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A bogus argument

NIMBYs are nothing new, but their tales are getting old



Spring has sprung in San Luis Obispo County, and glorious flowers have waltzed in to make our days happier: baby blue eyes, lupine, tidy tips, California golden poppies.

In South County, however, a loathsome weed has taken root, erupting from hillsides and along highways in Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande. You can't miss it: It can be spotted by its "flower," white letters on a red background spelling out "proposed homeless project at Hillside Church: right idea, wrong location."

This putrescent growth, planted by a group ludicrously called "Neighbors for Safety," is the pernicious NIMBY weed, and the current incarnation's noxious fumes, as always, are aimed at overcoming the powerless, in this case the homeless.

NIMBY—not in my back yard—is nothing new. In my 50-year career as a journalist I wrote NIMBY stories from coast to coast, with maddening regularity. Death, taxes, and NIMBY, the three sure things in modern America.

The mantra is always the same: The home for (Downs Syndrome children, battered women, the poor, the homeless, fill in the blank) is a swell idea but, goldurn it, the location you fellas are proposing just won't work.

Then come the reasons why, almost always outright bogus or a stretch of logic that would challenge Plastic Man.

In Grover Beach, a small army of caring people, including the 5Cities Homeless Coalition and Peoples' Self-Help Housing, want to put in transitional housing, a youth dormitory, and other amenities to help mainly homeless youngsters and families on Hillside Church property near the Arroyo Grande-Grover Beach border.

They have been working on this for years, fighting relentlessly to help South County's inexorably growing number of children, women, and men who have no roof over their head.

I don't want to get into the details of this other than to say that this shelter would do a lot of good for a lot of people, especially families and young people—our neighbors and fellow human beings—who are down on their luck.

A Princeton graduate, Kyle Berlin, who grew up here, wrote the definitive piece on the (many) pros and (precious few) cons of the Hillside proposal in the April 23 SLO Tribune. It is must reading.

In his piece, Berlin says he "hold(s) no ill will toward those who oppose this location." That's charitable of him, but I can't agree. I've seen this bad behavior too many times to be forgiving.

The Hillside NIMBY caper is especially enraging because it is taking disingenuousness to new heights.

Its "right idea, wrong location" line is an outright fabrication. The people who planned and propagated that slogan know very well that there is no "right location." If this proposal fails, the South County homeless will get the same reception the next place they are shunted off to: a door slammed in their face.

This has already happened several times in South County. It's public knowledge. To hear opponents say, in the words of their BFF, South County Supervisor Lynn Compton, that homeless advocates should "be serious about looking for other alternatives" is beyond aggravating. She and they know very well that those who care about the homeless have done this aggressively, with little result because of the NIMBYs.

I'd have more respect for Neighbors for Safety if they'd just come right out and admit that they disdain homeless people and don't want them around; if they'd re-word their signs to tell the truth: "If you're homeless, we don't want you. Beat it, bum."

That attitude is explicit in their campaign and even their name, which invokes "safety" as a reason to oppose the project.

When they talk safety, they are saying that the homeless will hurt their children, when all the evidence shows otherwise, and they know it. They are perpetuating the stereotype of the homeless man as a drug-addicted derelict who means them harm, when they know very well that people who are homeless come in all varieties, including men and women who have lost a job in this sour economy, and their children.

The folks behind the Hillside proposal know this and have a handle on it. The NIMBYs are aware of that.

As far as the children are concerned, they're in more danger listening to the adults around them talk. Look what they're learning: Fear the homeless. Disdain those who are different. Repel those who are down on their luck.

Those are some life lessons you're teaching youngsters.

It's ironic that this is all taking place around church property. It's a real What Would Jesus Do moment in South County. Do we help others, or don't we?

Each of us has to look in the mirror to answer that. To me, there has always been something a little bit smug and self-satisfied about this county and suburbia in general. We're sort of a gated community here, and not just physically. We live in gated communities in our own minds; places where we believe we can shut out the bad things that happen in the world.

That mindset won't work in the long run of course, if you know anything about the way the world operates. It shouldn't be used in the short run as an excuse to turn our backs on other people.

Are we—and I'm looking at you, Neighbors for Safety—going to open up our gated hearts and minds and neighborhoods to those who haven't been as lucky as we have? Or perpetuate the fear and ignorance? Δ

Robert C. Cuddy writes from Arroyo Grande. Send comments through the editor at [email protected] or write a response for publication and send it to [email protected].

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