June 20, 2012

Malibu, California

Malibu, California

Even environmentally sensitive luxury homes aren”€™t much wanted. The Edge isn”€™t just some rich guy with a stupid name”€”he’s connected. If you were some local land-use bureaucrat, how insouciantly would you stamp REJECTED on a building-permit request from the songwriting partner of Bono, who hangs out with Bill Clinton? That might seem way over your pay grade.

And The Edge knows how to play the game: He donated a million dollars to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which then declared itself neutral on his application. And yet the California Coastal Commission rejected The Edge’s permit in 2011. That hasn”€™t stopped the tireless rocker: He’s hired the former speaker of the state assembly, the notorious Fabian Nuñez, to lobby the legislature to add an Edge-sized loophole to California’s environmental laws.

Why is NIMBYism more powerful in California than in Texas? One reason is that California is more precipitous. The rocker is spending a fortune on political struggles to build on this particular ridge because from there he can see for miles and miles. Conversely, that prominent promontory is visible for miles and miles from the backyards of powerful people.

In contrast, most of Texas is so flat that few people can see much from their backyards, so they tend to mind their own business more. (Austin, the hilliest big city in Texas, is also the most liberal.)

Moreover, California has some nearly unique places where resistance to development can rally. The Sierra Club, for example, came into existence due to the fights over preserving first Yosemite and then Hetch Hetchy, the country’s two most spectacularly vertical valleys.

On the other hand, one major reason that Texas has never had a terribly powerful environmental movement is because land there is so abundant and fungible.

While California’s major cities cannot expand to the west because of the Pacific, the four main metropolises of Texas (Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio) can build suburbs outward over 360 degrees, making land far cheaper than in coastal California. In theory, Texas is hemmed in by the Gulf of Mexico, but you wouldn”€™t want to live along it because of humidity and hurricanes. Galveston used to be Texas’s main port until the hurricane of 1900 killed at least 6,000. After that, Houston, 45 miles inland and 45 feet above sea level, emerged as the region’s safer urban center.

Furthermore, much of Texas is so flat that one place in Texas is about as good as another. There’s no Alamo where Texas environmentalists can focus to make a stand.

The final irony is that the Texas Republican Party’s wide-open approach to issuing building permits may generate jobs in the short run but will eventually turn the Lone Star State into Democratic-voting Mexico Norte.



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