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As you may or may not know… I am one of 5 planning commissioners for the County of San Luis Obispo.  Today was the 8th meeting on a whether or not the Planning Commission should allow a Phillips 66 oil terminal rail project.    After extensive discussion and closing statements by all commissioners I called for a motion to deny this project… and that motion passed.     I cannot express how happy I am about this.

Below is the text of my closing argument:

Energy

 

Energy is the power realized from the utilization of a physical resource.

Carbon based organisms have existed on earth for Billions of years.

The “Fossils” in Fossil Fuels took 2.5 billions years to accumulate. They were primarily microscopic organisms that decayed and sank to the bottom of the oceans over millennia and their ensuing sediments were cooked by the pressures and temperatures within the planet until they became the hydrocarbons they are today.

We humans, over the course of the last couple of hundred years, have taken the billions of years of stored carbon energy from deep in the planet… and used it to power our industrial and technological revolutions.   This has been really great. I love driving my car… I love my computer etc.

The successful use of stored hydrocarbons, along with the invention of farming allowed humans to transition from a primarily hunter gatherer society, to an agrarian society, to an industrial society, to a technological society.

Each of these transitions… has meant greater and greater efficiencies in the utilization of energy.  Each of these efficiencies has meant we humans could utilize smaller and smaller land areas to support larger and larger populations.

The density of humans per acre on the planet has increased exponentially over the last few hundred years in particular. The density of new ideas has also increased proportionally to the increase in new humans.

This acceleration of knowledge and ideas can be seen in the rapid move from an agrarian, to an industrial, and to a technologically based society. The evolution of mankind has been turbocharged by oil. No one doubts that the burning of fossil fuels has allowed mankind to radically increase his knowledge and intellect. The vast majority of us here in this room would not be able to live here without oil.

However… the burning of fossil fuels used to create the industrial revolution has placed massive additional amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in a short period of time.

Simultaneous to that… deforestation around the world over the last few hundred years has dramatically lowered the planet’s ability to re-absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

SO we are in a situation where we are putting a lot more carbon into the atmosphere than the planet is used to… and we are also reducing it’s ability to remove it.

And we as a species have created a population that is addicted to the success that the burning of all that carbon has created.

We are also beginning to realize that the usage of all this oil to turbocharge our success as a species has had side effects….

One of the great new ideas created by all these great new human minds… was the concept of renewable energy… which is the natural evolution of efficiency in the way we use energy. It is simply of greater benefit to humanity to utilize sustainable renewable energy than it is to continue to utilize fossil fuels. There is no argument over this. Sustainable renewable energy will wipe out the use of fossil fuels.

The disagreement is only really over how and when to nurse ourselves off the fossil fuel addiction that we have become so enamored of…. And convert our technologies to the next level… to renewables.

I understand that it seems hypocritical to those who don’t see the hurry to make the switch… for others to say we should end the addiction to oil right this second. They see that the current addiction has had many positive benefits to society… They are not wrong.

To others… the side effects of the oil addiction are growing more and more important and that they cannot be ignored… they believe that the current usage levels will lead to massive planetary changes.   They are not wrong.

 

We are at a crossroads of sorts… there are alternatives coming on line… some people are ready to cross… and some are not. This is the way of the world.

 

Almost every decision I have made as a planning commissioner involves two parties that each believe they are in the right position… and that the other side really has no idea what they are talking about. And almost always… neither side is entirely wrong.

Every one of us has levels of risk we are willing to tolerate… each of us has things we do that annoy others.

The challenge of being in this Planning Commissioner seat… involves understanding a given project in detail… and then with total knowledge of the subject of that project… trying to understand the risks and benefits to society as a whole. Interpreting the public’s opinion of those risk and benefits is a big part of the equation.

Sometimes “public” is a special interest group with an agenda. Sometimes the “public” is a group of neighbors. Sometimes the “public” is just that. The public.

I try and understand whether a given speaker is a neighbor, or a special interest group, or are just a general concerned citizen…. so that I might better understand where they are coming from in their testimony.

We have heard from neighbors … who have their concerns… we had heard from special interest groups too on both sides… and in this case we have heard from an amazing number of concerned citizens statewide.

The concerned citizens in my opinion are the most powerful in this case. In this case we have the supervisors of seven neighboring counties… representing over 10 million people… all telling us to NOT approve this project. We have the city councils of dozens of cities. Along with this we have teachers unions, student bodies, health professional associations, etc., etc… all asking us to vote no. Not one of these entities asked us to vote yes.

