Avoiding The Development Trap

The attached Letter to the Editor was found in my father's papers (again) in a recent search of "treasure trove." I don't know if then-editor Bill Drake printed, although he may have. This fragment from the old man's files shows how little some things change. (Howard Edminster was on Pacifica's first Planning Commission, aside from his other contributions to the commonwealth.)

The desperate search for revenue via "expanded tax base" or various kinds of "development" continues to grip cities and counties in California. Often regressive taxes are all that is left in terms of tax measures to fill the gaps for needed services, while much in infrastructure needs is left to bonds or state grants. Hungry for revenue, municipalities and citizens alike also search like lost ships for "development," sailing towards any kind of mirage. In all cases the poor vision about "what is actually there" is compounded by desperation.

At a recent meeting of the Pacifica Coastside Democrats, Leland Yee affirmed his commitment to some type of revenue reform at the state level to allow cities to escape the "development trap." Now Yee is just one very able and ambitious politician, and citizens should not merely wait for Sacramento. Also, YEARS of searching for revenue to fund public functions only at the local level, 1/4 cent sales tax add-ons, parcel taxes, various user fees, as well as keening after the latest development scam have become habit and have substituted for seeking progressive tax options for cities and counties.

Now, while I would not advocate turning down any local revenue-enhancing development out of hand, nor would I refuse to support user fees, parcel taxes or other assessments of land. I would certainly encourage citizens, their local elected officials at the city and municipal level, public sector unions towards Sacramento in search of revenue options for all of us. We need a stable and adequate level of equitably generated revenue to support local services and infrastructure.

And locally, we need to look carefully at the latest development scheme and its alleged "help" for us. Peebles' revenue figures for his proposed development of the Rockaway Quarry as offered at the "charade" were grotesquely inflated, although some local folks appear giddy at the prospect of any kind of revenue enhancement. The misleading statements made by Peebles' outside signature gatherers should also be a warning sign. Some local citizens appear to have been seduced by "design factors," while the impact of traffic increases, the fate of endangered species, the necessary approval of non-municipal regulatory agencies all appear "off screen," as if they were minor factors in the process of deciding what is an appropriate use for the Rockaway Quarry area.

Finally, and again, in considering what should happen to Pacifica, please also encourage local officials and our elected representatives in Sacramento towards a better permanent share of property taxes to cities, and more local progressive tax options. We need to avoid "development" as our main means of funding necessary local services, and we should avoid regressive local tax measures.

Without a shift in different directions, the more things change, the more they stay the same

Tom Edminster
Linda Mar

From 1971


If a major fraction of the energy of the suburbs were expressed in a demand at the state level for an overall revision of tax structure instead of in piddling attempts at the municipal level to build a "broader tax base" (e.g., legitimate card rooms, stack up high-rise dreams of developers along potentially public beach fronts), then the richest state in the union could afford livable residential communities.

Local business and political leaders alike collaborate in planning disasters, catering to shark operators, while they accept, when they do not actually support, regressive taxation. Can they represent our interests if we do not demand that they look to solutions at state and even federal level?

Howard Edminster
(Jan. 10, 1971)

The above was printed as a letter to the editor in the Pacifica Tribune of August 9th, 2006, and is republished here with the author's expressed written permission.