Monday, October 13, 2008

Palin and Planning.

Mayors have more impact on planning than Governors. It's a blanket statement, since every state is different. Some states, such as Virginia, have total control over all towns, counties and cities, directly telling them what they can and cannot do. Other states, such as Ohio, are less controlling and allow towns and counties to create their own comprehensive plans. (This may be why there is such a disparity between cities like Mariemount, Gahanna and Lorrain).

So when Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, how did she measure up? It's a valid question, and unfortunately it has the answer none of us want to hear. As any good Republican, she shot down the first zoning plan in Wasilla's history, forgoing the opinion of the public and doing only what furthered her own agenda.

Over the next two months, Palin surprised and excited many in Wasilla by introducing social issues such as abortion and guns to the city's nonpartisan elections on the way to defeating the incumbent. But the centerpiece of her campaign was opposition to Stein's effort to bring zoning to the community.

Wasilla today reflects the results of her free-market approach to development. Running for a second mayoral term in 1999, Palin cited as one of her greatest successes luring a Fred Meyer mega-supermarket to Wasilla. The zoning plan, adopted over then-councilwoman Palin's opposition, proved no impediment for the store, which went up just a few feet from the banks of bucolic Lake Wasilla, with a parking lot that contains Kentucky Fried Chicken, Blockbuster Video, and Carl's Jr.

They are among the dominant landmarks in a city that councilwoman Dianne Woodruff says "looks like a big ugly strip mall from one end to the other."

My word, can it get worse?

"Every time we meet with people for the first time, they say, 'We don't want our town to be like Wasilla,' " said Thea Agnew Bemben, a planner whose firm has worked in neighboring communities.

"You'll hear that a lot of times in meetings. They're afraid Wasilla is coming their way," said Kathy Wells, executive director of the pro-planning Friends of Mat-Su. "The joke now is: Can we put a wall around it and not let it spread?"

Way to go, Sarah! You just can't do anything right. That's something to be proud of!