These are not nimbys… these are not special interest groups. These are our fellow Californians.

In my 9 years as a planning commissioner the people who commented on this project outnumber all other projects I have ever considered added together by far.

I have read each and every one of the more than 21,000 comments submitted to this commission… and after tossing out the special interest group form letters and the nimbys… what remains is the balance of the citizens of this county who are not special interests… nor nimbys. They… and the people of the counties and cities represented by the letters we received from city councils and supervisors all up and down the Union Pacific line. Of those last letters… The vast majority… I’d say at least 96%… including ALL of the letters from city councils and Supervisors asked us to vote against this project.

I cannot see how any commissioner from this county… who’s district may cover approx. one fifth of this county… (so approx. 50,000 people)… I don’t see how that commissioner can sit here and say that the opinion of that small constituency he says he represents… is more important than the wishes of the representatives of the 10 million people up and down the tracks. IF these commissioners represent so many people who are for this project… WHERE ARE THOSE PEOPLE? WHY ARE THEY NOT HERE IN GREAT DROVES?

How can you ignore the actual pleas our neighboring representatives… who represent over 10 million neighbors… asking us to not endanger their citizens…

How can you say that the the profit of one multinational corporation… and the supposed creation of 12 jobs outweighs the possibility of just one death… one burn victim… one person who loses their spouse or child? This project will not change the trajectory of oil in this nation… whether or not this refinery gets oil by train or not will have ZERO effect on the supply of gasoline in this nation. So why do you vote against all of your neighboring cities and counties? We have been told that the likely hood of a wreck does exist… albeit small… and you have decided that, for you, this is an acceptable risk. You are willing to accept the possibility of 1 death… or 20… or 100…

Yet the representatives of every county and city around you have said it is not ok. You are basically saying that the taxpayers and property owners of this state should accept the risk to their pocketbooks and to their property… so that this oil company can achieve a higher margin… and that that margin is more important. You are saying that the taxpayers and property owners who are represented by the supervisors and city councils of every jurisdiction up and down the track are wrong… and that your opinion is correct.

I strongly disagree.

I live by a simple rule in my life:  Do unto others… as you would have them do unto you.

I vote against this project.

eric-insideEric Meyer

 

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Sometimes it is the most plain of things that you notice.  The lotus’s (sp?) are in bloom at Lotusland in Santa Barbara… so I spent the morning there with friends yesterday.  This little pot caught my eye because it is made from cheap talavera tiles from Mexico.  Anyone could make this with a little cement and tile and a handmade form.  There is a quality about it that is almost indescribable.  Maybe if we were speaking french I could describe it better… over a glass of wine and with bread torn from the bagette.  Yet that indescribable quality makes it.  It is not perfect… it shows the fact that it was handmade… It is beautiful but it is not fancy… and it has patina.  I want my entire life to be like this flowerpot.

 

oh… and did I mention the lotus’s are in bloom….

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I think Dr. Suess has been here:

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Below is a short story I wrote in 2000 about living in Montecito CA (Santa Barbara area)… where we lived for a few years in the 1990’s.  We left in 2001 and moved back home to downtown San Luis Obispo, CA.

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On living in Montecito…
Despite what you might think… well… Montecito is just a pretty odd place to actually live.  There are houses here and there… usually on at least 2 acres… but I somehow don’t have any neighbors really.   I know, I know… what about Oprah and all the movie producers etc etc.  Well,  it is not exactly as it seems.

 I was one of the lucky ones… or so everyone thought anyway… I looked lucky after all… I had sold my company… I had lots of funny cool shoes from Europe and had a new Audi wagon and a cool small 50’s modern house with a nice view and old oak trees.  My wife and I were young… in our thirties… we had nice bookcases with interesting books and we had some nice paintings.

But nobody really lives in Montecito as it turns out.  This was somewhat disconcerting at first.  You’d really never know it for all the activity going on.

Anyway…

I was walking across San Ysidro Rd. one day… at the corner of East Valley… on my way over to Pierre’s (the deli) when I noticed that all four cars at the intersection were Range Rovers… probably all Realtors…all talking on separate cell phones… and even the passenger of one of the Range Rover’s was talking on a cell phone… (that’s 5 phone calls at a 4 way stop). I had to hurry so as not to get run over by one of them (no doubt discussing the proper spelling of “Palladian” with her assistant).

So I was pondering about realtors and real estate as I walked over into the parking lot at Pierre’s.  It was a normal day… I noticed nobody noticing Christopher Lloyd having coffee.  Nobody noticed Sandra Bullock either… I’m pretty sure it was her… I was trying hard to be cool and not to gawk.

