Broker’s Report, September 7, 2018 — My last newsletter dated August 26th brought two angry reader responses over my usage of the term “environmental nazi.” Maybe they haven’t heard the term used in modern day language. I sure have. Or maybe they have other sensitivities. So I agreed to address their concerns in my next newsletter. But the topic brought out so many personal thoughts that it needs a bigger venue, so here goes.
I had several writing influencers before I went to college. The basics they instilled in me are with me today. When I was in 7th grade (I was 12) Mrs. Brennan was my English teacher. We learned plenty about how to write. But it was from a very un-classic perspective. She taught us some of the formal rules of writing but then told us to forget all of the convention. “Develop your own style, make it clean and understandable, use a minimal amount of words” is what she instructed.
I constantly try to improve my writing, but today most of it is produced in a state of attention deficit — while I’m functioning daily as a real estate broker; talking to clients, working on files, responding to emails, watching the MLS, watching the Mammoth world go by from my fabulous world-watching desk, etc.. And I’m always going to the dictionary to check the real meanings of words. And in the last few years I find myself going to the Urban Dictionary because there are always new words and words that are taking on different meanings.
That gets me to the term “environmental nazi.” There is no capital n in the word. The Merriam Webster dictionary on my iPhone refers to the word when not capitalized as; a harshly domineering, dictatorial, or intolerant person. The Urban Dictionary has a variety of definitions. One that might be engaging is; “more recently, it has become a slang term used to describe people who are overly concerned about details (in an unhealthy way), and like to correct others on every occasion they get. Especially evident on internet forums, blogs….” or “Someone that (sic) voiced opinion someone else didn’t like.”
A similar word that has evolved (or devolved?) is the “czar.” President Obama really liked using it; he was always appointing new czars (38 as a matter of fact). The czar of this, the czar of that. But the czar-ship in the federal government dates back Franklin Roosevelt. But the usage of czar is similar in its origin. The lineage of Russian czars created great suffering, oppression and serfdom and their wars resulted in millions and millions of deaths. At the end, the last czar and everyone around him were murdered in an insurrection. So is this how the federal government is inferring these czars function and ultimately terminate?? I think not. The word has simply taken on a different connotation.
Words and language are constantly taking on altered meanings and usage. I find it mentally stimulating to try to keep up.
So my next discussion is of environmentalists. Living where I live I come in contact with many so called environmentalists. They come in all varieties. Some take it to the extreme. Very extreme. And there seems to be a consistent sanctimonious belief amongst those who label themselves thusly. And for some, being one relieves them from other logical and civil behavior. Years ago one of my associate brokers considered himself an environmentalist because he never had any children. Most if it was in jest but he had a point. He was suggesting that the planet simply has too many people and that was the cause for so much environmental degradation and he didn’t want to add to it. People driving Teslas believe they are “saving the earth” but don’t consider the environmental cost of producing or disposing of the batteries. The variety of environmentalists appears endless.
I have my own quirks, I think Keurigs are an environmental disaster, and yet I’m sure most Keurig users wouldn’t even think about it.
My recently irate readers also seem to think that an “environmentalist” could never be someone “harshly domineering, dictatorial, or intolerant” as Merriam Webster defines. Well, my experience is quite different. I have witnessed the exact behavior. And quite frankly, it is some of the ugliest human behavior I have witnessed in my 32+ years of real estate brokerage in the eastern Sierra Nevada. That includes plenty of egomaniacal real estate developers, “power players” of all sorts, seriously greedy people, seriously desperate people, and more. It has nothing to do with “negotiating” or any real need. There simply won’t be any civil discourse. It is pure, repulsive fanaticism. They are hell-bent on obstruction.
My worst experiences emanate from north of Mammoth Lakes in the Mono Basin. Mono Lake is often referred to as the “Holy Grail” of the environmental movement. David and Sally Gaines founded the primary environmental movement at Mono Lake in the late 1970’s. In my opinion they were epitome of true environmentalists and were to be admired. What followed after them, was, and is, part of the “environmentalist” variety we see today.
In the early 2000s I started working with Dr. Bill Cunningham. His 120 acres on the western shore of Mono Lake was prime for development and he asked for my help. His grandmother owned the Tioga Lodge for a few decades and in his childhood summers this was his playground. Cunningham had subdivided land before so he knew the process. And he was certainly sensitive to the local environment. The property itself is spectacular; a lovely mix of pine trees, aspens, creek drainage and most importantly, the jaw-dropping expansive views of Mono Lake and the Mono Craters.
We started working on the proposed subdivision; a draft tentative map, delineating lots and open space dedications, trying to refine the project and building sites. But then came the threats and attempts at intimidation. It was unlike anything I had experienced. I remember being served with the threat of litigation. The service papers were four inches thick. The Mono County sheriff who was serving me laughed and said “it will cost you 20 grand just to have your attorney read all this paperwork.” The litigation threat was from a law firm on the 14th floor in San Francisco. The firm’s biggest client was the Sierra Club and the firm is full of young trust funder attorneys who graduated from Berkeley and Stanford law. They get your attention. But in reality it was all superfluous BS, but a pure act of intimidation (ever been sued and had sleepless nights?).
In the end the property was essentially forced into the Forest Service land exchange process. Today it is the primary piece of the Forest Service land exchange for Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge parcel (that has been going on for over 10 years). But through the sale process to Mammoth Mountain (which took four years) the local environmentalists continued pressure on Cunningham. And it wasn’t nice. They were fine when other people were around, but they were rather insidious. “Harshly domineering, dictatorial, or intolerant” would be an apt description.
And just to explain the seriousness of the matter, Rusty Gregory was rather adamant that he needed Cunningham’s land “to be in the good graces of the environmentalists.” Think about that. Mr. Gregory isn’t really a guy to be bullied, but we got a real sense of who he was afraid of. He had already made his “deal.” Perhaps with the devil.
My second Mono Basin experience was with the Adams family (as in Ansel Adams.) They were “friends” of the people in the area and were aligned with the local environmental groups, as one would expect. They too wanted to develop their acreage below the Mono Inn. They had a prestigious architectural firm do a site plan and renderings of ultra-enviro buildings including natural vegetation roofs. It would have been a fabulous project, especially with the Adams legacy. I marketed the project for them looking for a development partner or a full buy-out. But there were more threats and intimidation, and destruction of personal property. I don’t know all the details of how my clients were treated, but I know I wasn’t welcome anywhere around there. I doubt they were treated any better.
I do know my clients inevitably canceled the listing and were horribly disappointed at the whole affair. That was 10 years ago. They had spent considerable time and money improving the original property and in design work. They haven’t come back to the market, they know what will happen. Their net rents probably just cover the taxes. I doubt if they care to come back to the eastside ever again. I wouldn’t. And that is rather unfortunate. And quite ironic considering Ansel Adams’ significant role in the Sierra Club evolution.
So I am all too familiar with “environmental nazis.” I wish I wasn’t, but I’m glad I am. I stay as far away from them as possible. They are like lepers. And when you see one in the room and other knowledgeable people back away, you know they have had similar experiences.
I’ve said enough. Thankfully I get to meet so many wonderful people, buyers, sellers and others all the time. Mammoth Lakes seems to be a magnet for them. I’d like to keep it that way.