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NMA Ohio Alert: Ohio Senate May Pass “Trojan Horse” Camera Bill

Posted on November 26th, 2014 in , , , | Comments Off

The Ohio Senate is pulling the oldest trick in the book again. In the name of “banning” ticket cameras, it is about to vote on a bill that actually authorizes the use of red-light cameras, speed cameras and bus cameras.

Here’s the shady part. In many of the 10 cities that have banned ticket cameras by referendum in Ohio, the language says an officer must be present with the camera and issue the citation personally to the driver. The current bill, Senate Bill 342, leaves out that last portion.

Under SB 342, the officer still has to babysit the camera, but “may use any lawful means to identify the registered owner.” And that includes the use of a camera.

SB 342 is not ban; it is a cynical attempt to confuse legislators and to trick the public into supporting a bill that will in fact allow widespread use of photo enforcement.

Don’t let them get away with it. Contact your Senatorand tell him or her not to support SB 342 as written. The bill needs to be amended with the following language to be an effective deterrent to the predatory use of ticket cameras:

“The city, including its various boards, agencies and departments, shall not use any traffic law photo-monitoring device for the enforcement of a qualified traffic law violation, unless a law enforcement officer is present at the location of the device and personally issues the ticket to the alleged violator at the time and location of the violation.”


NMA National Alert: Support the NMA Foundation with your Online Purchases

Posted on November 24th, 2014 in , | Comments Off

If you plan to do your Black Friday weekend shopping online this year, don’t forget about the NMA Foundation AmazonSmile program. When you do your holiday shopping at AmazonSmile, Amazon donates 0.5% of the purchase price to the NMA Foundation. Bookmark the link http://smile.amazon.com/ch/39-1951971 and support motorists’ rights every time you shop online.

Thank you and remember to drive safely this holiday season.


NMA E-Newsletter #306: The Public Records Request

Posted on November 23rd, 2014 in , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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One of the most effective ways for a NMA member to go on the offensive is to issue a public records request. Governmental transparency is a wonderful concept but it remains just a concept unless the citizenry actively exercises the right to probe the policies and actions of public agencies.

There are many reasons to use federal and state public records laws to obtain government documents. Among them:

  • To obtain agency records for historical or academic research;
  • To obtain evidence that can be used to challenge agency rulemaking;
  • To obtain evidence that can be used in civil or criminal discovery;
  • To verify agency performance of statutory responsibilities;
  • To review records involving policy issues and decisions;
  • To expose governmental wrongdoing.

Promo for NMA PRR Guide

The power of this instrument of the people cannot be understated. Earlier this year the NMA issued an 11-page guide to public records requests to demystify the process so that more will be encouraged to examine and challenge the actions of government. This is particularly true when those actions involve motorist issues, where policies seem to be driven more by the need for revenue than for the safety of the greater public.

(Click the adjacent watchdog image to review the guide.)

Last month the opportunity arose for us to use our own guide. As outlined in E-Newsletter #303, Masking an Agenda, AAA Idaho publicly questioned the Idaho Transportation Department’s (ITD) plan to increase the posted speed limit on several segments of interstate from 75 to 80 mph. While AAA used public statements to delay action by the ITD, the NMA decided to use the power of actual information.

In #303, we noted that it took but 30 minutes to issue a public records request to the ITD, an action that within days provided proof of the due diligence performed by that agency before it made the decision to raise the interstate limits.

The brief, four-paragraph October 8, 2014 letter from Gary Biller to the chief administrative officer of the ITD is displayed below. A quick review of the NMA public records request guide, and in particular of Appendix 1—Public Records Request Examples, and Appendix 2—State Public Records Laws, made the letter a straightforward task.

Of course, not every information request can be summarized as simply. But with the NMA Guide to the Freedom of Information Act and State/Municipal Public Records Requests in hand, you’ll be able to effectively challenge governmental actions through discovery.

And remember, if there is a processing fee from the agency to respond to your information request the NMA has another resource at your disposal. Our Community Support Program can provide a grant to help cover such costs. As the NMA tagline says, “Empowering Drivers since 1982.”

