Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

DEFEATING LAND DESIGNATIONS

Key Strategies for Local Community Leaders

By Carol W. LaGrasse, President
Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.
October 16, 2000

The most important knowledge that a community leader must assimilate is that the proposed land designation must be roundly defeated as soon as possible and that the person reading this pamphlet is the person who must take the responsibility to see that this goal is accomplished.

Strategies:

Designation Boundaries. Demand to know the exact boundaries of the land designation and publish these boundaries on a map that can be distributed to everyone in the region. (In addition to public demand of this information, use redundant freedom of information requests to the main headquarters and the regional office.)
If there is a delay in obtaining the boundaries of the land designation from the appropriate officials, make your own rational study of the likely boundaries and publish this map with a proper credit. (Contact PRFA for the Finger Lakes National Forest boundary study.)

Publicity. Make a press release and also hold a press conference when the official map or the one your group rationally predicts is ready for distribution. (Contact PRFA if you need assistance in creating a press release and in planning a press conference. With your first press release, submit a professional photograph of the leader of your organization to each important local and regional newspaper so that they have it in their morgue in the future.)

Visits to Washington, D.C. For national designations, visit Congress in Washington, DC, rather than the district office (although it is good if additional members visit the district office). Visit Congress every few weeks totaling about four to five times, even if it takes two days to drive there. (If you can take two or three in a car, it is excellent to do this. To save money, stay at an inexpensive motel in as few rooms as possible, and pack picnic lunches, shopping in grocery stores for food.) Send your best, most intelligent, confident person on these visits.
Have a goal for the visit. The perfect goal would be for the Congressperson to accede to your request that he drop the proposal for the land designation. The Congressman would demonstrate this with a letter to the agency, such as the National Park Service stating that the land designation is not appropriate for this District at the present time, etc., etc. Of course, he would also have to have the budgeted or appropriated amount for any study deleted.

Follow up the visit to Washington, DC, with:

A memorandum of the meeting, addressed to the Member of Congress, also attention the particular aide who attended any meetings.
A press release about the trip to Washington, DC. This press release could be best faxed from Washington, DC, to the local newspaper.
Take a good photograph of the group in front of the Capitol, and also try to get a photograph with the Member of Congress, for publicity and even for a press release after the next visit, or for some follow-up publicity to this trip.
Telephone the Congressional office about two weeks later and arrange the next appointment, stating that you have new information (this could be the map of the area or the response to your letters described below).

Letters to the Editor. Send a stream of letters to the editor in opposition to the designation, which cannot let up until you win. (Letters to the editor much be typed, intelligent and keep to the topic, within the number of words allowed.)
Respond with a letter to the editor to every news article, Op Ed, and editorial opposed or in favor of your viewpoint. Do this within two or three days of the date when the item appears. If you think that the newspaper will not publish a letter from a particular person for some reason, get someone else to sign the letter. Keep changing authors. Have several people write these responses.

Letters to Congress. Send a stream of letters to the Congressmen in whose District the designation is located and to both United States Senators. These letters can be hand-written and should be about one topic only, courteous and should ask for a specific commitment.

Notice to every property owner in the proposed designation:
With your map of the boundaries of the proposed designation, you have the information to locate every property owner on the tax maps, and thereby obtain their addresses from the real property tax office of the county or municipality.
This relatively expensive project can be easier if a municipality picks up the burden. Do you have a municipality which would do the notices? Does your municipality have coordinate-based mapping (GIS) which would enable the addresses to be spat out of the computer based on the coordinates of the designation on the tax maps?
If you send out notices to property owners, use this major expense for the most important purpose possible, such as a big rally!

The Big Rally:

Get the people together at a rally as a result of the notices, which would be the most visible thing you could do.
Have a good location with good acoustics and ventilation, but not a barn-like hall or gymnasium.
Invite the Congressman to speak at the rally, but have one member of your group run the podium and some of your members speak. Keep control of the rally.
Get out press releases as long before as is necessary for each media. Have some press of your own, as well as the regular press for the region.
You might want to pass the plate at the rally. Have a trusted member of your organization handle the actual plate and hold the funds. Don't do fund-raising at the door, as this creates congestion and you are doing it too early, before the people have heard you deliver your important message.
Do have a sign-in sheet at the door at the rally, for legible names and addresses.
Have free refreshments at the rally: coffee, juice for the kids and some adults, quantities of home-made cookies.
Take a video-tape of the rally.
Close the rally while it is still early and before the wrong people try to get their obstructive remarks in during the question and answer period. Don't let the big officials from Washington or the State Capitol control the rally or the closing time.
Have the rally in the fall or during good weather, not summer. If you must, have it in the evening to get people out; good turnout is essential. Saturdays are bad because you get little press.
Don't forget to tell the people what it will be like to live inside a National Park or whatever the designation is to be.
Plan another rally with a big outside speaker.

