March 14, 2010

RALEIGH — Government planners distort terms such as “affordable housing” and “stakeholders” to attack basic individual freedoms. That’s a key message a John Locke Foundation expert sends with the new planning jargon glossary he’s compiled.

Click here to view and here to listen to Dr. Michael Sanera discussing this Regional Brief.

The glossary applies specifically to a new document prepared in connection with Raleigh’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan. Raleigh residents can hear public presentations tonight or Tuesday on that document, “Raleigh’s New Development Code: Diagnostic & Approach Report.”

“This glossary is necessary to help Raleigh’s citizens decipher what planners really mean when they talk about open space, sustainability, best practices, and other terms common in planning reports,” said report author Dr. Michael Sanera, JLF Research Director and Local Government Analyst. “The John Locke Foundation provides this glossary as a public service. Without it, the Diagnostic & Approach Report would be virtually indecipherable. It’s written in ‘PlanningSpeak.'”

Planners are doing more than using technical jargon common to their profession, Sanera said. “They are distorting language intentionally to serve a political end,” he said. “They are using language to cover the reality that their recommendations attack basic individual freedoms.”

This distortion could lead to major problems for people who live in Raleigh, Sanera said. “Specifically, the recommendations in the consultants’ report, if approved and enacted as city ordinances, would transfer many of the most important decisions about the use of private property from the rightful owners to the political process. That political process is dominated by the planners themselves, along with the most powerful and vocal special-interest groups in the city.”

The glossary tackles more than two dozen terms, including “affordable housing.” “Affordable housing is an Orwellian term used by planners to justify extorting homebuilders to sell houses they build at below-market prices,” Sanera said. “The political demand for affordable housing is created by restrictive land-use policies that drive up prices. High prices effectively force low-income families out of the housing market. Absent excessive land-use policies, housing in all price ranges would be available.”

Sanera also tackles the term “stakeholders.” “Stakeholders are special-interest groups who are consulted in developing land-use plans and regulations,” Sanera said. “The general public or the broader public interest or constitutional rights are not considered.”

Some planning terms attack development patterns that most people support, Sanera said. “What planners label ‘cookie-cutter subdivisions’ are the places where the vast majority of people want to live,” he said. “This term shows the disdain planners hold for the tastes of average Americans who want single-family homes at affordable prices.”

Even a term such as “community” is subject to distortion, Sanera said. “Planners use ‘community’ to hide the fact that they and the most active special-interest groups actually control land-use policies in the city,” he said. “While Raleigh’s planners like to boast that the new Comprehensive Plan was formulated with widespread public input, the reality is that only a narrow segment of the population even knew it was being considered.”

“Planners also use ‘community’ to signal that it is the community — meaning planners and interest groups — that controls private property in the city,” Sanera added. “If the city adopts some of the recommendations in the consultants’ report, the ‘community’ will control the location and form of new development, along with buffer requirements, architectural styles of new buildings, even the type of transportation people will use.”

People in Raleigh need to pay attention to this consultants’ report and its jargon, Sanera said. “Raleigh hired consultants to evaluate the city’s existing land-use ordinances and to recommend how those ordinances should change to be consistent with the city’s recently approved 2030 Comprehensive Plan,” he said. “This Diagnostic and Approach Report is an important piece in that process.”

The first open public meeting on the Raleigh consultants’ report was scheduled for noon today. Other meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m. today at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts and 6 p.m. Tuesday at Providence Baptist Church.

“Citizens who are concerned about city government’s efforts to limit their freedom should pay close attention to this process,” Sanera said. “Using the fog of jargon, planners and special-interest groups are trying to take away private property owners’ rights to make critical decisions about their own property.”

Dr. Michael Sanera’s Regional Brief, “A Planners’ Glossary: Understanding Raleigh’s New Development Code, the Diagnostic & Approach Report,” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Sanera at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].