PRR to Idaho CAO for Interstate Speed Studies

 

 

 


NMA E-Newsletter: #305: T’row de Bum(s) Out!

Posted on November 16th, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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By Gary Biller, NMA President

Popular lore has it that the phrase “throw the bums out” originated during the 1941 World Series when the New York Yankees faced off against the Brooklyn Dodgers. A man supposedly walked into a bar—stop us if you’ve heard this one before—in Brooklyn in the midst of the games and loudly toasted to all in attendance, “May the best team win.” New York hospitality being what it was, the man was set upon by the resident mob with shouts of, “T’row de bum out!” The Yankees won that series four games to one which probably didn’t improve the mood or diction of Brooklynites.

Today “throw the bums out” is more commonly applied to the world of politics where it is demonstrated all too often that our elected officials forget who they are representing and why. No better an example of this exists today than with the Brooksville, Florida, city council which has fought tooth and nail to prevent citizens the right to vote on how they are governed and regulated.

The United States is a federation of states with a republican form of government where the governing power rests with the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them. Most of us know this from Civics 101 but it bears repeating for those cretins in elected office who are more interested in preserving their power status than in representing the interests of the people.

Earlier this year Brooksville’s Pat and Shirley Miketinac gathered enough signatures to submit a petition, subsequently certified by the city’s supervisor of elections, which would allow voters to decide whether to approve a charter amendment prohibiting the use of red-light cameras by Brooksville. City administrators, supported by the vendor whose cameras were already in place, filed a lawsuit to prevent the up-or-down vote on the ticket cameras from ever being placed on the public ballot.

A week before the November elections, a county judge ruled in favor of denying Brooksville voters the opportunity to decide the fate of the cameras, determining ironically that a vote now could prevent a similar vote at some future date. Higher courts in California, Ohio, and Texas previously overturned similar rulings that would have prevented the people from determining the fate of red-light cameras in their communities. With election day come and gone, it is not certain that the ruling in favor of Brooksville cameras will be appealed.

Our advice to Brooksville voters: Throw the city’s leadership out at the earliest opportunity for opposing the will of the people.

Postscript 

The Brooksville issue aside, November 4, 2014 was mostly a good day at the ballot box for motorists:

  • Four cities voted to discard red-light cameras—Cleveland; Maple Heights, OH; St. Charles County, MO; and Sierra Vista, AZ—by more than 70 percent majorities in each case. This brings the number of communities that, when given the chance to vote, rejected ticket cameras to 32 out of a possible 35.
  • Maryland and Wisconsin passed constitutional amendments that prevent their transportation funds from being robbed for non-transportation projects.
  • Texas voters overwhelmingly decided to allow the transfer of up to 50 percent of oil and gas production tax revenue that has been going to the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” to the Texas Highway Fund under certain economic circumstances.
  • Bond issues to authorize new mass transit projects were voted down in Florida (in the Gainesville and St. Petersburg areas), in Texas (Austin), in Kansas (Wichita), and in Washington (Seattle).

NMA National Alert: Red-Light Camera Class Action Suit Filed in Florida

Posted on November 13th, 2014 in , , | Comments Off

If you received a red-light camera ticket in the state of Florida since July 1, 2010, you may be eligible to join the plaintiffs in a class action suit filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami on October 27, 2014.

Potential plaintiffs for this class action are individuals who received a Notice of Violation or Uniform Traffic Citation in Florida as a result of an image or video taken from a red-light camera administered by American Traffic Solutions (ATS) during the period noted.

The lawsuit alleges that ATS made ticketing decisions that by state statute can only be authorized by law enforcement officers who are government employees. By doing so, the suit claims, the due-process rights of those charged by ATS with red-light camera infractions were violated.

To help determine if you are a potential plaintiff in the $5 million class action and who to contact, click on this link to visit the site of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC. You can also find the text of the formal Parker v. American Traffic Solutions complaint there.


NMA Illinois Alert: Will County Considering Unfair Towing/Storage Fees

Posted on November 13th, 2014 in , | Comments Off

The Will County Board is considering a resolution to charge towing and storage fees to motorists who have not been found guilty of any crime or violation. Board member Steve Balich believes that if a motorist is found not guilty in court, he should not have to pay a storage fee or a towing charge resulting from a stop by police. We support Balich’s position and urge you to do the same.

