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I recently went to Seattle with some members of the Economic Development Corporation to hear how Seattle gets things done. They recently expanded their airport, built an award-winning Rem Koolhaas central library and got themselves a new football stadium.

They seem pretty savvy in communities and politics, and it doesn’t hurt that taxes can be raised with a 50 percent vote (instead of 2/3), or that their per capita revenue is twice that of San Diego, or that they have a couple extra famous billionaires.

I was impressed with one lecture from a business promoter who touted Seattle’s environmental quality as a strategic advantage for competing in a high-education labor market. It’s so obviously true in San Diego too. We will never be the cheapest place to own a home or operate a business. Our advantage is that we have great educational institutions and an unbelievable lifestyle — the ocean, canyons, bike trails, open space, beaches and bays. The climate is also nice.

But if I heard a San Diego Chamber of Commerce guy play up our environment, I would be pretty surprised, like if he came out against sports.

We have not ever made a connection between business prosperity and environmental prosperity. The state of Washington passed planned growth initiatives; it seems to have a prosperous economy. The two ballot initiatives San Diego had that would have really protected our rural backcountry from overdevelopment, in favor of “smart growth” infill, got killed. The Rural Heritage and Watershed Initiative in November 1998 lost 59/41. The Rural Lands Initiative in March 2004 lost 64/36. (Note to self: let’s not mention “rural” next time.)

So one of my New Year’s resolutions is to “mainstream” the environmental movement into San Diego. It’s a challenge. This is a town where our main newspaper, which touts our emerging science-based economy, warns against water recycling based on the following scientific principle: “Yuck.” A place where many opinion leaders think our problems will be solved if we don’t build a 21st-century library. Big thinkers, we San Diegans.

In my district, we’re emphasizing new and connected bike, pedestrian and equestrian trails. Why not a county-wide trail network for recreation and transportation? How about a county plan that preserves the backcountry and puts new growth where there’s already old asphalt, saving millions of dollars in infrastructure and fuel costs and reducing traffic? And imagine a transportation plan that moves people from where they are to where they need to go, directly, quickly and safely. That seems like a green and business oriented vision. How complicated could it be, especially here in the center of innovation?

SCOTT PETERS

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