Written by Donna Holt
As Governor McDonnell's plans for sustainable development, referred to as "sustainable communities", continues to gain momentum, it is worthwhile to step back and take a long look at the big picture, painted with a broad brush to reveal what Virginia might look like as his vision for the Commonwealth is more fully implemented over the next 20 years or so.
The picture painted here is based on official documents published by countless government agencies and non-government organizations during the past two decades as public policy for the transformation of our great nation for a "Sustainable America". These documents were rarely reported in the news, and average working people have no idea what sustainable development really means, and even less knowledge of what is in store for the future. If the vision of sustainable development continues to unfold as it has in the last decade, life in the Commonwealth and the rest of the nation will be quite different in the future. Click on MAP to Enlarge
Half the land area of Virginia and the entire United States will be designated "wilderness areas," where only wildlife managers and researchers will be allowed. These areas will be interconnected by "corridors of wilderness" to allow migration of wildlife, without interference by human activity. Wolves will be as plentiful in Virginia as they are now in Idaho and Montana.
Surrounding these wilderness areas and corridors, designated "buffer zones" will be managed for "conservation objectives." The primary objective is "restoration and rehabilitation." Rehabilitation involves the repair of damaged ecosystems, while restoration usually involves the reconstruction of natural or semi-natural ecosystems. As areas are restored and rehabilitated, they are added to the wilderness designation, and the buffer zone is extended outward.
Buffer zones are surrounded by what is called "zones of cooperation." This is where people live - in "sustainable communities." Sustainable communities are defined by strict "urban growth boundaries." Land outside the growth boundaries will be managed by government agencies, which grant permits for activities deemed to be essential and sustainable. Open space, to provide a "viewshed" and sustainable recreation for community residents will abut the urban boundaries. Beyond the viewshed, sustainable agricultural activities will be permitted, to support the food requirements of nearby communities.
Sustainable communities of the future will bear little resemblance to the towns and cities of the 20th century. Single-family homes will be rare. Housing will be provided by public/private partnerships, funded by our state treasury, and managed by non-government "Home Owners Associations." Housing units will be designed to provide most of the infrastructure and amenities required by the residents. Shops and office space will be an integral part of each unit, and housing will be allocated on a priority basis to people who work in the unit - with quotas to achieve ethnic and economic balance. Schools, daycare, and recreation facilities will be provided. Each unit will be designed for bicycle and foot traffic, to reduce, if not eliminate, the need for people to use automobiles.
Transportation between sustainable communities, for people and for commodities, will be primarily by rail systems, designed to bridge wilderness corridors where necessary. The highways that remain will be super transport corridors, such as the "Trans-Texas Corridor" now being designed, which will eventually reach from Mexico to Canada. These transport corridors will also be designed to bridge wilderness corridors, and to minimize the impact on the environment.
What is perhaps the most serious consequence of sustainable development is the least visible: the transformation of the policy-making process. The idea that government is empowered by the consent of the governed is the idea that set the United States apart from all previous forms of government. It is the principle that unleashed individual creativity and free markets, which launched the spectacular rise of the world's most successful nation. The idea, and the process by which citizens can reject laws they don't want, simply by replacing the officials who enacted them, makes the ballot box the source of power for every citizen, and the point of accountability for every politician.
When public policy is made by elected officials who are accountable to the people who are governed, then government is truly empowered by the consent of the governed. Sustainable development has designed a process through which public policy is designed by professionals and bureaucrats, and implemented administratively, with only symbolic, if any, participation by elected officials and the public. The professionals and bureaucrats who actually make the policies are not accountable to the people who are governed by them.
This is the "new collaborative decisions process," called for by the President's Council on Sustainable Development and is being used to steer communities to a "consensus" of a predetermined goal. Because the policies are developed at the top, by professionals and bureaucrats, and sent down the administrative chain of command to state and local governments, elected officials have little option but to accept them. Acceptance is further ensured when these policies are accompanied by "economic incentives and disincentives," along with lobbying and public relations campaigns coordinated by government-funded non-government organizations.
Higher housing costs are an immediate, visible consequence of sustainable development. Land within the urban growth boundary jumps in value because supply is limited, and continues to increase disproportionately in value as growth continues to extinguish supply. These costs must be reflected in the price of housing. Add to this price pressure, the regulatory requirements to use "green seal" materials; that is, materials that are certified, either by government or a designated non-government organization, to have been produced by methods deemed to be "sustainable."
