Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Buyer Be(una)ware

In the ever-moving target of accusations and arguments leveled at the lightblueline public education environmental art project the one that happened last was the most improbable: the idea that a temporary public art installation could change property values, up or down, in Santa Barbara.

Of course, the argument was made only in the “lowering property values” vein, although the exact same logic would have property values rising on the other side of the line (where most of Santa Barbara’s real estate happens to be). To begin with, the lightblueline project was elevated from an art project to some form of civic policy. By allowing the lightblueline to show residents a hypothetical new coastline in five hundred years, in order to help them realize that we have a lot to lose if we do not stop human-induced climate change in the coming decade, the city, or so the argument went, was announcing new rules for real estate transactions. Or, at least, the city was authorizing this line as a new vulnerability that property owners would need to figure into their plans.

Actually, all the city did was follow its own rules to allow local resident artists to display a piece of public art. The city made no policy decision/announcement at all. Residents are free to look at the art from all sides and make up their own minds how this information might require more thinking or conversations about climate change. Those who deny the science of climate change are free to laugh. Lightblueline is just as likely to help get the Mariners into the World Series than it would be in changing property values in Santa Barbara.

As NPR and the LA Times and others noted, the impact of the “property values” argument was to reinforce the perception of Santa Barbara as a city fixated on the real-estate bubble that has turned a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house into a winning lottery ticket. The notion that public education and awareness is bad for business and should be stopped leads to some seriously indefensible conclusions. If withholding environmental science information is a legitimate practice in the name of profit, then what other information should we withhold in order to keep the property values sky high? What else can we not tell the buyer so that they feel better about the deal?

The real irony is that lightblueline is working as hard as its volunteers can to save not only property values, but actual PROPERTY down by the waterfront. The whole point is to help coastal cities become more involved in the solutions to climate change so that their long-term sustainability is more secure. Realtors and property holders might be better served (in the long run) by joining lightblueline. All are welcome. I should note that a number of realtors have written me in support of lightblueline. So we will move on together.