Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mary Lazich's Idea Of Regionalism: A Free Ride

Which, given that you can't ride the bus from Milwaukee to New Berlin, is somewhere between irony and a bad pun.

Here is what the State Senator (R) from New Berlin had to say on her blog about the notion that New Berlin would make anything in the way of a regional benefits payment to Milwaukee for extending water service to New Berlin:

"Despite an approved Compact, Milwaukee holds a gun to New Berlin
By Mary Lazich

Monday, Jul 28 2008, 12:55 PM

"I must admit I was taken aback when I read the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel that Milwaukee is negotiating with New Berlin to sell Milwaukee water.

"The price tag would be hefty $1.5 million one time fee in addition to actual costs.

"During the lengthy deliberations about the Great Lakes Compact, I made it clear that despite my reservations, I supported an effective document that was good for the Great Lakes, the state of Wisconsin, and would preserve our greatest natural resource.

"Time and time again, I heard Compact proponents make the case that the Compact would address the water needs of New Berlin.

"The conventional wisdom was that the Compact needed to be approved quickly, and if it was, New Berlin’s water woes would be taken care of.

"Making those arguments were city of Milwaukee officials from Mayor Tom Barrett on down.

"They claimed the city of Milwaukee would no longer have issues with New Berlin getting water if Wisconsin would simply okay the Compact. It seems that isn’t the case.

"Wisconsin has approved the Compact, but for the city of Milwaukee, on this critical public health issue, it’s still business as usual, imposing a hefty price tag for a community in desperate need of water.

"For the city of Milwaukee, it was never about the Compact. It was and remains a question of money and control over a suburb to the west."

My, oh my, where does one begin to unpack these 'arguments?'

* She was "taken aback" reading a July 23rd newspaper story that New Berlin and Milwaukee were negotiating a water sale?

The news that those negotiations were authorized by state officials was reported in a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 54 weeks ago, and there were subequent stories about negotiations, meetings between Milwaukee and New Berlin's mayors about water, etc.

(Tip also to Lazich and blog writing staff: There is no slash mark between "Journal" and "Sentinel" in "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel." Check the paper's front page more than once every 54 weeks for confirmation.)

Where's she been getting her information about Great Lakes water: the Ohio newspapers?

Or did she forget her earlier blog post where she blasted New Berlin Mayor Jack Chiovatero for meeting with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett about water, or as it was described on her blog, "cozying up."

* The Compact, approved just a few weeks ago, would end New Berlin's water woes?

So it was up to outsiders to fix New Berlin's problem?

Wasn't that New Berlin's responsibility, something Lazich would understand, as a former New Berlin city council member, Waukesha County Board supervisor, state representative and now State Senator?

Lazich does not mention that New Berlin officials for years, on their own, and in the face of federal action, delayed cleaning up its water supply, then decided over the last couple of years not to buy water filtration upgrades that could have cleaned the water, and met the federal requirements, because New Berlin felt it could get better water - - Milwaukee's water - - cheaper.

* Lazich says "During the lengthy deliberations about the Great Lakes Compact, I made it clear that despite my reservations, I supported an effective document that was good for the Great Lakes, the state of Wisconsin, and would preserve our greatest natural resource."

Now come on, there: There's more spin in that sentence than an out-of-control Tilt-a-Whirl.

By "effective document," Lazich must mean the revised, fantasy Compact she wanted renegotiated by all eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces as an alternative to the draft Compact she vocally opposed from Day One, stalled in a legislative study committee, and voted against this year on the Senate floor.


New Berlin Mayor Chiovatero still has to get this deal past his City Council; he and his brace of first-line consultants will not have to cozy up to New Berlin council members to help them understand that a $1.5 million payment to Milwaukee is a smaller number, and hence a better deal for cleaner, reliable water, than is $6 million for radium-removal filtration equipment and maintenance to further deplete their wells.

Change At SEWRPC: Actual And Imagined

While the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission plods away with its stale, suburban expansionist model, a regional commission out east is aggressively promoting community revivals in some tired Philadelphia neighborhoods and older, beaten-down suburbs.

Can you imagine SEWRPC, at its isolated Pewaukee headquarters in western Waukesha County doing something like that in the seven-county region from which it absorbs about $2.3 million in local property taxes every year - - with the largest share, about 35%, coming from Milwaukee County.

The very place in the region where there are indeed older suburbs and city neighborhoods that could use a regional planning shot in the arm.

Expecially in an era of rising gasoline prices that make closer-in suburbs and city neighborhoods more attractive than sprawled-out subdivisions - - like Pabst Farms, where housing starts have been suspended, but also where SEWRPC is promoting a new Interstate highway interchange to serve a planned shopping mall whose construction has already been postponed once.

Remember, SEWRPC is the agency that has not done a regional housing study since 1975, but has been promising to begin one since 2005, yet will not release the proposed scope of the study because it considers it an internal planning document.

The study, if and when it begins, is supposed to make recommendations to the more than 140 municipalities in its region about meeting housing needs, especially in so-called affordable housing, which often means housing for low-income and/or minority residents and families.

With those time lines, and recommendations to be offered into a regional environment that prefers to see affordable housing clustered in the City of Milwaukee, I won't expect to see SEWRPC as it is now structured - - no commissioners from the City of Milwaukee, and a majority representing still-rural counties - - jump into something as revolutionary as marketing older suburbs and city neighborhoods anytime soon.

But there is news on the SEWRPC affirmative action front:

The agency reported at yesterday's Environmental Justice Task Force meeting that it has increased the number of minorities on its professional (as opposed to clerical and technical) staff from last year.

Last year's total: one among 42.
This year, it's up - - to three of 49.

Nestle Water Bottling Operation In California Could Be Stopped

The Nestle company, known in these parts for their "Ice Mountain" brand of bottled water from a wetland in Michigan, could be forced out of the water bottling business in one California town by a series of new state standards.

Nestle is an aggressive marketer of bottled worldwide under various brands: the Michigan operation had its origins in the proposed Perrier water bottling operation kicked out of Wisconsin by conservationists some years earlier.

Seems the tough regulatory effort in California is being led by the Attorney General with the very recognizable name of Jerry Brown.

Carrying around water in petroleum-consuming plastic bottles has become something of an affectation of late: tap water is many times cheaper, and doesn't produce the wasteful bottles or trucking expenses to deliver them.

The biggest loophole in the Great Lakes Compact was permission for water bottling firms to ship unlimited quantities of water permanently away from the Great Lakes basin in containers smaller than 5.7 gallons.

That was a sop to water-rich Michigan, a sign of an economy so weak in a once-powerful industrial state that Michigan would demand language in the Compact to protect a relative handful of jobs at its state's water bottling operation.

The Compact is working its way through Congress because most of the agreement's conservation and anti-diversion provisions do help sustain the Great Lakes - - 20% of the entire planet's supply of fresh surface water.

Individual states in the eight-state Compact agreement could bar the export of bottled water away from the Great Lakes basin.

I suspect that as bottled water bans spread from west to east, there will come a day that outlawing bottled water exports that leave the Great Lakes basin will take hold in Wisconsin and neighboring states.

That is, if we are really serious about water sustainability, we'll stem the bottle-by-bottle diversion of water from the Great Lakes basin in plastic containers that too often end up in the gutter, vacant yards and landfills.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Milwaukee Public Market Adds Organic Grocer In New Building

Milwaukee's Public Market gets a new tenant - - a full-line organic grocer - - in a second building around the corner.

That's a huge signal that the market, which had a difficult beginning, seems to have more than stabilized.

The trick was to offer customers what they wanted.

Great Lakes Compact Moving Swiftly Through Congress

The Great Lakes Compact is moving through the Congress, with a committee in the House of Representatives approving it and a favorable committee hearing also taking place in the Senate, chaired by Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold.

This is good series of steps; the Compact will assure that little Great Lakes water will be diverted from the Great Lakes basin, and if the rules are followed, that water will be returned from communities that have also demonstrated conservation plans in place.

It's not a perfect document, as bottled water sales are still unregulated in containers less than 5.7 gallons, and the water conservation language could be stronger, but having a Compact is better than not having the agreement.

New Berlin Water Sale Moves Forward; Water Value Study To Come Later

Milwaukee's Public Works Committee voted 4-1 Tuesday to fund a study to help it determine the true value of water it might sell to the suburbs - - but also approved a deal to sell water to New Berlin for 20 years that would take effect before the water value study is finished.

It's an approach and an arrangement that I had argued was premature and inadequate.

Both recommendations go on to the full Common Council for approval.

The Daily Reporter's take, in part, is here

The New Berlin deal calls for wholesale water deliveries to New Berlin at rates approved by the state Public Service Commission, and a one-time, $1.5 million so-called regional benefits payment from New Berlin into Milwaukee's general fund...

There were several hours of testimony Tuesday about the pros and cons of accepting the one-time payment before having experts study water's true value, hence the accuracy of the payment in relationship to the water sale and what regional services or assets it might leverage.

Aldermen on the committee were persuaded by representatives of New Berlin who said if Milwaukee were to delay the deal and wait for the study, New Berlin might pursue buying water from Oak Creek, though the water from Oak Creek would be more expensive and without the City of Milwaukee's superior filtration.

