Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Smart Growth and Zoning Laws--Changing the Way We Worship Part I

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 1st Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the U.S.Constitution.

I am writing this post at the end of the third day of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court about the constitutionality of ObamaCare.  Like many other Americans, I am deeply concerned that this ill-conceived bill strips us of our rights and freedoms and gives the Federal government unprecedented power over the lives of Americans.

As all of us keep our eyes fixed on the outcome of the court case,  we often overlook the fact that only in a few cases does Congress actually pass a law that tramples on our freedoms.  More often our liberties are being infringed on by local zoning boards and federal agencies that are out of control.  And since these infringements are local and smaller in nature, they often go largely unnoticed as they chip away at the very foundations of our liberty.

Last night I went to see the one night event for the documentary Monumental.  I highly recommend this Kirk Cameron Documentary about the search for America's greatest national treasure.  As I sat in the theater being reminded that many of our forefathers came to this country to find religious freedom and to be allowed to worship God according to their consciences, I was also reminded that the ability to worship in the manner we please is rapidly disappearing.

Since the first of the year, I have been doing a series on how UN Agenda 21 is remaking America through zoning ordinances calling for Smart Growth and Sustainability that will change every aspect of American life.  Since we are now nearing the end of Lent and we are one week away from both Easter Sunday and Passover, I am going to devote this week and next week's posts to examining the ways in which Smart Growth and Sustainability initiatives threaten our First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.

Few Americans seem to understand that while the Bill of Rights may guarantee the right to worship, the right to free speech and the right to freedom of assembly, local zoning boards all across the U.S. are taking those rights away.  Smart Growth threatens faith communities of all types and sizes from small to large, all across the country. 

Next week I am going to talk about this issue in terms of established congregations meeting in a building--a faith community or "church" or "synagogue".  But today I want to talk about the issue in a more informal sense--the home based Bible study or prayer group.

I was raised Baptist by parents who became part of the Jesus movement of the 1970's.  I spent my early life in either Baptist or non-denominational Charismatic churches.  Many of the latter started as a Bible Study in someone's home.  Some of these remained just as Bible studies and prayer groups but others actually grew into full-fledged churches.  The biggest non-denominational church in El Paso started this way--today they claim membership of over 6000 people.

Today many established Protestant churches still rely heavily on the home Bible Study model to allow members to have a place to meet during the week for fellowship, friendship and teaching.  And while I cannot speak for other Christian communities, as Evangelicals we are used to a lot of freedom.  We go to a given church as long as we like the pastor--when we stop liking him we go elsewhere.  Our surroundings don't really matter--as long as we have a Bible and a guitar we have church.

But for the last several years we are seeing our ability to meet together for friendship, Bible study and exhortation threatened all across the U.S. And new interpretations of zoning laws do not affect only Christians--any person of any faith can be impacted by a zoning board, and ultimately a court's ability to decide whether you have a right to meet together with other like-minded people for the purposes of religious expression. Look at these recent cases:

