Urban Planning Issues
February 10, 2005 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I live in a small town of 8,000. It is really a development plopped in the middle of some fields. Like many developments it was sold as a planned community. Currently, however, the city government is selling the town to the highest-bidding developer, rewriting the city code to encourage stupid levels of density, cramming the city center with unvariated low-income housing, and in general being the toady boy of developers. Oh, and the mayor is a "consultant" to developers. Makes $8k a year. Is building a big mansion on the golf course. The city just removed the $500 cap on campaign donations, and the last election was purchased by a single developer. Other than shrugging my shoulders and saying, "It's Chinatown" (reference to movie, not ethnicity) or uprooting my family, how can I best fight this pestilent, corrupt fascism and still have time for my hobbies? (mostly reading Metafilter). Oh, the town is Eagle Mountain Utah.
posted by craniac to Law & Government (15 answers total)
Well, you will have to invest some time and the hobbies will have to take a back seat for a while. To start, read the last several council meeting minutes (they should be public records) and find out the details of who is in who's pocket. Attend council meetings. Get on the agenda, especially when development is being discussed. I'm assuming you won't go so far as to run for councilman or mayor, but if you get knowledgable and involved, you will meet the right people that can help your cause and maybe help get them elected.

A couple of years ago, I would never have advocated using the system from within the system, but I hope to hear soon that the principal that has been ruing our local high school will be removed at the end of the year. Although my wife and I are working to get school board members elected that would be sympathetic to our concerns, it seems that simple activism may have done all that needed to be done to accomplish our goal.

I understand that the stakes in your situation are higher (especially for the elected officials involved) and the going will be tougher. On the other hand, 8,000 is a small enough community that a single person can make a substantial difference. The point of government is service to the people; it's time to make the government work for you. Good luck.
posted by Doohickie at 9:52 AM on February 10, 2005

This will sound sarcastic but I totally mean it:
If you don't like how a local politician is doing something, you have the power to change it very easily:

Run for mayor.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:53 AM on February 10, 2005

What Buddha said, those mansions by the golf course are going fast.

Seriously thouhg, send a letter to everyone in the town or take out an ad in the newspaper. if this is really as egregious and obvious as you make it, your base of support should already be there.
posted by Arch Stanton at 10:00 AM on February 10, 2005

You can even try and talk to a reporter at the newspaper about your suspicions and let them go to work on a story.
posted by Arch Stanton at 10:06 AM on February 10, 2005

The tough thing I've found about opposing the Good Old Boys Club mentality in a small town is being labelled a crank at the meetings. For the most part, these situations can happen because few have the time or interest in going to a council meeting, so it often ends up being a place where council members, their developer friends, and their friends that own the city's large businesses hang out and get their laws passed.

You have to be careful not to be the sole dissenting voice on every issue, or they'll just tune you out as a crank very quickly. I'd suggest organizing a bit, getting 4-5 folks from work that share your views to show up, so that you have some decent opposition.

(this is all based on my experiences ten years ago trying to help a neighbor oppose a new development that tried to meet its minimum green space requirements by counting a cemetary as a playground/park area)
posted by mathowie at 10:34 AM on February 10, 2005

Yeah, that's true: you don't want to be the lone crank. That's one thing I left out. In the case of our school board, we brought several representative students and their parents to some meetings as a show of force. Also, doing your research ahead of time (i.e., reading old minutes and going to a few meetings without saying anything) will help you learn how to phrase your objections such that the council members will give you a fair hearing. You may also be able to determine whether you have any allies on the council- the help of insiders (even if they are outside the good ol' boy power clique and aren't in the majority) can make a big difference.
posted by Doohickie at 10:54 AM on February 10, 2005

Also, since it's Utah, I might as well point this out: if they're Mormons and you're not, you've already lost. Those folks stick together pretty well.
posted by rocketman at 11:16 AM on February 10, 2005

I'd add: do your homework first, before you start bitching in public. Get it down cold. Rock-solid. Get facts: names, dates, numbers, prices. Get copies of everything. Organize it. Chart it. Index it. Then distill it. Summarize it. Then take that summary, make it sober, matter-of-fact, and easy-to-read, and spread it around. Then begin bitching in public.

Also remember this: appearance of conflict of interest is, in politics, almost as much of a scandal as true conflict of interest. But let others call it criminal: you just need to demonstrate that it exists.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:29 PM on February 10, 2005

Who are the developers? Who is the mayor? Is his relationship with them a matter of record?
posted by luriete at 2:03 PM on February 10, 2005

Seriously, it's shit like this that makes me feel like raising my fist in the air and taking back the means of production.

But the simplest solution is to organize some vocal opposition. What everyone else already said is good. Some other ideas are putting a neighborhood association together (or mobilizing the one you have) and getting those people to council meetings to complain, or forming some other sort of organization.

I've worked on elections and on policy in maybe the most eccentric city in the country to do that in. What the people in charge fear is not individuals, what they fear (and what will get their attention) is organization.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 2:21 PM on February 10, 2005

Quick, find an endangered species on the land of the development-to-be...be it a snail or a frog or a mushroom...and sic a conservation org on 'em!
posted by airgirl at 4:31 PM on February 10, 2005

Why not move to a town that shares your views? Maybe most people want to have a more 'urban' feel to the place.
posted by delmoi at 11:17 PM on February 10, 2005

What the others said. You have two choices: start organizing to fight, or move somewhere else.

I was peripherally involved in a community based movement in Vancouver, for a while. Not exactly the same situation as you - it involved a very pricey chunk of land with some old, ramshackle houses. The city wanted to tear everything down and sell to the highest bidder. Two people who rented units in the area put up a fight and ended up turning it around. The area is now touted as a model community (see here. )[PDF]

Those two people worked like crazy for several years, organizing meetings, chatting up people in high places, bringing friends to city council meetings and getting stuff in the paper as often as possible. Of course, they were never paid for this work - purely volunteer hours.
posted by Cuke at 8:34 AM on February 11, 2005

Thanks for the advice. I probably should have asked, "how do you raise money in a local election where the opposition is funded by developers?" but your other suggestions are worth looking into.

"maybe people want an urban feel" -->there's nothing urban or "new urbanistic" about what they are doing. They do throw around the language of new urbanism as some sort of weak justification for creating massive sprawl. The disappointing thing is that the original code allowed for alleyways, porches, etc.

But the other problem is that the opportunities for input into policy making are so constrained that its terribly frustrating. And they're probably overdrilling for water. It's an old story repeated over and over again. Moving is disruptive, and we have some friends in the city now after a couple of years.

I was involved in one candidate's run for city council. Got crushed by weasels with money.

Anyway, someone wants to write about this so I am doing some fact finding, and the residents have one reporter ally.
posted by mecran01 at 9:17 PM on February 11, 2005

A reporter ally can make a difference! A little different situation, but when we had a problem with our mortgage (we paid but they didn't apply it right), all we had to do was mention the consumer reporter's name (whom we had contacted) and they fixed everything. Quick.

Granted, I know your situation has higher stakes involved, but don't underestimate the power of the press. I would also involve the guy who ran for the council and was beaten; with the right press he could do better next time.
posted by Doohickie at 10:58 AM on February 14, 2005

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