After spending five days in Texas as the guest of a truly nice and generous Texas couple who simultaneously have very different political views than myself and a similar sense of humor, I decided to write a poem to sum up my impressions of the uncontrolled development I'm seeing here in the Dallas area, which I'm visiting for the first time, and my fears of what the Bitterroot will end up being if we as a community don't prevail against such proposals as Legacy Ranch.
As we all know, Legacy comes from another part of the planet that the Bitterroot, where people are so used to the kind of destruction of habitat etc. proposed by the Legacy developers that they absolutely and honestly see nothing wrong with it. It's normal to them, and they are legion. We know this, because most of us come from similar destroyed environments ourselves. It's the simple truth. That's why we fear it and why enough of us see it for what it is and fight it. We know we simply can't go on like this, and yet we do. Why?
It's nobody's fault in particular that those who of us see nothing wrong with Legacy also see Legacy as inevitable. You spend enough time in subdivision communities that are five, ten, twenty times the size of Legacy and you either go crazy (an option), you reject it thoroughly (as I and many of the folks I hang out with did) or you reconcile it and live with that reconciliation. Maybe, I'm thinking, it's the fault of us who don't get our stories down well enough to convince the Reconciled Ones that we have good enough stories to pay enough attention to visualize other alternatives. We're certainly swimming upstream against the dominant culture, and that's frustrating. The highly-well-funded (Ross) Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, for instance, has an actual ride where you pretend your riding the tip of a drill bit while a nice lady jokingly explains the benefits, virtues and safety features of fracking. I'd guess that tens of thousands of school kids (during class time!) sit through this ten-minute, high-tech indoctrination program. They were there when we were. That's the point, in other words. We who see alternatives have our work cut out for us.
Why don't we do the work then, I guess is all I'm saying. Which is another reason I wrote a poem. It seems to help. We don't have to be passive, and there's a lot of options for defining "active". But don't fool yourself. It's hard and getting' harder. Gird your loins and don't believe in fear as an emotion. It's not. It's a chemical reaction. You can deal with it. Evolve, in other words.
Below is the full text of a letter-to-the-editor printed the Bitterroot Star this week re: Legacy Ranch Subdivision.
Referring to the proposed Legacy Ranch subdivision, Commissioner Foss is quoted thus: “When people decide they are going to sue before the process is even completed, we need to be prepared.” Commissioner Chilcott goes further by publicly apologizing to Ms. Morton (one of the developers) for “insults” she has had to endure from an angry public wondering why this proposed town from outer space has to land in their backyard. This from elected officials who are supposed to be protecting Us the Taxpayers from inappropriate development schemes in exchange for pretty good wages.
Given this lay of the land, I’d like to clarify a few things for our commissioners and for anyone else confused about how things work in our nominally-participatory democracy.
First off, Ms. Foss is correct. We do have to be prepared. After all, this is the same commission that approved another private monstrosity miles out of Hamilton—Flatiron-- on the slimmest of legal justifications and with the clever help of their same Planning Office Manager, Terry Nelson (who as chair of the Ravalli Co. Republican Central Committee helped put three of these commissioners in office), whose department is shepherding this latest monster subdivision through. Remember? If this commission remains true to their ideological school, they will approve this one, too.
Ms. Foss claims that those who oppose Legacy are acting aggressively “before the process has been completed”. As a reminder, no one beats the aforementioned Nelson Planning Department for pre-emptive arrogance. His team was so certain that the public would have nothing worthwhile to say that they recommended approval for Legacy before the public process ever got started, and the currently-compromised Planning Board agreed with Nelson’s assessment that the public had nothing of value to say and gave Legacy their rubber stamp. So yes, wary citizens have no choice but to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
Which brings us to democratic process. Again, Ms. Foss is correct. Nobody can sue before something happens. How obvious is that? Nevertheless, I’ll state that as an active member of Bitterrooters for Planning (BFP)—a group much maligned and unfairly accused of lying by Ms. Morton while the selectively-chivalrous Chilcott stood by and apologized to us not one time--I can say unequivocally that that organization has been making every honest attempt to provide this commission with the accurate, detailed information it needs to deny this subdivision on the various criteria, which it could and should do, given the glaring weight of evidence. If, that is, this commission is working for us and not for developers prone to hurt feelings and personal insults when they don’t get their way. Opposition to this project runs far deeper than BFP, and that opposition showed up on their own legs at the various meetings hoping for the best. They hope the commission denies Legacy and that no citizen group has to sue to force democratic process. There’s nothing undemocratic about assertive optimism. In fact, that’s how, at its best, our system works for the greatest good.
There are a few things the public needs to be reminded of concerning the Legacy Town proposal.
· Under Montana law, the preliminary plat process—the process we’re now seeing the tail end of--is the only time the public will have any meaningful say, and that’s why the developers are advising the commissioners to “kick the can down the road” to D.E.Q. and D.N.R.C. –and even to themselves!--as far as real details about how this monstrosity can possibly work without damaging your community and your wallet. Whether it can work or not (and again, the preponderance of evidence demonstrates that it simply can’t) the developers know that if the commissioners give them their preliminary approval, the Citizen will be cut out of the procedural loop. No more of this messy democracy aimed at perfectly nice gazillionaires just trying to make a buck. Maybe the D.E.Q., they tell us, or the D.N.R.C., maybe the commissioners without our input or maybe even Santa Claus will unilaterally find something wrong with this proposal after the preliminary plat is approved and “save us”. But without our active concern and involvement you really shouldn’t count on it. Once it passes preliminary plat, the developers win, we lose. Now’s the time for the commissioners to deny this bad boy. That’s how our current process would work best. That’s not name-calling. That’s the right thing to do.
· All five commissioners are demonstrably compromised in regard to their developer-benefactors and real estate interests and this should rightly concern us, given the magnitude of “inevitable change” these developer-friendly Republicans have already foisted on us with Flatiron. But Commissioners Foss and Stoltz actually accepted significant campaign contributions from the Legacy developers—Donald and Alexandra Morton—and from employees of the Mortons’ engineering firm, Territorial Landworks, including its C.E.O. Jason Rice (http://campaignreport.mt.gov/FindDocuments ). They and their other political benefactor, Republican Central Committee chair and Planning Office Manager Terry Nelson, actually rewrote the county’s subdivision regulations so the Legacy Team wouldn’t have to deal with one of the main hang-ups in their past proposals, the negative effects of Porter Hill road. Of course anybody can donate to the political campaigns of anybody they want (especially after Citizens United speaking of the going price for souls!), but this is just plain basic. Given the magnitude of this project; the profits their political benefactors stand to gain, the public harm likely to occur, they have a clear conflict-of-interest one tenth the amount of which would force any judge to recuse themselves from any given case. Similarly, if Foss and Stoltz want to maintain even the fig leaf of democratic process, they should recuse themselves on Legacy. That’s not name-calling. That’s just plain fair.
It’s easy and sometimes productive for those in power to misrepresent and blame those who criticize them. Scapegoating is part of human nature and indeed is part of our participatory political process. After all, the commissioners and Ms. Morton are bent out of shape because we’re exercising the rights some of us feel we’ve bought and paid for with the bodies and souls of ourselves, our buddies, our family members. We’re not gonna shrink from false accusations or hypocracy. They come with the territory we feel we fought for. In fact, a longing for the Holy Grail of Good Government is a big part of what motivates us, makes us active in the first place. I guess I should say thanks to those who are visiting the Legacy Town proposal upon us. They’re truly challenging us to work for our democracy.