Fearful of Agenda 21, an alleged U.N. plot, activists derail land-use planning


In November, La Plata County Commissioner Kellie Hotter called local land-use planning "a blood sport." She wasn't kidding. Since last spring, as this southwestern Colorado county considered a new comprehensive land-use plan, carnage has piled up. By mid-December, casualties included a fired planning commissioner, a resigned county planning director and the plan itself -- a 400-page document that took two years, $750,000 and 137 public meetings to produce.

Even planning veterans in the rural West -- where it's not uncommon for mind-numbing meetings to erupt into verbal fisticuffs -- were shocked by the bloodshed in La Plata County. But perhaps most surprising was who emerged the untarnished victors: Activists who believe that smart growth, clustered development, smart meters and even bike paths are all part of a nefarious United Nations plot to rob citizens of their liberties.

They may sound like folks on the fringe. But they are increasingly influential -- and they've sabotaged planning efforts nationwide.

The movement's ideology isn't new: resentment of government interference and vigilant defense of private-property rights, especially when environmental initiatives are involved. What is new is the alleged villain: Agenda 21, a two-decades-old U.N. document that encourages sustainable development worldwide. The Agenda is being foisted, opponents claim, on often-unsuspecting local governments by ICLEI, a nonprofit that offers planning tools, greenhouse gas inventory software and technical support to some 550 government members in the U.S.

The result? "Government will control how hot your shower may be, how much air conditioning or heat you may use," writes Tom DeWeese of the American Policy Center, an intellectual parent of the end-Agenda 21, or Agender, movement. "The policy of Agenda 21 comes in many names, such as Sustainable Development, Smart Growth, historic preservation ... and comprehensive planning."

La Plata County might not seem like a yeasty environment for fermenting right-wing movements. It's voted mostly Democratic in major elections for at least 10 years. The population center is Durango, a college town with a disproportionate number of professional cyclists, lawyers and raft guides, not to mention a fabulous bike path. But remnants of the older West remain, most notably some 3,000 oil and gas wells. A far-right faction also still festers. When Colorado's GOP was fractured by extremist and moderate infighting in 2006, the struggle was centered here.

Planning has always been contentious, and the county commission expected some controversy when, in 2009, it charged its staff and a team of consultants with developing a community-driven vision for the county's growth over the next 20 years. The plan would contain no actual regulations, but it would provide a critical road map for rewriting the county's land-use code.

A diverse, 17-member working group was formed to represent the community, and the public was encouraged to attend meetings. From the beginning, a vocal minority suspicious of government interference was present. At one early meeting, after a consultant spoke about preserving agriculture, possibly through zoning, sheep-rancher J. Paul Brown said: "If you're looking for a fight, keep that crap up!"  Such sentiments were incorporated into the draft plan.

Last spring, an ambitious vision emerged to rein in sprawl, encourage bicycling and public transportation, protect agriculture and promote sustainability. Respect for private-property rights and conventional energy development were also emphasized, and the draft was sent to the planning commission, an appointed body that in Colorado has the final say on county comprehensive plans. "There wasn't a word in that plan that wasn't vetted by the working group," says Charlie Deans, the lead consultant.

But around the same time, the Agender movement was slithering out of the political primordial soup. Since as early as 2003, a few far-right commentators such as DeWeese had banged the Agenda 21 drum, but few listened. Then, in 2009, DeWeese took his ideas to the Tea Party, and its branches began adopting the Agender platform. "It was a slow acceleration," says Don Knapp, an ICLEI spokesman who has tracked the movement.

During the 2010 mid-term campaign, Dan Maes, a doomed Republican and Tea Party Colorado gubernatorial candidate, announced that Denver's bike-sharing program was part of a U.N. plot -- probably the first high-profile mention of Agenda 21. In a debate for Colorado House District 59, La Plata County's J. Paul Brown declared that Obama had a secret army and that the U.N. is "going to control our land and our guns." Gleeful Democrats assumed the rhetoric would kill Brown's chances for a seat long held by moderates. They were wrong: Brown won.

Also in 2010, Rosa Koire started the Post-Sustainability Institute, which campaigns against Agenda 21 and "communitarianism." Despite the fact that she's a registered Democrat who looks fresh from auditions for a Gloria Steinem bio-pic, Koire, a Bay Area real-estate appraiser, has become a Tea Party YouTube hero and Agender leader. Then, last June, Glenn Beck did a 14-minute anti-Agenda 21 monologue on Fox News.

"It really picked up steam after that," says Knapp. Last month, Koire and dozens of fellow Agenders packed a planning meeting in Marin County, Calif., shouting anti-planning slogans. Agenders in Benton County, Ore., went after a plan to protect river corridors. One told the Corvallis Gazette-Times: "Riparian, sustainability -- it's the words that give 'em away. Their goal is to take over the world by taking over the water, the land and the food." Last fall, Newt Gingrich vowed to cut funding for "any kind of activity for United Nations Agenda 21" if elected president.  And at least 16 communities have ended their ICLEI membership in protest.

In La Plata County, by late July the anti-planning crowd started referencing Agenda 21 in their public comments. County planner Erick Aune had never even heard of it. So he attended an "evening of Agenda 21 education" hosted by the Four Corners Liberty Restoration group, where the featured speaker masterfully laid out a 200-year conspiracy culminating in the comprehensive plan. By the end of that month, more than 100 people had signed a petition against it, saying it was "based on emotional feel-good ideas that are designed for social engineering and social equity that trample our rights as free people."

In December, after whittling the plan down to about 40 pages and snuffing out an entire chapter on sustainable development, the La Plata County planning commission unanimously voted to scrap it altogether. Aune resigned a day later.

The reasons the planning commissioners gave were somewhat vague. The plan was too values-based; it didn't reflect the will of the community. But there's little doubt that the Agenders influenced the process. "I'm for planning, but I'm not for the ideological, political, social engineering that went into this document," commissioner Steven Kallaher said in December. Earlier, of community concerns, he said, "Someone who owns hundreds of acres in the county doesn't want someone living in the city who rides a solar-powered bicycle to tell them what to do."

