Supervisors to choose sustainability or economic vitality

By Susan Gibbs

On Tuesday, July 24 Greene’s supervisors unanimously agreed to take an invitation to join Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s Metropolitan Planning Organization under consideration.

They should consider the invitation carefully, because their decision could be the most important – and long lasting – that this Board makes for the economic future of the county.

On July 12 Eye on Greene reported that the invitation had been delivered off-handedly by the Board’s citizen liaison during the matters from the public portion of supervisors’ most recent regularly scheduled meeting – and that great deal much information about what the county’s membership in the MPO might require had not been forthcoming.

Wilkinson described the invitation as beneficial to the county as it might entitle Greene to a share of federal, state and commission funding for roads sometime in the future. But neither she, nor Greene County Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda, who followed her to the podium, informed supervisors that as members of the MPO, the county would be subject to the implementation of the goals set forth in TJPDC’s Sustainability Accords.

These Accords mean to, among other things: strive for a size and distribute the human population in ways that preserve the vital resources; retain the natural habitat; optimize the use and re-use of developed land and promote clustering; promote appropriate scale for land uses; retain farm and forest land; develop attractive and economical transportation alternatives; ensure water quality and quantity are sufficient to support people and ecosystems;  and conserve energy.

On July 31 Eye on Greene reported that TJPDC Executive Director Steve William had appeared before the Board at its July 24 regularly scheduled meeting and that still, a great deal of information about what the county’s membership in the MPO might require had not been forthcoming.

Williams downplayed the implementation of the Accords, saying “that project will really not affect Greene at all,” but not calling supervisors’ attention to the fact that many of the Accord goals had already been written into the county’s comprehensive plan. He did say that the long range transportation plan he spoke to supervisors about also included land use.

But he did not get into the overall concept of sustainability, and so the media is left to investigate.

Eye on Greene wants to know why so much is not being said.

We know that back in 1994 TJPDC was tasked with creating a Sustainability Council to “describe a future where our economic, human, social, and environmental health are assured.” It addressed the areas of: human population, basic human needs, economic development, land development, transportation, waste, values and ethics, community awareness, interdependence/balance, government, natural environmnet, and agriculture/forestry.

Several months ago Williams told Eye on Greene that council had nothing to do with the fact that two years before it was formed, President George H.W. Bush had signed a United Nations action plan that called for sustainability – to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the UN, governments, and major groups in every area in which humans directly affect the environment.

Williams explained those months ago that a lot of people had just had the same idea at the same time.

But it was just a year after Bush signed the UN plan that President Bill Clinton formed the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. According to the Council’s Web site (http://clinton2.nara.gov/PCSD/Overview/index.html), it was formed to develop “bold, new approaches to achieve our economic, environmental and equity goals.”

Gary Lawrence, an advisor to the Council said, “Participating in a U.N. advocated planning process would very likely bring out many of the conspiracy-fixated groups and individuals in our society. This segment of our society who fear ‘one-world government’ and a UN invasion of the United States through which our individual freedom would be stripped away would actively work to defeat any elected official who joined the ‘conspiracy’ by undertaking [Agenda 21]. So we call our process something else, such as comprehensive planning, growth management or smart growth.”

In the meantime, TJPDC’s Council was hard at work. Its Web site states:  “Over a four-year period and with the assistance of hundreds of members of the public at forums and in working groups, a mission statement, a delineation of the principles which govern a sustainable community, and the goals, objectives and indicators and benchmarks of a sustainable region were developed.”

As a result TJPDC’s Sustainability Accords came into being in 1998.

Sustainability – or comprehensive planning or growth management or smart growth – has not been without its critics.

In his September 2000 paper for the Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation titled “Why ‘Smart Growth’ Is ‘Not-Smart Economics” (http://iret.org/pub/SCRE-4.PDF), Howard Baetjer, Jr., PhD, an economics professor at Towson University in Baltimore, wrote: “‘Smart Growth’ is a misguided and, ultimately, harmful set of land-use policies … nothing more than centralized government planning of private land use.

“By definition, it substitutes, by fiat, the priorities and values held by anti-sprawl interest groups for the priorities of individual property owners and those who enjoy the amenities of suburban living. In this sense, it is more about the legislating of personal aesthetics than the efficient use of land and resources.

“As economists have known for decades … government planning of resource usage cannot be ‘smart,’” Baetjer continued. “The issue is not whether land use should be planned or not, but whether land use planning will be done by government bureaucrats or by those who own the land. Central planners, who operate outside of a market environment, i.e., who are not attentive to market prices and are unmotivated by the prospect of profits and the fear of losses, would be utterly unable to obtain the information necessary to determine land use in the general public interest or to arrive at an economically efficient result.

“Furthermore, ‘smart growth offers no means of deciding among the various and conflicting values involved in land-use. Rather, it privileges by fiat one set of values, held by the anti-sprawl interest group, over conflicting values held by others … even if central planners could make ‘smart growth’ land-use decisions strictly with the general public interest in mind and free of any political machinations, they would be utterly unable to obtain, outside of a market environment, the information necessary to arrive at an economically efficient result. Accordingly, ‘smart growth’ policies, even at their theoretical best, could not determine land-use in the general public interest as effectively as the impersonal market process does,” Baetjer wrote.

How, with hundreds of members of the public, consisting, according to TJPDC, of “a diverse group of farmers, business people, foresters, environmentalists, developers and elected officials” come up with a set of accords that, metaphorically speaking, spell “sustainable” just like Agenda 21?

