If, like most people, you never make it to meetings of the San Diego City Council, you still probably have a mental picture of what the meetings are like: a little formal, a little dull. Indeed they are like that — but what you cannot imagine is how the atmosphere changes each time Rose Lynne approaches the microphone. Rose is seventy-two years old and looks her age, but her voice is firm. She boasts that she can offer relevant commentary on virtually any subject the council is discussing, but sometimes the connections between what Rose wants to say and what everyone else has just been talking about are apparent only to Rose. She stands there, lecturing insistently, passionately, about sprout farming or no-cost schools or "ombudscience," while people in the audience squirm or glower or smirk. The atmosphere of grown-ups engaged In serious business vanishes. Rose consumes all the attention, and sometimes it appears she will hold everyone in her space-time warp forever. If someone reminds her that she's spoken for too long, she usually gets angry; her voice grows shriller, even more importunate, a buzz saw from the Bronx that cuts and whines and creates a terrible tension: how can this ever end? Then, abruptly, she says thank you and scuttles back to her seat. But everyone knows she'll soon be back.
San Diego has other so-called gadflies who make a point of attending and speaking out at public meetings. But among them, Rose Lynne stands alone. City hall regulars say no one else comes close to exercising his or her right to speak anywhere nearly as often as she does — sometimes two, three, four times during the course of an afternoon council meeting. No one else has learned to "filibuster the whole city," in the words of former mayor Roger Hedgecock. Hedgecock claims Rose has cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in time wasted over the years, and he thinks the day may come when "she ought to be barred from the place altogether." Rose already has occasionally been removed bodily from meetings, and city rules and procedures have been changed in a specific attempt to thwart her. Yet she persists. indefatigable, shameless.
A good place to meet her for quiet conversation is on the mezzanine of the Pickwick Hotel downtown on Broadway. The lounge there is invariably empty, and seated in one of the fraying couches, leafing through some of her notes, Rose could be overlooked or mistaken for some retiring old lady. Her dress, in her words, is "not exactly Bergdorf Goodman, but also not a street woman's clothes, either." Often she pins some political button or other doodad to the clothing that stretches across her voluminous chest; one recent day, for example, she had taken a delegate's badge and ribbon from the Education Commission of the States meeting held last month in San Diego and transformed it to suit her purposes. She had glued the typewritten words "Ombudscast" where "Education" had been written, and she had typed her own identification, "O.C.S. — Rose Lynne — Ombudscast Commissioner." Probably the most distinctive thing about her, however, is her hairdo. It's gray with caramel-colored highlights, and she braids it and neatly pins down the braids so they crown a face that is eroded with wrinkles but pink and healthy. Rose comments that here on the mezzanine of the Pickwick she has delivered her two-hour course on "ombudscience" dozens of times. She gets by on her social security pension and the occasional contributions of supporters. enough to pay for her third-floor room upstairs. "I meant to stay for one night, and I've been here for three and a half years," she says. "If anyone needs proof that I'm nuts, that's it ."
She is joking, of course. Her puckish sense of humor is widely recognized at city hall. "Rose Lynne has more oneliners than Bob Hope;' says one council aide. This time, though, Rose's jest is more provocative, more ironic than usual. Some who know her are convinced that she is insane, literally. "She's mentally ill" is the affirmed opinion of Hedgecock (now a talk-show host for KSDO radio). "The woman should not be on the street." Rose knows that this opinion is widely held. "I've polarized an entire city hall," she says. "Many people think I'm a nut, and they don't understand what I'm doing. Why am I bedeviling these poor city council people?" But she claims many other city hall habitues love her work and think she's great, though most won't admit this publicly for fear of being shunned by their coworkers.
In turn, Rose also uses insanity to explain the behavior of many people toward her; she couches this in scientific terms. She's a great innovator, she explains, brimming with ideas that threaten many people because they would require change and growth. To avoid the pain that invariably accompanies such growth, many people shut her out by going temporarily berserk. They act irrationally, deny hearing or doing various things they in fact heard or did. "Probably ninety percent of the ills that we have is caused by lack of synchronization of the left and right brains as we plow under information and play games and go schizoid," she exclaims. "Literally schizoid!"
Here is Rose's explanation for how she got tangled up with the San Diego City Council in the first place. She says the first time she ever attended a council meeting here was in December of 1982. She had just retired from her lifelong home in New York City and had chosen San Diego as the place where she would write her magnum opus, a book detailing all her findings in the fields of behavioral science and communication. She says she strolled from the Pickwick Hotel over to city hall out of idle curiosity, but finding the council in session, she was moved to speak. She scanned the agenda to see on what topics she might be qualified to offer some insight, and her eyes alighted on an item relating to the expansion of San Diego Stadium.