Home > Uncategorized > The Cowardice Of The Planners

The Cowardice Of The Planners

NJ’s Tradition Of Regional Planning And Land Use Regulation Undermined, Not Promoted

The Worship of Mammon 1909 painting by Evelyn De Morgan

The Worship of Mammon 1909 painting by Evelyn De Morgan

Back in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Professor Noam Chomsky wrote a powerful essay titled “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” (read the whole thing, it’s timeless).

After beginning his work by tracing a deeply disturbing history, Chomsky broadened the question:

With respect to the responsibility of intellectuals, there are still other, equally disturbing questions. Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us. The responsibilities of intellectuals, then, are much deeper than what Macdonald calls the “responsibility of people,” given the unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy.

Chomsky did not blink in clearly stating the “responsibility of intellectuals” and in assessing the situation:

IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious.

A context which takes us to the implications for today.

Professional planners have very similar responsibilities and are in similar positions to expose lies of government.

They have exactly the same responsibility to “speak the truth”.

The professional planners even have a formal code of ethics that outlines those lofty responsibilities.

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

But just like their plans, those professional ethics are purely “aspirational” and toothless – mere cover for cowardice: (Code of Ethics)

Section A contains a statement of aspirational principles that constitute the ideals to which we are committed. We shall strive to act in accordance with our stated principles. However, an allegation that we failed to achieve our aspirational principles cannot be the subject of a misconduct charge or be a cause for disciplinary action.

This statement from today’s NJ Spotlight story does not satisfy even those aspirations, never mind Chomsky’s far more meaningful responsibilities:

But shifting power to state or regional authorities is a heavy lift, said Jim Gilbert, a former chairman of the State Planning Commission, because that body does not have control over warehouse siting and because any attempt to weaken municipal power will meet strong resistance from defenders of New Jersey’s home-rule tradition.

Worshipping home rule

“As soon as you start talking about comprehensive regional planning, the towns go crazy because they don’t understand that it’s really fundamentally in their interests,” said Gilbert, who advocates for broader authority over warehousing. “Home rule is a religion in New Jersey.”

Yes, some do worship home rule – just as some worship Mammon.

And this cowardly and irresponsible statement by Gilbert is a perfect echo of former Gov. Christie’s dismissal of climate as an “esoteric issue” that distracted from his primary day-to-day focus on Sandy recovery and rebuild: (NJ Spotlight)

“How do you tell [Gov.] Murphy when he’s day-to-day worrying about COVID-19 that he should take on a hornet’s nest like this?” he [Gilbert] asked.

Under exactly the same excuse Gilbert provided for Gov. Murphy, recall that former Gov. Christie said this:

 “Now, maybe in the subsequent months and years, after I get done with trying to rebuild the state and put people back in their homes, I will have the opportunity to ponder the esoteric question of the cause of this storm. …If you asked of these people in Union Beach, I don’t think they give a damn.” NJ Gov. Chris Christie, Feb. 5. 2013

We’ll post a substantive analysis of the issues raised by Gilbert in a future post when I have more time (I’m on the road right now).

For now, we’ll simply provide a few facts and some history that were ignored by NJ Spotlight and Mr. Gilbert: (and remarkably, for what can only be corruption at this point, NJ Spotlight again ignored: a) the regulatory powers of the DEP, b) the entire issue of climate emergency, c) the 6 WQMP’s now pending before DEP, d) NJ’s regional planning institutions (Highlands, HMC, and Pinelands), e) preservation of farms and forests, and f) gross abuse of NJ’s redevelopment law):

1. We’ve long been a critic of the toothless State Plan, a plan my good friend Bill Neil once long ago called “the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the people of NJ”.

But back in 1994 – as Mr. Gilbert knows – then NJ Gov. Jim Florio issued Executive Order #114 .

That Order directed DEP, among other State agencies, to integrate the State Plan in DEP plans, programs, permits, and regulations, thus giving the State Plan regulatory teeth. That Order was never implemented. It was opposed by professional planners, including some in DEP (last names: Schmidt, Whitney, Van Abs, Bierbaum, and Weingart – more to follow on that).

2. In 2002, Gov. McGreevey’s DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell sought to enforce environmentally based land use policies via the flawed and failed “Big Map” fiasco.

But that failure, as I advised him at the time, did provide cover for and help catalyze incredible progress on land use, specifically, passage of the Highlands Act and DEP’s Category One buffer regulations that protect over 2,200 stream miles and 175,000 acres of some of the most ecologically rich lands.

3. Gov. Byrne’s and Kean’s leadership and aggressive exercise of executive power gave us the Pinelands Act and the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act. Both those laws over-ride “Home Rule”.

4. “Home rule” may be worshipped, but professional planners know and are obligated to tell the public that it is a legal fiction.

Under the NJ Constitution, Municipalities are creatures of the Legislature. The land use powers of municipalities are delegated by the Legislature under the NJ Municipal Land Use Law. Those local land use powers were created by the Legislature and can be taken back by the Legislature. The legislature has done exactly that in numerous laws.

(For a lesson in hypocrisy: why didn’t those “home rule” worshipers and professional planner make a peep of protest when the Legislature pre-empted local land use and police powers to regulate logging of public lands?)

5.  Many shared the Jim Gilbert’s false, cowardly, and corrupt view of “home rule” and claimed that stronger regional planning and DEP regulation were not politically feasible.

Had we listened to them, we would not have the Pinelands Act, the Highlands Act, the Freshwater Wetlands Act, or the Category One stream buffers, among many others.

In more profiles in courage, we note (NJ Spotlight):

Murphy’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether he favors broader oversight of warehouse-planning authority. Mike McGuinness, chief executive of the New Jersey branch of NAIOP, a commercial real estate trade group that represents developers, also did not respond to a request for comment. …

The New Jersey League of Municipalities did not respond to requests for comment.

The series of “no comment” from most of the players should tell you something: they are afraid, because they KNOW that they have no leg to stand on in defense of warehouses and the disgraceful loss of farmland and forests.

It’s time to go on offense and preserve what little farmland and forests that are left.

So, we’ll close with a quote from our good friend, Bill Neil, who previously was Director of Conservation back in the days when NJ Audubon had integrity:

a “little Caesar” in every one of the 560 munis.  It’s local democracy of course, but also a multiplication of the game “pay to play,” and don’t forget, next to the power of the  Federal Reserve over currency, the ability to zone in real estate is the power to create or take away wealth, and that’s the other hidden side of ‘home rule.”  Second only to the Fed. Reserve.”

[End Note: Thanks again to a knowledgeable reader, I was reminded that my take on Mr. Gilbert, NJ professional planners ,and the NJ State Plan go back almost 40 years, to the Hopewell Merrill Lynch development war in the late 1980’s.

Not only was the State Plan exposed as a toothless fraud by that debate, but Mr. Gilbert’s role was questioned because he retired from Merrill Lynch.

However, while I was the point of the spear in this Hopewell Merrill Lynch war, I was not aware that Mr. Gilbert now serves on the Boards of not only the private corporate planning group NJ Future, but also the NJ League of Conservation Voters, and the Highlands Coalition.

No wonder the environmental/conservation community, the Highland Coalition, and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance are so lame on these issues and has allowed NJ Future to frame the issues and limit the policy Reforma agenda.

More Green Mafia. You can’t make this shit up. I should have titled this “The Corruption of the Planners”.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
You must be logged in to post a comment.