The water valuation study, carrying a $50,000 price tag, should be completed in several months and available to guide future water sales to additional suburban communities that will surely come to Milwaukee in New Berlin's footsteps.
My take?

The city should get the study rolling immediately, then continue to negotiate with New Berlin with independent data and opinion in hand.

The odds are slim that New Berlin would agree to purchase more expensive water from Oak Creek, or to install filtration equipment on its own troubled wells - - another option that is also more expensive than buying Milwaukee's superior water.

New Berlin's proposal, while substantial, does little to help Milwaukee's extensive low-income population with pressing transit and housing issues.

And the agreement does not obligate New Berlin to expand its affordable housing stock (currently 80 units in a city of 39,000 people, and nearly all for seniors, not working families), or its transit connections (the last direct bus route from Milwaukee to New Berlin's main business area, its industrial park, was ended in 2004).

The Milwaukee water transfer is headed to New Berlin's "middle-third," site of the induustrial park and open land, where studies indicate up to 1,119 new housing units and 5,668 new jobs could be created.

The process the committee chose to follow - - water sale first, then a study to determine water's value - - amounts to a missed opportunity for Milwaukee to define water's relationship to development - - issues that will face other communities in Wisconsin and across the Great Lakes.

If water is really the next oil, the aldermanic committee put this year's Milwaukee city budget considerations - - important certainly for local officials - - ahead of larger state, regional and international water-related considerations.

And should the study conclude that Milwaukee didn't get a good enough payment from New Berlin, or enough exchange in services, how would Milwaukee convince the next city with an application that it wasn't entitled to the New Berlin formula?

Tennessee Shooter Tied To The Savage Nation

I'm not surprised to find out that the Tennessee man who said he deliberately shot up a church because it welcomed gay members and championed civil rights causes had a copy of the virulently right-wing Michael Savage's recent book, "Liberalism is a Mental Disorder."

OK: one book may not an accused mass-shooter-and-killer make (though he had other best-sellers by notable righties, too); maybe the gunman was the one with the mental disorder?

But Savage's show pumps out a daily attack on people whom Savage routinely calls degenerates and vermin and scum, and "the enemy within" - - usually Democrats, homosexuals and liberals.

He has said the ACLU leadership should be arrested and charged with treason.

He has said what he labels the homosexual agenda is destroying families, and that mentally-ill liberals are threatening American security through support for illegal immigrants and disdain for the military.

He especially reviles Democratic women politicians, like California's Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, as well as House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

620 WTMJ-AM radio offers his show most late-nights. It's a megaphone for demagoguery, and The Journal Company should really get him off its air.

It's a good thing that the alleged shooter in this case did not die, as a note he left behind said was his expectation.

Let's hope interrogators find out what his motivations were and who influenced him.

We need to know whether he thought that being a member of what Michael Savage calls his audience, "The Savage Nation," in any way stirred him to tote a 12-gauge shotgun and more than 70 shells into a church where the kids were putting on a musical performance for the congregation.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Berlin And Milwaukee Are In Two Different Worlds - - Is There The Will To Reconnect?

Milwaukee and New Berlin are neighbors, yet their demographic differences are so vast that they might as well be located on different planets.

A critical gap is job availability - - Milwaukee has tens of thousands of unemployed residents and New Berlin has the largest industrial park in the state.

But direct transit service to the industrial park from Milwaukee ended in 2004.

(You can still ride an express bus into Milwaukee from a more northern point in New Berlin, which doesn't do anything to get Milwaukeans to the industrial park, or a two-hour+ round-trip series of buses, transfers and charter coaches to get from Milwaukee to the industrial park, and back )

There has been talk of adding direct bus service to New Berlin from Milwaukee, but those discussions have not produced results, proving that too often around here, regionalism is more talk than action.

The relevancy of this?

Milwaukee aldermen meet Tuesday (it's a public hearing, so you can listen and speak in Room 301-B, City Hall, at 10:30 a.m.) to consider selling water to New Berlin - - to acreage where it says it could build 1,119 more homes, create another 5,668 jobs, and already has approved the construction of its a convention center, hotel and water park complex.

The water sale would be for a 20-year period.

Should Milwaukee help New Berlin expand its economy, when Milwaukeans have less direct access to employment in New Berlin, and little chance of finding affordable housing near jobs there?

Consider these facts from the 2000 census, and related updated estimates:

Milwaukee has 605,000 people, New Berlin, 39,234.

21.3% of Milwaukeans live below the poverty line, or about 125,000 people. In New Berlin, the figure is 2%, or about 780.

Milwaukee is 37.3% African-American. In New Berlin, 0.4%.

The average value of an owner-occupied housing unit in Milwaukee is $80,400. In New Berlin, the figure is $162,100, or about double.

The average per-household income in Milwaukee is $32,200. In New Berlin, $67,500, again double.

New Berlin would pay the city a projected $966,000 a year for the water - - helping the utility meet with its budget - - but lowering bills for existing Milwaukee Water Utility customers between $1.50 and $4.50, depending on variables in the calculations.

New Berlin would also pay Milwaukee $1.5 million upfront in a one-time so-called regional benefits payment.

Though it could buy more expensive water from other Lake Michigan communities, New Berlin's proposed payment to Milwaukee is not likely to make a dent in the regional housing and transit issues that historically have undermined Milwaukee - - land-locked by state law - - and have allowed suburban cities like New Berlin to flourish.

Milwaukee needs to reframe the discussion and get some experts to help it calculate the value of water and its relationship to nearby development.

And it needs to consider with its regional partners all of the important planning issues as a whole - - transit, housing, air quality, development, jobs - - and not have them considered separately, years apart, without coordination and common focus.

That's how the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has been treating these issues for decades. The SEWRPC way does not serve Milwaukee or the region, and New Berlin and Milwaukee will only be imitating it if they sign a water deal that leaves housing and transit discussions for another day.

Milwaukee and New Berlin can set an important precedent by sitting down and making an agreement with a broader scope, thus making sense and adding more value to the region than what is on the table now.

Monday, July 28, 2008

On Regional Issues, Your Two Cents Worth Can Double This Tuesday

By sheer coincidence, a couple of meetings in Milwaukee on Tuesday, July 29th, will provide people with two opportunities to hear debate about, and to participate in, key issues that are bubbling below the surface.

Media still abhor meetings. Assignment editors never understood, or cared to acknowledge, that government meetings have news value because it is at the meetings, particularly the smaller, dare I say, wonky sessions, where important nuts-and-bolts work is aired, and solutions get framed and launched.

When I was a reporter and assistant metropolitan editor at the old Milwaukee Journal, the rule was "don't send me any meeting stories."

Senior editors preferred we'd cover the controversy that would break out when final decisions were taken, though readers would have been better served if we'd covered more early-state meetings and issues from the beginning - - at the committee or subcommittee level, even though the agendas seemed boring.

Anyway: enough of that. Here's what's up on the 29th:

The Common Council's Public Works Committee, at 10:30 a.m. in City Hall Room 301-B, will take up several resolutions regarding a possible Lake Michigan water sale to New Berlin.

And later that day, an under-covered public body called the Environmental Justice Task Force, a creation of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, will meet at 4:00 p.m., at HeartLove Place, Inc., 3229 N. Martin Luther King, Jr, Drive, in Milwaukee.

The task force meetings, which began last year, are rotated throughout the SEWRPC seven-county region; this one is in Milwaukee, easing the opportunity for media coverage.

The task force was established after years of complaints that SEWRPC did not encourage participation in its decision-making by low-income and other under-represented groups and minorities.

The task force is not a full-fledged committee, mind you, the kind that performs studies, has consultants hired for it, and makes regional recommendations that can turn into significant action, such as the committee that produced the $6.5 billion freeway plan.

Or SEWRPC's water supply study committee, which is close to finishing a consultant-heavy, three-year report that is sure to help speed Lake Michigan diversions to several sprawling communities relatively far from Lake Michigan.

The makeup of the water supply committee, with an all-Caucasian, 32-person membership - - some of whom represent major industries, but none who represent the region's low-income populations - - is an example of why SEWRPC was forced by federal funding authorities and pressured by local civil rights and transit activists to make an institutional effort to include those excluded groups.

At the task force meeting on Tuesday afternoon, SEWRPC will present information about a study it says it is about to launch, following a 33-year hiatus: a regional look at, and recommendations about, housing issues, particularly the lack of affordable housing in its seven-county region and the disproportionate concentration of low-income housing in the City of Milwaukee.

The task force is still feeling its way, having been created by SEWRPC, staffed by SEWRPC, and chaired by a designated SEWRPC commissioner.

The task force did request several months ago that SEWRPC not proceed with its completely-internal, no-advertising/no-search appointment of a new Executive Director, effective in 2009.

The task force members, charged to bring an excluded perspective to an agency that has but one minority employee among its professional staff of 42, wanted a role in the hiring process; SEWRPC refused the request and promoted the current Deputy Director into the top position, so the task force got a taste of the SEWRPC's preference for top-down/closed-off management.

The daunting task before the task force is to significantly open the agency to new ideas, perspectives and production.

