I can't imagine Sarah Palin can sustain this for four years, and by 2012, she'll be yesterday's papers.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Regional transit planning in Wisconsin could be better coordinated in 2009 with a Democratic legislature and federal policy-making agenda.
The recent effort to begin regional transit planning in Wisconsin has thus wound down.
If Milwaukee had its own regional planning organization (a point I have argued in blog posts and op-eds), and with transit an urban priority, the region and the state would have been that much farther ahead.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:00 AM
Friday, November 28, 2008
What a relief it will be to have the private sector lobbyists and other assorted self-interested Bush administration hacks dismissed from the Department of the Interior and similar agencies in favor of true public resource protection and stewardship personnel.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:36 PM
Wisconsin Environment offers a blueprint for the country's conversion to renewable fuels.
The Obama administration should run with these plans, and the Doyle administration can boost initiatives in this direction, too, because the benefits are economic and environmental.
If not now, when?
Posted by James Rowen at 8:49 AM
The Journal Sentinel editorial board is on the right side of the affordable housing issue in Waukesha County.
As this blog as observed often, affordable housing in the region has been forced into the City of Milwaukee and other urbanized areas, with smaller cities preferring upscale subdivisions, and using local zoning codes as the legal means to make the construction of more modest and multi-unit housing near impossible.
This disproportionate channeling of affordable housing into Milwaukee County, and to a lesser extent, Racine and Kenosha, contributes to an unequal distribution of jobs weighted where better housing is located, and that makes it harder for working families to live near their places of employment.
And that, in turn, extends commuting time and costs for the people least able to make the sacrifice, especially where there is a lack of transit.
It's great to see grassroots groups, activists and religious coalitions joining in the push for a housing trust fund to help create more affordable housing in Waukesha County.
And if the fund is created, it needs to target some resources away from the City of Waukesha, because the city is farther ahead of its nearby neighboring towns, villages and cities, and because the needs are great in those communities, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:29 AM
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
There's an online opportunity provided by the Journal Sentinel to post a comment about affordable housing in Waukesha, here, along with a note about an upcoming editorial in favor of such housing.
These are important issues, so weigh in. There is grassroots organizing underway in Waukesha County in support of a genuine housing mix there, as well as the regional housing study perhaps beginning next year after a 34-year hiatus.
So things are happening on the housing front.
Stay tuned for more.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:43 PM
When it comes to reporting on the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, a reader could easily assume that SEWRPC fact is surely planner fiction.
Remember the long-delayed, still-delayed (33 years and counting) regional housing plan that SEWRPC says it is just about to begin?
The study launch is so close that the planning agency has said it intends to name Bill Drew, a Milwaukee County SEWRPC commissioner, as the study's chairman.
Must mean that Drew, the former commissioner of development under former Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier, is a housing advocate, right?
You'd never know it from this Journal Sentinel story, wherein Drew weighs in, as head of the Milwaukee County Research Park, favoring a major widening of the Zoo Interchange that could demolish 30 homes.
The interchange widening is one segment of a $6.5 billion regional freeway plan written by...yes...you guessed it...SEWRPC.
The sheer destruction to homes, businesses, tax base, and open space that state transportation engineers envision in this so-called 'improvement' is jaw-dropping.
But when SEWRPC and WisDOT tag team planning and spending, the result is more pavement, a few minutes of projected commuting time savings for Waukesha County residents, and a lump of coal in everyone else's perpetual stocking.
Any transit improvements in that Zoo Interchange transportation plan?
Stop it: you're killing me.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:15 AM
Monday, November 24, 2008
Posted by James Rowen at 6:14 AM
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Maybe $50 million for the piping alone. Maybe more.
And why not, with hundreds of millions of dollars, and perhaps even more, in annexations and subdivisions able to tout "Lake Michigan Water," instead of "Nice View" in their ads.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:22 AM
Saturday, November 22, 2008
There are claims that Waukesha's water diversion scheme is a hit with environmentalists, but is that correct?
Maybe some environmental leaders and activists can weigh in with comments.
