My Easiest “NO” Vote Yet

Written by Jeff Johnson on August 18, 2010. Posted in General

County seeks federal grant to better control how people live

Yesterday, the Hennepin County Board voted 5 – 1 (with me being the “no” vote) to join a consortium with the Met Council and others requesting a $5 million federal “sustainable communities regional planning grant.”

According to the background material, the grant would be used to support the metro area in planning to “integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of:

(1) economic competitiveness and revitalization;
(2) social equity, inclusion and access to opportunity;
(3) energy use and climate change; and
(4) public health and environmental impact.”

There were several difficult issues yesterday over which I struggled how to vote. This was not one of them.

This is central planning, top-down government control at its very worst. And, while collaboration and coordination between government units is always wise and welcome, this project has little to do with that. This is about “Smart Growth.” It’s about population density and the evils of the automobile. It’s about subsidized housing, subsidized transit, subsidized economic development and subsidized alternative energy.

The expectation of the Feds for those who receive these grants is that they will take action to promote (or possibly mandate?) six “Livability Principles.”

Those “Livability Principles” (with my parenthetical translations):

(1) Provide More Transportation Choices – Develop save, reliable and affordable transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce energy consumption and dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote public health. (Spend more money on trains)
(2) Promote Equitable, Affordable Housing – Expand location and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation. (Spend more money on subsidized housing)
(3) Enhance Economic Competitiveness – Improve economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs by workers, as well as expanded business access to markets. (Spend even more money on trains)
(4) Support Existing Communities – Target federal funding toward existing communities – through strategies like transit-oriented, mixed-use development and land recycling – to increase community revitalization and the efficiency of public works investments and safeguard rural landscapes. (Subsidize development along transit corridors)
(5) Coordinate Policies and Leverage Investment – Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding and increase accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy. (Subsidize alternative energy projects such as wind turbines and solar panels)
(6) Value Communities and Neighborhoods – Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban or suburban. (Provide government incentives/mandates for more densely populated communities)

And the Feds intend to exercise more control over local decisions for those who receive these grants:

“HUD anticipates having substantial involvement in the work being conducted to ensure that the purposes of the Sustainable Communities Program are being carried out across the region and that the entities are following through on their commitments to sustainable regional development . . . including projects in participating jurisdictions that are funded through other [federal] programs, so that they are implemented in a manner consistent with the Livability Principles and the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development.”

So, even for federal programs outside of the Sustainable Communities Program, the federal government will expect that Hennepin County and its local cities would actively promote the “Livability Principles” of population density, automobile scarcity and government-subsidized everything.

There might be some positive elements to this program, but overall for me, this was an easy “no” vote against more government authority over how people choose to live and travel and more federal control over local government decisions.

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