Local communities face onslaught from self-anointed planners

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April 25, 2014

A grow­ing num­ber of ini­tia­tives by elit­ist orga­ni­za­tions, work­ing hand-in-glove with local kin­dred spir­its, is trans­form­ing once-self-gov­ern­ing com­mu­ni­ties into instru­ments of envi­ron­men­tal polit­i­cal correctness.

Cloaked in the man­tle of pro­vid­ing for “sus­tain­able” or “liv­able” com­mu­ni­ties, these pro­grams include such fash­ion­able ideas as “open space,” “her­itage areas,” “view sheds,” ”smart growth,” “clean ener­gy,” and “com­bat­ing cli­mate change,” – just to name a few.

What was once large­ly the domain of far-away UN con­fer­ences and obscure aca­d­e­m­ic jour­nals has now made its way to Main Street. Plan­ning com­mis­sions, which have spread like wild­fire over the past cou­ple of decades and whose mem­bers are unelect­ed, pro­duce an end­less array of schemes designed to micro-man­age every aspect of com­mer­cial, res­i­den­tial, and recre­ation­al life. No town, no mat­ter how small, is safe from the med­dling of plan­ners in and out­side of government.

The Shad­ow of Agen­da 21

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of efforts by green elites to mold com­mu­ni­ties in their own image is a con­se­quence of the rise of the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment – both in the U.S. and through­out the world. Those efforts received a sub­stan­tial boost with the adop­tion of some­thing called Agen­da 21 at the con­clu­sion of the June 3–14, 1992 Unit­ed Nations Con­fer­ence on Envi­ron­ment & Devel­op­ment in Rio de Janeiro. Agen­da 21 is described by the UN Divi­sion on Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment as “a com­pre­hen­sive plan of devel­op­ment to be tak­en glob­al­ly, nation­al­ly, and local­ly by orga­ni­za­tions of the Unit­ed Nations Sys­tems, Gov­ern­ments and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts (sic) on the environment.”

A 300-page doc­u­ment divid­ed into 40 chap­ters, Agen­da 21 has many goals, includ­ing chang­ing con­sump­tion pat­terns, con­serv­ing bio­log­i­cal diver­si­ty, pro­tect­ing frag­ile envi­ron­ments and the atmos­phere, and achiev­ing more sus­tain­able set­tle­ments. Agen­da 21 pro­vides a blue­print for the kinds of struc­tur­al changes the pro­po­nents of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment (a term left pur­pose­ly vague) want to see take place.

Mere­ly set­ting goals, how­ev­er, was not enough; the task of imple­ment­ing Agen­da 21 fell to anoth­er UN body, the Inter­na­tion­al Coun­cil on Local Envi­ron­men­tal Ini­tia­tives (ICLEI). Found­ed in 1990, ICLEI is an asso­ci­a­tion of local and region­al gov­ern­ments as well as non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions (NGOs) – all shar­ing a com­mit­ment to sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. ICLEI’s mem­ber­ship cur­rent­ly num­bers over 1200 cities, towns, coun­ties, and NGOs in 84 coun­tries. In the Unit­ed States, 528 cities belong to ICLEI, includ­ing New York, Los Ange­les, Dubuque, Iowa, and Arling­ton, Texas.

ICLEI’s U.S. web­site, www.icleius.org, informs its vis­i­tors that $618 mil­lion in fund­ing for grants and tech­ni­cal assis­tance is avail­able for state, local, and trib­al gov­ern­ments. The largess comes cour­tesy of the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and the depart­ments of Ener­gy, Inte­ri­or, and Trans­porta­tion and is be used for cli­mate and ener­gy ini­tia­tives aimed at reduc­ing green­house-gas emis­sions. Lest they have any doubts about the organization’s com­mit­ment to com­bat­ting cli­mate change, vis­i­tors also can read about ICLEI’s new emis­sions-man­age­ment software.

Anoth­er orga­ni­za­tion spread­ing the gospel of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment is the appro­pri­ate­ly named Amer­i­can Plan­ning Asso­ci­a­tion (APA). Found­ed in 1978, APA pro­vid­ed a ready-made vehi­cle for tak­ing the goals of Agen­da 21 to the local lev­el. A forum for the exchange of views and pro­pos­als among urban and region­al plan­ners of every descrip­tion, APA has state chap­ters through­out the coun­try. In addi­tion to its well-attend­ed con­fer­ences, APA uses its web­site, www.planning.org, to get the mes­sage out. Its web­site, for exam­ple, touts the virtues of solar pow­er and bike-shar­ing as ways com­mu­ni­ties can reduce their green­house-gas emissions.