"The (Agenders) group was very organized and very focused and very intent on delivering a consistent message," says Aune. "They wanted (the comprehensive plan) to go away because it represents government and control to them."

The movement's meteoric rise is probably due to the fact that it's just the most recent incarnation of an age-old ideology. "Local debates about property rights have been around for decades," says Knapp. "What's new is this idea that it has to do with the United Nations or the imposition of some outside force ... that there's this tyranny at play.

"(It's) motivated a lot of people to get involved in local politics," he says. "It's a really good scare story. It's big on fear, it's big on fiction, and it's short on fact."

Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Feb 06, 2012 09:22 AM
In hopes of promoting understanding I’m providing a translation to standardized English for use with Agenda 21 vocabulary. Certain words just go together and any article involving any issues ecological written since the beginning of this decade just has to have the word “stakeholder” in it. I challenge anyone to pen an HCN story without using it . Kind of like describing Buddhist monks without saying “saffron”. It should also be noted it’s not paranoia if they really are out to “get ya”.

Vision: My ideas and people who think as I do.

Sustainable: If this type of thing went on for a long time I wouldn’t agitate against it.

Inter-disciplinary: If I don’t agree with the science I’ll get someone on board who will, preferably a sociologist from Berkley who is good at public relations.

Common Good: I know what’s best for you.

Best Management Practices: Don’t blame me because things went wrong, I covered my butt with a long paper trail.

Restoration: I want things to look just like they do on modern Hollywood westerns.

Public/Private partnerships: My friends are going to get a piece of this thing and if you go along you can too.

Watershed: Catch and release fly fishermen.

Preserve: Preserved for bird watchers only.

Endangered species: Not a vegetable or mineral, amended to include any plant except those sold in Whole Foods.

Historic Preservation: I want cute looking houses to drive past and I’m going to make you keep your house cute by law.

Benefit of all: I know what’s best for you in the long run even if you don’t.

Consensus: We might pretend to listen to you, but at the end of the day we’ll simply outlast you at the meeting and vote later after you’ve gone home.

Traffic Calming: We’re going to put in traffic circles so you and your doggone horse trailers don’t drive in my neighborhood. Can also mean raised beds with annuals.

Landscape: Used with words like “wide” or “level” meaning someone wants to impose something over hundreds of square miles. Something pretty enough to be photographed. A tell that the user has origins in the burbs of one coast or another where landscaping is what you pay people much poorer than yourself to do to your yard.

Facilitator: Someone to calm the crazies without committing to anything.

Affordable Housing: We don’t want trailers so we’ll build some condos school teachers can afford but please, no poor people.

Smart Growth: Sprawl with bike paths.

Livable Communities: Cul de sacs with bike paths all the way to Starbucks.

Stakeholder: blood sucking vampire that can only be put to rest with a wooden stake through the heart. If someone calls you a stakeholder consider yourself officially “undead”.

Smart Growth: My ideas are smart, yours are dumb.

Any more?
Roger Millar
Roger Millar Subscriber
Feb 07, 2012 09:39 AM
Just to be "fair and balanced:"

Property right: an inalienable, God-given entitlement to do whatever I want with or to a piece of this earth to which I own title or otherwise control, regardless of the direct or indirect impact on the rights of others. Only applies to land being considered for development.

Any more?
Jacques White
Jacques White Subscriber
Feb 07, 2012 02:36 PM
Agenda 21: when asked, 95% of people will say that my neighbor should not be allowed to do as they please on their own property if it has negative consequances for me.

Agender: when asked, 95% of people say they should be able to do whatever they want to on their own property.

Which "95%" are you?
Kris Loman
Kris Loman
Feb 07, 2012 04:22 PM
These people are hiding tin foil hats in their closets, and they will fade away, but in the meantime they are causing disruption at public meetings. How to keep them from disrupting yours? ICLEI has some good info, as do American Planning Assoc. and Smart Growth America.
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Feb 07, 2012 05:47 PM
Uh oh, Kris you're speaking in tongues, sure sign you're part of the secret cabal, "smart growth" he he. Where's that FEMA camp?
Mary  Russell
Mary Russell
Feb 07, 2012 06:13 PM
Fearlul? I'm not fearful of Agenda 21, I'm weary of citizens who aren't clear what the purpose of it is. Read it for yourself before you let anyone tell you it's something "bad". If you read it, even the introduction, you will see that it is a tool created by 100's of people, from over 180 nations to create economic, social, and environmental justice, at home and world-wide. Over the past 20 years it has been revised to adapt to a world that is becoming less empowering to local communities who see a need to be self-sustaining. It provides us with MORE power to determine our future, through citizen action. It suggests that through involvement from local citizenry, sustainable systems can be created, which benefit global sustainability.

This is bottom-up, versus top-down thinking.

Section IV, Chapter 36 is focused on education. As one of my students (a recent high school graduate) said yesterday, after learning about how long this document has been around, "I learned that apparently we could have been learning about sustainability in high school, middle school, and elementary school. Whereas, Colorado Mountain College was the first place I'd heard of it."
Kris Loman
Kris Loman
Feb 07, 2012 06:46 PM
Excellent point, Mary. Perhaps we should be asking these folks if they've read Agenda 21. I'm guessing the answer is no, and then where do they go with it? "No, I haven't read this secret conspiracy document, but I know it's BAD!". Credibility erased.
Emily Guerin
Emily Guerin Subscriber
Feb 07, 2012 07:48 PM
Last year, I wrote an article about this same phenomenon in Midcoast Maine. Citing concerns over Agenda 21, a group of conservative activists, with the help of Maine's Republican governor, successfully shut down a regional transportation plan. http://bit.ly/eQLR9F
Kris Loman
Kris Loman
Feb 07, 2012 08:07 PM
Shutting down a regional transportation plan? Now that's scary.
Mary  Russell
Mary Russell
Feb 08, 2012 08:46 AM
A friend once told me what his therapist once told him, "When I take really good care of myself, I have no complaints of others." The PBS special, "Fixing the Future", is a great source of inspiration for all of us who are focused implementing solutions. Have you heard of the "Cash Mob" movement? Our community has a call out tonight to mob Dos Gringos with $20. This is my idea of supporting local business without waiting for it to be legislated. I hope the citizens in Maine realize they can keep working to get their transportation plan approved, and it may take more progressive activism than opposition.
Tom Lane
Tom Lane
Feb 09, 2012 02:14 AM
Please keep in mind that Arthur Charette and Rosa Koire, with their Agenda 21 theories, destroy the credibility of many of us, who oppose "smart growth" for aesthetic and economic reasons.

