Friday, July 13, 2007

Happenings: SCV Says "Oh, Alright!" to Open Space

While I’m happy that the Open Space Preservation District was approved by voters, how it got passed leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Jim Farley and Sterling King were perfectly justified in their criticism of the measure and of the City Council for its chronic misuse and misallocation of taxpayer money. The City made no attempt to provide a balanced representation, instead going with their beloved “Just trust us, won’t you?” tack. Then there were ads suggesting a querulous link between buying parcels of chaparral and reducing crime rates. I think that even the most ardent open space advocate has to be a little sympathetic towards their opposition’s frustrations.

Yes, I realize I’m complaining a lot for someone who is gladder-than-not that this thing passed. So I’m now going to be at least a little productive and give my take on what I think should happen with the money.

Some Let’s-Not-Screw-This-Thing-Up Suggestions:

1. DON’T buy land that’s unlikely to be developed.
We know that developers have a hard time building homes in narrow canyons, on ridgelines, and anywhere else the geography is particularly challenging. Thus, if we want to maximize the amount of open space in our community, then buy land that’s potentially of interest to developers. We know some areas are already “safe” from their advances, so don't protect them redundantly[1].

2. DO buy land that will help preserve endangered ecosystems.
California has lost two kinds of ecosystems in spades: grasslands and riparian woodlands. Less than 10% of the area once occupied by native grassland is still in existence, and less than 20% of the area once occupied by riparian woodland remains[2]. A number of plants and animals, many of which are listed as endangered or that are candidates for listing, require these habitats to survive. For example, the endangered Arroyo Toad and Least Bell’s Vireo need riparian wetlands, and the precipitously declining Loggerhead Shrike demands grassland. So maybe we should try and save what little we have left by buying up some floodplains and grasslands with the assessment money.

A form of Wooly Star (Eriastrum densifolium ssp. elongatum) growing in a wash of our river, the Santa Clara. It's just one of hundreds of species that requires a specialized habitat to prosper.

3. DO make the progress (in the event progress occurs) of the District apparent.
Much P.R. is about making people feel good about doing almost nothing at all. SCV excels at this pursuit. We are the city that rewards itself with a ceremony for changing parking from parallel to slanty--seriously[3].
But for the Open Space Preservation District, I want to have my cake and eat it, too[4]. So give us legitimate measures of progress. We need maps put out annually showing specific areas purchased and giving details about the land that will become permanent open space. Make it clear who’s getting the assessment money and if there are clear conflicts of interest.

4. DON’T let this measure convince you everything’s OK.
On one hand, we should realize that even our collective millions can’t buy a whole lot of land in Southern California. So just because we’ve saved some open space doesn’t mean we’re preserving a significant portion of Southern California’s remaining wilderness by any means.
On the other hand--a more cynical one, assuming hands can be cynical--Sterling King says “Common sense would tell you that if you have 2 city council members who push a measure like this who received the lion share of there campaign donations from developers, something’s weird. Developers don't donate to candidates like that to get kicked in the teeth by a measure that would try to stop their business ie. local development”. He’s right. While I’m not sure campaign donors exercise quite as much control in SCV as they do in Washington, real estate always matters in California. Those who traffic in property and development largely run the valley, if not the county, if not the state[5]. And it’s going to be impossible for the District not to do some of these developers favors when they buy open space. (To wit, home value increases considerably when you can assure the homeowner that their view of the hills will remain forever unbesmirched by families inconsiderate enough to move to SCV after them. Their pristine view and the developer's inflated profit will both be provided courtesy of Claritan tax-payers.)

Well, it would seem that the drama surrounding this issue can now be put to rest. But, to further wear-out that well-worn phrase, it's only just beginning. I can't wait to learn just who each City Council member will nominate for the Accountability and Audit Panel. I hope someone has the balls—or ovaries—to pick Lynne Plambeck[6].

[1] Of course, “safe” is a relative term. Let’s not forget about the gusto with which turning Elsmere Canyon into a landfill was pursued (thankfully, not to fruition).
[2] I’m referring to a chart based on the work of Dr. R.F. Noss in M.K. Anderson’s Tending the Wild, University of California Press, 2005; page 7.
[3] Proof
[4] That comma should be there. I promise.

[5] There are actually at least three blogs dealing with SCV real estate, the best of which is Linda Slocum’s at Smart and informed, her opinions and predictions are worth noting. While I’m plugging SCV blogs, also be ever-aware of SCVTalk where blogger Jeff Wilson turns out a product infinitely preferable to that offered by the other news sources in SCV. A more in-depth discussion of the electronic topography of the city is in the works.
[6] Affiliated with, among other groups, Sterling King and Jim Farley would also be ballsy/ovariesy choices, albeit for different, but no less admirable, reasons.


Jim Farley said...

Thanks I Heart. There's just too much common sense in everything you say here. Lynne Plambeck would be a great choice to serve on the oversight committee. I will be asking the council to consider Sterling King and myself as well. Thanks for helping to get the word out on your blog.

Jack Hamilton said...

I would like to see Jim or Sterling on the committee - I would feel better about it then having city council "yes" people on it.
Will Scott Wilks reveal the names of the contributors to the "yes" group? Doubt it.
I'm sure that G&L made a bit of a contribution- you can bet the house on it that the city council will approve the hospital expansion.