When such “lofty” goals are adopt­ed by local gov­ern­ments, they have real-world con­se­quences for those on the receiv­ing end of the elit­ists’ grand vision. Open space in a case in point. Thomas Sow­ell, senior fel­low with the Hoover Insti­tu­tion at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, notes that open space comes at an enor­mous cost to per­spec­tive home­own­ers and those seek­ing afford­able apart­ments to rent. “What that love­ly phrase means is that there are vast amounts of emp­ty land where the law for­bids any­body from build­ing any­thing,” he says. “Any­body who has tak­en Eco­nom­ics 101 knows that pre­vent­ing the sup­ply from ris­ing to meet demand means that prices are going to rise,” he explains. “Hous­ing is no excep­tion.” (Wash­ing­ton Times, April 23, 2014)

The “Plan­toc­ra­cy”

Indeed, all across the coun­try, the lives of ordi­nary cit­i­zens are under siege by the grandiose schemes of what we will call the “plan­toc­ra­cy.” Consider:

In Ohio, the Mia­mi Val­ley Region­al Plan­ning Com­mis­sion (MVRPC) teamed up with the Mont­gomery Coun­ty Com­mis­sion, the Wash­ing­ton Town­ship Board, and an assort­ment of NGO “stake­hold­ers” to have a bike path added to a road-widen­ing project. The bike path comes with­in sev­en feet of the front door of a local resident’s 164-year-old farm house. In July 2013, bull­doz­ers flat­tened hedges and trees in front of the his­toric farm house to make way for the bike path. The own­er of the prop­er­ty protest­ed vehe­ment­ly, but to no avail. An offi­cial with the MVRPC jus­ti­fied the bike path and the destruc­tion to pri­vate prop­er­ty it wrought by say­ing, “Doing so reduces the amount of car­bon and harm­ful emis­sions into the atmos­phere so that our air is clean­er.” (Range, Win­ter 2013–14)
In Wash­ing­ton, a bill, HB 2386, intro­duced in the leg­is­la­ture would cre­ate the State Mar­itime Her­itage Area that would include “all fed­er­al, state, local, and trib­al lands that allow pub­lic access and are part­ly locat­ed with­in one-quar­ter mile land inward of the salt­wa­ter shore­line (of the Pacif­ic Ocean)…” Lan­guage in the bill assures the pub­lic that noth­ing in the leg­is­la­tion “cre­ates any reg­u­la­to­ry juris­dic­tion or grants any reg­u­la­to­ry author­i­ty to any gov­ern­ment or oth­er enti­ty” or “abridges the rights of any own­er of pub­lic or pri­vate prop­er­ty with­in the des­ig­nat­ed area,” or “estab­lished any legal rights or oblig­a­tions, includ­ing in regards to any envi­ron­men­tal or admin­is­tra­tive review process involv­ing land use.” Oppo­nents of the leg­is­la­tion ask why, if the des­ig­na­tion is so benign, does Mary­land have a 19-mem­ber Mary­land Her­itage Author­i­ty and a 10-mem­ber board appoint­ed by the gov­er­nor to over­see the state’s her­itage areas. The ques­tion is a reflec­tion of the well-found­ed mis­trust of such schemes on the part of ordi­nary citizens.
In Isle of Wight Coun­ty, Vir­ginia, local offi­cials are try­ing to pro­hib­it a farmer from allow­ing a dis­able friend from stay­ing overnight on his prop­er­ty in an RV. Coun­ty offi­cials claim that the use of the RV con­sti­tutes an unau­tho­rized “camp­ground” in vio­la­tion of local zon­ing ordi­nances. “Cas­es such as this one are becom­ing increas­ing­ly com­mon across the coun­try as overzeal­ous gov­ern­ment offi­cials rou­tine­ly enforce laws that under­mine the very prop­er­ty rights that are enshrined in the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion,” says John White­head, pres­i­dent of the Char­lottesville, Va.-based Ruther­ford Institute.

Defend­ers of Agen­da 21 and ICLEI are quick to point out that they have no reg­u­la­to­ry author­i­ty and can­not enforce any of their rec­om­men­da­tions. That’s true. But once the genie is out of the bot­tle and finds its way into the rules, reg­u­la­tions, ordi­nances, “green” build­ing codes, and land-use restric­tions of local gov­ern­ments, what comes out does have the force of law behind it. The plan­toc­ra­cy, with all the inter­lock­ing rela­tion­ships it has with well-fund­ed and well-con­nect­ed inter­ests, is a beast that is roam­ing the coun­try­side search­ing for its next prey.