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  • Matt McDonald

5 Reasons Why NIMBYs Win, Part 2: Builders often don’t commit to the political fight

Updated: Sep 10, 2019


Builders need to get beyond simplistic approaches to political problems.

To the man with a hammer, every problem is a nail. It’s an old adage we all understand, and unfortunately it tends to describe many builders too well. The primary competencies of builders are in marrying a construction vision with the financing to get the project built. They can schmooze with the city council, market their project and figure out a way to make money once it’s there, but it’s a rare builder who can sit in a community meeting and assuage residents from their anger over a project. It’s a rarer builder who can craft and execute a political message that can undermine the arguments of an organized and focused opposition.


We’ve seen time and again builders who try to act as their own political advisers and “go it alone”. Often, they claim that they just need to save a few dollars, but that’s often not the true reason. More frequently, it’s a matter of corporate culture. The company just “doesn’t do it” when it comes to taking on political help. Time and again, project managers are just not given the free rein to ask for the help they need politically because it’s frowned upon internally. It’s not part of the business model to be worried about public opinion.


But ask yourself this question: would you move forward with a project while knowingly ignoring a glaring strategic weakness with your business model? Bad financial planning and poor marketing can derail your project, but of course you use proven expertise in those areas to keep your project rolling. Political failures have just as much potential to destroy your efforts as any other business challenge. So why wouldn’t you protect your business with expert level best practices in political persuasion?


The largest, most successful development firms put public affairs at the heart of their project teams because they recognize that business success cannot be achieved in a modern California without factoring the impact that an angry public can have on your business goals.


NEXT WEEK, Part 3: CEQA sucks, but not for the reason that you think.

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