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February 2005   phyllis spivey
Riverside County-Development United Nations Style Part 2 By Phyllis Spivey


Part 2

By Phyllis Spivey

(Authorsí Note: Part 1 defined the concept of sustainable development, its United Nations origins and linkage with biodiversity strategies, as well as its invasion of government policies, especially community development.)

A General Plan is a blueprint for growth and development over the long term. It acts as a constitution for both public and private development, the foundation upon which leaders make growth and land use-related decisions.

But the Riverside County Integrated Project (RCIP) isnít just any general plan. Itís the product of four years, nearly $35 million and, for one county supervisor, 50 trips to Washington, D. C. and Sacramento. It locks up enough acreage to create another Orange County, but not for people. Instead, the RCIP favors 24 so-called endangered species and another 122 species that environmentalists might some day designate "endangered."

For humans, however, the preferred word is containment: high density "community centers"i.e., stacked housing and commercial buildings with pedestrian walkways, bike paths and public transit. And transportation facilities? Theyíll be identified only "after environmental needs have been addressed." The RCIP is classic sustainable development.

A glossy RCIP brochure describes the plan as "a model for the nation ... largest multi-species habitat conservation plan in the nation ... a textbook example of Smart Growth ... coordinated by a partnership between the Federal Government, the State Government, the County of Riverside, the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the Southern California Association of Governments."

Significantly, federal, state, and regional governments are precisely where sustainable development policies are most firmly entrenched, owing primarily to President Clintonís embrace of the concept after the U.N. Earth Summit in 1993. Itís also where the money is, and RCIP backers are counting on lots of it to fund their project including, they say, "creative use of state and federal grant and loan funds to confront the continuing financial reality of not having enough money to do everything that is desired."

A July, 2004 Orange County Register editorial strongly criticized the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) for its 104-page study designed to create "a sustainable future." The editorial warned: "The ideas in the study should concern Southern Californians, since their governments are committing themselves to a plan designed to change the way most of us live."

Referring to "compact community development" (aka community centers, aka urban clusters, aka human settlements), as an "Eastern European-style planning regimen" the editorialist asserted:

"... the regional planning agency wants to engage in social engineering: pushing us to live in high-density condos near transit stations. This is the foundation of an authoritarian planning regimen known as the New Urbanism, in which planners try to recreate dense urban centers and discourage the suburbanization most of us prefer."

The Register writer continued: "This is more of what many current city governments are pushing: stopping growth in open spaces, using zoning and taxpayer subsidies to reward developers of high-density projects, using eminent domain to take private property to make way for the infill developments."

Though quoting directly from the SCAG study, the writer could have lifted identical language from the RCIP and its promotional information. In fact, in describing the SCAG study, the editorialist was also describing the RCIP.

Typical of sustainable development policies, the RCIP transfers wealth, property, and power, from private hands to government bureaucrats. County supervisors called it "historic" when they voted to acquire 153,000 acres for habitat, but landowners large and small called the multi-species plan an unprecented land grab. Even before the RCIP was approved, their properties were effectively devalued or the status made uncertain, while potential land buyers found themselves in competition with the county.

Even land located within cities goes to habitat under the RCIP, Lake Elsinore losing over 10,000 acres. But Councilman Robert Schiffner pointed to another problem: The habitat plan doesnít define where the habitat will be. "The only way to find out (if youíre a property owner) "is to try to pull a permit," he said in July 2003.

A year later, county deputy planner Kristi Lovelady created more uncertainty, advising potential property buyers to have the county review land for habitat potential before itís purchased. "The game rules have completely changed," Lovelady said. "Not only that, the game is different." No kidding.

The countyís message to affected property owners:donít count on anything Ė except more bureaucracy. Potential habitat will now be reviewed by a panel of biologists, planners, mapping specialists and others known as the Habitat Evaluation and Acquisition Negotiations Strategy (HANS). Lovelady said the 14 cities in the county will set up similar panels.

Tax money is the enabler. Besides setting up new bureaucracies, the RCIP puts taxpayers on the hook for potentially billions of dollars, for: (1) ongoing maintenance of the 500,000 acres of habitat; (2) yet unknown acquisition costs of the acreage still to be "purchased" by the county; (3) revenue replacement for the 500,000 acres removed from the tax rolls; and (4) underwriting legal costs to defend the RCIP against many promised lawsuits.

True, the RCIP calls for building fees to fund habitat maintenance costs, but development is cyclical. When the economy slackens, development slows or dries up; then what? And though the county boasts of big subsidies (more taxes) from federal and state government Ė two essentially bankrupt administrations Ė how dependable is that revenue stream? When it comes to government schemes, the taxpayer is always the funder of first and last resort.

When Donald A. Brown of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1996 described "a way of thinking about the future that integrates economic, environmental and social goals," he was only talking about sustainable development. Riverside County is implementing it.

Just two months before the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved the RCIP, The Press Enterprise welcomed The Center for Sustainable Suburban Development to UC Riverside. Itís entirely fitting.