Columns » Outsider




As you may have heard, our august City Council, operating under the time-tested theory that developers=money=give-us-some-of-it, has just decided to impose a few new fees on all those rich, rapacious despoilers of the environment.

Suppose I ought to rejoice like any right-thinking progressive, but I keep remembering conversations I've had over the years with my pals, the developers. Whether we call him Fred, Steve, David or Doug, the conversation is always the same.

"You know," he'd say, "I understand the City's problems. They don't have any money, they don't manage the money that they do have particularly well, and our business generates a ton of cash. They just want some of it.

"It's kind of like doing business in Mexico, except the Mexicans provide an actual service. You pay 'em off, and they get rid of your problems, and you move ahead. But here, you pay 'em off, and they slow you down even more. Now they're going to make us pay through the nose for a City review of engineering plans. Do you realize that it's gonna cost more to review some of these plans than we paid for the goddamn plans in the first place?"

Then "Fred" et. al. gives a contemptuous snort.

"C'mon," says I. "You guys have had a free ride forever. It's about time you paid up. Look at this town -- the sprawl capital of the West. We're so far behind the curve in infrastructure, in open space, in transportation that we'll never catch up."

At which point "Fred" gives me a thoughtful look, and changes the subject. "Tell me about the Victorian you're fixing up on the West Side."

I go on at some length about the place. "Fred" allows himself a quizzical little smile.

"Let's see," he murmurs reflectively. "You just bought yourself a 3,000-square-foot house, with a two-car garage, four bedrooms, three baths, unfinished basement, and a 13,000-square-foot lot. Sounds like the American dream to me. Why, in the last 10 years or so, I imagine that close to 100,000 folks have moved here. And if we built enough houses just like yours -- not fancy Victorians, mind you, but good, solid, livable houses -- then we'd need about 40,000 houses, and -- let's see, your lot's a third of an acre, so 2.5 houses per acre -- oh, about 16,000 acres of land."

I see where this is going, and try to interrupt. "Fred" holds up his hand. "I know, sprawl's bad -- but just where are you gonna put these folks? You want to tell people that they have to live in high-rise apartments? I bet all your liberal friends in the North End would just love tearing down a square block of bungalows there to put up 15-story condos."

I point out to "Fred" that growth's a hothouse flower. Absent the protective subsidies of state and local government, it'd just shrivel up and die. He looks at me with amused pity.

"John, you idiot, why are you here? The government didn't make this perfect climate. With all its faults, this is one fantastic place to live. Bitch about growth all you want, but because of growth you've got a job; that funny little rag you write for wouldn't exist without it. People can line their parakeet's cage with your newspaper, and we'll build 'em a home to put the cage in -- see, we each have our place in the scheme of things."

Desperate to change the subject, I ask "Fred" what he thinks of the Council's proposed sales tax increase.

"Suppose," he ventures, "that you hired me to build you a house, and paid me up front. And suppose that you went on a two-year sabbatical, and when you came back you found that I hadn't even started the house, and that I'd spent a bunch of your money on consultants. And suppose that I had the balls to ask you for a whole lot of money to build more houses for you. I think you'd sue me or shoot me. So when the City asks you for a tax increase for infrastructure, just keep in mind that they haven't even started 40 percent of the supposedly urgent projects that were funded by the '99 bond issue."

Thankfully, "Fred" has a meeting and leaves before he is completely done ranting.

Just as well. Listening to that kind of logic could turn anyone into a fire-breathing, property-rights conservative.

Not to worry. Like our president, I know what I believe, and I believe that what I believe is right ... or left.


Add a comment

Clicky Quantcast