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Point of View: Encinitas and the snob effect

Roman S. Koenig

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2013_COLUMN_KOENIG_RTo anyone who has lived in Encinitas more than 20 years, it’s very likely they’ve observed a remarkable change in the culture and attitude of the city.

Impatient drivers on El Camino Real who try to replicate the racing moves they see in the commercials for their priceless new car. Local shoppers who are outright rude to “the help” at local businesses. Weekend-warrior surfers who show off because “it’s what you do” when you live here, not because it’s part of your philosophical outlook on life. Residents who buy freshly built mansions next to decades-old agricultural operations, then demand those operations cease because they don’t “fit the character” of the community.

I’ve observed this shift for several years now. So it was no surprise to me when real estate brokerage website Movoto ranked Encinitas as the 8th snobbiest small city in the United States, tied with Rockville, Md.

In short, this is how Movoto determined its rankings. It developed a list of U.S. cities with populations between 45,000 and 65,000, according to its report. Looking at 2010 U.S. Census data and business listings, Movoto looked at community elements that it claimed are considered “snobby” — median home price and household income, the percent of the population holding college degrees, the number of private schools, performing arts options and art galleries per capita, and the number of fast food restaurants per capita. With the exception of fast food restaurants, Movoto noted “the higher the better” in its calculations. (For Encinitas, that means the In-N-Out restaurant residents were clamoring for actually puts a dent in our snob factor, apparently.)

“Encinitas is pretty snob-friendly, just by the numbers as well. This place had the sixth best performing arts, featuring attractions as the Encinitas Ballet, and a wide number of art galleries to get your creative culture from,” the Movoto authors said in the report. “Of course, every snob knows that these attractions don’t come cheap, and thus the median home price here is the 11th most expensive on our list.”

Movoto assures in its report that a label of snobbery is not a bad thing.

“Now, as we said earlier, ‘snobby’ doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Most of these are wealthy communities with many opportunities for work, education, and culture. Heck, we’d probably be pleased as punch to live in any one of these,” the authors wrote. “However, with all that culture, wealth, and exclusivity comes people who have simply the most rigid of standards that must always be met. These 10 places cater more to those sorts of people.”

This is where the apparent ideal of snobbery and the reality of snobbery don’t gel for me.

Never in my life have I ever heard that snobbery has anything to do with high standards or the attainment of all that is good, that it’s a positive attribute.

Backing this up is something known as the “snob effect,” a principle in economics.

“The Student’s Guide to Freakonomics,” a Harper-Collins guide that breaks down the best-selling book about the economy, describes the snob effect this way: “… where a consumer may purchase a higher-priced brand of some item simply to demonstrate their social superiority over others.”

Encinitas has become a product of the snob effect. The city seems to be less community and more brand name. My impression is that the snobbish element of Encinitas lives here because it’s the “higher-priced brand” to demonstrate their perceived social superiority. This notion is not limited to Encinitas. I see this principle expanding in many aspects of commercial culture and community living.

Then there’s a definition that succinctly sums up snobbery itself, from Merriam-Webster dictionary: “The behavior or attitude of people who think they are better than other people.”

It’s this definition of snobbery I see infiltrating Encinitas and other communities in the region. There are too many people now who seem to believe they’re too good to halt at stop signs or lights. Too good to be courteous to their fellow residents, let alone gardeners, food servers and cashiers. Too good to accept the fact that their teenager didn’t make the cut to be cast as the lead in the local high school play.

All of these general examples I give are based on what I’ve witnessed firsthand over the past decade, and this attitude has only increased year by year. I acknowledge that the snob label doesn’t apply to everyone, perhaps not even a majority of residents. But the attitude is strong enough now to be very palpable, practically on a daily basis.

As my haircutter said today: “The fish starts to rot from the head.” We weren’t talking about Encinitas snobbery, but afterward I gave it some thought. If those with the local riches and the snobbery to go with it run for elected office and win, what kind of city are we going to see down the road? What will their values for the city be? Will they fairly represent the community as a whole, or just their particular interest? This is something that doesn’t just apply to Encinitas, either. It’s something that must be asked regionally, statewide and nationally.

Ultimately, though, snobbery is an attitude that can be claimed by anyone, regardless of economic bracket.

Encinitas’ snob status is not something to celebrate. If anything, Movoto’s rankings should be taken as a tongue-in-cheek warning that we’re not as pleasant a community as we might think.

We’re all in Encinitas together.

Roman S. Koenig is editor and publisher of the North Coast Current. Columns are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of North Coast Current ownership. Comment below or submit letters to the editor at letters@northcoastcurrent.com.

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Point of View: Encinitas and the snob effect