One of the things that makes Sierra Madre such a unique place is its economic diversity. Unlike many small cities, this town cannot be defined by the income of those living here. Pick most any burgh in the San Gabriel Valley and what is the attribute that first comes to mind? That's right, the town is either rich, predominantly middle class, or flat out poor. But here you can find decidedly humble homes right next to million dollar McMansions. Places owned by folks who are undoubtedly well-to-do, living right next door to people who struggle and barely get by.
But now that we've re-entered one of our regular 5 year redevelopment madness cycles, we must remember that the economic conditions of many people living in this town are not quite what some claim they are. We are often told that ours is a very prosperous place that should never for one minute prevent the many loudly proclaimed good works that would accompany redevelopment. That any opposition to redevelopment is the product of privileged NIMBYism that stems from a selfishness that shows little regards to the needs of others. And since such redevelopment never comes without the taxpayers having to pick up at least some of the associated costs, opposition to new taxes and rate hikes is therefore simply greed.
Or so the guilt trip goes.
The reality is many people living in Sierra Madre are hardly wealthy. And additional costs for things like water, or those imminent demands to our pocketbooks such as increased trash collection fees, bond debt for street improvements, or the Police Department raises that our present City Council will meekly fork over when the MOU comes up for renegotiation soon, do add up. Each of these taken separately might not seem like much to some, but the accumulated effect of all this nickel and diming is devastating to those who have to scrape together enough to pay their bills each month. As we are all aware, living in Sierra Madre is becoming more expensive all the time.
You hear a lot about the War on the Middle Class in this country. That those who work hard and long to get for themselves the kind of good life we have here in Sierra Madre are being tested like never before. And among those tests are government driven costs that only seem to increase year after year. Here new demands come around on an almost annual basis. The water rate hike being only one of the many now on our horizon.
One last thought. Gentrification, the process of turning modest surroundings into places preserved for the privileged alone, is something that has been going on for quite some time in America. The displacement of those who cannot afford to keep up with the economic demands of this change being a big part of the story.
So can it be that what we are seeing in Sierra Madre today is not just redevelopment, or a state-initiated drive to make us "sustainable" or "green?" But rather it is a process that privileges those who would profitably gentrify this town, something that will make living here beyond the ability of many current residents? And that the accompanying rate, tax, and fee increases will be among the things driving out those residents unable to afford them? Taking with them the economic diversity and therefore much of the character of this town? After all, that is what gentrification has traditionally done.
A few things to think about.