Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bonanza Column 194 – A Time for Unity

I don't know anyone who is not, by their own lights at least, an environmentalist. I have never met anyone who advocates destroying the environment, though some, like BP, may put other priorities such as profit ahead of it, they will find some rationale for doing so. That said, in many cases those who take on "The Environment" as with most people who take on a cause, have a tendency to see things in black and white terms and, as this week's editorial in papers around the Lake puts it, to "judge a book by its cover."

That editorial went on line at the end of the week and has already as of this writing on Saturday begun to draw fire from people and organizations whose identity (and in some cases salary) depends on their position on the environment. When the papers come out in print it's likely that it will draw more. As an unpaid columnist I have no obligation to agree with the paper's position on anything and sometimes I don't. In this case, though, I think the editorial staff hit the nail on the head and if you haven't read the editorial, I recommend you stop here and do so (then come back to this column).

Economists are currently debating two dangers inherent in economic recovery – inflation and deflation. I would submit that in the environment "debates" in our community we have another danger – conflation. Conflation occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places, become confused until there seems to be only a single identity — the differences appear to become lost.

As an example, I attended the presentation last week by the Lake Tahoe Basin Prosperity Plan that is reported on elsewhere this week. That presentation was not without its flaws – not enough time for public input, for example, but it was mostly very well done. The stated vision of the LTBPP in the draft plan is:

"The Lake Tahoe Basin is a world class center of innovation around green tourism, green building and sustainable design, scientific research and applications for environmental resource renewal and management, renewable energies, and health and wellness. "It is the sustainability powerhouse of the nation."

In two slides out of sixty-two in the presentation, workforce housing was mentioned as one of a number of bullet points – one mentioned as a basin-wide issue "Lack of financing for businesses and community development/infrastructure/workforce housing" and the other reported that the "cluster group" on tourism and visitor issues included as one bullet point in one of four proposed strategic initiatives "Create a basin-wide workforce housing strategy."

Despite the tiny percentage of the draft plan that even mentioned workforce housing at all, one of the first people to comment objected to this and focused on it as if it were the core of the plan. In other words, the speaker conflated workforce housing with the whole plan and treated them as one issue (see my earlier column on "Trotsky was killed with an ice axe"). I mention this not so much to criticize this individual as to illustrate how common it is. Housing (and workforce, affordable, low-income, moderate-income are not the same thing, but subject to conflation), tourism, the canard of "becoming like South Shore," building height, and other issues are argued about as global matters without regard to individual cases.

I propose that it's time for a more intelligent and rational debate about the future of the Basin and Incline Village/Crystal Bay in particular. If we don't get serious about determining our future and putting our communities' destinies into the hands of the people who are affected by it, those futures will be determined for us, and not in a good way. For example, the Washoe County Board of Supervisors has, by a vote of 4-1, authorized an advisory ballot question for the November election to give the Legislature guidance on whether to approve a merger of Reno & Unincorporated Washoe County. In case you're not clear about this, IV/CB are "unincorporated Washoe County."

I wonder how much a Reno-dominated Washoe County will care about the Lake and IV/CB as anything but a cash cow to finance underfunded areas. It's time for obstruction in the name of the environment or anything else to stop. As Ben Franklin said, we must hang together or we will surely hang separately.

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