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Bargaining With the Open Space Devil
Makes Us All Greenies Now

by Wayne Lusvardi 9/12/07

merican newspaper journalist H. L. Mencken once wrote:

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

This is no more exemplified than with what is conventionally called "open space preservation" in California.
In a German legend, a character named Faust (German for "fist" or Latin for "lucky") traded his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge or power. Most of California's urban residents have struck what is called a Faustian Bargain with the devil of  Open Space.  

California residents are continually trading their political souls to the false god of preservation in exchange for the bogus value of open space near their neighborhoods.  In most cases, the threat of any real damage to residential property values by nearby pending development has been wildly exaggerated and public hysteria has been fomented by activists with political agendas.

Guest Contributor
Wayne Lusvardi

Wayne Lusvardi worked for 20 years for the Metro Water District of So. Cal. and is an independent real estate appraiser in Pasadena. The views expressed are his own. Wayne receives e-mail at waynelbox-blogger@yahoo.comand blogs at http://www.pasadenapundit.com

Let's take a couple of current real life examples from Pasadena, California, the home of the Rose Parade, and thus a city familiar to many.

Hysteria Over Self-Storage Park Under Power  Lines

In East Pasadena about a half block south of Colorado Boulevard (the street of the Rose Parade) residents are hysterically opposing a proposal to lease a portion of Southern California Edison's High Voltage Electric Transmission Line Corridor, already leased for a retail-commercial nursery, for a self-storage park. The outrage of the public is that their neighborhoods are losing their "open space."  But Edison's utility corridor at this location is not "open space" or a nature trail but is used for its ugly high voltage electric transmission line towers with other nearby portions leased for a new car sales lot, a parking lot, and a retail nursery outlet.  

Presently, the nursery site is improved with ugly shade canopies, quanset huts, and a dilapidated trailer, all visible from the street despite a spotty green hedge row  around the perimeter and ample green trees and shrubs on the site.  Anyone who wishes to view an aerial photo of the nursery site online need only go to Google Maps and enter "140 South Kinneloa Street, Pasadena, CA 91107" and zoom in to see the ugly structures on the nursery site at the north east corner of Brandon Street and Kinneloa Avenue.

So-called "open space preservationists" fomented public hysteria during the recent-past City Council elections in Pasadena over the proposed development of the nursery site for a self-storge park to advance their political agenda and their political candidates. But studies have repeatedly found that even large, ugly electric transmission towers, and the emission of electromagnetic waves from the power lines, do not diminish surrounding residential property values.  

Self storage parks are not all ugly industrial facilities and are extensions of the neighborhood in which they are located.  So how could an attractively designed self-storage park, with craftsman style architecture and lush landscaped berms to screen out visual impacts around the perimeter, have more negative affect on nearby residential property values than a gigantic and ugly high voltage electric line?  The only plausible stigma to property values from an attractive self storage park would likely come from public hysteria about the proposed development.  
Hillside Open Space Preservation
Across town and south of the Rose Bowl  in upscale West Pasadena
residents, mostly from the adjacent City of La Canada and some from Pasadena, have successfully blocked the development of about 24 homes on about 39-acres for the Annandale Estates proposed estate home project in the San Rafael Hills. Activists have gotten $2.5 million in funds from the Mountains Conservancy to buy out the property from the developer. The public outrage over this proposed project catapulted former mayor of adjoining La Canada, Anthony Portentino, into office as a State Assemblyman (D-44th District).  

You can view the proposed Annandale Estates plot plan at City of Pasadena's planning website (EIR link too long to post). But beware that the homes were placed in the most obtrusive locations on hilltops and ridge lines by City planners as part of the City-prepared EIR, not by the developer, to elicit the most negative public response. What "preservationists" won't  tell you is that a clustered development of homes, as originally proposed by the developer on the lower elevations of the site, would not likely have resulted in any degrading of the quality of open space views or home values to nearby upscale residences.  Nor would adding 24 homes have substantially increased traffic impacts in the area.
Pasadena's Bogus Bargain with the Devil 

What Pasadenans have gotten in return for preserving open space in Pasadena's elite hillside neighborhoods has been affordable housing, groups homes, inclusionary housing, and politically protected immigrant enclaves jack-booted into the non-elite neighborhoods at every opportunity by the same political crowd that calls  themselves "preservationists."  The unofficial motto of preservation in Pasadena is "preservation for me (the elites), but not the thee" (the non-elites). In short, don't look for the Nature Conservancy to offer the Edison Company $2.5 million to buy out the proposed long-term lease for a storage park in East Pasadena as they have the developer of a proposed 24-unit hillside tract in upscale West Pasadena.  

The message of the political party of the Open Space Devil is:

"You better vote for us or we will foment public hysteria and panic about your property values, plant stories and letters into sensationalistic-hungry newspapers, and ruin the image of your neighborhood (even if the likely impacts on property values of a proposed development are totally negligible)."
Essentially  this is an extortion model of government.  But the public has become so accustomed to this "shake down" model that they have mistaken that it is one and the same as a republican form of democracy."
It is based on a public and media response of hysteria. And it has made us all into "greenies."  
As national radio talk show host Dennis Prager has commented: "If you want to understand the Left, the best place to start is with an understanding of hysteria. Leading leftists either use hysteria as a political tactic or are actually hysterics....No event is free of leftist hysteria."

By analogy, those who are suspicious that their fears about terrorism were exploited after 9/11 by launching a war in the Middle East by one political party seemingly have no qualms about falling for the exploitation of fear about the development of open space right in their backyards by the other political party. It's so much easier in believing that one was manipulated into a far away war one knows little about than it is to see that one has been duped about a highly contrived open space preservation war right in front of their noses.   
The public needs to recognize that the Open Space Devil wears business suits  or high heels, has a calm demeanor, and most often appears as your ally against developers to preserve "open space."  If California (and Pasadena's) residents are going to learn how to cooly and calmly avoid being duped into trading their political souls and votes to the Open Space Devil, they better learn the lesson that "he who would sup with the devil better have a very long spoon."

copyright 2007 Wayne Lusvardi




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