Who’s Planning Our Lives, and what’s the real “vision”?
Planning throughout Whatcom County – right here, right now – is largely beyond our control. Most of us would appreciate living in affordable, well-designed communities with safe and beautiful places to ride bicycles, to jog, to walk, to shop, to play, to dine and to work. However, many community plans that promise to deliver these things actually have two purposes. One is the ostensible purpose of making a community plan acceptable to people. And the other – the real long term plan – is to limit personal consumption and choice directed by a globally coordinated top-down system of governance.
Community plans have become about creating “sustainable communities.” At first blush, the words sound good, but the ideas behind them are not. Sustainable Communities are based on a new set of values where, for example, nature takes precedence over man, and where non-elected planning participants decide what we are “permitted” to do. The federal government, in particular the White House, has become increasingly interested in managing local affairs through “sustainable community” policies and strategies.
Is Whatcom County’s Zoning Code and Comprehensive Plan really a product or reflection of the community?
The current Whatcom County 2011 Public Participation Plan suggests that input is derived from each community, but this is not true. Virtually all of the work is generated by the Whatcom County Planning Department and the “stakeholders” and groups of appointees that government departments prefer to deal with. Whatcom County citizens play no part in selecting any of these groups, and find they have little direct affect on the decisions that are made for our future.
Some neighborhood residents are recruited and appointed to newly forming planning committees. There may be valid minor issues that they are permitted to address, but this selective community presence is often designed to garner the appearance of broad community support for greater plans that are predetermined, and not fully revealed. Over 50 “special purpose committees” exist right now, and more can be created any time without general public knowledge. The regional and state-mandated (governor appointed) boards make much major policy that the public cannot affect.
The plans that neighborhoods actually end up with receive only token public review and they are not popularly driven. The overarching plans are generated by elite groups that most people have never heard of, like The Farmhouse Gang. There are other agencies that look responsive but offer no real public participation, like the Port of Bellingham and the WTA. All of these “organizations” that we spend millions of hard-earned tax dollars on every year have made it their business to promote things like “more physical activity and community connectedness” based largely on the ideology and opinions of a select few. Visioning workshops are held that involve few regular folks, and only preferred choices are offered to select from. Terms like “consensus” are used to summarize results, typically characterized as “strong support” even when common sense questions were raised, and even strong opposition. Planning agencies and consultants frequently conduct events in a scripted way to generate the appearance of public participation, but only to targeted support audiences (typical of a “push poll“).
Whatcom County “Title 20” (zoning code) has become the major method of “governance,” intended to control every feature of our daily lives. It increasingly dictates where we may live, how we should get around, and even what business citizens are “permitted” to conduct in our towns, and now even in our homes. (A new more restrictive home occupation ordinance was passed July 27, 2010 by Whatcom County Council – unanimously). Did you know that a citizen can be fined $1,000 per day (and sentenced up to one year in jail!) for some zoning infractions? See for yourself – thepenalties were just increased in 2009, and few folks know anything about it. The idea to increase penalties was initiated by the Planning Department itself.
The people should know what WCC (Whatcom County Code) “Title 20” (zoning) says:
20.04.020 Statement of purpose. The purpose and intent of the title is to further the goals and policies of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan by providing the authority for and procedures to be followed in regulating the physical development of Whatcom County, through coordinating the execution of both public and private projects with respect to allsubject matters utilized for developing and servicing land. The objective of this title is to assure the highest standards of environment for living, and the operation of commerce, industry, agriculture and recreation; and to assure maximum economies in order to conserve the highest degree of public health, safety, morals and welfare.
That’s one very big “mandate” for local governance.
The foundational infrastructure for sustainable communities is created by implementing development of trails and high-density real estate, accomplished by central economic and other planning in coalition with select NGO’s. Under these policies, private automobile use is becoming discouraged. In a county this big, that will seriously affect our freedom of mobility. And there are goals underway to cram residents into dense living and working conditions described glowingly as “urban villages.” Interest in the control of public services and natural resources has been consolidated in a central authority. There’s a group working with the Health Department that’s been measuring personal and political behavior described as communityship. Information about citizens’ relationships with their neighbors, their political activity, religious participation, whether or not families dine together and numerous other activities are now considered indicators of a community’s “public health.” Take a look at the communityship survey — is that sort of invasive research appropriate? (The on-line survey is no longer “active” – co-incidentally pulled not long after WE discovered and exposed it.)
The Whatcom County Planning Department has been implementing smart growth and sustainable development objectives through directives related to an energy descent commitment that has been imposed on the public. We – private citizens – have been included in Whatcom County’s ICLEI-related Climate Protection and Energy Conservation Program. On Page 6, Executive Pete Kremen made a commitment to change our behavior. This says “The goal for the Whatcom County community is to reduce greenhouse gas/carbon emissions by 10% below 2001 levels by 2020.” County Council went along with this – and adopted it by resolution on September 7, 2007. A May 5, 2011 Northwest Clean Air Agency document refers to even more extreme reductions driven by the (global) United Nations “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” (IPCC). It says, “…by 2050, GHG emissions will need to be reduced to 20% of 1990 emission levels.” Efforts by government to control private industry, business, products, and to modify individual behavior to meet a commitment that major must increase dramatically as well.
A Carbon Masters program at WWU (did you even know there’s a WSU Whatcom County Extension at Huxley?) promotes global initiatives in numerous ways. In the new “subsidy” and “bailout” dependent economic environment, the free market has quickly become less free to innovate without the distorting and crippling interference of government “guidance.” The vast majority of all this occurs without our knowledge or consent.
And the expensive federal ARRA (the “recovery act,” stimulus) funded EPA program – the Community Energy Challenge — is underway right now, intended to deliberately coerce the public into subsidized conservation projects using expensive “incentives” that are increasing the national debt. In all too many cases what’s being “conserved” (taken for all time) is private property or private property use.
