4.01.2008

The TPZ disconnect

The TPZ disconnect
J Warren Hockaday Executive Director, Eureka Chamber of Commerce

Years ago at a bargaining table far away, a negotiator on the other side was caught in a lie. It was a whopper. It was no matter of interpretation or poor recollection. It was documented. There was no way around it. It was a plain, unvarnished lie. It only takes one such dented piece of integrity to irreparably compromise personal and organizational credibility.

In the feeble attempt to salvage an unsalvageable situation, he squared himself up and proclaimed, “But, I lied in good faith.”
Once the laughter subsided, his side called a caucus. When the talks resumed, our good faith liar was not among those who returned.

In disputes, discussions and negotiations it is hardly ever that clear cut. In the effort to resolve a disagreement or argue a case, it only takes only the perception of dishonesty or creative truth-telling, to irrevocably hobble credibility. That's when the dialogue ends and the debate usually devolves to motives and personalities.

And that is where we find ourselves today. The recent, cantankerous debate over residential development in Timberland Production Zones or the now infamous TPZ has taken on a life of its own. It has grown to become a political and ideological chasm of monumental proportions. In a move to prove a point, County Supervisors imposed a short-lived moratorium stopping building permits on privately owned timberlands.

The response became a firestorm of angst. Property and home owners, business people, generational landholders, developers, builders, realtors, farmers, ranchers, back-country entrepreneurs, off the grid individualists and cash crop agriculturalists, rose up against this assault on private property rights. As a result, the moratorium was rescinded. But the damage had been done.

The TPZ debacle was and still is a natural extension of a gathering disconnect between business interests of all kinds and policy-makers, in a sometimes real and sometimes perceived class conflict. But, the point is that the Rubicon has been crossed. There really is no going back from here. The upshot is that a whole lot of people have become engaged in land use, zoning, planning and the overarching conundrum of growth, smart growth, or no growth policies. TPZ became the boulder that broke the camel's back. It is the tipping point that exposed a longstanding culture of distrust.

The fundamental question has become 'Just who works for whom?

In ordinary times, a hearing on planning issues is hardly more interesting than watching paint dry. The government-speak of allowable densities, infrastructure enhancements, deliberative dialogues, stakeholder input, tax increment financing, negative declarations and inclusionary zoning was once incomprehensible to all but the initiated few. No more. Today's discussions on such arcane elements have far-reaching implications for the future prosperity of our community. That notion is no longer lost on the rank and file of property owners and businesses. The people who have paid the price, taken the risks and have assumed ever more burdensome regulatory loads, have been awakened. They are paying close attention now and the Disconnect is plain to see.

This crisis of confidence puts any pathway to resolution on a certain collision course in a divisive conflict between private property rights and public policy-making. The opportunity for balance is diminished and in the end, becomes a contest.

What this business comes down to is a fundamental conflict of will, vision and ideology. In a culture of distrust, it becomes a profound Disconnect between the community and those whom we trust to manage the affairs that we cannot or choose not to manage for ourselves.

Blame will be assigned to someone or the someones. Some are spinning the truth, some are pushing an agenda and some are struggling with trying to do the right thing. But the paradigm has shifted over this TPZ, land use action and reaction. It was a defining moment. In the end somebody will have to be right and somebody will have to be wrong. To repair the Disconnect and restore trust will require uncommon leadership. It will necessarily involve difficult and painful decisions.

Something important here has failed. When we see ourselves as victims of a process and that the Disconnect is a product of failure, it just does not matter anymore who is right and who is wrong or which side 'wins'.

The solution, if there is a solution, begins with the reality that even if the failure comes in good faith, it is a failure nonetheless.

Times-Standard
Article Launched: 03/30/2008 01:37:48 AM PDT