Friday, April 27, 2007

How does that categorical imperative work again?

When I was in junior high, I ran into my friend Chris Garcia and his dad on the mountain at Squaw Valley (yes, I'm sure our foreign correspondent will give me a hard time for skiing, too). Chris made some idle complaint about too many people being on the mountain that day. His dad, who was either a strident Kantian or just annoyed that he had to pay the "adult" ticket rate for an ingrateful oldest son, did not appreciate that. He barely let Chris finish his sentence before snapping at him, "And you're one of 'em. Don't you forget that."

Bob, if you're reading this and have some free time (which, if you're reading this, you must), could you please make your way to the Monta Loma neighborhood and have a chat with this week's batch of letter writers to the Mountain View Voice? Here's one example of the calls for a limit on the number of homes at Mayfield Mall:
"If this is not done, our environment will be choked from the exhaust from the added number of automobiles in the area.

A number of issues would arise by increasing housing units on the site. Already the Rengstorff, Thompson and Mayfield on- and off-ramps from Central Expressway to San Antonio Road, the left-turn lane to California from San Antonio Road, and the turn lanes entering San Antonio shopping center are a mess with heavy traffic. Those streets could not handle additional traffic from a high-density project at the Mayfield site. Where does the city propose parking the large number of cars in this area?"

It's been a while since I took philosophy, but I'm pretty sure that if your behavior would lead to an unsustainable situation if everybody were to do the same, you're supposed to change your behavior, not try to keep other people away from you. And if you happen to run into some kind of tragedy of the commons problem where no one else is willing to be as moral as you are, you get the government to step in. But you regulate the problem, in this case (as in most) cars, not people. Just don't forget you own of them.


Mike Laursen said...

I suppose one can think up a philosophy that teaches that people are supposed to do just about anything you want them to do. You have an excellent point, though, about realizing we're all usually part of "those people" that we're complaining about.

I live in Monta Loma, so I've heard way more of these arguments than ever shows up in The Voice. I avoid expressing my moderate views on the Toll Brothers development for fear some of my neighbors with extreme opinions will jump down my throat.

One thing I really don't like about the way things about the way things are done in Mountain View is the arbitrary nature of Precise Planning. Seems like developer and neighbors are subject to the whims of whoever happens to be on the city council rather than having clear-cut rules about traffic, sight lines, noise, etc.

Nemesis of Evil said...

Fair point Mike. As I'm learning, one can also read the constitution in a similar way.

I thought that the Monta Loma neighborhood did an excellent job last year of voicing their concerns on the project and getting some what seemed to me to be significant adjustments to the plan. It's too bad that it's become so divisive that people feel like they can't speak their minds about it. You should have seen the letters I got when I wrote a story in which I referred to a resident as a heckler. That was early in the process, but even then it seemed difficult for anyone to express anything but opposition to the project.

My main point is that if neighbors are really concerned about traffic, they should be pushing the city to revise its parking regulations, not trying to keep people out. At the same time, if we don't other people to be driving, we should be taking a look at our own behavior, too.

No argument from me on the Precise Plans. I get the idea behind them -- different parts of the city should look and feel unique -- but they change so frequently and suck up so many resources when they do that I have to imagine there's some sort of better approach.