Private Property Rights and the Commons, Ego and Self

Private Property Rights and the Commons, Ego and Self

Earth Day, April 22, 2016

Recently I became editor of Eyes on Napa, the newsletter for Napa Vision 2050. This citizen watchdog group is composed of representatives of 14 different citizen groups who are concerned about what is going on in their neighborhoods. My own group, Dry Creek Road Alliance, formed when a neighbor proposed a custom crush/event center next door in the Ag Watershed protected lands.  In Napa we have a unique protection in place, the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, established in 1968 by the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission. The preserve specifies two categories of agricultural protection: The Ag Preserve (AP) or valley floor lands, and the Ag Watershed (AW),  or the fragile, hillsides, often forested and with inconsistent  or non-existent water supplies.

The focus of Napa Vision 2050 is protection of the Commons, or of resources held in common by a community that we depend on for wellbeing. The concept goes back as far as Roman and English law, and is gaining interest again as climate change forces the point: yes! we are interconnected. What we do on our own land affects our neighbors, and especially when it concerns soils, air, water, and watersheds. Any project, whether it be a winery, vineyard, hotel, or residence, takes community resources: water, roads, housing for workers, schools, traffic, air quality. At a recent Forum on Tourism, Community Planning Consultant Eben Fodor demonstrated how development projects viewed economically rarely include the costs to the tax payers for maintenance and expansion of infrastructure and the environmental costs. Furthermore, the economic benefits to the community are exaggerated. Most of the increased wealth goes to out-of-county investors.

The Commons is not a new idea in California. In the mid 1800’s miners acquired water for mining as they acquired mineral rights: first come, first served. In 1850 the first water law was the common law of riparian rights, which allowed miners to use moving water, but not to own it, because moving water belonged to the people.

When I think of the Commons, I remember a potluck at my friend Jan’s house. As we stood in line, Jan’s young daughter spotted her mother’s potato salad, her favorite dish. “How much can I have?” she asked her mother. Jan stated simply, “Look around and see how many are here, and then decide the right amount.”

This is an operational experience of the Commons. I often think of Jan as several of us line up for public comment on yet another project being considered at a Planning Commission or Board of Supervisor meeting. I wish these law makers— and applicants— would ask: who are your neighbors? I wish they would honestly consider how will neighbors and the community be impacted by noise, water supply, traffic, not just hire “experts” who tell them what they want to hear. More often than not, private property rights supersede and eclipse legitimate concerns about cumulative impact on the community. In fact, in our county, there is no process to consider cumulative impact.

As editor of Eyes on Napa,  I was surprised to receive an e-mail after the first newsletter from a professional in Napa stating only, “Communist!”

I wrote back: “Perhaps you are joking? Talking about the Commons is not talking about communism. It is thinking outside of ourselves and our own self interests, about the larger community, and the future generations of those after us.”

It is a paradigm shift, I know—one we each face if we are to mature. Collectively, we are also confronted with these questions through the challenges of Climate Change. Who is impacted by the decisions we make? by our life styles?

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that those most impacted by the shifts in our warming planet are the poor countries, but they are not alone.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC in the 2014 report.  Climate change is “already having effects in real time — melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and mega-disasters. And the worst is yet to come. Climate change poses a threat to global food stocks, and to human security.”

C.G. Jung said, “The experience of the self is always a defeat of the ego.” (CW14¶ 778)

So many times people come to Jungian analysis having to release ego agendas in order to embrace a larger, more compassionate sense of self.  Perhaps this is also true on a collective level, including land use issues. If the human species is to survive, we must step beyond private property rights and our own self interests and consider our impact on the Earth and on our own communities.

And then we must do something about it.