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NIMBY, BANANA, BANDANARoger E. Bütow ODD MAN OUT Salem-News.com
A 3 Part Series On Development Opposition.
(LAGUNA BEACH, CA) - Forward:
I’m hoping to help educate SNc browsers in a better understanding of environmental protectionists (ENVIROS) in my professional field, and also the genesis and evolution of anti-development concepts in general.
Readers will also increase their comprehension of the nuances, the real differences between the group-think mentality of some enviro-participants. Our commitments and dynamics are as diverse as Mother Nature’s biota.
Like snowflakes, no two individual activists or NGOs are alike in their duration on watch or their agendas, although the public perception might be otherwise. We’re not united in lockstep, we’re not really Axis Power eco-Nazis allies, there is internecine warfare as in any multi-personality family.
So let’s dive into the ocean of anti-development dynamics. Let’s see if we can get a Polaroid shot, both a casual and causal glimpse, at least get our feet wet metaphorically in an attempt to decipher the mindset of this binary killing floor that I inhabit and work professionally within.
For PART I, we’ll start with NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard)
PART II will be about BANANAs (BuildAbsolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything….or Anyone)
PART III will discuss BANDANAs
(Build Absolutely No Desalination Absolutely Near Anything) plus tie the package up with a bow.
Warning: This last category I either invented or just dreamed I did. I thought it a funny metaphor for a hot button controversial topic in coastal states going dry on potable (drinking) water. Here in my home state of California, we’re at crunch time, robbing Peter to pay Paul. All parties are going into those endless EPA hearings and litigious courtrooms we seem to love and practically invented.
PART I: Ecce NIMBY! (Behold The NIMBY!)
NIMBY is a derogatory acronym that apparently emerged from the environmental management field under stressful siege in the late 70s. It describes opposition by the public to a proposal for a new development in physical proximity to them, developments that may or may not necessarily be needed in the society. Comedian George Carlin had a “field day” with this term.
NIMBY fever is a function of time and space, and a dash of numbers: The closer and more imminent the potentially adverse impacts are to you the more likely you are to become involved ASAP. Your “buy-in” is usually more fervid if it’s over your fence, if YOUR ox is gored. It’s kind of like “Think globally but react locally.”
If distant, the topic might be too abstract for volunteers. NIMBY is up close and personal, proximity equals involvement. Numbers come into play if you’re a mom or dad, so the bigger the family probably the more likely you’ll join in.
And your honor, may I approach the bench? I confess. I am guilty as charged. I throw myself upon the merciless judgment of the court of public opinion. I started out 15 years ago as a NIMBY. In reality, I don’t think that I’ve ever met an activist for any cause that didn’t get started out this way, though that’s no excuse.
Thousands of years ago we were cavemen protecting our clans, now we’re Americans protecting our homes and families. Readers may want to use the SNc internal search engine for my series several years ago “How To Build An Environmental Activist.”
Literally sick of ocean pollution, after getting numerous eye, ear, nose and throat infections, I became engaged, I was compelled by the challenge. Putting aside my service as the President of the Laguna Beach Softball association, I’d never donated, paid back others with responsible, civic improvement time.
I originally thought that elevated bacterial concentrations and other beasties due to urban runoff were the culprits, later learned that runoff drool (I called it TOXIC SOUP) was much worse than I knew. My outrage was heightened when I found out that my superficially beautiful, funky town had averaged 1 sewage spill every 3 weeks for the 2-year period between 1998 and 1999. YECH!
In the case of wastewater spills, whatever toxic constituents were in those citywide wastewater systems (everything that goes down the drain inside of our buildings) was hitting our ocean, closing a few hundred yards of strands for days on end each time. Only after health department monitoring gave the green light was it again (supposedly) safe. And I found out that most were preventable.
So I roped myself in, started an NGO myself because I did not want this crap literally in my front yard, where I swam, where I still find communion with Nature. I took it personal, and it WAS close. Added to the constant drip feed of urban runoff, we were getting a double whammy because we’re right up against the ocean for Pacific Coast Highway discharges.
Many of the most successful activists are only temporarily mobilized or motivated inhabitants of the NIMBY world. They are the grassroots type of critter, they’re not interested in endless windmill chasing. An issue that directly affects them personally arises, they become involved, but afterwards withdraw from the scene. They’ve exercised their democratic rights regarding redress of perceived grievances, maybe they learned more about land use than they ever wanted (zoning, etc.), but those are good byproducts.
Like sausage, once they’ve experienced how government is made (i.e., doesn’t work), they many times lose their taste for communicating with politicians and appointed officials. It’s stopped many a responsible citizen from ever voting again or at minimum trusting government to solve neighborhood conflicts. They learn that their elected only want to be re-elected and that those public agency employees don’t see themselves as your servants but rather your superior masters. If you find an exception, then seduce them, send flowers, bury them in love and write a letter to your paper praising them, they actually "Get it."
Often it’s apparent that simply sitting down in private with egos parked at the door and no threatening attorneys present, with the project proponent at a neutral site, can adaptively lower the hot rhetoric, clear up misunderstandings and even a truce formed. I know professionally of many such instances that were more like interventions. Once the NIMBYs understand the project better, its real or perceived impacts dialogued, personable negotiations may progress to mitigations, conditions or exactions that stave off litigation altogether.
