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Thread: Avoiding bias

  1. #1
         
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    Jacksonville, Florida
    Posts
    23

    Avoiding bias

    I had a lady ask me if she could come in to the Planning office, and have someone help her prepare her argument against a developer. When I told her that no planning office in the USA could provide someone to do that for her, she proceeded to get huffy with me and tell me that I wasnt willing to help her. Of course I wasnt willing to help her do that. Have any of you all had anyone ask you things like this?

  2. #2

    Bias

    Ok yeah, in many different ways.

    I think in a case like that you can tell the huffy lady that to help her would be a conflict of interest. I once was asked just the same thing by a woman, but she was in the next county. It was like she wanted to hire me to fight an application, without the money.

    I thought that public planning staff could act as mediators in cases with a high nimby quotient, but too many people percieve the staff as having a bias, one way or another. The perception, fairly or not, keeps planners from being more effective at forging compromises between developers and the public.

  3. #3
         
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    Jacksonville, Florida
    Posts
    23

    NIMBY

    The problem that I see, is that people dont want anything in their back yard. We have so many people that just dont want anything developed anywhere near them, and if you went out and put a picnic table on the lot abutting them, they would freak out and storm up to the office and demand a public records request and take up half my day over a picnic table.

  4. #4

    Bias

    The irony is that while planners once worked to protect the public from developers, we now work to protect good projects from the public.

  5. #5
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 1998
    Location
    On the Mother River
    Posts
    4,559

    Re: Avoiding Bias

    I have not had anyone ask that, but last week I help a lady prepare an argument against an ordinance that I wrote. I felt that it would be better to have her armed with corect information than to have to correct her misinformation during the public hearing. So in your case if the lady had asked for help in a different way, for instance if she had asked specific questions, I would have helped her.

    Dan

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 1997
    Location
    Clowns to the left, jokers to the right
    Posts
    1,438

    dual roles

    I once worked at a place where, when an applicant applied for a Planned Development District, the staff prepared the proposed regulations for the proposed district. Then the same staff person had to prepare a report to the Planning & Zoning Commission on whether to adopt the regulations. I found myself writing a proposed PD District for an applicant, and then recommending P&Z not approve it. It was a challenge to, on one hand, draft a district that best met the needs of the applicant, and, on the other hand, then critically and objectively review for it plan conformance and contribution to the public good, and subsequently make a recommendation. I was very carefull to keep the two tasks separate so that the applicant did not acuse me of purposefully drafting a bad proposal so it would not pass. (It ended up passing anyways, over my negative recommendation. Still not sure whether to mark that one up to drafting a really good district or a really bad recommendation. Oh well.)

    I have frequently found myself helping notified property owners to refine their comments to P&Z or City Council. Largely, I just try to help them understand what's relevant and what's not, and what the recommending/approving body can and can not influence at this stage. Hopefully this helps them to streamline their comments to make them more to the point. I also let them know that they can make any comments they want, but only certain issues can be influenced by City at this stage. Of course, I would do the same thing to anyone, applicant, media, or general public, who wanted to learn more about the process. Hopefully if they understand it better, they will feel more empowered and better able to participate, even if they don't "win" exactly what they want.
    JOE ILIFF
    ________________________________________________________________________
    Debt is normal . . . Be weird!
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    "Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."
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  7. #7

    Registered
    Nov 2001
    Location
    Westerly, Rhode Island
    Posts
    25

    Biased Wetlands Approval Costs Town $100,000

    A true story: In the late 1980's, our town's volunteer fair committee obtained over 100,000 cubic yards of "free" fill from a highway project, and proceeded to dump it into wetlands on town-owned property to expand size of the fairgrounds. The town's wetlands officer was asked to investigate, and found out that no permits had been applied for. Since members of the fair committee were politically connected "good guys," she was asked to fill out necessary permit applications to facilitate what was technically an after the fact approval by the local wetlands commission. Indeed, the wetlands offcier even signed her own name as the applicant. Now fast forward three or four years . . . the wetlands offcier has moved on to a better job, and in to the mayor's office walk representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers armed with "before and after" aerial photographs of the wetlands. Turns out, the fair committee's action was a violation of the federal Clean Water Act, subject to fines of up to $25,000 per day, retroactive to when the filling first occurred. Although I wasn NOT town planner when the actual filling occurred, I inherited the mess, and was asked by the mayor (who was not in office when the filling took place) to remedy the situation. I recommeded the Town plead no contest, and work with the Corps, since the town itself, by actions of the former wetlands official, was both the applicant and the local permitting review authority. The result was a professionally designed "new" wetlands and removal of 80,000 yards of fill at a local taxpayer cost of nearly $100,000. Politically, it was a nightmare, as local activists became involved and pointed fingers blaming virtually everyone. The local fair committee refused to accept any responsibility, accusing me of being an "environmentalist with an agenda." The activists accused me of defending actions of past local officials, demanding prosecution, not restoration! Ironically, the Army Corps was very amenable to our restoration strategy and no fines were ever levied (they were aghast at the local political controversy). Lessons learned: 1) regulatory enforcement officials should never become the agent or applicant for a "developer," even if that party is a community volunteer group; 2) recognize that state and/or federal regulatory agencies may have a say in local actions; 3) trashing the natural environment cannot be papered over by after the fact votes of local boards.

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