If SEWRPC runs the decades-delayed housing study in its standard fashion, expect the task force and outside groups to press for a broader, deeper housing study framework, work plan and goals.

Affordable housing is one of those background, under-covered but critical regional issues also likely to come up at the water sale meeting Tuesday morning at City Hall.

New Berlin wants to buy Milwaukee water for a portion of the suburban community of 38,000 where there could be substantial growth, by New Berlin's accounting - - a possible 5,668 new jobs and 1,119 new units of housing, New Berlin data show.

A reliable supply of clean, fresh Milwaukee water will be a boon to that part of New Berlin, even if only half the new housing is built and half the projected jobs materialize.

Yet New Berlin now has but 80 units of affordable housing, and, again, according to New Berlin records, nearly all that housing is for seniors, not low-income families or singles - - the very people who might be attracted to some of those new, water-assisted jobs.

The problem is that there is no direct bus service to New Berlin's Industrial Park from Milwaukee (setting aside the issue of affordable housing availability, cost and access, too).

There was such a bus line, but it ended in 2004, and the free-fall in county bus ridership and service since is a well-known story.

What's available now is a cross-town Milwaukee County Transit System bus ride on line #10 from Milwaukee to Brookfield Square mall, then transfer to a Wisconsin Coach Line chartered bus to the Industrial Park, where many businesses are clustered.

The best round-trip fare is $6.70 daily, the travel time round-trip is around two hours from Milwaukee's central city, and longer from the downtown, or the south side.

So some Milwaukee aldermen believe the water sale should more explicitly spell out reciprocal actions by New Berlin when it comes to affordable housing, transit, or other issues key to employment in Milwaukee - - what is also known as economic justice.

Draft agreements up for discussion by the council committee have New Berlin and Milwaukee committing to an annual meeting to discuss employment matters, and a one-time payment of $1.5 million from New Berlin at the front end of the planned, 20-year water sale, in addition to wholesale water sales amounting to about $1 million in the first year.

For the city, the revenue assists the utility's budget and saves each existing customers a few dollars a year.

The one-time payment is a big check, and some aldermen may have a hard time suggesting that a different amount, based on broader parameters and formulas that define and monetize the real value and relationship of water to development, should be considered instead.

If the one-time payment were framed as an annual transfer to Milwaukee of $75,000, when the potential value of New Berlin's housing tax base could grow by $181,000,000 (using 2000 census data pegging a median-priced New Berlin home at $162,000), and additional commercial and industrial property to house and pay 5,668 new workers - - well, then, the relative worth of $1.5 million begins to diminish.

The discussions at the Common Council on Tuesday, and SEWRPC's task force meeting later in the day, offer a window into matters that have great significance for groups in Milwaukee and the region - - groups that don't get a seat at the table when big issues are defined and discussed more privately by the Milwaukee-7, or out at SEWRPC's Pewaukee offices, where there are no transit connections for the public, and no electronic recording of meetings for the public's review.

But both meetings Tuesday come with interesting agendas and this important twist: Unlike at many SEWRPC meetings, where the public can only sit and watch, people coming to the task force meeting can speak!

Likewise, the Common Council committee meeting is a hearing, so the public can be heard there, too.

So: Attention all interested parties, and assignment editors, too: pencil these meetings on your calendars, then come on down.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Great Lakes Ballast Regulations Stir Debate: Interested Parties Are Invited Here To Sort It Out

Again, my apologizes for letting a few things slide, but I wanted to post Dan Egan's summary of the dispute over the best way to prevent invasive species from further damaging the Great Lakes.

One of the purposes of this blog is to provide a forum for interested parties to air their data and positions on environmental issues, particularly those effecting water and water policies.

Consider this an open invitation to either leave comments, or if you send me longer pieces, I can use them as guest posts.

And I'm still trying to figure out the best way to use this blog to sort through all the confusion and chaff on so many issues out there.

So have at it...

About ANWR And Gas Prices

There has been pressure for years to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) to oil exploration, based on the belief that there is huge supply of oil there that could lower gas prices for American drivers.

I've been trying to find one good, readable summary of the situation, so let's check the facts in this one.

The conclusions are that potential benefits are years, decades away, for what would be most likely minimal savings for consumers.

"But even in the best case, the price impact — decades from now — would amount to about 1 percent of current market prices. If work started today, production would peak in 2027 — when increased production would have the biggest impact on prices. According to Department of Energy projections, that impact would cut the prices of light sweet crude (in 2006 dollars) by 41 cents per barrel in 2026 for the low estimate, 75 cents per barrel in 2025 for the mean oil resource case, and $1.44 per barrel in 2027 for the high estimate."

Setting aside the environmental issues, which are important to enough Members of Congress that oil exploration and drilling in the ANWR has been blocked by both parties, the author of the piece cited above concludes that conservation now is a workable, available alternative.

That's because we as consumers help set the price. If we use more, the price goes up, and we use less, we help force the price down.

What I find most interesting is that $4-a-gallon gasoline has begun to push individuals towards personal conservation, which is reducing driving and demand for gasoline.

If and when transit improvements become a national priority, and industry begins to supply better gas/electric hybrid vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles, the demand for gasoline in the US should continue to fall.

However, the growth of the automobile industries in both China and India are big problems, and it would make little sense to drill in ANWR or off the coasts of Florida and California just to supply burgeoning car ownership in these two fast-growing countries.

Minorities Eating Too Many Tainted Fish From Madison's Lakes

Because of low incomes, and too little information, minority anglers and their families are eating more fish from Madison lakes than state contamination guidelines about safe mercury ingestion recommend, says the Capital Times.

That story just broke my heart.

What's In A Name?

I'm inspired to post this after reading a great post last week by the blogger Emily Mills, here.

It took me a while to get to it, but what better use is there of a quiet Sunday morning? (That's a joke and evidence that I definitely need something I haven't had in a long time - - a vacation.)

I don't know Ms. Mills, but she said it all with more flair than can I, and what I want to do is agree with her theme, especially with these points below:

She is an intelligent part of the continuing discussion about names in politics - - specifically the correct name of the political party with the donkey as its symbol and the full names of both parties' presumptive nominees.

The facts are that correct name of the party is The Democratic Party, and the nominees' full names are Barack Hussein Obama and John Sidney McCain III.

Some Republicans (I first heard it from Bob Dole years and years ago), and conservative bloggers and pundits like Rush Limbaugh, routinely use the dismissive name "Democrat Party," and add Obama's middle name to his every mention.

Adding Obama's middle name is a sly way to suggest Obama is a Muslim, or worse, somehow related to that late Iraqi leader who made the name infamous.

In retailation, some bloggers on the left have siggested always adding in McCain's middle name, but to what end? That's stupid, too.

Middle names are for official, or sworn documents, and few other everday uses.

I've known a number of people who have legally dropped them; women who take their husbands' last names often omit their given middle name and use their maiden name as a new middle name, if they use one at all.

The candidates and The Democratic Party should be referred to by the name each chooses.

That way, we stick to the facts, and then, maybe the issues?

Blogger On Journal Communications Website Calls Wisconsin DNR "Gestapo-like"

Kevin Fischer, conservative pundit and staff aide to State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), complains on his blog that when the state Department of Natural Resources enforces regulations covering cranberry growers, its actions are "Gestapo-like."

This is his quote about the DNR's purported anti-business attitude:

"The villain? Take a guess: the Gestapo-like Department of Natural Resources, the state agency that isn’t happy unless it’s ruining someone’s life. Pretty darned stupid, isn’t it? We are our own worst enemy."

This is the professional bio Fischer has posted at the top of his blog on, one of several Journal Communications websites that the multi-media company operates as part of its interactive, online effort, and that replaced a group of community newspapers:

"Kevin Fischer is an award-winning veteran broadcaster who has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for nearly three decades. Kevin, who is a legislative aide to state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, “INTERchange,” on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10."

Fischer is a former radio reporter, so I will assume he knows that the Gestapo committed assassinations, mass murder and crimes against humanity in Germany before and during World War II, including running Hitler's concentration camps.

Fischer also fills in for righty talker Mark Belling on WISN-AM 1130, a Clear Channel radio station in Milwaukee.

For these outlets, Fischer is the go-to conservative representative or substitute authority.

This isn't a free speech issue: Fischer's choice of language is protected, as it should be, but it's not the first time that he has attacked the DNR in this fashion, having called it earlier this year "the Wisconsin wing of the Nazi party."

In that case, Fischer was mad at the DNR for protecting a portion of the Wisconsin Dells - - land and views that are in the public domain - - from encroachment by a condominium development.

For that, if you work at the DNR, you got called a Nazi.

Now you are like the Gestapo.?

Righty Pundits, Bloggers Forget Media Love Affairs With John McCain

The right is in a tizzy because it senses media bias in favor of Barack Obama during the presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee's overseas trip.

The righties forget that reporters and opinion-makers have fallen in love serially with presumptive GOP nominee John McCain - - in 2000, on the Straight Talk Express campaign bus, around the 2008 New Hampshire primary when his current campaign was revived, and on Daily Show appearances too numerous to count.

Reporters and media types are fickle, like voters. And there was no way that they wouldn't flock with Obama on the foreign tour that McCain dared him to take.


