"The environmental movement doesn't have many deserters and has a high level of recruitment. Eventually there will be open war." — Paul Watson, Smithsonian, April 1990
It's official; the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) has claimed responsibility for a direct action resulting in $50 million in damages due to a fire on August 1, 2003. The target of the arson was La Jolla Crossroads, a complex of 1,800 luxury apartments under construction in San Diego's Golden Triangle. A 42-acre Nobel Research Center, housing the biotechnology company IDEC Corporation, is planned for the site adjacent to residential complex. Garden Communities, the second largest developer in Southern California, was mentioned in the Earth Liberation Front statement of responsibility.
Flames destroyed an unfinished five-story residential complex being built next to habitat rich Rose Canyon. A seven-million-dollar construction crane was also lost to the blaze. Responding to ELF's posted claim of responsibility, fire investigators stated the group is not the exclusive target of the investigation, and the investigation is still ongoing.
The action is being labeled "the largest act of environmental sabotage in US history."
According to ELF spokesperson Rodney Coronado "Many who hike Rose Canyon's four-mile length are tired of the sprawl engulfing the canyon and have expressed support for the ELF's efforts to draw attention to the development of San Diego's last remaining wetlands and wild places."
Once a seasonal home for the Kumeyaay people, where acorns were gathered from abundant oaks, Rose Canyon still provides viable habitat for bobcats, coyotes, ash-throated flycatchers, red-shouldered hawks, barn owls and orioles, probably gnatcatchers, reptiles, and at least two rare and threatened plants. As with the rest of San Diego County, pockets of habitat, such as Rose Canyon, are being diminished by the constant encroachment of suburban sprawl.
It was only a matter of time before someone lashed out in protest.
I n the statement made by Coronado the failure of the regional Multiple Species Conservation Plan was mentioned as a contributing factor. "As one of the Southwest's first large-scale plans to protect entire ecosystems rather than just particular species, the MSCP has proven to be inadequate in preserving native biodiversity and ensuring the recovery of endangered animals and plants in San Diego County." The banner left at the site was quite clear — "If you build it, we will burn it."
When I first heard that arson allegations were being made against ELF I didn't believe it. Even with the smoking gun of a poorly written banner, I didn't think such political action was possible here in complacent, apathetic, and delusionary San Diego County. After all San Diegians are more apt to sing kumbahya than torch unsustainable housing projects. In the land of sprawl and crawl we embrace the inevitable as long as it doesn't get in the way of surfing, Padre fever, or trips to the casinos.
And just as we have learned to endure the inevitability of overpopulation, and its accompanying gridlock, water shortages, ocean pollution, habitat loss, school overcrowding, unemployment, and decline of civil liberties, we too will accept, perhaps secretly applaud, economic strikes against the architects of over development. With no recourse other direct action, local activists learned long ago the political culture of San Diego County is unwilling to honestly address the ecological catastrophe stalking us under the cover of smart growth.
Something had to give.
Now, before anyone starts throwing the "terrorist" word bomb around the cafes of consciousness, let me remind you that those involved in environmental actions do not see themselves as anything other than patriotic citizens fighting greed and injustice, while protecting the only home they have.
It should also be noted, in reaction to the current Bush administration's war against biology, environmental actions are increasing. Tree sits aimed at the industries of deforestation are now a constant in North America. Hummers, and other gas guzzling sport utility vehicles are now targets for vandalism and outright destruction. Animals are being liberated from death farms and biotech labs. Finding common ground, nuns and school children are trampling genetically engineered crops in righteous protest against those playing god in the name of science.
The times certainly are a changin'.
Suffice it to say environmental action is here to stay. And where I don't agree with every form of protest, I do understand the frustration and contempt from which they spring. Personally I believe arson accomplishes little more than an expensive publicity event and does nothing to limit growth or mitigate the environmental impact of the policies and projects at which they're aimed.
Thankfully my avenue of protest is a public forum more than a decade long. For which I will always be grateful to the Coast News for keeping me in print, and out of prison.
Now if we could only learn not to burn.