  1. November, 2009:  The seven member Oasis of Truth Church in Gilbert, Arizona received a cease and desist letter from the Gilbert, Arizona, zoning board compliance officer telling Pastor Joe Sutherland that based on Gilbert's Land Development Code the pastor may not hold religious meetings in his home, regardless of their size, nature or frequency.  The small church, which actually consisted of three married couples and their four children, rotated the meetings from member house to house.  The officer who issued the cease and desist letter did not receive a complaint about the meetings but rather found a sign announcing the meetings.  The Gilbert, Arizona, zoning board argued that its zoning code does not allow churches to host home meetings of any size including Bible studies, three person leadership meetings, or potluck dinners. The ordinance was written because of concerns with traffic, parking and building safety codes but does not apply to civic organizations including Cub Scouts or private parties in homes, or business functions regardless of size held in private homes.  The Alliance Defense Fund appealed Gilbert's decision on behalf of the church.  Meanwhile the church was forced to rent a room at a local school to meet for a few hours on Sunday. 
  2. September 22, 2011:  Stephanie and Chuck Fromm of San Juan Capistrano, California, received a fine of $300 and a threat of fines of $500 per day if they continue a home Bible study without a permit. The Fromms have lived in their home 18 years and regularly host 40 to 50 friends and family members from 10: AM to noon on Sundays for a Bible study.  There is no music at these meetings; the meetings are quiet and "contemplative."  Many of the couples attending the study carpool so there are many fewer cars than attendees.  According to the ABC News report, the Fromms have one next door neighbor and six acres of empty land on the other side of their house.  Most of the neighborhood is fine with their Bible Study, but one neighbor complained to the zoning department. The zoning ordinance requires that meetings of "religious fraternal or nonprofit organizations...require approval of a conditional use permit."  The Pacific Justice Institute--which last week won a case before the US Supreme Court regarding another California couples' battle with the EPA over property rights--agreed to take their case.
  3. March 23, 2011:  Isaac Feder and his wife Judith, Hasidic Jews living in Palm Beach, Florida, turned an extra condo they own in Century City Village condominium complex into a house of prayer. Neighbors in the primarily Jewish community complained that the Feder's constant praying and the coming and going were disruptive. The Feders visit Florida only in the winter--they argued that they use the extra condo for guests as well as for praying, but a Florida Judge did not agree.  The county zoning board ordered the prayers to stop on the grounds that the condo was actually a makeshift synagogue.  Local station WPBF summarized the county's argument, "You can pray in your home, but you can't buy a home just to pray in."  The Feders' case is a little unique because nearly all parties involved, both participants and complainants were Jewish so that the battle over whether they could pray in the extra condo was really an issue between Orthodox and Modern Judaism.  According to The Blaze, "Jewish residents at Century Village talk freely about their condo community being overrun by the more zealous members of their own religion whom they view as clannish and disrespectful of social norms--most notably turning community pools into ritual cleansing baths."  But the Feders' supporters argued that the meetings were quiet--they made no noise and that in order to pray they need a minyan which is 10 men.  Since the judge's ruling, the prayers have ceased.
In each of the above mentioned cases, the people involved assembled peacefully for the purposes of exercising their religion and in each case, that right was denied them.  As Smart Growth and Sustainability sweeps across the US changing zoning ordinances, we are going to see more and more that home religious services are not allowed and are not welcome.  This in turn will limit the options for worship available to people of faith.  The real question will then become, are we as a nation going to continue to sit back and allow our local zoning boards to take away our basic rights as U.S. citizens?

Next week:  Part II:  Dictating Our Houses of Worship

Alexandra Swann's new novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven government is available on Kindle and in paperback. She is also the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. For more information, visit her website at Frontier 2000

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nowhere to Hide: Part III--Looking Forward to $9.00 A Gallon Gas

Energy Secretary Steven Chu made a lot of headlines yesterday when he told Congressman Darrell Issa during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he would grade himself an "A" on his handling of gas prices and energy. His comments were immediately retweeted on Twitter and repeated by numerous pundits who wondered how Chu can consider his handling of energy worthy of an A when gas prices have risen from an average of $1.85 a gallon in 2009 to an average of $3.87 a gallon now.  (In fact gas prices in some parts of the country are now over $5.00 a gallon.)

Similarly, the President has been touting his energy policies lately.  Today he is on a "good will tour" of sorts in New Mexico and Nevada where he will talk about his commitment to clean energy as well as to traditional fossil fuels, and he will undoubtedly remind all of us that there is really very little he can do about gas prices.

Anyone who follows the news at all knows by now that the price of oil is largely driven by speculation, and we have all heard recent assertions that the U.S. has enough of its own oil supply to supply our country for two hundred years.  Therefore, I am not going to speculate here about what Obama or anyone else in his administration should be doing to fix this problem.  I am just going to take a few paragraphs today to talk about why the Administration is unconcerned (apparently) about gas prices.