But these are trends, ephemeral events in a long campaign, but how easy it is to forget the positive treatment that McCain has enjoyed, and will surely get again - - if his supporters don't complain so often and so loudly that they'll drive potential media suitors away.

And, of course, for McCain there's Fox 'News,' and conservative talk radio that overwhelmingly prefers him to Obama despite little complaints here and there about McCain's lack of ideological perfection.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Repeal Of Wisconsin's Minimum Markup Law Should Be Swift, Bipartisan

The state's minimum markup law has artificially jacked up the price of gasoline, and it should be wiped off the books.

I've blogged about the law being a bad one, and the State Journal captures the argument nicely.

New Berlin Water Sale Gets Fresh Document Dump

I had earlier posted that the date, time and place of a Milwaukee Common Council Committee's consideration of a proposed water sale to New Berlin had changed.

My error: the Public Works Committee is still scheduled to meet Tuesday, July 29th, in room 301-B, at 10:30 a.m.

But...there are many new documents added to the file, and all are worth reading.

Here is a link to the file, as of Saturday, and the schedule.

The expansion of the file with so many additional records, letters, studies, emails, newspaper stories and blog posts is a clear indication of the growing interest in this issue - - inside City Hall and outside, too.

Background here.

Committee chairman Ald. Bob Bauman had indicated last week that there would be testimony and discussion, but no votes, given the complexity of the issues - - something underscored by the additional of so many new documents in the file.

Hate Radio Talker's Laughable Lawsuit Tossed

The rightwing talk show host Michael Savage, whose homophobic, anti-immigrant and autism-belittling rants are heard Monday-Friday on WTMJ AM 620, has had his ridiculous, ratings-generating, anti-free speech lawsuit tossed out of court.

Let's hear it for activist judges! Actually, hooray for judges who spot a frivolous, fake lawsuit when they see it.

One of these days, WTMJ management will decide that its constant right-wing talk show menu keeps driving Milwaukee-area away listeners.

If not for its sports programming, the station would have lost its perch as the region's leading AM station years ago.

Waukesha County Expert Sums Up The Affordable Housing Issue

Said the Executive Director of the Waukesha County Housing Authority, when discussing affordable housing needs in New Berlin:

"You don't serve the low-income people by locating them away from the job market."

But that's precisely the case in New Berlin, with 38,000 people and a growing job base, but also with just 80 units of affordable housing (most for seniors), and no direct transit service to the New Berlin economy for Milwaukee workers.

A situation that will become exacerbated with the introduction in central New Berlin of Lake Michigan water, where New Berlin - - with its minimal stock of affordable housing - - projects 1,119 new housing units and another 5,668 jobs.

Full context of the New Berlin affordable housing materials cited, here.

Rail Transit Is A Matter Of The New Economic Realities

Rick Esenberg, trapped in the pre-$4-a-gallon-mindset, decides to argue that passenger rail transit is more a matter of faith for some than a matter of economics.

His post is here.

I disagree.

Rick argues that rail is antiquated because it moves people from one fixed point to another.

But modern light rail systems are built with multiple stops - - and can be extended into more suburban settings at longer distances if the riders and residents choose that model.

He says that rail requires subsidies, but forgets to mention that roads are 100% subsidized, and if some politicians get their way, you'll have to pay a toll (a fee, close to a tax) to drive on a road you've already been taxed to help build and maintain.

You'd think continual taxation and double-billing would drive conservatives like Rick to the breaking point, but somehow, the existence of a 100% governmentally-funded highway system that keeps the big government road-building bureaucracies up and running is okey-dokey with them.

Driving does offer motorists a level of freedom to choose a route and a schedule, but we all know how often that's foiled by the orange barrels, rain, snow, or the knucklehead five miles ahead who caused an accident and tied up traffic for hours.

Yeah - - we know that freedom: the freedom to stay stuck in traffic, and if you're on one of those big highways Rick prefers, it's likely to have exits only every few miles, so you sit and enjoy the freedom to be trapped, and delayed.

I was on Amtrak's Hiawatha train to Chicago and back yesterday. The train was packed, and got more crowded when it picked up a large group getting on at the new Mitchell Airport stop.

Amtrak offers Chicago fliers a nice additional choice - - rail service connecting at Mitchell to Midwest Airlines- - so rail can provide alternatives if you are creative in the planning.

And did I mention the freedom from airport parking lot costs?

The federal trust fund that provides highway dollars to the states for 80% of new road construction is basically broke, but the highway lobby wants the fund replenished for the next five-year cycle, and higher gas taxes and tolls are likely to be the solution to keep the construction cycle going.

Of course, that will entail another cycle of repairs and maintenance - - even though driving is tailing off because of spiking gas prices.

Is the solution to keep pushing new roads farther from employment centers, yet charging people more and more taxes and fees to cover this one-dimensional option?

Transit, particularly new rail, including city light rail, commuter lines and the national high-speed network, will, by virtue of economic necessity, become preferred alternatives - - for people with cars and even for people who own them - - because the era of cheap gas and 'free' motoring is over.

That's the new paradigm, whether Rick sees it or not, and to address it, states and the federal government need to get transportation financing spread more evenly between highways and transit, with the highway and road portion devoted more to repairing what we have.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pabst Farm Mall Operators Provide Officials With Private Jet, Tour

The folks trying to get a mall built at Pabst Farms and an interstate ramp paid for mostly with public dollars flew a bunch of Oconomowoc and Waukesha County officials on a whirlwind tour of mall properties down south.

Nice bit of reporting by the Journal Sentinel, by the way.

The Oconomowoc officials ponied up public dollars towards the trip - - and voters there can decide at election time if they approved of the expenditure.

So far, the county crew that went along, including County Executive Dan Vrakas, hasn't paid anything towards its share of the expenses, so as it stands now, for the county guys, it's a junket and day to feel like bigshots.

Hometown Blogger Swats Mary Lazich

Linda Richter, blogging on the same Journal Communications website on which Mary Lazich's blog appears, has posted a roundup of the Republican State Senator's negative reviews. (Full disclosure: my blog is used for one citation.

Even Citizens for Responsible Government, the small-government-cut-taxation crowd, is mad at Lazich. I mean, really mad.

I know they say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but maybe that's not true in all cases, or at least this one.

Marc Eisen, Media Role Model

Long-time Isthmus editor Marc Eisen has resigned, essentially laying himself off, to help save the newspaper.

If that's not class, you tell me what is.

Fragmented Public Planning And Disconnected Action Benefits No One

The Journal Sentinel argues in a Friday editorial that the New Berlin - - Milwaukee water agreement should be signed, and that related matters, like affordable housing and transit, while important, should be handled separately.

This is the crux of the regional planning deficit that holds back inclusive development in the region: issues are addressed piecemeal, without coordination, and the results reflect it.

For example, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) has moved forward a freeway expansion plan for the surrounding seven counties that has no transit elements in it.

The planning commission's water supply study is not looking at the relationship of water and growth to housing needs and transit options.

The planning commission has not produced a housing study for the region since 1975.

And Milwaukee County's transit system, against national trends, is losing riders.

What's been allowed is a crazy-quilt of sprawl development beyond Milwaukee, itself land-locked by a special state law, that has created water demand and road-building, without regard for consequences as varied as air quality to employment opportunities.

That's why we find today that Milwaukee workers cannot easily get to new jobs in the area where New Berlin wants Lake Michigan water because there is no direct bus service from Milwaukee to the New Berlin Industrial Park.

That ended in 2004.

And the New Berlin area that is get Lake Michigan water is also projected to see more than 1,100 new housing units built - - but without an already-identified affordable housing component.

All this piecemeal and disconnected planning (it's almost unfair to planners to call it planning) and anecdotal governmental action is not wasteful of public dollars and resources.

It's also not sustainable - - especially as gasoline escalates in price.

Isn't this the right moment for the community as a whole, as a region, to stop and ask: What Are We Doing? Isn't There Another Way?

These issues are not too complex to be addressed simultaneously, as the newspaper suggests is the case. They are, in fact, at the heart of Smart Growth, something the newspaper has correctly endorsed.

There is time to make the Milwaukee - - New Berlin water deal more of a comprehensive arrangement.

Failing to do it will be yet another missed opportunity, one that will replicate itself when the larger diversion proposals come in from communities west of New Berlin.

A final thought:

Strong direction and leadership by the state about the proper framework for inter-community water deals now permissible under the Great Lakes Compact, with input from both the Public Service Commission and Department of Natural Resources, could still provide some needed guidance and further rationalize this process.

Robbers ("Thugs?") Allegedly Targeted, Burned Indian Gas Station Operators

We learn that police have charged two men with a string of 20 Milwaukee-area robberies in which Indian-owned gas stations were targeted and victims doused with hot coffee.

The allegation of the immigrants' targeting was confirmed by the suspects, according to police.

Are the perpetrators two men who made bad decisions, or are they thugs?
Just asking.

I checked several righty blogs where the "thug" word gets tossed around purportedly without discrimination, but so far, I see nothing.

Makes you wonder what thug-worthy behavior really is, unless you happen to be Lee Holloway, the villainous chairman of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, and, why then, it's clear as a bell.