Durango and La Plata County decided to build "smart growth" townhomes and towers ("infill" development), similar to Boulder, Bend, Denver, Portland, Seattle, and elsewhere.

However, tree hugger folks don't want to live in condo towers. Instead, they prefer living in the historic downtown, or, ranchettes in the countrysides, with backyard wildlife, Ponderosa pines, and horses.

The City of Durango master plan and the La Plata County Comprehensive Plan (the latter was developed with the Sonoran Institute of Tucson) both call for increasing population density along "mixed use" corridors, with condos above street level retail.

However, nobody wants to lives in a condo in a congested downtown area forever. Eventually, we all buy our own homes for our families, perhaps on acreage. Although there's plenty of land in La Plata County for all of the 50,000 residents to have several acres, the county's plan placed 99% of county's land off limits to anything smaller than 10 to 35 acres.

Developing "subdivisions" for newcomers on large 10 to 35 acre parcels of land is unaffordable, compared to standard subdivisions with one half to one acre lots. Due to many factors involving the cost of roads and utilities, housing affordability is best achieved at standard suburban densities, somewhere between "smart growth towers," and these 10 to 40 acre parcels. And, remember that many of these large properties are sold to "the rich," who get a tax break.

So, more than anything else, it sounds like the plan was a way to keep people out of the countryside, and make them live in smart growth towers that are expensive to construct - giving huge windfall profits to the developers, and ultimately the landlords. The developers and land use consultants from the Sonoran Institute, with their $750,000 taxpayer funded report win in this situation, certainly not the environment, or newcomers in search of affordable housing.

Indeed, that's the motivation behind smart growth - money for developers and consultants - certainly not Agenda 21. Right now, Durango is way too expensive, with an average home for $300,000 on Trulia, compared to just under $150,000 in nearby Albuquerque.

Finally, there are many "green" communities in the Southwest who have chosen to not take the smart growth approach of Durango, i.e. Santa Fe, and Placitas, NM; Sedona, Cave Creek, and Carefree, AZ; Palm Springs, CA, etc. Indeed, Sedona caps its condo density at 12dU/acre, Palm Springs require one quarter acre minimum lot sizes, and Cave Creek, AZ requires half acre minimum lot sizes.

High density, multi-story, smart growth is just the latest in a long history of planning paradigms. Ultimately, consumer demand for homes with private yards with large trees and other amenities will cause its demise.

And, remember that “smart growth” and urban growth boundaries were developed before Agenda 21 was written in the 1980′s. Smart growth has its origins in Boulder, Colorado in the 1960′s, and in both Oregon and California in the 1970′s. -Tom Lane
Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson Subscriber
Feb 09, 2012 09:06 AM
Tom: A couple of notes. 1. Plenty of folks opposed La Plata's proposed plan on grounds unrelated to Agenda 21. In fact, in voting it down, the planning commissioners never mentioned Agenda 21 (though some of the rhetoric, i.e. a fear of "social engineering," veered quite close to the Agenders'). And it's possible that had the Agenders never showed up, it might have failed anyway. But they did show up, emerging on the La Plata scene in concordance with their emergence on the national scene, so ... 2. The Sonoran Institute had a role in the plan's creation, but they were not the main consultants. 3. The consultants weren't paid $750,000; that figure is a county estimate of all the costs (including staff time) that went into the plan. 4. The way I see it, most current Agenders were once just opposed to "smart-growth" etc. for the same reasons as you are. Agenda 21, along with the Tea Party's adoption of the cause, has given those folks something more tangible to rally against and given a once ragtag movement a national cohesiveness that has increased its influence and strength.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jonathan Thompson
Kris Loman
Kris Loman
Feb 09, 2012 11:09 AM
Smart growth is about far more than condo towers, which seems to be the big boogy-man cooked up by agenders. No one is trying to force people to live in gulags, for goodness' sake. It's about efficient use of resources. Having residential above retail can be as simple as a two story building in a country small town. Smart planning harms no one. I agree that large acreage zoning is not smart planning. Extending utilities and roads to far-flung homes is the antithesis of smart.
Mary  Russell
Mary Russell
Feb 09, 2012 12:38 PM
Kris, thanks for these six words, "It's about efficient use of resources."
Tom Lane
Tom Lane
Feb 09, 2012 10:41 PM
Jonathan ... Thanks for the clarifications ... You wrote: "The way I see it, most current Agenders were once just opposed to "smart-growth" etc. for the same reasons as you are."

Tom responds - Not in my experience, since the Agenda 21 folks rarely talk about good urban design and high consumer demand for detached housing with private yards. Instead they think that smart growth is part of a larger conspiracy with the U.N., the Federal Reserve, and "Zionists" taking over the world. All of these conspiracies are absolutely ridiculous.

The Agenda 21 folks fail to point out the federal, state, and local money - both from grants and from smart growth developers and their lobbyists - influence some City Councils and Planners. And, the private developers sometimes pay city officials to get their massive developments approved.

None of this "crony capitalism" has anything to do with Agenda 21. And, I am making NO claims that ANY of this occurred in Durango or La Plata County !!! Indeed, many people like smart growth and high density condo towers and street level retail. However, many landscape architects prefer things to be more spread out, such as Sedona, Cave Creek, AZ, and Palm Springs.

There are plenty of alternatives to smart growth, including the planning paradigms in the cities I mentioned in the above post. In fact, even the City of Durango, CO (separate from the subject of this article, La Plata County) has designated over half of its land area for open space.

