Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Political Uses of NIMBY

"Not In My Back Yard" is a potent force and tool.

People want their own private property respected.  "It is my land."

NIMBY is about ones neighbors' private property.  "He should be stopped."

Of course it is inconsistent and unfair.  But politics is not a study of logic.  It is the operation of what people in a community want.  What they want is the freedom to do what they want themselves, and to control what their neighbor can do.   Simple as that.

Politicians need to deal with that strange reality.

This blog has profited enormously from the criticism I have received from people regarding marijuana. Citizens who would normally and predictably feel one way about something--freedom--reverse themselves when issues of personal nuisance come up.  

Thirty five years ago, when I was a Jackson County Commissioner spending about half my time on land use issues, NIMBY was a weak force. I remember one instance in four years when NIMBY rose up.  A group of neighbors got together to protest the application for a mega-church facility to be built on agricultural land near their homes, in the area between Medford and Jacksonville.  The church would have a school, commercial kitchens for weddings and other events, dormitories for youth camps, and services most evenings.  The neighbors complained that it wasn't a church; it was an event center.  The applicants argued that big successful churches have events as part of their church mission.  They said marriages, funerals, prayer breakfasts, elementary and high school education, RV overnight parking,  and concerts of spiritual music were all part of their church-based spiritual practice.  The neighbors said it was too much--on rural agricultural land--and the commissioners agreed.   

That was it for NIMBY back then.  One clear instance.

Now people feel far more entitled to object to a neighbor's use of his or her land. Neighbors are protesting the actions of other neighbors all the time.  Someone wants to do something permitted on their land a mile away, but it might increase traffic. Oppose it.  

Ashland Tidings News story: September odor
And now the marijuana issue. People appear to have accepted the notion of marijuana dispensaries. Their work takes place behind closed doors.  The problem is not the end product; the problem is the production.  It is the classic problem: people want meat but not slaughterhouses.  People want wooden houses but not timber harvest.  They want production to take place far away.  Marijuana production is the controversial part.

Marijuana has a smell.  Medford citizens voted 2 to 1 to prohibit outdoor marijuana grows, inside the city limits.  It makes sense.  City life puts people up near other people. It is one of the reasons people live in cities: the quiet enjoyment of their home free from nuisance.

Rural land plays by different rules.  It is land for production. Outdoor grows of marijuana are legal on private property in rural resource zones (farm and forest.)   In previous decades the citizen attitude would be that each landowner should mind his own property and his own business.  If a farmer plants a smelly crop (onions, garlic, livestock) it is his own business, not the neighbors'. Things are different now, especially with marijuana. NIMBY.

This blog got comments complaining about neighbors and this blog's lack of sensitivity to their concerns:
   ***using water
   ***creating smells
   ***creating allergens
   ***using grow bags that will end up in landfills
   ***using fertilizer that comes in bags that will end up in landfills
   ***employing people
   ***employing people who might be armed
   ***adding to vehicle traffic
   ***changing the view with new plants
   ***changing the view with new structures

All of the above activities are legal--but all affect the neighbors.  Should there be large set-back requirements away from neighboring dwellings or property lines?  That would essentially take land out of production, and it would treat marijuana different than onions, but there may be a political consensus that neighbors need more rights and protection. 

Editorial: Capital press, Oregon's agricultural press.
Should neighbors within a certain distance of a grow site be entitled to financial compensation?  That would tend to democratize the income, it would be expensive, but there could be an upside for the grower.  It would create a kind of license for the grower. ("I've paid you the nuisance fee, so quit your bitchin'.)  In the past there would be no expectation that a neighbor should get income from the activities on a farm next door. The widespread acceptance of the NIMBY attitude has changed this.  

This blog has taken the position that farmers should have the right to farm, since their right to subdivide has been taken away from them. But this ignores the rise of NIMBY attitudes, and maybe it underestimates the change in political climate.

Should marijuana production become a "conditional use," not a permitted use, in farm zones?  That would empower neighbors to require a hearing and protest a neighbor's marijuana crop. Counties would need to set up rules for who can protest, distance from the subject property, and the basis for an objection.  There would be an avalanche of cases and the county would need to set up a special marijuana hearings body.  It would increase neighborhood tensions, pitting the livelihood of one person against the conveniences and amenities of neighbors. I can imagine enormously disputatious hearings, neighbor against neighbor, quibbles about nuisances back and forth--and yet those hearings would be reflecting the current reality of the empowerment of neighbors. It would likely require a change in the state's "right to farm" law, but if that happened county commissions could set up local rules. Debate over the wisdom of such a rule puts the issue squarely in the laps of candidates for both state and local political office.

Greenhouse for vegetables, ok. For marijuana, neighbors object.
Previous office holders--back in my era in local office--were dealing with the political fallout from downzoning rural land.  We took away the profit and flexibility of land divisions, and we declared they were sitting on a precious farm resource, so we tried to be consistent.  You cannot do anything but farm, so go ahead a farm. This blog has agreed.

But this is a different era. Neighbors feel entitled. The understandings and promises of the past may not have significance today. Then it was about the farmers' rights.  Now it is NIMBY.

There may be political room for a politician to reverse the primacy of the farmers' right and replace it with the rights of neighbors to decide what they want to live near.  I consider it unjust, but the politics have changed.  There are more neighbors than farmers, and more people who are bystanders to the marijuana industry than there are participants in it.

1 comment:

  1. The state voted to legalize marijuana.

    It was about revenue. That hasn't changed and I believe about 40 million was collected this year. Colorado is a lot more, so we should expect Oregon's to grow.. Decriminalization helps law enforcement on bigger problems. Medicinal use is growing. I don't imagine a few disgruntled neighbors will have much effect

    You've heard the story about the guy complaining about the stockyard next door..."it's the smell of money!"


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