2013 survey on the impact of Agenda 21 activism in the West

Agenda 21 is a hot button for many planners across the nation and particularly for those in the West. That is why The Western Planner reached out to planners in 2013 through our 2,600 electronic mailing list, our website and through word-of-mouth to find out the impact of Agenda 21 activism on local and regional planning efforts in the West. We received 206 responses plus three responses from non-Western states.

209 total responses to survey broken down by state

  • Alaska - 11 respondents
  • Arizona - 24 respondents
  • California - 7 respondents
  • Colorado - 18 respondents
  • Idaho - 7 respondents
  • Iowa - 1 respondent
  • Maryland - 1 respondent
  • Montana - 32 respondents
  • Nevada - 14 respondents
  • New Mexico - 16 respondents
  • North Dakota - 3 respondents
  • Oregon - 5 respondents
  • South Dakota - 9 respondents
  • Utah - 1 respondent
  • Washington - 26 respondents
  • Wisconsin - 1 respondent
  • Wyoming - 33 respondents

Have you read a portion or all of the United Nations Environment and Development Agenda for the 21st Century, which was adopted in 1992?

Have Agenda 21 activists impacted any planning efforts in your community?

If yes, how has the opposition impacted planning efforts?
Respondents could answer more than one so we listed number of responses below.

  • 64 Vocal opposition at public hearings influenced decision-makers and their planning decisions.
  • 62 Community or county planning processes obstructed/hampered by Agenda 21 activists.
  • 15 State, county or city/town anti-Agenda 21 legislation or ordinances were adopted that diminished your community’s ability to create or implement plans.
  • 14 Agenda 21 activists have tried to restrict information in your local planning department.
  • 39 Other (see summary below)


  • Misinformation: Agenda 21 folks are misrepresenting the facts about Agenda 21 or are spreading misinformation about planning efforts.
  • Media Impact: Misinformation in the media is leading to poor understanding of planning and elevating fears of private property takings. Negative letters to editor and comments on newspaper planning articles build opposition to planning efforts.
  • Watchdogs: These folks are watchdogs at all public meetings. Many comments mentioned vocal opposition at public meetings or during the public outreach process.
  • Not Effective Yet: Several comments discussed how this opposition is noted and then ignored. “They have testified, but they are uninformed, and generally not listened to.”
  • Community Impact: From Alaska to Arizona, many commented on a range of impacts from disrupted meetings, instilling fear in agency staff and even a loss of a planning job. The objections have come to a head over long range planning processes, community planning acts, vision plans,  resolutions in soil and water conservation districts, sustainable communities grants, and proposed rules-making.

Tools Used

What are some tools that you have used to address concerns by Agenda 21 activists? Respondents could answer more than one question so we listed number of responses below.

  • 23 Outside facilitators brought in to facilitate public planning meetings
  • 20 Fact sheets published by your jurisdiction
  • 9 Website(s) developed to address issues raised by anti-Agenda 21 groups
  • 13 Agenda 21 activists recruited to participate on local planning committee
  • 34 Education provided to elected and appointed officials about the real UN Agenda 21
  • 49 Other (see summary below)


  • History of Planning: Some focused on regional planning occurring in the West since the 1960s. Others documented their plan’s history, extending back several decades (prior to Agenda 21). Some also discussed how planning protects property rights, so citizens know not to be concerned.
  • Conversations: Several mentioned talking to activists one-on-one to address concerns or having face-to-face questions and answers. “We try to stay respectful and factual.”
  • Accurate Information: Planners are working with individual stakeholders and residents to give accurate information through the American Planning Association Fact Sheets.
  • Training: Several mentioned having training sessions that cover Agenda 21 at conferences.
  • Not An Issue: Many said Agenda 21 is not an issue in their community that they have needed to actively address.
  • Mostly Ignore: Several respondents said they ignore Agenda 21 opposition because of the vagueness of the inferences. “Board listened; heard no substantive points; moved on with their business.”

Effort to pass legislation, city or county ordinances/policies

Has there been an effort to pass state-level legislation, city or county ordinances/policies in your area in opposition to Agenda 21, smart growth, or planning in general? Respondents could answer more than one question so we listed number of responses below.

  • 34 State legislation in opposition to Agenda 21
  • 26 State legislation in opposition to smart growth
  • 22 State legislation in opposition to planning
  • 9 County policy/ordinance in opposition to Agenda 21
  • 10 County policy/ordinance in opposition to smart growth
  • 6 County policy/ordinance in opposition to planning
  • 7 City policy/ordinances in opposition to Agenda 21
  • 7 City policy/ordinances in opposition to smart growth
  • 6 City policy/ordinances in opposition to planning
  • 15 Other
  • 107 None


The Western Planner received over 120 comments, totalling several pages, describing the impact of Agenda 21 activism on communities across the West. The Western Planner will look to distribute the rest of the comments online and use the information to improve content in the Journal. Below are just a few to show the diversity of experiences. Please note that the comments were edited for spelling and grammar.

