Perception can curb demand
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:50 PM
"As the political season gets under way, we can anticipate hearing a lot more about growth.The first announced Bainbridge mayoral candidate, Chris Llewellyn, refers to island growth as a problem. If the survey recently completed on behalf of the Trust for Public Lands is any indication, a majority of islanders share her sentiments.More than half of those surveyed identified growth as the major issue facing the island. And when asked about the rate of growth, the vast majority said the island is growing too fast. We can't help wonder, though, if growth doesn't belong in the same category as weather. It's a fine topic of conversation, but attempts to really do something about it are perilous.Can we control the rate of growth? To some extent, yes. We can try to ration the supply of housing through zoning and other land-use ordinances. That's not the complete answer, because landowners do enjoy property rights, and overly restrictive limitations would be subject to court challenge.But like cloud-seeding, which tended to produce floods and droughts rather than useful rainfall, trying to control the growth produces its own set of unanticipated and undesirable consequences.The problem is that the law of supply and demand is basically correct. If the supply of housing is restricted in the face of considerable demand, the inevitable result is that prices are bid up. While higher prices may help home sellers, they don't help the neighbors, whose property taxes are inflated by the higher prices. And both the price of homes and property taxes tend to create economic segregation, jeopardizing the diversity that still exists on Bainbridge.We've heard some islanders argue that prices are already as high as they can go, and that limitations on housing supply wouldn't make much difference. We very much doubt that. Home prices on Mercer Island are very considerably higher than on Bainbridge. What about the demand side? The problem is that demand is driven by perception, in this case, the perception that Bainbridge Island is a highly desirable place to live. And it's that perception that needs to change if growth is going to diminish.This presents a tricky problem. One option would be to actually reduce the quality of life here, by (for example) rejecting school levies. That's obviously self-defeating. We don't want to make life worse on the island. The only alternative, then, is to reduce the perception that Bainbridge is a great place to live without reducing the actual quality of life.We can think of fanciful possibilities - announce that the city is considering opening the Vincent Road landfill to nuclear waste, or may open the Gazzam Lake nature preserve to oil exploration. Not that either would ever be done, mind you, but the announcements could blunt immigration considerably.Short of something equally absurd, what can be done? Again, we think the weather is an instructive analogy. Maybe we can't stop the grey skies and drizzle of the Northwest, but we can learn to live comfortably and even joyously with our weather. And our new neighbor. "