ICLEI is a failed approach to land use planning.

Testimony to the SeaTac City Council on May 22, 2012…

Good evening. My name is Bob Benze and I reside in Silverdale. I am an environmental engineer and a member of a number of boards including the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Growth Management Policy Board where I represent property rights organizations.

My question to you this evening is straightforward: Why would you want the United Nations, who’s member countries are quite frankly not supportive of America or its values, telling you how to plan your city’s future?

Lets look at the two contrasting views of how government should control land use – one American and the other UN. Our state constitution is a good starting place:

Article I, Section 1 states: “All political power is inherent in the people and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.

It does not say governments are established to protect public rights or environmental rights. Instead, government’s primary function is to protect individual rights, including the individual’s fundamental right to own property. 

Our founders understood that the ability to create equity through property ownership is essential to the wealth-creating ability of a country. In the United States, equity loans on personal homes provide the funding for 70 percent of all small business starts. Michael Coffman says that: “When the state gains control over private property rights, the ability to create wealth stagnates or even declines, thereby creating poverty and misery rather than freedom and wealth.”

Hernando de Soto says that the inability to own property is the primary cause of poverty in much of the world. He notes that: “The poor inhabitants of these nations — five-sixths of humanity — do have things, but they lack the process to represent their property and create capital. They have houses but not titles; crops but not deeds; businesses but not statutes of incorporation.” De Soto concludes that” “The total value of property held, but not legally owned, by the poor of the developing nations and former communist countries is at least $9.3 trillion! If this “dead capital” was legalized, it could be used as collateral for investment loans, just like it is in the West – eliminating poverty overnight.”

But the United Nations and their NGOs have a different view. They believe that sustainable development depends on government control of the land.

They would have you believe that people and the environment are not compatible and that we need to get people out of rural areas and off the shorelines. Of course, none of this is supported by science or the historic record. Our nation’s waters today are in far better shape than in 1960’s – meeting almost all the objectives of the original clean water act. Our air is clean. There are more trees today than when the first settlers arrived.

UN sustainability advocates also hold that energy use, which is essential to wealth generation and a high standard of living, is bad and try to convince you that we are depleting scarce resources and poisoning the environment (things that are simply not true).

At the heart of the UN philosophy is Agenda 21, a core UN treaty document designed to strictly control energy development and consumption; transportation; industrial development; terrestrial and marine resource development; and land use. It was signed by George H.W. Bush at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit – but never ratified. Instead, it was implemented through an executive order signed by Bill Clinton.

Implementation at the local level is through ICLEI, the International Council For Local Environmental Initiatives — an international association of local government organizations whose members are bound to the sixteen ICLEI Earth Charter Principles to guide local actions. The major thrust areas are the three E’s:

Equity — which advocates a system of “social justice”.

Economy — which promotes Fabian socialist economics.

Environment — promoting Sustainable Development – which advocates the abolishment of private property.

The U.N. position on private property can be seen by looking back at Habitat I, the 1976 United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, held in Vancouver, BC. The preamble to the section on land stated, in part:

Land, because of its unique nature and the critical role it plays in human settlements, cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice; ……

……….. Public control of land use is therefore indispensible to its protection as an asset and the achievement of the long-term objectives of human settlement policies and objectives.

So, what are the facts about sustainable land management?

Wendell Cox says that cities are important because they are the economic drivers of society. He points out that cities cannot effectively exist without their suburbs or without the automobile, the only form of mobility that actually works. Indeed, it was the introduction of the automobile that originally made large urban areas possible, and automobiles are the key to metropolitan job growth today.

Cox points out that public transportation, as advocated by sustainable development, can’t do the job – only about 7% of Seattle jobs are accessible by transit in 45 minutes. The public is forced to drive because transit doesn’t work for them – with 95% of daily trips made by car. But, under sustainable growth policies, 63% of transportation spending is on transit — trying to force people out of their cars — not on eliminating congestion to facilitate mobility.

And what about sprawl? As Robert Bruegmann explained in his book “Sprawl”, sprawl is not bad. The suburbs are natural and essential extensions of a healthy city. Despite the government’s best efforts to limit “sprawl” virtually all recent “urban” growth, has been in the suburban areas.

For example, in the Seattle area, in the decade from 2000 to 2010, 76.3% of the growth was in the suburbs. And 60% of this growth was in detached housing – the clear preference of most homeowners.

Efforts to limit sprawl only serve to make affordable housing matters worse. Limiting the land available for development artificially drives the cost of housing upward – limiting the potential buyers that can afford a home. When the median house prices exceeds three times the median household income, homes become unaffordable. In the Seattle area, the additional cost of a home due to land regulation was estimated at $200,000 in a UW study.

Before sustainable growth, about half of prospective buyers in the Seattle area could afford to buy a home. Today, thanks largely to sustainability and smart growth, only about one out of five qualify.

And it should be noted that we are not running out of land. Only about 5% of Washington State is developed to urban or suburban densities.

So the real question then is: Which system actually works for the betterment of society? Is it a traditional American capitalistic free market system, where individual people are free to own property without government interference and to pursue their own self-interests, or is it a United Nation’s system that places a higher value on the rights of the society and the rights of the environment.

I would suggest that real-world data clearly shows it is the former that has given us the wealth, the freedom, and the standard of living we enjoy – and the wealth to protect the environment — and that we should not casually abandon it for a system that has a history of failure.

The bottom line is that sustainable development policies simply don’t work. They don’t achieve their advertised objectives. Instead, they actually hurt the economy and they hurt the environment.

The choice is yours. Do you want the freedom to make your land use policy at the local level with the “consent of the governed” or do you want the United Nations to tell you and the people you represent how to do it? I would suggest that abandoning ICLEI would be a good start.

Thank you for listening.


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