Opinion » Commentaries

Emotion vs. reason

Whatever happened to logic in debates regarding The Marketplace?



Most people are already set in their ways and views about private-property rights and whether or not it is entirely a landowner's prerogative to develop their land as they see fit. When it comes to land development, however, in cities and particularly with a project like The Marketplace, private-property rights are overshadowed by the obligations one has to the community and the costs that such a development might impose on the community.

As a resident of a community, in this case a would-be annexed portion of the city, one cedes much of their land-use prerogative to the community. For this reason, it is vitally important that the Marketplace election is occurring and that elections over similar matters continue to occur.

It is pointless to try and engage in debate over private property rights, environmental preservation versus land development, and corporate capitalism versus community sustainability. These are issues that are simply too expansive and too ideologically ingrained within an individual, so that one's mind is not likely to be changed within the brief discourse of the Marketplace debate.

These are compelling issues, however; any of which are probably significant enough to sway a resident to one side or the other regarding the Marketplace. Yet specifically arguing to these issues, for or against The Marketplace, is simply an appeal to emotion.

No doubt about it, the city has a real problem with finances. State takeaways have decimated local government budgets. Unfortunately, under the current structure, local governments derive most of their budgets from local sales tax. Across the state, local governments have been "chasing" tax dollars by building up more and more commercial development.

Indirectly, and in many ways directly, the modern California "strip mall," and urban sprawl in general, can be attributed to California's tax revenue laws.

An argument has been made by many of the same people who support the Marketplace that the city cannot build itself out of affordable housing. The truth is, neither can the city build itself out of financial trouble chasing sales-tax dollars.

An argument has been made by many of the same people who support the Marketplace that the city cannot build itself out of affordable housing. The truth is, neither can the city build itself out of financial trouble chasing sales-tax dollars.

Time and time again, cities have built up commercial development in hopes of providing a much-needed financial shot in the arm. Yet, time and time again, the financial net gain for local governments is negligible, if not negative, when all the infrastructure and public maintenance costs are figured into the equation. Unfortunately for the city, under the current proposed Marketplace agreement the city would not even retain all the much-needed sales tax derived from the project, but would cede half of all profits back to the developer for the next 30 years.

Local government funding is a systematic problem, which, in our shortsightedness, causes us to enter into a vicious cycle of construction development. In hopes of obtaining more revenue, more commercial development is constructed, which then causes the need for more revenue to provide public maintenance and infrastructure, which causes the need for more construction, and so on. After a while, a city's resources become entirely overstretched and no financial gain has been achieved.

Unfortunately, by playing into the systematic fallacies today, we will irrevocably be harming our local character and economy, not to mention creating further stress on our already-stretched public services and utilities.

Building the Marketplace is not a financial asset for the city; it is a cost. In essence, this month the people of San Luis Obispo will be deciding whether it is worth the ongoing public cost to the city and its residents to build the Marketplace project while creating wealth for the property owners, developers, and retailers.

It is well accepted that one's rights extend only to the point at which they interfere with another's. Relating this to property rights, one's property rights extend only to the point at which such rights become a burden or cost to the community. Thus, it is not an implied right that an individual may allow commercial construction on his or her private property. This should be obvious with The Marketplace, a financial cost to the city and its residents, which will use public utilities and public services for as long as the development exists.

Rather than buying into the development-for-revenue concept, the city needs to be encouraged to nominally raise its sales tax rate. Raising the rate even a fraction of a percent would easily match the revenue expected to be generated from the Marketplace Project.

The burden on residents and local shoppers, however, would hardly be noticed. Preserving the character and economy of San Luis Obispo while remaining independent of developers and the state's ill-conceived local government finance scheme is certainly worth a few extra pennies on our next purchases. ³


Matt Mackey is a senior at Cal Poly and ran for SLO mayor last November. You can reach him at mjmackey@calpoly.edu.

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