The marathon Council meeting on March 22, 2016, may have driven some to drink, but it drove me to think. Of late, I have spent countless hours listening to people at City Council meetings, City Council retreats, school board meetings, Planning Commission meetings, Street Commission meetings, and town hall meetings. Add that to conversations I’ve had with public servants, volunteers, community activists, business people, media personalities, school teachers, neighbors, Bible study groups, and the average citizen in the line at the grocery store. Their words reside in my brain, like the family photographs I’ve placed in separate boxes and stuck on shelves here and there in the storeroom. Only by opening the boxes and looking at the photographs could a stranger discover the common thread that ties one to the other, the thread of the subjects in the pictures. Through careful and complete unpacking of the word boxes filled with the needs of the people, I discovered the common thread that connects them is actually twine (defined by Webster as “a strong string of two or more strands twisted together”). The four strands that make up the twine are as follows:
- Water (i.e. reliable clean water source, reliable waste and storm water systems)
- Infrastructure (i.e. streets, bridges)
- Safety (i.e. police, fire, hurricane and emergency preparedness)
- Economic Development (i.e. education, training, jobs, transportation, communication)
If one looks closely, it becomes apparent that each strand is connected to the other three. For example, if my house catches fire, I use my telephone service provider (Economic Development) to dial 911. The operator contacts the fire department (Safety) who dispatches trained firefighters who drive the streets (Infrastructure) to get to my house where they connect a hose to a nearby fire hydrant (Water) to douse the flames and hopefully spare my family loss of life and property. If the council members adopt a comprehensive plan that makes WISE use of tax dollars to ensure these four strands are in place and well-maintained, then my family stands a better chance of moving on with our lives after the smoke has cleared. Fortunately, we the people of Corpus Christi already have such a plan in place, the 1987 Comprehensive Plan, a plan that meets the legal requirements of the City Charter (Article V. Sec. 4) and gives clear direction to City staff so that they can make WISE decisions. Two very WISE gentlemen, Councilman Chad Magill and local businessman, Andy Taubman, have been saying this for some time. One might ask why they are saying anything at all if we have a workable plan in place. The answer lies in a document entitled PlanCC 2035, a plan that could become the law of the land unless people educate themselves and speak out against it.
On February 11, 2015, the City hired Goody Clancy & Associates of Boston, Massachusetts, to serve as the lead consulting firm for PlanCC 2035. The firm held public meetings where they engaged residents, neighborhood and business leaders, community advocates, and stakeholders in the creation of the plan, collected $957,487, but evidently failed to check the City Charter to see if they were on the right legal track. Maybe the tax payers should ask Goody Clancy to repair the plan or refund our money if the plan cannot be brought up to local standards. It’s what we do when we spend hard-earned money at an eatery, and they mess up the order. “It started out as a viable plan until it morphed into something I can no longer support,” said Bart Braselton, a local developer who worked on the plan and offered his opinion before the city council last year when the document was presented to council.
Ralph Coker, a retired petroleum refinery plant manager who writes on business, economic, military and political topics for the Caller-Times, describes it as “a detailed plan for the next 20 years that cannot work.” Chad Magill sees many problems with the plan and has offered his comments in the form of an alternative plan entitled PlanCC 2036. Magill highlights some differences in the two plans on his website:
“Plan CC 2036 takes the best of the existing Comprehensive Plan (a bricks and mortar type of plan) and the best of the Plan CC 2035 (a vision-based type of plan) and marries them into Plan CC 2036. Many ideas in Plan CC 2035 become a Vision Document (Ambitions & Aspirations) that may be used as guiding principles for city staff to use in their future budget recommendations. Plan CC 2036 becomes the Comprehensive Plan that with support by City Council, becomes the Rule of Law. It is important to make very clear that ‘Imprecise language leads to unintended consequences.’ Precise language in the Comprehensive Plan is extremely important. For example, Plan CC 2035 includes absolutely no mention of Public Safety. Even the 1987 Comprehensive Plan included Police, Fire, Public Safety, and other critical public services.”