It is easy to label politicians and their appointees as clueless and then to use their own statements as proof that they really don't have any idea what they are doing.  Such is the case with Secretary Chu.  Last night, cable news replayed the clips of him asserting that he deserves an A for his energy policies. In the eyes of most viewers this statement probably makes him seem very inept.  In fact, I think that he really believes that A is very much deserved, and I also believe that if we look at the world through the lens of "sustainability" we might even give him an A+.  Why?  In 2008, Chu said that in order to foster real progress in clean energy we needed to get gas prices up the same levels they are in Europe.  In other words, Americans won't support or invest in clean, renewable energy until we make the current alternatives so expensive that they are out of reach of the average person.

Today, we will hear a lot of sound bites about clean, renewable energy.  Recently, the President told Americans that he looks forward to a day when we can convert algae into energy--there is a plentiful supply of algae in the world, and we should be using it as a fuel. Is the President so calm now because he knows in his heart that a little pain at the pump in the short-term will eventually lead to alternative energy development--green projects like Solyndra that actually work rather than just crashing and burning costing the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the process?

I don't believe that President Obama and Secretary Chu are clueless at all--I think they "get it" in a way that few Americans realize.  The high cost of oil is not about inducing us to invest in clean energy--it is about inducing Americans to change their lifestyles completely.  It is not about getting everybody to invest in a hybrid car--it is about getting Americans to give up their much-loved automobiles in favor of public transportation. As long as the government can continue to throw money at green-energy projects that fail, they can continue to shrug off those failures with  an "Aw Shucks, I guess we just don't have the technology yet," attitude that belies the real problem--the government does not want to find a solution because the real solution is for Americans and all developed nations to stop consuming the world's resources.  I am quite certain that if we did learn how to convert algae into energy, within 2 years we would learn that algae is an essential resource and that we are destroying the eco-system to power our filthy little algae burning automobiles.

All of my posts this year have been centered around UN Agenda 21, its implementation through Smart Growth, and the threats to our nation and our liberties that this poses.  This year, 2012, is the 20th anniversary of UN Agenda 21.  In 1992 when the UN passed this non-binding resolution, Earth Summit Secretary-General Maurice Strong warned us that, "Current lifestyles and consumption patterns of the affluent middle-class--involving high meat intake, the use of fossil fuels, electrical appliances, home and work-place air conditioning and suburban housing--are not sustainable."  For the past two decades, proponents of Agenda 21 have been working through a public relations' campaign to persuade Americans that the standard of living that this country has enjoyed is wrong.  Unfortunately, while Americans as a whole may feel some sort of collective guilt about using up the world's resources, individually we don't want to give up our cars, or our central heating and air conditioning, or our appliances, or our single family residences.  That is why Smart Growth Communities which demand dense housing, narrow streets, and very little parking, have not enjoyed much success.  As I explained last week, this is a carrot and a stick approach--eliminating more desirable options is essential to the success of Smart Growth.

The American love affair with the automobile is notorious.  In his book, Reagan's War, Peter Schweitzer describes an episode in the 1950's where a Communist Eastern Block nation objected to a Hollywood film about factory workers.  The reason for their objection--the factory parking lot was full of cars.  The censors refused to believe that in the US regular workers had their own private automobiles--this must be capitalist propaganda!  But within a few decades, the reality of auto ownership in our country had expanded. As families became dual income, they increasingly became dual automobile as well.  Not one but two cars is now an expectation for families in our society. 

Unfortunately for us, the requirements of Agenda 21 are that we stop using fossil fuels, give up our cars, and take up mass transit.  Randal O'Toole, a former professor at Yale University who is now with the CATO Instititute, is the author of Gridlock: Why We're Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About it.  O'Toole has written and spoken extensively about the dangers of Smart Growth--YouTube has videos of his interviews.  In April of 2010,  O'Toole was invited to speak in Tulsa, Oklahoma about the PlaniTulsa project.  His remarks here are taken from the story that the Tulsa Beacon did about the event. 

"I want to talk to you about the American dream," O'Toole began, "To own a home, start a business, to have mobility and own property.  'Smart growth' is a threat to the American Dream.  That's what PlaniTulsa is all about...The average person in America travels 19,000 miles a year and 85% of that is by automobile. They [the Obama Administration] are trying to force people out of their cars."

