Ask the right Albemarle residents, and they will tell you that efforts by county government to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable development approach “a Big Brother mentality,” “socialism,” and “Soviet-style rule-by-committee.” Last week, they told their six supervisors the same thing.
Jefferson Area Tea Party chair Carole Thorpe said that ICLEI, a nonprofit organization that helps local governments monitor greenhouse gas emissions, “has nothing to do with environmentalism.”
Last Wednesday, supervisors unanimously upheld the county’s involvement in the Livable Communities Planning Project, a project led by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. The project received a $999,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to encourage sustainable development and environmental considerations in local comprehensive plans.
However, the board also voted 4-2 to end Albemarle’s membership in ICLEI, a nonprofit that helps local governments track their carbon emissions. Discussion followed a recent uproar from members of the Jefferson Area Tea Party (JATP), who asked that the county return the grant and its membership. Supervisors Dennis Rooker and Ann Mallek voted against the ICLEI withdrawal.
JATP members have argued that the Livable Communities project seeks to codify ICLEI regulations in local plans. However, representatives from ICLEI and the TJPDC have countered that the power to enforce local climate regulations rests with elected county officials. Mark Graham, Albemarle’s Director of Community Development, reiterated the point.
“The grant does not decide,” said Graham. “The board decides.”
In August, Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville both committed $161,000 to leverage the nearly $1 million grant from HUD. However, as County Executive Thomas Foley explained last week, refusing the HUD grant would not free up county dollars because they were already allocated as staff time for Albemarle’s comprehensive plan review.
“The plan will be updated and the expenses incurred regardless of the county’s participation in the grant project,” said Foley. He added that no additional tax dollars had been promised for the grant.
Supervisor Ken Boyd has previously called for Albemarle to withdraw from ICLEI and asserted that the county is “being infiltrated” by an ICLEI agenda.
“I think the discussion tonight is, ‘Who do we take direction from?’” said Boyd. Moments later, Rooker remarked that Boyd’s “presumption about someone outside directing anything is ridiculous.”
JATP Chair Carole Thorpe told C-VILLE that ICLEI “has nothing to do with environmentalism,” but instead with efforts to impose the United Nations’ sustainable development program, Agenda 21, as international law.
“This is ICLEI’s mission,” said Thorpe. “If they could close their eyes and wish, [then] tomorrow Agenda 21 would be the policy of the world.” ICLEI spokesman Guillermo Meneses told C-VILLE that the organization’s relationship with the U.N. is “based on an official observer status specifically for international climate negotiations.”
The irony, according to county staff documents, is that those residents most concerned about local oversight will have more opportunities to address their concerns. “Participation in the grant was designed to accelerate the review process and increase public input,” said Foley.
“Why would you want to refuse money that allows for an increase in public participation?” asks Jeff Werner, a land use officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council. According to a Comprehensive Plan timeline, the county hopes to schedule citizen advisory group sessions through July, host public participation workshops from September through February, and host additional “focused citizen input meetings” upon request next spring.
Asked whether the TJPDC could accept the HUD grant and still fashion a comprehensive plan based on local input, Thorpe says, “I’ll give no absolute.”