Think small, plan big, and respect nothing

“Among politicians and businessmen, pragmatism is the current term for 'To hell with our children.'” – Edward Abbey

by Robert T. Nanninga

s one of The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) most vocal critics, it never ceases to amaze me when I receive their latest propaganda glossy. Last week, like many county residents, I received the SANDAG Annual Report, entitled “THINK GLOBALLY, PLAN REGIONALLY, & RESPECT LOCALLY.” It's clear the developers laying waste to San Diego County have decided feigning environmental concern was necessary for the continuation of their growth jihad.

    Make no mistake, SANDAG is merely window dressing for a development industry whose ideology is identical to that of a cancer cell. Mindless growth for the sake of growth is a failed paradigm that has left history littered with its victims. The Anazazi and Inca grew beyond the point of sustainability, the Roman Empire collapsed under the weight of an overreaching military and an overinflated bureaucracy, and the British Empire was victim to its own arrogance and greed. Yet these lessons go unheeded as San Diego County is raped and pillaged beyond all recognition.

    It seems to me the reason SANDAG releases an Annual Report is threefold. The empty rhetoric constituting these “reports” is a way to announce their agenda in such a way as to give the illusion that things other than development interests are being consider in the planning process. 

    Such a diversion also gives those calling the shots the upper hand in defining their actions. Saying one thing in print while doing the exact opposite is hardly new. SANDAG has only adopted the “smoke and mirrors” style of communication in order to mask their true intent.

    The third element contributing to these annual “sand jobs” combines the manipulation of public opinion, a shameless commitment to vacuum thinking, and a gratuitous amount of back slapping. The only thing that changes with each successive report is the catchy name, graphics, and layout. Other than that it is the same treatise on the inevitability of steel and stucco, and the politics of pavement.

    This years' glossy gloss over – which, by the way, was not printed on recycled paper – is comprised of 28 pages describing SANDAG's accomplishments in 2002. Hardly an annual report, this public relations piece, best described as superficial rah-rah, offers nothing but the pro-development party line. If only these people could be forced to live in the San Diego they are “planning.”

    One thing conspicuously missing from the report are any financial numbers whatsoever. In the private sector, shareholders fully expect to see, in some detail, how their capital is being used; the annual report is where the news – good or bad – is delivered. As a taxpaying “shareholder” in our region, I find the omission of a substantial, accurate financial report positively “Enronic.”

    On page 21 of the “report,” while listing their environmental accomplishments, SANDAG's spin department touts the Regional Beach Sand Project as the year's “highlight.” However, they conveniently fail to report the price of the project, the fact that a great deal of the sand has already disappeared from regional beaches, or that SANDAG is already looking to repeat the process. Even they know sand replenishment is a temporary band aid for a much larger problem.

    Also included on the green-washing page is what appears to be SANDAG taking credit for the Multiple Habitat Conservation Program (MHCP). Unfazed by contradictory statements, the development wonks, with spin cycle fully engaged, attempt to redefine the goal of the MHCP. At home in a vacuum, these folks might actually believe “The intent of the MHCP is to protect native plant and animal species and their habitats in perpetuity, while at the same time , accommodating economic development and enhancing the quality of life for all residents.”

    My question is: when was the last time anyone from SANDAG called for the planting of native species; when was a subdivision ever denied to preserve indigenous animals? I also wonder how many planners on the SANDAG payroll have a Masters or PhD in botany, biology, or ecological systems. Such a distinction is important when one considers it is impossible to protect intact habitats, with viable populations of native flora and fauna. Continuing to bury everything under two inches of concrete in pursuit of economic development is by no stretch of the imagination “preserving the environment.”

    Also not mentioned in the misnamed report is how the San Diego region has grown beyond a sense of sustainability. The propaganda piece does mentioned that the SANDAG board of Directors voted to “obtain more water from the Metropolitan Water District of California” – which is hardly an accomplishment, considering no additional water has of yet resulted from the vote.

    In review, suffice it to say SANDAG's environmental record for 2001 consists of temporary sand, fractured habitat, and reduced water resources.

    And to think they have regional control of transportation planning. Yikes! That explains a lot.

    Robert Nanninga is a free-lance writer, producer and environmental journalist. A native of Vista living in Leucadia, he Chairs San Diego ZPG, as well as representing coastal North County on the Green County Council.