Since sprawl is inevitable due to population growth, then many realty and conservation associations recognize that more parks and trails are the best way to visually and aesthetically mitigate the effects of cookie cutter urban sprawl. Flagstaff, Boulder, Phoenix, Durango, and Ashland and Bend, Oregon, as some examples, are cities that have acquired private and public lands for open space. Maricopa County around Phoenix continues to turn state trust lands into parks, in conjunction with local cities as previously covered by HCN.

Another approach is to require preservation of all native vegetation during development, as in the high desert of Bend, Oregon, or in the Sonoran desert in Cave Creek, AZ. Indeed, to me, this is all about how to encourage good urban design, preserving native plants and natural areas at the same time. Unfortunately, the sprawl debate has degenerated to "smart growth vs. Agenda 21." Instead, the debate should be amongst other "green" theories vs. "smart growth."

And, I could name many more, here are just a few - Conservation Subdivisions from Randall Arendt, Landscape Urbanism from Charles Waldheim, the ideas from Frank Lloyd Wright and "other mid-century modernists," etc.

***References you may be interested in. I doubt the Agenda 21 folks ever read this stuff. Here's what the Central Oregon Association of Realtors political affairs director Bill Robie wrote to the City of Bend, stressing the importance of planning one acre lots to meet consumer demand. There is no mention of Agenda 21 in his letter to the City of Bend:


Second, a study from the National Association of Realtors showing that Americans preferred walkability AND ALSO large lots, see a link to this study here where there is no mention of Agenda 21:

Linda G Johnson
Linda G Johnson Subscriber
Feb 11, 2012 12:34 PM
The reason for community planning is to make sure things become or remain "comfortable" for a place's inhabitants. Where I live, community planning is going forth because an already crowded urban area is expected, quite reasonably, to double population in 20 years. The air is very polluted, the water supply is not unlimited. Why not do this as a community rather than developer by developer, which leaves us citizens to pay for a crazy patchwork of water & sewer pipes and plants, streets to repair but no sidewalks or way to "get there" except by driving. This is not a plot to take over the world, it's just good common sense. I grew up in the country in a masterplanned community that still works, even though it was laid out circa 1850. Why should we deprive our grandchildren of equally nice places to live?

Mary L Russell
Mary L Russell
Feb 12, 2012 11:01 PM
Anyone ever hear of Vermont's Act 250? (http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/permit_hb/sheet47.pdf) Enacted in 1970 (I remember it, even though I was just 9 years old),
"The law provides a public, quasi-judicial process for reviewing and managing the environmental, social and fiscal consequences of major subdivisions and development in Vermont through the issuance of land use permits."

Imagine that, 42 years ago, long before the Brundtland Commission's Report, Agenda 21, The Earth Charter, Lois Gibbs and Love Canal, leading to the Super Fund, Vermonters were concerned about the three E's of Sustainability - Environment, Social Equity, and Economy (fiscal).

Vermont is one of the most vibrant states in the union, and I'm not just talking about the single-bottom line, economy. The land is a valuable resource, evidenced by the ancient ban on billboards, and practice of offering a redemption for glass and tin cans. I'm sure plastic has been included.

And, neither Bernie Sander or Ben & Jerry had immigrated from NY yet!
Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Feb 13, 2012 09:18 AM
First of all, Jonathan, shame on you for using disparaging, nasty language like 'agender' and 'slithering'. Agenda 21 goes far beyond simple land use and anti-sprawl planning. It is essentially a taking of property (except for the ultra-rich) clothed in the garb of planning. Many states and communities have long implemented their own anti-sprawl provisions, such as Oregon and Vermont, but this is a result of a genuine community-based approach.
The fury of citizens seen in places like La Plata County comes from the insult added to injury through the use of the Delphi Technique (RAND CORPORATION) for managing the outcome of 'stakeholder' meetings. Simply put, Delphi methods are transparent and insulting to the intelligence. It is always obvious that someone with some good GIS software has already decided how MY land (on which I pay taxes for the privilege of ownership) is going to be used.
Linda G Johnson
Linda G Johnson Subscriber
Feb 13, 2012 09:41 AM
Bill Gore says "someone" has decided. That isn't normally a crook or unthoughtful process, though it could be of course. When an incorporated town or other entity makes decisions, they are based on a multitude of inputs. Sprawl is very expensive (roads, water & sewer lines, police services, fire services all cost by the mile) and sprawl uses up a lot of land that might have an alternative value. I once presided over a meeting where 2 groups of citizens had competing ideas: [A] was for "maintain our country style of living on 2-3 acre lots" and [B] was for "keep our town townlike with town type densities, surrounded by open land such as ranches." Both sides had proponents but two factors worked to make [B] win: To maintain large lots, we'd have filled up our valley from peak to peak, with nothing but that; and the Town itself worked out the cost to incorporate the large lot development and said no thanks. We ended up with a really nice compact town with bus transit within walking distance for many, shopping too. There was nothing evil about the plan, no agenda to rob anyone of development rights they didn't have to begin with. It was sensible and manageable growth. I would hope ALL new development would follow the path we did at that time.
Kris Loman
Kris Loman
Feb 13, 2012 10:16 AM
Amen, Linda. There is no agenda to rob people of property rights they already have. They do not, however, have the right to do whatever they choose with property if it conflicts with community, state, or federal laws. Our property rights include responsibilities - to our neighbors and our communities. Property rights fanatics always forget that. What I put in my creek flows to other properties, and I do not have the right, legally or morally, to pollute that creek.
By the way, Bill, I have absolutely no idea what the Delphi Technique is, and I've been in local government for 8 years. Be very careful about reading conspiracy theory and taking it automatically as fact. Do your own research for facts, not fear-mongering. Honestly, talk about the Rand Corporation trying to control town meetings...plain old ignorance.
Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Feb 13, 2012 10:28 AM
Google it Kris. I observed the Delphi technique in action here in San Diego, in the 'charrette" (=charade) meetings for the Grantville redevelopment plans here in San Diego.
After the 'breakout' mini-meetings, all the participants input was compiled and what do you know, everyone's vision for the Grantville area neatly coincided with the plans and models already prepared by a major developer. Fortunately, no less a progressive than California Governor Jerry Brown has seen through the cronyism and graft of redevelopment agencies.
Also-I did not state that the RAND Corporation was trying to control town meetings (clever twist though!). Delphi is simply a widely used method for 1) controlling outcomes and 2) adding a veneer of 'stakeholder' approval to a pre-determined outcome.
Linda G Johnson
Linda G Johnson Subscriber
Feb 13, 2012 10:31 AM
Kris, google delphi with Rand to find out, it was a war-plannning technique etc
Kris Loman
Kris Loman
Feb 13, 2012 10:36 AM
Is it possible, Bill, that the developer had done his/her homework and knew what the community wanted, and thus had designed the project in order to get community buy-in and a quicker approval? Or at the very least that the planners had done their homework, and helped the developer design a plan that fit the community? Sounds reasonable to me, much more reasonable than some charrette conspiracy.
Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson Subscriber
Feb 13, 2012 03:12 PM
Mr. Gore,

