By Tori Richards | Watchdog.org
Rhode Island: The first state to live in futuristic Epcot-style communities?
An Obama plan to move low-income and minority residents into government-funded “growth centers” has hit a snag in Rhode Island, first in seeking to enact such a statewide plan.
In a Nov. 18 letter to the Rhode Island Division of Planning, a bipartisan group of five legislators urged the state not to pass RhodeMap RI, calling the plan “unacceptable and a hijacking of government resources.”
The project is designed to drive residents into more densely packed urban centers where people will live in something they describe in terms usually reserved for Disney’s Epcot — futuristic, clean, prosperous.
Critics say it’s social engineering of the worst sort, something that will destroy local land-use planning while only giving lip-service to green energy and a classless community.
“The American dream is about working hard and taking what you have earned and spending it the way you want to spend it,” said state Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-Coventry. Morgan rejected the plan’s guiding assumption that the poor ought to be subsidized so they can live alongside wealthier Americans. “It shouldn’t be government saying, ‘These folks want to live there and they can’t afford it and we are going to force you.’”
The federal $1.9-million Sustainable Communities Grant is meant to identify areas that are most suitable for what it refers to as “infill and development” — open spaces in wealthy communities that can be built up with housing accessible to everyone. The goal is to limit suburbanization, creating self-contained communities featuring job sites, transportation and housing, rendering vehicles obsolete. Government subsidies would help move low-income, illegal immigrants and previously incarcerated residents into homes and jobs accessible only to those of higher income and education.
In other words, people like Taylor Swift, who lives in Watch Hill, R.I., or the residents of nearby Jamestown, where the Vanderbilts, President Eisenhower and Jackie Onassis once lived, would find themselves staring out the window at an affordable housing high-rise if the plan spearheaded by U.S. Housing and Urban Development is implemented as intended.
“Do we want them to come in and say, ‘There is a nice piece of land, we are going to take it by eminent domain and put affordable housing there?’” asked Morgan, one of the
three Republicans who signed the letter along with one Democrat and an independent, Rep.-elect Blake Filippi.
Filippi’s district includes Block Island, half of which is a designated nature preserve and has been a part-time home for numerous American presidents. He said he is concerned about a lack of a cohesive economic strategy that could upend local zoning laws.
“Figuring out exactly what this plan is going to do is challenging,” Filippi said.
The $4 billion program began in 2009 and is supposed to reduce carbon footprints. It is a partnership with three federal agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency, HUD and U.S. Department of Transportation.
In 2011, Rhode Island’s Democrat-controlled state applied for and received its grant. The governor set up a governing body of 35 government and nonprofit entities called the Consortium. After three years of study and public hearings, the Consortium produced a 186-page report that reads like a primer for George Orwell’s 1984.
“An essential goal of the RhodeMap RI process was to address social equity, particularly looking at systems, programs and ideas that have the effect of marginalizing certain groups of people,” an executive summary said. “Without strategies specifically targeted at populations with greater barriers to opportunity, those barriers may never be overcome.”
“This includes ensuring a range of healthy, quality housing in all areas of Rhode Island. A new State housing plan and growth centers strategy, also developed through RhodeMap RI, will identify strategies to meet the housing needs.”
The plan echoes an EPA Sustainable Communities report that gives tips on how taxpayer funds can be used to bring everyone into the middle class:
“Safe, decent, and affordable housing; reliable transportation options; and a clean, healthy environment are fundamental to a person’s ability to lift him- or herself into a better life,” the report said. “These resources are rungs on the ‘ladders of opportunity’ that help lower-income Americans reach the middle class.”
RhodeMap RI also encourages dismantling the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which ensures state sovereignty:
“To implement this plan, barriers between and among federal and state programs must be dismantled to help ensure they respond to the needs of the communities…. Rhode Island … should continue to advocate for similar efforts with their federal funding partners where alignment is a problem.”
The state and its 39 municipalities should combine to create a “consolidation of services,” the plan said.
Morgan said it’s up to the state Legislature to fund the project, but doesn’t think that will happen. “We’ve seen the plan and don’t like the plan,” she said.
For the past three years, the effort has moved slowly along — far from national scrutiny — while similar projects are cropping up around the nation, most notably in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The conservative think tank Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity has been on a mission to publicize and dismantle RhodeMap RI.
“It’s a socialist vs. capitalist thing; it’s not a liberal vs. conservative thing,” said the center’s founder, Mike Stenhouse. “People have been fighting this all over the country. But once Rhode Island is the first entire state to pass this plan, the federal government will seize control.”
The Rhode Island Division of Planning has postponed a hearing on the project until Dec. 11. Many believe it will be passed with the blessing of Democratic Gov. Lincoln D. Chaffee.
“I challenge all facets of state government to affirm the trust the public has placed in us by using this plan to help make decisions that position Rhode Island and all of our residents for long-term prosperity,” Chaffee wrote in an open letter to all residents.