steele says. "They’re doing their best. The Campbell police are very sympathetic. It’s their job to take care of this stuff, but they don’t have the resources or manpower to deal. Even bar owners ... We talked with the owners of , and they seemed like good guys trying to do their best. Nobody is wrong here, but there’s a problem, and how are we going to fix it?"

The Steeles want to fix the problem from "the bottom up."

"In our point of view, we are taking a part of the burden off their [the City Council's] plate," Darlene Steele says. "I want to see a grassroots effort to do something about it. There’s room for everybody."

She goes on, "We all need each other. We want fun businesses, and businesses need neighbors. If businesses do well, house values do well. We all need each other. If we all thrive, we all thrive. If someone (a business) fails, we all feel it. The neighbors have tremendous power."

The group will host a town hall meeting Thursday from 7-8:30 p.m. at Orchard City Banquet Hall with Councilman Evan Low.

"We will allow people to speak their mind in a progressive way," David Steele says.

The group did not ask Campbell Mayor Jason Baker to speak, because they felt he would be "a lightning rod."

"Everyone looks to authority figures for answers, like a parent," Steele says. "We want this to be a grassroots effort.

"Very few people know this principle: People support what they help create," he continues. "This is community coming together—far better than top-down decisions. No one is happy with those. This way, people take responsibility."

The Steeles, both relationship therapists by trade, say that this last point is an integral one and needs to be recognized before looking for solutions.

"Our choices have consequences," he says. "We don’t always like them, especially if those consequences are undesired. If you live five doors down from a bar, you knew this going in."

The Steele's moved into a home in Campbell's downtown, because they wanted the proximity to East Campbell Avenue. Across the street from their home, there is a parking strip for a nearby business complex.

"There was a felony a day there when we first moved in," he says. "The overgrowth was providing a screen for them."

The two realized the issue would persist as long as the overgrown plants were there, so they went to the company to talk to the owners and asked if they could cut the plants.

"He gave me the green light," Steele says. "I adopted that strip and keep the growth down, and the number of felonies is almost zero."

Every issue, every problem has its own unique solution, he says. "We chose to live downtown and we chose this problem. There are no bad guys here; it’s just us."

Tim Grabau September 09, 2011 at 06:35 PM
Too bad this great article came out a day after the Town Hall Meeting was held, I am sure more people would have been in attendance, including myself!
Mayra Flores de Marcotte September 09, 2011 at 06:44 PM
Thanks for the comment, Tim. It's not too late to chime in, though. The next meeting is in front of Campbell City Council on Oct. 4, 7:00 p.m. There will be opportunity for public input and the council will actually debate whether or not to move forward and if they do, what will be amended.

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