  • Agenda 21 has and will continue to be a non-issue to educated persons since planning has been a common practice way prior to Agenda 21. Education over the history of planning in your State or area showing how such well predates Agenda 21, taking people back to the past to get to the future. Planning has really not changed much in the 19 years in Colorado, with the last five years sustainability movement evolving from grass roots efforts to reduce greenhouse gas impacts and global warming. These grassroots movements did not come from APA, Sonoran Institute, the UN or the Western Planner. Focus sustainability on your past planning practices.
  • Local property rights advocates sometimes see local smart growth and other planning efforts as being related to Agenda 21 when they are not.
  • While I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person, a focus on global conspiracies takes the focus off of local planning issues and introduces a sphere that cannot be solved in any local planning board. While the threats of Agenda 21-like initiatives to private property are real, it is the job of the planner to take these threats seriously and to engage the community so citizens trust that the planning staff will not infringe on their property rights. By focusing on local issues and fostering a sense of trust within the community, these issues can be addressed before they spiral out of control.
  • I think the impact has been more general in all areas of local planning efforts but seems to have the backdrop of Agenda 21 issues. Mostly we hear it through property rights and “big” government arguments to limit planning or to make sure that there are little or no regulations and no long range or regional planning is conducted.
  • These folks are not organized sufficiently to launch legislative attack, I believe. I think there are small groups or just individuals who are keeping tabs on the planning process by the MPO and City Planning to see if we are trying to take peoples property, etc. They will speak to whoever will listen suggesting folks read the anti-agenda rhetoric.
  • Many of the comments we receive at public hearings regarding Agenda 21 come off as irrational and can derail meetings. We see the upside to these irrational accusations when, rather than arguing with these folks, we let them speak their piece and destroy their own credibility. I’ve learned the best response is to hold my tongue and grow a thicker skin. These activists may never value our efforts, but the more they speak the less people will agree with them.
  • Surprising items which garnered Anti-Agenda 21 backlash in our community: greenway and trails systems planning; mitigation of junk yards; Land Use and Zoning Regulations; having a County Planning and Development Office (at all); wind energy systems on private property without public funding or incentives; and many more!
  • Mostly a non-issue that gets occasional publicity from a vocal minority of fringe groups that have no cohesive response to what has been outlined in Agenda 21. You can file this in the same bin as the anti-New World Order conspiracy theorists and climate change deniers.
  • A sign of the times. This too will pass, once we get past this rough patch in our nation’s economic history. I suggest we move ahead as best we can to implement community based ideas and not be distracted by such nonsense. We need to make sure our work is based on documented community values and goals.
  • While Agenda 21 is not a treaty or legally binding document and claims that it does not infringe upon the sovereignty of any nation, state, or local government as a document, elements of the document are being placed as requirements for different federal/state programs creating a slow change. Things such as a requirement to have a climate change/greenhouse gas policy before applying for state transportation funds or social and environmental justice requirements when applying for any federal funding.
  • The effects can be seen best in states that plan under a form of growth management since the plans must be consistent with each other down to the local level.
  • Citizens bring a variety of perspectives to planning activities. In my area, anti-Agenda 21 sentiments are being espoused by those who have strong property rights values. It has become a new way to address old grievances.
  • I am a bit concerned by the focus of this survey. People concerned by Agenda 21 issues have spoken on rare occasion at our planning meetings, but the term “activists” would be a misnomer. I have never had difficulty in communicating with these individuals, and in fact share some of their concerns.
  • The Agenda 21 frenzy has a basis in truth, as that document stole the term “Sustainable” from the planning community and gave it meaning we never intended. By mentioning land use planning, Agenda 21’s authors did us damage -- not these opponents.
  • Most of my 39 years in planning has been spent in rural communities in the northern Rockies, where there distrust of land use planning is part of the culture. The term “common good” raises hackles, and yet community-mindedness and volunteerism is perhaps stronger here than elsewhere in the nation. I cite any western irrigation district is an example.
  • There haven’t been any Agenda 21 issues cropping up in my little town, but there are some signs (literally) that have gone up in the more rural areas of the county. The signs warn against the implementation of Agenda 21 and the loss freedom that would entail. To my knowledge, that’s about it around here.

Published in the December 2013/January 2014 Issue

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