Thursday, June 12, 2014

Commissioners asked to reaffirm commitment to sustainability In Lee County

Since its formation, BikeWalkLee has been an active participant in the County's Community Sustainability Advisory Committee (CSAC) and its development of the Sustainability Plan. In light of a recent decision by County Administration to not move forward with the Sustainability Plan, and the CSAC's May 28th letter to BoCC asking for direction from the Board, Lee Public Voice (which BikeWalkLee is a part of) sent a letter to BoCC members June 10th asking the Board to hear and adopt the Sustainability Plan and to reaffirm its commitment to sustainability in Lee County by communicating to the CSAC that there is board support for the previously adopted 2014 Goals and Objectives. Below is the letter to the Board, which is also linked here with the attachments.
June 9, 2014
Lee County Board of County Commissioners

2120 SW Main Street
Fort Myers, FL 33901

County Commissioners:

The mission of Lee Public Voice (LPV) is to “advocate and educate both elected officials and the public in Lee County on issues that affect our sensitive natural resources, exceptional quality of life and a growing, diversified economy.” Consistent with that mission is our concern that the county maintains its commitment to community, transparency, and accountability. The purpose of this letter is to request that the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) 1) hear and adopt the County's draft Sustainability Plan and 2) reaffirm its commitment to sustainability in Lee County.

LPV was dismayed to learn of the Community Sustainability Advisory Committee’s (CSAC) recent memo (attached)  to the BoCC asking that its purpose, goals, and objectives be reaffirmed. The memo indicated that a decision had been made to not move the Sustainability Plan forward for adoption.* This decision was made absent any public input or actionable transparent votes by the elected BOCC.  This has fundamentally altered the BoCC commitment to sustainability made in the unanimous adoption of the CompleteLEE Sustainability Assessment in March 2012 and in the formally adopted purpose and goals of the CSAC committee.

Over the last 15 years Lee County has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to smart growth and sustainability. In 2001 the BoCC authorized the creation of the Smart Growth Committee, following a year-long study by a smart growth task force. Over the years, this committee has played an instrumental role in assuring the environmental, social, and economic vitality of the county and guiding balanced growth consistent with citizen’s desires.  The Smart Growth Committee initiated the award-winning Complete Streets policy adopted by the BoCC in November 2009.

In 2010, the Smart Growth Committee transitioned into the CSAC as a way to stay current with national planning and growth trends. This obvious next step in integrating smart economic and environmental planning allowed the development of a committee that could offer diverse perspectives and guide the development of a Sustainability Plan.  Since then the CSAC has played an important role in Complete Streets policy implementation. Similarly, it has guided the implementation of the Sustainability Assessment and the development of the Sustainability Plan.

The development of the Sustainability Plan followed a model process with extensive public input over a three-year period. Throughout the process, the public (and the BoCC) demonstrated significant support for sustainability.  Over 2,000 residents were engaged through surveys, interviews, and public forums. This level of support has been consistent with other planning processes, including the New Horizon 2035 Evaluation Appraisal Report.  Both processes clearly elicited strong agreement with the fundamentals of sustainability. These citizen voices included business, nonprofit, and public sectors leaders from such organizations as Lee Memorial Health Systems, the SW Florida Community Foundation, and Edison National Bank.** They have consistently asked that the county balance economic, environmental, and social needs, emphasizing that this approach is essential for future success.

The Sustainability Plan was not just a top-down government plan for unincorporated Lee County; it was a community-wide vision of numerous community partners. It was intended to guide many organizations and agencies in the county towards a sustainable future. By unilaterally pulling the plug on this plan, it will adversely affect the processes of numerous other community partners and jeopardize their ability to compete for regional or national grants.  Unfortunately, the shift away from public support for sustainability will demonstrate that the county is not a reliable collaborative partner committed to promoting livable and sustainable communities.

There is a lot at stake in this decision, not the least of which is the loss of grant opportunities based on Lee County’s previous progress. For example, the highly competitive federal TIGER grant ($10 million) was awarded to Lee County because of its demonstrated commitment to complete streets and sustainability. If this commitment evaporates, the chances of securing grants of this nature in the future go with it.

Corporate America, however, is not so misguided about the future direction and the expectations of stakeholders with respect to sustainability. One of the criteria major corporations use in screening relocation spots is whether the community is committed to sustainability consistent with their own corporate values. This was an asset noted by our celebrated attraction of Hertz in their relocation decision.  Smart corporations expect communities to embrace livability and sustainability, evolving as reliable long-term partners in economic development while offering their employees a quality of life crucial to attracting and retaining talented professionals. Those same corporations continually hone their own operations because sustainability is good for the bottom line and they expect of government partners the same prudent perspective about making communities more sustainable.

LPV views any future BoCC action on this matter from the perspective of this one critical question: Is the BoCC willing to support the clear public sentiment that sustainability is important to Lee County?  The affirmative answer to this question should take the form of support for sustainability, the continued efforts of CSAC, and moving the Sustainability Plan forward to adoption and implementation.

As a result, LPV requests that the BoCC take the following action: 1) hear and adopt the Sustainability Plan in a timely fashion (such as by the end of this year) and 2) reaffirm its commitment to sustainability in Lee County by communicating to the CSAC that there is board support for the previously adopted 2014 Goals and Objectives.

In the draft Sustainability Plan, this summary is offered: “Sustainability is about quality of life -- maintaining and enhancing resources that attract and compel people to stay here long-term.” LPV can’t imagine this current county commission wants to turn their back on this prudent and publicly supported goal.


Don Eslick

Acting Chair

Lee Public Voice

*While Lee County has removed the direct link to the sustainability plan, it can be viewed at:
**An outstanding video of community leader support for the plan is available at:

Lee Public Voice is a network of organizations and associations that have come together with the purpose of working for more inclusive County governance and meaningful public engagement, consistent with the county's motto of "community, transparency, and accountability."  Our mission is to advocate and educate both elected officials and the public in Lee County on issues that affect our sensitive natural resources, exceptional quality of life and a growing, diversified economy. 

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