Trust is needed in order to cooperate.
I started my involvement in dealing with downtown
Throughout the last year I have had my trust destroyed. Last April as I was losing my trust I wrote:
Every single person [in the community] I have talked to in this process has wanted to work positively with county officials to find the best plan for downtown redevelopment, yet it seems to me that this process has been made a lot more difficult because 1) the plan the consultants presented after the charrette didn't reflect what the community said during the charrette, but what the developer had been advocating for, 2) the fact that the plan has yet to be changed to reflect what the community has been consistently saying on things that there was near universal agreement about at both the charrette and the focus group like mixed income housing, 3) the effort by some to close the public out of the process, and 4) actions like the lack of the promised video of the Feb. 27th meeting that break down trust. I truly would like to see trust restored in this process, but I think the situation is clearly in the hands of the Department of Planning and Zoning and the new representative of General Growth to rebuild this trust.
The above comment was in response to the shock the community had when it was discovered that despite the Department of Planning and Zoning promising that the February 27th public meeting would be videotaped so there would be an undisputable public record of that meeting and what the community said, yet despite that promise the meeting was not video taped.
This is but one example of a long hard year, where I attend meeting after meeting and had my trust destroyed. Another glaring example was a Focus Group meeting about which I wrote the following:
What did you think of Wednesday’s focus group meeting on downtown Columbia redevelopment? My reaction can be summed up in one word: disgust! Utter disgust. I think the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) should be ashamed of themselves for their efforts to try to ramrod the Focus Group members into giving their assent to 1) positions they clearly had already said they were not in agreement with (such as 10% moderate income housing and 5% middle income housing) and 2) provide a blank check for decisions on key aspects of the downtown plan be made without coming back for further review before the focus group (in many cases this involved pushing unresolved issues into a less public format). DPZ gave the appearance that they wanted the Focus Group to just serve as a means to give the plan a stamp of public approval and a tool to try to co-opt specific community leaders. Luckily we,
residents, are very politically intelligent (after all many of us work in DC and have seen the big boys play these games or played them ourselves) and the focus group hasn’t let this happen. The game of pushing a decision forward in a process by claiming future opportunities for input and then turning around at these later “opportunities” and claiming that these decisions have already been made and the time for input has passed is an old one. In fact it is such an old game that we should all be insulted that they thought we were suckers enough that they could pull this off. Let us stop these games! These decisions are way too important for this type of childishness. It is this exact type of bull-shit that has been reducing public trust. Howard County
I want to thank the members of the focus group who spoke up against giving there assent, particularly Liz Bobo, Jud Malone, and Bridget Mugane.
(I should note that I have come to conclude that DPZ was acting on instructions from elected officials and so I do not blame DPZ staff as much as feel sorry for them.)
Trust can be lost and once it is lost it is hard to earn back without a serious demonstration of good faith. We have not yet had that demonstration of good faith.
I have sat through all but two of the Focus Group meetings, every day of charrette week, all of the public meetings, and read all of the Department of Planning and Zoning documents that they have thus far put out and I have yet to see the developers offering anything concrete to the community. Yes, there is a lot of pretty language about what the plan “should” have, but there are no concrete commitments or even any sign of movement in that direction. I beg everyone to study this plan. I also strongly hope everyone remembers there is a huge difference between declaring something will be so without creating the means to implement it and actually creating the way something is implemented. All the pretty language in the world doesn’t mean anything unless the substance achieves it.
This post, which is done when I do not have time to write much, is hardly scratching the surface of the process by which I lost my trust providing only two snapshots that I have written about previously. I would love to have my trust restored by a substantive demonstration of good faith on the part of the developers or a sign that county officials are champions of those that they represent (and I have high hopes for the new council, which I think starts without baggage that has reduced trust in other quarters), but as time goes by and more things are done to destroy that trust the bigger that demonstration will have to be. Actions shall be the judge.
I started with good faith attending the charrette and repeatedly offering solutions to issues I was hearing from the community or seeing as I studied the plan. I always moderated my solutions proposals (with the one exception of mixed income housing which is a base requirement to stay true to Rouse’s vision of Columbia) to insure that they did not undermine the ability of the developers to make a huge profit. I talked to Dennis Miller and after he left I spoke with Doug Godine (the senior GGP officials) and I have seen zero give on their side. Under these circumstances the only tactic is to stand strong and advocate content of what would achieve a good plan. When and if GGP ever puts something on the table that shows they have been listening to the community or if DPZ revises their plan to reflect what the community has been saying then I am more than ready to take a fresh look and see if we can move forward. I am ready to approve a plan tomorrow if I thought it might work, but first we must see such a plan. I have been spending a year offering up solutions I thought would satisfy the community, achieve a good plan, and make sure the developer made a huge profit. Despite countless hours and meetings over the past year I have seen no change to the plan. The solution is not to cave. Time is on our side, not theirs. The moment they are ready to talk and demonstrate good faith I am ready. Till then I urge everyone to not start letting them play one preferred amenity off another. We will all lose out in that circumstance. There is a reason why divide and conquer is such a common strategy. Let us not let that happen here. We are all stronger and smarter than to let that happen.