Thanks for your comments. However, I can't take credit for devising the "nasty" term "Agender." That's a name people in the anti-Agenda 21 movement have given themselves, e.g.: http://www.meetup.com/tampa912/events/18074391/

My use of the word "slithering" was simply a piece of a larger evolution metaphor I was going for, and was surely not meant to be nasty.

Whether or not some Delphi technique was used, I can say that most of the people who worked on the La Plata plan agree that it was a community-driven effort, evidenced by the widespread outrage that resulted from the planning commission's scrapping of the plan.

Thanks again for your thoughts,
Jonathan Thompson
Thomas Lane
Thomas Lane
Feb 15, 2012 12:59 AM
Mr. Gore, What is the "Delphi Technique?" Can you tell me if any of these land use / smart growth surveys use this? In all of these surveys on land use and transportation, the poll results were mostly against high density developments. See the two surveys at the top menu -
Thomas Lane
Thomas Lane
Feb 15, 2012 01:22 AM
What we're also debating is aesthetics, and how much space people want. Specifically, it is very clear from the above surveys that people prefer walkability, along with a private yard. In the LaCrosse, WI Survey, folks wanted 3 to 5 acre parcels. However, another city might find this too big. Two acre properties in an entire valley (as Linda referred to above) does not create as walkable of a neighborhood. Perhaps a quarter acre is best? A half acre? That's up to each town to decide.

As for 4 to 12 story condo towers? Some "resort" and "tourist" cities do not even allow them, i.e. in Cave Creek, Arizona and Palm Springs, AZ, the height limit is two stories for multi-family housing. Surveys from Dr. Peter Howley of Dublin, Ireland show that 75% of apartment tower dwellers would prefer their own house with a private yard. But the yard size needs to be large enough for barbeques, family events, and for children to play. Many people who move to Bend, Oregon complain that the lots in newer smart growth developments are too small, with the garages in the back down an alley, instead of parking on the street.

Overall, most of these planning on lot sizes are made locally, and not from any Agenda 21 conspiracy or federally directed program. Oregon and Washington, however, have statewide growth management for every city, but most states do not, and local cities in such states do whatever they please (such as Houston, Texas where zoning is PROHIBITED by LAW).

The Real Estate industry prefers single family housing, since their very own studies (such as the one above) find that most people prefer homes with private yards. Architecture enthusiasts, myself included, generally prefer larger lot developments. Therefore, it is best to frame these debates in terms of what city residents want, rather than hiring outside consultants or following the EPA and NRDC smart growth web sites.

Land use economists advocate a mix of housing densities to maximize differential demand among homebuyers. If everything is planned to be exactly the same size under just one paradigm, such as smart growth, then there's always the risk that one will build housing types that nobody wants. Planning for a diversity of housing choices is always best to meet differential consumer demands.
Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Feb 15, 2012 09:59 AM
As I see it, the debate is really between genuine participatory democracy and technocrat-driven outcomes. On paper at least (an old piece of parchment called the Constitution) this country is a participatory democracy, where the taxpaying voters have the last and final word. Indeed, this country has spent trillions (borrowed from other countries) promoting the practice of democracy around the world. At home it seems to be another matter, especially where land use planning is concerned. Dialing back down to La Plata County, first Jonathan I apologize for accusing you of using disparaging language. I am now confused as to whether the larger outrage was the outrage of the citizens of La Plata County at the plan itself or at the scrapping of the plan? The implication is that the opposition to the plan was led by a minority of residents. If indeed a majority approved the plan then why was it scrapped? I have observed that often the problem with centralized land planning is that it is divorced from the cultural context. I hate sprawl as much as anyone, but I also have to respect the land use mores of the area in which I reside. One of the things I love about visiting Germany and Switzerland is seeing large areas of beautiful forest and countryside abut urban areas. The trees actually 'look' happy! The primeval cultural values, which I think trace back to the Saxon worship of trees, forbid the despoilation of absolutely EVERYTHING, the way we do here in the states. Exhibit 1 in the horrors of scorched earth development would be the formerly beautiful sonoran desert in Arizona. So sad.
Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson Subscriber
Feb 15, 2012 10:29 AM
Bill, To try to succinctly answer your questions: In Colorado, the final decision on comprehensive county plans lies with the planning commission, a board appointed (not elected) by the county commissioners. In La Plata, the planning commission voted unanimously first to eviscerate, then to scrap the plan; they were egged on by a very vocal group of citizens, which included the Agenders (who were, indeed, outraged at the plan). Meanwhile, another group of citizens -- clearly the majority in most public meetings -- tried to keep the plan intact, to no avail. They were the ones who were then outraged at the plan's scrapping.
Thomas Lane
Thomas Lane
Feb 15, 2012 11:00 PM
Jonathan, and Bill,

Since the final decision on the comprehensive plan is from the La Plata County Commissioners, then La Plata County is very fortunate. This scenario of local control is very different compared to states that require Smart Growth and Urban Growth Boundaries in every city ... i.e. Washington and Oregon.