I have had an unusual schedule the last few weeks, missed the meeting that Waukesha officials had with some environmental organizations' representatives, and would like to know what the reaction and feedback have been.
Guest post opportunities are available.
Note the arrival of three comments from writers in Wauwatosa, Waukesha and I believe from Racine that express reservations about the Waukesha return flow regime.
An admonition, as we move forward towards a Waukesha diversion application that will finally disclose just what and where and why Waukesha is planning on doing what it intends:
Former Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist used to say there were two stages to every transportation plan, and the formula applies to this water scheme as well.
Stage One: It's too soon to know.
Stage Two: It's too late to do anything about it.
So every time you hear stage one echoing from Waukesha, or the Wisconsin DNR, just remember that stage two is right around the corner.
The goal is to be prepared.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:55 PM
Friday, November 21, 2008
I suggested in this post a few days ago that Wauwatosa would be heard from after the City of Waukesha announced it intended to make Underwood Creek its treated sewage dumping point in order to complete a Lake Michigan water diversion loop.
Sure enough, a Wauwatosa blogger, noting that Underwood Creek runs almost through her backyard, isn't looking forward to Waukesha's waste water adding value to her community.
I don't know the blogger, but I imagine her perspective will be mainstream.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:10 PM
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorially supports the Lake Michigan diversion plan being rolled out by the City of Waukesha. The editorial is here.
But the carts are being lined before the horses, so to speak.
For one thing, the editorial says the diversion and preferred water return-flow plan are in line with recommendations in a study being done by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
Correct. The Waukesha plan appears to be in line with the study that is being done. It is not finished. The recommendations are preliminary. They have only been recommended by an advisory committee.
The recommendations are to be reviewed at a series of public meetings at which the agency staff and consultants are supposed to listen, then work that public feedback into a report to the full commission.
Can we at least go into that public meeting phase with the expectation that public input will be genuinely absorbed?
The editorial also says that Waukesha has a plan to return the water it borrows from Lake Michigan.
Again, hold on. Waukesha has said it might not have to return an equivalent amount because water also leaks into underground piping and is thus added to the return. The new Great Lakes Compact that governs diversions does not say that such return flow additions count towards an applicant's return flow scheme.
And the Compact also does not permit the applicant community - - Waukesha- - to dump some return flow into a stream like the Fox River, regardless of the reason, because the Fox River flows away from the Lake Michigan watershed.
It's also interesting that Waukesha is forging ahead with its diversion application and public relations campaign without waiting for the final SEWRPC water supply plan adoption.
So hold on one more time:
Does Waukesha know the SEWRPC review process is a sham?
Is Waukesha afraid SEWRPC might adopt a plan that it doesn't like, even though its water utility manager has been a key figure on the water advisory committee?
In fact, how's about getting a look-see at the entire Waukesha application, and not just dressed-up descriptions of how one component or another is supposed to work.
Will it discuss how a diversion of water will impact the city's land use, transportation, housing and development plans, and how those will influence these issues in Waukesha County, or the wider region?
This is why there will be reviews of diversion applications, and also of SEWRPC committee recommendations.
A better timetable would be for SEWRPC to complete its study. Then let the public be heard.
Then let Waukesha's application be published, so it is not jumping the SEWRPC gun.
And T\then let's have the rest of the reviews by all eight Great Lakes Compact states, again with the public's participating.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:56 AM
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Odd response to the Journal Sentinel series on alcohol abuse very close to home.
So the issue is how the NY Times made Wisconsin look?
Wasn't the point of the JS series that we are responsible for how we are behaving, not how others are interpreting it?
Posted by James Rowen at 1:37 PM
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I'm guessing that Congress will fashion some sort of financial package for the US auto industry, but before the deal is struck, it would be helpful to generations of Americans less aware of history to have two GM-related items put on the record.
The first was GM's sabotage of its 1960's electric car, then its more recent literal destruction of all its revolutionary EV1 cars now the subject of the documentary "Who Killed The Electric Car?"
