Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Very timely and worth another look: “Broken Planning: How Opponents Hijacked the Planning Process”.

“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.”

Quote from an op/ed by Patrick Fox published in Planetizen.

Learn more about this piece by Patrick Fox and more excerpts later in this blog post.

Tonight is a very important public meeting at the Lake Worth City Commission. It’s about a much-anticipated and long-awaited housing project on N. Dixie Hwy called “The MID”.

And tonight what is needed is a big turnout of supporters of this new project. Why?

Because if a small group of people are intent on scuttling this project, hijacking the process so to speak, how is that accomplished? It’s actually very easy. They show up at public meetings. And loudly make their voices heard.

The irony is that even popular projects fail because the supporters stay home and the elected leaders will hear loud voice after loud voice in opposition instead.

We’ve seen this process recently play out following a public meeting last August when CPZ Architects presented seven schemes for the Lake Worth Casino and Beach Complex. A scheme in planning is a “plan, design, or program of action to be followed”.

But the opponents jumped on the word scheme not as a plan but as an “underhand plot.” This is what one of those opponents wrote:

Conceptual Design Concepts and Aquatic Consulting Engineers [CPZ Architects] gave their presentation on their “schemes.” And everything presented was a scheme. . . . Tuesday night, the seed was planted by the assistant city manager to use our penny sales tax for our beach but he was quickly reminded they were not there to discuss financing of any “scheme.” The city doesn’t want the cat out of the bag quite yet, conniving and maneuvering with a plan to grab this cash.

And also what hurts the process just as much is grandstanding on the dais. Two weeks ago at the City Commission Ordinance 2018-16 failed unanimously. But it took almost an hour of procedural nonsense and debating Robert’s Rules of Order to get to a vote.

For anyone who came to watch that meeting on Oct. 16th, their first time visiting City Hall to watch a Commission meeting in person, how likely is it they will ever return to watch another meeting? Zero.

The vote tonight should be unanimous in support of The MID. That would show strong support for this project moving forward. But more likely the vote will be 4-1 or 3-2 after more grandstanding about this issue or that issue.

What is needed is a big turnout tonight, a big show of support for The MID. If there is a low turnout and even just a few opponents show up you know what the headline will be in The Palm Beach Post:

Residents turn out in opposition to over-development on Dixie Hwy.

The op/ed by Patrick Fox was first posted on this blog in early 2015 and remains one of the most-viewed ever since this blog first began in 2006. 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 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, Chris McVoy, PhD, many residents learned about “monkeywrenching” and watched this tactic unfold at Commission meetings on a regular basis.

A popular one when controversy arises:
“refer all matters to committees”.

Click on image to enlarge:

And “raise the question”, talk “at great length”, and the always popular, “Advocate caution”.

Back in early 2016 in the lead-up to the Lake Worth City Commission vote on the rezoning of the Gulfstream Hotel property 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 that public support and goodwill had since been squandered by the owners of that property.

However, on a more positive note, this latest news gives us cause for hope in the near future.

Ultimately, the problem comes down to this: The scenario above with the Gulfstream Hotel in 2016 was one of the rare exceptions and not the rule.

Without further ado. . . “Broken Planning: How Opponents Hijacked the Planning Process”:

“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 the City of Lake Worth and you’ve wondered how even the most reasonable and popular projects get thwarted or scuttled, here is another excerpt from Patrick Fox’s op/ed that will explain a lot:

     “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 once again: 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. And maybe they will wear red T-shirts with the message, “Stop Over Development”.

Opponents 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. Going forward if you support a project here in this City of Lake Worth you need to show up at City meetings and speak your mind. The critics and opponents cannot be allowed to dominate the discussion and debate.

Do you support what’s happening in the Park of Commerce? Do you support “The MID” on N. Dixie Hwy.? Then contact your elected officials and ask them how you can help.

And show up tonight at Lake Worth City Hall. The meeting will begin at 6:00.