Think regionally. Vote locally. Stay focused
by Robert T. Nanninga
t's no surprise the fall elections are held shortly after Halloween. Trick or treat is a major consideration during the early days of fall. What to wear? Who to vote for? And Is it really worth it? are just some of the questions we all ask ourselves. There is also the nagging question of Who will be pretending to be who this time?
Local politics is not about honest people running on the issues. Instead, we are treated to a race that is more like a game of chess, only stalemate is not possible and winning for a few means defeat for thousands. Sadly, the game of politics is eclipsing the goal of environmental sustainability. Because of this unfortunate turn of events, the quality of life for all Southern Californian species including us hangs in the balance.
There are major quality-of-life issues facing the people of San Diego County. Air and water quality, smart growth, mass transit, carrying capacity, water availability, habitat preservation, and energy self sufficiency should be part of every regional decision made. The ballot box is how to guarantee they are. No longer can environmental concern be considered a special interest; ecological well-being benefits all demographics and must be addressed.
The general opinion currently being shared in politic circles is that the fall 2002 elections will be marked by a record low voter turn out. If this is the case, every vote cast will carry more weight. Although unfortunate, this bids well for the environment, if those seeking environmental sustainability take the time to vote. Giving up on the process means change will only come from conflict or calamity.
Imagine a region that is led by elected officials with the wisdom and foresight to move government in a different direction. We as voters have an opportunity to shape how planning is conducted in the future. If we squander our chance, we will have no one to blame but ourselves. It serves us all to be actively involved in the upcoming elections, from phone banking to walking neighborhoods. Getting out the vote is key to placing environmental stewards in office.
San Diego City Council member Donna Frye has proven that environmental activism is compatible with public office. Her thoughtful and even-tempered leadership style had provided depth to council discussions at a time when it was needed most. Willing to stand even the most unpopular ground, her integrity and commitment to represent her constituents makes her a role model for anyone seeking to serve the greater good though public service.
Another elected official demonstrating ideal environmental leadership is Supervisor Pam Slater. Supervisor Slater has made wetland preservation a primary goal, with a long list of successes and partnerships further demonstrating environmental sustainability and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.
It's not often a self-avowed environmental activist has the opportunity to see the political process from both sides of the ballot, as I am running for Encinitas City Council. As a candidate, this added perspective has been a wake-up call to how compromised the political process has become. Gone are my days of unvarnished idealism. In its place is a reality-based understanding that makes local politics look like the next installment of Survivor.
Although jaded by a process out of balance, we should continue to campaign for wise civic planning and those willing to provide it. Environmentalists of all political persuasions should also be willing to running for office. Trust me, playing the political game is not easy, never cheap, and always exhausting. But it is also a rewarding way to meet your neighbors, get to know your community and reach people you never knew existed.
Those in the environmental community must also learn to work together instead of against each other in an old school demonstration of green-washed business-as-usual. If we are to be successful in our efforts, we must set ego aside and begin to work toward securing the common ground of shared concerns. We also need to embrace the fact that there are many avenues for bringing about positive. Diversity of opinion and perspective should be seen as strength, not as a reproach of individual efforts.
Now is the time to vote as if it matters because it does. Smart growth is only possible if people are smart enough to vote with the future in mind. As Americans, it is our civic duty to vote; as environmental citizens, it is our task to vote with ecological balance in mind.
Never doubt that we can make a difference. We can. As people dedicated to bringing about a systematic shift in how we design our lives, we first have to get over our preconceived notions of powerlessness and vote in numbers that demand respect. If we do this November 5th, it will mark a turning point in the history of San Diego County and a victory for the region we call home.
Robert Nanninga is a free-lance writer, producer and environmental journalist. A native of Vista living in Leucadia, he Chairs San Diego ZPG, as well as representing coastal North County on the Green County Council. He is running for the Encinitas City Council in the November 5 election.