O'Toole cites that the fact that in January of 2010, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood ended cost effectiveness rules for federal transit grants--basically that means that he will fund them no matter how much money they lose.  According to O'Toole such a move was necessary because cities that invest in light rail have lost millions and sometimes billions of dollars on these projects.  He cites the example of Dallas, Texas, which invested $550 million in light rail at a cost per passenger of $12,250.  As O'Toole points out, for the amount they spent they could have bought every passenger his or her own car.  Similarly, Austin, Texas, also invested in light rail.  At the time the city started the light rail process, the bus system had $200 million in the bank, but the commuter train project eventually went bankrupt, and "the director resigned in disgrace."

In Portland, which O'Toole calls home, the light rail system cost $3 billion--more than 30 times the original.  Light rail is incredibly cost ineffective as compared to other modes of transportation.  According to O'Toole, flying costs 14 cents per passenger mile; taking the bus costs 15 cents per passenger mile; a car costs 15 cents per passenger mile.  Amtrak, which receives considerable federal subsidies, costs 60 cents per passenger mile, and high speed rail costs 75 cents per passenger mile.

In addition to the huge upfront expense of the light rail and commuter train system, there is another problem--people don't want to use it.  In spite of a huge city wide commitment to public transportation in the form of light rails, trolleys and buses, self-proclaimed veteran environment journalist Todd Woody writes in his blog Grist that only 12.2% of Portland residents take public transportation to work, 4.9% walk to work and 61.5% drive to work alone. This is in spite of the fact that downtown Portland contains the "free rail zone" where the public light rail system is actually free to ride.

And that takes us back to $9.00 a gallon gas.  As with all great love affairs, the only way to part the happy couple is by creating a situation so dire that continuing to remain together is unthinkable.  No matter how much we love our cars, in a tight economy made increasingly tighter by high regulations, and next year possibly mandated health insurance premiums and high taxes, we simply will not have the funds to continue to feed our favorite passion.  The high price of gas, coupled with the unavailability of mortgage financing for single family homes, will force Americans to begin moving into Smart Communities and accepting New Urbanism--whether we want to or not.

If I were grading Secretary Chu I would give him an A+ for succeeding in creating an environment where he can force Americans to accept a lifestyle that is completely at odds with their basic hopes and aspirations.  But I would also give American voters an F for allowing politicians with UN-based agendas to destroy our way of life.
Alexandra Swann's new novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven government is available on Kindle and in paperback. She is also the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. For more information, visit her website at Frontier 2000

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nowhere to Hide--Part II

During the Great Depression, families across the United States lost their homes and jobs and found themselves standing in food lines.  With so many people out of work, prices on all products fell, including prices on food.  To stabilize food prices, FDR implemented a system for paying farmers to destroy livestock and dairy. In the name of stabilizing the economy farmers were paid to pour milk into ditches and to slaughter livestock at a time when many Americans were going hungry,

I was reminded of this sad time in U.S. history this week as I looked at the state of housing and foreclosures in the U.S.  I have been writing a series on New Urbanism and Smart Growth and last week I mentioned that while Smart Growth and New Urbanism have ardent supporters, these concepts also have passionate opponents.  But the main obstacle to the implementation of New Urbanism is the upwardly mobile American who clings not only to our "guns and religion" but also to our single family residence in the suburbs and our SUVs.  And while urban planners can change zoning laws requiring that new structures be built conforming to their  high density standards, inducing Americans to actually move into crowded cities and live in tiny apartments is going to require eliminating all other options.  Much like the federal government in the thirties, our governments today--on a state, local and federal level--are destroying access to housing to ensure that we will have to live where they say we can live.

Last year about 1.7 million homes in the U.S. were in some phase of foreclosure.  However, many of those homes did not actually complete the foreclosure process--not because the homeowners were able to start making the payments--but because legal bickering between banks and state attorney generals over foreclosure processes, including robo-signing, halted the foreclosure processes.  However, with the $26 billion dollar settlement over foreclosure processes between state attorney generals and major banking entities, the foreclosure process is back up and rolling, and this year approximately between 850,000 and 1,000,000 Americans are expected to lose their homes.