You can learn more about this issue here and here.

The Will County Board will continue its discussion on this topic and reach a resolution at its January meeting. Feel free to contact board members and voice your opinion:

Phone: 815-740-4602
Fax: 815-740-8395
Email: CountyBoard@willcountyillinois.com
Web: http://www.willcountyboard.com/board-members.html


NMA E-Newsletter: #304: Wiping Out While Riding the Wave of “Smart Growth”

Posted on November 9th, 2014 in , , , , , | Comments Off

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Editor’s Note: In a recent e-newsletter we discussed how planners want to remake the urban landscape to discourage automobile travel. But as often happens with such schemes, the law of unintended consequences comes to bear. This is what happened in in Long Beach, California, as described in this first-hand account by a California NMA member.

So-called Smart Growth has already become a reality in my former home, Long Beach, California. For the first six or seven years I lived there, traffic flow through the city was amazing. With freeway access at the east and west ends of the city, and the development oriented along the east-west shoreline, the city had set up alternating one-way streets through downtown. You could get off the freeway even during commute hours and, if you happened to land on the right timing, never have to stop, riding the wave of timed lights all the way across downtown.

If you hit a red light, it would be the first one, but you would then ride that same wave all the way through. You would see the beauty of lights turning green ahead of you, progressing not at the speed limit, but at the higher, yet still cautious and prudent speed that most people actually wanted to drive. It was wondrously efficient, both in time and also fuel- and emissions-minimizing vehicle operation. It turned out that this operation depended on having three one-way lanes on each street.

Then the hippies and totalitarians got together “for the good of mankind.” They reduced the two streets configured this way, which connected the prime business areas with the freeway, to two lanes each, to make room for a dedicated bike lane separated from the car lanes by a wide empty space. This eliminated the ability of the roadway to accommodate any sort of obstruction. Somebody has to slow or stop to make a turn? Commercial vehicle unloading inventory in front of a store?

Now there is only one lane. When drivers had three lanes to work with, having to compress down to two was easy and hardly slowed traffic. With only two lanes to start with, compressing down to just one lane was a significant obstruction, and almost everybody “lost the wave” of timed lights. It became rare to get across downtown without having to sit, burning fuel and generating emissions, not to mention wasting time, at two or three lights.

Was this necessary? No! In addition to being an ardent motorist, I am a cyclist. One of the things I enjoyed about living in a densely-organized city was that I could walk or ride a bike to run errands, go to the grocery store, etc. I am a strong, experienced and confident rider, so it was not a problem to mix with traffic. I recognize this makes me unusual. But in Long Beach, if you didn’t want to share the road with cars that were close and fast, you had other options. In between the main roads, there were smaller, less-traveled, two-way streets that were generally only used by cars to access businesses and residences on those streets. Cars on these streets were infrequent and slow. So simply by using a different route when on a bicycle, one could ride comfortably away from fast-moving cars and get to the same places with no problem.

Did the bike lanes enhance overall safety for cars and bicyclists? It did not feel that way to me. The bike lanes were set up on the left side of the roadway, the opposite of every properly trained cyclist’s instinct to ride on the right. This had the potential to create situations in which a stopped car waiting to make a left turn suddenly pulls in front of a cyclist approaching from behind, or else just takes one out from behind without slowing because the driver doesn’t expect that type of road user to be in that space traveling at that speed.

To prevent this, the city built offset left-turn lanes, where at each block, a vehicle lane crosses over the bicycle lane so that a car is already to the left of the bike lane when making a left turn. Unfortunately, this still led to vehicle/bicycle conflicts, creating significant personal risk for cyclists and liability for motorists. If cyclists had simply exercised their right to use the normal traffic lanes, many of these encounters could have been avoided.

