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Environmental collective action problems in Los Altos

May 24, 2009

Exams are done, I have graduated, and taken a short vacation before starting preparation for the bar exam. Thankfully, my contributors picked up the slack in my absence.

One of my classes was a seminar titled Local Government and Environmental Policy.  I submitted a paper on how and why Mountain View has confronted the collective action problems inherent in large-scale environmental problems.  For instance, a city can not address global warming, throwaway bags or water conservation on its own.  And if its neighbors are simply going to freeride on its efforts and keep on doing whatever they feel like, the city may be even worse off than had it done nothing.  And yet cities like Mountain View keep charging ahead.  (Interestingly, BigDra’s brother’s book Network Power was more helpful than any other existing academic work in explaining this apparent paradox).

Not that I expect any of you to care about this.  I just thought I would share my effort to set up the problem by introducing the reader to Los Altos.  Most of this will be old news to regular readers of the blog (as you may see from the self-referentially footnoted version available here).  But, assuming that I get a passing grade on the paper, I thought you might enjoy seeing what passes for legal academic writing.

“Where the sidewalk ends, Los Altos begins.”   If my hometown of Los Altos (pop. 26,000) has a raison d’être, it is to not be Mountain View.   Los Altos incorporated in 1952, after a campaign that implored voters not to let a town of single-family houses surrounded by trees give way to the horror of multifamily developments.

It has, at various points in its history, banned day workers (fittingly sending them across the street to stand in Mountain View), Halloween, gay pride and gas-powered leafblowers.  And it still has a law on the books aimed at gypsies.  (Taco trucks have thus far barely escaped).

Los Altos’ isolationism also manifests itself in a general hostility towards bicycle projects.  The city gave back money to extend an existing bike path to the Mountain View border, because of unfounded concerns about “criminals.”  And it has so far done little to improve access to the Stevens Creek Trail, deciding instead just to put up signs that point to it.

The highly educated population of the city earns an average annual income of nearly $190,000 per family.  The voters have been moving leftward in recent years, but the city’s leadership, at least with regards to environmental policy, has not kept pace.  The city council recently rejected a county ordinance taxing single-use carry-out bags, claiming that residents could not afford the tax and that litter is not a problem in Los Altos.  The city’s widely read newspaper continues to question both the existence  and the causes of climate change  and excoriate the city council for the little it might want to do about either.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. bigdra permalink
    May 25, 2009 5:53 am

    Great look into Los Altos past and present. I hope you get a passing grade, something which your contributing editors do not deserve for posting in your absence. While I accept some blame, I feel like there is one correspondent that could easily be dropped. I don’t think he has even posted since you moved the site to wordpress and made it less readable and user-friendly. I doubt whether he even reads the blog.

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