In the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the nation suffered through see-saw emotions of fear, sadness and anger. Our country had been attacked, in one of the most vicious ways imaginable, and it was vital we find a way to prevent such atrocities from happening on American soil again.
Enter U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican — and then chair of the House Judiciary Committee — with what he touted as the salve for these deep wounds.
It was officially known as the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, or the USA PATRIOT Act — or more simply, the Patriot Act.
The bill was introduced Oct. 23, 2001, and flew through both chambers of Congress like it was on fire, ultimately being signed into law by President George W. Bush just three days later.
The 58,000 words covering well over 100 pages seemingly set aside many liberties Americans have enjoyed over the decades in the name of better security. Like property searches without an owner’s consent. Unlimited detention of immigrants. And the ability for law enforcement to search email and financial records without a court order.
Ultimately, a number of the provisions signed into law would be successfully challenged as unconstitutional. But taming the law — if not outright removing it — has taken many, many years.
Several lawmakers ultimately shared that they didn’t even read the bill. And who would have time? Bills are long, especially this one, and there was a rush to get it enacted.
But just as we should never sign anything we haven’t read and fully understand, it’s a hope that those we entrust to represent us won’t attach their support to something they haven’t read or understood.
Martin Luther King Jr., said that “nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Ignorance is more than enough to upend everything we know and dig holes that are nearly impossible to crawl out of.
Yet, that’s what city planning expected of Community Board 8 when it handed them a 200-page amendment virtually rebooting the Special Natural Area District zoning rules, and then declared most of that document to be void. CB8 members — all volunteers — were asked to assume which parts remained and which were intended by city planning to be erased. And then they were supposed to vote.
SNAD changes are not the Patriot Act, but the concept is no different. The city has asked CB8 to take a position on something without letting them know exactly what that position is.
The fact that SNAD is continuing through the city approval process is a clear sign of the dysfunction infecting our planning process, and explains why high-density buildings are going up where they shouldn’t, and why seemingly historic buildings can be ripped apart with no pushback.
City planning needs to rethink its SNAD proposal, and allow those directly affected by it to have informed input.
CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty is right — this SNAD process must start anew.