Sunday, June 4, 2017

Worth Another Look. “Broken Planning: How Opponents Hijacked the Planning Process”.

The post below is one of the most-viewed ever all time since I began this blog in 2006, first posted in early 2015. What I think struck a chord is it speaks to truth: it only takes a few people with clever tactics to alter public perception. And the other truth is this: even people who know what is happening and are involved can be manipulated to believe something that is untrue.

The role of elected leaders in “broken planning” is also significant. On the one hand we’re told by some electeds how potentially dire our situation is here in the City of Lake Worth vis-à-vis a viable and growing tax base (both residential and business development) — but on the other hand send mixed messages — “Yes, we need development, but just not there”, then obstacles are thrown in the way to appease one group or another.

Regular, long-time readers of this blog will recall the image below. Thanks to a former commissioner many residents learned about “monkeywrenching”, watching the tactic unfold at Commission meetings on a regular basis.

A popular one when controversy arises: “refer all matters to committees”.
And “raise the question”, talk “at great length”, and the always popular, “raise the question”.

In the lead-up to the Lake Worth City Commission vote on the rezoning of the Gulfstream Hotel property in January of last year the rumor mills were on fire. Social media was filled with open-ended questions and wild theories; there was even the suggestion if the rezoning was approved the Gulfstream property could get “sold to ISIS” or maybe even to a “Russian oligarch”.

But when the day came for the Commission to vote, on January 5th, 2016, something exciting happened: the public came out en masse in support of the Gulfstream Hotel redevelopment project. Sadly though, much of the public support and goodwill has since been squandered by the owners of that property, but last year it was a much different mood in the community.

Ultimately, the problem comes down to this: The scenario above with the Gulfstream last year was one of the rare exceptions and not the rule.

Without further ado. . .

“Municipal leaders understand that passionately motivated opponents, who fill hearing rooms, write letters, and circulate petitions to stop new development, are a newly empowered breed of local activists. Not only will these angry constituents remember the politicians who stood against them on Election Day, organized citizen activists often use their new grassroots movements to mount a direct challenge by running for office themselves.
     The key fact is this: Supporters of development do not participate in the political process, while today’s activist opponents show up and dominate the process.
Excerpt from an article in Planetizen by Patrick Fox subtitled, “An op-ed describes the broken state of the planning and development approval process where opposition politics rule and the answer is usually ‘no.

If you live in a small city in south Florida such as Lake Worth and you’ve wondered how even the most reasonable and popular projects get thwarted or scuttled, the excerpt from an op/ed below will explain a lot. This is a sobering op/ed by Patrick Fox, another excerpt:

     “Grassroots movements do not organically spring up to support a project, but opposition groups driven by fear, self-interest and cynicism can take off like wildfire. The proliferation of digital tools like Facebook and Twitter give average people the ability to find like-minded project opponents and to build effective grassroots opposition movements. While project supporters certainly have access to these same tools, they are far less motivated to use them. The process is overwhelmingly dominated by opponents.
     Why should an elected official support a project and subject him or herself to the slings and arrows of angry opponents? Standing with opponents and harnessing their passion and energy is the politically expedient path. Standing with opponents and dramatically pounding your fists in opposition is the right political posture for today's elected official seeking to build a political base and grab headlines.
     Imagine a grocery store is proposed in your community that will redevelop a vacant retail site. The developer is well known and respected and promises major site improvements and community amenities.
     On a Tuesday night, a public hearing is held at Town Hall by the Planning Board or the City Council to get public input prior to voting on the developer's application. Who shows up and makes their voices heard? Not the supporters. While the vast majority of residents may fully support the project and welcome it to their community, the hearing is packed with those who vigorously oppose it.”

So. . . how do popular and necessary projects in the planning process get hijacked and thwarted so easily? The opponents show up at city meetings. It’s as easy as that.

They show up, make a lot of noise and make it seem like their numbers are much bigger then they really are. Add in a ‘journalist’, maybe a TV news crew, a sympathetic ally on an editorial board, and you can see how it all plays out. How many times have you seen this show?

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s just that supporters of projects are simply less motivated to show up or contact their elected officials. Very sad.