Master Plan on the Borough Council Agenda Tonight – 7:30 p.m.

CITIZEN ACTION

Citizens have put together a petition to the Borough Council, urging members to delay their vote on the proposed master plan.

“This petition asks the Borough Council to postpone passage of new zoning allowing 14-story buildings in downtown and a relaxation of the requirements for developers who want to build only 12 stories. The plans were announced this summer, and many residents have not yet seen them. Further, the Borough says they have done no impact studies of the proposed changes.”

To sign the petition, click here.

EDITOR’S NOTE

I don’t have an opinion on this issue, beyond my view that traditional consultant-driven master planning is moot in an environment of economic contraction, rising energy costs and climate change; development is dictated far more by whether investors can be found to pony up the money to build projects than whether the community wants those projects or can support them with public services. We need detailed short-term, medium-term and long-term plans to ensure food security and adequate housing for the people who live here, not new logos.

Residents are understandably frustrated that big-impact decisions are being made without their knowledge or consent: gas transmission lines and power plants in populated neighborhoods, for example, and high-density residential construction projects.

Borough leaders and staff are understandably frustrated that many citizens only get involved at the end stage, when most of the discussions and negotiations have already taken place.

Do we need more citizen education about when and where to intervene to effectively shape public policy to meet public needs and goals? Or is citizen education and engagement irrelevant in a public policy context that structurally excludes the lowest level stakeholders (the community’s residents) and their representatives on Council, Planning Commission and Zoning Board, in virtually all important decision-making?

I’m deeply cynical. I don’t think it’s true that, if citizens would only inform ourselves and get involved in public planning discussions earlier and more regularly, projects would be more community-directed and less imposed. I think public meetings are a charade of local governance, not the real thing.

In my experience – counter-examples welcome – elected and appointed officials have no legally-enforceable power to direct community public affairs in a meaningful way, because they’re pre-empted and hamstrung by corporate-captured state and federal codes. The best they can do is try not to be complicit in the endangerment of their community.

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