on Tomorrow

In 2010, Iowa received $2.2 million grant from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which was funded using federal stimulus money from HUD, the U.S. DOT and the EPA, in order to develop a regional plan for sustainability for the Des Moines metro area (includes our county). Called “The Tomorrow Plan: Partnering for a Greener Greater Des Moines”, an unelected board was selected to develop this regional plan which is now in its final stages. I had the opportunity to attend some of their recent open houses and have read their 77 page final draft proposal. As I mentioned last week, the sustainability movement embraces regionalism rather than local control, favors regional property policy over individual property rights, and does very little to respect local control or local governance.

While I don’t have the space here to detail all the concerns I have with The Tomorrow Plan (TTP), I will attempt to highlight some of the major concerns that caught my attention. 1) There is a distinct lack of unbiased sources for all the data assertions that they made throughout the document. When I asked for the data to back up their claims, I was given a study done by Gruen & Gruen and Associates, and found that their conclusions were drawn either from data provided by GG+A itself, or by the very same federal authorities who funded the study. Not only was this an obvious conflict of interest, as well as poor methodology, but upon further examination, I discovered that even when TTP did gather any data themselves, no controls were put in place to ensure that the community contacts were a large enough sample to represent all impacted groups.  For instance, they claimed that they had over 26,000 community contacts; however they had no evidentiary data to show that controls were in place to ensure a representative sample of each age, background and community in question. Since community outreach was mainly done online via blogs and social media (p. 10), this could account for why over 30% of the only 955 respondents to their online survey list of priorities (p.11) came from the age range of 18-25, with no way to confirm that the responses were not duplicative or from folks outside the impacted region other than the self-reporting of zip code. 2) As a result of item #1, flawed conclusions were drawn due to not only the minimal participation of diverse populations, but the limited preset choices and predetermined outcomes due to a lack of allowance for unique input. The average age and life stage of an Iowa resident is 36, married and with children, yet 30% of the survey respondents were young adults under 25, unmarried with no children. As you know, priorities change as you age, and by not ensuring a robust survey sample, as well as limiting the choices of responses from the participants, invalid assertions as to the priorities for the region were drawn. 3) Throughout the plan, the good of the region and the environment were assumed to be of greater importance than the good of the local community, city or individual property owner (p.32, 55, 61, 65, 66). There was no protection for private property rights at all, as the plan made clear that its initiatives could only be accomplished by increased zoning restrictions, new ordinances, easements, taxpayer funded land purchases or the use of eminent domain. While technically voluntary for cities and counties, without an incentive to force the participation by everyone in the entire region, the plan will fall apart. And as you know, there are only five ways a government can incentivize anyone: subsidize (i.e. bribe), tax, fine, criminalize, or confiscate. 4) There is great emphasis on the reduction of individual car use as well as limiting single family housing along predetermined development corridors (p. 18, 55). In the plan, transportation monies are to be diverted to create more bike/walk paths and expand public transportation instead of construction and maintenance of our roads or parking. Walking/biking to work in the summer is fine for a twenty-something living in a downtown condo, however, it is not practical for the elderly or a family of four who need to grocery shop, shuttle to daycare, attend school sports events, or attend social gatherings. The plan seems to be quite oblivious to the fact that Iowa winters can be harsh, that our state is 92% rural, and that the current public transportation footprint is not even widely used let alone self-sustaining. 5) There was no financial impact study done as to the estimated cost of each of these regional initiatives, or any ROI (return on investment) shown to determine if the cost can be justified based on current preferred community use patterns. The Tomorrow Plan will require tax subsidies, tax credits, and financial incentives, with local communities eventually to share in the cost of regional implementation (p. 48, 56). Priorities on spending will be determined by an unelected board rather than elected officials, reducing local control of local tax money. Considering that the plan estimates the Des Moines metro area to only grow by 80,000 people by 2035, it is unwise to spend billions of taxpayer money for an average increase of only 188 new people per community per year. Right now property tax payers are able to hold their local elected officials accountable to ensure that the money they spend benefits the local community; that will not be the case if our local property tax monies are shared with other communities, who may not have the same priorities as we do. Just because something may be good for the region (p.15, 71), does not mean that it will be good for us locally.

Unfortunately The Tomorrow Plan offers no solutions and creates more problems. It will add on yet another layer of unaccountable government bureaucracy, which will pick winners and losers (p.56), and tell you how you should best live your life – all using your money. Cities and counties should not be tempted by the “carrots” of state and federal subsidies that will be dangled to promote a feel-good sustainability agenda based on flawed research methodology. These “carrots” always come with strings, and those strings will eventually choke the life and liberty out of both individual and local control.

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