Monday, May 02, 2005

Fantasyland Planning

Monday’s posting is later than usual so I could relate today’s planning events.

My county is in the midst of conducting its general plan update. At this time, we have reached the part of the process where the discussion turns to constraint analysis. Constraints, according to Websters is “One that restricts, limits, or regulates; a check”. By most measures of the definition, that would mean examining your initial assumptions and finding out whether or not the circumstances will support them. Constraints could be local (presence of a flood plain), regional (water supply) or systematic (energy). With an opening framework such as this, a discussion of peak energy would not only be germane, it would be useful. Well, useful in theory anyway…

Because as it turned out, peak energy constraints were not discussed.

Instead, the planning process focused on the constraints your average planner would expect to see and be able to handle during the course of general plan. Infrastructure issues were paramount. Questions like would this community have adequate sewer capacity or that community be sufficiently served by the current road network were asked. Ideas were formed on how, when and where growth could be channeled and what local constraints were made evident. Out of that process, a focusing on key development areas and a narrowing of alternative options occurred.

From that, the discussion focused on the one issue that “threatens” the growth potential for this county (in the eyes of local planners and politicians): water availability. This county—like many in the Western US—is concerned about the continued availability of water supplies and recent rulings in the US Federal Court System have placed some of the county’s water allocation into doubt. Under the worst case scenario, an unfavorable ruling would result in a pretty sizable amount of water being cut from the county’s supplies. As a consequence, most staffers felt like this would represent the truest possible form of growth limitation.

After that the planning process went about discussing a number of irrelevant or downright trivial concerns. Questions like the following were asked:

“Will we be able to economically grow?”
“What can we do about the jobs-houses balance?”
“How can we improve goods movement in this county?”
“what form should new growth take?”
“Are there any places that should be off limits to growth?”
“Will we displace more farmland?”

Other questions were asked, but all referred back to this one lone question: How are we going to accommodate the 150,000 new residents that will call this place home over the next 25 years? Never once did it enter the picture that we may never see those 150,000 new arrivals. Nor did the possibility that all of their previously held conceptions of growth might not occur.

So why not? As it was mentioned before, peak energy discussion never entered the picture. Out of deference to my supervisor that deemed the constraints analysis forum not to be the appropriate venue for such a discussion (despite its obvious relevancy!), I kept quiet. As I have been promised a bigger and better forum, I am not complaining. But the clock is ticking. Energy depletion, be it oil or gas, is a pressing issue and cannot be ignored for long. Sooner or later this issue will have to be dealt with. Until then we are engaged in Fantasyland Planning.

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