THE BAY AREA'S premier regional planning agencies suffered a largely deserved beating in Contra Costa County.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments brought to Concord its traveling roadshow designed to measure public opinion as it begins the two-year process of writing a blueprint for housing, jobs and transportation, called One Bay Area or Plan Bay Area.
Vocal critics brought the May event to its knees, prompting one ABAG staffer to mutter, "This is falling apart."
Granted, the outspoken voices came from the conservative East Bay Tea Party, which views the sustainable development movement as an assault on private property rights born out of false assumptions about mankind's impact on the global climate.
Under SB375, passed in 2008, California's metropolitan areas must adopt by 2013 a sustainable communities strategy that outlines how they will cut greenhouse gases.
But setting aside disparate philosophies, MTC and ABAG need to get out of their offices more often.
Planners may view One Bay Area from an altitude of 30,000 feet but the average resident wants to know how it hits the ground in her neighborhood and town.
The workshop format was overly rigid and left many feeling cut off. After every verbal outburst -- some of which fell short of polite -- the facilitators euphemistically said, "That's exactly the kind of input we want ... but we need to move on."
Second, the agencies' use of advocacy group staffers as facilitators unnecessarily fueled suspicions about a global conspiracy to force us out of our cars and big houses and into high-rise buildings and trains.
By way of background, opponents trace the sustainable movement to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil, where member nations adopted a sustainable communities action plan called Agenda 21.
In the public agencies' defense, they were trying to save money. Outreach is expensive and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation had obtained a Knight Foundation grant.
The foundation joined Greenbelt Alliance, an open space advocacy group; TransForm, a pro-transit nonprofit; Calthorpe Associaties, an urban planning firm and forefathers in the smart growth movement; and Northern California Public Broadcasting.
They are well-intentioned organizations with laudable missions who deserve a voice in the debate.
But when Matt Vander Sluis, an East Bay senior field representative with Greentbelt, began delivering an overview of the One Bay Area planning process, it crossed the line.
"Is this a government meeting?" someone yelled
When the ABAG and MTC boards -- which consist of Bay Area elected supervisors and city council members -- vote on a final sustainable community strategy in 2013, the public must have confidence that it is the result of broad input and not the work product of specific advocacy groups.
The agencies may never satisfy the Agenda 21 crowd but a failure to sincerely welcome their voices will undermine public support for this critical conversation.
No one may say with absolute certainty what the future will bring in terms of added population. But we know the future will arrive and they will need somewhere to live, work and play.
ROOMIES: If nothing else, SB375 has turned once antagonistic agencies into pals.
With all this collaboration, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Association of Bay Area Governments and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District are shopping for new joint digs.
MTC and ABAG already share an Oakland building, but in the old days, some of their respective staffers wouldn't even get into the elevator with each other.
The open question is where the regional trifecta will set up shop.
The air district is in San Francisco and the threesome is looking in the neighborhood.
But privately, some influential local elected officials are disgruntled at the idea of MTC-ABAG moving out of Oakland. The city needs the jobs and the suburbanites who sit on its boards would have to drive to San Francisco.
And if you think parking is hard to find in San Francisco, try finding a space at the Walnut Creek BART station.
GOT POLITICS? Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.
And finally: Lest you think Agenda 21 talk is the province of a handful of people, the East Bay Tea Party on Monday night will host a speech in Danville by Rosa Koire, director of the Post Sustainability Institute.
I'm not sure I want to know what the world looks like after it overtakes its sustainability, but if you want to hear Koire, go to www.theeastbayteaparty.com and look under "Green Tyranny."
If you can't make it, her institute will hosts a conference Aug. 6.
Democracy is a beautiful thing, isn't it?