Tag Archives: Government planning

Saving farms from people

Wheat combine on farmLast week at a meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, Commissioner Tim Norton spoke in favor of the need for comprehensive government planning. In support, he cited the commonly-held belief that humans — especially with their desire for large suburban home lots — are depleting the stock of farmland to the point of being detrimental to agribusiness.

Here’s part of what Norton said (video below):

Now I know people don’t like the idea of sprawl and growth rings and all that, but the truth is there is a balance between where people live and preserving our good agricultural lands and how do you make that work. And that’s being able to sustain part of our economy. Agribusiness is the third largest economic driver in our community, in our region, and to say that we’re okay with every five acre tract being taken up by somebody’s rural residence sounds really good if you’re talking only property rights. But if you’re talking about preserving and sustaining agribusiness you gotta have the land and it’s got to be set aside for that enterprise.

Farms and ranches being driven out of existence by homeowners — that sounds like a problem that might threaten our food supply. But what are the facts?

First, there is an overabundance of farmland in America. There is so much farmland that we pay farmers billions each year to refrain from planting crops. We pay corn farmers billions in subsidies each year and then use their crops for motor fuel, instead of for making fine Kentucky bourbon and taco shells, as God intended.

Considering Sedgwick County, as that is what Norton represents: Despite being the second-most populous county in Kansas and home to its largest city and surrounding suburban communities, Sedgwick County ranks fourth among Kansas counties in the number of farms, thirty-fourth in farmland acres, seventh in total harvested cropland acres, thirty-third in market value of harvested crops, sixty-sixth in market value of livestock, and eighty-seventh in pasture acres. (Data from Kansas Farm Facts 2011, reporting on 2007 farm statistics.)

There’s something else that might ease Commissioner Norton’s concern, if he would only believe in the power of markets over government: That is the price system. If we were truly running short of farmland, crop prices would rise and farmland would become more valuable. Fewer people would be willing to pay the price necessary to have a five-acre home lot.

In fact, if crop prices were high enough, farmers would be buying back the five-acre lots, or perhaps paying homeowners to rent their yards for planting crops or grazing livestock.

In either case, markets — through the price system — provide a solution that doesn’t require politicians and bureaucrats. There are many other areas in which this is true, but government nonetheless insists on regulation and control.

The power of prices, as told by Thomas Sowell: “The last premiere of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, is said to have asked British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: How do you see to it that people get food? The answer was that she didn’t. Prices did that. And the British people were better fed than those in the Soviet Union, even though the British have never grown enough food to feed themselves in more than a century. Prices bring them food from other countries.”

Crown Heights residents not happy with city’s process

A proposed sports bar in an established Wichita neighborhood has some residents concerned, not only with the bar and its parking lot, but with procedures and transparency at Wichita City Hall.

Whether you agree with the development or not, the story as told in the Crown Heights newsletter raises concerns with the process. Specifically:

“The notification was for ancillary parking, not a zone change. It led residents to assume it was just for some additional parking.”

“The City wrote and approved a staff report approving this case on the day of or even before the Barrier’s property sale had been closed on. Why is this case being pushed through so quickly? (Have you ever known any type of bureaucracy to approve an item with such lightning speed?)”

“At the MAPC meeting — Mr. Morrie Sheets (member of the MAPC) said that the property owner at 121 North Glendale was excited about tearing down that building (115 North Glendale) because it has been a problem with crack heads and drugs.” The owner of the property at 121 North Glendale never made that statement to Mr. Sheets (and has signed a document to that effect). Mr. Sheets has recanted saying that he ever made that statement. However, in the city’s recording of the meeting that statement is on record.

“At the MAPC meeting it was amended that the bar could occupy no more than 4399 square feet. However in the Planning department letter of November 19th (five days later), they state the sports bar was approved in the meeting to occupy 5092 square feet (Who authorized that change?) The bar is slated to have an occupancy of 156 patrons at the 4399 sq. ft. The increase of up to 5092 sq. feet would increase the number of occupants exponentially.”

In conclusion, the newsletter says: “The whole project has been cloaked in deception, lightning speed approval and has not been made transparent to the public. This raises some suspicion that the developers did not think the residents would be happy with this type of business being placed in our neighborhood.”

This matter will be heard at the District Advisory Board meeting on December 3.

Coverage from the Wichita Eagle is here.

Wichita neighborhood association not happy with city's process

In Wichita, creating more willing taxpayers

What is the goal of Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan? Here’s an excerpt from “Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities,” which appeared in Government Finance Review. Authors are Mark A. Glaser, Misty R. Bruckner, and Corinne Bannon, all associated with the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University. HWS is facilitating the planning process for the city and county.

Increasingly, citizens are retreating from their responsibilities to community and demanding more from government than they are willing to pay for. But changes in local government behavior can be instrumental in reversing this trend, by strengthening citizens’ commitment to the well-being of their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are more willing to accept responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens and are also more likely to join with government and other parties to improve their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are also more willing taxpayers — that is, when government demonstrates that it can be trusted to invest public resources in ways that strengthen the community. The central thrust of this model is getting citizens and governments to work together, but realistically, many communities will require new revenue — including additional tax dollars — if they are to assemble the critical mass of resources necessary for meaningful change. Accordingly, citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes are an important component of building sustainable communities.

More willing taxpayers.

Citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes.

I recommend you read this paper. Click on Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities.

From the United Nations to Sedgwick County

It took from 1987 to 2012, but Sedgwick County has adopted the language of the United Nations regarding sustainability.

Those critical of sustainability planning are concerned that engaging in sustainable communities planning has the potential to import harmful policies and practices originating from the United Nations. Critics of these critics say this is nonsense and overreacting. Examples as reported in the Wichita Eagle come from Commissioner Dave Unruh and Commission Chair Tim Norton:

Unruh said he sees the grant simply as an “effort to make decisions about our future for us and our future generations that will save money, conserve resources and be the best solutions for all the folks in our region.” …

Norton said he sees the grant as a way to “look to the future, try to figure out best possible outcomes and make decisions today that will be good for tomorrow.”

“We’re all in this together. You may not like the federal government. You may not like the state government. You may not even like the local government. But I like being at the table and being involved in the future.”

He dismisses any connection to Agenda 21.

“It was a non-binding agreement passed during the first Bush era,” he said of former president George H.W. Bush. “I don’t rail on President Bush because it happened on his watch. I’m not twitchy about it. I’m not worried about it.”

The language Sedgwick County uses when considering sustainability comes directly from the United Nations. General Assembly Resolution 42/187: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development holds this language: “Believing that sustainable development, which implies meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, should become a central guiding principle of the United Nations, Governments and private institutions, organizations and enterprises.” (emphasis added)

Sedgwick County’s Sustainability Page holds this: Definition of Sustainability for Sedgwick County … Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs … (emphasis added)

Sedgwick County left out the word “own,” but otherwise the language is identical. This definition was repeated on the county’s 2012 Employee Sustainability Survey.

The Sedgwick County page — and other county documents — mention economic development, environmental protection, institutional and financial viability, and social equity as “the four core factors that Sedgwick County considers when making community policy and program management decisions.” These goals are often mentioned in Agenda 21 documents, especially social equity.

Wichita waltzing waters dedication a chance to reflect

This week there will be two dedication ceremonies for the “Waltzing Waters” display at Wichita’s WaterWalk. One is an invitation-only affair for VIPs, while the other is open to the public. While these events are promoted as celebrations, we might use this opportunity to review the history and impact of this project that has absorbed many millions of taxpayer subsidy with few results.

In 2009 a Wichita Eagle editorial started with this: “Seven years into a project that was supposed to give Wichita a grand gathering place full of shops, restaurants and night spots as well as offices and condos, some City Council members and citizens remain skeptical at best about WaterWalk’s ability to deliver on its big promises. … True, the skepticism to date is richly deserved.”

The editorial went on to report that public investment in this project has risen to $41 million.

In any case, there’s little to show for this investment. Even the proposal for the redevelopment of downtown Wichita from the planning firm Goody Clancy realizes that WaterWalk is a failure:

Indeed, Water Walk might be struggling to fill its space because it has, simply put, hit a ceiling: it is focusing on food and fun, and perhaps there is room for only one such district (Old Town) in Downtown Wichita. The Arena could help in this regard, but until the publicly subsidized Water Walk is a rousing success, it might not make sense to split the pie still further.