I have written about the foreclosure process several times in this blog.  With some notable exceptions for people who were wrongly foreclosed, most of these foreclosures are long overdue.  As of the middle of last year, many homeowners had been occupying their defaulted properties for over 400 days without making a single payment.  That does not make sense on any level--either for the homeowner who cannot afford the property and needs to move on to a property he can afford or for the bank who made a mortgage loan that is not being repaid.  What is interesting, though, is the fate of these properties.

Professionals in the housing industry worry about the consequences of nearly 1,000,000 foreclosed homes on an already debilitated housing market.  However, if mortgage loans and mortgage credit were more readily available to Americans, these homes could be sold to provide housing for a new generation of homeowners and taken off the market.  But rather than an easing of credit which would allow these homes to be purchased as single family residences, the federal government is instead tightening mortgage standards that already are so strict that many people with good incomes and good credit are having trouble obtaining financing.

Under the direction of Richard Cordray, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has announced that it will be finishing and implementing the new standards for qualified residential mortgages.  Based on the CFPB's schedule, we expect that this will be done prior to October of 2012, and when the new standards go into effect, only a small minority of Americans will qualify to purchase homes at low interest rates and favorable terms. (For an explanation of the qualified residential mortgage see, Qualified Residential Mortgages the Worst Idea Yet and Risk Retention, Qualified Residential Mortgages, and the Future of Housing).  Since the qualified residential mortgages are actually outlined in the Dodd Frank Bill, without repeal of the law, or at least this part of the law, the implementation of these new mortgages is inevitable, and the QRMs take home ownership off the table as an option for many Americans.

So what are we to with 1,000,000 empty homes?  The Federal Housing Finance Authority put out calls last fall for investors to bid on purchasing these homes in bulk and renting them out. For information on this see The Heist.  Now it seems that Fannie Mae has selected some investors who will be allowed to purchase the rentals.  Fannie Mae will offer 2500 foreclosed properties in Atlanta, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles/Riverside and three Florida regions to include single family homes and multi-unit apartments. So rather than making these homes available for sale, the government is going to bundle them together and sell them in bulk to be converted into rentals.  The Wall Street investors buying the properties are the pimary  beneficiaries of this plan.

Still, hundreds of thousands of foreclosures remain vacant.  To deal with these remaining properties, banks and local municipalities are turning to a different strategy--demolition.  On February 9, 2012, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that he would be using $75 million of the $97 million which Ohio received as its portion of the $26 billion dollar settlement with banks over faulty foreclosures to demolish 100,000 vacant, foreclosed properties which are bringing down property values in their neighborhoods.  The $26 billion dollar settlement was initially supposedly going to right the wrongs of improper foreclosures, but the we soon learned that in reality that qualified former homeowners who have been victims of an improper foreclosure will get $2000.00 for their pain and suffering.  The individual states involved in the settlement then get their portion of $26 billion dollars which, in Ohio's case, will be used to set up a matching fund for cities who have allocated funds to tear down these houses.  Much as during the Depression when milk was poured into ditches while families went hungry, single family homes are being demolished at a time when many Americans cannot qualify to purchase a home.

The state of Ohio is not the only place where this is occurring.  In August of 2011, Time Business posted an article by Stephen Gandel, "Bulldoze: The New Way to Foreclose."  "Increasingly, it appears that banks are turning to demolition teams instead of realtors to rid themselves of their least valuable repossessed homes."  According to the article, Bof A announced plans to demolish 100 homes in Cleveland and to donate the land to local government authorities.  The banking giant had already completed such a project in Detroit and in Chicago and planned to add as many as nine more cities by the end of the year.  According to Gandel, Wells Fargo donated 800 houses, although Wells Fargo pointed out that very few of these were demolished--most were donated to non profit organizations and renovated.  JP Morgan Chase says that since 2008 it has donated more than 1900 houses to city and county officials.  For the banks, demolition of the houses and donation of the land, or in some cases donation of the entire property, is a win-win since once the houses are donated the bank is no longer responsible for taxes or maintenance on the property.  There is also speculation that the banks can receive a tax benefit for the donation.  For the cities and municipalities the benefits are clear--land once owned privately is now their property to use as they wish.

