Agenda 21 is an agenda in name only, environmentalists say. The document encourages world governments to consider environmental impacts before developing land or slashing rain forests for resources, said Patty Glick, senior climate-change specialist for the National Wildlife Federation.
“Agenda 21 is the least thing they should be worried about,” said Glick, who like other environmentalists contacted by The Washington Post was surprised at the attention being given the document. “It has no legal or policy implication for local governments in the United States.”
Holt, who began scrutinizing public planning when her interior design business failed after the housing bubble popped, begs to differ. She sees the document as evidence of a global agenda that threatens property rights.
Her suspicions echo those of Tom DeWeese, president of the conservative American Policy Center, who wrote an essay opposing “smart growth” titled “Fight Agenda 21 or Lose Your Freedom.” The ultra-conservative John Birch Society cautions adherents through its Web site that the “Agenda 21 program may already be in your local community, through your home town or city’s membership in . . . Local Governments for Sustainability.”
“I don’t try to shove this down anybody’s throat. I’ve been able to connect the dots,” said Holt, who added that she has spoken against sustainability plans at meetings but doesn’t condone shouting and interrupting speakers. “They’re just doing their jobs.”
Lawrence and other planners have asked counselors for advice on how to control testy audiences. They were told to better explain their plans and recognize people who speak up but also to get rid of standing microphones where angry speakers line up.
“Let them talk, and let them vent,” planner Bruce Peshoff advised. “Sometimes planners . . . are their own worst enemy. They think they have to adhere to a schedule. That just lends to the feeling of oppression.”
In Carroll County planning commission meetings, Agenda 21 kept coming up, said Peshoff, a Kansas planner who was called on to help the county manage its meetings because his firm, Planning Works, emphasizes consensus-building. If the talk took a few extra minutes, “we would go with the flow,” he said. “That way, we didn’t monopolize a meeting.”
In time, a plan that preserved farms by prohibiting economic development that could have enriched some farmers passed, Peshoff said. At the same time, an interstate corridor was designated as an economic generator.
Shereen Hughes, a former planning commissioner in James City County, worried that some officials are giving ground to fearmongers. The uprising against smart growth “is ridiculous” and “a conspiracy theory,” she said.
But it’s effective. Planners aren’t saying this is wrong, Hughes said, because “most are afraid they won’t have a job if they’re too vocal about this issue.” Tea party members have political allies who “might stand up” against planners who complain, Hughes said.
Lawrence, a native of Gloucester County, bristled at being accused of undermining the constitutional rights of Virginians.
“It’s driving public policy sideways,” Lawrence said. “It’s not advancing it. It’s not going backward. The voice of a minority is trying to assert itself as the voice of the majority.”
Nonetheless, he said he has to give a little to get a little. “I welcome them every time,” Lawrence said.
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