Failed Plan or Planned Fail?
According to my wife, with whom I am well pleased, I have a hangnail. I thought only girls get hangnails, but according my wife, and she’s a manicurist and so she should know, she says, I have a hangnail. Fine.

I will struggle through it. I’ve had worse injuries. I almost cut off the middle finger on my left hand, opening an over-ripe avocado; I still have no feeling in that finger. How fearfully and wonderfully made are we the Psalmist writes in chapter 139, verse 14.

It fascinates me that no matter where I injure myself, especially on either of my two hands, the most mundane task provides a painful reminder of my affliction. 

This morning as I was removing one of those stubborn, barely noticeable stems from a grape. I handled it in just the right way for my finger to send my brain an urgent message.

And this painful experience revealed something. I’ve eaten grapes, removed the stubborn stem, and felt the same pain before. Does having a hangnail cause me to crave grapes? The answer is no because correlation does not prove causation. There must be another reason for the hangnail. I’ll let my wife figure it out.

But here’s the point:

If correlation doesn’t prove causation, do the causes sometimes correlate? And when they do, can it be a perfect storm?

I think this is a useful question, especially while discussing these out-of-control wildfires, the public-safety-power-shutoffs, as well as California’s chronic lack of affordable housing. Is there a correlation between these three public policy issues?

Let’s connect the dots:

A lack of affordable housing is driven mainly by NIMBY’s putting pressure on politicians. In response, politicians put pressure on government planners to create local land-use development plans that favor open space and discourage density, and this drives up home prices.

To seek more affordable housing options, millions of families in California move to areas designated as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). These are admittedly naturally beautiful areas to live and where the costs to buy land is cheaper, the fees and rules to build housing are lower and more manageable, and so the housing is, therefore, less expensive.

According to the Center for Insurance Policy and Research , between 1990 and 2010, roughly half of the housing units built in California are in the WUI, which has expanded by 1,000 square miles. 2-million homes, or one in seven in California, are now at high or extreme risk for wildfire.

And since 90% of wildfires are anthropogenic, if you build 2 million homes and locate tens of millions of people near areas that are one spark away from going up in flames, you can expect fires to start.

Add to this the fact that the Western United States is prone to hot, dry weather and high winds; you can only imagine the dilemma the utility companies are in since the law requires they provide electricity to homes in California regardless of where local city councils approve those homes.

So, dot number 1; voters demand developers build new homes somewhere else. Dot number 2; politicians pander for those votes by directing community planners to plan for these new homes in areas that are best left undeveloped. Dot number 3; those same politicians who control our public utilities via the Public Utilities Commission, demand utilities provide service to developments located in a tinder box.

The NIMBY’s are happy because their property values continue to go up and up and up. Local politicians are happy because they get reelected and that's really all they care about. Local community planners are happy because they did their jobs, and then get to retire at 55 with a great pension.

What could go wrong?

Oh, the heavily regulated bankrupt utilities shut off our power to avoid further financial liability, California goes up in flames, tens of thousands of people lose their homes and some even lose their lives due to anthropogenic fires, and the once great Golden State state becomes unlivable. 

Oh well, it’s good enough for government work.
Joe Armendariz is the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.