It’s an interesting notion, don’t you think? As Americans, we have an uncanny ability to focus on relatively inconsequential issues despite easily discernible and credible threats of impending disaster. Examples of this common flaw are readily apparent on a national scale — just look at our president’s lack of leadership with regard to humanity’s biggest threat, global warming (the disaster side). And don’t even get me started on the likes of Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton (the inconsequential side). I’d bet there are a lot of politicians in New Orleans who wish they had spent as much time scrutinizing the information from experts on levee vulnerability as they spent strategizing with campaign consultants.

As a society, we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy on things that won’t matter much in 10 or 20 years, even when the proverbial icebergs are staring us right in the face.

But let’s bring it a little closer to home. If you ask people around the region, “what are the biggest threats to our quality of life?” you’ll invariably hear “the cost of housing is too high” and “traffic is bad and keeps getting worse.” In the coastal areas, you’ll hear us surfers squawk about declining water quality. These, I’d argue, are the societal icebergs that threaten our economic and social foundations, and yet as a community, are we doing anything meaningful to change the ship’s course? I’d have to say no, not really, not yet. And even those esteemed Café readers who are well educated on these issues and doing something, I’m saying it’s not nearly enough.

If this diatribe is starting to sound a bit preachy, that’s not my intent. Truth is, after nearly a decade of public interest environmental law, I’m as guilty as any other enviro or community leader who has focused too much on NIMBY concerns and easy targets (did someone say Sea World fireworks?). Just look around at the sprawl development that has redefined America’s least-affordable Finest City. Without question, we’ve failed to adequately address the core regional issues of transportation, housing, and water quality. Neither you nor I, nor the city councils nor the supervisors have shown true leadership. Why not?

Perhaps like global warming, at some point it all just seems too big, too institutionally rooted to tackle as individuals or poorly funded grassroots environmental organizations?

Maybe our apathy stems from the difficulty of overcoming rampant political corruption and secrecy in government? Or how about the realization that the dude some of us voted for isn’t doing quite as well as that surfer chick might have done.

Then again, who wants to work on TransNet funding allocation when those cute fuzzy seals down at the Children’s Pool are being harassed (and they play so much better for the news cameras than a Sandag meeting)? And isn’t the Chargers stadium relocation, the ultimate deckchair in my opinion, much more interesting to discuss around the water cooler than condo conversions?

I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 years trying to balance a penchant for chasing windmills with making a difference and making a living. Along the way, I’ve met hundreds of activists putting in truly amazing amounts of time trying to keep San Diego a great place to live, play, work and raise a family. I’ve also met dozens of everyday citizens who’ve put it all on the line to stop bad developments in their neighborhoods. But while these efforts are all commendable in their own right, it’s time to open up our eyes and realize we’re at the crossroads. If our collective priorities don’t change, our beloved San Diego is doomed.

It’s time to start attending Sandag meetings, to elect some truly responsible politicians, and for heaven’s sake, stop paying so much attention to the furniture.


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