After all the public money put into WaterWalk, in order to get anything else, we’ll probably have to give even more. In 2010, in order to build a Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites Hotel at WaterWalk, several subsidies were used, including a $2.5 million cash contribution from the City of Wichita. See Waterwalk hotel deal breaks new ground for Wichita subsidies. Will anything else be built at WaterWalk without similar consideration?

So taxpayers deserve a break and a celebration. Finally, the fountains, purchased in 2008 for $1.6 million, will be working. The entire fountains project cost $3.5 million, says a Wichita city document.

Waltzing Waters VIP invitation. Click here for a larger version.

But do VIPs deserve a special celebration? With drinks and hors d’oeuvres, with a desert bar after? Many of these VIPs will be the elected officials and bureaucrats responsible for WaterWalk, a project emblematic of the failure of government planning. Others will be the beneficiaries of Wichita taxpayer subsidies. They should be apologetic, not celebratory. Hopefully the expenses of this event will be borne privately, and not by taxpayers. But that brings up another issue: the pay-to-play environment that exists in Wichita.

With this glaring example of failure of a public-private partnership staring right at us in downtown Wichita, why do we want to plan for more of this? Shouldn’t we at least wait until WaterWalk is finished (if that ever happens) before we go down the path of throwing more public investment into the hands of subsidy-seeking developers?

At minimum, we ought to insist that the developers of the WaterWalk project be excluded from any consideration for further taxpayer subsidy. The WaterWalk development team: Dave Burk, Marketplace Properties, LLC; Jack P. DeBoer, Consolidated Holdings, Inc.; Gregory H. Kossover, Consolidated Holdings, Inc.; David E. Wells, Key Construction, Inc.; and Tom Johnson, CRE, WaterWalk LLC need to recognize their failure and the tremendous amount they have cost the Wichita taxpayer. Some of these parties are no longer involved in WaterWalk, but they harm they caused lingers. Some of these parties have received millions in subsidies from the city since then, including a no-bid construction contract awarded to Key Construction. When that contract was put out to public bid, city taxpayers saved $1.3 million on a $6 million project. See No-bid contracts a problem in Wichita.

Some received a no-interest and low-interest loan from the city to prop up a failing TIF district, and Burk appealed property valuations in a way that caused a tax increment financing district to fall behind.

The Wichita Eagle reported: “Downtown Wichita’s leading developer, David Burk, represented himself as an agent of the city — without the city’s knowledge or consent — to cut his taxes on publicly owned property he leases in the Old Town Cinema Plaza, according to court records and the city attorney. … Officials in the city legal department said that while Burk was within his rights to appeal taxes on another city-supported building in the Cinema Plaza, he did not have authorization to file an appeal on the city-owned parking/retail space he leases. … As for Burk signing documents as the city’s representative, ‘I do have a problem with it,’ said City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf, adding that he intends to investigate further.”

In a later story the Eagle reported “A special tax district formed by Wichita to assist in the development of the Old Town cinema project can’t cover its debt payments because the developers — including the city itself — petitioned a state court and got their property taxes reduced, records show. Now, taxpayers could be on the hook for $190,000 that had been projected to have come from within the cinema district.”

Wichita taxpayers should be relieved that at least they’re finally getting something for their investment. Let’s use this time, however, to learn the lessons of WaterWalk and centralized government planning.

Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan survey

A survey created for the Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan has numerous problems and seems designed to satisfy the goals of government officials and planners instead of citizens.

The process, titled “Community Investments Plan … a Framework for the Future” is the result of an initiative of Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer made during his “State of the City” address in January. 500 randomly selected people in Sedgwick County have been invited to attend, at least to start, a series of four meetings held evenings. The first meeting was last night. Twelve of the invited participants attended.

As part of the process, participants will help develop a survey that will be administered to 25,000 residents in January. A draft of the survey may be viewed at Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan Survey.

There are a number of problems with the survey. For many of the questions, the only possible responses are “Strongly Disagree,” “Disagree,” “Agree,” and “Strongly Agree.” There is no possibility for answering “Don’t know,” “Need more information,” or something like that.

The introduction to the section of questions titled “Global Economy and the Strength of Community” reads “We must make some difficult choices about how best to invest limited resources to strengthen the local economy and to improve quality of life today and for future generations. The outlook for the future depends in part on the willingness of the community to pull together and respond to global challenges.”

Who does the opening “We” refer to? Individuals, corporations, small business firms, churches, or government? Each operates from a different investment perspective, I think we can agree.

Then, there’s the statement that the “community” must “pull together.” Again, the term “community” is so vague as to be nearly meaningless. And “pull together”: Does that mean people voluntarily forming business firms, charities, or mutual aid societies? Or does it mean government?

Another question: “Local government, the school district, community organizations and the business community should work together to create an investment climate that is attractive to business.”

The meaning of an attractive investment climate means different things to different people. Some people want an investment climate where property rights are respected, where government refrains from meddling in the economy and transferring one person’s property to another. An environment free from cronyism, in other words. But the Wichita way is, unfortunately, cronyism, where government takes an active role in managing economic development. We in Wichita never know when our local government will take from us to give to politically-favored cronies, or when city hall will set up and subsidize a competitor.

Another statement that survey respondents are asked to agree or disagree with: “The growing divide between citizens is one of the most important threats to the well-being of our community and nation.”

Is there, in fact, a “growing divide?” And if there is, what is the cause? The growth of government leads directly to the destruction of civil society, that being where people cooperate voluntarily to solve problems and create beneficial institutions. Civil society is being replaced with the political society, where someone else makes decisions for you, notwithstanding efforts like this survey.

When we see the city council awarding no-bid contracts to their campaign contributors — contracts that, when put to competitive bid, come in at lower cost: This is what creates a divide in our community.

When we see a council member receive thousands in campaign contributions from an out-of-state company right as he is about to make a controversial vote that means millions to that company: This destroys civil society and creates divides.

There is an entire section of statements that start with “Local government should use public resources …” Instead of the euphemism “public resources,” why not call it what it is: Taxpayer money. Your money.

There are three questions relating to the subsidy program at the Wichita airport. An example is “I’m willing to pay increased taxes or fees to support investment … that uses public dollars to reduce the cost and increase the number of commercial flights at Mid-Continent Airport.”

This is an example of a question where the premise is false. Since the subsidy programs have been in place, the number of flights from the Wichita airport has declined, not increased. See Wichita flight options decrease, despite subsidies and Wichita airfare subsidy: The negative effects.

Monthly departures from WichitaMonthly departures from the Wichita airport

At least the final section of questions is prefaced with whether people are willing to pay more taxes or fees in order to support spending. But for most of the survey, situations are presented without regard for cost. An example is “The community should improve public transportation by making bus travel faster and more convenient including evening and weekend service.” How could anyone be against that, especially when senior citizens are mentioned, as in one question?

But if survey respondents were told that most bus systems, including Wichita’s, receive only about 20 percent of their revenue through the farebox, and that taxpayers pay the rest, how might they respond then? And how many people are aware of the massive taxpayer subsidies — excuse me, “public resources” — that are required?

Overall, the survey appears to be designed to bring people to conclusions the survey sponsors want, or provide answers that can be interpreted in they way they want. Not defining terms like “community” and an “investment climate that is attractive to business” allow the survey sponsor to create their own interpretation of the results.

And who is the survey sponsor? A collaboration between local government and the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University. This academic unit exists to produce future generations of government planners, and they’ll all want jobs. City hall and the county building are full of politicians and bureaucrats that, with few exceptions, seek to expand their influence, budgets, and power.

When we put professional planners and bureaucrats in charge of a survey designed to gauge attitudes towards the desirability of planning — is the answer not predetermined? It’s not that the planners are dishonest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.

Perhaps a program like this would better be administered by a market research firm, whose goal and interest would be to find the truth, regardless of the wishes of the client.

But really, there is a very simple way for government to get the answers it is seeking. Joseph Ashby said it well on his radio program: If government wants to know how people want their money spent, it should let them spend their own money.

Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan Survey

Special interests will capture south-central Kansas planning

Special interest groups are likely to co-opt the government planning process started in south-central Kansas as these groups see ways to benefit from the plan. The public choice school of economics and political science has taught us how special interest groups seek favors from government at enormous costs to society, and we will see this at play over the next few years.

Sedgwick County has voted to participate in a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. While some justified their votes in favor of the plan because “it’s only a plan,” once the planning process begins, special interests plot to benefit themselves at the expense of the general public. Once the plan is formed, it’s nearly impossible to revise it, no matter how evident the need.

An example of how much reverence is given to government plans comes right from the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision Kelo v. New London, in which the Court decided that government could use the power of eminent domain to take one person’s property and transfer it to someone else for the purposes of economic development. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Stevens cited the plan: “The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community.” Here we see the importance of the plan and due reverence given to it.

Stevens followed up, giving even more weight to the plan: “To effectuate this plan, the City has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of our review, it is appropriate for us, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.”

To Stevens, the fact that the plan was comprehensive was a factor in favor of its upholding. The sustainable communities plan, likewise, is nothing but comprehensive, as described by county manager Bill Buchanan in a letter to commissioners: “[the plan will] consist of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, energy use and climate change, and public health and environmental impact.”

That pretty much covers it all. When you’re charged with promoting economic prosperity, defending earth against climate change, and promoting public health, there is no limit to the types of laws you might consider.

Who will plan?

The American Planning Association praised the Court’s notice of the importance of a plan, writing “This decision underscores the importance for a community to have a comprehensive development plan formulated through a democratic planning process with meaningful public participation by everyone.”

But these plans are rarely by and for the public. Almost always the government planning process is taken over and captured by special interests. We see this in public schools, where the planning and campaigning for new facilities is taken over by architectural and construction firms that see school building as a way to profit. It does not matter to them whether the schools are needed.

Our highway planning is hijacked by construction firms that stand to benefit, whether or not new roads are actually needed.

Our planning process for downtown Wichita is run by special interest groups that believe that downtown has a special moral imperative, and another group that sees downtown as just another way to profit at taxpayer expense. Both believe that taxpayers across Wichita, Kansas, and even the entire country must pay to implement their vision. As shown in Kansas and Wichita need pay-to-play laws the special interests that benefit from public spending on downtown make heavy political campaign contributions to nearly all members of the Wichita City Council. They don’t have a political ideology. They contribute only because they know council members will be voting to give them money.

In Wichita’s last school bond election, 72 percent of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, was given by contractors, architects, engineering firms and others who directly stand to benefit from new school construction, no matter whether schools are actually needed. The firm of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture led the way in making these contributions. It’s not surprising that this firm was awarded a no-bid contract for plan management services for the bond issue valued at $3.7 million. This firm will undoubtedly earn millions more for those projects on which it serves as architect.

The special interest groups that benefit from highway construction: They formed a group called Economic Lifelines. It says it was formed to “provide the grassroots support for Comprehensive Transportation Programs in Kansas.” Its motto is “Stimulating economic vitality through leadership in infrastructure development.”

A look at the membership role, however, lets us know whose economic roots are being stimulated. Membership is stocked with names like AFL-CIO, Foley Equipment Company, Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City, Kansas Aggregate & Concrete Associations, Kansas Asphalt Pavement Association, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Society of Professional Engineers, and PCA South Central Cement Promotion Association. Groups and companies like these have an economic interest in building more roads and highways, whether or not the state actually needs them.

The planners themselves are a special interest group, too. They need jobs. Like most government bureaucrats, they “profit” from increasing their power and sphere of influence, and by expansion of their budgets and staffs. So when Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton asks a professional planner questions about the desirability of planning, what answer does he think he will get? It’s not that the planners are not honest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.

And we have evidence that planners watch out for themselves. It is not disputed that this planning grant benefits Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP). Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau says that John Schlegel, Wichita’s Director of Planning, told him that “acceptance of this grant will take REAP to another level, because right now they are struggling, and this will help plot the course for REAP.” He said that REAP, which is housed at the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University, needs to expand its role and authority in order to give it “something to do.”

We see that REAP is another special interest group seeking to benefit itself. In this case, our best hope is that REAP engages in merely make-work, that the plan it produces is put on a shelf and ignored, and that the only harm to us is the $1.5 million cost of the plan.

By the way, did you know that Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh, who voted in favor of the plan that benefits REAP, is now chairman of REAP? Special interest groups know how to play the political game.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer on role of government

When President Barack Obama told business owners “You didn’t build that,” it set off a bit of a revolt. Those who worked hard to build businesses didn’t like to hear the president dismiss their efforts.

Underlying this episode is a serious question: What should be the role of government in the economy? Should government’s role be strictly limited, according to the Constitution? Or should government take an activist role in managing, regulating, subsidizing, and penalizing in order to get the results politicians and bureaucrats desire?

Historian Burton W. Folsom has concluded that it is the private sector — free people, not government — that drives innovation: “Time and again, experience has shown that while private enterprise, carried on in an environment of open competition, delivers the best products and services at the best price, government intervention stifles initiative, subsidizes inefficiency, and raises costs.”

But some don’t agree. They promote government management and intervention into the economy. Whatever their motivation might be, however it was they formed their belief, they believe that without government oversight of the economy, things won’t happen.

But in Wichita, it’s even worse. Without government, it is claimed that not only would we stop growing, economic progress would revert to a previous century.

Mayor Carl Brewer made these claims in a 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council.

In his remarks (transcript and video below), Brewer said “if government had not played some kind of role in guiding and identifying how the city was going to grow, how any city was going to grow, I’d be afraid of what that would be. Because we would still be in covered wagons and horses. There would be no change.”

When I heard him say that, I thought he’s just using rhetorical flair to emphasize a point. But later on he said this about those who advocate for economic freedom instead of government planning and control: “… then tomorrow we’ll be saying we don’t want more technology, and then the following day we’ll be saying we don’t want public safety, and it won’t take us very long to get back to where we were at back when the city first settled.”

Brewer’s remarks are worse than “You didn’t build that.” The mayor of Wichita is telling us you can’t build that — not without government guidance and intervention, anyway.

Many people in Wichita, including the mayor and most on the city council and county commission, believe that the public-private partnership is the way to drive innovation and get things done. It’s really a shame that this attitude is taking hold in Wichita, a city which has such a proud tradition of entrepreneurship. The names that Wichitans are rightly proud of — Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, W.C. Coleman, Albert Alexander Hyde, Dan and Frank Carney, and Fred C. Koch — these people worked and built businesses without the benefit of public-private partnerships and government subsidy.

This tradition of entrepreneurship is disappearing, replaced by the public-private partnership and programs like Visioneering Wichita, sustainable communities, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP), and rampant cronyism. Although when given a chance, voters are rejecting cronyism.

We don’t have long before the entrepreneurial spirit in Wichita is totally subservient to government. What can we do to return power to the people instead of surrendering it to government?

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, August 12, 2008: You know, I think that a lot of individuals have a lot of views and opinions about philosophy as to, whether or not, what role the city government should play inside of a community or city. But it’s always interesting to hear various different individuals’ philosophy or their view as to what that role is, and whether or not government or policy makers should have any type of input whatsoever.

I would be afraid, because I’ve had an opportunity to hear some of the views, and under the models of what individuals’ logic and thinking is, if government had not played some kind of role in guiding and identifying how the city was going to grow, how any city was going to grow, I’d be afraid of what that would be. Because we would still be in covered wagons and horses. There would be no change.

Because the stance is let’s not do anything. Just don’t do anything. Hands off. Just let it happen. So if society, if technology, and everything just goes off and leaves you behind, that’s okay. Just don’t do anything. I just thank God we have individuals that have enough gumption to step forward and say I’m willing to make a change, I’m willing to make a difference, I’m willing to improve the community. Because they don’t want to acknowledge the fact that improving the quality of life, improving the various different things, improving bringing in businesses, cleaning up street, cleaning up neighborhoods, doing those things, helping individuals feel good about themselves: they don’t want to acknowledge that those types of things are important, and those types of things, there’s no way you can assess or put a a dollar amount to it.

Not everyone has the luxury to live around a lake, or be able to walk out in their backyard or have someone come over and manicure their yard for them, not everyone has that opportunity. Most have to do that themselves.