Gandel writes that the Cleveland-based Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp "has been one of the most aggressive local-government organizations in striking these deals."  "Local governments like these deals because they get free land to use for development or open space," writes Gandel.  Not surprisingly, the Cuyahoga County Land Reutlization Corp, which identifies itself on its website as a, "quasi-government" organization, appears to be deeply committed to new urbanism and smart growth.  Cuyhoga Land Bank's website states that, "An aggressive demolition policy is an essential foundation for our future."  Under the Our Principles tab they write, "The Cuyahoga Land Bank is committed to healthy, sustainable community redevelopment within Cuyahoga County.  The Land Bank exhibits this on-going commitment through efforts such as strategic blight clearance, deconstruction, the appropriate and innovative re-use of vacant land, and the use of energy efficient, green rehabilitation and new construction standards."  In other words, we've got to demolish as much of the existing property as we can to make way for Smart Growth.

Smart Growth and Smart Code have apparently been alive and thriving for some time in Ohio and particularly in Cleveland.  A group called EcoCity Cleveland has been working on converting Ohio to Smart Growth principles for over a decade.  The group changed its name to Green City Blue Lake; a review of their website reveals a "Climate Change Action Plan" on the home page as well as announcements for the 4th annual sustainability summit at the Cleveland Public Auditorium in September and an invitation for Sustainable Cleveland 2019 stakeholders to attend a reporting and social get together Tuesday April 3rd.  This last soiree promises that it will "provide an opportunity to connect with other groups and individuals to accelerate our mission to 'build an economic engine to empower a green city on a blue lake.'"

While it is not surprising that environmentalists and proponents of Smart Growth have apparently hijacked the city and county governments in Ohio, as they have in so many other metropolitan areas, what is surprising is that they have done such a good job of spreading the gospel of New Urbanism that a republican like Mike DeWine, who actually endorsed Rick Santorum for president, would spend $75 million destroying 100,000 private homes.  With each demolition of each home, Dewine, knowingly or unknowingly, is moving Ohio one step closer to a statist, environmentalist society where individuals no longer can choose where or how they live.  The government and the municipal planners will make those decisions for them.

Fortunately, Gov. John Kasich appears to be an enemy of mass transit, an essential component of new Urbanism, so there may be some hope for Ohio yet.  Let's just hope that he can convert some fellow Ohio residents before all of their housing options have been eradicated.

Next week:  Why $9.00 a gallon gas (or higher) would be a great thing!

Alexandra Swann's new novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven government is available on Kindle and in paperback. She is also the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. For more information, visit her website at Frontier 2000

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Nowhere to Hide--Part I

About 10 years ago, our uber-liberal state senator Eliot Shapleigh was in the middle of a long war to close ASARCO--the copper smelter that had operated in El Paso, Texas for about 90 years.  As he and his anti-ASARCO co-horts forced the company out of the city, the EPA came in right on their heels promising to clean up all the environmental damage done by the smelter to the adjacent parts of the city.

As the past president of the El Paso Association of Mortgage Brokers, I was invited to the community meetings where the EPA proposed remapping westside El Paso, central El Paso, and downtown El Paso into a "superfund" so that the EPA could perform clean up.  They promised that in any superfund area, their agents would remove about 18 inches of contaminated top soil and replace it with new clean top soil.  They would replace the plants.  In short, this sounded like an opportunity for residents of the affected areas to get brand new landscaping at the federal government's (AKA the taxpayers) expense.

As we continued to attend the meetings, we began to notice that the EPA's map appeared to be growing.  Rather than just being concerned with the areas immediately next to ASARCO, the EPA was now talking about expanding the Superfund area to include high cost areas such as Rim Road--an exclusive neighborhood comprised of homes built in the 1920s on amazing view lots--and it's less expensive but still desirable cousin Kern Place.  The map continued to grow until it encompassed much of downtown El Paso.

