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Greener pastures

Let's find a way to keep our best and brightest and maintain quality of life



First, let me introduce myself. For 15 years I ran the Greener Pastures Institute (I once had an office in LA and had the toll free number 1-800-OUT-OF-LA).

Arguably, I encouraged a few people to move north to SLO County. (Even more would have moved here if it weren't for Diablo.) Mea culpa, right?

I did not fully move here myself initially, but to rural Washington state, where building officials refused to allow me to construct a straw-bale house on my 5 acres in a community of mostly innovative housing such as geo domes and rammed earth but also quite conventional housing. I had a professional architect. (FYI, it was not a hippie commune but a 2,000-acre, planned and subdivided development.)

I was, I think, targeted. I pursued a lawsuit but ran out of funds. I ultimately lost my business and property and nearly became homeless myself.

I eventually came to SLO County not because I knew of its "happiest place" reputation but because family was nearby and my wife and I could afford to. We reside most of the time in Cambria where we have a vacation rental. (Despite our ages—me, 70, and Eleanor, 68—we still need supplemental income.)

I agree with Gary Wechter ("It's OK to be a lefty," Nov. 16) that government, despite good intentions, is basically at the root of our problems in not having enough affordable housing (or of letting local quality of life slip). It discriminates against affordable housing such as what I planned in Washington and, for example, is reluctant to fully endorse something like the tiny home movement that Becky Jorgeson is spearheading through her nonprofit Hope's Villages (where I once served on the board). Mostly, government wants building-code-approved standard stick-built housing even though plenty of viable alternatives exist.

Of course, part of the reason for this is the tax base, builder fees, and other kickbacks government gets in approving such housing and other developments—but conventional thinking also figures in big time. Urban planners have advanced degrees and, like doctors, planners expect good salaries while they are imposing their often overly gentrifying standards on nearly every community. This isn't likely to change anytime soon, if ever. But it should—and owner-builders, and subdivisions of truly affordable housing need to be encouraged.

I don't have a problem with "the marketplace" dictating who can live here and who cannot. Those who can are fortunate indeed if they can afford the housing.

I say this even though SLO County seems to be gradually going the way of our northern and southern megalopolises.

There are some ways unbridled growth can be restricted. In Cambria there is a growth boundary in place. And with limited water (no aqueducts, reservoirs, or major rivers), we have many residential lots that will never be built on. But then, Cambria will never be an urban center because it has no college(s), port, or major employer except for Hearst Castle.

Government, once it recognizes that the overall quality of life is deteriorating (problem is, that's a very subjective determination), can restrict utility connections much as Cambria has done (you need to purchase a water meter to build, and few are available). The guy who is squatting on his lot there and who, horribly, lost his home in the Santa Margarita Hill Fire ("SLO County resident faces lawsuit, homelessness in wake of Santa Margarita fire," Nov. 16), will likely never be allowed to build—sadly for him.

Wechter says that if (or when) SLO gets too big for its britches he will simply move. But there is no "simply." Moving is an option (and I know all the angles), but it's usually expensive and terribly disruptive. It is ultimately very stressful, especially for the old and infirm. It can break up families.

Do we really want to lose our best and brightest citizens? Losing Diablo and its $1 billion annual infusion into our community will likely spur enough departures eventually. Δ

William Seavey ran the Greener Pastures Institute between 1983 and 1998 and now lives in Cambria. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter for publication and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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