But they want an environment, sometimes you have to have individuals to come in and to help you, and I think that this is one of those things that going to provide that.

This community was a healthy thriving community when I was a kid in high school. I used to go in and eat pizza after football games, and all the high school students would go and celebrate.

But, just like anything else, things become old, individuals move on, they’re forgotten in time, maybe the city didn’t make the investments that they should have back then, and they walk off and leave it.

But new we have someone whose interested in trying to revive it. In trying to do something a little different. In trying to instill pride in the neighborhood, trying to create an environment where it’s enticing for individuals to want to come back there, or enticing for individuals to want to live there.

So I must commend those individuals for doing that. But if we say we start today and say that we don’t want to start taking care of communities, then tomorrow we’ll be saying we don’t want more technology, and then the following day we’ll be saying we don’t want public safety, and it won’t take us very long to get back to where we were at back when the city first settled.

So I think this is something that’s a good venture, it’s a good thing for the community, we’ve heard from the community, we’ve seen the actions of the community, we saw it on the news what these communities are doing because they know there’s that light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve seen it on the news. They’ve been reporting it in the media, what this particular community has been doing, and what others around it.

And you know what? The city partnered with them, to help them generate this kind of energy and this type of excitement and this type of pride.

So I think this is something that’s good. And I know that there’s always going to be people who are naysayers, that they’re just not going to be happy. And I don’t want you to let let this to discourage you, and I don’t want the comments that have been heard today to discourage the citizens of those neighborhoods. And to continue to doing the great work that they’re doing, and to continue to have faith, and to continue that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that there is a value that just can’t be measured of having pride in your community and pride in your neighborhood, and yes we do have a role to be able to help those individuals trying to help themselves.

Kansas counties decline sustainable communities planning

Two of the five Kansas counties that were asked to participate in a sustainable communities planning grant have decided not to join the effort. Of the five counties (Sedgwick, Butler, Reno, Harvey and Sumner), Butler and Sumner county commissioners voted against participation.

The REAP sustainable communities planning process is designed to, in the words of REAP, “create a long-term regional plan for ensuring the health and productivity of our local economy. The grant will support community engagement to identify common values and goals, followed by local and regional efforts to enhance economic development, connect people with jobs, reduce housing and transportation costs, ensure public safety, and use of limited public funds efficiently in the years ahead.”

Critics of government planing processes such as this are concerned that the planning process would subject us to additional control by the federal government. These are the so-called strings that are thought to accompany federal grants.

(For those who are interested in what strings look like, here’s an example of one that is relatively innocuous. A HUD document titled Program Policy Guidance OSHC-2012-01 explains “Applicants that reach a certain qualifying score under the Regional Planning Grant Program or the Community Challenge Grant Program will receive PSS designation. PSS designation provides your entity access to bonus points for selected other HUD grant programs, technical assistance, and other capacity building opportunities that will strengthen future efforts to apply to the program.” REAP has been awarded this status, as it complied with this “string.”)

When the Wichita City Council deliberated its endorsement of and participation in this program, Council Member James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita), asked a series of questions of Joe Yager, chief executive officer of REAP, as to whether these concerns were true. Yager said no, there are no strings accompanying the grant. But what about after the planning process is over in three years? Will the plan be forced upon us, Clendenin asked?

Yager answered no, that local governing bodies would have to vote to implement any of the ideas or programs that resulted from the plan. Nothing will be forced upon us, nothing is mandated, he said. We wold simply have a “toolkit” of things to use.

This view or attitude — that local elected officials will protect us from the harmful elements that will emerge from the plan — is dangerously naive. First, in his short time in office, Clendenin has regularly voted for expansions of government planning, power, and spending. He doesn’t stand out from most other council members, not even the Republican members (except for one), as they also regularly vote for these things.

Second, we know that after the plan is complete there will be the argument that since we have the plan, that since we spent three years and $2.2 million on the process, we might as well go ahead and implement it.

Then, there will be the future grants and undoubtedly increased local spending required to implement the plan. There is now research that looks at the effect of federal grants on future local spending. In their research paper titled Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes? Testing the Friedman-Sanford Hypothesis economists Russell S. Sobel and George R. Crowley concluded this: “Federal grants often result in states creating new programs and hiring new employees, and when the federal funding for that specific purpose is discontinued, these new state programs must either be discontinued or financed through increases in state own source taxes.”

The authors cautioned: “Far from always being an unintended consequence, some federal grants are made with the intention that states will pick up funding the program in the future.” See Federal grants increase future local spending.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau has researched the sustainable development movement, and has written a paper explaining what he found.

Randal O’Toole, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, has written extensively on government planning, especially regarding land use and transportation. His op-ed on this topic follows:

The vast majority of Americans, surveys say, aspire to live in a single-family home with a yard. The vast majority of American travel — around 85 percent — is by automobile. Yet the Obama administration thinks more Americans should live in apartments and travel on foot, bicycle, or mass transit.

To promote this idea, the administration wants to give the south central Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) the opportunity to apply for a $1.5 million grant to participate in “sustainable communities.” Also sometimes called “smart growth,” the ideas promoted by these programs are anything but sustainable or smart. (As members of REAP, the governing bodies for both Wichita and Sedgwick County endorsed this grant.)

The urban plans that come out of these kinds of programs typically call for:

  • Redesigning streets to increase traffic congestion in order to discourage people from driving;
  • Increasing subsidies to transit, bike paths, and other “alternative” forms of travel even though these alternatives are used by few people;
  • Denying owners of land on the urban fringes the right to develop their property in order to make single-family housing more expensive;
  • Subsidizing high-density, developments that combine housing with retail shops in the hope that people will walk to shopping rather than drive;
  • Rezoning neighborhoods of single-family homes for apartments with zoning so strict that, if someone’s house burns down, they will have to replace it with an apartment.

My former hometown of Portland, Oregon has followed these policies for two decades, and the results have been a disaster. In their zeal to subsidize transit and high-density developments, the region’s officials have taken money from schools, libraries, fire, and police, leaving those programs starved and in disarray.

Since 1980, Portland has spent more than $3 billion building light-rail lines. Far from improving transit, the share of commuters taking transit to work has fallen from 9.8 percent in 1980 to 7.5 percent today, mainly because the region cut bus service to pay for the trains. Traffic congestion quadrupled between 1984 and 2004, which planners say was necessary to get people to ride transit.

The region’s housing policies made single-family homes so expensive that most families with children moved to distant suburbs where they can afford a house with a yard. Residents of subsidized high-density housing projects drive just about as much as anyone else in the Portland area, and developers have learned to their sorrow that if they follow planners’ guidelines in providing less parking for these projects, they will end up with high vacancy rates.

Despite these problems, Portland has received lots of positive publicity. The reason for this is simple: by forcing out families with children, inner Portland is left mainly with young singles and childless couples who eat out a lot, making Portland a Mecca for tourists who like exciting new restaurants. This makes Portland a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there unless you like noisy, congested streets.

The idea of “sustainable communities” is that planners can socially engineer people into changing their travel behavior by redesigning cities to favor pedestrians and transit over automobiles. Beyond the fact that this is an outrageous intrusion of government into people’s lives, it simply doesn’t work. Such experts as University of California economist David Brownstone and University of Southern California planning professor Genevieve Giuliano have shown that the link between urban design and driving is too weak to make a difference.

To protect livability and avoid unsustainable subsidies to transit and high-density development, Wichita, Sedgwick County, and other REAP members of south central Kansas should reject the $1.5 million grant offered by the federal government.

Wichita speculative industrial buildings

A new feature of Wichita’s economic development policy grants property tax and sales tax forgiveness for speculative industrial buildings. These are buildings built without having a tenant in place. The proposed plan had a formula that grants a higher percentage of tax forgiveness as building size increases, but the council eliminated that and voted a 100 percent tax abatement for all buildings larger than 50,000 square feet.

Given tax costs and industrial building rents, this policy gives these incentivized buildings a cost advantage of about 20 percent over competitors. That’s very high, and makes it difficult for existing buildings to compete. Probably no one will build these buildings unless they qualify for and receive this incentive.

