Jerry James drew a cartoon in last week's New Times, regarding the "mind of a developer."
In case you didn't see it, allow me to describe the illustration: a figure of a brain, divided into quadrants labeled as "the 'what's in it for me?' cortex," "the hemisphere of profit," "the lobe of greed," and "ego inflation region." At the bottom, right about where the cerebellum would be, sits the "area of environmental concern." The joke is that it's small.
What motivates a developer is not much different than what motivates each of us in our daily lives. We seek pleasure, eschewing pain. We demand our just rewards for our daily endeavors. We have bills to pay and children to rear. Most importantly, we all hurtle through space on the same planet. We all breathe the same air. We all shop in stores and live under a roof. Look in the mirror. Without demand, there would be no supply.
We, as citizens, dictate how and where a developer can build. Developers don't write the laws we do, through our duly elected government representatives. I refuse to buy the argument that our politicians are marionettes controlled by developers.
Maybe it's easier to scapegoat developers and politicians because, deep down, we're afraid to admit that the path of least resistance appeals to the sloth in all of us. Developers don't dream of killing squirrels, polluting rivers, and cutting down trees, just as we don't dream those dreams either. It seems that Jerry James believes there is a hidden agenda in the minds of developers that is purely self-serving and has nothing to do with the demands of the public.
Developers can be generally categorized as retail or residential. Everywhere we shop and sleep came about through the work of a developer. Look in your cabinets, garages, and dressers. I didn't make any pasta noodles this week. The car I'm building isn't progressing quite the way I want. I can't find the time to repair my loom. Whether you shop in Wal-Mart or one of the numerous great local stores, credit the retail developer for making foraging for food effortless, making your trip to work easier, and keeping you clothed in the latest TV fashions.
I, for one, don't relish the idea of washing my underwear in a nearby creek, if you can find one. I cringe at the thought of living in a tent during our rainy winters. Count yourselves lucky, folks. Every one of us who's fortunate enough to have a roof overhead lives in a home built by a residential developer.
So let's look at the mind of a residential developer, shall we?
"Greed" Market forces. Supply and demand. If developers could build 300 houses with a $300,000 price point, they would. They'd sell out the development in a heartbeat.
"Ego Inflation" Without the sacrifices of those who helped create America, we wouldn't have the opportunities afforded us on a daily basis. I doubt George Washington or Martin Luther King, Jr. did what they did in the name of vanity. I think developers would rather hear their children say "I love you" than have some dude on the street say "You built that?"
"What's in it for me?" Please. We all avoid pain and seek comfort. A full 99 percent of us don't have what it takes to be a Ghandi or a Mother Theresa. We can barely find the time to be a volunteer soccer or softball coach.
"Profit" God, I wish I could build my own house. Why pay someone else to do what I could do in my spare time?
My "laundry" list:
• skilled laborers
Oh yeah, I forgot: I would, in all likelihood, need twice as much money to build my own home than to buy one, turn-key, from a developer. If it weren't for their abilities to develop more than one home at a time, a $500,000 house would most likely cost you a million dollars. Even dogs demand a reward when they meet expectations. Until our country transitions from a market economy to a lotus-based existence, we all gotta pay the piper. An ascetic existence for me is too damn hard.
Maybe I've missed the point of the cartoon. Perhaps it's really about the "area of environmental concern" part of the developer's mind. Land is at the heart of the argument. Without all the environmental laws, land would be much cheaper. Houses and commercial development would spring up everywhere.
Frankly, there is no such thing as a rogue developer. They follow the laws as readily as any one of us does. Ever speed in your car? You broke the law. Everybody that lives in a glass house,
raise your hand. I own two cars. I buy new clothes, not used. My trash ends up in the same landfill as yours. I don't have a compost pile, and I'm hooked up to city sewage. I fly on airplanes. I drive on roads.
Without developers, our local economy would be decimated. When you drive down the highway in your air-conditioned car, breaking the speed limit, look around you. See all the construction vehicles? The roofing pickups? The plumbers driving their beaters? Tell their kids how you really feel about developers. That should keep them fed, with clothes on their back and a roof over their head. After all, a good bowl of ideology makes me feel sated.
Jason Setser is a Santa Maria resident, real-estate manager for New Times, and a renter.