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Navigating the Balkans of land-use policy

I appreciate the letters that poured in following my last column. In any profession, it's wise to think out when to do battle, when to go to "war" and when to leave alone. It's like the many people who write to me whether they should buy a home today or invest in some real estate opportunity. I think about whether I should even try to assist their thinking.

My process goes like this:

If they are a small investor, can my answer -- if mistaken -- cause them financial hardship? If so, I tell them I can't assist them, except perhaps to give them some perspective. If they are a normal-size client having the critical mass to weather a misjudgment or unforeseen possibility, then I feel I can render professional counsel; the worst that could happen is I could lose clients if they feel I'm wrong. I can handle that.

In writing a column, feelings and counsel are in writing. Still, they can be misinterpreted; they can cause anger or they can assist peoples' thinking. The word politician is a generalized word and criticism can make some politicos upset. By the same token, my personal ethic is that I can take full advantage of my freedom to express myself and if some person takes offense, then let them share their feelings with me -- and their reasons.

Concerning the recent issue of inclusionary housing, I faced a great deal of people trying to influence my personal expressions. I know a great many builders and even though I have made hardly any income from them over the past several years, I do attempt to be fair and objective toward them and their profession. I can be critical of their trade organization as any, but at least, unlike most of their critics, I know what I am writing about. If Woody Brehm calls me, I know I am speaking to an honest practitioner who happens to be a homebuilder. I receive his words as educational and have always found them to be fair, helpful and reasonable.

I have very mixed emotions about politicians. Here are the communities' main elected leaders and their staffs. I have found some of them pretty terrific but some are as fickle and unreasoning as the wind. Most depend upon their staffs to learn about what the facts of a situation are. Too many come to their voting decisions based upon one factor: Will it help or hinder my re-election? I can understand that, but feel it is a terrible weakness in people on whom we depend to lead us into better places and time. I try to be responsive to the elected officials who ask for my assistance in learning about the facts of a matter; I despise insincerity and two-faced people of any profession.

The real weakness of local politics is neither the builders nor the politicians. Rather it is the system of power held by community planning groups who form a Balkanized power structure that can be depended upon to protect itself at the cost of any progress for others. They often treat their community as a mob to be stampeded into intimidation at their whim. They've learned what political power is and how to use it. Their borders are sacrosanct and the Golden Rule is noticeable by its complete absence. Homebuilders and elected officials are the enemy whom they must try to control rather than educate or be educated by them.

I can understand their being protective of their primary asset, their home. What I refuse to appreciate is how self-righteous, how selfish, how unwilling to listen or compromise they can be; in addition how unwilling to learn the land-use vocabulary which truly describes the benefits of particular land use, rather than how they emotionally charge the matter so that there can be no reason, just conflict.

The biggest problem is how they have also controlled the political process which seeks to bring more affordability and land use sense and creativity into the process. Their strategy is simply to intimidate the council; how often they succeed is directly proportionate to how secure that official feels about re-election rather than their ethical duty to perform for the betterment of society.

The ethical obligation of leadership is to assist the education of their constituency, whether in business or in community. The phalanx of community groups is not to intimidate, but to make certain that they do not reach out beyond their borders, to defeat the only process that can allow deprivation of all neighbors' housing and economic needs to be ended. There is much difference between leadership and arrogance.

Drowning out the facts is not leadership.

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