The city hopes that these incentivized buildings will generate new jobs in Wichita. But there appears to be nothing in the policy that prevents existing companies in Wichita from moving to these buildings.

Will the owners of speculative buildings rent only to companies newly moving to Wichita, or will they rent to whoever is willing to pay? And will Wichita companies want to move to a new building with cheaper rent? This policy has the risk of simply moving jobs from one location to another, creating no new jobs. All it does is harm landlords with existing buildings.

While the policy was designed to encourage large buildings instead of small, there appears to be no limitation on the size of space landlords can rent. A building 50,000 square feet and larger gets 100 percent tax abatement. But the space could be rented out in smaller parcels to multiple tenants, making it easy to steal local tenants from another landlord.

Existing industrial landlords in Wichita — especially those with available space to rent — must be wondering why they attempt to stay in business when city hall sets up subsidized competitors with new buildings and a large cost advantage. This is what is meant by unintended consequences.

Citizens must wonder about equality. A principle of taxation is that everyone pays equally. Tax policy should be applied uniformly to all citizens. But this program creates a special class of landlords and tenants who do not have to bear their full share of the cost of city, county, school district, and state government.

Then, we must ask ourselves what do we really get for the cost of these incentives. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher wrote an academic paper titled The Failures of Economic Development Incentives, published in Journal of the American Planning Association. A few quotes from the study, with emphasis added:

Given the weak effects of incentives on the location choices of businesses at the interstate level, state governments and their local governments in the aggregate probably lose far more revenue, by cutting taxes to firms that would have located in that state anyway than they gain from the few firms induced to change location.

On the three major questions — Do economic development incentives create new jobs? Are those jobs taken by targeted populations in targeted places? Are incentives, at worst, only moderately revenue negative? — traditional economic development incentives do not fare well. It is possible that incentives do induce significant new growth, that the beneficiaries of that growth are mainly those who have greatest difficulty in the labor market, and that both states and local governments benefit fiscally from that growth. But after decades of policy experimentation and literally hundreds of scholarly studies, none of these claims is clearly substantiated. Indeed, as we have argued in this article, there is a good chance that all of these claims are false.

The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state or local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering their expectations about their ability to micromanage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing the foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.

In 2008 Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit investigated spending on economic development. It found about the same as did Peters and Fisher.

There is one incentive that can be offered to all firms: Reduce tax costs for all. The Tax Foundation report from earlier this year should be a shrill wake up call to the city and state that we must change our ways.

But the action the council is considering today moves us in the opposite direction. These incentives have a cost. Other businesses have to pay. That only increases the motivation and necessity to seek incentives from the city and state, which in turn raises the cost of government and taxes. It’s a spiral that leads to ever-increasing control of economic activity by city hall.

We in Wichita need to build a dynamic economy in Wichita that is based on free enterprise and entrepreneurship rather than government planning and handouts. This is the way we can have organic and sustainable economic development. We can start on this path today by saying no to this incentive package.

Central planning: Are we humans or pawns?

From LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, a video titled Adam Smith and the Follies of Central Planning.

“How do you like being told what to do? If someone tells you to do something you find enjoyable or fulfilling, you may not mind. What if you are told to do something contrary to what you would choose for yourself? What if the government was the one telling you to do it? Adam Smith, the philosopher and father of economics, talks about a “man of system,” a central planner who believes he can orchestrate the lives of others, like chess pieces that can be moved at will. As Professor James R. Otteson illustrates, society suffers when the man of system attempts to force his desires on the lives of individuals in ways that contradict their own desires. According to Smith, people are not chess pieces to be moved on a board; they are living and thinking and have their own wills. Individuals pursuing their own desires will constantly be in conflict with the desires of any central planner.”

In Kansas, we see the rise of central planning in several ways. Officials believe they can plan and guide our economic development efforts, and the results have not been successful.

Wichita believes it can plan its downtown development and direct taxpayer subsidy to politically-favored developers and campaign contributors, but voters, when given a chance, reject this.

Then we have the rise of sustainable communities planning, shepherded by the professional planners working at Regional Area Economic Partnership.

All these are examples of the problem explained in the video.

Intentions and results

From a video produced by LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies: “Prof. Don Boudreaux explains what economists mean when they talk about unintended consequences. Essentially, unintended consequences are the large outcomes that emerge from the actions made by many individuals. These outcomes can be good or bad. Therefore, when analyzing various polices, we must be extremely careful to distinguish between intentions and results.”

Boudreaux concludes the video with this: “We live in this incredibly complex world. When we take any action, we know that the consequences of those actions are going to extend out very far. We can see those consequences only a little bit in front of us. We can’t trace them out fully. And it applies whether or not you believe in big government, tiny government, and medium-sized government. Yes, it’s difficult in many cases to trace out how the incentives will have real-world effects. But that difficulty does not excuse us from the task of pursuing it. We can’t just simply say, oh the intentions of the policymakers are good, therefore we can be assured that the results will be good. That’s cheating. We just can’t do that. That’s very bad public policy.”

Understanding this is especially important as we in Wichita and the surrounding area prepare to undertake a comprehensive government plan for sustainable communities.

The video’s page is Unintended Consequences, or click below to view at YouTube.

Wichita decides to join sustainable communities planning

At yesterday’s Wichita City Council meeting, the council took up the issue as to whether the city would participate in the REAP sustainable communities planning process. All council members except Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) voted in favor of participation.

Critics of government planing processes such as this are worried that the planning process would subject us to additional control by the federal government. These are the so-called strings that are thought to accompany federal grants.

(For those who are interested in what strings look like, here’s an example of one that is relatively innocuous. A HUD document titled Program Policy Guidance OSHC-2012-01 explains “Applicants that reach a certain qualifying score under the Regional Planning Grant Program or the Community Challenge Grant Program will receive PSS designation. PSS designation provides your entity access to bonus points for selected other HUD grant programs, technical assistance, and other capacity building opportunities that will strengthen future efforts to apply to the program.” REAP has been awarded this status, as it complied with this “string.”)

James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita), asked a series of questions of Joe Yager, chief executive officer of REAP, as to whether these concerns were true. Yager said no, there are no strings accompanying the grant. But what about after the planning process is over in three years? Will the plan be forced upon us, Clendenin asked?

Yager answered no, that local governing bodies would have to vote to implement any of the ideas or programs that resulted from the plan. Nothing will be forced upon us, nothing is mandated, he said. We wold simply have a “toolkit” of things to use.

This view or attitude — that local elected officials will protect us from the harmful elements that will emerge from the plan — is dangerously naive. First, in his short time in office, Clendenin has regularly voted for expansions of government planning, power, and spending. He doesn’t stand out from most other council members, not even the Republican members (except for one), as they also regularly vote for these things.

Second, we know that after the plan is complete there will be the argument that since we have the plan, that since we spent three years and $2.2 million on the process, we might as well go ahead and implement it.

Then, there will be the future grants and undoubtedly increased local spending required to implement the plan.

It’s also naive of Clendenin to ask a professional planner like Yager questions about the desirability of planning. What answer does he think he will get? It’s not that the planners are not honest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.

One of the things Wichita has agreed to do is to provide in-kind services to the planning consortium in the form of staff time. Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) asked a series of questions determining whether some work might go unperformed as staff members devote time to the planning process.

John Schlegel, Wichita director of planning, assured him no, that no work would go undone as a result of staff members taking on new responsibilities as part of the city’s in-kind contribution.

Two years ago a similar issue arose in Sedgwick County, where staff time was devoted to the oversight of the Intrust Bank Arena. At the time I reported this: “Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh told the Wichita Eagle that the county did not hire any new staff to perform work that has an estimated value of $2.6 million. My question is this: Is this evidence that there was $2.6 million of slack time in county employee’s schedules? How were they able to get this vast amount of work accomplished? Perhaps after the arena work that has occupied $2.6 million of staff time is complete, we could hire out this staff to earn revenue for the county, as it seems they will have time on their hands.”

Special interest groups capture government

As Wichita and the surrounding region start to develop a government plan to manage our future, we have to be vigilant to ensure that the process is not co-opted or appropriated by special interest groups that see the planning process as a way to profit at the expense of everyone else. Unfortunately, the average person has very little motive to stay informed. The costs are dispersed and small on an individual basis, but the benefits are concentrated and large to special interest groups that organize themselves to benefit from government spending. This creates a dynamic where the special interest groups almost win at the expense of everyone else. The following excerpts from chapter 3 of Government failure: a primer in public choice by Gordon Tullock, Arthur Seldon, and Gordon L. Brady help explain.

