If you haven’t yet heard of Agenda 21, please read on. But even if you set this newspaper down, flip the page or navigate elsewhere online, Agenda 21 will find you. It’s actually been with us for two decades, but it’s beginning to push its way up through the soft crust of community consciousness in cities across Louisiana and the nation including Lafayette, borne on the hot, pneumatic energy of paranoia about government.
It’s on the radar of Tea Parties everywhere, the Hub City included — a fact supporters of LUS’ transition to so-called smart meters and LCG’S comprehensive master plan are well aware of as they brace for opposition from Lafayette’s cranks and strict constructionists. A fear among officials and volunteers who convened two weeks ago to commence the comprehensive planning process, although they’re reluctant to express it publicly, is that virtually none but opponents of planning will attend the public-input meetings — don’t call them charrettes! — scheduled over the next 18 months, turning the meetings into a version of those infamously discordant summer 2009 congressional town-hall shouting matches.
First, the 101 in 80 words or less.
Agenda 21 — the number connotes the 21st century — is a non-binding United Nations resolution signed by 178 governments including the U.S. at the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil. It’s a plan to address such issues as population growth, pollution and the environment, climate change, health and poverty at the international, national and local levels. It has received minimal public attention since its inception, although the advent of the Internet enabled the conspiratorial margins to keep it bubbling on a back burner.
Fast forward 20 years.
At the inaugural meeting of the Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Committee Feb. 1 at the Rosa Parks Transportation Center downtown, roughly 30 citizen-volunteers from Lafayette’s business, education, civic, arts/culture, health care and governmental sectors came together in a spirit of community can-do. These men and women will be tasked over the next year and half or so with marshaling engagement by residents to hopefully shape a plan for addressing Lafayette’s future growth — infrastructure, transportation, commercial and residential development, land use, arts, culture and recreation — so our grandchildren inherit a more thoughtful, better-planned city than we did. It’s the stuff memes are made of.
Committee members were given a binder thick with information that included a detailed overview of comprehensive planning and the planning recommendations in Lafayette In a Century. (LINC is an earlier comprehensive plan created in the late 1990s that has largely gathered dust.)
But a telling inclusion in that binder was a seven-page section titled “Agenda 21: Myths and Facts.” It’s more or less a sales guide for committee members detailing false characterizations of comprehensive planning and providing a glossary of terms to use and, more important, terms to avoid.
The section instructs committee members to “frame what they say in positive terms; use examples that people can identify with and relate to; avoid jargon and technical words; and turn allies and elected officials into strong and articulate champions of planning.”
Don’t call it a “central business district,” call it “downtown.”
Don’t use the word “charrette.” Just call it a “meeting” or “workshop.”
Avoid saying “green infrastructure” in favor of “protecting clean air and water.”
And so on.
Many if not most of these volunteers had likely never heard of Agenda 21. But the Tea Party folks have.
A month ago at a non-denominational Christian church in Baton Rouge, Tea Party groups from around the state, including Lafayette, gathered for the Agenda 21 Symposium. Guest speakers included Tom DeWesse, founder of the anti-U.N., pro-free market American Policy Center in Washington, D.C., who has been banging the Agenda 21 drum since the 1990s. DeWesse’s grave pronouncements about the United Nations infiltrating governance at all levels and threatening American sovereignty and individual liberty have found a willing, attentive audience in the Tea Party
| Part of the program for a Jan. 26 Tea Party of Lafayette town
hall meeting (above) reminded members about the various “benevolent sounding
names” Agenda 21 goes by. TPL posted a notice (below) on its website about
Monday’s meeting of the Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Committee
under the ominous heading “THEIR PLANS ...YOUR PROPERTY!!!”
“Many have said that Agenda 21 is a CONSPIRACY. This statement is FALSE. United Nations Agenda 21 is a very real threat to our freedoms,” reads one of the pages on the website for the symposium. “The Truth is Agenda 21 has infiltrated and influenced local, state and federal regulation since the 90’s [sic].”
Less than two weeks after the symposium, at a Jan. 26 town hall meeting of the Tea Party of Lafayette held at the South Regional Library, the program for the meeting, which centered on a presentation by Teach for America’s executive director, was emblazoned on the back with a Venn-type diagram enumerating the “benevolent sounding names” Agenda 21 hides behind: historic preservation, diversity, smart growth, urbanism, economic development, public-private partnership, etc.
Last week TPL posted on its website notice of the next meeting of the Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Council meeting, to be held on the evening of Monday, Feb. 13 — Monday of this week, the same day this newspaper goes to press — under the alarming heading “THEIR PLANS ... YOUR PROPERTY!” that emphatically frames comprehensive planning in “us versus them” terms.
