(photo credit: Moshe Shai / Flash 90)
It is easy to exude cynicism and castigate three Sharon-area mayors as crass
electoral opportunists for opposing plans to build 23,000 housing units on what
doubtless is this country’s most toxic soil.
The Israel Lands Authority
brushed aside the opposition the three expressed at a recent joint press
conference and derided it as a vote-getting stunt ahead of October’s municipal
elections. But the mayors’ point of view deserves better than to be dismissed
out of hand. This is serious business.
The mayors of Herzliya, Ramat
Hasharon and Hod Hasharon vowed to fight plans to construct housing on the
760-hectare spread that has for decades been a major manufacturing complex for
Israel Military Industries – Ta’as.
The rambling industrial facility
borders all three cities, and has in the past constituted a major safety hazard,
to say nothing of the acute soil contamination created there from the 1950s
onward. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the
Nonetheless, it is a prime real-estate location. It is
undeniably peerless both in terms of value and toxicity.
conventional wisdom heretofore was that by selling expensive housing units in a
desirable location, enough revenue can be generated to finance this country’s
most challenging decontamination project to date.
This begat the plan to
build 23,000 housing units on the vacated Ta’as complex, which means that
considerably more than 100,000 people would live atop underground pollution,
whose extent might be worst than assumed.
The green lobby had
consistently decried this plan as “a potentially unprecedented ecological
But besides cogent health concerns there are apprehensions
about jamming another city-size population center into the junction of three
cities, thereby contributing to overcrowding, adding to the region’s paralyzing
traffic bottlenecks and undermining all notions of population
The mayors instead vow to turn the area into a giant green
lung for the Sharon and Dan regions – a large park that would offer outdoor
recreation facilities and a much-necessary escape from the concrete and asphalt
of central Israel – one of the world’s most densely populated urban
This would mean, of course, that the decontamination costs
would have to be funded from the public coffers rather than by home-buyers. Yet
whereas the estimated decontamination bill to facilitate residential use is NIS
2 billion, for a park an outlay of NIS 50 million- NIS 100 m. would
Most likely the Israel Lands Authority is loath to forgo the hefty
revenue expected from selling such sought-after property. But should short-term
pocketbook considerations outweigh the long-term consequences of settling so
many families on such questionable land and further congesting a section of the
country that is already too clogged? The ILA disparaged the three mayors for
allegedly pandering to the electorate, knowing full well that the construction
plans are unpopular while the park is popular. But is that not what
representative democracy is all about? Do elected officials not have to be
attuned to their voters’ preferences and do they not owe the public support for
what it wants? This presumably is why we have the ballot box.
Is there no
significance to the fact that the park is popular while a concentration of
high-rise apartment towers is not? Does the fact that the region’s residents do
not want another crammed city in their midst not merit a hearing? The ILA
further justifies its stand by charging that the three municipalities all along
supported construction blueprints for the Ta’as industrial campus and only
recently and suddenly performed an expedient about-face.
Even if we accept
this contention for the sake of argument, however, it does not shake the
validity of opposition to the monster housing development.
nothing illegitimate in a change of mind.
We can only hope that the
municipalities remain adamant in their opposition to this ill-conceived
development project even after the October 22 elections and that they do not
eventually acquiesce to a compromise that combines the worst of two worlds.