Office of Smart Growth Not Smart Enough for Lt. Governor

Christie administration renames beleaguered agency 'Office of Planning Advocacy,' puts it under Guadagno's control

The Office of Smart Growth is not living up to its billing, according to the Christie administration.

That’s why at a meeting of planning advocates Friday, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno announced the office, comprising 17 staffers, is being moved from the Department of Community Affairs to the Secretary of State’s office, the agency headed by New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor.

“They’re not doing their job,” Guadagno told the Building One New Jersey conference at Princeton University, saying the office is supposed to coordinate growth among state agencies and eliminate overlapping regulations that stifle growth and job creation, responsibilities it has failed to achieve.

Instead, the office will be renamed the Office of Planning Advocacy, Guadagno said. The administration plans to sit down with various stakeholder groups, she said, and come up with “a plan from the bottom up,” instead of one dictated from the top by bureaucrats in Trenton.

“We are going to do it in simple, plain-spoken terms,” she told the gathering, “so business people can make decisions based on clear language rather than conflicting and perhaps overlapping regulations.

Cutting Through Red Tape

Guadagno, who in her first six months in office has chaired the Governor’s Red Tape Review Commission, a panel charged with eliminating duplicative and unnecessary state regulations, predicted businesses are coming back to New Jersey because the state is “getting its fiscal house in order.”

The reference cited the recent budget signed by the Governor, which she claimed closed an $11 billion budget gap while retaining important business growth programs, such as the urban enterprise zone, labor workforce grants and others.

The move won support from one organization, New Jersey Future, which said the change would allow the office to facilitate coordination between key state departments, a problem that has plagued planning in the past.

“We are encouraged by the Lieutenant Governor’s announcement today and we turn our collective attention in the coming months to take state planning off the shelf and put it into action,” said New Jersey Future executive director Peter Kasabach.

Guadagno Dismisses Highlands

Yet, in her speech to the planning advocates, Guadagno was derisive at times to various state planning statutes, citing the Pinelands, Highlands, and state’s affordable housing law, which the Christie administration has tried to undo.

“We have a failure in planning,” Guadagno said, before mentioning those laws. She also criticized the state’s master plan, saying it is leading too many people to do things in too many disparate ways. “All of these problems make it hard for the business community.”

Too often planning in New Jersey, Guadagno said, is driven by the attorney self-employment act. “We need to put a few attorneys out of business and put planning backs in the hands of the people who live in New Jersey,’’ she said.

The shift of the Office of Smart Growth to the Secretary of State’s office did not sit well with some. “If it is under the Lieutenant Governor’s purview, it is going to politicized and become the excuse for sprawl and development,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It really needs to be an independent office.”

The Princeton conference was sponsored by PlanSmart NJ and the NJ Regional Coalition, two organizations pushing to revitalize the state’s cities and downtowns and protect open and natural resources from being developed while promoting economic growth.