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NIMBY Thinking Everywhere

by Alan Markow, published

It's all about NIMBY - Not In My Backyard - thinking in California. Cut the budget, except for my sacred cow.

The Sacramento Bee reports that a community group is pushing the City Council to rescind its 35 percent cut in the budget of the Department of Parks and Recreation that would - among other provisions - reduce lawn-mowing from once a week to once every three weeks and close bathrooms except for special events.

None of the cuts seem like particularly good ideas for the city, but neither does the $50 million deficit it is facing. Yet the decision to cut maintenance costs at the parks has resulted in the marshaling of the Land Park Community Association's parks committee to fight the plan.

So the Parks people would prefer that the cuts be found in other areas. Let's just say, for example, police and fire. But then, the police and fire community associations will explain why such cuts will be disastrous. On and on it goes, until the only possible cuts are those without a constituency to protect them.

On a statewide level, students and faculty are protesting tuition increases at the UC and CSU systems despite the fact that California's state universities are among the best bargains in the country. The San Francisco Medical Society board of directors has voted to oppose propositions 1D and 1E, which would impact funding for children's services and mental health services, respectively. Board president Charles Wibbelsman told me San Francisco Chronicle, "It is sad that when financial constraints become severe the most vulnerable are often the first to be targeted, and we oppose that -- especially when the programs in question have been working well,"

And a 10 percent proposed cut in Medi-Cal is opposed by the California Association of Medical Product Suppliers, whose "talking points" package ends with this directive to their members: "LET THEM KNOW YOU ARE A SMALL BUSINESS CONSTITUENT THAT DIDN'T CAUSE THE STATE'S FISCAL CRISIS."

Every one of the individual concerns by interest groups are logical and, to one degree or another, compelling. But California is attempting to meet a real-world budget crisis, which may cause us to default on our debts and create even more pain for the state and its citizens. Someone has to prioritize the cuts despite the NIMBY factor involved. The alternative is massive cuts to the few programs that have no friends to protect them.

Prioritizing cost reductions and revenue increases is a necessity in the current economy, and while citizen protests are a cherished tradition, we all need to take some of our NIMBY thinking off the table.

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