Reader Letter: Despair Over Development

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As I read John Strassburger?s commentary in the February, 2013 issue of Horse Journal, I found myself filled with feelings of concern, bordering on despair. I know that what you say is true. I have only to visit places that were open forest or plain in my youth and see them as congested residential and shopping "developments" to experience it. Perhaps only because of my age (72), the changes come to me in such a shockingly clear way, but I am like those you mention whose formative experiences came at a time when things were much different.

Today, we live in a semi-rural area, where "developers" rail at the regulations they face and politicians talk of jobs to be created through economic "development." The rhetoric sounds like the urban/suburban encroachment on farmland and forest areas is a natural thing-like "developing" a roll of exposed film (pardon the "legacy" reference)-bringing forth images that were already present, albeit in latent form.

As I ponder the ways in which to resist the encroachment, I look toward the arena that ultimately shapes the outcome, our political environment. There, people call themselves "conservatives," as though they were supporting conservation. Instead, though, they support a setting of less regulation and less government, so that the "market" can take care ofthe future. They advocate for the "highest and best use" of land, suggesting that market forces will lead to the most desirable outcome. What they suggest, of course, is that the outcome should be determined by money-the merchant of human greed.

As I listen to organizations like the Sierra Club advocate regulations to contain real-estate development, I hear "conservatives" cry in protest at the disruption of the market by more regulation. What it leaves me to wonder is whether the prophecy of George Orwell may not now be upon us. Has our language? become so confounded that we can no longer communicate about important, critical issues' Is it all "newspeak'"

I look forward to more writing in Horse Journal and other publications about the topic. Perhaps, though, when a good three-string bale of grass hay costs $100.00 instead of the $25.00 we pay today (when we worried about $8.00 a bale only a couple of years ago), the "highest and best use" for that hay field might actually be to produce hay.

Please keep writing and encourage others to do so. If enough real conservatives-who believe in conserving our resources-join in the dialogue, we might actually be able to slow the money/greed drive encroachment a little. Thank you for taking a step forward in this important issue.

J.B., California?

John Strassburger responds: I couldn?t agree more with Mr. Biteman?s sentiments, especially the irony that ?Conservatives? are only really seeking to conserve money.

California, the state Mr. Biteman and I each live in, is symbolic of the challenge. Like him, I live in semi-rural area, in a county with 18,000 horses. And to my north (toward where he lives and beyond) and east are hundreds of thousands of square miles of some of the world?s most productive farmland and of almost pristine woods and mountains. Yet to my south are two of the country?s largest metropolitan areas?the San Francisco Bay Area (about 75 miles away) and Los Angeles/San Diego (500 miles away).

Developers often complain about the long list of building regulations in California communities, but the weather (wet in the winter, dry as a bone in the summer) and other factors (like steep mountains) makes the land exceedingly fragile and water a constant concern. But when the economy slumps, the pressure to build houses to save or create jobs is enormous. Balancing the needs of segments of our culture and the society as a whole is the trick, one our political leaders are ill-equipped to handle.

With Mr. Biteman?s encouragement, I'll continue to write on the subject, in my commentary and in my weekly blog.