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Smart growth, wise debt, and intelligent ecocide

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
May 22, 2002


"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." — Edward Abbey

Last week in this space I looked at the "environmental Rah Rah" included in the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) annual report, which could easily be summarized as an environmental record of temporary sand, fractured habitat, and reduced water resources. Truth be told, what county residents received in the mail was not an annual report but a glossy treatise on how the development industry will continue to pillage San Diego county.

Unable to fit my contempt for SANDAG into just one column, I thought it fitting to dedicate an entire editorial to the fallacy of smart growth. For those residents who have been in a coma for the past few years, smart growth is the new catch phrase for business as usual. With the operative word being growth it seems only the languaging is different as the professional planners at SANDAG plot the reckless overpopulation of the region, and the downward spiral of our quality of life.

As an unelected cabal,this group of free market profiteers have cast themselves as "the regional decision-making agency as well as the technical and informational resource for the area's 19 jurisdictions."With a myriad of issues facing our burgeoning cities, the brain trust at SANDAG has prescribed a "one answer fits all" remedy for what ails us; growth, growth, and more growth. Which roughly translates into more people, more housing, more traffic, more sewage, more strip malls, more shopping, more pollution, more landfills, and more homeless.

To be fair, not all of our troubles will result in over abundance; SANDAG is also providing certain scarcities as well. Water, breathing room, open space, wildlife, wildlife habitat, agriculture, and opportunities now enjoyed by residents, will only decrease under the "smart" leadership of the growth advocates currently implementing their "ambitious public policy agenda."

In a Pollyanna greeting, Carlsbad City Council member Ramona Finnila, the current Chair of SANDAG's Board of Directors, demonstrates how easy it is so say one thing while obscuring much larger truths. She mentions "challenges and opportunities posed by our growth." I wonder where catastrophic water shortages fall? Is that a challenge or an opportunity? How about a million more people and an uninterrupted flow of septic waste into the Pacific? Should that be considered a recreational challenge or an opportunity to get sick and die?

Ms. Finnila also states that "the underlying thrust" of SANDAG "is to make the difficult choices and then take action to better the lives and livelihoods of today's residents and future generations."It odd that none of those difficult choices include growth reducing policies, deterrents to interstate immigration, environmental sustainability, or saying no to traffic generating development. I also wonder what type of livelihood will be possible with 5 million thirsty people living on top of each other, knee deep in their own waste.

Smart growth is an oxymoron. When a population out grows available resources it is considered to be in decline. The needs of the current population in San Diego county are not being met, yet SANDAG is falling over themselves to accommodate a million more. Contrary to what the developers in planners clothing will tell you, if you do not build it they will not come. Common sense dictates that without homes for their families and jobs for themselves, sane people would not consider San Diego a suitable place to live , and look elsewhere.

Finnila also asks for "constructive comments" to be forwarded to SANDAG, so that they can be constructively discredited by those with the growth agenda. Using the Growth Limiting Policies Study, that was completed last year, as an example, when economists and environmentalists were asked about limitations to growth everything that was suggested was immediately shot down as unworkable by SANDAG staff.

As long as we allow development interests to build housing for "future generations" people will continue to move to Southern California. The houses being built today are not for future homeowners; their real purpose is to generate profit for those holding the hammer while attracting more consumers to the regions. What are the chances of realtors telling new home buyers the truth about the looming water crisis? Do you think these folks, when touting coastal living, share the facts about urban runoff and toxic surf conditions?

If honesty were to prevail, the SANDAG pavement planners would be forced to admit that growth is a failing ideology that will,when played out, leave the San Diego region looking much like Mexico City, New Delhi, and numerous other teeming masses of humanity.

Smart Growth? I don't think so.

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