Kill the Poor!

Irvine proposes low-cost housing for toxic land

Only four days after Affluent Market Research Program named OC the third wealthiest county in the nation (with 113,299 millionaire households), the Los Angeles Times reported that Irvine is working to build low-cost housing.

Given the state of low-cost housing in OC (mostly nonexistent) and the fact that the Times article is dated April 1, you'd have been excused for thinking the story was a prank. But no: Irvine is serious, in the way that only a master-planned city can be. In six weeks, city officials say, they'll create the Irvine Community Land Trust, a nonprofit corporation that, by 2025, will own 9,700 homes, condos and apartments.

One of the more intriguing bits of this grand scheme is the location of the new housing. Though the land has yet to be earmarked, city officials say much of the low-cost housing will likely be built on the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

"Low-income housing" and "El Toro" make me think of the Reverend Thomas Malthus, the late 18th-/early 19th-century Anglican priest and political economist. Like Jesus, Malthus was concerned with thinning the ranks of the poor; unlike Jesus, Malthus hoped to do so not through charity or social justice, but through attrition. Among the many tactics in his war on poverty, Malthus suggested housing the poor near marshes and letting disease handle the rest.

Readers of the Times may recall that earlier this week the paper published a detailed story on trichloroethylene (TCE), a solvent widely believed to be a potent cancer-causing agent. If the EPA's 2001 draft risk assessment is correct, TCE exposure may account for thousands of the nation's birth defects and cancers every year.

"It is a World Trade Center in slow motion," Boston University epidemiologist David Ozonoff, a TCE expert, told the Times. "You would never notice it."

The story chronicles the Bush administration's effort to ignore the TCE problem—even thwarting cleanup efforts. And it contains a list of some of the most contaminated sites in the nation, including "El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, Irvine, Calif."

TCE contaminated the groundwater under the base, now closed, which long ago complicated plans to reuse the property for private housing and a public park. The government will retain about 900 contaminated acres to continue cleanup for the indefinite future.

Of course, Irvine won't house the low-income folks anywhere near those 900 acres. I suppose I had Malthus on the mind after reading a story in the March 31 Register. There, the Reg reported that the Orange County Transportation Authority will be removing 582 emergency call boxes from the county's freeways and toll roads. This will leave, for the moment at least, about 700 call boxes—small comfort if your emergency isn't near one of them. The OCTA says the boxes aren't cost-effective anymore since so many of us have cell phones. And what if you're one of those whose budget is already stretched too far by the county's lack of pre-2025 affordable housing to pay for a cell phone each month? What do you do in an emergency? Just try to make your way, Okie-like, along the side of the freeway as best you can, and know, as the cars scream past, that the Reverend Malthus would approve of the OCTA's bright idea as sound political economy.

Of course, the OCTA's suggestion that you use a cell phone might reduce Orange County's surfeit of millionaires as well. A new study by the Swedish National Institute for Working Life concludes "that heavy users of mobile phones had a 240 percent increased risk of a malignant tumor on the side of the head the phone is used." The increase, while dramatic, still represents a fairly low overall risk. Like TCE, it's nothing the Bush administration would want you to worry over. Still, between cell phones and no emergency call boxes, maybe there will be a lot more housing available in 2025 than is currently projected.

 
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