Organized Lobbying

Public choice is more difficult because of the existence of organized lobbying and pressure groups. This practice is more visible in the United States than in the United Kingdom. … In discussing the organization of political pressure groups, the primary point is that, on the whole, investing a considerable amount of time or money pursuing activities that will have little effect on me personally is unwise. At the University of Arizona, many of my colleagues talk about political issues. Yet the issues that lead them to organize in order to bring pressure on the state government of Arizona or the federal government in Washington have direct effects on the university or on their working conditions.

This problem was formally analyzed by Mancur Olson, who pointed out that, on the one hand, when a relatively small number of people are heavily affected by a collective activity, organizing is in their interest. This rule applies for several reasons. First, individuals in the group will either benefit a good deal if the political action is in their favor or be injured a good deal if it is against them. Second, because there are only a few of them, organizing is relatively easy (low transactions costs) for them.

On the other hand, if the collective decision affects a large number of people but represents only a small amount to each of the group, the converse applies. Each member of this large group would find only minor effects (either costs or benefits) from whatever is done. A large number of people experiencing a small loss are difficult to organize because each could reasonably think that his or her contribution to the joint lobby would make little difference in the likely success of the action. Hence, in such circumstances the individual avoids making a contribution.

Consider the following example. Suppose the proceeds of a tax of five pence levied on every citizen of Britain are to be given to the authors who have recently written learned pamphlets for the Institute of Economic Affairs. One would expect the authors would be very interested in this proposal, which, after all, for each author would be a lot of money. Hence, they would seek to bring pressure on the House of Commons to pass it.

Because the cost to the individual citizen is only five pence, the citizen would be foolish to allocate personal resources to prevent passage. Simply complaining to his or her member of Parliament might entail a greater burden than the loss of the five pence. In practice, of course, this tax to benefit Institute of Economic Affairs authors, although easy to understand, is not likely to be successful. Although it is a simple transfer from a large number of voters to a few authors, the newspapers would, no doubt, create a public outcry that would prevent its adoption.

Laws or regulations that have this characteristic of diffuse costs and concentrated beneficiaries do sometimes become law, perhaps because the effect is disguised by superficially plausible propaganda or rationalizations developed by the pressure group. Consider the following example. At one time the United States had a tariff to protect the manufacturers of the chin rests for violins. Only one company employing four or five people made the chin rests. For violin purchasers who had to pay two or three cents more for the violin because of this tariff, the cost was much too small to lobby. Nevertheless, the investment was worthwhile for the manufacturer of the small violin part to testify before the U.S. Senate; no one testified on the side of the violin purchasers against the tariff.

The argument in defense of the tariff was the potential unemployment of the four or five engaged in manufacturing the chin rest. A tax, even a small tax, on violins to provide a pension for the employees of the company would have failed because, although economically more efficient, it would have been entirely too obvious. …

If you talk with ordinary citizens who benefit from one of the special-interest lobbies (such as the American Association of Retired People, environmental advocates, sugar producers, or welfare recipients), they present a series of public-interest arguments with every appearance (which I am sure is genuine) of belief. Nevertheless, the private-interest argument leads to the organization of these groups, to the transfer of funds, to the protection of jobs, and to special privileges for special-interest groups. The public-interest arguments normally require that the project itself be designed in such a way that the direct transfer is hidden from the public eye.

Wichita may choose more centralized planning

This Tuesday (April 17th) the Wichita City Council will consider its participation in the REAP sustainable communities planning process. Wichita ought to reject this expansion of centralized planning, as the outcome will likely serve special interests at the expense of economic growth and jobs for everyone else.

The relevant pages from the agenda packet are available at REAP Consortium Agreement for South-Central Kansas Sustainable Communities.

Who makes the plan? And for whom?

Yes, planning is important. It’s likely that several Wichita city council members will use this as a factor in deciding to vote for the sustainable communities planning process. But these members will fail to distinguish between government plans and all others.

They will fail to distinguish that when individuals and businesses plan, they are planning for themselves and no one else. They are engaging in a voluntary act. But when government plans, the plans are drawn for others — whether they want to be in a plan or not, whether they agree with the principles and goals or not.

Furthermore, these members will fail to recognize that when governments plan, special interest groups soon appropriate the plans to benefit themselves. An example is the state’s highway plan, with the campaign for increased highway spending funded by the construction industries. They would lobby to build highways to nowhere, as long as they receive contracts for their construction.

The planners themselves are a special interest group, too. They need jobs. Like most government bureaucrats, they “profit” from increasing their power and influence, and by expansion of their budgets and staffs. So when Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton asks a professional planner questions about the desirability of planning, what answer does he think he will get? It’s not that the planners are not honest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.

And we have evidence that planners watch out for themselves. It is not disputed that this planning grant benefits Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP). Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau says that John Schlegel, Wichita’s Director of Planning, told him that “acceptance of this grant will take REAP to another level, because right now they are struggling, and this will help plot the course for REAP.” He said that REAP, which is housed at the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University, needs to expand its role and authority in order to give it “something to do.”

So we see that REAP is another special interest group seeking to benefit itself. In this case, our best hope is that REAP engages in merely make-work, that the plan it produces is put on a shelf and ignored, and that the only harm to us is the $1.5 million cost of the plan.

The knowledge problem

There’s also the problem of the knowledge needed to plan. This is enough of a problem when individuals and businesses plan for themselves. It’s a tremendous — and unsolvable — problem when trying to plan for an entire region, even one as small as downtown Wichita. Arnold King has written about the ability of government experts to decide what investments should be made with public funds. There’s a problem with knowledge and power:

As Hayek pointed out, knowledge that is important in the economy is dispersed. Consumers understand their own wants and business managers understand their technological opportunities and constraints to a greater degree than they can articulate and to a far greater degree than experts can understand and absorb.

When knowledge is dispersed but power is concentrated, I call this the knowledge-power discrepancy. Such discrepancies can arise in large firms, where CEOs can fail to appreciate the significance of what is known by some of their subordinates. … With government experts, the knowledge-power discrepancy is particularly acute.

Another favorite thought from Friedrich Hayek is in his book The Fatal Conceit: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” But they will try.

REAP has much information about the process on its website devoted to the grant, located at Sustainable Communities Grant 2011. I would especially encourage reading the document “Sustainable Communities Work Plan DRAFT.” In there you can learn of the plans to “decrease per capita Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).” This plan, if it succeeds, will harm citizens’ mobility and economic opportunities, especially for the people who need jobs most.

Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole, author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future, writes the following regarding the tremendous boost the personal automobile has given Americans: “Since the dawn of the Republic, no invention has enhanced the quality of life of the average American as much as the mass-produced automobile. Americans today are far more mobile, they earn much higher incomes, and they have access to far more consumer goods than a hundred years ago. It is no exaggeration to attribute most of these improvements to the wide availability of automobiles.”

Remember, the sustainable communities planning process is definitely anti-automobile. One of the goals for the plan is: “Regional Transportation Plan: Develop multi-modal transportation options/programs for the region and connects housing options to emerging employment clusters.” This sounds like a good and noble idea. But in practice, government transit systems fail to produce what riders truly need, and are very expensive. The last time I checked, only 22.5 percent of the costs of running the Wichita transit system is paid for by riders through the fare box. Taxpayers — most of whom don’t ride the buses — pay the rest.

But owning an automobile gives people mobility, and that is very important for workers. Some examples:

“Studies show that car ownership is a significant factor in improving the employment status of welfare recipients.” (Job Access, Commute, and Travel Burden Among Welfare Recipients)

“Raphael and Rice (2002) found in their study that car ownership has a strong effect on the probability of an individual being employed as well as on the number of hours they work per week. Generally, car ownership better enables job seekers to look for jobs. They can consider work outside of regular transit service hours, and they can travel faster, more safely, and more flexibly than with public transportation.” (Transportation & Work: Exploring Car Usage and Employment Outcomes in the LSAL Data)

Also from this study: “Overall, car ownership does appear to have an important relationship to employment status, wages, and weeks worked.” And “Having a car as a primary mode of transportation makes a respondent four times as likely to be employed. Car ownership also improves earnings by several hundred dollars and increases weeks worked by up to eleven weeks.”

