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New thinking needed on community values and being a NIMBY

Original post made by Brielle Johnck, Menlo Park: The Willows, on Aug 23, 2007

Editor: The recent "not in my backyard" discussion about whether taking a NIMBY position is a noble cause is a timely debate.

With all the attention the environment is getting these days, it's rare to watch television, read a magazine or a newspaper or follow the Menlo Park City Council deliberations without wondering if I am doing my part to save the world. Hanging my laundry on the clothesline, riding my bicycle for shopping and using canvas bags at the grocery store seem such insignificant acts.

The solar water and photovoltaic systems on our roof buys me a little more credit in the big picture. Driving a 20-year-old car that passes its smog test and gets 32 mpg requires too much explanation when I am asked why I don't own a Prius. I am the first to admit my contribution to the problem: three children and five grandchildren.

There are some personal decisions that I make daily that are easy (buying local fruits and vegetables), and some are more difficult (Should I buy one or two round-trip air tickets every year to the East Coast to visit children and grandchildren?). The difference in this choice is dumping 3,000 pounds or 6,000 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. Thankfully no one is hovering over me and keeping a list of the times I give in to temptation to see my grandchildren.

And then, there are the times when my community is called on to take positions on initiatives that will affect large numbers of people and the environment. Some of these decisions present personal sacrifices and threaten our personal quality of life and we want to wiggle out of them. We want to create a smokescreen so that our real fears are hidden and our opposition to projects will appear to be well-founded due to financial reasons or suspicions of misinformation. The benefit to the environment is secondary to my personal concerns.

I wonder if Menlo Park is on an endless road of talking, studying and throwing up roadblocks to action. There was a time when NIMBY attitudes worked to motivate local politics. Today the rubber has hit the road and all of us will be faced with sacrifices for the greater good. The NIMBY gene may be a natural instinct, but we will have to develop a new attitude about progress and community values. If we stall, the damage to our environment will only get worse and the solutions will require even greater sacrifices.

(The above letter to the editor by Brielle Johnck was published in the Almanac's Aug. 22 print edition.)

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