There are significantly more opportunities for public participation in La Plata County, compared to Durango's "sister cities" (in terms of the arts and the outdoors), of Bend, Oregon, and Ashland, Oregon, where the State Department of Land Conservation and Development must use taxpayer money to actually travel to town, and meet with public officials.

Bend has been trying to expand its urban growth boundary for seven years, but has been unable to, due to the state DLCD commission who has denied their proposal multiple times. Meanwhile, Bend's housing market has crashed, and businesses are hesitant to expand in an economy with 13% unemployment and related consequences.

13% unemployment will never happen in Durango, as long as local citizens have direct input into the planning process.

I am not sure if Colorado has ever tried to pass a growth management act for every city, do you know? DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments) administers regional planning around the Denver metro, excluding Fort Collins (and, Ft. Collins has 6% unemployment compared to perhaps 9% in the Denver metro).

Since the majority of the citizens wanted the comprehensive plan, then hopefully, the citizens will elect new commissioners who represent their interests. When will new commissioners be on the ballot?
Mary L Russell
Mary L Russell
Feb 16, 2012 08:03 AM
Here is a link to Garfield County's website, and the overview of our Comprehensive Plan: http://www.garfield-county.com/[…]/comprehensive_plan2030.aspx.

Our county commissioners all voted to use this plan as a guide, rather than as required to follow when making decisions on land use.

Two of our commissioners, Martin (17 years on the job) and Samson (5th year on the job) are both up for election.
Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Feb 16, 2012 09:27 AM
Here's a radical proposal: comprehensive plans/growth plans/all forms of land use planning be subjected to an up or down vote by taxpaying registered voters. What disturbs me about these scenarios, and the reason I mentioned the Delphi techniques, is the top-down elitist nature of land use planning. The thrust of Jonathan's article seemed to be shock and horror that the experts had been dethroned in La Plata County.I have obsereved across the West that the big winners economically in land use restrictions are often the wealthy who have large land holdings,and manipulate the process to keep the dreadful uncouth hoi polloi at a very safe distance. Sprawl IS dreadful, but anti-sprawl planning should not be used to steal value from the less well connected, all in the name of environmentalism.
Thomas Lane
Thomas Lane
Feb 17, 2012 02:42 AM
Bill -
Your point of view is 100% consistent with many Tenured Professors who are critical of smart growth and comprehensive land use planning. For example in states that require urban growth boundaries, landowners who are inside the UGB experience a windfall profit after the boundary is drawn. And, landowners outside the UGB experience a loss. Of course, wealthy landowners would try to get their land within the UGB. And, since UGB's are periodically extended, people moving to an area might buy land that will be included in the UGB. Durango does not have an UGB, although the entire Denver metro (including Boulder but not Ft. Collins) has an UGB. Cities in Oregon, California, Washington, and the east coast commonly have UGB's, although Florida just cancelled its growth mgmt. act. All of this is basic economics, and planners do not necessarily have a background in land use economics. However, planners - just like politicians - are subject to listening more to those who have more money, as you suggest. You can google "Dr. Richard Morrill" of the Univ. of Washington or "Dr. Peter Gordon" of the Univ of California as they would both agree with your comments. In particular, find the .PDF for the popular brochure "Myths and Facts of Growth Management" by Dr. Richard Morrill. It's 20 years old but is still a classic, and predicted all the problems that the Seattle region would experience with its UGB. Dr. Morrill is a Geographer and is actually all for comprehensive planning, but he also doesn't like techniques of smart growth that make the rich even richer. There are many other techniques of combating sprawl besides "smart growth." However those of us who advocate them are not very well known yet. Try googling Randall Arendt, a landscape architect who offer the "conservation subdivision" technique - also google the phrase. Or, google "landscape urbanism" along with Dr. Charles Waldheim of Harvard, who developed this to compete with "new urbanism." All professors above are probably found by googling "Professors Against Smart Growth."
The reason these other techniques are not used that commonly is the fact that Architecture and planning follow trends, and for the past 3 decades, the "smart growth" trend has been dominant. Perhaps that will change given that Florida cancelled its GMA.
Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Feb 17, 2012 09:44 AM
Well this certainly is a huge, contentious topic. My kudos to Jonathan and HCN for stimulating this discussion. Again, boiling down my position to the bare essentials, planning only has legitimacy to the extent that it has deep, local, house by house genuine support. Think canton Inner Rhodes in Switzerland, literally everyone in the community attending, understanding, contributing (in a meaningful manner-not stage managed BS with 'facilitators') and then voting. Everything else is just the elites gaming the system, buying 'experts' etc. As the GIS gnomes like to say:"maximum granularity". I could go on and on. A few years ago my colleagues and I were examining the newly released Critical Habitat Plans (from USFWS) for the Arroyo Toad. Looking at northern San Diego County we burst out laughing when we noticed that one particularly broad swatch of 'habitat' followed a dry wash for miles and miles, up to the boundary of a county supervisors ranch. Here the 'critical habitat' stopped! It then started again on the other side of the supervisor's ranch and proceeded up the wash! Now the real kicker was that the critical habitat designations, which were clearly political and not motivated purely by impartial science, were going to be incorporated (with the restrictions on land use) into the county's '2050" Growth Plan. What a fiasco! And completely, utterly bankrupt and lacking integrity. This incident really ripped the veil off of much of the emotional, litigation-driven environmentalism in Southern California.
Mary L Russell
Mary L Russell
Feb 17, 2012 10:51 AM
Two books, by two notables in the field of ecology, systems thinking, and sustainability, I recommend added to the list of "experts":
1) Wessels, Thomas. The Myth of Progress: Toward a Sustainable Future. University of Press of New England, Hanover, NH. 2006
2) Capra, Fritjof. The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems. Anchor Books, Doubleday. New York, NY. 1996.
3) Edwards, Andres R., The Sustainability Revolution: portrait of a paradigm shift. New Society Publishers, Canada. 2005.
4)Meadows, Donella H., Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, 2008.