Did the bike lanes ever lead to an increase in bicycle commuting to downtown offices or businesses? Not that I ever noticed. I was still one of just a handful out there on my bike going to the grocery store, coffee shop, or doing other shopping. It turns out that you live where you want to or can afford to live, and you work wherever you can find the best job for you. If that means you roll “from Long Beach to Compton” every day, you’re actually lucky—it’s not a bad commute at all. If you work in an office downtown, you probably need to wear nice clothes (maybe skirts for women), nice shoes and have well-coiffed hair when you get there. Helmet hair, shoes that are safe and effective for riding, possible grease on your pant leg, and arriving sweaty are not options.

On a similar point, there were commuter trains available. I could walk about six blocks from my apartment to catch one, and it was probably about a mile from my office to the train station at the other end. I looked into it but didn’t get past the schedule. Not counting the walk time, just station to station, it took more than three times as long as driving.

I could go on about how redevelopment of the downtown area systematically destroyed much of the architectural and cultural character that attracted most Long Beach residents to the town in the first place, but that’s kind of off-topic for NMA. Suffice it to say, it has for the most part been a very expensive and irreversible failure: People chose to live in Long Beach and loved the place specifically because it was not what the city managers are trying to turn it into.


NMA E-Newsletter #303: Masking an Agenda

Posted on November 2nd, 2014 in , , , , , , | Comments Off

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We admit it. We are cynics when it comes to AAA’s motives. Exhibit A: #288, A Horse of a Different Color which we issued shortly after AAA Idaho publicly pressured the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) to hold off from raising the speed limit from 75 to 80 mph on specific stretches of Interstates 15, 84, and 86.

We thought then that the insurance company was posturing, in essence registering the kind of passive-aggressive opposition to the easing of restrictions that seems to mark many of AAA’s stances on motorist-related issues. After we recently completed a 30-minute exercise to get a copy of ITD’s background work to support the 5 mph speed limit bump, that conclusion seems even more apparent now. More on that simple investigative task in just a bit.

Let’s do a quick review of the timeline first. In March 2014, the Idaho governor approved a statutory amendment to allow a limit increase to 80 mph on interstate highways, provided, “. . . the (transportation) department completes an engineering and traffic study . . . and concludes that the increase is in the public interest and the transportation board concurs with such conclusion.”

ITD announced in June that it had completed its analysis and planned to implement the higher speed limit in certain areas in July. That is when AAA Idaho questioned how the department could have possibly gathered the data and performed a thorough review to support a speed limit increase in three short months. The Idaho Transportation Board blinked and asked ITD to check its due diligence, seemingly concerned about possible fallout from AAA’s statement. The public is still conditioned to believe that speed limit increases automatically raise concerns about more fatalities. Speed kills, right?

It took the NMA no more than a half hour to issue a public records request to ITD asking for all of the engineering and traffic data used for its June determination to raise the speed limit. (The records request can be a simple but very powerful tool for advocates seeking government transparency. We will dedicate a future e-newsletter to the process, using our query to the ITD for illustration.)

Within ten days of the NMA request, ITD sent us 427 pages of reports and analyses, signed and sealed by professional engineers in June when the department originally announced it had studied and approved speed limit increases. The information included maps of existing and proposed speed zones, speed surveys, crash data from 2011 through 2013, a review of each fatality report on the selected interstate sections—basically everything competent engineers need to set the proper posted limit based on the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic while also considering road conditions and safety records.

ITD had done its homework the first time around in June. If AAA Idaho had bothered to spend the few minutes required to ask the department for the basis of its conclusions before openly questioning its process, the public posturing could have been avoided. It almost makes one wonder whether AAA Idaho had a different agenda.

Postscript: The speed zone reviews and recommendations by ITD are a matter of public record. While too extensive to post on the NMA website, we would be happy to forward copies to anyone interested in how ITD arrived at its recommendations.

Editor’s Note: Last week some subscribers reported receiving a warning message about malicious activity when clicking open the NMA e-newsletter. The warning noted that the Delicious social bookmarking website was reported as an attack site that can install programs or corrupt software on the user’s computer. We investigated immediately and verified that the NMA website and e-newsletter are clean. Previously we added a standard array of social media icons to the e-newsletter template to make it more convenient to share NMA content. One of those icons was for the Delicious website which we immediately removed from the template. We apologize to those who received such a warning and add our assurances that the security of our email transmissions remains a top priority.


