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Solar Panel

photo by Jim Stroh

The Middle Finger 

By Charles James, Big Pine, CA

17 February 2014

The “California Salute,” that lifting of the middle finger in an otherwise closed fist, is the oft-used, “unofficial” fourth motor vehicle hand signal after “right-turn,” “left-turn,” and “stop” on California roadways. Also known as “flipping the bird,” as we all know: “The bird is the word” says the song and apparently so as well in the opinion of the writer of “Industrializing the heart of Owens Valley.”

In Greek mythology there is the well-known story of Icarus who, ignoring his father’s advice, flew too close to the sun wearing wings made of feathers and held together by wax. The wax melted and he plunged to his death. It wasn’t the fall that killed him; he drowned in the sea. There is no record of whether or not he “flipped the bird” at the sun on his way down while shouting “Damn solar energy!”

In the recent Letter to the Editor titled, “Industrializing the heart of Owens Valley”, the author metaphorically compared the “elongated shape of the proposed REDA (Renewable Energy Development Areas) as a giant middle finger flipped by Planning Department staff at those who love Owens Valley,”−because obviously the only group of people that truly love the Owens Valley and know what is best belong to the alliance represented by the writer. There could however be other views as well as alternative interpretations of the “elongated shape.”

Having their work and views misrepresented through use of an invented metaphor, who could blame the Planning Department staff if they wished to “flip their middle finger” at a particular someone. On the other hand, couldn’t the “elongated shape” be said to as easily resemble an “erection,” although one whose shape would send most men immediately to a doctor for treatment? Apparently 95% of the “erection” is on land owned by the LADWP. (Doesn’t this alternative interpretation seem somehow familiar, if not more applicable?)

As to the comment of the “remarkable display of opposition to DWP’s proposed industrial scale solar facility near Manzanar”, you might get the impression that there is overwhelming opposition in Inyo County to the project. Although far less vocal, there are many local business owners and private citizens that support the project and the economic boost that it could provide, saying that the short-term benefits of construction jobs and the long-term benefit of providing good paying local jobs into the future are exactly what the county needs. Actually, no one can prove (or disprove) that the project’s opponents or proponents represent a majority of voters or residents in the county. Loud protests do not signal a majority of opinion any more than silence.

Some feel that the solar energy project could bring much-needed jobs into the area, an improved housing market, and an improved local economy for Independence and Lone Pine. It could also mean more children in local schools, better state funding, and attract more young families. The Town of Independence is practically on life-support− and to be blunt, Inyo County needs to be something other than retirement communities… or a just great place to have a government job.

Tourism, often touted as both “savior” and “economic engine” for Inyo County, is a fickle mistress. Even in good years it provides only a hand-to-mouth existence for most workers in the private sector through low-wage, unskilled, and often part-time jobs. Allowing some limited industrialization or manufacturing within the county is a viable alternative to the sole reliance on tourism. The “slippery slope” argument that the valley floor will be overtaken by industrialization is not only a greatly exaggerated hypothetical, it is a well-known weak form (fallacy) of argumentation. Just because “A” happens is no guarantee that “B” will necessarily follow.

Unfortunately our County has no real economic development plan. Part of the county government’s responsibility is to provide social and economic stability− and while a viewshed may be aesthetically pleasing and spiritually fulfilling to some, it doesn’t put food on the table for all the talk of its value as a tourist attraction. That may be particularly true with respect to the area in which the solar energy project is being proposed. There are many viewsheds of equal or even greater value to be found in the valley. Also, consider the CARMA radio telescopes north of Big Pine which add interest to an otherwise unvarying landscape that many travelers along the 395 often describe as “boring.”

As to the charge of County Supervisors and Commissioners typically acquiescing to staff recommendations, the simple fact is− that is how representative government works. County supervisors throughout the state depend on staff to gather information and make recommendations to them to make informed decisions.

The Inyo County Planning Department is not a political or environmental organization. Its employees are not paid to write reports and make recommendations that espouse a particular political or philosophical view, or promote an environmental ideology or other cause. Nor are they in the business or habit of “flipping others off.” Their job (and they do it well) is to provide the Board of Supervisors with objective information upon which to base its decisions.

Anyone who has taken the time to attend the many public planning workshops and read the reports provided by the employees of the Planning Department know them to be highly professional and open-minded. They do not deserve to be belittled.

The writer’s opinion of the “Industrializing the heart of Owens Valley” would have greater merit if he had restrained himself from ad hominem attacks on county supervisors and county staff. It is one thing to disagree−everyone should have that right and opportunity−but it is quite another to resort to falsely manufacture accusations, misrepresent others’ actions, or attempt to belittle those with whom you disagree.

Keep in mind that you are the company you keep. Appeals to emotion are fine, but more important are true facts and then making good arguments in favor of your position. And own up to your middle finger; perhaps it is pointing towards you.


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