Are we ever to do anything about it?

The following article first appeared in the December 31, 1969 edition of “The Ojai Valley News” on Page D-6. The author is unknown.

Guest Editorial

Are we ever going to do
anything about it?

(This is the second half of an editorial which appeared in the October 15, 1969 edition of the Novato Advance, a weekly newspaper serving North Marin county, 25 miles north of San Francisco. The editorial was sparked by a 1,800 pad trailer park seeking approval in the area.)

* * *

City councils and planning commissions, by the character of the people who traditionally are elected or appointed to such bodies, are powerless to lead citizenry to any alternate way of life. As part of the system, they represent the values of the system as merciless and destructive as they are. With an occasional exception, they act as undertakers of the communities they govern, burying without ceremony those amenities which made the community in its early life history bearable and worth preserving.

Planning commissioners are incapable of planning — planning the community in terms of the wants and needs of its inhabitants rather than along the lines demanded by construction restrictions, by conventional standards, by expected norms, and accepted planning principles, hopelessly out of date by the time they are enunciated.

The only substantial function planning commissions and council play is to upgrade standards, and set up hearing processes which a developer if he is patient enough will in time outlast and breach. The automobile has led to basic changes in our civilization, most of them disagreeable. It has brought about the deterioration of our inner cities; led to the scatterization of suburbia and to the fragmentation of the suburban community so a sense of community is barely realizable.

The planners go merrily on catering to the automobile, raising the standards of streets, the parking lots which gobble up so much valuable downtown ground, allowing uses catering to an automobile clientele rather than pedestrians. The Novato Square, a key block in downtown Novato for creating a viable central district, has been sacrificed for the pleasure of the public traveling through Novato and patronizing drive-in hamburger joints and restaurants, instead of being preserved for businesses enhancing the community instincts of the residents here.

Planning commissions raise standards for hamburger joints, so that they not longer may be joints, but the basic purpose remains the same, converting downtown property for uses that are basically non-community. Higher grading standards are set, but in any critical case, which may involve community “progress” the bars are let down.

Planning commissions also set higher standards for mobile home parks, so that they are not longer trailer parks but mobile home parks. City ordinances have been rewritten to assertedly have greater control. The ultimate questions are never discussed in a study of mobile home parks, only the question of what standards should apply. The standards have been raised, so what? Five years from now they will be out of date. What about the standards of the community? Have these been set to determine if proposed development is inimical or friendly to our way of life here?

Goals are always expressed by planners, particularly by professional staff members, in the most acceptable of banal terms, representing standards in American culture which often have been in fact discarded or bear little relation to reality.

Residents here and elsewhere are often accused of being apathetic and unconcerned with civic issues. It is ironic to us when homeowners turn out in great numbers either in person or through representatives they have elected to serve them, their responses are so casually ignored.

More concern is spent on the wishes of the developers, on the inherent aspects of the plan, on the happiness of the future residents of the mobile home park, than on the present wishes and future goals of those actually involved in the day-to-day life of the community.

If certain technical conditions are satisfied, anything goes. Planners only see their roles as deciding how many mobile home pads should be permitted per acre rather than deciding whether a mobile home park is desirable in the first place.

Apparently it is more important for a plan to satisfy certain objective planning principles in order to be accepted than be acceptable to those whose community is being invaded by an alien and unwelcome forrce.

As we watch our council, planning commission and other local agencies at work and see them so often ignoring the lessons of the past, we increasingly tend to believe that we are losing the capacity to govern ourselves and solve the problems of the day, not only here but throughout the land. Who are we governing for anyway? Novato is being shaped by those who happen to want to risk capital here. Is this the only determinant that should be considered?

Are we ever going to do anything about it?

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