* Nobody loves a NIMBY. It is obvious that Gideon Kanner, professor emeritus, hates them (Valley Commentary, Dec. 5). That is easy to do. Consider that Gerald Silver, NIMBY extraordinaire, once argued that extreme traffic congestion is good because it slows growth. Slower growth means a better quality of life and so extreme traffic congestion improves the quality of life!
However, Kanner's arguments are irrelevant and dangerous. They trivialize the problems with planning and development in Los Angeles County.
Sure, it is easy to laugh at Silver and his battle of the Encino Burger King, for example.
However consider the more difficult issues. Just last week, the supervisors approved a major expansion of the Sunshine Canyon Landfill. The controversy, which Kanner finds so amusing, concerns a mega-dump of almost unbelievable proportions. Expanding an airport may seem to be great, but try living under the flight paths. The ridgelines of the Santa Susana Mountains are even now being graded for Porter Ranch housing tracts. The last free-flowing river in Southern California, the Santa Clara, is hanging in the balance, as channelization permits await approval.
The remaining vestige of the last valley oak savanna in Southern California has been recently approved for conversion to a golf course. A factory outlet mall will soon grace the site of Christo's umbrellas in Gorman. The widening of California 126 threatens to make animal migration through our local mountains all but impossible. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is struggling before the bulldozers to knit together some coherent pattern of open space from a crazy patchwork of parcels. The list goes on and on.
Kanner's premise is that NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) are bad and greedy, because they seek to preserve and enhance their property values by fighting to safeguard the quality of their surroundings.
Excuse me? Since when is it necessarily bad and greedy to try to make things better or at least try to keep them from getting worse?
Further, a huge number of housing units have been approved in Los Angeles County, about 10,000 in the Santa Clarita Valley area alone. Enormous Porter Ranch is just getting on track. The giant Playa Vista development in West Los Angeles is just getting under way. There is obviously a large supply of housing in the pipeline. So where is this supply restriction that Kanner thinks is caused by the evil NIMBYs?
The "good guys" for Kanner are the abused developers, eager to help the poor and provide for social justice. I suppose it would be as easy for me to make an argument based on a stereotype of rapacious and greedy developers as it was for Kanner to mount his NIMBY attack. It would also be just as cheap and just as irrelevant; the profit motive is the best incentive there is.
But Kanner suggests that developers' "reasonable needs" are unmet, and that their constitutional rights are being violated. A "need" is someone's justification for not paying the resource cost for desired goods--in other words a justification for taking what one has not earned.
As for rights, Kanner would do well to remember that an investment is predicated on an expectation of future prices. An investment is a risk. One risk is that a government, acting properly for the general good, will harm the value of a particular investment. The idea that one has a constitutional right not to lose money on an investment is a travesty. Casting such an event as something like theft is ridiculously simplistic. Kanner's idea of property rights would condemn us to a cityscape like the hells envisioned in the films "Blade Runner" and "Brazil." And we appear to be well on our way there in any case.
There is a well-developed and deep body of social theory concerning appropriate public choice. This literature provides criteria for evaluating alternatives and standards by which to evaluate the public-choice methods employed by government officials. Unfortunately, it is a way of thinking that seems to have escaped those employed by the public to make choices.
The challenge to the quality of life in Los Angeles is pressing, immediate and very real. It is critical. We have already taken what was once seen as a land of almost mythic charm and beauty and converted it into something hellacious. Kanner does us all a grave disservice with his stereotypes and trivializations.