Apologizes if I missed it anywhere.

Conservative Blogger Discovers That Non-Profit Groups Donate Money To...Non-Profit Groups!

The Widgerson Library & Pub blog is ripping Clean Wisconsin, a Madison-based environmental organization, for raising money to push for clean air and water.

'Discovering' that non-profit organizations raise money from other non-profit organizations, Widgerson publishes a list of the group's institutional donors over the last four years, including a California foundation which says its goals are new energy-conserving technologies in the world's largest energy-consuming nations - - the US and China.

Who's against that?

Do we like air pollution wafting our way from coal-fired powerplants, and the mercury it deposits in our rivers and lakes>

Is the horror that there are out-of-state donors involved, like, perhaps, the out-of-state donors who supplied advertising dollars to support the candidacies of State Supreme Court candidates Anne Ziegler and Michael Gableman?

All perfectly legal, both for Clean WI and for the campaigns' "independent expenditure" supporters - - except those campaign donors are not disclosed.

Clean Wisconsin's donors are disclosed. Looks like a group of foundations that are in favor of clean air and water.

So what's the big deal?

Milwaukee Committee Will Delay New Berlin Water Sale Decision

Citing the issue's complexity, Milwaukee aldermen will take public testimony next Tuesday at its Public Works committee on a proposed water sale to New Berlin, but delay action until September, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

This blog has carried items the last few days on the proposed deal - - example here - - which includes a $1.5 million, one-time payment by New Berlin in addition to wholesale purchases of water estimated at $966,000 in the first year of the agreement.

The two communities also have agreed to a yearly meeting to discuss employment issues, and will sign a pledge not to raid each other's industries.

My position on the agreement is that it is a good first step, but does not address the full value of water, or its full relationship to development that New Berlin estimates at 1,119 new housing units and 5,668 new jobs.

New Berlin's median home value, according to the 2000 census, was $162,000, so 1,119 new housing units translates eventually to about $180,000,000 in new tax base - - maybe more, maybe less, depending on the housing mix, and, of course, the market.

Another ballpark number: 5,668 jobs in the area where water is headed. At, say, $12 per hour, that means about $24,000 per year in salary per job, or an eventual total annual payroll of $136,000,000.

Since I'm not throwing in overtime or benefits, or big management salaries, I'd say that's a pretty conservative number, and I know it will take some years to reach the maximum number of jobs.

And I know that not all those employees will live in New Berlin, but a decent percentage might.

And I have no idea how to calculate the potential value of expanded or new business or commercial properties to house those new employees, or the retail and other taxable spin-off developments and employment that will occur nearby.

Suffice it to say there will be some of that kind of spin-off for New Berlin.

My point is that the diverted Lake Michigan water is aimed at an area in New Berlin where that citysays there will be substantial development.

The question is: is the water-supplying community getting adequate compensation in return, both financially and socially?

Take affordable housing and transportation infrastructure - - two huge expenses that fall heavily on Milwaukee, where most of the region's lower-income residents live.

There is no direct Milwaukee County transit service to the heart of this area in New Berlin - - its Industrial Park.

Also; New Berlin also only has 80 units of so-called "affordable housing," nearly of which is for seniors, not low-income families or single persons - - the very Milwaukee workers who face a more-than-two-hour bus and charter coach ride to the Industrial Park, and who might benefit from more affordable housing in New Berlin if there were more units.

Affordable housing and transit improvements are among the areas of sprawl development mitigation that the city wants addressed in potential water sales to communities outside of the Great Lakes basin now allowed by the Great Lakes Compact.

The portion of New Berlin that the proposed water sale will serve is outside of the basin.

Much of the discussion on the 29th at the Common Council hearing will turn on these economic, social and regional policy issues.

A delay in consideration until September will give aldermen and city staff time to ask more questions and gather more information; infrastructure at the Milwaukee Water Works to move water to New Berlin would not be completed until 2009 at the earliest, so there is ample time to make sure the right questions are framed, researched and answered before deals are signed and money is spent.

It's not an 11th-hour time frame. More like hour nine or 10.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Transportation Spending Distortions Keep Hammering Milwaukee Taxpayers

Early discussions related to the 2009 Milwaukee budget are underway at City Hall about how to pay for street repairs.

Then the decisions:

Will there be an additional $5 street services fee?

A $20 per-registered vehicle, the so-called wheel tax?

No one wants to pay more fees or taxes, but one variation or another will likely be in the budget to stretch property tax dollars and provide the street services that are basic to running a city.

The craziness of this situation is rooted in state transportation spending and special-interest politics, with billions ticketed for road-building, regardless of the drop-off in driving due to high gasoline prices and the resulting, rekindled public interest in transit.

The Milwaukee government has asked the state to reduce by $200 million its commitment to the $1.9 billion reconstruction and widening of I-94 from the Mitchell Interchange south to the Illinois state line, with the $200 million redirected into commuter rail.

That effort was led by Milwaukee Ald. Bob Bauman.

The state has refused.

That leaves commuters south of Milwaukee eight years of orange barrel hell, and the highway-only option.

And city residents will see none of the state's new-highway budgeted billions for local services - - pothole repairs, snow removal, and other maintenance basics - - let alone a genuine transit upgrade for the region, or for, gasp!, local rail transit.

To make matter worse, a state legislative study committee is soon to begin work at the State Capitol on easing regional transportation authorities' abilities to launch new rail systems - - but state legislative leaders couldn't figure out a way to put Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's nominee on the 22-member panel.

Barrett's nominee? The aforementioned Ald. Bauman.

Of sixteen seats on the committee not designated for legislators, six went to Madisonians.

The state is not pledged to a "fix-it-first" approach to transportation spending, or "transit-first-or-second."

The City of Milwaukee, with streets and infrastructure to pay for, and obstructed by a county executive hostile to the transit system he operates, is thus forced to tap its residents for either fees or new taxes to maintain a one-dimensional status-quo.

All in all, not a good outlook for Milwaukee, the state's largest city, and with the largest number of transit-users, too.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

WisDOT Can't Find Wetlands To Fix As Compensation For I-94 Wetlands Damage

The Daily Reporter's Sean Ryan (just give him the 2008 award for best continuing reporting right now) brings us yet another bizarre twist on the $1.9 billion state transportation department plan to rebuild and widen I-94 from Milwaukee to Illinois:

The agency is obligated to compensate the public for damage to wetlands the project will entail - - at least 76 acres - - by repairing or improving wetlands in exchange, but darned if so far the agency can't find any available.

I've always been suspicious of these wetlands remediation exchanges: you pave one over here, then clean one up over there - - but, really, to what standard, and for how long, while the former wetland is gone under concrete forever.

Put this wetlands SNAFU on top of these issues - - driving is down, so the already not-congested corridor needs the new 70 miles of lanes even less, and the agency's refusal to swap the new, not-needed lanes for a commuter rail line ready to go parallel to the freeway corridor.

This project is shaping up as one of the goofiest highway projects ever planned in Wisconsin.

Regrettably, it's pegged as the most expensive state road project in history.

More regrettable, its cost represents only 30% of the entire 25-year, seven-county, $6.5 billion freeway reconstruction and expansion (127 miles of new lanes) plan served up by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission in 2003 - - when gasoline cost $2.30-a-gallon.

Xoff Continues His Antiwar Focus

I appreciate the anti-war effort being put forth by Bill Christofferson, a/k/a the blogger Xoff.

He's not running politicians' campaigns anymore, which leaves him time to carryout antiwar organizing online and in the community.

Here is a recent posting, with a schedule of upcoming events.

Conservatives who choose to take on Bill over the peace issue usually don't have his credentials and credibility he earned during two tours in Vietnam as a US Marine.

Regional Transit Committee Begins Work At The Capitol - - Without Mayor Barrett's Nominee

There are high hopes for quick passage of legislation to enable regional transit authorities to get rail systems in place in Wisconsin.

Details are in a Capital Times story about the upcoming work of a 22-member bi-partisan legislative study council committee.

And while no city in the state has more transit riders than the City of Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett's request that Ald. Robert Bauman, the Common Council's acknowledged transit expert, be included on the study committee was not accepted by the legislature's leadership.

Here is the committee list: It's hard not to notice that 27% of the committee - - 6/22 - - is from Madison. Take out the legislators from the membership and Madison got 6 of the remaining 16 slots, or 38%.

It's true that there is a representative on the committee from the Milwaukee County transit system, as well as from the Milwaukee legislative delegation - - State Rep. Barbara Toles, (D) - - but the specific perspective of the Milwaukee city government should have been on the committee.

It reminds me of the 21-member running the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

There is representation for Milwaukee County, but none for the City of Milwaukee.

I have a great deal of respect for Rep. Toles. Her voice as a Milwaukee legislator will carry weight on the committee.

The legislative study committee has important work before it. There is a pressing need for rail transit and other improvements in Wisconsin that serve those who choose not to drive, or do not have access to an automobile.

And Milwaukee's city government represents more of those citizens than any other city in the state.

That perspective needs to be front and center in transit discussions in Wisconsin. Bob Bauman knows this stuff cold, and the committee is weaker without him.

