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Lynne Plambeck: In praise of the dreaded NIMBYism

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: November 11, 2009 7:54 p.m.
Updated: November 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
The acronym NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) is often used in a pejorative sense by developers and others trying to promote one project or another over the legitimate concerns of local residents.

For example, residents of Santa Clarita were called NIMBYs when they opposed the proposed Elsmere Canyon landfill. Landfill promoters chided us for not wanting to destroy our oak woodlands (some 3,000 trees would have been lost), for caring about the wildlife corridor and for our concerns over traffic and air pollution.

With the help of many concerned citizens, we won that battle. The landfill doesn’t exist because folks ignored the name-calling and spoke up about their valley and their neighborhoods.

The promoters of CEMEX mine implied, even if they may not have used the exact word, that we in Santa Clarita are NIMBYs for not wanting the added traffic, air pollution and water supply problems that such a huge mining proposal would entail. The local school district expressed concern for increased incidents of asthma. The city and the school district thankfully ignored the accusation of NIMBYism and fought for clean air in Canyon Country.

Residents who speak up at City Council meetings are also often called NIMBYs in an attempt to discourage them from being involved in the community.

Project promoters — and sometimes even city planners and certain elected officials — may wish that residents would stay home and not bring up their concerns. They forget that this is the very purpose of a council meeting — to invite residents to bring their issues to the council. And we all should be very grateful to those who do.  

Thanks to the active and articulate NIMBYs in the Old Orchard area speaking out in 2006, we still have most of the beautiful old Eucalyptus trees lining McBean Parkway. Neighborhood NIMBYs turned out in droves to protest the city’s proposal to cut down some 40 of these old majestic trees for lane widening.

That tree-lined avenue remains one of the most beautiful entrances to our city, because new groups of NIMBYs popped up last year to continue to fight projects that again threatened their tree-lined avenue, this time by buildings so oversized for the neighborhood that traffic would become unbearable.

What else have neighborhood NIMBYs done? They have formed beautification committees in Canyon Country. They get together for neighborhood watch committees, they walk each other’s children to school, they pick up trash just because it shouldn’t be there and they report and help eliminate graffiti. No crime and ugliness are allowed in a NIMBY’s back yard.

They promote trails and bike paths; they form community standard districts; they organize block parties to meet their neighbors. In short, they are good citizens and caring neighbors.

NIMBYism is often also claimed when people care about the environment. If a large housing project will substantially add to traffic and air pollution, the developers will inevitably call anyone protesting these issues a NIMBY.

Does a group express concerns over river protection or flood hazards, water supply and water pollution? They are sure to be called NIMBYs. Are they asking that streams not be channeled with concrete because such projects hurt wildlife, threaten water supply and just plain look ugly? This must definitely be that evil NIMBYism at work.

But I hope you won’t be fooled. Our democracy depends on NIMBYs to voice their opinion.

Without neighbors banding together and informed citizens speaking up, decision-makers would not be aware of the community’s concerns. And without the public bringing those concerns to the city or the county, they would never be addressed.

NIMBYism is the seed of our democracy that can and often does blossom into care for our whole state and our nation. It is the beginning of a public dialogue about issues that affect us in our own neighborhoods. For this, NIMBYism should be praised and encouraged.

So, if someone tries to call you a NIMBY, as though it were a bad name, I hope you will instead take it as a compliment. Being a NIMBY is a badge to wear proudly. It means you care about the quality of life in your neighborhood and you care enough to speak up and say and do something about it.

Three cheers for all the NIMBYs in Santa Clarita who have worked so hard to keep our valley beautiful.

Three cheers for their successes!

And I hope I will see all of you NIMBYs at the next City Council meeting.

Lynne Plambeck is president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursday in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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