Enviro deal-cutters get a lot of heat
2-4-2010--(This comes from a blog written by Gary Patton, who has been an attorney for the Planning and Conservation League, and represented them when they cut a deal with the Tejon Ranch developer.) Here, he debates the attorney for the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, which cut a deal over oil drilling. As I've posted before, both deals have upset a lot of people and have caused quite a backlash.
This is the comment I posted:
this is like the pot calling the kettle black. The deal you cut for Tejon Ranch was shrouded in secrecy too. As a longtime Sierra Club member and 5 year executive committee member at the Angeles chapter, many of us were sandbagged by the leadership's sudden announcement of the "deal", which was then "ratified" in an unpublicized vote shoved in front of the ex-com with no notice to the grassroots and no opponents present. The PCL and NRDC and EHL and Audoubon didn't broadcast this deal to their members either before signing on the line.
In comparison to the Tranquilon Ridge deal, the Tejon project will encourage the merging of the L.A and Bakersfield sprawl--a pretty scary outcome. I understand you think this is the best deal you could make. But sometimes, it's better to walk away from a crummy deal than forever tar your organization's reputation among the grassroots activists. Of course, if your organization doesn't care about the grassroots, and chases the corporate contributions, and is well-known for cutting deals with developers and polluters like NRDC and EHL and Audubon, then maybe this loss of reputation does not matter to you. Since the deal was signed, your group's names have figured prominently in Tejon Ranch's TV ads. I've seen it so many times before: when you work with the other side, their propagandists will make use of your good standing with the public everywhere they can.
I am not writing this to support the Tranquilon ridge deal. I don't support it. But I at least understand why they cut it, as this is right in their backyard and they have worked and fought over this issue for many years. On the other hand, the groups who sold out to Tejon Ranch have very little history of fighting this development, are not based anywhere near the project and have enraged all the local groups who have to live with its impacts. When corporate enviro groups walk into local battles and cut a deal and leave, they may not collect money directly from the developer, but I'll bet the big corporate donations pour in from other enviro-wreckers who want that group's support or wink-wink "non-opposition" for their latest project. It's a slippery slope the Tejon-friendly groups are on. Now that grassroots folks know who they play ball with, we'll never give them another dime.
I respect some of the work PCL has done in the past. But you made your bed this time.
Rex Frankel, editor, Rare Earth News
I would imagine that you (Rex) are as uncompromising as you sound - A high 'density factor.' We get along in the world best when we negotiate and compromise. From your reputation, perhaps you are not familiar with these concepts. They are civilized ways of settling differences and achieving results without resorting to war.
There is no way everyone on the planet could have participated in a compromise on Tejon. It's unrealistic to think that way. But that doesn't seem to resonate to you because your ego is too big. I would imagine its to make up for your other short comings.
To say that the five biggest environmental groups were unfamiliar with the issues at stake at Tejon is also quite naive. The people reading your blog would have to have crawled out from under a rock yesterday after being borne the day before yesterday to believe that claim. But perhaps that is your typical audience. But it is also ridiculous. Sierra Club? Audubon? NRDC? PCL? EHL? Do you hear yourself! These folks are on their game - they just don't believe that when a land owner is willing to negotiate that you use nuclear weapons. They are civilized. You are not.
Perhaps the next time you rattle off a one-sided diatribe like this you can at least admit that you are narrow-minded. It's polite to be truthful about your short comings so that honest people don't take advantage of you.
Dear Anonymous who writes to us from Las Vegas,
I'm not against compromise when you've fought long and hard for something and compromise is the only way to resolve the battle and accomplish the most important goals. I am also willing to accept some development and loss of open space if it results in the best land being saved. This policy makes sense in some places, but not at Tejon. When I look at a map of the Tejon deal, it's clear that it cuts off the natural bridge between the Sierra Nevadas and the Los Padres and Angeles National forests. Unfortunately, most of the local environmental watchdogs agree that this development plan for Tejon, while saving 90% of the land, still allows too much destruction of this crucial wildlife connection. If the Tejon lake project had been designed as a "cluster development" rather than 5000 acres with 3500 homes, I would be less offended. If the Tejon lake project was merely designed at the density of next-door Frazier Park, the whole thing could have been packed into under 1000 acres and the wildlife corridor could have been saved in the plan.
Cluster development is what all the smart growth and enviro groups push for from every other developer; it's just that some that cut the Tejon deal dropped that goal while being awed by the Tejon folks giving up future development of land that had virtually no water and customers and would be tied up for years by endangered species act lawsuits. In short, Tejon didn't give up anything they had a reasonable chance of getting.
I was just up in Tehachapi and Bakersfield this week and read the real estate sections of the papers. They've got loads of nice homes available from $60,000 to $100,000. Basically, the housing market and job growth in the Antelope Valley has been very slow since the end of the Cold War. I have great doubts that Tejon has much of a customer base for their lake project.
I have never said the 5 groups that cut the Tejon deal are unfamiliar with the issues; they just chose to ignore some hugely important facts and cut a deal negotiated in secret and only made the details public after the deal was signed and made irrevocable. This has led to an exodus of members from the Sierra Club, which was the only one of the 5 that lets members vote on the management of the group.
I am not trashing all of the work of these 5 groups in other areas, but I think they made a big mistake here.
Audubon does good work in other places, but also partnered with the developer of L.A.'s Ballona wetlands to greenwash a plan to pave 2/3rds of the site. Luckily, my group and others fought and saved 70% of the site instead.
PCL now sends out excellent newsletters on CEQA and water battles and has won significant cases that helped our side; in the past their former director pushed strongly for the construction of the peripheral canal, which would have made many sprawl builders in southern California very happy.
The NRDC cuts deals right and left with corporate polluters; they have also done good litigation to enforce the Clean Water Act over urban stormwater pollution.
The Sierra Club has almost always been been an excellent grassroots run group in my 17 years as a member, even when I didn't agree with their internal politics. But the decisions were always out in the open. This one at Tejon was not. You can call this the one exception, that this is such a major trophy that the rules had to be changed. The Tejon deal is truly a massive deal and I can understand why some supporters have chosen to wear blinders. Call it "non-opposition" if you want, but it's been interpreted in the developer's ads and by the press and politicians as "support".
From out at Las Vegas you may see 150 miles of preserved desert between you and the sprawl of L.A.
Here in L.A., looking out from our 100 miles of sprawl, I see every attempt to extend that pavement by another 100 miles to Bakersfield as worthy of long and loud public debate.
I write this web-log to publicize the work of the grassroots groups who work long and hard for their goals of land preservation for parks and wildlife and live with the results. I will continue to criticize those groups that cut deals from far away corporate boardrooms and compromise the work of the local groups.
Rex Frankel (http://rexfrankel.com)
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