In the rankings of factors that are important to obtaining employment, a car was more useful than a high-school-equivalent diploma. We should be working to increase automobile ownership, especially among lower-income people. The planning process Wichita is considering adopting, with its emphasis on government transit rather than private automobiles, will decrease mobility and economic opportunity for everyone.

Finally, consider this from O’Toole on how the planning process ignores reality: “Transit advocates will point out that the autos driving on congested urban highways often have only one occupant. But that is exactly the point: If modern life is so decentralized that carpooling makes no sense for most commuters, how are giant buses and high-capacity trains going to work?” Fortunately, I don’t think high-capacity trains are seriously considered for the Wichita area. But the planners want more government transit and less private automobiles, despite our dectralized lifestyle.

Last week Wendell Cox appeared on an episode of the Jason Lewis radio program and talked about sustainable communities, etc. Sedgwick County and Wichita were mentioned. His recent piece is the Wall Street Journal is California Declares War on Suburbia: Planners want to herd millions into densely packed urban corridors. It won’t save the planet but will make traffic even worse.

In Kansas, planning will be captured by special interests

The government planning process started in south-central Kansas will likely be captured by special interest groups that see ways to benefit from the plan. The public choice school of economics and political science has taught us how special interest groups seek favors from government at enormous costs to society, and we will see this at play again over the next few years.

This week the Sedgwick County Commission voted to participate in a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. While some justified their votes in favor of the plan because “it’s only a plan,” once the planning process begins, special interests plot how to benefit themselves at the expense of the general public. Then once the plan is formed, it’s nearly impossible to revise it, no matter how evident the need.

An example of how much reverence is given to government plans comes right from the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision Kelo v. New London, in which the Court decided that government could use the power of eminent domain to take one person’s property and transfer it to someone else for the purposes of economic development. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Stevens cited the plan: “The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community.” Here we see the importance of the plan and due reverence given to it.

Stevens followed up, giving even more weight to the plan: “To effectuate this plan, the City has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of our review, it is appropriate for us, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.”

To Stevens, the fact that the plan was comprehensive was a factor in favor of its upholding. The sustainable communities plan, likewise, is nothing but comprehensive, as described by county manager Bill Buchanan in a letter to commissioners: “[the plan will] consist of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, energy use and climate change, and public health and environmental impact.”

That pretty much covers it all. When you’re charged with promoting economic prosperity, defending earth against climate change, and promoting public health, there is no limit to the types of laws you might consider.

Who will plan?

The American Planning Association praised the Court’s notice of the importance of a plan, writing “This decision underscores the importance for a community to have a comprehensive development plan formulated through a democratic planning process with meaningful public participation by everyone.”

But these plans are rarely by and for the public. Almost always the government planning process is taken over and captured by special interests. We see this in public schools, where the planning and campaigning for new facilities is taken over by architectural and construction firms that see school building as a way to profit. It does not matter to them whether the schools are needed.

Our highway planning is hijacked by construction firms that stand to benefit, whether or not new roads are actually needed.

Our planning process for downtown Wichita is run by special interest groups that believe that downtown has a special moral imperative, and another group that sees downtown as just another way to profit at taxpayer expense. Both believe that taxpayers across Wichita, Kansas, and even the entire country must pay to implement their vision. As shown in Kansas and Wichita need pay-to-play laws the special interests that benefit from public spending on downtown make heavy political campaign contributions to nearly all members of the Wichita City Council. They don’t have a political ideology. They contribute only because they know council members will be voting to give them money.

In Wichita’s last school bond election, 72 percent of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, was given by contractors, architects, engineering firms and others who directly stand to benefit from new school construction, no matter whether schools are actually needed. The firm of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture led the way in making these contributions. It’s not surprising that this firm was awarded a no-bid contract for plan management services for the bond issue valued at $3.7 million. This firm will undoubtedly earn millions more for those projects on which it serves as architect.

The special interest groups that benefit from highway construction: They formed a group called Economic Lifelines. It says it was formed to “provide the grassroots support for Comprehensive Transportation Programs in Kansas.” Its motto is “Stimulating economic vitality through leadership in infrastructure development.”

A look at the membership role, however, lets us know whose economic roots are being stimulated. Membership is stocked with names like AFL-CIO, Foley Equipment Company, Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City, Kansas Aggregate & Concrete Associations, Kansas Asphalt Pavement Association, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Society of Professional Engineers, and PCA South Central Cement Promotion Association. Groups and companies like these have an economic interest in building more roads and highways, whether or not the state actually needs them.

The planners themselves are a special interest group, too. They need jobs. Like most government bureaucrats, they “profit” from increasing their power and influence, and by expansion of their budgets and staffs. So when Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton asks a professional planner questions about the desirability of planning, what answer does he think he will get? It’s not that the planners are not honest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.

And we have evidence that planners watch out for themselves. It is not disputed that this planning grant benefits Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP). Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau says that John Schlegel, Wichita’s Director of Planning, told him that “acceptance of this grant will take REAP to another level, because right now they are struggling, and this will help plot the course for REAP.” He said that REAP, which is housed at the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University, needs to expand its role and authority in order to give it “something to do.”

We see that REAP is another special interest group seeking to benefit itself. In this case, our best hope is that REAP engages in merely make-work, that the plan it produces is put on a shelf and ignored, and that the only harm to us is the $1.5 million cost of the plan.

By the way, did you know that Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh, who voted in favor of the plan that benefits REAP, is a board member of REAP, and may become the next chairman? Special interest groups know how to play the political game, that’s for sure.

Federal, United Nations planning imported to Wichita

Yesterday the Sedgwick County Commission voted to participate in a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant.

Republican commissioners Dave Unruh and Jim Skelton joined with Democrat Tim Norton to pass the measure. Below, Paul Soutar of Kansas Watchdog explains why this planning process is a bad idea.

Local Planning Initiative Has Federal Strings, UN Roots

by Paul Soutar, Kansas Watchdog

The Sedgwick County Commission will decide Wednesday whether to give a consortium of South Central Kansas governments and organizations broad control over community planning funded by a federal grant and based on a United Nations agenda.

The Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Consortium for Sustainable Communities seeks to implement a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RPSD) for South Central Kansas.

REAP’s application for a federal grant said the plan will “provide an overall vision and commitment for sustainable growth in South Central Kansas. The RSPD will provide goals, strategies, and action steps to support that vision. Specifically, that RPSD will create a regional integrated transportation, housing, air quality and water infrastructure plan that aligns federal resources and provides for sustainable development and resources (fiscal, human and capital) to support our economic centers.‘

Much of the language and goals of sustainable communities grants reflect the goals of the U.N.’s Agenda 21, a global environmental agenda for the 21st century revealed at the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.

Agenda 21 is a comprehensive framework for global, national and local action aimed at improving environmental equality through massive changes in how resources are consumed and allocated.

According to Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21), a December 2011 UN review of implementation of Agenda 21, “Achieving greater equity requires a significant reduction in consumption by industrialized countries.”

Continue reading at Local Planning Initiative Has Federal Strings, UN Roots.

Sedgwick County should reject planning grant

Update: The county decided to participate in the grant, with Republican commissioners Dave Unruh and Jim Skelton joining with Democrat Tim Norton to pass the measure.

Today the Sedgwick County Commission considers whether to participate in a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant.

One reason we ought to reject this grant and the planning process it funds is the attitude of planners. A recent example comes from the planning process for downtown Wichita, which is characteristic of government planning processes and planners.

Consider the attitudes of Goody Clancy, the Boston planning firm the city hired to lead us through the process. At a presentation, some speakers from Goody Clancy revealed condescending attitudes towards the lifestyles that many in Sedgwick County have chosen. One presenter said “Outside of Manhattan and Chicago, the traditional family household generally looks for a single family detached house with yard, where they think their kids might play, and they never do.” In other words, this planner knows the desires of people better than they do themselves.

