Editor's Notebook: Life on Mars, Los Altos

My wife and I began the new year by binge-watching two seasons of National Geographic television’s “Mars.” Once we got past the streaming issues and some low-resolution moments, we found ourselves enjoying a pretty riveting series.

“Mars,” produced by the acclaimed filmmaker Ron Howard (who starred in “Happy Days” about 300 million years ago), suffers from kind of an identity crisis – though ambitious, it can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be a documentary or a fictional drama. It’s both, and as a result, the pacing and momentum of the series often get compromised. Nonetheless, “Mars” proves very thought-provoking as it raises good questions about the prospect of traveling to and living on the inhospitable red planet.

The nonfictional documentary parts of “Mars” bridge man’s history of exploration on Earth with the progress and phasing out of the national space program, and the current quest to launch commercial space travel. Figures ranging from Elon Musk to Newt Gingrich opine on what it will take to get to Mars and how it’s part of our nature to keep pushing forward into the unknown. The fictional drama side is equally interesting, projecting a future a mere 20 or so years from now when the first go at colonization – and mining of the planet’s resources for corporate profit – takes place. In addition to filming some dramatic scenarios, Howard manages not to scrimp on character development. Reflecting on the history of discovery on Earth, there are tragedies and mistakes made. Characters you become enamored with get killed off along the way.

If you haven’t seen or heard of “Mars,” I recommend you check it out.

One comment I found interesting came from Gingrich, of all people. Much of the documentary side of “Mars” touched on global warming and how particularly the oil companies, though among the first to acknowledge it, became the most vehement deniers when the issue rose to a public outcry – all in the name of advancing their profits. There are scenes of Greenpeace boats heading to oil drilling platforms on the Arctic seas to thwart operations.

Gingrich, a longtime conservative darling, naturally takes the side of the oil companies.

“Preservationists always lose,” he said, in the wake of progress.

Preservation versus progress. I began thinking about how these topics apply to Los Altos.

In Los Altos, preservation takes on an entirely different meaning. Here, we have people who see their quiet quality of life threatened by “progress” – threats in the form of increased commercial development and higher-density housing to accommodate more people.

Here, our preservationists are people who value the city’s history of apricot orchards and single-family ranch houses. The changing state laws that are forcing cities to add more housing (which ultimately means increased height) scare these folks, who picture the Manhattanization of their town. That fear, in part, is what prompted Measure C in the last election. The land-use initiative would have required voter approval for any significant change to city-owned land through lease, sale or rezoning. The majority of voters defeated the initiative, but support was strong.

“Preservationists always lose”? I don’t agree. Measure C lost, but it succeeded in underscoring the message that Los Altos has something wonderful here, something that should not be lost. People came here for its small-town atmosphere, and that should be preserved. Let’s hope in another 20 years, when we presumably reach Mars, we’ll still be referring to Los Altos in “small” terms.

Bruce Barton is editor-in-chief of the Town Crier.

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