Official Statements in Opposition to the Designation. Obtain statements in opposition from important officials and issue press releases when each statement is obtained.

Resolutions in Opposition. Try to get resolutions in opposition through the County Legislature and either House of the State Legislature.

Corrections to Misconceptions. Use letters to the editor to correct misconceptions about your point of view which opponents are circulating in the press. For instance, a letter to the editor should go out immediately correcting the misimpression that your group opposes the National Park designation because it would be a United Nations "takeover." All that you have to tell people to get them concerned is what it would be like to be inside a National Park. After making the correction to the misconception about your viewpoint, move quickly to the real reason for people to join in your concerns and dwell on these factors.

Opportunities. Use every participatory opportunity for some public presentation of your viewpoint. You can even piggyback on the press conferences of opposition organizations. Do humorous, creative things that make good press material.

Serving on an Opposition-Dominated Committee. If you serve on their committee, do it primarily for the purposes of revealing the wrong directions of the committee as soon as possible and for discrediting and obstructing the obvious goals of the committee. You will find, however, that, if you are successful, a new group will pop up and that you will not be invited to be on this group. The idea is that at every turn, you have the proactive viewpoint, and that your views are the ones that are quoted.

Minority Report. When serving on a committee which is dominated by the side that is seeking the preservationist designation, be prepared to issue a Minority Report. Presumably most of your important viewpoints have not been reflected in the report of the committee. The minority report should be prepared and presented in a professional style, bound, if only with two staples and heavier cover stock, like a thin book. It should be presented by the particular person in his official capacity as a member of the committee and should go down the issues and make specific counter recommendations and statements. (Needless to say, this minority report should not be submitted to the whole committee for approval.)
The minority report should be issued by surprise just before the full committee report is expected to come out, say, one week or three days before, but not on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, which are bad press days. Accompanying the minority report, should, of course, be a press release, also professionally prepared.
Copies of the Minority Report could be mailed "overnight mail" to the key newspapers or hand-delivered to the two or three papers that should be interested in the matter. Assume that the opposition press will be interested, because this is a real story. A good place to hold a press conference is at the State Capitol in the Legislative press office. Bring the material to the press room(s) at the State Capitol, hand-delivering the number of copies required by the Legislative press office director. Another good place to hold a press conference is at the County Legislative Office Building. You could be joined in support of your view by a member of the County Legislature or the State Legislature. In any case, distribute copies as quickly as possible to every member of the County Legislature and State Legislature, along with the press release.

Tax impact study. Call for a study by the County tax office or by the State legislature of the tax impact of designation as a National Park. The first aspect of this study is relatively easy; it involves the actual taxes lost on the property (shown on the land acquisition map) that falls into government ownership. (The National Park Service does not pay real estate taxes.) The preservationists may promise payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTS, but these are never adequate and always get outdated. The second part of the study involves contacting knowledgeable residents in relatively new National Park Service administrative areas such as in the Cuyahoga National Recreation Area or the Buffalo National River to learn how the areas are closing down and doing an economic impact study based on similar effects in your area.

Gather influential people to your cause. These individuals should issue statements, join at the podium at your press conferences, write letters, and/or be quoted in your press releases.

Litigation. Investigate the possibility of litigation, challenging many aspects of the process of the designation and acquisition. Know your attorney personally. Manage the costs up front. Understand several causes of action before planning litigation.
Consider the possibility of litigation based on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), if the agency's environmental impact statement has failed to document its analysis of social, cultural, and economic impacts, or if the agency is segmenting the land acquisition plans.

The Preservationist Groups. Find out how the preservationist groups working for the designation are funded and organized. Visit their web sites. Secure their official IRS 990 reports on the web site www.guidestar.org or by requesting them directly from the organization. You may be surprised by what they contain. The groups may be interrelated. They may have remarkable budgets. They may receive government funds from many directions. They may have wildlife agendas which they are not disclosing, etc. Publicize anything interesting. Discredit them. Learn from Ron Arnold's Undo Influence (Free Enterprise Press, 1999) and PRFA's publications. The preservationists live in glass houses.

Focus. In the broad, long-term sense, create your own agenda, not the agenda of refuting a particular editorial or refuting a mission statement. Avoid getting preoccupied with evaluating the mission statement or other puff pieces of the proponents of the designation. This will waste your energy. (You can use the mission statement, if it has any good parts, to argue at the meetings of the committee that these should be heeded if this accomplishes something. And you can show in your minority report how the mission statement was disregarded. It is only a tool, however.) In general, you should focus on the actual actions that are taking place, e.g., a study or a designation as a National Park or whatever, and actual actions by officials and preservationist groups who are wrongly supporting or proposing the designation. It is these actions that must be counteracted and the designation that must be defeated.

