Thursday, January 24, 2008

Milwaukee Council Moves On Water Deserve Praise

Milwaukee aldermen deserve the thanks of every resident of the entire region for committee actions they took Wednesday on water sales to the suburbs:

They lauded Elm Grove for endorsing better transit links to Milwaukee, indicating a water deal to that suburb could be easily worked out.

And the committee delayed renewing an existing arrangement to sell water to Menomonee Falls.

That suburb showed no inclination to support affordable housing and a county bus line through Menomonee Falls for Milwaukee workers - - Route 9 - - that was allowed to die January 1 without the suburb's help.

I say: good for the aldermen, led by westsider Michael Murphy, who has worked hard for years to put substance into the rhetoric about regional cooperation.

That's why I said at the outset that the Council committee's action was important for the region, because without substance, real planning that involves all the people of the region, without genuine coordination of services and opportunities, regionalism will be nothing but an empty shell, a bumper sticker, and little more.

If the cities of New Berlin and Waukesha, which are seeking diversions of Lake Michigan water through Milwaukee are not grasping the import of the Council committee's action, they better hire new lobbyists that understand the Council committee is speaking directly to them.

To date, those suburbs have been anything but welcoming to the idea of sharing development gains based on water sales, or generally to the idea of tying water to larger growth and infrastructure issues.

State Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin), has called those ideas "extortion," and the Waukesha Water Utility ran for cover when a legal consultant suggested, in writing, that so-called "tax sharing" arrangements were the key to water sales with Milwaukee.

All that history is here.

The death of Route 9, as I wrote on this blog several times in December, and in an op-ed in the Journal Sentinel Crossroads section a couple of weeks ago, had tremendous symbolic and real meaning across Milwaukee.

It was dismissive of low-income workers - - representing a large chunk of the population in the city - - who are walled off from housing and jobs in the suburbs by zoning that bars modest-sized homes, or affordable lots, as well as multi-family residences.

Workers making $9-an-hour cannot afford to build a house in a community where lots have to be two-to-five acres. They look for apartments, but many suburbs have few or none - - by design.

If you cut off the bus service to their jobs, you are doing more than putting their survival on the line - - you are completely eliminating the suburbs from low-income Milwaukeans' experience.

Are the suburbs in favor of cooperation, of interaction, of truly open borders, or are they enforcing a sneaky kind of economic apartheid?

Think about it.

It's hardly the way to win a water deal from Milwaukee elected officials.

And the collapse of Route 9 came just as Waukesha County officials who couldn't find $100,000 for the bus line quickly located $1.75 million to help pay for a new ramp off I-94 to bring shoppers to an upscale mall at Pabst Farms - - for a mall that has yet to be designed, let alone approved.

In a development of 1,200 upper-income homes with zero apartments.

And the state transportation department blundered into this political thicket, and further reinforced the one-dimensionality of the highways/transit imbalance in the region, by announcing it planned to spend $1.9 billion on I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois line.

True to all its institutional biases, the department didn't commit a penny to funding a commuter rail line in the same corridor that is ready to go and could relieve the looming decade of congestion when the I-94 work begins later this year.

Transit? Transportation options?

The conventional regional wisdom about that, once you get out of Milwaukee (exception: Elm Grove, so get them the water ASAP) is:

Fuggetaboutit.

Buy yourself a car.

That was, in fact, the Scott Walker solution when he helped kill the Downtown (electric bus) Connector in 2007 - - and that was from the official purportedly in charge of the region's largest bus service.

Milwaukee and the suburbs need each other for their mutual success, and for the region to be healthy.

Tone-deaf, politically-insensitive suburban leaders are constricting Milwaukee's already hard-pressed workers (also a heavily-minority population), after having stuck a stick in their collective eye again and again (defeat of regional light rail in 1997, don't forget) - - so now there is gutsy pushback at the Milwaukee Common Council.

In December, there was a simple, relatively inexpensive solution on the table. For $100,000, state officials, Waukesha County and suburban leaders could have reinforced an important link among the communities and residents along the two counties' borders.

And showed their good faith in,and commitment to regionalism.

Now there is a lot more work to do to repair the breach.

Anybody out in New Berlin and Waukesha City and County even listening?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

All Milwaukee City and County elected officials should ask themselves why promising developments like "Ruby Tuesday" and "Altlanta Bread Company" Restaurants newar Park Place on the NW side can't stay open normal business hours - they can't find employees, or rather prospective employees can't find transportation.

Joe Klein said...

Transportation is the next frontier for institutionalized racism. Any policy maker worth his or her salt knows that minority populations, primarily African-Americans, have a higher than median dependency on public transit.

Milwaukee and Detroit are the only two major cities in North America without commuter rail, rail rapid transit, or light rail.

BS (Belling-Sykes) prevents a policy of rightness and humaneness by applying the "salve of self delusion" that claims: race has nothing to do with with our transit policy.

The BS "salve of self delusion" allows County and State politicians to chop the suburban extensions off public transit, so that "those people" can't get jobs in the burbs and will never be able to afford a suburban house. So the burbs can keep sucking money out of Milwaukee's poor by owning rental units and keeping "those people" economically hog tied and immobile, so they stay out of their neighborhoods.

Mind you, that BS' rationalizations for blocking rail mass transit goes hand in hand with the delusional view that global warming is a liberal ploy, and some magical technological miracle will allow us to fuel the cars that will fill our new eight lane "Free"-ways in 2020.

BS is the force of raving irrationality in light of the real threat of global warming. BS is advocacy for regional economic decline in a post peak oil world.

Our current regional transportation system's automobile centric funding paradigm can only be explained by the concordance between institutionalized racism and BS.

Route 9, KRM, Light Rail, RTA funding, dedicated funding for MCTS ... the history speaks volumes about a consistent pattern of suppressing of minority mobility, with the strongest voices against transit, not coincidentally, coming from the most segregated white constituencies.

BS has locked Milwaukee into being, like Detroit, rail-less, and hypersegregated.

Anonymous said...

Gorons like Rowen and Klein believe their own publicty and lies.

No one in Milwaukee is complaining about rail transportaton. If you want to get out of town, take the Amtrak to Chicago or Minneapolis.

Minorities can take the bus, but even they own cars. There's no institutionalized racism here, but Rowen and Klein should be institutionalized.

You two lightweight clowns sure enjoy peeing up ropes.

germantown_kid

James Rowen said...

Thanks for sharing your feelings, Germantown_kid.