But like you-know-what, litigation happens. This more lengthy and expensive route is a sign of partial failure by all sides. I say partial because it does have a redeeming quality: Usually parties in dispute, after a Notice of Intent to sue (NOI) is served, are given a mechanism mandate, are required or legally forced to enter a 30 day cooling off period, told to sit down together at least one time in a civil manner. Then, if they can’t resolve their issues, it’s courtroom time.
NIMBY World can be a one-and-done, or it can escalate into a larger communal movement. Many locals only, community-based PACs are in fact just bloated NIMBY ventures. If they don’t abuse the power, they can be beneficial as lightning rods, perform important educational and philanthropic services. They can be focused and effective in preserving certain core values that they embrace, that they champion in their part of the American quilt.
They keep the civic equivalent of biological connectivity with meeting notifications for stakeholders, venues that assist their locale in finding eco-friendly solutions to increasingly complex problems, form support groups if another neighborhood has similar issues, and definitely have value if not abused or usurp.
Much of that abuse comes from the usual place: Those drone or beta egotists who for whatever reasons are wannabe alphas, who have too much time on their hands and have that self-righteous, Nietzschean will-to-power schtick in their heads. They think that “No Compromise, Take No Prisoners, Hell No Never” intransigent attitude is a form of guaranteed engagement ad infinitum. They’re addicted, it’s borderline sado/maso.
They don’t WANT the game to end, otherwise they’d have to go back to reading granola box ingredients and staring at their boring significant others. Unfortunately, if it’s a neighbor they’re peeved about and whom they demonize, it’s tough to go back to a friendly smile when going out to your front yard for watering.
It’s one thing to beat up on impersonal developers, rage against abstract corporate entities trying to outrageously slam a nuclear power plant over the fence, that’s easy and well understood. The small wars in compressed spaces lead to those Hatfields vs. the McCoys fables. Restraining orders and such do happen. Picking up the pieces, dealing with collateral damage isn’t fun.
Sometimes outside NGOs, those large state or national non-profits dawgs intervene because the project represents a specific example of what they are opposed to, what they’re fighting to protect and yes, honor their mission statement….plus fulfill their IRS checklist too. Many a 501 c 3 has been caught cooking the books or stepping outside of the prescribed box that exemptions and tax breaks guide via mandates, so many pick their spots, pile on to what seems a minor boondocks project to prove they’re not asleep at the eco-wheel. Really helps at membership drive time!
Not all social mistakes are intentional, but it would be naïve to say that non-profits don’t often push aside the grass roots creationists at Ground Zero. Non-profits may at times USE these local disputes as fluff, as “eco-product,” a way to generate more general contributions even if the locals did all of the homework, the groundwork and heavy lifting. They have large corporate staffs and benefits packages… Whattyaknow, just like developers!
The media are their facilitators, they’ll promote themselves via press releases, public service announcements, etc., and lobby for interviews while locals become window dressing, props and homey drapery. This is a sore spot for me personally---All that my NGO (Clean Water Now!) ever accomplished came without such intervention or help. God bless the child whose got his own.
Nonetheless, major non-profit players bring oodles of savvy staff and legal support. If they get attorney fees and other damages in court, as long as they tithe back it seems a symbiotic relationship. I’ve been used by several over the years, they got the big $$$, I got a pat on the head. Live and learn. It is disturbing to see the real heartfelt bodies shunted aside at venues, but if it’s about winning maybe that’s not so important.
Environmental impact disputes become total failures when neither side budges, when it’s down to winner-take-all, a zero sum game. The bitterness never dies or goes away completely. No one forgives OR forgets. Residual resentment and recrimination, a perception that "By God, if I didn’t win here there’s a bigger venue for victory and there’ll be hell to pay somewhere, anywhere", can create mini-Frankensteins, snarky activists who eventually forage for prey outside of their local habitat.
If the acrimony lingers in some hearts and minds, out of those fiery, perverse and unsatisfying crucibles a punishing BANANA can be born. Which is the subject of my next column so stay tuned.
Other parts in this series:
FYI: If a project near you has some interesting enviro-aspect(s) that you think is/are worthy of Salem-News.com coverage and our readers attention, feel free to contact me with a very brief synopsis. Water-related “Blue Interventions” are my specialty!
Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger Bütow and his OMO columns are written exclusively for Salem-News-com. Born and raised in the LA Harbor area, son of a German immigrant father, he moved to Orange County in 1965 and has lived in Laguna Beach since 1972. In 1998, he began his professional career in environmental review processes (CEQA, NEPA, MND, MND and EIR/EIS). He's a rare mix of cross-trained builder, writer and consultant as he brings his extensive construction experiences dating back to 1972 into his eco-endeavors. He has tremendous field and technical expertise in successful watershed restorations, plus wastewater, urban runoff, water quality monitoring/improvements and hydrologic mechanisms. He's built everything from commercial spas to award-winning private residences, and provided peer review and consultant analyses for single homes, subdivisions and upscale resorts.
His resumé is extensive, try an online GOOGLE search of his personal journey and historical accomplishments. His consultation fees are reasonable and if you've got a major project that alarms you, that needs creative intervention, then he's your man. His credentials and "CV" can be provided upon request.
Contact him at his office: (949) 715.1912 or drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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