All the EPA needed was for the residents of El Paso to agree voluntarily to have their neighborhoods listed in Superfund and then the spending could begin.  But as we researched the Superfund issues, we discovered that there was a problem--a huge problem--which the EPA had neglected to share with the residents during its prolonged sales pitch.

I was not able to attend the final meeting because of a conflicting appointment, but my mother, Joyce, who is an owner of our business and had attended all of the meetings to that point, agreed to go in my place. And on that last day she stood to her feet and informed the residents who were now lusting after new top soil and fresh plants that if they agreed to put their homes into the Superfund, they would have to live with one very profound consequence.  "Homes in a Superfund cannot obtain financing through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac," she told them.  "That means that for as long as this clean up takes, you will not be able to refinance your homes.  You will not be able to sell your homes. You are married to these properties for however many years this takes."

The members of the community at the meeting were stunned, but when they looked to the representative of the EPA for confirmation, they knew that this new piece of information was the truth. "Well, in Chicago, a local bank does all of the loans for these properties," she sputtered.

"That means portfolio financing, which is very hard to get and usually very expensive," my mother reiterated. "Fannie and Freddie will not buy loans on these properties, so you are going to have to understand that before you do this.  We don't know how long this process will take.  It may take many years.  Are you willing to live with that?"

After getting some confirmation that this was the truth, the group decided not to go forward with the Superfund after all.  Interestingly, in 2011 when El Paso, Texas, received the EPA's Smart Growth award, it was for the plans for the ASARCO area.  I have no doubt that had they been able to get the residents' permission to put the surrounding neighborhoods in the Superfund, all of this land would now be zoned for Smart Growth.

I was reminded of that incident this week as the El Paso City Council unanimously passed its new comprehensive plan for the city of El Paso.  The new comprehensive plan calls for Smart Growth, New Urbanism, and High Density.  Major corridors such as North Mesa Street now have overlays as transportation corridors.  I have been told by developers that these overlays will function very much as the Superfund would have in these areas.  Homes and businesses will be zoned legal non-compliant--meaning that the existing structure can stay where it is, but it cannot obtain financing and in case of a fire or damage it cannot be rebuilt as it presently exists.  If the building must be rebuilt, it must be rebuilt to "Smart Code" which requires less parking, more walkable space, and higher density structures.

El Paso, Texas, is one of approximately 550 US cities that are members of ICLEI--Local Governments for Sustainability.  ICLEI--originally The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives--is an organization devoted to urbanizing the world.  The proponents of this urbanization believe that by forcing humans into high density cities, they will save the world by reducing the amount of human population and the individual carbon footprint of each human who remains.  ICLEI has about 1100 members worldwide, so approximately half of its membership is in the U.S. and its roster includes nearly every major city in this country.

A Huffington Post Article last week, March 2, 2012, entitled Why Has TED given the 2012 TED Prize to City 2.0?  defends New Urbanism as the 21st century salvation of our planet. "We may think of them as overcrowded places. But actually, it is the growth of cities that may ultimately allay predictions of population Armageddon.  Across the world, as people urbanize, family sizes fall dramatically. We may think of them as polluted. But actually the average carbon footprint per individual in cities is far smaller than that of those who live in suburbia and rural communities. People commute shorter distances, and by living on top of each other in smaller homes, heating and air conditioning use per household is lower."

The article goes on to say that in the next 70 years, "we'll have to build as much urban living space as in all of human history to date. That's the equivalent to a new city with a million residents, every week, for 70 years."

Unfortunately for Smart Growth planners and New Urbanists, conservatives, Libertarians and Tea Partiers are not enchanted with the idea of being stacked on top of each other like cord wood.  So to fulfill their urban fantasy, Smart Growth advocates have to use a stick and carrot approach.  This approach is basically two-fold--first, force the codes through in massive zoning rewrites, and second, eliminate other housing and transportation options.

