Cut To The Chase

October 18, 2002

December 6, 2002

December 20, 2002

Balancing progress with preservation

The following is second part of a version of remarks from a speech to a Chamber of Commerce audience entitled, "Balancing Progress With Preservation."

Working in our democratic system, it's difficult not to develop a battleground mentality because it's dominated by people fighting each other in ways that create losers as some become winners. A lot of people say that they want that illusive "win-win" -- but name-calling can become the order of the day and emotions replace negotiations with personality politics.

I stand before you accused of aiding people to increase costs and delays. But I would remind you that "NIMBY" also stands for Next Time It Might Be You." I have seldom run into activists pursuing an issue casually, or because they had a lot of extra time and money to spend on fighting city hall. Whether they are right or wrong, they are usually arguing based upon something they believe is real.

There are too many unfortunate stories where a real lack of communication between parties -- along with misunderstandings about technical details lead to ridiculous entanglements. Unfortunately the agencies involved often have no interest in clearing up the conflicts. In fact, they often fan the flames of conflicts, or block resolution. The sewage treatment conflict is such an issue. But my point is that it's just as time-consuming, risky, and costly for environmentalists and community members to battle as it is for project proponents. Many of us would rather be for something, and not just against the project-of-the-month.

Resistance to doing the right things also leads to delays and increased costs -- and when you have to do them later, you want to blame the system. But the system is rarely arbitrary and capricious. Frankly, it is the flexibility of the system that also increases costs and delays. The final lawsuits that blocked SR-56 were due to prior land use decisions that never should have gone forward. The city sowed the seeds of its own problems by permitting houses too close to proposed freeway rights-of-way.

The sooner you deal with issues in the design process, the cheaper it is to bring the right product before decision-makers. But because we don't really have integrated plans and it seems like everything is negotiated, it's hard to get the certainty that investors -- or citizens -- would like. Similar to the Master EIR used by CCDC, I would very much like to create a real, workable, regional prescriptive plan that, once understood and agreed upon, could allow for the components to be financed and built. But we simply do not have a functional regional plan, nor an accountable approach to financing, or even defining the best-performing infrastructure mix.

I believe we could work much better together to improve agency staff performance and accountability. Another common problem we all have is misleading, incomplete and conflicting interpretations and representations of data.

Finally, let's talk about the whole legal system thing. To those of you who bash citizens or non-profits for the tiny number of poorly funded lawsuits brought by environmental groups in San Diego, give me a break.

The day you all renounce your legal counsel and agree never to litigate the many issues you are all pursuing in court is the day I'm sure environmentalists and other citizens will also reduce their use of the legal system to achieve justice. There is no "war chest" I'm aware of for environmental suits. On the contrary, the war chest appears to be with the business community.

In closing, let's talk about how we define progress.

What and who do we include in that progress?

It's easy to say we want to retain or even improve our quality of life. It's harder to define and harder to fund. But it is inextricably part of our civic and public duty to define and fund.

Only when we do define it -- in terms that the public can understand and believe in -- will we be able to persuade people to vote to pay for it.

The people most interested in solutions must actually work together to lead because our elected leaders mostly do follow. Right now, I see too many people who still like to whine about the costs on your side, whine about growth on ours, and on all sides point fingers while not seriously addressing the real technical, financial and political issues involved.

Only when enough of the leaders of the business community have that same insight as Mr. Lyman -- that's it's more profitable to work with people than fight -- will we make any real progress on regional infrastructure issues in this region. And even then, it will take a hell of a lot of hard work and luck. It may also require the much talked about directly-elected regional government. But none of this can be dealt with without us working together rather than continuing the battleground mentality. And I came there to speak to you today because I believe that San Diego is indeed a lucky place -- and that we can provide the hard work.

City, citizen, civility, civilization all have the same Latin root: civitas, and referring to both the freedoms and responsibilities of civic life. The city is the foundation of civilization and democracy. The quality of public spaces and the right of access of all citizens to it are absolutely vital to any city and the maintenance of civility and democracy. It is also vital to the economy of the city and to the physical, social and spiritual well-being of its citizens.

In closing, it is the citizen in you that I wish to appeal to -- in addition to your also important role as a business person and defender of commerce. I ask you to also participate in these processes as a citizen, to integrate and make progress on our common concerns: quality of life, prosperity and environmental health and sustainability.

Progress vs. preservation is a false choice. We must have both. Preservation is essential to progress. Progress must be linked to preservation. Progress linked to public tax dollars must support the public good as democracy defines it, not just as commerce would define it.

We may not always agree. We may not always like each other. But instead of polarizing along the any number of ways we could be divided, rather let's work together to create an integrated path for us all to succeed.

Chase is editor of San Diego Earth Times and chair of the mayor's Environmental Advisory Board. E-mail her at

October 18, 2002

December 6, 2002

December 20, 2002