That notice for the meeting on TPL’s website contained a link to a YouTube video presentation made to an unnamed but presumably Tea Party group by a Florida GOP state committee member and anti-Agenda 21 activist who prefaces her presentation with a warm ladle of patriotic pablum that draws enthusiastic applause: “We’re gonna take this country back where it belongs — we’re gonna save it. We’re not gonna let those people play us.”
Those people. Let that sink in a moment.
The level of suspicion and mistrust is already approaching toxic, threatening to suffocate the likelihood that Lafayette’s planning process can be conducted with reason and civility. And the planning process is just taking baby steps.
CPCAC volunteers (from left) Alton Trahan, Carrie Templeton, Chairman Kevin Blanchard and Louis Perret
Attorney Kevin Blanchard, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee, is measured in his response to the anticipated push back. “I’m looking forward to everyone participating in this process,” Blanchard said following that inaugural meeting of the CAC. “I especially hope that people who are hesitant, who are wary about this plan, who might have some misgivings, I especially hope that they show up. My only further hope is that they come with an open mind — that they at least come to hear and to listen — because I’m ready to listen, and I know everybody on the committee is ready to listen and hear what people’s concerns are.”
Joyce Linde, co-founder and coordinator of the Tea Party of Lafayette, was reserved when we called late last week to discuss the group’s concerns about planning, especially as it relates to Agenda 21.
“Right now we’re working on a position — we’re working in committee on it,” Linde said. “It’s a very complex issue: Agenda 21, comprehensive planning — those are very complex issues.”
Another “core committee member” of the TPL with whom we communicated via email had some strong opinions on comprehensive planning, especially planning done under the rubric of government, but he insisted that we use either all of his 167-word statement or none of it. We’ve opted for none, but the gist of his statement is that government planning relies on pseudo-science and is marred by cronyism, and that Lafayette’s growth can be better managed by individuals’ entrepreneurial spirit.
Opposition to Agenda 21 — and presumably to planning — is moving rapidly into the mainstream. The Republican National Committee last month passed an anti-Agenda 21 resolution. You can’t get much more mainstream than that. And the opposition doesn’t reserve its ire strictly for planning. Smart meters — that is, utility meters that transmit to the utility company up-to-the-minute data on energy consumption in homes and businesses — are also being conflated with lefty United Nations imperatives.
LUS is currently phasing in smart meters with partial funding via an $11.6 million federal grant, and there’s been strong resistance from Tea Party-minded residents and especially from a Lafayette group called Acadiana Patriots — think Tea Party on steroids and cheap bourbon — whose website includes a succinct summary of the group’s position: “Agenda 21 is a direct assault on private property rights and American sovereignty, and it is coming to a neighborhood near you. Can you say ‘Smart Meters!’ They are a direct violation of our 4th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Opponents of smart meters cite an array of concerns, among them health threats. But much of their suspicions about the meters stems from the conviction that the government will use the meters to spy on them.
One public official in Lafayette who asked not to be identified says he was asked by a concerned resident — a well-educated person who is by all accounts a normal, rational member of the community — whether LUS would be able to detect residents’ whereabouts within their homes via the smart meters. Clearly, the alarmist rhetoric is having an effect.
Proponents of the comprehensive plan hope the type of Tea Party-style anger
Opponents of the smart meters have been backing an ordinance before the City-Parish Council, co-sponsored most recently by the three council members who were endorsed by the TPL in last fall’s elections, that would allow residents to opt out of the program provided they pay a small monthly fee to keep a few meter readers on the LUS payroll.
At two council meetings in which the introductory opt-out ordinance came up, several residents addressed the council in opposition to smart meters while many more of their kith and kindred sat in the council auditorium.
Only a few residents have addressed the council in support of the program, and one of them recounts an incident in the lobby at City Hall after a council meeting during which a handful of opponents basically cornered him, wagging fingers in his face, waving around the Constitution and asking, “Why are you trying to take away my rights?!”
“I definitely felt threatened by them,” that resident recalls.
The ordinance cleared the council last week as an introductory item, and one council member tells us it will probably clear finalization on Feb. 28 because council members “just want to put it to bed.” Picking a fight with the angry people, in other words, isn’t worth it for such a relatively minor issue. There will be more important matters to fight over this year, especially as the comprehensive plan gets a little grease on its axles. Members of the Citizens Advisory Council we spoke to are cautiously optimistic the process will go smoothly, although some of their barometers detect a gathering storm.
“I’ve been involved in planning activities since 1998, and it wasn’t until last year that I became aware of Agenda 21,” says Bruce Conque, vice president of marketing and governmental affairs at the Lafayette chamber who was on a LINC steering committee and is also a member of the new advisory committee. “Certainly, those who purport that Agenda 21 is behind the smart growth movement need to be part of the comprehensive plan conversation. However, if we are to have a civil discourse, we must identify those who are willing to listen and engage in a consensus-building effort so that we can accommodate growth.”
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