OPINION — It does not cost a lot for a community to achieve a high quality of life, requiring mainly thoughtful planning and implementation. However, poor governance can wrench a hefty amount of money from your checking account while leaving the community on the list of places to avoid.
The goal should be to develop ways to provide the highest level of service at the least expense. Finding elected officials who are willing to lead in that direction is rare these days, even from officials who declare themselves “conservative.”
First to worst
The entire West Coast of the United States, once the destination of prosperity, is spiraling into decay. Cities of all sizes that had everything going for them elected the wrong candidates with the wrong ideologies.
No place screams “government negligence and incompetence” more than San Francisco.
Yes, in addition to the Golden Gate City’s natural beauty and exquisite quality of life, the city was the center of world technological intellect and one of the wealthiest cities on the planet. What could possibly go wrong?
After being given the best-case scenario on a platter, indeed prosperity for San Franciscans appeared secure. But the elected officials just could not help themselves.
A lot of the slogans on decriminalizing drug use, shoplifting, and other crimes seemed too good to pass up. Californians passed Proposition 47 in 2014 with the support of political figures like Gavin Newsom and even out-of-towners like Senator Rand Paul and Newt Gingrich to rectify society.
Candidates running for office began appealing to voters with language promoting a more ethical, equitable, and compassionate society. They believed there was nothing they could not accomplish on the social justice front with an increased stream of the taxpayers’ money. The theme was more Marx than Jesus.
The elected officials made excuses for crime, pushed a right of vagrancy, and accommodated drug addiction.
San Francisco’s star was dimming fast. Drug-addicted and mentally ill homeless people lined main thoroughfares and subway stations, shoplifting became an epidemic, businesses and retail stores ran away to other states, and corporations allowed employees to escape and work remotely elsewhere.
On April 1, 2023, the San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Board claimed the city is heading “into a ‘doom loop’ that would gut its tax base, decimate fare-reliant regional transit systems like BART and trap it in an economic death spiral.” Additionally, they claim the state’s golden goose city “is projecting a $728 million deficit over the next two fiscal years.”
Don’t think we are immune
The main thing that kept Fayette County apart from the rest of metro Atlanta’s problems was we have no immediate access to an interstate highway. The homogeneous suburban sprawl, its traffic, its overcrowded and failing schools, and its crime grew over time along the interstate highway system because of the quick access it provided to downtown Atlanta.
Fayette was not on the real estate development radar for decades except for the planned community of Peachtree City (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/01/30/peachtree-city-history-part-4/). Our county was able to grow at a much slower and controlled pace.
You had to be devoted to the mission of the “planned city” Peachtree City and the surrounding locations because Fayette County in the 70s and 80s lacked many of the shopping, restaurants, and entertainment opportunities available to the north.
Peachtree City in the Fleisch and Learnard administrations appears to be municipal governance with San Franciscan characteristics. They purport to be of a higher moral authority, telling citizens that radical change is necessary because they say so (see: https://thecitizen.com/2020/11/01/lci-meeting-insult-to-peachtree-city-residents/).
Peachtree City’s planning department has become the foot soldiers in the war against our incredible planned community.
The Planning Director Robin Cailloux created an unfortunate banner that she displayed at an October 22, 2020, meeting that showed the severe disregard the local government has for the city’s dramatic planning success over the decades.
The title on the banner was “Dispelling some myths: planning facts” as if all the local citizens who have lived here for decades who disagree with her absurd plans were not telling the truth. It was like something out of Maoist China.
In giant bold letters, Cailloux, in support of building stacked apartment complexes all over the city, writes on the sign, “No build just means No Plan” which essentially means she holds our traditional land plans in total disregard, and she considers all our planning up to this point to be null and void.
She boldly proclaimed on the sign, “Individuals have property rights and they could rezone or build undesirable things according to the current zoning.” Be careful when your city officials engage in fear propaganda.
First, no one can rezone without a vote of the City Council. Second, the “undesirable things” they can build under the current zoning are the very things the City Council told us we needed, light industrial and the like. The real undesirable things, according to the taxpayers who fund her employment are the irresponsible traffic-heavy, multi-family complexes that Fleisch and Learnard keep wanting to force all over town.
Next, the ill-conceived sign says, “The city is not purchasing and assembling land to build these concepts.” In talking to the city’s urban planning consultants, I was told that the initial focus was building on Drake Field and demolishing the Tennis Center because the city already owned those sites. Their “we know better than you on land planning” attempt was crushed in a revolt by the taxpaying peasants.
The last tragic statement on the Cailloux sign says, “Current zoning led to developments in the last 20 years that have caused traffic congestion because they serve the car.” That is the most thoughtless fabrication I have ever seen from our local government.
Of course, Ms. Cailloux has not been here over the last 20 years. Most of the traffic-laden developments including the Home Depot/Wal-Mart and the Overlook shopping center on Highway 54-W were opposed by the citizens and the City Council changed the zoning and forced them anyway. Our last City Council, including current Councilmen Mike King and Phil Prebor, is also responsible for the overdevelopment of the MacDuff Parkway corridor which should have been zoned light industrial and office institutional.
It is only when the city drastically deviated from the traditional land planning that we witnessed such failure.
Making it up as they go
The same local officials who have been granting variances of up to 50 percent of the building setbacks behind closed doors without a vote of the city council (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/07/10/opinion-if-city-oks-half-of-all-variance-requests-in-private-how-can-zoning-ordinance-survive/) are also attempting to delete the city’s planning history and rewrite it to their ends.
The Citizen Publisher and Editor Cal Beverly unearthed attempts by the local planning officials to bury any mention of our traditional villages and the policies that created them (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/08/19/opinion-requiem-for-our-villages-or-a-new-unexpected-arrival/).
Beverly also found that Planning Director Cailloux is promoting a revisionist history plan that adds villages where none exist or has even been discussed in an effort to justify more dense development on our borders, something that was prohibited in our traditional planning.
This revisionism is a falsification and distortion intended to validate the need for more annexation of land for real estate developers and the creation of more dense residential development.
What the revisionist efforts exclude in the narrative are the significant increases in city services that will be necessary and the substantial increases in annual residential property taxes needed to provide them (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/08/14/higher-taxes-on-the-way-for-most-property-owners-everywhere-in-fayette-county/).
What can you do?
We all need to be paying attention and know who is trying to devastate our prized quality of life (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/08/14/opinion-municipal-elections-watch-whos-backing-candidates/).
Every registered voter in your family needs to vote this October-November in the municipal elections.
Ensure you know where the candidates stand on annexation and stacked dense multi-family development before you vote this October-November. It matters. If the candidate can’t give you a straightforward position, vote for someone who can.
Don’t be like the citizens and business owners of San Francisco and wait until the bottom falls out to act.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]