Every time El Paso talks about development I’m reminded that the naysayers aren’t comfortable telling the truth. The recent announcement of a huge increase in the impact tax has brought out the worst in the anti-growth crowd. These good people are reduced to lying through their teeth and it’s not necessary.
If there’s one truth in life it’s that we all become our parents. And becoming our parents means becoming severely adverse to change. You’ll notice most all of the anti-growth crowd is well north of 40. The young anti-growth crowd has a different agenda and we’ll get to them.
The old folks in the anti-growth crowd hate change and there’s no bigger change for them than new neighborhoods that come with new roads and new traffic patterns and new parks and new stop lights and all the other new stuff that comes with everything being new. It scares them. It angers them. It makes them wonder why things can’t be like they were. In short – somebody moved their cheese and they don’t like it.
Not only does new development offer unwelcome change, it murders nostalgic memories for these folks. Sit down with a 60 year old anti-growther and they’ll tell you about the days when Yarbrough was “way out there on the edge of town.” And how they used to chase Billy the Kid and dinosaurs around the land that is now Loop 375. Expansion has killed their childhood memories and they don’t like it. Well, that and all the other changes they have to get used to that I mentioned before.
The old anti-growthers aren’t completely okay with their excuse for blocking younger El Pasoans’ shot at the American dream. They feel bad saying “you shouldn’t be allowed to own a new home because I have issues with change and no way of coping with it.” The old anti-growthers know that years ago their new home in a new development was annoying to the old fuddy-duddys of the time. However, they got their shot and they know in their mind that younger El Pasoans deserve their shot as well – it’s only fair.
But screw fairness.
The old anti-growthers are not comfortable giving the real reason why they don’t want new houses in El Paso, so they latch onto the “new growth doesn’t pay for itself” lie. When they were a part of the new growth 30 years ago they more than paid for themselves, but they won’t let that fact stand in the way of their ranting and raving. What’s one more lie when they are already masking their real motivation?
This anti-change attitude wouldn’t be all that bad if it didn’t also apply to infill redevelopment as well. The anti-growthers are also anti-redevelopmenters. They don’t want you building a new house on virgin land and a they also don’t want you renovating one of the old pieces of crap in their neighborhood either. And this may be exactly why young people are leaving El Paso in droves. All the old people are using the local government to scream “get off of my lawn!”
It would be refreshing to have the anti-growthers/redevlopmenters just say “we hate change, so don’t change.”
Now, there are some folks out there who won’t lie to you about why don’t want growth. If you read Max Powers you get the sense he just dislikes our car-centric society and believes sprawl adds to the problem. I respect his position because it’s honest about what he sees as a problem. There are people like him who do not care whether new growth pays for itself or not – they don’t want to live in a place where you have to have car to get around or else you’re stranded.
And when someone like Max makes that argument, there’s no rebutting it. His goal is not negotiable and it’s not something you can pick apart. It’s based on his honest opinion of the issue and not some false front like growth not paying for itself.
Jim Tolbert is the environmental guy I like because he is also a business guy. Tolbert doesn’t want willy-nilly expansive development because he believes the desert and the mountains are a precious treasures that are best enjoyed on foot and left as is. He doesn’t hide behind erroneous claims, but instead states his exact reasons for his beliefs.
His aim to preserve land can not be argued against. You either want to bulldoze the desert you don’t. He argues that once you bulldoze it, you ruin it as open space and natural habitat. I can’t argue against that.
Tolbert’s arguments are honest and that’s what makes them effective. He also understands that he’s not a dictator and that development will take place. He knows that he loses a seat at the table the second he starts lying. With a seat at the table he’s in a better position to steer new development in a smart and environmentally respectful direction. He knows it’s going to happen and he does what it takes to make sure he gets a say.
If we had a few more Jim Tolberts and a lot less of these grumpy old people, El Paso would be better off.