Stormwater Pollution Still A Huge Problem In Madison

Even with the Department of Natural Resources right there, and a long-traditional of environmentalism, Madison still struggles with stormwater problems.

Kinda surprising.

Michael Savage's Attack On Autism Suffers Brings Sponsor And Station Cancellations

Michael Savage's unnecessary and cruel assault on autism's victims has brought about some advertising and station cancellations.

Isn't time that AM 620 WTMJ find something or someone else to put in this hate-monger's time slot?

Milwaukee, MMSD, And Developers Seem To Agree On Stormwater Reduction Measures

It looks like the public and private sectors are in agreement on new rules to limit stormwater runoff in new development, street reconstruction and other projects.

It's part of a pro-active effort to keep runoff and pollution out of tributaries and pipes that feed into Lake Michigan.

A good backgrounder from the Daily Reporter is here.

There's a "Banned From State Street List"

I didn't know you could do this. I'll bet some legislators are worried.

Milwaukee Water Would Flow To New Berlin Growth Area; Transit There From Milwaukee Called "Inadequate"

A City of Milwaukee report in a package of materials provided to the Common Council for a July 29th committee vote on whether to sell Lake Michigan water to central New Berlin says the destination could see thousands of new jobs, but has inadequate transit connections to Milwaukee.

The report indicates that the area in New Berlin's middle third to which Milwaukee water would be delivered could eventually see more than 5,600 new jobs, but says the employment situation there is"constrained by inadequate public transportation."

Bus service from Milwaukee is currently provided by Milwaukee County Transit Service Route #10 as far west as Brookfield Square - - a 55-minute ride from downtown Milwaukee - - then by a contracted bus operated by Waukesha's transit system through Wisconsin Coach Lines to the New Berlin Industrial Park, for example.

The Coach service has a $3.50 round-trip fare; the Milwaukee County transit round trip to Brookfield Square is $4.50.

That $8.00 daily cost can drop to $6.70 with the purchase of Milwaukee transit weekly passes or Wisconsin Coach ticket ten-packs.

A round trip ride from downtown Milwaukee to the New Berlin Industrial Park on both bus lines is more than two hours, not including layover time at Brookfield Square.

Full schedule and fare information is here.

Milwaukee County's bus Route #6 formerly went directly to the New Berlin Industrial Park, but that service ended in 2004.

The complete City of Milwaukee jobs' analysis report, with the transit discussion, is here.

What's important about the report is that Milwaukee has several existing Common Council resolutions that, as a matter of policy, tie potential out-of-community water sales to a broader agenda.

That agenda includes transit, affordable housing and other regional improvements that Milwaukee believes will help alleviate social and economic pressures in southeastern Wisconsin that fall disproportionately on the state's biggest city.

It's Milwaukee's way of trying to leverage water sales towards a broader regional agenda.

Does the proposed agreement meet those expectations?

Some of these issues will be aired at a Common Council Public Improvements committee meeting at 10:30 a.m. at City Hall.

The potential water sale, if approved by Milwaukee and New Berlin, would include a yearly meeting between the cities on employment and job access issues, along with a no-raiding pledge and a $1.5 million one-time payment to Milwaukee.

Milwaukee will have to decide if the deal adequately links the water sale to regional issues, such as access to jobs and affordable housing: New Berlin currently has 80 such units in its jurisdiction, nearly all of them targeted to seniors, not low-income families.

Records filed with Milwaukee by New Berlin also indicate the possibility of 1,119 new housing units being built in the acreage to which Milwaukee water would be delivered.

First year wholesale water revenues to Milwaukee would be $966,000; infrastructure costs to the Milwaukee Water Works would be about $6.8 million.

Further details on the possible water deal are here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Louisiana Blogger Corrects Record About Katrina Oil Spills

This blogger corrects statements made by John McCain and others about oil spills following Hurricane Katrina, here.

A broken storage tank owned by Murphy Oil was among the culprits.

New Berlin Housing Information In Water Sale Documentation Back On Milwaukee City Website

One document disclosing information about possible housing construction in a portion of New Berlin that could be served by a potential City of Milwaukee water sale had been off-line for a day.

I had cited it in this posting, and readers had asked me why the link to the document was not active.

The document, which also discloses data about affordable housing in New Berlin and other Waukesha County communities, is now available, here.

New Berlin Transit Cost And Related Issues, In More Detail

I have edited the previous post about a possible water sale to New Berlin to reflect the cost of bus service from Milwaukee to New Berlin, including its industrial park.

Here are the facts, after discussions with the providers.

Milwaukee County Transit System Route #10 provides service to Brookfield Square. A round trip is $4.50, which includes two, 25-cent zone fare add-ons to the $4 round-trip price ($2 each way).

A weekly pass costs $16, plus the zone fares, so five round-trips a week would cost $18.50, or $3.70 a day.

(Prior to 2004, Milwaukee County did offer a direct bus - - Route #6 - - to the New Berlin Industrial Park. That service has been discontinued.)

A Milwaukee rider can still get to the New Berlin Industrial Park and other stops along the way by transferring at Brookfield Square to Waukesha's Route 218, operated by Wisconsin Coach.

That round-trip fare is $3.50, or $1.75 each way.

Wisconsin Coach offers a ten-pack of tickets for $15, or $1.50 per ticket, reducing the daily round-trip cost on this leg of the journey to $3.

Fare, route and other information about Route 218 is here.

So - - a Milwaukee worker headed to New Berlin on a regular weekly basis could ride every day, using both bus services, for $6.70, or $33.50 weekly.

I figure the time on both buses from downtown Milwaukee at 70 minutes, plus layover time at Brookfield Square, with similar times on the return, or at least two hours, 20 minutes on the bus and coach daily.

Milwaukee Water Could Help Create Thousands Of New Berlin Jobs Underserved By Transit

A City of Milwaukee report in a package of materials provided to the Common Council for a July 29th committee vote on whether to sell Lake Michigan water to central New Berlin says the water will be supplied to New Berlin acreage available for development that is not directly served by Milwaukee County Transit Service.

The report indicates that the New Berlin area to which the water is to be delivered could eventually see more than 5,600 jobs created; the lack of good transit to New Berlin is called a constraint on employers and Milwaukee residents trying to connect with each other.

The city report's language about the employer/employee connection is "constrained by inadequate public transportation."

Bus service is currently;y provided Milwaukee County Transit Service Route #10 as far west as Brookfield Square - - a 55-minute ride from downtown Milwaukee - - then by a contracted bus operated by Waukesha's transit system through Wisconsin Coach Lines to the New Berlin Industrial Park, for example.

That Coach service is a Monday-Friday operation only: with its $3.50 round-trip fare, and the Milwaukee County $4.50 round-trip Milwaukee-Brookfield Square charge (excluding any pass discounts), a round-trip by bus from Milwaukee to the New Berlin Industrial Park is as much as $8.00 daily.

Full schedule and fare information is here.

Milwaukee County's Route #6 formerly went directly to the industrial park, but that service was ended in 2004.

The City of Milwaukee jobs' analysis document, with the transit discussion, is here.

What's important about the document is that Milwaukee has several existing Common Council resolutions that, as a matter of policy, tie water sales to a broader agenda: transit growth, affordable housing and other regional improvements that Milwaukee expects to see in water-seeking communities to help alleviate certain social and economic pressures that fall disproportionately on the state's biggest city.

It's Milwaukee's way of trying to leverage water sales towards a broader regional agenda.

Does New Berlin's application for water and proposed agreements with Milwaukee meet those expectations?

The potential water sale could include a yearly meeting between Milwaukee and New Berlin on employment and access issues, along with a no-raiding pledge and a $1.5 million one-time payment.

Milwaukee will have to decide if New Berlin is adequately linking water acquisition to regional issues, such as access to jobs and affordable housing: it currently has 80 such units in its jurisdiction, nearly all of them targeted to seniors, not low-income families.

First year wholesale water revenues to Milwaukee would be $966,000; infrastructure costs to the Milwaukee Water Works would be about $6.8 million.

Details on the possible water deal are here.

Clean Wisconsin Reminds Us That Coal Is Not Clean

Mark Redsten, Clean Wisconsin's Executive Director, makes a compelling case in Sunday's Journal Sentinel Crossroads that Wisconsin and a healthy environment don't need Alliant Energy's proposed new coal-burning generating plant in Cassville.

Sales Tax Referendum Will Be A Tough Campaign

Newspaper editorial writers make campaign endorsements and write frequently about elections - - and now the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's editorial board, as a strong supporter of the one-cent sales tax November referendum ballot question, is about to experience a campaign rather close-up.

That is because Scott Walker, conservative talk radio and the other drown-government-in-a-bathtub ideologues will run their campaign at the Milwaukee County board majority that put the question on the ballot and also against the newspaper.

For the Right in this town, this is the Daily Double: they can run against government and against the newspaper, their favorite daily target (for some radio talkers, it's a fake conflict, for ratings only).

The paper's Sunday editorial (again linked here) lays out a cogent case for the additional penny sales tax, and explains how sales taxes do lower property taxes.

But it's a lengthy, detailed and complicated matter of economics to explain, and as candidates learn, making those kinds of arguments work in a campaign is an uphill slog.

