“NIMBY” — an acronym for “not in my backyard” — is not a compliment. We get that.
Like “McMansion” (a term for a sprawling, cookie-cutter tract house) and “raisin ranch” (a retirement community), the term “NIMBY” can sting.
But to label “NIMBY” the “new N-word” — as San Luis Obispo mayoral candidate Keith Gurnee did in a recent online column — is as tasteless as it is troubling.
Here’s what Gurnee wrote in a commentary published on CalCoastNews.com:
“Let’s stop using the new N-word (NIMBY) to label the people who care about this community and defend its character.”
This goes beyond a desire to kick ”NIMBY” to the curb. (While we’ve used the term, we agree that it can unfairly stereotype opponents of a project as privileged, selfish and clueless.)
Here’s our problem with the N-word comparison: It implies that residents opposed to neighborhood growth face the same marginalization and discrimination as black people.
Let’s think about that.
Has anyone, anywhere, ever been told they couldn’t shop in a store because they’re a “NIMBY”?
Or been pulled over by police for driving while NIMBY?
And has #livingwhileNIMBY ever trended on Twitter?
By the way, we’re not just picking on Mr. Gurnee because he frequently criticizes us.
For example, his “NIMBY” column for CalCoastNews is headlined “Shame on the Tribune,” and in it, he takes issue with our position on a controversial development at 790 Foothill Blvd. (We don’t believe the city should deny the project, because we believe state law is on the side of the developer on this one.)
We don’t expect Gurnee (or anyone else, for that matter) to always see eye-to-eye with us. (Though once in a while would be nice.)
We just want him to find a different way to express his distaste for “NIMBY,” before this “new N-word” idea spreads.
There already are a few other, older references to “the new N-word” floating around online.
Those include a blog post from La Jolla Realtor James LaMattery that carries this headline: “NIMBY — The new N-word in government planning documents.”
The writer begins with a weak mea culpa: “It is not without consideration that I understand the very hurtful racial use of the N-word, which has a long and painful past. ... I thought of using a different way of expressing the article’s intent, but for me that would be watering down something that I have been personally confronted with while working with governmental housing agencies and members of the planning professions.”
For the record, we’ve never noticed the word “NIMBY” used in local planning documents or presentations.
Nor have we spotted any of the other, similar but lesser-known planning acronyms, some of which could be considered equally or even more offensive than “NIMBY.”
Here are examples from one of many online glossaries:
- BANANA: Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything
- BANY: Builder against NIMBYs
- CAVE: Citizen against virtually everything
- CEQA: Consultants employment quality act
- DUDE: Developer under delusions of entitlement
- GOOMBA: Get out of my business area
- LULU: Locally unacceptable land use
- NIMEY: Not in my election year
- NOPE: Not on planet Earth
- NOTE: Not over there either
- PITTBY: Put it in their backyard
- YIMBY: Yes in my backyard
Micheal Codron, planning director for the city of San Luis Obispo, says such terms pop up in documents, including textbooks, though the city avoids using terms like “NIMBY.”
“We work hard to take public testimony on face value, and not assign motive or paint with a broad brush,” he said via email. “We listen to and read every word that comes in because we want to make sure we aren’t missing anything in terms of objective, fact-based information that might allow us to address a potential problem through our recommendations to decision makers.”
Sounds like the city of SLO gets it; “NIMBY” is not a helpful term.
If Mr. Gurnee and his supporters want the rest of us to get that message, how about just saying, “Not fair! We have legitimate concerns.”
Or get signs and T-shirts made up with the word “NIMBY” with the red circle and slash mark over it.
Or write a letter to The Tribune (email@example.com) explaining why you find the term offensive.
But please don’t claim ownership of the “new N-word” — there’s only one.