Despite the worries expressed by some in our county regarding the specter of a United Nations–led takeover of land-use planning, the fact is that the U.N. has no substantive influence on the decisions made by local government.
Land-use decisions affecting private property occur at the lowest levels of government, the city and the county. City council members, county supervisors and the planning commissioners of both are people you likely see in your community and probably know and who probably know you and are familiar with the issues of concern to you.
These people are accountable to you, and you are their first priority. Your considerable influence is amplified further through a local decision-making process that revolves around meetings, testimony and votes that all occur in public.
The surest way for the United Nations to gain significant traction in local decisions, other than by offering good advice with no strings attached, would be if it provided financial incentives to local government. Although local governments are always in need of money, that hasn’t happened and, no doubt, would be roundly criticized if it did. Conceivably, the U.N. could influence local decisions through financial incentives and directives coming from our state or federal governments, but the planning principles that the state and federal governments try to promote have been around for decades and often predate the U.N. That these principles might resemble policies advocated by the U.N., such as in its nonbinding set of recommendations known as Agenda 21, suggests that rather than the U.N. influencing American planning theory, it is American planning theory that is influencing the U.N.
And American planning theory is intellectually vibrant and constantly in flux, because our policy preferences change over time and because there are multiple ways to resolve the land-use-related issues that we face now and will face in the future. The benefits of “smart growth” and “sustainable development” in relation to our current sprawling land-use patterns, for example, continue to receive critical examination and debate. This examination and debate takes place through our universities, through our scholarly publications and think tanks, through our popular media and, not least, through innumerable meetings of our planning commissions, city councils and boards of supervisors, where decisions are ultimately made and where you have an important voice.
To claim the United Nations can somehow insidiously harm the quality of life in Nevada County is not only to misunderstand the history and process of American land-use planning, it devalues the prominent role that you and I play in shaping the places where we live. There is no such conspiracy.
Richard Anderson, Nevada County supervisor for District 5, lives in Nevada City. The views expressed are not intended to reflect those of other county supervisors or staff members.