NMA E-Newsletter #302: The NMA Weighs In on Federal V2V Proposal

Posted on October 26th, 2014 in , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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In a September e-newsletter we discussed how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was soliciting public comments about its proposal to create a national standard to require Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communications capability on all passenger cars and light trucks. NMA President Gary Biller submitted the following comments outlining the NMA’s concerns over this technology. You can learn more about NHTSA’s V2V rulemaking process here.

Many important players from various fields (automotive, privacy/civil rights, insurance, etc.) have provided comments in response to the V2V proposal as well. We will be reviewing these in detail and providing you with their perspectives in future newsletters.

 

I am commenting on behalf of the National Motorists Association, a drivers’ rights organization founded over 30 years ago to represent the interests of the motoring public. Our membership consists of several thousand members across the United States. Together we are keenly interested in participating in the national conversation about the development of V2V technology requirements. Thank you for providing a valuable forum for the public to comment on an issue that will affect all road users. 

Our primary interests fall within Subsections e (Public Acceptance), f (Privacy Concerns), g (V2V Communications Security), h (Liability), and j (Preliminary Benefits Estimates). Because NHTSA is expected to separately publish a draft Privacy Impact Assessment and ask for input from the public at that time, we will forego commenting on Subsection f at this time. 

Subsection e – Public Acceptance
Because communications and surveillance technology has been advancing at a rapid pace in recent years, far outpacing legislative attempts to provide consumer protections, the public is skeptical of the motives behind V2V. Despite some intriguing safety applications that can be made possible by V2V communications, public acceptance will hinge greatly upon safeguards put in place to ensure that DSRC information is secure from malicious use and isn’t captured, stored, or otherwise used by governmental agencies to monitor movements and behaviors of motorists. While NHTSA expresses confidence that V2V data won’t be available for such uses, the creation and implementation of V2V applications will be by auto manufacturers and third parties with profit motives. The public will need greater assurance through the standards developed by NHTSA that proper privacy controls will be in place. 

The cost of implementation of V2V is another area of public concern. While adding an estimated $350 to the cost of a light vehicle by 2020 may seem a small price to pay for the potential safety benefits of the technology that is very definitely a burden for many new car buyers and for vehicle owners faced with retrofit packages. If V2V technology is expected to produce tangible safety benefits, then much of the cost of implementation should be offset by lower vehicle insurance premiums, or be financed directly by the insurance industry. 

Subsection g – V2V Communications Security
When data are transferred wirelessly, the threat of appropriation and malicious use of that information exists. Robust safeguards must be integrated into NHTSA V2V standards and the design criteria for implementers of the technology. Motorists must be assured that their privacy is secure within their own vehicles and protected when information is transmitted from their vehicles. 

Subsection h – Liability
Section X of the research report concentrates primarily on industry liability issues. Legislative protections rarely keep pace with technological advances. In the case of V2V, it is critical that Congress define and draw limits on the liability of individual motorists before V2V communications become commonplace. The research report notes that the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration – Consortium has identified key liability issues, repeated below for emphasis. These are indeed critical issues that must be addressed before widespread adaptation of V2V technology:

  • Whether and, if so, how V2V warning applications increase the risk of liability for OEMs, operators, and drivers;
  • The need for Congress to put in place one or more legal mechanisms for distributing risk among OEMs, operators, drivers, and other public and private stakeholders;
  • Whether V2V warning applications will change the way the legal system assesses driver vs. equipment error;
  • Whether owners may be legally accountable for shutting off or failing properly to maintain V2V warning systems; and
  • Whether the human machine interface required for V2V warning systems will increase driver distraction in a way that will affect legal liability 

Subsection j – Preliminary Benefits Estimates
While V2V communication technology has the potential to add another dimension to vehicle safety, it is viable as a mandate only if the safety benefits outweigh the related costs of implementation. What would the injection of a V2V mandate (and all the issues NHTSA and others raise) do to the trajectory and cost of current manufacturer efforts with vehicle-resident safety technologies? Given time, cost and trade off, would V2V put a damper on broader deployment of vehicle-resident safety technologies to provide narrower and perhaps less certain benefits? 

