Sustainable Development, Social Justice, and Private Property Rights

Right Side NewsDonna Holt, Executive Director VA Campaign for Liberty

I think we can envision what sustainable development might mean based on the meaning of the words and a little common sense. Probably the first thought that comes to mind is the continued prosperity of something such as a business. Other things that come to mind is common sense development to keep taxes down, a clean environment, good schools, free enterprise. All of these things are the essence of sustainable development to the average citizen.

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What sustainable development isn't, is the abolishment of private property rights, a bloated over-reaching government, government sanctioned monopolies, erosion of individual freedom, and the redistribution of wealth which is the essence of Chesterfield County's “new comprehensive plan”.

This form of “Sustainable Development” (capital letters) is a recipe for the destruction of capitalism. If you think I'm kidding, look at what is happening in California. Over the past two decades, regulations incrementally imposed to implement Sustainable Development polices have choked free enterprise out of existence. Businesses are leaving the state in droves. Housing costs have risen to eleven times the annual income of its residents. Even though energy and water consumption is down, the cost to each household is higher and in the absence of any expansion of infrastructure to deliver resources. Unemployment and foreclosure rates are the highest in the nation. The state is essentially bankrupt.

This hardly sounds like what we envision as sustainable development.

The county government is not completely to blame. After all, they are only following the directives of our federal government. The county is rewarded with generous funding for the implementation of the egregious programs that consequently resolve some of the problems of local government, many of which were created by the federal government in the first place.

How convenient!

The Chesterfield County planning staff asserts that they helped the Renaissance Planning Group write the plan and I have no doubt that is true. I also have no doubt that in doing so, they have no idea of the nefarious underpinning of the plan.

The federal government has spared no expense to ensure that their objectives are met. For the past two decades, K – 12 public schools as well as colleges and universities have received generous grants to indoctrinate our unsuspecting youth in the principles of what they define as “Sustainable Development”.

The comprehensive plan is said to be a “blueprint for the future” to serve as a guide to mange future growth, encourage economic growth and jobs, encourage the most efficient use of resources, etc. but does not legally control land use or regulations in the way that a zoning ordinance does. But then it goes on to list 150 specific actions in an action matrix that are intended to carry out the goals. The very first section of the action matrix, then describes in general terms, the ordinances and regulations to achieve the goals.

In truth, it reads like a Marxist Manifesto. The document clearly states that the plan is to establish and maintain the “community well-being”. The glossary in the back of the comprehensive plan defines “community well-being” as:

“An optimal quality of healthy community life, which is the ultimate goal of all the various processes and strategies that endeavor to meet the needs of people living together in communities. It encapsulates the ideals of people living together harmoniously in vibrant and sustainable communities, where community dynamics are clearly underpinned by social justice considerations.”

The words “social justice” certainly raises suspicions? Why would such a term appear in a “guide” to manage growth in our community? What does “social justice” really mean?

The web definitions of “social justice” are:

The fair distribution of advantages, assets, and benefits among all members of a society. An adherence to the theory that proprietorship and the authority of the means of production, capital, land, etc. should belong to the entire community. A redistribution of wealth; Socialism So what is “socialism”?

Here are just a few of the web definitions of “socialism” but all say the same thing in different ways:

A political theory advocating state ownership of industry An economic system based on state ownership of capital The Marxist theory of a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism.

So then one wonders, what is it in the plan that would lead us to “social justice”?

The following proposals in the plan would certainly lead us down the path to “social justice”:

Land Use Categories: With the stroke of a pen, there will be a transfer of wealth through down-zoning and up-zoning that will significantly reduce the value of ¼ of the land referred to as “countryside” and a sharp increase in the value of land in the low-income areas targeted for high-density development of “urban development areas” (UDAs).

Conservation Easement: Steep down-zoning extinguishes the hope of rural land owners that they may some day retire on the profits of future development of their land. It increases the likelihood that the rural land owner will regain some of the losses by committing most of their land to conservation easements. A redistribution of tax liability occurs when those who agree to conservation easement can reduce their adjusted gross income by 50 – 100% per year for up to 16 years. In doing so, they are essentially transferring the tax burden to the rest of the community.

Conservation easement is a wealthy rural landowner's dream. He could conceivably build a multimillion dollar mansion on hundreds of acres of land and pay only $100 or $200 in property taxes in addition to a 50% reduction in adjusted gross income by putting the majority of the property in conservation easement.

Investment and maintenance in bicycle trails and walkable paths in favor of the 5 – 6% of those who travel by foot and/or bicycle will be added to the tab.

Property Tax exemption is another entitlement for workforce housing.

Public/Private Partnerships: The plan encourages private/public partnerships which translates into monopolies, corporate tax breaks, and higher prices paid by the consumer.

Agriculture: An agricultural strategy calls for more incentives for landowners to conserve property.

Land Conservation Tools: Tools used to encourage conservation of more public and private lands to include land use taxation programs, purchase and transfer of development rights, easement programs. All of these programs serve to redistribute assets and tax liability.

Cultural Resource Funding: The plan calls for funding of “cultural resources”. Public funding for the arts? Really?

Historical Preservation: The plan calls for the more preservation of historical areas. Typically what we see is the incremental expansion of land preserved around historical sites over time. Such is the case with the Petersburg Civil War Battlefield which already encompasses 2600 acres of preserved land. Congressman Forbes and Senator Webb are proposing adding another 7200 acres which will nearly quadruple the amount of land as historical. Technically, one could argue that all of the land in America is historical in one way or another. The question is, where do we draw the line? As more land is taken off the tax roles, the tax burden increases for the rest of the landowners in the community.

Federal Grants and Funding: The plan encourages taking advantage of the many government funded programs available that would help fund the implementation of the plan. What this means is that taxpayers will foot the bill for countless subsidies and federal grants to the local government and NGOs for the many programs for local community development activities such as affordable housing, anti-poverty programs, and infrastructure development, energy, water etc.. Add to that the many tax breaks awarded to development firms and landowners for LEED certified building materials, Energy Star appliances, and energy efficient construction for the new urbanism design.

Add to that the 150 items in the action matrix to include food production, forestry, a tiered water rate, energy efficiency and reduction, tree removal, landscape regulations, green building codes, housing design, river access, septic and utility ordinances, grading and clear cutting standards, aesthetics of building fronts, low-income housing, greenways and trails specific plans, etc.. The real question is, what rights can a landowner keep?

If you think this form of Sustainable Development is unique to Chesterfield County, think again. The maps may be different, the words may change, but the policies are all the same for every locality across the nation and around the world. The common goal of every locality is government control of the economy, land, individuals, and the total destruction of Capitalism.

James Madison said, "Government is instituted to protect property of every sort. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own." Thomas Jefferson announced that "the defense of private property is the standard by which every provision of law, past and present, shall be judged."

The Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, largely written by George Mason, declared "that all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." Arthur Lee of Virginia called private property "the guardian of every other right."

You either have the right to own and control property or you become property!