Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Arguments Against "Green" Development in Santa Cruz

As the popularity of "green" development in Santa Cruz increases, those who think that selling the false promise of a healthy planet is disgusting must speak up. These developments are being pushed as good for you, good for the planet and good for your money, but companies and politicians have always done things for the benefit of their wallets rather than for the earth or our communities. On the west side, a new live/work complex is in the works, so you can have an easier time selling your life away. In 2008, a 55-unit condo/retail space was built on 41st avenue. Also in 2008, a 70-unit "highly anticipated luxury condo" development with many "green" amenities was built in downtown Santa Cruz. A year and a half later, only 13 of the 70 500-700,000 dollar condos were occupied. As for the city's plans for affordable housing, a new 5-story bus station and parking garage is being planned, with whatever space is left over on top being designated as affordable housing. On Market St., in a semi-wild field bordering a creek, trees are being cut down and land is being graded to build a 32-unit single-family home development. Many different people and groups have spoken out against the numerous impacts of this development, and this is our contribution.

1. There is absolutely nothing green about destroying a wild meadow where bobcats roam and endangered flowers, live oaks and redwoods grow. The amount of animals and plants that will be hurt or killed by this development has a far more negative impact than the possible environmental benefits of owning a green home. The subtleties of nature cannot be counted and checked off, cordoned over or “saved” behind a fence. We tend to think of a place as isolated, but a meadow like the one on Market St. is much more than that. It is a wildlife corridor, where deer, bobcats, coyotes and other animals go, it is a meadow where many have enjoyed a sunny day and discovered the beauty of the world. Habitat fragmentation is a huge consequence of paving over small areas of wild space like this. While the endangered spineflower may be able to exist here with its’ surrounding habitat destroyed, none of these plants and animals were created in a vacuum, and they all need the entire habitat that their evolution occurred in, in order to survive. Animals need corridors to roam, plants and insects need areas of different climate and temperature to retain enough genetic diversity to survive, and all of these things are negatively impacted when even smaller areas like this one are destroyed. If paving over semi-wild places to build homes for the wealthy is considered a green practice, then we are still on the same path to destroying our planet as before.

2. Many people in Santa Cruz can’t afford to buy a home, especially a new one, and many green building practices are notoriously expensive. People who work in the service industry, people who farm and harvest our food and other low-wage jobs, don’t make enough money to be able to purchase the organic foods they grow and the solar panels they fabricate, let alone participate in these “green” ways of living that are touted as being earth-saving. The changes that need to be made for a healthier earth are not as simple as our lifestyle choices. So, although having an energy efficient home and driving a Prius is more beneficial to the environment than a traditional car or home, the economic position that people must be in to attain these things means that they will never be widespread enough to have the kind of impact their marketers claim they would have. Also, these “consumer choices”, even if widespread, would do little to stem the tide of ecological destruction that goes hand in hand with industrialization and modern civilization. The choices that humans make that impact the earth the most are not choices that you or I are the originators of, even if our consumption of commodities is part of what drives their production.

3. The wealthy people that are already here aren’t creating a more stable economy. When there are thousands struggling to meet basic needs, inviting more wealthy people in to our community is like planting a tree when a whole forest has been cut down. It’s nice, but it won’t do anything. We need more affordable housing and better jobs here. But part of the reason that things like cheaper housing and higher paying jobs don’t happen is because they don’t afford an immediate profit for those who create them, and when the city government is struggling, it too must look for those avenues which it deems will create profit. Thus, we have seen the development of the Rittenhouse building, 2030 North Pacific, and the 41st avenue condo development. Unsurprisingly, they have all gone largely unoccupied and unused. Presumably these buildings were created with the intention of more wealthy people living and doing business here, but in these hard times, even the lure of big buildings and bright lights has not brought the economic relief desired. The city’s hands are effectively tied in providing any relief to those who are struggling to make a living and pay rent in any direct way, except by the bureaucratic and creaky systems of public welfare, which also do little to alleviate more systemic problems.

4. Those who are at the top (people who would be able to buy these “green homes”) rely on the bottom and middle to make their lives possible. They could not be movers and shakers if they were growing all their food, teaching their children and manufacturing all of their household goods. And since those who are in a higher class control the companies that the service sector works for, paying as little wage as possible for these services is common. The economic growth of some always comes at the expense of others. For this reason, the kind of economic growth that the city of Santa Cruz desires to bring in will only create more inequality, more economic and housing problems, and will continue to contribute to the decline of the environment and the destruction of the earth. A truly environmentally conscious society must also be one that is egalitarian in structure and provides for the needs of all of its’ members, while considering the health of the whole earth.

In solidarity with life,

SC Local

Links to development info:

Luxury Condo FAIL
Affordable housing?
Work/Live Development

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