Although I’ve only been here about 15 years, I love Patterson as my adopted hometown – it’s always felt a lot like the town I grew up in, 50-odd years ago. Like everyone else, I was sad to see that town grow, and even, I think, submitted a letter to the editor about it. We all lamented it, even complained about it, but there was nothing anyone could do to stop it, over the long term.
No one likes to talk about it, but it’s a matter of simple mathematics: there are more of us on the planet every year, and that increase will inevitably be visible in the landscape around us, over the course of our lifetimes.
Most of us don’t like change, especially in something we take as personally as the place where we live. But it is a fact of life, as Heraclitus pointed out. In this case, there are more of us every generation, and those new people need places to live, work and play.
Successful communities manage growth intelligently, so that it happens as logically as possible, and in a way that will be workable into the future. There are many rules and regulations that come into play, both those that seek to control growth and those intended to accommodate it and, through the democratic process, the way to make it all work is ironed out.
Living through growth that seemed shocking in the town where I grew up, and then seeing it happen again here, has underscored for me how inescapable it is. But that doesn’t mean anybody will necessarily like it. It saddens me, too, to see our little town grow. Many of us can’t help but feel a little jolt and, at least for a while, probably quickly look away from, the latest dramatic change in the landscape.
Whether our great-grandparents farmed here or we’re recent transplants, many of us love living in this quirky little town with the annual Fiesta for what it is, and lament that it isn’t still what it once was.
That’s human nature.
To be clear, the city does not decide what businesses come to town. They do, however, have the right to reject them in certain circumstances, as they did with cannabis businesses before they were legal. They are also responsible for making sure that businesses who do establish here end up in the right area, and that they meet all of the applicable requirements.
Cities can be business-friendly, but the decision whether to invest in a location in town rests with the business owner. Establishing any business involves considerable risk, and any successful businessperson or corporation will have done their due diligence before committing significant resources to establishing a location here, or anywhere else.
We’re of a size now that we’re attracting a variety of businesses – including some on a very large scale, that at first glance might not seem to fit into our collective image of the town. But we got where we are because we live in a democracy, and the way this town and others like it has grown was the result of the democratic process, carried out many times over.
One of the items the Planning Commission dealt with last Thursday, BHT Properties Auto Storage, was an excellent example of this process at work.
The proposed project required a vote from the Planning Commission, whose responsibility is to guide growth in accordance with both the General Plan and the city’s best interests.
(The General Plan is a living document, created by a committee of volunteers, and generated with input from the public. Guidelines recommend that it be updated every 10 years. The current version was adopted in 2010, and within the planning area, there is still room for the city to grow.)
So city staff put the project on the Planning Commission’s agenda for a public hearing. There was extensive discussion on it, with various viewpoints presented. And then a vote was taken.
(Elected and appointed government officials, including the City Council and Planning Commission, are legally prohibited from voting on any property or issue they have a stake in or from which they might benefit.)
The BHT Properties project required unusually serious consideration, because of its size, and the significant local impact it would have. There was a professional, respectful discussion that involved disagreement and strongly held opinions, after which a vote was taken.
And after that tough meeting, everyone made it a point to shake hands and treat one another with respect before leaving. Little knots of people were scattered through the room for several minutes; snatches of conversations about the project, how are things going, and no hard feelings could be heard. If there were ever a reason to put a kid into sports, this would be it.
During the discussion and after the vote, no one was absolutely right, nor was anyone completely wrong. There were no villains. There were no insults, no name-calling. And most importantly, no “us against them.” Not everyone was happy with the outcome, but it wasn’t personal. And it never should be.
It was simply our democratic process at work.
And it’s never been more critical for us to do all that we can to protect that democracy. We can do that by respecting the process.
It’s unfortunate that our elected officials in Washington couldn’t be there, to see how it’s done.