At What Cost? Time.
Three months ago, I started a new job.
The physical toll on my body is great and there is little, to no time, for anything other than sleeping when I return home after the typical 12 hour long work days. I bury myself in my bedding when I return from work, hiding my eyes from the sunlight that streams through the window, trying to block out thoughts of how much of my life is sliding by as I hunt for the blessed darkness of unconsciousness.
This is not an unusual situation for folks in the United States, certainly not for minority communities, and it isn’t unusual for me. The first time I worked this much, I was still in High School. I had to pay for gas to drive my sister and I to school. After I graduated, I held down a full time job working at a surf shop, while also working several graveyard shifts a week at a local gym. I did this so that I would be able to move north for school. When I had saved enough, I moved to San Francisco, where I worked 40 hours a week, while also attending school full-time.
This live-to-work reality has begun to impact more middle class Americans since the mortgage collapse of 2008. Added to this are the rising costs of living, student debt, a stagnant minimum wage, the costs of transportation, and other everyday financial stresses that are actively working to diminish the middle class in today’s America, even as the country’s wealthiest grow steadily wealthier.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about time: that most precious and finite of human resources, its unceasing forward flow, and the forces that seek to siphon it away for the selfish benefit of so very few on this planet.
It isn’t wealth itself that bothers, it is how it is used and the time it represents.
Millions and billions of dollars represent lifetimes of accrued time. That is, human lives through which wealth is accumulated, stored, and when brought to bear on other human lives in the process of acquiring more wealth, can also represent a kind of tyranny.
I am reminded of the possibility of tyranny in the attempted land grab situation in Carlsbad (Measure A), where a billionaire developer has spent $10 million* in the process of:
1) attempting to bypass and then fight Carlsbad residents’ right to vote on his proposed LAW regarding development on the South Shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon;
2) a massive marketing campaign that included television commercials during the Golden Globes and Grammy’s, daily mailers (sometimes, two or three a day), and paid canvassers and signature gatherers;
3) circumventing standard California environmental review;
4) attempting to reshape nearly 30 years of Carlsbad’s planning process to pass his LAW (Measure A) and its accompanying project;
5) diminishing the discretionary powers of the City Council within the 200+ acre zone for 15 years;
I have heard some Carlsbad residents thank Caruso for “choosing Carlsbad” for his Nordstrom-anchored mall, and this confuses me, but I understand that I am one of those who will be unequally impacted by the time-sucking traffic that will result from the new law (Measure A):
I commute outside of Carlsbad for work and I work about 50 hours a week to pay my bills, put gas in my car, and afford health insurance. I live a very simple life, finding joy in driving down the coast to find surf on the days I can muster the energy.
I am not a Nordstrom’s shopper, yet I, and 10s of thousands of my neighbors are being asked to bow to the will of the Nordstrom’s shopper who wants their luxury shopping and dining experiences closer to home.
When I hear the straw man argument most often used to distract attention from the nearly 600,000 square foot mall at the heart of Measure A, that is, the argument that already protected open space will be protected in Measure A (repetitive and unnecessary? I think so too), “at no cost to taxpayers.” I immediately think of the time/money equivalency, after shaking my head at the marketing gymnastics Caruso’s PR people continually undertake with regard to Agua Hedionda’s South Shore Open Space.
(Another straw man argument is that something will be built in the commercial space–dear lord, what if it is a Wal-Mart!–which I have responded to with an alternate suggestion here. For those who are so averse to Wal-Mart they are using it to scare folks into voting for Measure A, this energy might be better spent advocating that our City Council divest Carlsbad’s money from its Wal-Mart stocks.)
The term “cost” is usually used in relation to money. The simple idea here is that Carlsbad taxpayers won’t be asked to directly hand over money for the project (although there is a proposed trolley that we are unsure about the funding of, and two finance mechanisms that contemplate using federal tax dollars and community financing districts within the project area), but “cost” here represents more than cash exchange.
I remember the first time it became clear to me that the $40 worth of gas I was putting into my car represented about 6 hours worth of my time at the local retail surf shop. Every day I would drive nearly 1.5 hours to work and home. This time on the road would increase during the summer as visitors crammed the freeway and the coast to enjoy the beaches of North County.
That was the late 1990s. Now, I have to spend an hour on the freeway every day, and work nearly 4 hours for a tank of gas. Better, but certainly not a monumental difference. I am not looking forward to summer, which sees not only an increase in gas prices as folks take to the roads in vast numbers, but will also see an exponential increase in traffic that will leave me waiting on the freeway nearly twice as long as I am now.
It is interesting to note that freeway traffic evaluations for Measure A’s mall are completely absent, though we have the City’s 9212 report stating that anywhere between 8.4 million and 12.8 million visitors should be expected (see image above). Despite this, the developer, the City Council, and proponents of Measure A are working hard to market the idea that Carlsbad will see both an increase in tourism and revenue for the City from the mall, and that traffic will actually get better because of the project.
The typical argument here is that traffic mitigation measures will handle the flow of visitors, but mitigation has never meant no impact. And of the $9 million in mitigation fees, most of that money will be refunded per Caruso’s own documents. Some examples include the re-striping at Tamarack Ave/El Camino Real which will cost $100,000, “with $97,000 being subject to reimbursement”; the El Camino/Faraday Ave overlap signal phases costing $50,000 have “$49,500 subject to reimbursement”; and the Palomar Airport Rd/Armada Dr re-stripe that will cost $50,000, with “$47,500 being subject to reimbursement.” You can find this information in Measure A’s main document, the Agua Hedionda Specific Plan, Appendix B, Environmental Protection Features, pages 18-21.
There will be an increase in traffic, to say otherwise is to ignore reality. It also undermines the argument that the City will see a worthwhile increase in tax revenue from the mall, which is another argument being used to make the case for Measure A. The two points are intimately linked.
And what of the value of a “lifestyle shopping experience” that says it will be a gathering place for families when those very families will see a net loss in the amount of time they will have to spend together because of the very traffic generated by this development.
A similar asinine conundrum is presented in the developer’s latest promise to “help veterans” while his campaign actively worked to deny Carlsbad the right to vote on his project, a right that represents the very democracy these veterans put their lives on the line to defend.
A promise of a job interview for a low-paying job for our Veterans, in order to drum up votes for a mall, is offensive and patronizing, especially after so flagrantly disrespecting the democratic voting process upon which our nation was founded.
There is no “win-win” scenario in Measure A, no matter how prettily you package it. The developer is spending millions of dollars, the lifetimes of others both past and future, in an attempt to polish a bad idea that has been executed poorly.
The developer wants to push his mall through, not to “save open space” (it’s already protected) and increase the quality-of-life in Carlsbad and North County more generally, but to increase his own wealth and to get a foothold in Carlsbad as we rev up for a development boom we will need all the time we can muster to ensure is done according to our desires, especially given the recent changes to the California Coastal Commission.
The time we have with each other is priceless and very, very finite. A NO vote represents a desire to protect this precious resource for Carlsbad and North County in general.
It’s time to take back our City. Vote NO on Measure A, February 23rd.
[* 2/19 edit: The amount Caruso has spent was updated from $9 million to $10 million to reflect the most recent financial reports.]