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Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
May 15, 2000


One of the ecology movement's many mantras is the familiar Think Globally, Act Locally. More than just a catch phase, these four words spell out an philosophy ideal for a 21st century Southern California. There are a myriad of ways concerned residents can "act" locally, ranging from beach clean-ups to fighting developers, all of them vital to protecting the environmental health of North San Diego County. Sadly, all of these pale in effectiveness when compared to the importance of electing municipal representatives that see the environment as more than just another political football.

Politics as usual favors human infrastructure at the expensive of the biological infrastructure. What this region needs is leadership that can see beyond the next election cycle to insure future generations may enjoy a semblance of the ecological well-being we now take for granted. As easy as it is to pander to the presumed needs of anthropocentrism, without a healthy biotic community to support us, economic prosperity is impossible. It's time candidates start addressing these issues.

Voters should know which candidates consider parking lots to be open space, which believe traffic planning should include making the shift towards biologically benign transportation, and those see community character as more than architecture and residential traffic counts. Needed now are civic leaders willing to resist the current trend to sellout to development interests. Most of all, we need people whose vision of the future includes more than stripmalls, soccer fields, and single family hotels.

Calling for sand on the beaches and artificial reefs sidesteps the bigger environmental questions. While natural processes are breaking down, why are coastal developments still going up? With a limited water supply why do cities plant irrigation dependent, non-indigenous landscaping. How much more coastal run-off can the oceans handle? Is a million more people more than the San Diego region can handle? How much is really enough?

Loss of sand is just the tip of the iceberg. With kelp forests disappearing off the coast as fast as coastal sage scrub, it is time for candidates to speak to the reality of the biological mess we are in. Human impact on the environment must be an integral part of all further conversations, if our communities are to avoid the fate of Los Angeles County. As proven by our neighbors to the North, without limits, sprawl only serves to merge distinct communities into one teaming mass of concrete humanity.

Once upon a time the individuals cities of Southern California were distinct, having had there own character. Nowadays, these once vibrant communities have been homogenized into submission by the fast-food franchise and megaplex, and tied together by an ever increasing network of asphalt.

As urban stewards, people elected to office should manage growth, not create it. "Incumbent upgrading" is a term urban planners use to refer to neighborhood improvements that benefit existing residents rather than newcomers. The Carlsbad residents who successfully fought to preserve their neighborhood by protecting it's trees, are evidence residents want more than hotels on the beach. The only people that benefit from continued growth are the developers getting rich from building us out, and the city councils that help them.

Without personal integrity, political integrity is impossible. Without environmental integrity, the politics of sprawl is all we will ever know. By saving the California Gnatcatcher, perhaps we will learn how to save ourselves.

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