By the way, Garfield County's Comprehensive Plan, and the City of Glenwood Springs' "Climate Action Plan", were both penned by citizen's who volunteered their time to research, compile and organize a report for elected officials and city/county staff to consider now and in the future when addressing development and land use planning, to mention a few other topics addressed in both documents. I don't consider this "top down" government, unless those governing ignore or negate the hard work of these citizens, which in our county they do quite often. And, elected officials are citizens, as are paid employees. It only makes sense that we hold them accountable for decisions they make that affect our living system, putting people and place over profit.

To even consider those who work within "theory" as the only experts, compared with those who work "as lived" is negating the fact that there are thousands of examples of land use policies that have worked to provide communities with choices, honoring those who share their voice and experience, to create a living environment that works for all.

I'm not waiting for my government, whether local, regional or national, to consider and regulate my behavior in order to make sure I only use as much energy as I need, consume less, reduce waste, and love my neighbor. This is just plain common sense, and living my word. It's about looking at the bigger picture.
Dan Staley
Dan Staley
Feb 19, 2012 09:59 AM
<i>"Here's a radical proposal: comprehensive plans/growth plans/all forms of land use planning be subjected to an up or down vote by taxpaying registered voters."</i>

We are a representative democracy.

<i>"although the entire Denver metro (including Boulder but not Ft. Collins) has an UGB"</i>

Fascinating. Can you show me a map where these are depicted? And the common 'map drawn' talking point you use: the source of that talking point conveneintly "forgot" to explain to you the slope of the increase of land rents before and after. That's too bad, because when people parrot this misunderstanding, it doesn't help civil society understand.

Thomas Lane
Thomas Lane
Feb 20, 2012 01:07 AM

DRCOG (Denver regional council of govts) UGB






KING COUNTY, Washington State (Seattle area) UGB -


BEND OREGON UGB, debate in progress -




Urban growth boundaries increase the price of land (and, therefore the price of homes, rentals, and business start-up costs). Durango does not have an urban growth boundary, neither does Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, to name just a few. UGBS's are only one of many diverse growth management tools (i.e. impact fees, greenbelts, "conservation subdivisions," "large lot zoning," etc.).
Felice Pace
Felice Pace Subscriber
Feb 20, 2012 07:26 PM
Jonathan, You say: "What is new is the alleged villain: Agenda 21, a two-decades-old U.N. document that encourages sustainable development worldwide." But there is nothing "new" about UN-based conspiracy theories from western anti-environmental right. Agenda 21 is just the latest in a series going back to the 90s. See this link for the chronology according to one of the faithful: http://pienpolitics.com/?m=20120215
Dan Staley
Dan Staley
Feb 20, 2012 10:59 PM
Thank you Thomas Lane for the links.

I live on the Front Range. Denver does not have a UGB, nor does Ft Collins. If someone told you that map depicts a UGB, you may want to re-think the information you get from them, especially if they harrumph about the evils of comprehensive planning .

You can even inspect the map yourself and see there is no UGB on it, so perhaps you should check other specious claims for yourself as well - for example, that UGBs [enforceable growth limits] are "common on the east coast" or "common in CA". Shame on those people for deceiving you with that misinformation!

I also used to live in the Seattle area. There is a UGB there. That also is easily checked.

Best regards,


Thomas Lane
Thomas Lane
Feb 20, 2012 11:23 PM
Interesting web site from "Pie N Politics." This is very similar to Durango's situation, with one big difference (below). The countryside between Mt. Shasta, CA and Medford, Oregon is gorgeous. It's part of the "State of Jefferson movement," that continues today. This movement began with several counties in southern Oregon and far northern California, who wanted to form their own state ... since they were not represented by the Oregon and California state capitals (Salem and Sacramento). The Siskiyous and nearby mountains have over 4,000 native plants, nearly as diverse of an ecosystem as the Great Smoky Mountains, NC-TN. Because mining and lumber have declined in southern Oregon / n. California, counties in the "State of Jefferson" may have over 15% unemployment (it's 18% in Siskiyou Co.).

Ashland, Oregon is similar to Durango, Colorado, given that both cities are left of center, pro-environment, and folks want to restrict natural resource industries in the surrounding counties. This creates tension between the folks who have been there for 150 years. Some groups want to form several reserves due to the native species, i.e. http://kswild.org (MAP at http://kswild.org/ksregion).

They do need more logging in the entire bioregion, to thin trees in order to reduce forest fire risk. Remember the huge fires in Boulder, Golden, and Flagstaff in the last few years ... the pine forests are used to frequent ground fires. Therefore, in the absence of that, thin the forests of younger trees.

Since tourism generates money for the old-timers, then in Southern Oregon, the environmentalists on one side of the debate need to develop a comprehensive plan, that involves more outdoor sports. They need to allow skiing and more mountain biking on Mt. Ashland, for example. It's tourism that provides the paychecks for the old-timers, all along the I-5 Corridor from Redding to Yreka to Medford.

In fact, the environmentalists in Ashland should look at Durango as a model city of a similar size (both are about 20,000), who has successfully brought tourists into SW Colorado - providing the paychecks to the local population in SEVERAL nearby SW Colorado counties. Durango's unemployment is 6%, compared to 18% in Siskiyou County! Coincidentally, Ashland and Durango have first class mountain biking, skiing and river rafting. Ashland just needs ten times the amount of tourists - in terms of NUMBERS of people - along with thinning trees for fire protection in its watershed and adjacent counties. Only then will unemployment rates will decrease.

However, Ashland will have to decide to grow faster, definitely at the pace of Durango's growth in the past 20 years. If Ashland would discover its economic potential with the natural wonders in the State of Jefferson, and build more hotels, resorts, trails, and campgrounds, then the area could be another Durango, and this would benefit the State of Jefferson and "Pie N Politics" folks. The Skakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon Univ. (in Ashland) do not benefit the State of Jefferson.

