CELL hears challenge to change ideas on growth, jobs and cheap stuff
By FRANK HARTZELL
Having heard from national figures in the peak oil movement who prophesied doom for the American way of consumption, a gathering of the Coast Economic Localization Links (CELL) last week heard from a local economic leader with more practical advice.
Promote businesses owned by local people, not big corporations, Madelin Holtkamp, executive director of the Economic Development and Financing Corporation (EDFC) in Ukiah told CELL last Tuesday. She documented how spending money at a locally-owned business prevents leakage or the flight of money from the community where it was earned.
For example, CELL discussed an effort to eat only food grown locally for a month. Holtkamp advised eating food from within ones bioregion..
She described how economic relocalization, if it is to succeed, requires rethinking shopping cheap, not believing in limitless growth, rethinking anything for jobs and ending total reliance on tourism.
She said when a fast food franchise pays workers minimum wage for 30 hours per week with no benefits, these jobs are actually a net loss to the community.
You as a taxpayer are paying for one-third of their costs. They as an employer got to transfer their costs to you with these low-wage no-benefit jobs, she said.
She described how an infamous big box retailer in Ukiah teaches its workers at orientation how to apply for food stamps, the news creating a negative cacophony from the Mendocino crowd of about 30 people there for the CELL gathering.
Holtkamp has owned six different restaurants in Mendocino County. The Economic Development & Financing Corporation was formed through a partnership among Mendocino Countys four incorporated cities and the county to plan and support economic development activity countywide. The agency leads long term planning for the county and is governed by a board composed of local government representatives.
CELL was originated by four Mendocino women, Maggie Watson, LaViva Dakers, Debra Scott and Christiana Heckeroth; as part of efforts to prepare for a world where cheap oil is gone. The organizations first event, a screening of The End of Suburbia, attracted a packed house in Caspar. Organizers seemed surprised at the smaller turnout last week in Mendocino.
Scott asked Holtkamp how depending on pricey hotels as the local economic engine can be imagined as sustainable.
Holtkamp also criticized this dependence, which she characterized as tourism aimed mostly at the top 10 percent of Anglos.
Holtkamp encouraged community leaders to try to appeal to Hispanic and Native American tourists, as part of efforts to seek a more locally sustainable economic base..
These groups are growing in economic power and nobody is really appealing to them, she said.
Among those in the crowd was Fort Bragg City Councilman Doug Hammerstrom and Mendocino Historical Review Board member Garnish Daly.
She said tourism is the best industry available to Mendocino County, but the county needs to find other industries where there can be local control. She cited Georgia Pacifics departure as an example of what happens when a community depends on corporate ownership.
Biggering is not what anybody in our community wanted, she said about a cooperative county effort that studied how long term growth should proceed.
She said broadening the economic base beyond tourism would help with the affordable housing crisis, as will gradual evolution away from Baby Boomer concepts of housing.
The idea that everybodys house has to look like everybodys moms house is going away a little bit. People are seeing we can do some lofts, some studios, some infill, all sorts of new ideas that can make housing practical, she said.
She also encouraged CELL to continue with efforts to create local energy solutions.
Energy is one of the biggest areas for leakage, especially on the coast. Ukiah has its own municipal utility district, an idea that has been studied by CELL and the Alliance for Democracy.
Those two groups were also the sponsors of a June 3 speech by author Richard Heinberg, a core faculty member of the New College of California that attracted more than 40 people.
Heinberg said that world leaders are much more tuned in to the issue of peak oil than people in the United States. He had returned from Africa when he spoke in Fort Bragg and was headed for speeches in Ireland. Heinberg put peak oil into historical perspective, giving a speech that was less political than the film End of Suburbia. He chose slides and quotes from Exxon-Mobil, the International Energy Association and even Dick Cheney to show that peak oil is a global, not leftist, problem.
He said cheap oil has given Americans a historically unsustainable party lifestyle for a century and a half, which is the theme of his books The Partys Over, and Powerdown.
Heinbergs work is available online at www.museletter.com.