Saturday, December 6, 2008

Public input--Its use and misuse

I am a firm believer in the term "Peak Oil", the coming realization that the world is on the down side of the oil production bell curve. We have passed the peak of oil availability in the inexpensively drilled fields and from now on the cost of acquiring our fuel from new oil fields will continue to rise until they will no longer try to drill for it. I also feel, that once again, with the new century comes the need for a shift in how we prepare for the times to come, in other words how we plan for the future of Lexington.

Almost two years ago, a fellow "peak oil" believer felt so strongly about the need to plan for the world wide effects of such a problem that she addressed the Lexington Planning Commission's public input hearing, concerning issues related to the latest Comprehensive Plan. I came across the minutes of that hearing, online (bottom of pg 6 pdf), the other day and realized that the gist of her presentation was entirely omitted from the record. I have a copy of the whole letter that she submitted that day and it clearly begins with things we need to do because of "peak oil". She also posted an edited copy on the forum at Planetizen.

The hearing that day was generally about the transportation elements of the Plan and her letter fully encompassed much more of the other elements, so she limited her spoken comments to those related to transportation. If one read the minutes before the forum entry you would not realize that the two were related (or even the same). If one reads the Plan, you will find out that there is nothing at all about "peak oil" or that there could be anything other than life spinning merrily along.

The Comprehensive Plan is supposed to take a look into the crystal ball of the future and devise a method of actions to deal with what we see there. This is very much akin to marching into a long tunnel with only a road map of from where you came and only a candle for a headlight. Is it any wonder that we get anywhere at all?

Lexington's comprehensive plans of the past are not much better. The first plan, prepared in 1931, included a section concerning what we now call "mass transit" Then it was called "Chapter VIII, Street Car Lines and Motor Bus Lines". Now, in 1931, they knew of the "crash of '29" and that thing were not getting better very quickly, so they planned carefully to expand the streetcars and motor buses so as to benefit the suburban dweller outside of the downtown. What they did not know, was that in less than ten years the streetcar would be gone.

The 1967 and its 1973 update included sections on Community Shelters which were concerned nuclear fallout and not other public safety. They also had sections on utilities and streetlights which no longer are a concern due to those services being provided by the private sector.(Homeland Security would have a field day with those sections now) It does surprise me that worldwide economic events play no part in the planning decisions made on the local level. The mid '70s gas crises had no mention in the 1980 plan and the growing "housing bubble" of the late '90s garnered nary a word in the 2001 plan.

If the public officials who take the input from their hearings do not apply that input, then they should not be surprised when the public quits responding to their requests for further input. These documents are not supposed to be feel good reports or plans. They are supposed to be used to prepare the people for the future, by being realistic about the events that may come our way. The ordinary citizen cannot read all the technical data to identify the possible problems that may face him in the next few years. That is why we rely on the appointed and elected leaders to determine the course for Lexington and Kentucky. The input should reflect all the data received and at least a nod to, or a refutation of the input and why.

Just a little something to think about.

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