This columnist does not often launch into full-throated discourses to the benefit of the top 1 percent. As a staunch left libertarian with a socialist bent, the emphasis is usually on the plight of the underdog. But it is important to voice concern when the general public takes up the torch of self-righteousness and starts to march on a private residence, in an attempt to burn down, with rhetoric, a house that has not even been built yet.
Over the past couple of weeks, much has been made of a decision by the city of Ashland to allow Bryan Deboer, CEO of Lithia Motors and son of Sidney, to build a conspicuously positioned private residence on Winburn Way. (Correction: The address of the proposed home has been corrected in this story.) The home (which looks pretty magnificent in the preliminary sketches, a tribute to the inventiveness of regional architect Carlos Delgado) is aesthetically appropriate to the environment, a beautifully proportioned mid-century modern design of surprisingly modest scale, considering the fact that Mr. DeBoer took home $5.5 million in 2013, and $3.1 million the year after that, according to Morningstar, an investment research firm. The house is hardly some plutocratic ziggurat — it stands in at less than 3,000 square feet.
As usual, there has been much hand-wringing and incendiary gossip within the knee-jerk coterie. Some have implied that the City Council (once led by Alan DeBoer, former mayor and uncle to Bryan) have rolled over on permits in order to get the plans through. Others have taken to the pages of this very paper, naming DeBoer as an "oligarch" and suggesting that he is building his home as some overblown temple to his own ego; that he has little or no consideration for the construction noise and general disruption that inevitably comes when a rich man bows before his own desire for such conspicuous consumption.
Let's evaluate that, for a moment. The DeBoer family has been in Ashland since at least the 1940s. With the success of Lithia Motors, Sid DeBoer has built his company into a national juggernaut that has focused its businesses on the mid-level market. You won't find Lithia Motors making their money on Ferrari and Bentley. Indeed, it is reported that their preference for more affordable vehicles is as much about the philosophy of the family as it is about profitability. If you like your daily workout at the distinctly egalitarian YMCA of Ashland, you can thank Sid and Karen DeBoer. If Shakespeare is more your thing, you can thank them again. A fan of Lake of the Woods? The DeBoer family have restored Camp Low Echo as a haven for nonprofit groups. And before you get annoyed with young Bryan for building his house on a piece of land that has thus far been utilized as an asylum for ineptly run small businesses or perpetually unrentable commercial space, you might consider that his family has donated more than most of us earn in a lifetime to the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy. Lithia Motors also employs over 8,500 people, thanks to an $5.39 billion revenue stream.
The point of all this? To provide substance for the assertion of this columnist that DeBoer and his family might just have some other interests in mind that transcend the autocratic agenda being foisted upon them by a disproportionately hostile group of local bellyachers.
If Ashland is to be seen as legitimate in its much-vaunted reputation as an inclusive town, then we have to make sure that it's not only the homeless and the destitute that we are willing to welcome with open arms. A hometown millionaire should also be able to build his dream house and live happily at the epicenter of that town — regardless, and perhaps in spite of, what your personal opinion might be on such a decision.
Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.