NIMBY, no more

Jeff vonKaenel

In this week's SN&R, we are dedicating a considerable number of recycled pages to California's zoning and environmental regulations.

Foremost are the winners of our inaugural Not in My Back Yard, or NIMBY, Awards, published in an eight-page special supplement by our independent custom publications division. Written by former Sacramento Bee reporter R. E. Graswich, the NIMBY winners illuminate how the legal system can be used to block development, and also show the dark side of California zoning and environmental regulations, and the troubled path toward much-needed reform.

The News & Review’s custom publications division produces mini-newspapers for nonprofits and government agencies around the country. We have produced more than 200 publications. But the NIMBY Awards issue is the first one that we have done without a client. Or to be more exact, I am the client.

There’s also our cover story, “It fakes a village,” which describes in detail the trials and tribulations of the decade-long Curtis Park Village project. After long delays and heaven knows how much money in legal fees and government time, the current fight is over a gas station.

I am an environmentalist. I attended the first Earth Day in 1970. I supported cap and trade. I want a carbon tax. I encouraged SMUD to increase energy costs in order to subsidize more green projects. But, as an environmentalist, I believe it is important that we reform local zoning regulations and overhaul the California Environmental Quality Act.

As an environmentalist, I am ashamed that environmental regulation is preventing low-income housing from being built, is significantly increasing the cost of building in California, is allowing groups to blackmail developers into a variety of concessions and is wasting government resources to negotiate an out-of-control process.

Please read our NIMBY Awards issue. While entertaining at times, it painfully illustrates the need for reform. Yet, despite the obvious need and despite many well-thought-out reform proposals, political insiders are not optimistic. Off the record, they say labor organizations with a green fig leaf provided by some environmental groups can and will kill any significant reform in the backrooms of the Legislature.

Well, it is time to remove the green fig leaf. We in the environmental community lose creditability when in our name we allow rich people to kill low-income housing projects, unions to use environmental regulations to negotiate labor contracts, and regulation to needlessly drive up the cost of construction.

We need statewide reform, but this will only happen if more people understand the problem. The goal of the NIMBY Awards is to make a complex issue more understandable. An informed electorate can put a stop to these backroom legislative maneuvers.

I would like to see NIMBY Awards issues throughout the state. There are worthy nominees in every community. I hope that our NIMBY Awards inspire others to run their own contests. And our custom publications division would be happy to provide assistance.

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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.