The automakers have invested in vehicle-resident safety technologies without regard to V2V or V2I capabilities. These technologies provide warnings to drivers in intuitive ways and also have the ability to initiate evasive action if drivers don’t heed the warnings. Can current research determine a definitive cost/benefit assessment when the V2V scenarios are compared to current vehicle-resident safety and communications technologies? 

Implementing V2V is a complex endeavor. The first rule should be to anticipate and avoid unintended consequences as much as possible. 

In Closing
Thank you for considering our comments regarding the implementation of V2V technology on vehicles in the United States. The National Motorists Association remains available to participate in ongoing discussions about this and related topics of major concern to motorists.


NMA E-Newsletter #301: Caution! This is a Completely Hypothetical Exercise that could become Reality.

Posted on October 19th, 2014 in , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (ARB) recently put on a presentation titled “The Science behind Sustainable Communities Strategies.” The stated goal was to provide “an objective review of the empirical evidence on how effective various transportation and land use strategies are at reducing vehicle miles traveled (and thus greenhouse gas emissions).” A representative from one of the NMA’s allied organizations in California, Robin Cole with the Association of California Car Clubs, attended and provides us with a first-hand account below.

Robin’s comments remind us of how hostile urban planners are toward automobiles as they spread their vision of densely populated urban areas where cars are seen as a threat. Robin notes that the presenter, Dr. Susan Handy with the University of California—Davis, relied mostly on assumptions, not facts, to support her claims. This approach reminds us of the rationale for mandating the 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit (NMSL) during the Arab Oil Embargo. The government claimed that lowering highway speed limits would reduce fuel consumption by more than two percent. In reality, the reduction was less than half a percent, yet it took more than 20 years to fully repeal the onerous NMSL.

California recently implemented a “pilot” program for a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax through the enactment of Senate Bill 1077. By limiting where and when people can drive, such schemes will prove critical to the long-term success of sustainable community initiatives. We cannot remain passive as planners and bureaucrats seek to reduce the transportation choices available to citizens; we’ll reach a point where the momentum to do so will be hard to overcome. Here is Robin’s account:

First, I would point out that although the California EPA /ARB building is beautiful, it is not energy efficient or economical. Apparently, California’s environmental officials do not practice what they preach. 

Most of the presentation attendees were master’s or higher degree students in city planning. This means they were soaking this up. The presenter was Dr. Susan Handy with the University of California—Davis and the National Center for Sustainable Transportation. The purpose, she stated, was to reduce vehicle use and emissions. 

Most of the results she cited dealt with reducing vehicle miles traveled and getting people to walk more, and use only bicycles and public transit. She explained her research was done by reading other people’s papers and that there isn’t a lot of research out there. Regarding capacity reduction, there is a lot to study in California but most of the information came from Europe. She had no data from the Oregon VMT tax pilot project. Yet, that program was used to push for passage of SB 1077. She could not say what geographic area, region or even what size of an area she used to come up with her “statistics.”   

She did not include socio-economic information in the study either. Yet the seminar was called “The Science behind Sustainable Community Strategies.” The “Regional Travel Demand Forecasting Module” was based on assumptions, per Dr. Handy. Several pages had charts of “empirical data” but underneath was the following statement: Caution! This is a completely hypothetical exercise. 

The bottom-line goal of all of this is to get people out of their vehicles by making it more expensive to drive (gas, parking, tolls, etc.) and by getting people to live near where they work, play, shop, etc. 

The scary part is that while you’re listening to the presentation, at first it sounds attractive. Things would be convenient and cost less. I guess they did not do much research on the communities they are describing. I guess I was the only one in the room who remembered from history classes those towns which existed in the 1920s, where the steel mill or the mining company owned the town. Everyone worked at the same place, walked to work, had the company grocery and other stores, company medical providers and hospital or clinics. Anything a person earned went back to the company. So does a sustainable community mean being a “company man or woman?” Are these planners proposing socialized communities under the guise of air quality? 

And like SMOG the figures are all made up and created without science. There are no actual figures based on anything actually measured or measureable. 

This should scare everyone.





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