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June, 2007



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Skeptic's Journal for June 2007
By Jeanette Pontacq

The 900-lb Gorilla in our midst
The number of mouths to feed on the planet passed from 4.5 billion at the beginning of the 1980s to nearly 6.5 billion in 2006. This was an increase of 40% in 25 years. To keep up, the production of beef increased by 28%, that of pork doubled and that of chicken tripled via factory farming.
Population is the 900-lb gorilla in the living room, which everyone tries to ignore. But population is the basis of almost every one of the hot issues this paper discusses and writes about. So before moving on to discuss immigration impacts or water problems or war or industrial food, development, or whatever, let's look the 900-lb gorilla in the eye.

The size of the population in California, one year ago, was 37.5 million. In 1850, we started with 92,000 people. By 1900, we had 1.5 million. The year 1950 brought a huge jump to 10.5 million, with another huge jump to 33.8 million by 2000. Projections for 2020 are conservative at 44 million and 2050 at 55+ million.

Population increases come both from domestic migration (people coming from other states) and international immigration, as well as births versus deaths. Births total approximately 550,000 per year, with immigrant women alone producing at least 46% of that figure. Deaths average only 235,000 a year. The result is both the graying of California, and a huge increase in people immigration (domestic and international)

Our Environment
Although California ranks 1st in biodiversity among all the states (6,717 species), we are only second in the percentage of species at risk (28.5%). We are 1st in endemic species (1,295), but third in extinct species already (53). Examples: nearly 60% of California fish species are either extinct or on the federal endangered species lists. One in five California bird species are listed as endangered already.

Ninety-nine (99) per cent of the native grasslands are gone, as are 91% of wetlands, 89% of riparian woodlands and 85% of the coast redwood forest.

Urban development, to house the growing population, has deducted 50,000 acres of farmland each year. Three California farming regions are among the top 20 most threatened ag areas in the USA: Central Valley, Central Coast and the Imperial Valley. Anyone taking the #120 route to Yosemite these days can see the paving over of the Central Valley via housing. If the current trends continue, the remaining farm acreage will be lost in 30 years. West Marin has been a miracle of conservation in comparison.

As to fisheries, bottom fishing for rockfish is now closed; commercial abalone fishing is closed and recreational fishing is closed south of San Francisco Bay. Chinook and Coho salmon are listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The oceans are in serious trouble.

Air quality for over 3/4 of the residents of California is below acceptable levels. The state cannot now supply the energy needs of its residents without outside help. Urban sprawl is an epidemic of huge proportions, as is traffic.

BOTTOM LINE: In our San Francisco Bay Area, we have been averaging 20 acres needed to support one person, which is 15% less than the USA as a whole. If the coming horde of new people to the area consume at even half the rate of current residents, projected growth in the state would require 175 million acres to support them. Unfortunately for us all, California only contains 100 million acres total. The state of California has already exceeded its carrying capacity and cannot support additional population growth without outside help, and even then it is a problem of survival for us all.


In West Marin, everyone pretty much considers himself or herself an environmentalist. Further, when asked directly, most will also say that they like the way our villages are at the moment and don't want to see them "gentrified." Unfortunately, those who often end up pushing gentrification on a village do not see themselves as doing such a thing. This is especially true of new arrivals, of which we have quite a few these days. Instead, they believe they are contributing to "making it better." Sometimes, yes, but most times, no. When analyzed, a lot of what passes in their minds for "making it better" is actually just making it more like where they came from.

There is quite a bit of conversation in West Marin at the moment about all the seeming activity around "changing" things "to be better." Change is, indeed, inevitable. But we all have the choice of the pace of change and in what direction it goes. Or at least we SHOULD have the choice. Because West Marin is unincorporated, it is easy for someone to go to the County and tell them "the community wants this or that." Since a vote is not taken, nor a comprehensive poll, who really knows what "the community wants?" It is more likely what a small contingent or even just an individual wants and demands convincingly enough from the County. This is a problem, and a difficult one at that. More on this later.


A headline in the Marin IJ recently announced that the Marin Community Foundation "declares war on NIMBYism." Tom Peters, the foundation's president, said "we're signaling by this initiative a determination to take whatever steps are necessary to achieve the (affordable) housing." This statement of war on local resistance to development comes on the heels of the successful fight by locals in Tam Valley to repel a proposed large build-out near a dangerously overused corner. It also comes on the heels of the Marin County Planning Commission's decision to scale back incentives for affordable housing in the Marin Countywide Plan.

For Mr. Peters, Nimbyism is an evil, done by those ignorant of the blessings of infill and more development in their neighborhoods or villages. In reality, it is most often just an expression of the angst felt by local residents faced with others coming into their towns and villages and telling them that they MUST participate in a plan to increase the footprint of housing therein, or be called Nimby or Racist or whatever negative thing can be thrown at them.

Personally, I support the concept of affordable housing when appropriate. Unfortunately, the rubric of "affordable" housing is too often being used for nefarious reasons and inappropriate buildout for profit. In Point Reyes Station, one only needs to look at the "affordable" sweat-equity homes turned to market rate, or the EAH houses sold at market rate, and on and on. Development is development.

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