Announcing the Sacramento NIMBY awards

Jeff vonKaenel

In this week's SN&R, we have a full-page ad announcing our NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) contest. NIMBY lawsuits, in many cases, have been used to hijack our planning and zoning processes and have caused delays and cancellations of many worthy projects as well as increased construction costs. The winners of these awards will be described in an eight-page insert in the April 23 issue. We hope to shine a spotlight on the absurdities of the current system, to entertain you and to encourage much-needed reform.

There are several categories of awards including:

The Big Switcheroo: These contestants use environmental lawsuits, or the threat of a lawsuit, to attain an unrelated goal. For example, a labor union might threaten to file an environmental lawsuit unless they are given bargaining concessions.

The Lifetime Achievement: These nominees file numerous NIMBY lawsuits. Those they target often find it less expensive to settle than to go through the entire legal process.

The Creative Argument: This award spotlights novel or absurd legal arguments.

Just as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a fun book to read and also pointed out the absurdities of the English court, we are hoping that our NIMBY awards issue is a fun read while pointing out the absurdities of the current system.

And the expensive wackiness of the current system cannot be denied. Almost every day in Sacramento, an attorney, who is paid as much per hour as a minimum-wage worker makes in a week, is drafting up these absurd legal arguments. And a similarly highly paid attorney in a different part of town is writing a response. Elsewhere, extensive environmental reports are being prepared to support both sides of the legal argument.

All of this is very expensive. Some developers pay off individuals to avoid these lawsuits. Others simply build the costs into their projects. Unfortunately, this raises the cost of development while not necessarily helping the environment. And even worse, many needed but unpopular projects, such as low-income housing, mental hospitals or housing with supportive services are not built.

While we need an effective system of environmental protection and smart zoning policy, the current system is being abused. Fortunately, effective reforms are under consideration, which would remove many of these abuses. But there are those who benefit from the current system. And many of them have considerable political muscle, and up until now, have been able to kill reform. That’s why we’ve decided to shine a light on the current system.

This important project is part of this paper’s Custom Publications special-advertising division. Former Sacramento Bee reporter and columnist R.E. Graswich will be researching the nominations and helping to determine the award winners. If you enjoy the absurdities of life, you will have a fun read. We hope our publication will help encourage much-needed reform.

Nominations are now open for the NIMBY awards. For more information about how to nominate a NIMBY, go to You may have a winner. And by bringing attention to individuals and organizations who file these self-serving lawsuits, we hope Californians will be the winners, too.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.