Angry Critics Call New Jersey's Blueprint for Growth too Radical
Regional planning to stimulate economic growth meets opposition at unruly public hearing.
The Christie administration’s draft strategic investment plan is touted by officials as a blueprint for spurring economic development in New Jersey, a goal seemingly embraced by many.
But critics say it represents a much more radical plan, and a very unlikely GOP agenda at that. It’s a proposal they say redistributes wealth, usurps individual property rights, and reflects a decade-old United Nations resolution that aims to promote so-called sustainable environmental growth around the globe.
In the seventh public hearing on the draft plan in Toms River Monday, more than 50 people showed up, mostly to denounce the proposal. Often they shouted down a Christie administration official who sought to answer questions, loudly applauded those who criticized the proposal, and frequently interrupted the official when he sought to address those concerns.
The hearing seemed to underscore the growing, and often unruly, opposition to regional planning emerging not only in New Jersey but nationwide.
That opposition is mirrored in the Republican platform adopted last month in Tampa. It rejected the U.N. resolution, dubbed Agenda 21, as “aggressively erosive of American sovereignty,’’ even though the resolution is non-binding.
Not that the plan is much welcomed by proponents of smart growth, who worry it emphasizes economic growth at the expense of preserving open space. But the loudest critics by far are those who oppose any expansion of government growth.
For many in the audience, the proposed strategic investment plan was part of Agenda 21. They had little patience with those who opposed that view.
“This is without doubt Agenda 21. We’re not stupid people,’’ said Connie Sherwood, “This is not going to happen. If you pass this, we will be in Trenton.’’
“This plan has nothing to do with the U.N.,’’ said Gerard Scharfenberger, director of the state Office of Planning Advocacy, later adding, “This plan isn’t coercive; it is completely voluntary.’’
That view did not sit well with most of the people who showed up at the hearing. In various comments, the plan was described as anti-American, socialist, and an attempt to add yet another layer of bureaucracy to solve problems with state government.
“We have too much government,’’ argued Pat Gilenbeski, who complained about Trenton’s efforts to impose new affordable housing requirements on Toms River, even though it lacks the infrastructure to support it.
Scharfenberger repeatedly sought to defend the plan, often to catcalls from the audience. He said the plan seeks to steer state resources and money into areas where investments are wisest, while still giving local governments the ultimate decision to where growth occurs.
The 41-page plan, still being revised by the administration, emphasizes economic growth instead of environmental preservation by establishing geographic industry clusters where the state will direct investments and resources to bolster high-growth sectors, such as finance, healthcare, and the ports.