That's why soundbites, bumper-stickers and catchy little slogans are so effective - - tricks of the trade mastered by Walker and his buddies on the radio.

I give the paper credit for sticking its editorial neck out on this issue. It's important.

And like a lot of campaigns, it won't be fun, because as H. L. Mencken observed (at least, I think it's Mencken), "politics ain't beanbag."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Michael Savage On Glenn Beck: Talk About A Dynamic Duo

Michael Savage made an audio appearance on the Glenn Beck show tonight on CNN.

MSNBC dumped the angry righty talker years ago for disgusting remarks about homosexuals; CNN gave Savage air time to explain away his hateful remarks about another group: children with autism and their parents.

Savage claimed he had been misquoted, though Beck played Savage's lengthy monologue, for which Savage had no apology.

Savage had said on his radio program - - yes, it still airs late at night and into the early morning hours on 62- WTMJ-AM - - that kids with autism were misdiagnosed brats with bad parents who faked their kids' symptoms to collect disability payments.

You can find more information on Savage's website, which is one of the uglier and least-professionally-appearing sites on the internet, here.

Savage regularly rants against Muslims, liberals, homosexuals, illegal immigrants and others whom he likes to call "the enemy within."

Given his penchant for self-destruction, you have to wonder whether Savage's real enemies are entirely internal.

I also wonder if any of our righty blogging friends, on behalf of people with troubled children, relatives or friends, will consider ascribing the "thu*" appellation to Savage?

On Gard! Cong. Steve Kagan Shows Up On Endangered List

Incumbent 8th District Democrat Congressman Steve Kagan shows up in a roundtable discussion of possible winners and losers in the November election.

Text and podcast here.

Kagan is a first-termer who took Mark Green's seat, vacated when Green to run and lose the '06 Governor's race.

His opponent is the ultra-rightist John Gard, the former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker who lost to Kagan in '06.

The pundits interviewed by Salon predict Democratic gains overall, but some losses, so Wisconsin Democrats may need a major effort in the Green Bay area to retain Kagan and foil Gard again.

Drunk Driving Homicide Convictions Still Yielding Minimal Sentences

A Milwaukee man ends up with a year in the House of Corrections, with six months of work release, for driving drunk and killing man.

The man admitted his crime to police and pleaded no contest to the charge.

Flight from the scene of the crime and prior OWI convictions do not seem to be present in the case, according to a preliminary story on the Journal Sentinel's Newswatch blog.

I'll reprint the first few paragraphs below.

I know incarceration does not bring a victim back to life, but the message in the sentencing seems to be that drunk driving homicide on a major Milwaukee street is still is not a big enough social outrage to offend the court.

From the paper's blog:

MONDAY, July 21, 2008, 12:26 p.m.By Crocker Stephenson
Driver sentenced in drunk driving death

A 42-year-old Milwaukee man was sentenced this morning to a year in the House of Correction for a February drunk-driving death.

Alan T. Pointer struck and killed Percy Chambers on Feb. 7, around 10:50 p.m., as Chambers was crossing the 2400 block of King Dr.

Las month, Pointer pleaded no contest to homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle.

Water Sale Agreement To New Berlin Is Insufficient, Premature

Props to Gretchen Schuldt for publishing the first details of proposed agreements between Milwaukee and New Berlin to send Lake Michigan water to the so-called middle portion of New Berlin that is outside of the Great Lakes Basin.

The key elements of the plan, in addition to recurring revenues from the sale of water, would include a one-time $1.5 million payment to Milwaukee's general fund, proposed by Alds. Michael Murphy and James Bohl, an annual meeting to discuss employment and job access issues, and a pledge by both communities against raiding each other's businesses.

$1.5 million is equal to a one-time bonus of about 18 months of first-year revenue to Milwaukee from New Berlin for the Lake Michigan diversion, according to information submitted to the Common Council by the Milwaukee Water Works.

That first year revenue is expected to be $996,000, the documents show.

That rate is based on what the Public Service Commission permitted to be charged for an earlier diversion Menomonee Falls - - a wholesale rate of that the utility calls a "commodity charge" $0.668 per 1,000 gallons of water. (p. of the document).

Or looked at another way, $1.5 million is a premium equal to an upfront annual payment of $75,000 per year covering the 20 year agreement, (see p. 7).

That payment presumably could be used for anything from tax relief to housing, transit or other needs that Milwaukee has justifiably felt it has managed without sufficient regional cooperation.

More about that below.

Sources at City Hall say that without strong objections at a July 29th Common Council committee Public Works committee meeting, the plan is likely to win approval.

My view is that adoption is premature, for the reasons stated below, and remember - - New Berlin is not in a water crisis - - so there is time to consider and produce more information that would inform and improve a final, better plan.

Documents included in a package of resolutions and reports to be considered by the council committee indicate that substantial communications have taken place between Milwaukee and New Berlin negotiators.

What is missing is an answer to this question:

Given that the water can spur development in New Berlin, and that water is a finite resource under known social and physical pressures, and given that this will be only the first of many diversion-and-water-sale applications, has the water's true value been calculated and recognized in the proposed agreements?

This question has been given some consideration, as the one-time $1.5 million payment is on the table separate from per-gallon water-sale charges, and infrastructure costs.

But what is the origin of the $1.5 million figure, and what is it intended to cover?

And given the potential development benefit to accrue to New Berlin from this new, fresh water delivery, frankly, is it enough?

Documentation submitted in both New Berlin's diversion application made to the State of Wisconsin, and included in the council committee packet, indicate that New Berlin's growth plans show a potential 1,119 units of new housing (p. 8 in that highlighted document) in the area to which the diverted water would go.

[Update: that link was not working, but has been corrected by the city. The housing data also appears on p. 21 of the New Berlin diversion application, here.]

6.5% of the new, probable construction is expected to be multi-unit housing of some type, though it is not clear from the documentation if any of those units are for the typical residents of affordable housing - - low-income and elderly persons.

More about affordable housing in a moment.

Even in today's depressed housing market, $1.5 million could equal the value of less than a handful of new housing units in the area to which the new supply of Lake Michigan water will be directed.

And what about added tax base to service that new housing - - industry, commercial properties, and retail shops?

So $1.5 million is a lot of money, but you have to consider its complete context.

I think the negotiators should go back to the table and come up with a different number that is based on water's relationship to tax-base development and sharing - - a big piece of the true-value concept.

Since this will be the first diversion sale under the framework of the Great Lakes Compact, thus precedent-setting, the water-value question should be answered before applications and sales are approved in Wisconsin and the region.

Here is another question that should be examined:

Does the proposed sale meet existing City of Milwaukee policies, which call for the existence of affordable housing programs in the purchasing communities as a prior consideration?

And there is a related requirement expressed in city policy - - "...that any diversion request include an analysis of the impact of such diversion on land use, transportation and economic development, and how comprehensive planning, including conservation planning can mitigate negative effects.' (Council resolution 040646, adopted unanimously 9/21/04).

Is Milwaukee satisfied that the sale and related agreements meet that broad planning and land-use expectation?

The documents state that New Berlin currently provides 80 units of affordable housing, or about 6% of the 1,300 provided throughout Waukesha County.

This data and the data below are at this link, pages 9-10.

The City of Waukesha leads with 811, then New Berlin with 80, Menomomee Falls, 78, Hartland, 72, Sussex, 50. Pewaukee, 46 and Brookfield, 45.

No other community has more than 40; Butler has three, Elm Grove has one.

The date do not differentiate between affordable housing for senior citizens and for low-income families or individuals not seniors.

And you wonder why housing and economic justice advocates say it's unacceptable that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission hasn't written a regional housing plan with affordable housing recommendations since 1975?

[Again, this document had been taken off the city's website, but is back as of Tuesday.]

To some, this will be a matter of semantics, but does Milwaukee consider 80 existing units sufficient in a city that borders Milwaukee?

Also consider the cost to the Milwaukee Water Works of upgrading its pumps and other equipment to push water past the subcontinental divide.

Documents indicate that the Milwaukee Water Works has been planning infrastructure expenditures separate from New Berlin's application that total $6,850,000, and those improvements, given their location, will allow the utility to deliver water to New Berlin.

Even if these scheduled improvements are totally coincidental to the New Berlin plan, shouldn't it bear some portion of those costs, since without them, Lake Michigan water cannot get to New Berlin unless it built a separate intake system of its own, or paid Oak Creek or Racine to pump it.?

Maybe infrastructure cost-sharing needs to be another piece of the agreement?

And what happens when the City of Waukesha comes forward with a diversion application that could call for six times as much diverted water than what New Berlin wants?

If New Berlin isn't charged some or all of the Milwaukee infrastructure cost, neither will Waukesha and the growing number of other communities who will be lining up for a water deal, and will not want to pay one cent beyond what New Berlin was charged.

And who would blame them?

Every car purchaser, home buyer and government official knows a signed agreement is tough to renegotiate and then amend.

That's why you get all the questions out on the table at the beginning, and make the best eventual deal you can.

I think the negotiators have approached some of the regional issues with the one-time payment concept.

But questions about its sufficiency aside, the negotiators have not addressed the full water value issue.

