The words flash onto a black screen: “The ‘New World Order’ is here.” Dramatic music swells as the message continues: “One Global Vision, Designed by the United Nations, To Strip you of Your Freedom.”
What could be so sinister? According to the video posted on the East Bay Tea Party’s website, it’s the Sustainable Communities Strategy being developed by two of the wonkiest governmental bodies in the Bay Area: the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.
The East Bay Tea Party, based in Alamo, has taken an interest in the regional planning effort, which seeks to curb suburban sprawl, car use and pollution by encouraging housing to be built near mass-transit hubs or job centers.
The work is the result of state legislation that requires regions to devise development and transportation plans to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
The Tea Party has become a national force, but its message of small government and lower taxes has made few inroads in the liberal Bay Area. Heather Gass, a Danville real estate agent, has been leading the charge for the East Bay Tea Party in the planning debate.
In a blog post, Gass takes the position that the Sustainable Communities Strategy is biased against people who want to raise their children in the suburbs and drive cars. She wrote that the plan portended a future of “working at your government-assigned job on the bottom floor of your urban transit center village because you have no car and who knows where your aging parents will be but by then it will be too late!”
On Tuesday, Gass and about a dozen others attended an Oakland meeting of the two planning agencies intended to get suggestions from the public. They peppered the urban planners with questions and comments.
When planners asked audience members to rank the importance of open space like parks, Gass exploded. “Open space also includes people’s private property,” she said. “You cannot ask people to vote on something that violates others’ private property.”
Lou Hexter, who was leading the exercise, tried to placate her, saying quietly, “It’s good to hear everyone’s opinion, but we need to ——.”
“Back off!” Gass yelled.
At one point, the host felt the need to ask everyone to take a “time out.”
Miriam Chion, a planner with the Bay Area governments group, said that no one was going to be removed from their home in the suburbs. “The sustainable-communities strategy is not about moving people,” she said. “It’s about addressing development challenges.”
Even with the group of vocal critics, when the audience voted on priorities for the Bay Area, the top five were: daily needs close to home, clean air, convenient access to jobs, water conservation and lower carbon emissions. “Large homes with big yards” was near the bottom.
This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.
Correction: A photo caption in a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Searle Whitney had heard about a May 24, 2011 planning meeting from the East Bay Tea Party. Whitney said he heard about the meeting through Greenbelt Alliance.