Andy Taubman outlined the problems he sees with PlanCC 2035 at a Tea Party meeting on March 22, 2016. He began with what he calls flawed wording. In a document he presented to those in attendance, Taubman states:
“According to the City Charter, Article V, Section 5, ‘All city improvements, ordinances and regulations, shall be consistent with the comprehensive plan.’ Future City councils will be guided by it; City staff will be bound by it; and the citizens will make choices in reliance upon it. Because this document will become law, every word must be considered, and each word has the awesome potential to shape the future of our City. For example, the word ‘support’ is used throughout the document. I take this to mean that this could include financial support – thus creating numerous unfunded mandates. The word is so imprecise, one cannot determine the meaning. Imprecise words create bad law. Bad laws will be misused or misapplied.”
Taubman then addressed “Private Property Issues” and the impact of PlanCC 2035 as it is written. For example, on page 13, under Goal 2, it states: “Wetland areas are protected or effectively replaced so that there is no net loss of wetlands.” The private property concern that Taubman sees with this goal is that it “seems to authorize the City power to identify wetlands on private property to halt development or otherwise require expensive mitigation.” Following are a few of the many issues Taubman addresses, along with his analysis of each (Click Andy Taubman PlanCC2035 Analysis July version with markup-1 for full document):
- “Support initiatives for preservation of bird rookeries and similar critical habitat sites.” (p. 13, Policy 3) Private Property Concern: Seems to authorize the City power to identify bird rookeries or other wildlife on private property to halt development or otherwise require expensive mitigation.
- “Support initiatives to improve water quality so that shellfish beds are open and can thrive.” (p. 13, Policy 1) Anti-industrial Regulation Concern: Increased water quality standards will burden the port, port industries, and shipping. It will also probably bring increased scrutiny to run-off which affects farming and other heavy industry that produces or deals with chemicals of any sort. Also, numerous municipalities and industries impact water quality. Will the City have to become the supreme regulatory authority over the bay?
- “Develop a plan for facilities and programs so that every resident has the opportunity to learn how to swim.” (p. 14, Policy 9) Unfunded City Government Mandate: This is the domain of scouting organizations, YMCA, and numerous other private organizations. This is not the appropriate role of government.
- “…reduce single-occupancy vehicle use…” (p. 27, Policy 4) Unfunded City Government Mandate: Unnecessary government regulation. Most likely achieved by making car use more expensive.
- “Support programs to manage the balance of fresh and salt water in the estuary.” (p. 13, Policy 1) Anti-industrial Regulation Concern: Probably would eliminate or substantially burden the possibility of a desalination plant. The effect of a plant is to increase salinity in a localized area.
- “Seek provision of high-speed Internet and telecommunications access to all residents and businesses.” (p. 30, Policy 8) Unfunded City Government Mandate: This is generally envisioned as being provided by the City. Anti-competitive with existing communications providers. Very, very expensive infrastructure required.
- “Support a greenhouse-gas audit and use of renewable energy sources.” (p. 17, Policy 3) Anti-industrial Regulation Concern: First you measure; then you regulate. Targets natural resource extraction, refining, manufacturing, transportation. Will lead to high-cost choices for government programs to make government green.
Taubman said, “To say it’s the role of City government to herd us into those development opportunities is wrong. Not only is it wrong in choices for freedom and what it means for property rights, but it’s a choice which will lead us into bankruptcy.”
On March 23, 2016, Annika Yankee, the PlanCC 2035 Project Manager, gave input to the Planning Commission on the process to review and incorporate City Council members’ comments into the proposed plan. Yankee explained, “We will present all the comments in a matrix by element and chapter.” She also said, “We heard it was a lot of to read and that it would help if staff summarized those comments. We plan to show the actual edit in PlanCC 2035 that results from the comment.” She assured the committee members that they would receive the document two weeks in advance of the hearing which will be held on April 20, 2016, at 5:30 p.m., in Council Chambers.
Hopefully, those who are reading this will take the time to review the current plan, PlanCC 2035, and PlanCC 2036 in order to see the major differences. Then, mark your calendar and weigh-in at the April 20th meeting. The plan must be a WISE one, complete with all the strands, or it should be rejected. It’s just that simple.