Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Stifle Dissent about Affordable Housing in Marin

True Democracy requires True Freedom of Speech.

By Mimi Steel

These days, if you look at most government meetings that require public input, they are billed as “visioning sessions to build consensus”.  To the untrained ear, this sounds like a noble goal but the goal of these sessions is anything but noble.  Visioning is a term of art that refers to the Delphi Technique.  The technique was designed to make sure that the public “chooses” the outcome desired by the organizers.  A good way to describe “ visioning” is that it is  the meeting equivalent of a multiple choice test, except that  the correct choice(s) or best answer(s) are probably not one of the options and there is no place for mark “none of the above.”

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) are in the middle of developing a 25 year soviet style top down plan that combines housing, transportation and land use.    This regional plan would force some drastic changes to communities throughout the region (7 million people in 9 counties and 109 cities).  Until a year ago, very few people were aware of the plan.  Those who were aware were generally stakeholders who stood to benefit from the policies and their uniformed/misinformed surrogates.    Then suddenly some Bay Area concerned citizens crashed the party and the game changed.  They quickly realized that the sessions, conducted using “visioning,” were manipulative and deceptive .

With average citizens showing up at these meetings and voicing their dissatisfaction with the plan and the disingenuous meeting format, MTC-ABAG realized they had a potential public relations disaster on their hands.  Board Member Ecklund expressed concerns that the process was not successful on July 19, 2012, listen here. The MTC-ABAG board discussed that the visioning sessions were “painful” on November 9, 2012, listen here . Both videos clearly acknowledge there were problems with the execution of the public outreach sessions.  So they changed the format for the new sessions coming up in January 2013 in a letter entitled  Plan Bay Area Public Engagement Letter dated December 7, 2012 . Different format, same objective of giving the appearance of public input while controlling the outcome of the debate.

It’s time for MTC-ABAG to come clean and develop a format that insures fair, honest and open dialog at the next round of public input sessions to discuss Plan Bay Area / One Bay Area.  Here are some suggestions:

  •  Public outreach meetings for One Bay Area (Plan Bay Area) must be conducted in the evening in every county to allow working, taxpaying citizens to attend.
  •  Sessions must be televised and covered on local radio programs in each county so that the public really does have an opportunity to get engaged and weigh in on this
  •  Promoters, supporters and surrogates of MTC/ABAG must be clearly identified as they have a vested interest in promoting the favored plan. These entities or individuals will not be eligible to vote on the plans.
  • The format must be changed from the previous “visioning sessions” to an open forum where a panel of concerned citizens can present information on each of the key areas. Each panel will have 10 minutes to present or refute MTC/ABAG arguments presented to date. This format will provide for diversity of opinion and give citizens their fair share of time to speak on these subjects:
    • The effectiveness of smart growth concepts—where have these concepts been successfully employed? Where have they not performed as claimed, and the consequences
    • The issue of public transit vs individual automobile
    • The issue of forced, subsidized high density housing near mass transit
    • The issue of whether zoning authority should lie with a nine-county panel rather than locally elected city councils and planning boards:
    • The ethics of demanding that a city comply with the One Bay Plan or lose their road repair funds.
    • The assumption that you can balance jobs and housing to insure minimum commutes
    •  MTC-ABAG must present the annual measured and recorded GHG levels for all nine Bay Area Counties from 2000-2010 to comply with California Executive Order 5-3-05..By presenting these figures MTC/ABAG will provide the 2010 baseline GHG levels for periods going forward. If measured (not calculated) GHG did not go down then –on what basis can you assure us that this 2030 plan will accomplish any reductions? If it did go down, what proof do you have that your plans were the actual cause of the reduction?

The taxpaying, concerned citizens of the Bay Area are awake and aware of what is going on.  We are not going  away .  We want an honest debate on the issues.  If citizens decide they do not want the plan for their  town or county, they should be free to walk away from it without any repercussions, such as loss of road repair funds.  We look forward to MTC-ABAG rethinking their public input strategy or there will be more “painful” experiences moving forward.
Marinwood-Lucas Valley is receiving 71% of all affordable housing in Unincorporated Marin

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