Incompatible land use, externality-shifting American neighbors, or unsustainable practice?

Today’s LA Times ran this story about the land use conflict surrounding an immigrant-owned poultry slaughterhouse in Rosemead: the Chinese American Live Poultry Company.

These types of land use conflicts are at the center of sustainability, and it’s a thorny set of issues. The owners, the Phus, have got a number of code violations on the books, including improper disposal of chicken waste. That you can’t have, not at industry levels. It’s not like we’re talking a few chickens in the backyard.

And yes, chickens do smell.

But the facility has been there since 1991. I suspect that many of the neighbors who hate this facility and want it shut down moved next to it in the first place. And I bet they eat chicken, regularly, though I suspect not from the bloodied floor of a local slaughterhouse, but purchased in packages at Ralph’s.

My students often want to discuss mixed land use in terms of retail, housing and office space. If I push them to think about industry, they say they envision “green industry” but have no real way to flesh out what green industry is and how it works. Isn’t this a green industry? It’s providing local-scale food. If they composted the waste material (a process that would probably send the neighbors into outer space with rage), it could be pretty green. I suggest to students “how about organic or sustainable meat production in downtown LA-would that be green industry?” and they look aghast, even though most are not vegetarians.

Two major things have entirely altered the landscape of my youth: corporate agriculture and, not unrelated, methamphetamine production. My hometown in Iowa is enveloped routinely by the smell of hog production. Is it acceptable for people in Bakersfield to have to tolerate meat production so that everybody else, including Rosemeadeans, can indulge in chicken pot pies and roast beef sandwiches without having their dainty noises offended by the reality of their food?

This has always struck me as a problem that better urban design, better industrial ecology, and better governance should be able to help reconcile. Put some money and creativity into solving the problem rather than trying to just get your own way in a public conflict. Why, really, does that building and its environs have to be so ugly? Why does this conflict have to be about putting somebody out of business instead of enhancing their business to fit in better?

Perhaps the first rule of sustainability should be that if the land use/public service/whatever can’t go in your neighborhood, it can’t go in anybody else’s neighborhood either. Which means either you get creative, or you can’t eat chicken. The responsibility resides on both the producer and the consumer to construct livable communities.