Therefore, a comprehensive plan with Tourism helps Durango and could help Ashland and Siskiyou County.
Thomas Lane
Thomas Lane
Feb 20, 2012 11:52 PM
Mr. Staley,
I suggest that you investigate sources used by geographers and urban planners to verify information, i.e. the Denver Regional Council of Governments web site, http://drcog.org The legend for the link above shows "urban growth area / urban growth boundary." Here is another map from DRCOG's GIS department, differentiating the two. Does this answer your concern?


Yes, many cities in California have UGB's. Click here for list - This is the most up-to-date list that I have found. Not every city in California has an UGB. I have not found a new list that would include places such as Cloverdale (NW of Santa Rosa), which just approved an UGB last summer.


Urban growth boundaries are used in many places on the east coast. Florida, however, just cancelled their growth mgmt. act that included urban growth boundaries. There are many diverse forms of comprehensive planning besides UGB's. Since UGB's lead to land speculation, then they are not advocated by Conservative planners and environmentalists. Therefore, they are uncommon in the South.
Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson Subscriber
Feb 21, 2012 07:19 AM
Felice: Thanks for the list! You're certainly right. There's been a billboard in Western Colorado, not far from HCN HQ, for years saying we have to "get out of the UN." And black helicopters. And etc. But the anti-Agenda 21 movement is different in that it's gained quite a bit of traction and influence in the last year or so, hitting the far-right "mainstream" if you will.
Dan Staley
Dan Staley
Feb 21, 2012 08:17 AM
Thomas Lane:

1) what is your definition of "common"? Mine is not "under 50%". If your definition includes "under 50%" I'd say that is a strange definition indeed! And [OT] why wouldn't a state plagued by too many people straining limited resources want to restrict population growth? It is that state's right to do so.

2) Can you point me to the ordinance in Ft Collins that states you cannot build outside of a set boundary? Here is the land use code: http://www.colocode.com/ftcollins/landuse/begin.htm and here is the city's map page where you'd find the growth restriction boundaries: http://www.fcgov.com/advanceplanning/popular-maps.php and here is Larimer Co's plan: http://www.larimer.org/[…]/chapter_2.htm#2.2. I'd appreciate it sooooo much if you could point out the development restriction section(s), which that would be like totally awesome!

Best regards,


Felice Pace
Felice Pace Subscriber
Feb 21, 2012 10:26 AM
Jonathan, I agree that the anti-black helicopter hysteria has been more effective in its latest (Agenda 21) manifestations. What I have observed here in the Klamath-Siskiyou Region is that the traditional anti-environmental folks have been augmented with T-party folks who are generally older and usually retired and relative newcomers.

I was at a meeting not to long ago about a groundwater study in the Scott River Valley where during the comment period one person got up and said she was concerned about the "debt" and another gentleman informed us (to paraphrase) that the study was an example of government tyranny but that it was necessary for the enviros to take over so that the second-coming could then take place.

Many of the Tea Party folks seem to be folks who have achieved the American Dream and found it hollow; the Tea Party provides a focus for their sense that - even though they followed all the rules - something is wrong with the dream they have achieved.
Dan Staley
Dan Staley
Feb 21, 2012 10:58 AM
If I may...

"Many of the Tea Party folks seem to be folks who have achieved the American Dream and found it hollow; the Tea Party provides a focus for their sense that - even though they followed all the rules - something is wrong with the dream they have achieved. "

This is my sense as well; in addition, IMHO I see angst because the ideology on which they based some or all of their self-identity has been found to be severely wanting also. That doesn't explain global conspiracies, however - you need the right kind of psychological makeup for that.
Feb 21, 2012 12:50 PM
Dan and Felice, I think you've hit the nail on the head. These tea party folks are the same ones cashing their Social Security checks while decrying the evils of government. I think much of the ridiculous global conspiracy stuff comes from right wing talk radio, where many of the tea partiers get their "news".
Thomas Lane
Thomas Lane
Feb 22, 2012 12:25 AM
Dan - I have contacted numerous cities and agencies in the West, as part of my research, about growth management, smart growth, and urban growth boundaries. Fort Collins does not have an urban growth boundary, and is outside the territory adjudicated by DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments). The City of Fort Collins sent me this message last year: "...Fort Collins has a Growth Management Area through an Intergovernmental Agreement with Larimer County [Not DRCOG]. This GMA has been in place for 14 years. The GMA was formalized in the 1997 City Plan document but existed previously through the IGA with the County. As you stated, the City of Fort Collins has weathered the recent economic downturn fairer than most. It will be interesting to consider how our GMA differs or is similar to other regional growth management approaches and its impact on house prices and affordability."
Dan Staley
Dan Staley
Feb 22, 2012 07:46 AM
Thomas: I misread your comment upthread, apologies. Nonetheless, DRCOG UGB is one thing, a law with police power is another. A DRCOG UGB with no force of law has a de minimus effect. A WA state UGB is another thing entirely. You will not find articles in a newspaper here on the Front Range where a development was turned down because it was outside the UGB. They are not the same. And each state has different UGBs, as you know, and all UGBs are not created the same, as you know, and UGBs did not create the housing bubble, as you know. And as you know - from doing so much research - that many smaller cities in the GCV did it to preserve farmland.

But much more interesting is the de facto UGBs created from zoning large-lot single-fam because homeowners want it. That will take away your affordability faster than anything.
"Fort Collins does not have an urban growth boundary,"
Sally-Ann Edwards
Sally-Ann Edwards
Mar 30, 2013 03:29 AM
The author of this article is incorrect - Agenda 21 is being carried out here in Australia using the identical program, terminology, and in exactly the same way, as it is in New Zealand - in other words, ICLEI is here too, UN Agenda 21 is here too, and the landgrab/biodiversity con/bicycle propoganda etc is international. Farmers are being forced off their land by outrageous rules, regulations, restrictions and fees. I should know, it is happening in my own region of Queensland, as well as other States. You can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. I am pro environment but this communist by stealth agenda is obvious to see. The globe has not warmed for 17 years as admitted by United Nations IFCC yet our Australian Labour government is progressing with a carbon tax - I wonder why?