The Real Future for Property Owners inside National Parks. Convey to the public that over the long term the National Park Service does not allow significant amounts of private land to continue within the confines of National Parks.
The National Park Service routinely breaks promises to local people and forces them off their land. The Park Service may "promise" not to use eminent domain, but behave differently when Congresses passes the designation. The time to pressure a Congressman is before the designation passes Congress. Later the Congressman in whose district the National Park is located may not want to get involved. (His district may include an urban area where most of the votes are, or he may be too embarrassed to help. His name may be on a plaque at the park office, a perpetual tribute to him.) The forced evacuation of the property owners in the Cuyahoga National Recreational Area is recorded on a network television documentary. Eminent domain was used to raze the suburban houses on land desired for the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore. National Park Service abuses of property owners in the Shenandoah National Park are classical.

"Willing Sellers" After the Designation. Even if eminent domain is not imposed, the people who finally sell out are generally not "willing sellers." They are forced off their land by tax pressures, misleading offers and pressure by the government agency which administers the designation, pressure from not-for-profit land trusts, road closings, decline in the local economy, and decline in the general viability of the community. Preservationists may obstruct property owners from using their land and they then sell as the only recourse.
Once the National Park Service takes over a region by declaring it one type of administrative unit or another, such as a National Park or Recreation Area, then the heavy treatment begins. Each property owner is hit separately, and it becomes very hard to organize. The preservationists will watch as owners reach old age, monitor obituaries and official notices of late tax payments, and so on, and approach owners one by one. Such owners may not cooperate with groups that are trying to keep land in private hands. Suddenly a property owner finds that his land is surrounded by land that has been acquired by the government and by land trusts who have agreed to flip the land to government.
In addition, land management policies under the National Park Service and other agencies of the federal government are hostile to the private landowners in the vicinity. Roads needed for fire suppression may be closed. Blowdowns and dead timber are allowed to lie with high fuel buildups. Recent statistics on fires on federal land are available. See also Alston Chase's books Playing God in Yellowstone (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986) and In A Dark Wood (Houghton Mifflin, 1995), Robert H. Nelson's A Burning Issue-A Case for Abolishing the U.S. Forest Service (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), and Allan K. Fitzsimmons' Defending Illusions-Federal Protection of Ecosystems (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999). The federal government may encourage predatory wildlife that conflict with farming. The federal government and affiliated groups may intervene to stop building permits and new business.

Keep these perspectives in mind when opposing the proposed designation of an administrative unit of the National Park Service or other federal agency. The proposal may sound idealistic, vague, community-based, and cooperative; but the actual impact will conflict with classical human values and be definite and severe, with all the power of the federal government behind it. Very commonly, the unstated goal is the depopulation of the targeted rural area.

For Further information about how to defeat government programs to deny your property rights:

See the following two articles in "Building & Zoning Codes," Positions on Property, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Publ. by Property Rights Foundation of America, May 1996, Single copies $3.00 ppd.):

"Face To Face - What to Do when Personally Confronted by Unjust Zoning, Building Code & Nuisance Laws"
Includes:
  Learn What's Up - Use Freedom of Information Law
  Learn the Time-table of hearings, Appeals, Written Submissions;
  Gather Support for Your Cause
  Make the Enforcement Agency and Local Elected Officials Aware of any Important Legal and National Support You are Gathering
  Watch Your Money Federal Court under Civil Rights Law
  Help Others Taking Up the Cause of Zoning Repeal
  Political Pressure Strategy
  Winning Applying for a Permit

"The Better Way - Defeating and Repealing Zoning, Building Code and Unconstitutional Nuisance Rules before They Affect You Personally"

 Includes:
  How to begin Weapons
  Freedom of Information Law - Documents Open Government Law - Meetings
  Study Get the word around
  Make a good, short flyer with honest information.
  Organize a group Get people together, and— How to get people out
  Reach the media Piggybacking on someone else's event
  Bring in good "outside" speakers Get documented "tales of woe" locally
  Hold rallies, protests, civil disobediences, disruptions, parades, motorcades
  No trespassing sign campaigns Petitions
  How to use public hearings Run for office
  Seek removal of corrupt officials Use environmental review law against zoning laws
  Propose new laws to protect freedoms, modify existing laws.

For a current list of publications of the Property Rights Foundation of America:
Write to PRFA, P. O. Box 75, Stony Creek, NY 12878
or click
here.

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