Monday, March 19, 2007

Blueprint for tyranny

A lot of "planning" goes on in California.
The latest round of "planning" for San Joaquin County is organized by the San Joaquin Council of Governments (COG) using a $2 million grant from the federal government. The general idea is that they are supposed to use the money to organize a program of "finding out what people want" with regard to "planning."

One should always be a little wary when the government spends a lot of money to "involve" you in some plan, or their plan. If history is any guide, whenever the government funds a plan to gauge public opinion, the answers always seem to be what the government experts wanted in the first place.

Now we are getting a chance to witness this first-hand. The COG is organizing a series of public meetings or "workshops" to, presumably, find out what people "want."

I got to attend one of these workshops in Lathrop.

It starts out with a presentation from the expert about the scary growth. He then suggests that it's up to "us" to determine "what to do about it."

Maybe this was a quirk, but I found it interesting that of all the persons at our table, only ONE (1) was someone who lived in the community. Others were City Councilmen, former city councilmen, planning commissioners, real estate brokers, someone in the building trades. I introduced myself as someone interested in the process, which is the truth, but I didn't live in Lathrop either! The facilitator seemed perfectly happy with the group mix, and even invited me to be sure to come to workshop in Manteca! (The Manteca workshop is Wednesday, Mar 21, at 6:30 pm at the Manteca Public Library -- you should go!)

Next, after breaking up into small groups led by a COG "facilitator" we get the chance to express "what we want." We're presented with seven areas of interest, and have to pick the five most important. For example, things like "housing" or "water" or "transportation." This, presumably, tells us what we think is important.

However, note that what we are really choosing is which of the five topics presented by them is most important. This is different than what the people think is important. For example, no where on that list of "things you think are most important" did anything like "freedom" or "property rights" or "abuse of eminent domain" or "abuse of redevelopment" appear. Those, apparently, aren't options the people are allowed to think about or choose.

After choosing the five "most important" issues (as determined by them), next we were to choose what to do about them.

The way this exercise worked is that everyone is given a stack of colored cards, about the size of playing cards. For each of the issues that they, I mean we, determined were important, you then have to pick one of four cards, indicating "what you want to do about it."

For example, lets say the topic is "water." You have to pick one of the four pre-selected options for how to deal with the "water problems." And here's the interesting thing. The cards have bar graphs on them indicating how much governmental interference you would prefer. They are ranked one to four, with one being the least regulation and four being the most regulation. The cards were also coded with playing card suits, that is, clubs, diamond, spade and hearts. Although the reason for the suits is unclear.

One person was a little confused by the process. I half-jokingly suggested that the four cards represent "the Republican, Democrat, Green Party and the Communist Workers' Party, take your pick."

This is the point -- in every case, the "lowest level of regulation" was the current level of regulation. And it went up from there. Level 2 was "a little more regulation," level 3 was "a moderate amount of regulation," and if you picked the fourth card, you were choosing "heavy regulation." So, I ask, where is the choice for less regulation? What kind of answer do you expect to get when the lowest level you can choose is the current regulations? Where is the voice of those who want less regulation?

Maybe that's sacrilege to them. The possibility that someone would blame the current regulation for some of our problems apparently either never occurred to any of the government facilitators or, that's just not an answer they want to hear.

Overall, our groups seemed to center around "level 3." You can tell this because the selected cards are handed in and put on a board, they form what looks like a bar graph on the board. Given the limited choices and various other ways that each option was presented (I haven't gone into details here) that is what we are being told that we want. It is interesting that that process doesn't just involve getting input from the public. Information was going both ways, we were not only being told what we want, but also being told "see, this what all your neighbors want too!"

So quit arguing!