The city of El Paso comprehensive plan was 900 pages.  It was unveiled about 6 weeks ago and as I said earlier, it passed city council unanimously.  But I wonder if, as it is implemented, the residents of this city will like the resulting micromanagement that comes from a city government that is certain it has the right and the obligation to dictate every aspect of the citizens' lives.

For examples, let's look at some other Smart Growth Communities.  A May 24, 2011, article in Newton Massachusetts tagged as "breaking news" at  states, "Aldermen and planners in the city of Newton have been reviewing the findings of a local task force which called for special retail overlay districts to promote smart growth. 'One problem we will address,' according to Ted Hess-Mahan, 'is banks on the first floor in high traffic areas. Banks can afford to pay higher rents, which can drive out the kind of mom and pop businesses we want to foster. And banks close at five, meaning they're not really contributing to the neighborhood after hours.'"  To deal with this problem, the aldermen planned to pass an ordinance requiring that banks must be located on the second floor of commercial buildings.

If that's a little too big brother for you, consider a model bylaw from the state of Massuchusetts for a transit-oriented development overlay district.  Our city's new comprehensive plan contains several transportation overlay districts on major thoroughfares, which means that the city will be able dictate exactly what types of businesses and residences can exist.  I am not saying that this model bylaw will be a specific model for our transportation overlays, but it does mirror the spirit of the Smart Growth agenda here in El Paso and nationwide.

Section 2.0 of the model bylaw plan states the purpose of the TOD Overlay District is to:

"1. Encourage a mix of moderate and high density development within walking distance of transit stations to encourage transit ridership;

2. Create a pedestrian-friendly environment to encourage walking, bicycling and transit use.

3. Provide an alternative to traditional development by emphasizing mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development."

To accomplish these and the other stated goals, the TOD gives the city zoning department complete power over exactly what businesses and houses have a right to exist on these properties.  Below are some of the properties that would be allowed in a TOD district:


1. Apartments (Above ground in a business district)
2. Townhouses
3. Service-oriented office uses
4. Mixed uses with ground floor retail, personal services and/or service oriented offices
5. Banks
6. Retail under 10,000 square feet
7. Government buildings
8. Transit Stations
9. Restaurants (except fast food establishments which may only be authorized by special permit)


1. Auto sales, auto service and repair, auto storage and auto rentals
2. Gasoline sales
3. Manufactured homes sales
4. Industrial uses
5. Car washes
6. Strip Commercial Development
7. Mini Storage and Self-storage facilities
8. Low density housing
9. Golf Courses

(This is not an exhaustive list--I have omitted items from both lists in the interests of space in this post.  The model bylaw states the following "several zoning bylaws...from communities around the country were used to develop this bylaw.  In some instances, the language was taken verbatim from these bylaws.")

The news keeps telling us that this is our city's first comprehensive plan since 1925.  We could have waited another 100 years before turning our major streets over to the group of micromanaging, business-hating socialists that we fondly refer to as city council.  (That our government is business-hating is agreed upon by nearly everyone, but I don't have time here to explore all of the evidence for my statement.)  We can only take comfort in the bleak fact that we are by no means alone.  Smart Growth is working its way into every neighborhood, city and hamlet.  From Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Salt Lake City Utah, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, you can't hide from the forces of new urbanism.

And, unfortunately, only a handful of opponents nationwide are speaking out against it. One of these is Randal O'Toole of the CATO institute. A former Yale professor and author of Gridlock: Why We're Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It, O'Toole does not hide his belief that, left unchecked, Smart Growth will destroy the American way of life.  O'Toole traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to meet with the residents there about Smart Growth and is quoted in the Tulsa Beacon as saying this, "I want to talk about the American Dream...To own a home, start a business, to have mobility and to own property. 'Smart growth' is a threat to the American Dream."

Next week I will look at the ways in which Smart Growth proponents are forcing New Urbanism by eliminating other options for Americans in terms of housing and transportation.

Alexandra Swann's new novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven government is available on Kindle and in paperback. She is alxso the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. For more information, visit her website at Frontier 2000