Higher taxes are another immediate, visible, and inevitable consequence of sustainable development. Higher land values automatically result in higher tax bills. Sustainable development plans include another element that affects property taxes. Invariably, these plans call for the acquisition of land for open space, for parks, for greenways, for bike-and- hike trails, for historic preservation, and many other purposes. Governor McDonnell includes plans for a trust fund to acquire land for affordable housing and provide financial assistance to low-income residents and those affected by foreclosure and for the homeless. Every subsidy and piece of property taken out of the private sector by government acquisition, forces the tax burden to be distributed over fewer taxpayers. The inevitable result is a higher rate for each remaining taxpayer.
Another consequence of sustainable development is the gross distortion of justice. Bureaucrats who draw lines on maps create instant wealth for some people, while prohibiting others from realizing any gain on their investments. In communities across the country, people who live outside the downtown area have lived with the expectation that one day, they could fund their retirement by selling their land to new home owners as the nearby city expanded. A line drawn on a map steals this expectation from people who live outside the urban growth boundary. Proponents of sustainable development are forced to argue that the greater good for the community is more important than negative impacts on any individual. There is no equal justice, when government arbitrarily takes value from one person and assigns it to another.
Nowhere is this injustice more visible than when eminent domain, conservation easements, and regulations designed to manipulate the homeowner into surrendering his property in despair, is used to implement sustainable development plans. The Kelo vs. The City of New London case brought the issue to public awareness, but in cities throughout the nation, millions of people are being displaced, with no hope of finding affordable housing, in the new, "sustainable" community. In Florida, this situation is particularly acute. Retirees have flocked to Florida and settled in mobile home parks to enjoy their remaining days, living on fixed incomes, too old or infirm to think about a new income producing career. Local governments across the state are condemning these parks, and evicting the residents, in order to use the land for development that fits the comprehensive plan, and which produces a higher tax yield. These people are the victims of the "greater good," as envisioned by the proponents of sustainable development. Housing is considered "affordable" if median home prices in an area are no more than three times the median household income in that area. This ratio is called the "median multiple". By the time sustainable development reached it's peak in California, the median multiple reached 10. Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Richmond were the first in Virginia to adopt the policies with the same consequences reaching the median multiple of 4.1 - 5.7.
Less visible, but no less important, is the erosion of individual freedom. Until the emergence of sustainable development, a person's home was considered to be his castle. William Pitt expressed this idea quite powerfully in Parliament in 1763, when he said:
''The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the crown. It may be frail - its roof may shake - the wind may blow through it - the storm may enter, the rain may enter - but the King of England cannot enter - all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.''
No more. Sustainable development allows king-government to intrude into a person's home before it becomes his home, and dictate the manner and style to which the home must conform. Sustainable development forces the owner of an existing home to transform his home into a vision that is acceptable to king-government. Sustainable development is extinguishing individual freedom for the "greater good," as determined by king-government.
The question that must be asked is: will sustainable development really result in economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social equity for the current generation, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs?
Even in the early days of this century-long transition to sustainability, there is growing evidence that the fundamental flaws in the concept will likely produce the opposite of the desired goals. Forests that have been taken out of productive use in order to conform to the vision of sustainable development have been burned to cinders, annihilating wildlife, including species deemed to be "endangered," resulting in the opposite of "environmental protection." Government- imposed restrictions on resource use in land that is now designated "wilderness," or "buffer zones" have resulted in shortages, accompanied by rapid price increases that result in the opposite of "economic prosperity." In sustainable communities, it is the poorest of the poor who are cast out of their homes to make way for the planners' visions; these victims would not define the experience as "social equity."
Detailed academic studies show that housing costs rise inevitably as sustainable development is implemented. Traffic congestion is often worsened after sustainable development measures are installed. Just ask those in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Richmond where the principle of sustainable communities was adopted nearly a decade ago. And always, private property rights and individual freedom are diminished or extinguished.
Sustainable development is a concept constructed on the principle that government has the right and the responsibility to regulate the affairs of people to achieve government's vision of the greatest good for all.
The United States is founded on the principle that government has no rights or responsibility not specifically granted to it by the people who are governed. These two concepts cannot long coexist. One principle, or the other, will eventually dominate. For the last 20 years, sustainable development has been on the ascendency, permeating state and local governments across the land. Only in the last few years have ordinary people begun to realize that sustainable development is a global initiative, imposed by the highest levels of government. People are just beginning to get a glimpse of the magnitude of the transformation of America that is underway.
The question that remains unanswered is: will Virginians accept this new sustainable future that has been planned for them and imposed upon them? Or, as Virginians have done in the past, will they rise up in defense of their freedom, and demand that their elected officials force the bureaucrats and professionals to return to the role of serving the people who pay their salaries, by administering policies enacted only by elected officials, rather than conspiring to set the policies by which all the people must live.
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