It's a big, important, historic issue. Perhaps both parties need to engage some independent expertise.

It's not a new idea.

An attorney for the City of Waukesha Water Utility suggested it years ago as a way for New Berlin to eventually win Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee.

So we're at the beginning of a process, not a decision-point.

One final thought:

Basic social issues in the region that are related to water and its development potential are not being studied by the water supply advisory committee created by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Water Commission.

From its beginning, that study was aimed at nuts-and-bolts, cost-benefit analyses.

Who has excess water-pumping and treatment capacity? Milwaukee.

Who has excess water needs? Some suburbs.

What's the solution most likely to be recommended by SEWRPC: Meet the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact, have Milwaukee deliver Lake Michigan water to buyers, and continue to validate regional sprawl away from Milwaukee that has been enabled by SEWRPC master land-use plan.

The lack of a big-picture analysis creates further need for Milwaukee and New Berlin to go several steps further and frame this proposed water sale as the regional model that it will surely become.

New Berlin is under a consent decree to provide cleaner water to its customers, but the authorities have extended the deadlines because the city was making good faith efforts to come up with a solution.

Knowing that Lake Michigan was a likely supply option down the road, New Berlin deferred the purchase of expensive filtration equipment that could have already been in place and removing naturally-occurring radium in its well water.

It preferred the Lake Michigan option.

Heavy rainfall in both 2007 and 2008 has helped New Berlin avoid severe supply problems.

This means both Milwaukee and New Berlin have time to get more information for consideration, and to deliver that information to their constituents and people across the Great Lakes region, all of whom, given that these waters are held in common trust, are on a definite "need-to-know" basis.

Milwaukee County Continues To Miss The Transit Boom

Milwaukee County, run by an executive who prefers that everyone drive a person vehicle, doesn't make the cut in this national CNN report on the transit boom.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Good-Bye Midwest Airlines' Options, Hello...Detroit!

Yeah, we remember the bad old days, when flying was a luxury aimed at business travelers and the wealthy, and if you wanted to get out of Wisconsin by plane, it often meant descending into aviation hell, better known as the Northwest Airlines' hub in Detroit.

For customer misery, it often rivaled Chicago's O'Hare.

I remember missing my grandmother's Florida funeral because an emergency exit chute on my Northwest connecting flight deployed as we were being pulled back from the gate, and our departure was stalled for several crucial hours.

That and any number of delayed flights and chaotic cattle calls at the boarding gates.

Witnesses tell me that things are better now, but to tell you the truth, I haven't flown on a domestic connection out of Detroit in years. Life's too short.

Let's just say that one of Midwest's virtues was that you didn't have to find out first-hand.

Midwest's route cuts will leave us fewer options, but at least we still have the hometown carrier, albeit slimmed down.

One Wisconsin Community Deals Head-On, And Positively, With Plastic Bags

The Village of Shorewood, at the northern border of the City of Milwaukee near the UW-Milwaukee campus, as dealt creatively with the plastic bag proble by giving everyhouse hold a free cloth alternative.

The lead was taken by Sustainable Shorewood.

Pretty neat. Details here.

One Wisconsin Community Deals Head-On, And Positively, With Plastic Bags

The Village of Shorewood, at the northern border of the City of Milwaukee near the UW-Milwaukee campus, has dealt creatively with the plastic bag proble by giving everyhouse hold a free, resusable alternative.

The collaborative effort was led by Sustainable Shorewood.

Pretty neat. Details here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Open Records' Fee Abuses Keep Public Records Private

The Freeman has posted a useful investigation - - though I don't have a paid subscription and can only link to the short version online - - about the differences in open record charges governments make inquiring citizens pay.

I've worked in the public sector, and I know that charging anything more than the actual few cents-per-page cost is unnecessary, and has two consequences:

Government squeezes a few extra cents or dollars out of a taxpaying citizen, and some people just stop asking, so records that are in the public domain do not circulate.

Some agencies will also tack on "search fees" of many dollars an hour, even though the search is a computer in-house search engine function, not a staffer's commitment of hours pouring through paper files and folders in a warehouse.

And in many cases, I'd argue that finding and copying records for a citizen is a reasonable part of a public employe's job, so adding a fee for the employe's time is a form of double-billing a taxpayer.

I was asked two years ago by one local government to provide a $500 deposit for the acquisition of some computerized documents, and after a legal struggle, did not have to pay those fees.

There are circumstances when asking for some fees are appropriate: massive search requests, or perhaps when the documents are being used in a lawsuit or corporate claim or out-of-town request - - circumstances different than when media or citizens walk into a local government office and want records, and intend to further circulate them in the public arena.

State law provides exceptions to the charging of fees, but it's up to the holder of the record to charge or waive them, and too often, waivers are not granted because it's a way for the agency to make a few bucks or to discourage people from using the state's strong open records law.

The foundation of the state open records law is that it's in the public interest for wide release and distribution of information that is in the public domain, and the presumption is that a record, by its very existence, is already public and should be released, with few exceptions.

Charging onerous fees to keep information away from citizens is a tacky way to let public officials exercise too much power, and to undermine the law.

[Update: Here are the key paragraphs' data:

"On July 1, The Freeman filed open records requests with seven county school districts asking for copies of travel expense reimbursements and credit card statements for district administrators and school board members during the past fiscal year.

'In the requests, The Freeman asked the districts to inform us if the documents would cost more than $20. The Muskego-Norway School District, Pewaukee School District and Kettle Moraine School Districts have notified the paper they’re proceeding with the requests but didn’t say they would cost more than $20.

"Records received from the New Berlin School District cost $10.80 for 108 pages and from the Hamilton School District it cost $20 for 24 pages of documents.

"But the Waukesha School District said its 550 pages would cost $535 and the Elmbrook School District’s 490 pages would cost at least $350.

"In a July 3 letter from Waukesha Superintendent Todd Gray, he said it’ll cost $220 for copies of reimbursements and $315 for the 18 hours it would take district staff to assemble the records, according to the district business office.

"The district charges 20 cents per page to copy documents and charges $18 per hour to have finance department support staff go over the records, Jason Demerath, interim director of business services for the Waukesha School District, said.

"To figure out labor costs, he said the district estimates it would take two minutes of looking at a document to figure out if it was an administrator and if it was for travel.

"Bob Borsch, assistant superintendent of business services for Elmbrook, said the district has a policy of charging 30 cents per copy and estimates that it would take 20 hours of labor at $10 per hour to perform the task.

"In contrast, New Berlin only charged 10 cents per copy and no labor."

Feingold Supports Plans To Rid Great Lakes Of Invasive Species

Wisconsin's US Senator Russ Feingold (D) says he favors programs and requirements that would remove invasive species from ocean-going freighters and keep the harmful organisms out of the Great Lakes.

This is in the context of first-ever serious discussion of closing the lakes to these vessels because they carry in species that are damaging the waters and related economies.

Moving this sort of legislation through the US Congress and getting the cooperation of the Canadian government and multiple shipping and commercial interests could take years; far too much time has been wasted already, so Feingold and others who are taking on this issue need our full support.

SEWRPC Documents Posted, As Promised; Why Doesn't SEWRPC Do This?

The other day I posted data and quotations from several reports produced by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
The materials supported my claim that SEWRPC has done a poor job hiring minority staffers, and that is a component of my argument that Milwaukee, ill-served by SEWRPC management and governance, should leave the seven-county agency and spend its share of the SEWRPC tax levy that it is dunned each year on plans and people attuned to urban issues.

SEWRPC knows that minorities and others living in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha Counties find it hard to work at SEWRPC because the agency has always been located in Waukesha County, where there is little transit service, SEWRPC records indicate.

Yet SEWRPC moved farther west in 2002, to Pewaukee, where there is no transit service, but where the agency could provide more parking for workers driving there, SEWRPC records show.

I also said I'd post these SEWRPC materials because the agency does not provide them online, so thanks to the good folks at One Wisconsin Now (disclosure: I am on the board of directors of one of its groups), the items have been converted to pdf's, and I can make them available online through this blog.

Here are the links:

1. The 1996-1997 SEWRPC Affirmative Action Plan - - the agency's first.

2. The 2007-2008 SEWRPC Affirmative Action Plan, for comparison.

3. Two pages from the minutes of the 2/24/00 SEWRPC Executive Committee in which SEWRPC indicates it is pursuing the purchase of a building that is now its headquarters, in part to provide better parking to employees. See the bracketed portion at the bottom of the first copied page.

Of course, SEWRPC could put all these documents online.

It could also tape the proceedings of its commission and advisory committee meetings, and put those online, too.

It could offer online biographies and photos of its commissioners, so you could match up names with faces and resumes and get a better idea of who is hiring the managers that are writing SEWRPC's reports.

It could bring its entire online web operation into the first decade of the 21st century, something that is years away from achieving - - and which helps keep SEWRPC operations, meetings and hiring below the radar, far from the population centers of its seven-county region, not even on a bus line.

Anyway: those are the documents to which I referred.

I believe they fully support the case for Milwaukee withdrawing from SEWRPC, and directing the hundreds of thousands of tax dollars that are forwarded annually to SEWRPC from the city into planning and staffing that seeks out an urban agenda and workforce.