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Christie Administration Privatizes Climate Adaptation & Coastal Planning

 Corporate Planning Replaces NJ’s Long Tradition of Public Planning

State responsibilities outsourced to ineffective private, local, and voluntary efforts

Let’s begin today from first principles, and start on the high road:

  • There is no more important responsibility and duty of government than to protect the lives of people.
  • Efforts to protect people’s lives are essential and core government functions and powers.
  • Those powers and functions can not and must not be abdicated or delegated to private groups.
  • The public must play a major role in developing policies and plans that impact their lives.
  • Planning for adaptation to climate change is an essential government function.

These principles hold true whether the planning function is related to the State Development and Redevelopment Plan; the Water Supply Master Plan; The Coastal Zone Management Plan, The Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, the Highlands Regional Plan, or any of a slew of planning functions conducted by State government and regional planning entities – all of which have been derailed, disabled, destroyed, or delayed by the Christie Administration.

I’ve written about this set of issues several times previously and explained exactly why it was so irresponsible to outsource climate adaptation planning to private groups, specifically including NJ Future. So today’s NJ Spotlight story that features the work of the private planning group NJ Future requires that I respond.

NJ Future Is A Private Planning Outfit That Can Not Replace Government

The timing of the NJ  Spotlight feature of NJ Future (NJF) is particularly galling and a disgusting display of sycophancy parading as journalism, especially given the recent negative press coverage and editorial condemnation of NJ Future’s role in the controversy at Liberty State Park (LSP).

Scott Gurian is either an incompetent reporter, or his NJ Foundation funders are dictating coverage.

As the Bergen Record first reported, NJF secretly sought and received a $120,000 grant from the Christie DEP to conduct a study of privatization potential at Liberty State Park. Surely NJF knew that privatization and commercialization of LSP has been an extremely controversial issue for decades.

Despite huge historical battles over privatization of LSP that NJF must be aware of, NJ Future conducted that study in secret, involved no one, and kept that study secret. NJF kept that study secret despite widespread public outrage over legislation to promote development of LSP. NJF continues to refuse to release the study publicly.

These are egregious transgressions that violate the values, norms and ethics of professional planners:

Our primary obligation is to serve the public interest and we, therefore, owe our allegiance to a conscientiously attained concept of the public interest that is formulated through continuous and open debate.[…]

We owe diligent, creative, and competent performance of the work we do in pursuit of our client or employer’s interest. Such performance, however, shall always be consistent with our faithful service to the public interest.

On Monday, the Star Ledger editorial board harshly citicized NJF as one of Governor Christie’s “enablers” in a scheme to privatize and commercialize Liberty State Park, a national icon. SLEB wrote:

What that scheme entails remains a mystery. For five months, the DEP has possessed a report commissioned from NJ Future on the park’s development potential. It won’t let you read it, even though you paid $120,000 for it.

Just yesterday, I again noted NJ Future’s improper role and compromised relationship to the Christie Administration, and DEP in particular:

10) DEP’s role in planning, climate adaptation, and local land use and water supply issues should not be outsourced to non-profit groups, like Sustainable NJ and NJ Future – to avoid politically tough decisions and controversies.

NJ Future is a private planning group whose board is dominated by corporate real estate, energy, finance, and development interests. They have no duty, obligation or accountability to the public and operate under no legal or public policy framework. They have a cozy relationship with and are funded by the Christie DEP.

So, given their secret LSP scheme with the Christie Administration alone, NJF can not be trusted to serve the public interest or play an open, impartial, and transparent role in a public planning process or be an honest broker in any negotiation.

Gov. Christie outsourced controversial climate work

Planning for adaptation to climate change involves protection of people’s lives. That kind of work is an essential government function and can not and should NOT be outsourced, delegated, or conducted by a private entity.

The federal Coastal Zone Management Act and NJ’s Coastal Area Facilities Review Act vest the power and responsibility to plan for the coastal zone in State NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Legally, coastal planning for adaptation to climate change (in the coastal zone or inland) is a state government level function that can not be delegated to or replaced by local planning under the Municipal Land Use Law.

The NJ Future work NJ Spotlight favorably profiles violates core principles: it is not democratically accountable to the public, it relies on local government land use and voluntary measures, and it is outsourced and replaces State DEP core responsibilities.

For those interested in the details, I’ve written about exactly how those DEP planning and vulnerability assessment responsibilities in the coastal zone have been grossly mismanaged by the Christie DEP, see:

For a superb take on these issues from the national perspective – a critical investigative story you won’t get from Scott Gurian at Foundation Funded NJ Spotlight or the coastal advocacy groups on DEP’s payroll –  readers can revisit this Huffington Post story:

“[Gov. Christie has] done the exact opposite of what’s needed to be done,” said Bill Wolfe, a former Department of Environmental Protection planner and policy analyst who now leads the watchdog group New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “He has been affirmatively promoting regulatory relief and taking away any development, land use planning and infrastructure expertise at the department.” …

The status quo is that you just put everything back,” said Mark Mauriello, a former commissioner for New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, who worked in the agency’s coastal program for two decades. “Looking ahead, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see areas damaged again, people hurt, and the same kind of misery we’ve seen here. Clearly, I hope people realize that’s not a good plan for the future.”

The Christie Administration recklessly outsourced this climate adaptation work because for political reasons, Gov. Christie wants nothing to do with the issues related to climate change.

That’s not popular in the energy industry that writes the campaign checks or with the right wing climate denying base of the republican party who dominate the Presidential primaries Christie is now engaged in.

Recall that Christie said climate change was an “esoteric” issue he had no time for in Sandy recovery planning.

NJ is the only coastal state in the northeast with no State Climate Adaptation Plan.

Is NJ Future’s small bore work a substitute for a State Plan?

Why did the Christie DEP emergency CAFRA and Flood Hazard rules weaken existing protections and fail to meet FEMA minimum requirements?

Why did Christie DEP Bob Martin abolish the Coastal Planning Office in the Commissioner’s Office and bury it in the bureaucracy?

Why did the Christie DEP downsize and virtually abandon the vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning pilot programs they were developing?

These are the issues that need investigative journalism and reporting.

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