Thursday, November 5, 2009

A few random thoughts for early November

I haven't fallen off the planet, folks -- I've just been really busy with the big EBMUD fight. It was a good reminder that until we get the Mokelumne River protected with National Wild and Scenic River designation, we will be fighting these battles over and over.

Now I'm trying to catch up on everything I let go over the last few months -- my house, the Conservancy newsletter, visiting family and friends, etc.

The other day I did get-out-the-vote work for (new Congressman!) John Garamendi in Antioch. My GOTV partner and I worked in a nicely maintained suburban-style subdivision of the kind many people leave to move to the foothills. It had wide streets, well-kept homes, and absolutely no sign of human life during the workday (there were dogs at home, lots of dogs, mostly of the small yippy type).

To many people, this kind of subdivision represents the American dream: a nice home in a decent neighborhood with a good school nearby. There's certainly nothing wrong with that.

And it gave me some insight into why people may support this kind of project when it's proposed for our own local towns (as at Gold Rush Ranch). They may have lived in a place just like that before they came to our little county, or know people who do. Those subdivisions define so much of California living today.

To build that kind of subdivision, builders bulldoze the trees, mass-grade the land, and turn the site into a sort of generic California subdivision blank slate. Then they build homes that look an awful lot alike, and people quickly plant trees, lawns, and other landscaping to try to get some semblance of nature to return to their otherwise paved-over neighborhood. And they try to customize the homes -- at least to the extent allowed by the community's rules.

This neighborhood was a decent, clean and relatively safe place to live. But when you compare it to the older neighborhoods in small towns like Sutter Creek and Jackson, it was a place without character or soul. And I think that character, that soul, that unique sense of place, is part of what makes our small towns so special.

As local officials consider the large subdivisions being sold to them now in the guise of progress or economic salvation, they really need to think about that. Do we want to turn special places like Sutter Creek into anytown California?