How much do you know about Emerge 2040?
For years, residents of Erie County have been hearing about Destination Erie, a project aimed at creating a comprehensive plan for, not only our own county, but the adjoining counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, as well. When introduced in its final form on March 26th, 2015, it was renamed Emerge 2040, focusing on a 25 year vision for the Erie region. The executive director of the plan, Anna Frantz, states: “Thousands of residents participated in our first fully comprehensive, community-driven plan to guide the region.” Sounds impressive, but what haven’t you heard?
A comprehensive custom plan just for Erie County?
If Emerge 2040 is “our first fully comprehensive, community-driven plan,” why does it have so much in common with other plans? Instead of being something just for us, it strongly resembles plans like:
- Plan Bay Area 2040 San Francisco Bay Area
- Thrive MSP 2040 Minneapolis St.Paul
- Connections 2040 Philadelphia
- Vision 2040 Puget Sound
- PLAN 2040 Atlanta
- Envision Virginia Beach 2040 Virginia Beach
- Vibrant NEO 2040 North East Ohio
… and many, many, more. Maybe we should take a closer look.
What is really driving these plans?
Although Ms. Frantz tells us it was “community driven,” it’s actually government driven, specifically by HUD (Housing and Urban Development), the DOT (Department of Transportation) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), through a group called the Partnership for Sustainable Communities formed very early in the Obama administration on June 16, 2009, not long after the trillion dollar stimulus plan was passed. The goals and principles of that partnership are explicitly stated in Emerge 2040. The Erie County group lays out their entire process with a “HUD Approved Project Work Plan.”
Do you want the federal government planning your community?
Look at all of the plans above and you’ll find amazing similarities. You’ll notice each has a layer of specific local components, but all of the plans seem to address the same problems, they all use much the same language, focus on the same broad goals and have, not surprisingly, similar solutions. Did all of those local groups across the country really see the same problems and ask for the same things?
A disinterested observer might conclude these regional plans (the word “regional” isn’t accidental) are little more than the federal government inserting itself into communities all across the US through planning groups working hard to make it appear it was community driven. Perhaps, that explains the emphasis on how many local residents were in the planning sessions, because it supports their claim that it represents “the hopes and dreams of the region’s people,” (there’s that word “region” again) though the participants in Erie County, actually chose from a group of pre-drawn frameworks presented to them and to which they could make changes and additions, but not create from scratch. The broader, comprehensive goals constantly touted by HUD, the DOT and the EPA remain in the plan, even if camouflaged with some perfectly sensible local specifics.
Who pays for it and what does it cost?
Here’s the critical question, who’s going to pay? When the wishlist is complete and the plans made, where’s the money coming from? According to the plan:
The cost is not necessarily one that will be borne by the county or any individual municipality. The Funding Sources are potential state or federal agencies or non-profit entities …
In other words, “free money” from the government. Who doesn’t like free money? Just plan it and the money will come. Well, then, let’s get started, … or maybe we should ask how much that free money costs.
Pennsylvania has no money to spare
If you’ve noticed the budget standoff in Harrisburg, you already know Pennsylvania has huge financial issues. There’s no “free” money, or any other money, floating around to hand out unless we ignore the rapidly growing $50 billion+ PA already owes. There may be a few people in favor of doing that, but the rest of us are more concerned with how taxpayers are going to pay the existing bills before the state goes bankrupt.
Free federal money with a very high cost – we lose control
OK, what about the federal government? They pass out free money through things like CDBGs, (Community Development Block Grants) which no one can afford. How so? Last July, a massive new regulation was passed that most people missed because the media ignored it, AFFH, (Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing), and if you take that free CDBG money from HUD, you’ll find out how costly free can be:
AFFH obligates any local jurisdiction that receives HUD funding to conduct a detailed analysis of its housing occupancy by race, ethnicity, national origin, English proficiency, and class (among other categories). Grantees must identify factors (such as zoning laws, public-housing admissions criteria, and “lack of regional collaboration”) that account for any imbalance in living patterns. Localities must also list “community assets” (such as quality schools, transportation hubs, parks, and jobs) and explain any disparities in access to such assets by race, ethnicity, national origin, English proficiency, class, and more. Localities must then develop a plan to remedy these imbalances, subject to approval by HUD. (emphasis added)
… by obligating all localities receiving HUD funding to compare their demographics to the region as a whole, AFFH effectively nullifies municipal boundaries … It’s easy to miss the de facto absorption of local governments into their surrounding regions by AFFH, because the rule disguises it.
Do municipalities know what they’re doing? Do you?
Most communities have no idea what they’re signing on to when they accept block grants, yet Emerge 2040 cites those grants as a funding source for many programs in the plan. As soon as communities take the grant money, they’ve given veto power over their own plans to the federal government and may be forced to do things they never intended. Local communities have to adjust for “imbalances” (as defined by HUD) elsewhere in the region. Your voice and your vote have been diminished or eliminated.
The missing link
We’ll discuss the details of Emerge 2040 in an upcoming series of articles, but the underlying connection between much of what is happening in Erie County and what our county executive wants to do, is this comprehensive plan, including those things few residents notice until after they happen, like zoning changes and new ordinances. County Executive, Kathy Dahlkemper, strongly endorses Emerge 2040 and the federal government has near term priorities that are sure to be emphasized as the Obama administration nears the end of its term. Many planners fear the next administration may cut back on these initiatives and they’re rushing to do as much as possible before that can occur.
Very few county residents know anything about this plan
With a comprehensive plan like this, you would expect many in Erie County and the surrounding region to know what’s in it, but you would be wrong. If you follow the news, you’ve probably heard of it, whether under the original name Destination Erie or the new Emerge 2040, but if you conduct your own informal survey and ask for specific details from many county residents or even many elected and appointed officials, you’ll often get blank stares and long pauses, which makes you wonder who in the community is driving this “community-driven” plan.
We’ll cover the details here on Erie County Report so you can better understand Emerge 2040 and how it could affect you, because if you want to be informed before forming your own opinion there’s a lot you need to know, certainly a lot more than most residents know now.
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