Santa Rosa City Council urged to drop membership in sustainable development group

Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 8:57 a.m.

Property rights activists urged the Santa Rosa City Council Tuesday to cancel its membership in an international group promoting sustainable development.

After protesting in front of City Hall, about a dozen people asked the council to distance itself from the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.

The group, whose official name is ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability, claims 1,220 local governments from 70 nations as members. It was formed in 1990 and is headquartered in Bonn, Germany.

“Please reconsider your allegiance with this globalist UN sponsored NGO,” James Bennett told the council during a discussion of whether the city has enough water to support future growth.

Bennett, a Santa Rosa used car dealer, and others have repeatedly asked the council to explain its membership in the organization, but claim they have not gotten a straight answer.

He and others, some aligned with the Tea Party, view international efforts to limit sprawl and conserve energy as stripping local governments of autonomy and denying people basic property rights.

They held signs that read “Kick ICLEI Out” and “Our City Sold Us Out.” During Tuesday’s council meeting, they stood repeatedly to speak during public comments on several issues before the city.

Some council members have at times expressed concern about regional government initiatives.

Vice Mayor John Sawyer, for example, last year said he was uncomfortable about the OneBayArea plan to direct future development in the nine Bay Area counties, saying it might restrict local control over land-use planning.

But Bennett and others see far deeper conspiracies. Coordinated efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, increase public transportation, cluster future development in cities, or conserve natural resources are viewed as part of a global plot with a true goal of political oppression.

“They would rather let the water run out to the ocean than to let the ranchers and farmers and growers use it to feed the people,” Bennett said. “It’s almost biblical. It’s like you people, through your ICLEI allegiance, aligned us with the Dark Side.”

According to city documents, Santa Rosa has been a member of ICLEI since 2001. It pays $1,750 in annual dues and has sent city leaders to ICLEI-sponsored conferences in Seattle, Wash., Albuquerque, N.M., and Edmonton, Canada.

It has also won ICLEI-sponsored environmental awards worth $26,000 for its work on a project at the city’s wastewater treatment plant that uses algae to clean water and produce energy. The city also works with the group to help track the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Activists last month disrupted a local meeting aimed at having a dialogue with the public about long-range transportation and housing plans. The meeting, held at the Finley Community, was hosted by the Association of Bay Area Governments and Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Police were called after activists interrupted speakers and refused to limit their remarks to the allotted times.

City Manager Kathy Millison said the city has turned over to activists numerous documents about the city’s relationship with the international organization.

She said she hasn’t had a conversation with council members about whether to schedule a time to discuss the issue further.

“Right now, our agendas are pretty full,” Millison said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or