Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 104 – Beaches (again)

Sometimes I feel like Rodney King: "Can't we all just get along?"


The beach access issue has divided this community like nothing I've seen in my 12 years here, and as irrationally as I can imagine for a local issue. Legal threats are flying around like pine pollen on both sides. The Trustees have been threatened of they let so much as one Crystal Bay resident set foot on the beach and while I was not at the meeting on Monday, I understand that there was name-calling and threats as well as flights of high dudgeon, invocation of the Constitution and, worst of all in our community, even a threat to bring in the ACLU!!!


Hiram Johnson said that when war comes, the first casualty is truth – he was echoing Samuel Johnson who had said that in war, the love of truth is diminished by falsehoods that are encouraged by interests and abetted by people's willingness to believe. In the local debate, I don't think anyone is intentionally lying, but a great deal of information is being presented as "the truth" that is, at best, opinion and conjecture, and when the discourse descends to name-calling and threats, we can, I think, declare communication dead.


I've felt from the beginning that, in my view, there should be one overriding issue here – keeping the beaches private. If by accepting access for owners of some 400 properties - people who are, at the end of the day, or neighbors we can keep the beaches from being accessible to thousands whom we don't know, then we should. If, as seems obvious, beach access adds to the value of properties in Incline, then why not accept adding value to 400 rather than losing value from thousands?


Here's the point, folks – nobody is going to win this one. In the Bluth affair it took $150,000 to defend against a frivolous, ill-devised suit and we didn't get a ruling on the issues. Today it could cost $250,000 and we might not win. If hotter heads prevail and this goes to Federal Court as a constitutional issue, if the ACLU, which has no interest in Tahoe or its beaches gets involved, it will cost a lot more and we are very likely to lose. Even in State or District Court, the jury hearing the case will not be from here, but could easily be Reno-ites or Carson-ites who would love to come to our beaches.


I say again, this is a true no-win situation, and we are well down the road to the point of no return. Somewhere, somehow, somebody needs to be the voice of reason in this and I don't know who will do that and have everyone involved listen to them. When people are so dead certain that theirs is the right view, reason is defined as anything that agrees with that view, and anything that does not agree is considered stupid at best. Not exactly fertile ground for dialogue.


I wish I had a good ending for this, but I don't. I do remember one instance though that might be instructive: When Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt met at Camp David in 1978, each began by declaring that his country's giving up the Sinai Peninsula to the other was absolutely non-negotiable, and it looked like the negotiations were over before they started. One of the American negotiators, under President Clinton's direction asked each head of state separately what was really important to them about the Sinai. Begin said it was security – Israel could not have that vast territory available to be used as a base of attack against them. Sadat, when asked, also said it was security – they could not have the Israeli army occupy what they considered part of their country. When it was clear that each side had the same basic commitment, it became possible to broker a solution that Egypt would retain the Sinai Peninsula and Israel would provide security patrols there.


It seems to me that the question that we should be asking is "what is it that makes beach access an important issue for both sides?" Perhaps then we will find a constructive solution. Without that, to quote Woody Allen, "More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

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