Monday, February 24, 2014

How Many Votes Can I Cast With This Much Money?

Politics and profit go hand in hand on Hilton Head Island. Profit and Politics in Paradise: The Development of Hilton Head Island, by Michael N. Danielson, speaks to the history of developers and resort operators extracting from the Island what value they can while destroying its natural beauty, and I will quote Mr. Danielson's book throughout this blog. Private power begets substantial political influence. Obviously.

Charles Fraser and Fred Hack fancied themselves as benevolent and responsible dictators of the Island in their significant contributions to and development of the Island. But it was their idealism and commitment to quality that placated the Island's residents. A restriction on building more than five stories tall seems to me to be purposed and desired: prevent corporations from building beachfront timeshares and resorts from towering over the Town.

Could you imagine Hilton Head Island turned Myrtle Beach? In fact, [t]he recurring nightmare was that Hilton Head would become like Myrtle Beach . . ." "[T]he beachfront hotel was clearly repugnant to most island residents who do not want another Miami Beach" (internal citations and quotations omitted throughout; please send request to author for page citations). Yet money speaks, and financial pressures, or motivations, resulted in few private interests shaping Hilton Head Island. "Their paramount concern was the bottom line, and to increase profits they would press for more of everything."

Residents, not timeshare companies and resorts, have a stake in the Island's community. They, we, live here. Property values will come and go depending upon the quality of the community. Some absentee owners can fly back home in their private jets after taking what they want from the Island. And so there is a natural strife between residents and timeshare companies/resorts/developers. But that is not as accurate of a statement as it could be. It is a "strife between more responsible developers/residents and less responsible ones."

"People who moved to Hilton Head would have been far less willing to accept the developers' dominant role if Fraser and Hack had not been committed to quality." And the same should stand true today. Or does it? Will we build timeshare buildings to the sky? Will jumbo jets politely pollute the Island and be a noisy nuisance circling the island for a landing on a large Hilton Head airport? Can we please build a highway somewhere? And I could see where I was going if we would finally fill the night sky with neon flashing business signs.

Danielson speaks to the "greedy developer syndrome" on Hilton Head. We have a "high-rise hotel in Palmetto Dunes." An airport. The cross-island expressway. Oh, and the lovely and certainly affectionately labeled "stack-a-shacks" that were brought to the Island pre-fabricated and constructed apparently without reference to the environment and quality of other Island developments. Greed?

"[P]reserving paradise became the rallying point of people in plantations. The threats posed by uncontrolled and inappropriate development brought settlers together." And what is inappropriate development? Again, luckily, timeshare companies/resorts/developers do not vote. They do not get to decide.

"The problem was neither growth nor development, pioneers insisted, but a few bad apples, unscrupulous people who did not care about an island treasured by local businesses." Can this be? I recently quoted Mayor Riley of the City of Charleston in another blog entry wherein the Mayor speaks to the fact that the City is dependent upon tourism, like Hilton Head, and that Charleston rejects unscrupulous business practices. In fact, Charleston adopted a local law governing timeshare companies. Hilton Head also rejects unscrupulous businesses and their practices, right?

Some of the most disturbing features of growth and development on the Island for residents were condominiums. "Even more distressing to residents was time-sharing. Of all the methods devised to squeeze more golden eggs from the Hilton Head goose, none was more attractive to developers than time-sharing."

Here is how it works: take a condo unit, divide it into 52 weeks, and sell them to 52 people at an extremely inflated price. Then take the timeshare you just bought, look it up on eBay, and find that it recently sold for $1. The problem with timeshares then are the same problems with timeshares now: unscrupulous business practices. For a community that depends upon tourism, a reputation for unscrupulous business practices results in that timeshare selling on the open market for $1. Do residents think their property values are safe? Also very important for residents is that the timeshare has no real identifiable owner, severing "the link between ownership and a sense of responsibility for property and commitment to community."

Somewhat disappointingly, I discovered halfway through Danielson's book that when Charles Fraser experienced (more) financial difficulties in the 1970s and needed some quick cash, it was not "some fast-buck operator from the big city" but Charles Fraser who introduced the first timeshare to Harbor Town. Luckily, Charles Fraser did not start off with Hilton Head by developing timeshares. "Profit-seeking alone would have produced a different kind of Sea Pines and Hilton Head . . . ." Timeshare community is an oxymoron, an allusion, not a residence.

In sum, I will answer the question in the title and remind you of this: "It's not one dollar, one vote; it's one person, one vote."