ICLEI guidelines press local governments to create incentives for us not to drive our cars. However impractical bus service is in terms of cost per trip, or how inconvenient it may be for people to move freely about the county, the WTA will continue to expand. “Economies of scale” and practicality is irrelevant. Walking and bicycling is promoted in a similar way — not to meet realistic goals but to create new demand with little regard for convenience, cost or practicality. The stubborn interest of city and county government planners to change our behavior – regardless of public opinion – is chilling. They’re on a mission. Much of this is based on theoretical social and political “transition” beliefs of a very small elite who “have the ear of government.”
Plans Claim to Guide, Protect and Enhance the Community
Some people believe that neighborhood plans will help “guide”, “preserve” and “enhance” their community.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, the words “guide”, “preserve” and “enhance” should be substituted with“control”.
Control with a Carrot and a Stick
ICLEI (the International Council that Bellingham and Whatcom County are members of) explains that local government will never be in a position to monitor and guide the daily actions of local residents. So it recommends “positive and negative feedback” as a valuable tool in the development of sustainable communities. They recommend the establishment of incentives and rewards for approved behaviors and clear disincentives for what they deem to be undesirable behaviors is part of a strategic “action” plan. Incentives can include rewards ranging from public recognition to financial rewards or rebates. Disincentivescan range from simple notification of problems to the imposition of crippling fines and regulations.
Why is this happening?
The move toward “sustainable communities” has removed clearly defined political boundaries represented by elected officials. It has removed traditionally accountable functions into larger intra-regional councils like the Whatcom Council of Governments and the Northwest Clean Air Agency that have become generally unaccountable bureaucracies in themselves. This creates the opportunity for the formation of new committees, associations, organizations, agencies, etc., that typically report to higher apex councils. The purpose of such a de facto governing system is to “partner” government with business and gain control over the production and distribution of all resources without direct accountability.
Many NGO’s in Whatcom County are chapters of or affiliates of national organizations. Some have become active to the point of driving policy while simultaneously offering “professional” services under friendly and often-extended vendorcontracts. The Opportunity Council is a private body that is a directly sanctioned “go-to” socio-economic development partner of Whatcom County government. It is so deeply embedded that Whatcom County Code (WCC) Chapter 2.48 is devoted to the sponsored relationship. In recent years, this non-profit has become increasingly employed to manage “resource conservation” projects that funnel major block-grant funds to full blown operations like the “Building Performance Center.” Other NGO’s with “closed books,” like the Northwest Economic Council and numerous chambers of commerce, are heavily funded every year without the performance objectives, fiscal accountability or “sunshine law” requirements that true government must abide by. There is no question that career NGO “stakeholders” with staff grant-writers participate as “community organizations” and “advocacy groups” in Whatcom County and many city planning efforts. The ideology and self-interest of NGO’s inevitably play a part in recommendations and declarations of public need.
With scores of NGO’s and appointed advisory boards and committees, it’s no surprise that it’s become almost impossible for the public to keep track of who’s doing what to whom. WE contend that this is a serious and growing problem, particularly as NGO’s seem to continuously be engaged in lawsuits with government to control the activities of the public sector.
Don’t be fooled.
Community plans shift the answer of “Who decides?” from you to a coordinated but often unknown system of councils that partner with government enforcement agencies. The goal is to modify individual behavior so that people become molded into compliance, to the dictates imposed by the minority-rule of elitists.
The 2009 Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan’s Appendix C “Growth Management Act Planning Goals, County-Wide Planning Policies, Visioning Value Statements” which can be read here is already loaded with “eco” and “sustainability” directives like these:
“5. The county and the cities should include an economic development element in their Comprehensive Plans. Economic development elements should be consistent with the CEDS. Economic development shall be coordinated with environmental concerns to protect the quality of life. Planning efforts should address economic sustainability. As part of the comprehensive planning process and through implementation of the comprehensive plan, the County shall develop and adopt goals, policies and regulations that protect resource land industries and support and encourage resource-based industries.
6. The county and the cities should continue to cooperate through the Partnership for a Sustainable Economy to maintain the CEDS for infrastructure funding. Other appropriate organizations, businesses, and individuals should be involved in the process.”
“2. Whatcom County jurisdictions shall encourage alternative modes of transportation to the single occupancy vehicle. Each jurisdiction shall encourage: 1) Use of public transportation; 2) Development of linked on-street bicycle routes and pedestrian and bicycle trail corridors; 3) Adequate pedestrian facilities; 4) Connections between different modes of transportation; and 5) Intermodal connection of freight transportation. Public transportation includes fixed route transit, car pools, vanpools, and other demand responsive modes.
3. To encourage use of single occupant vehicle alternatives and development of pedestrian scale neighborhoods, high density residential development shall be encouraged in urban growth areas with particular attention to those locations within cities and in close proximity to arterials and main transit routes.”
…and there’s much, much more to this plan. Read it and watch for the buzzwords!
Even though the Washington State Growth Management Act provides counties tremendous latitude to retain their traditional character and a realistic free-market approach to life, progressive community and social engineering has crept-in and flourished under the deliberate actions of the Executive and the Whatcom County Council.
Council has been central to endorsing plans and policies that the people have no control over. Now – right now — they must be asked to remove these invasive and externally-driven plans. They must abandon this destructive course, and begin to administer government within constitutional boundaries. WE feel that government (self-government) should be a good and useful thing: our servant, but never our master.
All good people must understand the internal workings and ultimate implications of global-oriented sustainable development,ICLEI and Agenda 21. Don’t be confused by the “warm and fuzzy” promises of these plans. All too many are a bear trap.
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