Thursday, January 22, 2009

'Public hearing' and private lobbying

During an e-mail exchange that included background data on some proposed changes from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg planning staff to the transit-oriented development requirements, I came across this. It's from an official with REBIC, the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, which no one should be surprised to learn is opposing some of the changes and trying to get the staff to dial back on them.

I'm not passing judgment here on whether the proposals are good or bad. (Among the changes at issue are some involving parking requirements, and with transit-oriented development parking is a key issue, as you're dealing with conflicting needs: Trying to encourage people not to drive and trying to encourage walkable environments, yet also trying to help development projects offer enough parking so as not to lose potential tenants and customers.)

But the note sheds light on why some staff proposals seem to start out like icebergs and end up as a half-cup of lukewarm water, before the nondeveloper public gets much of a shot at them. The public hearing isn't until next week, and the developers' lobby has been working on this for weeks. One developer even pointed out: "Our best chance to influence is before the public hearing."

Here's what REBIC said:

"The public hearing is January 26th.

"The best way to affect [effect] a change is to get staff to see the 'error of their ways' prior to the public hearing. The staff responsible for this TA is John Howard and Laura Harmon.

"I will assemble a variety of comments & handle with John & Laura but it will be most effective if you could send your comments to them directly (changes of a few sentences of course). I always like to see how they respond to the various constituencies - to figure out what they are really trying to accomplish & what they are willing to bend the most on."

Now we live in a democracy, and all interest groups are welcome to weigh in to the process. Charlotte's development community is skilled at that, and some of nondeveloper groups are also skilled -- although they tend to have full-time jobs doing other things. The planning staff is diligent in trying to get public input for most of its proposed changes.

But too many things go on behind the curtain. That isn't good for public discourse.

And if public hearings are really just for show, can't they at least offer some popcorn and Cokes to the audience?


tarhoosier said...

The word "affect" did, most likely, intend to be effect. However it can also be read as if the change had already begun and thus the REBIC was trying to direct this change and thus "affect" it. This would mean working on the assumption that the policy would not stand as written.

Anonymous said...

Mary, you've posted the names of the city officials, but not the name(s) of the REBIC/private developer reps. Why not open the issue up all the way?

Anonymous said...

Isn't surprising. What is surprising is no mention of how much $$ to bring for bribing.

Rick said...

"But too many things go on behind the curtain. That isn't good for public discourse."

So Mary, can we assume that you would agree that Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP) meetings need to open to the public as well?

They are the number one lobbying group in town. Not only do they have people who do have this as their full-time job, but we the taxpayers are helping to pay for them to do it. Their board is made up of the top elected officials, bureaucrats, and opinion makers in town as well as many major developers.

When they start publishing the minutes of their board meetings, then we'll have some real openness where the big decisions in Charlotte are really made.