Could it be they were Delphi’d?

In a September 2002 Virginia Land Rights Coalition article titled “The Delphi Technique: Let’s Stop Being Manipulated!” (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2839005/posts) Albert V. Burns wrote:  “We are seeing citizens being invited to ‘participate’ in various forms of meetings … to ‘help determine’ public policy in one field or another. They are supposedly being included to get ‘input’ from the public … in one of those meetings … you will find that there is already someone designated to lead or ‘facilitate’ the meeting.

“Actually, he or she is there for exactly the opposite reason: to see that the conclusions reached during the meeting are in accord with a plan already decided upon by those who called the meeting.

“The process used to ‘facilitate’ the meeting is called the Delphi Technique … First, the person who will be leading the meeting, the facilitator or Change Agent must be a likeable person … it is (his or her) job to find a way to cause a split in the audience.

“Facilitators are trained to recognize potential opponents and how to make such people appear aggressive, foolish, extremist, etc. Once this is done, the facilitator establishes himself or herself as the ‘friend’ of the rest of the audience … at this point the audience is generally broken up (into groups) … within each group discussion takes place of issues, already decided upon by the leadership of the meeting. Here, too, the facilitator manipulates the discussion …

“Generally, participants are asked to write down their ideas and disagreements with the papers to be turned in and ‘compiled’ … This is the weak link in the chain, which you are not supposed to recognize. Who compiles the various notes into the final agenda for the discussion? Ahhhh! Well it is those who are running the meeting.”

Knowing this now, I am embarrassed to say that in 2008 I wrote an article for the Greene County Record announcing a coming regional summit meeting to update the regional transportation plan — which would be called UnJAM 2035 (http://www.tjpdc.org/unjam2035/mpoplan.asp) when completed.

“The public is invited, even encouraged to attend,” I quoted Svoboda as saying. “Local input is necessary to achieve the right ideas for our locality.”

The Summit introduced “innovative, cost-effective solutions to consider integration of land use, economy and environment into the transportation network planning. The keynote speaker was Dr. Reid Ewing of the National Center for Smart Growth, University of Maryland, who co-authored the book: Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, about the effects transportation and urban development are having and are continuing to have on our climate.

Participants – who were able to submit their individual ideas — worked in groups to discuss issues and illustrate their suggestions and concepts on maps.

Online participation in the planning was also encouraged, which provided for “two-way communication between the public and the planning team.” More than 400 people are reported to have contributed, and, now,  UnJAM 2035  – which also spells sustainability like Agenda 21 – combines transportation planning for both TJPDC’s Metropolitan Planning Organization and its rural areas.

How can that be?

As it happens, there’s a Delphi program available for users.

Also in 2008, I am now further embarrassed to say, I wrote an article for the Greene County Record titled “Focus groups key to plan review.”

In that article, Svoboda announced that the county was about to review its comprehensive and multimodal corridor plans – with the help of TJPDC, the Renaissance Planning Group and public focus groups.

Svoboda likened the focus groups – which totaled three and were held in Dyke, Ruckersville and Stanardsville that year – to town meetings.

They are “actually citizens’ meetings,” Svoboda said at the time. “The (Greene County Planning Department) staff will explain the process but it’s the citizens’ ideas that will be put to work.”

The groups were led by professional planners from TJPDC and the Renaissance Planning Group.

The Renaissance Planning Group, which several sources say is connected to an international organization called Local Governments for Sustainability, advertises its core philosophy as “place making” – which it defines as “the art of creating livable physical environments supportive of transit, walking, bicycling and social interaction through urban design and multimodal transportation planning” – in other words, sustainability, or smart growth.

In that article, I quoted then- TJPDC Senior Regional Planner Bill Wanner as saying, “TJPDC is bringing to (Greene’s) table a multi-disciplinary team consisting of environmental planners, graphic designers, transportation planners and engineers, and some who have a background in economic development in terms of land use for rural and urbanizing areas.”

Wanner went on to say that Renaissance Group “has had major experience with scenario planning that gives citizens the opportunity to model their own community and to understand the implications of that modeling. This is a great opportunity for citizens to become involved in a real hands-on way. We’re looking at trends, and we’re going to be giving that information to folks and saying, ‘Let’s think this through.’”

All told, about 30 county residents attended the focus groups, and – by gosh — they all came up with the “sustainable” goals that have been written into Greene’s current comprehensive plan, and which can be traced back to Agenda 21.

It should be noted that, according to reports, within the executive branch of the United States government, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama have all signed executive orders that broadly support the tenets of Agenda 21 but do not make reference to Agenda 21 by name.

It should also be noted that Agenda 21 is a non-binding and voluntarily implemented action plan. It is not a treaty, and therefore, it is not possible for it to be formally debated or voted on by Congress nor introduced or ratified by the executive branch.

In his 2000 paper Baetjer concluded: “From an economic perspective, ‘smart growth’ has all of the characteristics of bureaucratic central planning. Like all such schemes, it is undermined by the knowledge problem, the inability of planners to learn all they need to know in order to plan successfully. Accordingly, ‘smart growth’ cannot possibly determine land-use efficiently. Instead of the bureaucratic planning of ‘smart growth’, policy makers should defend private property rights and the freedom of owners to plan their own lives and to buy and sell as they wish. The consequence will be truly intelligent allocation of land through the market process and, more importantly to a free society, the expansion of individual liberty.”

Eye on Greene agrees, and urges supervisors to say “no” to the MPO.

Posted in: Editorials

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