David Dixon, who leads Goody Clancy’s Planning and Urban Design division and was the principal for this project, revealed his elitist world view when he told how that in the future, Wichitans will be able to “enjoy the kind of social and cultural richness” that is only found at the core.

This idea that only downtown people are socially and culturally rich is an elitist attitude that we ought to reject. Considering the members of the Sedgwick County Commission, I don’t see anyone who lives in the core area. Do the commissioners accept Dixon’s criticism?

These attitudes reflect those of most of the planning profession — that people can’t be relied on to choose what’s best for them. Instead they believe that only they — like the planners at Goody Clancy — are equipped to make choices for people. It’s an elitism that Sedgwick County ought to reject.

The irony is that when we start to look at what exactly planners like Goody Clancy are selling us, we find that we ought to reject it.

In January, Dixon used Walk Score in a presentation delivered in Wichita. Walk Score is purported to represent a measure of walkability of a location in a city. Walkability is a key design element of the master plan Goody Clancy has developed for downtown Wichita.

Walk Score is not a project of Goody Clancy, as far as I know, and Dixon is not responsible for the accuracy or reliability of the Walk Score website. But he presented it and relied on it as an example of the data-driven approach that Goody Clancy — and by extension, planners in general — takes.

Walk Score data for downtown Wichita, as presented by planning firm Goody ClancyWalk Score data for downtown Wichita, as presented by planning firm Goody Clancy. Click for a larger view.

The score for 525 E. Douglas, the block the Eaton Hotel is in and mentioned by Dixon as a walkable area, scored 91, which means it is a “walker’s paradise,” according to the Walk Score website.

But here’s where we can start to see just how bad the data used to develop these scores is. For a grocery store — an important component of walkability — the website indicates indicates a grocery store just 0.19 miles away. It’s “Pepsi Bottling Group,” located on Broadway between Douglas and First Streets. Those familiar with the area know there is no grocery store there, only office buildings. The claim of a grocery store here is false.

There were other claimed amenities where the data is just as bad. But the chairman of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation told me that Walk Score has been updated. I should no longer be concerned with the credibility of this data, he told me through a comment left on this website.

He’s correct. Walk Score has been updated. Now for the same location the walk score is 85%, which is considered “very walkable.” The “grocery store” is no longer the Pepsi Bottling Group. It’s now “Market Place,” whose address is given as 155 N. Market St # 220.

If someone would ever happen to stroll by that location, he’d find that address, 155 N. Market number 220, is the management office for an office building whose name is Market Place.

Still no grocery store. Not even close.

Again, David Dixon and Goody Clancy did not create the Walk Score data. But they presented it to Wichitans as an example of the data-driven, market-oriented approach to planning that they use. Dixon cited Walk Score data as the basis for higher real estate values based on the walkability of the area and its surrounding amenities.

But anyone who relies on the evidence Dixon and Goody Clancy presented would surely get burnt unless they investigated the area on their own.

And since this January reliance on Walk Score was made after Goody Clancy had spent considerable time in Wichita, the fact that someone there could not immediately recognize how utterly bogus the data is — that should give us cause for concern that the entire planning process is based on similar shoddy data and analysis.

Anti personal automobile, anti-mobility

Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole, author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future, writes the following regarding the tremendous boost the personal automobile has given Americans: “Since the dawn of the Republic, no invention has enhanced the quality of life of the average American as much as the mass-produced automobile. Americans today are far more mobile, they earn much higher incomes, and they have access to far more consumer goods than a hundred years ago. It is no exaggeration to attribute most of these improvements to the wide availability of automobiles.”

This is important to know because the planning process the county is considering is definitely anti-automobile.

One of the goals for the plan is: “Regional Transportation Plan: Develop multi-modal transportation options/programs for the region and connects housing options to emerging employment clusters.” This sounds like a good and noble idea. But in practice, government transit systems fail to produce what riders truly need, and are very expensive. The last time I checked, only 22.5 percent of the costs of running the Wichita transit system is paid for by riders through the fare box. Taxpayers — most of whom don’t ride the buses — pay the rest.

But owning an automobile gives people mobility, and that is very important for workers. Some examples:

“Studies show that car ownership is a significant factor in improving the employment status of welfare recipients.” (Job Access, Commute, and Travel Burden Among Welfare Recipients)

“Raphael and Rice (2002) found in their study that car ownership has a strong effect on the probability of an individual being employed as well as on the number of hours they work per week. Generally, car ownership better enables job seekers to look for jobs. They can consider work outside of regular transit service hours, and they can travel faster, more safely, and more flexibly than with public transportation.” (Transportation & Work: Exploring Car Usage and Employment Outcomes in the LSAL Data)

Also from this study: “Overall, car ownership does appear to have an important relationship to employment status, wages, and weeks worked.” And “Having a car as a primary mode of transportation makes a respondent four times as likely to be employed. Car ownership also improves earnings by several hundred dollars and increases weeks worked by up to eleven weeks.”

In the rankings of factors that are important to obtaining employment, a car was more useful than a high-school-equivalent diploma. We should be working to increase automobile ownership, especially among lower-income people. The planning process you are considering adopting today, with its emphasis on government transit rather than private automobiles, will decrease mobility and economic opportunity for everyone.

Finally, consider the Wichita transit system. It is in financial crisis at this time. There are proposals floating around city hall for a sales tax to pay for transit.

Sustainable development presented in Wichita

Next week the Sedgwick County Commission takes up the issue of whether to participate in a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. This is part of an initiative to replace personal freedom with government planning.

Today Tom DeWeese, President, American Policy Center, addressed members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on the topic “U.N. Agenda 21: Sustainable Development.” An audio presentation of his address is below.

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An op-ed in this topic written by Randal O’Toole, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute is “Sustainable planning” not so sustainable.

An informational sheet from the Americans for Prosperity Foundation “Need to Know” series is available at Agenda 21, ICLEI, and “Sustainable Development.”

A paper on this topic written by Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau is available at Sustainable Development and U.N. Agenda 21: Economic Development or Economic Destruction?

Also, so that citizens may be informed on this issue, Americans for Prosperity, Kansas is holding an informational event on Monday April 2, from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at Spangles Restaurant, corner of Kellogg and Broadway. (If the Kansas Jayhawks make it to the NCAA basketball title game, the television broadcast doesn’t start until 8:00 pm, with tip off sometime later.) The meeting is described as follows: “On April 4, 2012 at 9:00 am on the 3rd floor of the Sedgwick County Courthouse, the Sedgwick County Commission will be holding a public hearing to consider approval of Sedgwick County’s participation as the fiscal agent on behalf of the Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Consortium with an ‘in-kind’ commitment of $120,707 to implement a Regional Plan for Sustainable Communities Grant for South Central Kansas. Public comment will be invited. Learn about the Sustainable Communities Plan for South Central Kansas. Find out how you can get involved in this issue as a citizen. Consider testifying before the County Commission. Consider attending the Commission meeting as an interested citizen.” … For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Sedgwick County Commissioner to present on sustainable development

This Friday (February 17th) Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau will make a presentation regarding sustainable development, particularly the Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) and its participation in an agreement with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Sustainable Housing And Communities.

Sustainable development, sometimes called “smart growth,” is an effort to increase government’s ability to plan many areas of the economy and the personal lives of citizens. In a letter to commissioners, Sedgwick County Manager Bill Buchanan wrote that the grant will “consist of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, energy use and climate change, and public health and environmental impact.”

In his paper, Ranzau wrote: “Proponents of these grants often speak in general terms that make it difficult to disagree. But as they say, the devil is in the details. It is very important for you to know what they are not telling you. We all need to look beyond the fancy talk and find out what the agenda is really about. … The intent of this paper is to share information and insight about ‘sustainable development’ so that citizens and elected officials can have a more complete understanding of what the planning grants will entail and what possible consequences our communities may face if these policies are implemented.”

Ranzau’s written presentation on this topic may be found at Sustainable planning: The agenda and details.

Ranzau will present as part of the Wichita Pachyderm Club’s regular Friday luncheon meeting. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm Club meetings. The meeting starts at noon in the Wichita Petroleum Club on the top floor of the Bank of America Building at 100 N. Broadway (north side of Douglas between Topeka and Broadway). The cost of the meeting is $10, which includes a buffet lunch. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.