I got my coffee and I began ruminating on the fact that the house next to mine has been remodeled three times in the last five years… and all the while it has never been lived in.  It sold for 1.2 about three years ago… then 2.2 about a two years ago… and now I expect it will be 6 to 7 as the most recent remodel involved scraping the entire old structure (a somewhat odd but fine old house) and building a new 5500 square foot palladian (there’s that word… see) villa. Basically this house has been more of a business for developers than a home.

It is one of 5 houses in my neighborhood that have recently become palladian villas.  In fact I would say that most of the houses in the area have been going through some sort of Tuscanization process of one sort or another constantly since we moved here. (save three that are owned by people who are so old that they still keep horses on the property)

The house two over was leveled and got built into a 10,000 foot mansion a few years back.  It sold just over a year ago for around 8.  The new owners are adding on… they needed another 1000 feet.  I have yet to see them… no sign of them anywhere.   Up the hill a bit is another.  It was modern…now it’s been hispanificated and sold… then sold again.  Another sold on the first day at 9.9.  One magazine article from LA calls these houses “white piles”… the subcontractors call them “big dick” houses.

The house across the street sold to a corporation before anyone knew it was for sale.  It’s now the latest in the “scrape it and build a huge mansion on it” category.  Montecito ABR reviewed it and declared it will be beautiful enough (preserving the character you know).  New landscaping will replace existing landscaping.

I have never hired a building contractor but I know all of them some how… Paul… Doug… Rick…. Mark… Mike.  Always a four-letter name.  Anyone who actually lives here knows them too.  You see them all the time… over various fences…  they are quite similar to neighbors actually.

Montecito may not be a place people really live I guess… it is just the impression of a beautific enclave… a well disguised business for Realtors, gardeners, and home builders… except maybe on Sundays… but during the week it is major earthmoving equipment of one sort or another… with a light topping of leaf blowers and chainsaws… punctuated by the din of “tres million watt” Mexican radio stations (the guys building all the walls around the houses nobody lives in).

So meanwhile back at Pierre’s some LA producer type drives up in his new Aston Martin.  He’s probably here to look at some houses.  He’s not staying at the Miramar mind you because despite whatever Schrager’s Gucci wearing team of PR people are telling Wallpaper… there doesn’t seem to be much construction going on.  He’s probably staying at one of the “Beanie” hotels owned by Ty Warner (Beanie Baby fortune… why does that sound so goofy)

Anyway… he gets out of the car and it’s horn beeps as he locks it…  never mind that the only other cars in the lot are a whole slew of BMW’s, a Mercedes 600CL, a Turbo Porsche with ceramic brakes, four or five Mercedes wagons (the Montecito Taurus), the aforementioned RRR (Realtor in a Range Rover) and an Audi wagon (the dot com influence you know)… and the only people sitting there that would possibly steal anything from his $200,000 car are six or seven old timers and a smattering of young retired entrepreneurs in huaraches, old shorts and scrappy t-shirts quietly arguing about how the cinnamon rolls used to taste better.

So… after my coffee I walk to my car in my huarraches… and yes… it is the Audi… parked at Pierre’s even though I went to the Pharmacy (hey I did buy a coffee and I would have bought a cinnamon roll except… well you know)  I drive over to the Post Office and park in front of Tecolote book store, quietly kicking myself for buying that last book on Amazon.

On the way home I drive by an open house (It’s Wednesday… caravan day for the RRR’s)  It’s a decent older modern house with a terrific view of the mountains.   I’m told it “might have been designed by somebody famous”.  Most agents are calling it a scraper.  It’s priced at 3.5 on 2 1/2 acres.

Later that evening my wife and I go to “the Ranch”… to the Plow and Angel restaurant… because it is only about 1500 feet from our house.   Bill Gates and his wife were eating dinner at the table two over.  The last time we went to the Plow and Angel Oprah was there… although at that time I didn’t know that she was buying the Bacon Estate.

I do suppose all this construction will have to die down a bit someday.  It can’t go on ad infinitum.  Harry Dent says the Boomer earnings peak is between now and 2007 or so… So I ponder my future… and meanwhile it is a great place to live… especially on Sundays.

I feel compelled to mention we bought an older house downtown in San Luis Obispo, CA… We don’t live there now of course… it just sits empty.  I pay gardeners to keep it up.  We’ll move back there eventually I suppose.  After a remodel.

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