(Answer: its builder, GM, so as not to highlight how dirty and wasteful were all its other nameplates.
As the auto company pleads for taxpayer dollars in the billions to help it stay afloat in a period highlighted by its launch of the electric Chevrolet Volt, let's have GM acknowledge and explain why it killed off its own electric car nearly a half-century ago.
And let's have the House of Representatives reproduce the findings of the late Wright Patman, a Democrat from Texas, who was among those who documented the conspiracy among GM, Firestone and Standard Oil to destroy urban electric rail transit systems in favor of buses that ran on rubber tires and combustion engines.
I remember when the trolley tracks were ripped out of the streets in my hometown of Washington, DC in favor of buses.
I cannot say if Milwaukee's electric trolley systems were specifically part of the GM-Firestone-Standard Oil cabal, but it's well known that the city had both intra-city rail and numerous high-speed interurban trains west to Oconomowoc and south to Chicago that could hit 120 m.p.h.
These losses are still felt today, and the ironies are obvious, as we are trying to introduce modern city trains (light rail) and high-speed Midwest Rail to replace Amtrak.
GM, Firestone and Standard Oil companies used a front company called National City Lines to buy out the rail lines and convince municipalities and other operators to bring in bus systems instead.
After court proceedings, guilty verdicts and appeals, some convictions were upheld, and small fines levied, but the policy and environmental damage had been done, with electric transport again sidetracked in favor of GM non-electric engine and vehicle sales.
GM has a lot of explaining to do that predates its reliance on SUV's and light trucks at the expense of fuel-efficient cars and hybrids.
Congress has a teaching function to perform along with its fiscal stewardship of our tax dollars.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:19 AM
A murdered coed and Dane County's troubled 911 call center has sparked an opponent, former school board member Nancy Mistele, for incumbent Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.
At this point, I'd post odds at about 60-40, Falk.
Making political hay out of a horrible tragedy should cost Mistele a few votes.
Isthmus offers perspective and history, here,
Posted by James Rowen at 5:43 AM
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
OK, it wasn't a daring prediction, but the election of Mark Begich, the Democratic Mayor of Anchorage, is another sweet Senate pickup in the party's march towards a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats.
All I can is that the Democrats better get an agenda moving Jan 20th or the work this election cycle will have been in vain.
And to my faithful conservative readers: these close elections and recounts are not breaking against you because of voter fraud, or alien abduction of election officials, or a vast left-wing conspiracy.
They are because of George W. Bush, unregulated markets' greed and failings, and in Stevens' case, hacky, tacky corruption and incumbent arrogance run totally amok.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:04 PM
Best part of the dustup between Charlie Sykes and Milwaukee Magazine's insider piece on talk radio?
Sykes' inability to handle criticism.
You can read all about it here.
Imagine if Charlie had laughed it off, or thanked Mil Mag for spelling his name correctly.
Maybe next time.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:43 PM
State firefighter union president Rich Gale has correctly stepped down after it was disclosed he had used the "n-word" in reference to President-elect Barack Obama.
I took a class at the UW-Madison from William Appleman Williams, the great US historian who'd had an earlier career in the US Navy.
The context to the ancedote is lost to me, but Williams illustrated the clueless by saying that on board a ship, there was always someone who didn't get the word.
Somehow, Gale becomes the guy who didn't get the word about Obama, the campaign and the victory.
Firefighters are public employees. Their unions are diverse and the members work in close quarters with lives, including their own, on the line.
It's definitely an environment [actually, aren't all workplaces this way?) that abhors bigotry.
One of the lessons of the Obama phenomenon is that the times are a changin.'
Now Gale knows.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:15 PM
The announcement last week by the City of Waukesha that it intends to use Underwood Creek as its new wastewater discharge point on the back end of a Lake Michigan diversion scheme guarantees that water-based environmental concerns will be front-and-center in Southeastern Wisconsin throughout 2009.
Waukesha has to sell the idea to its taxpayers and water utility ratepayers.
Approval by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources must be forthcoming.
The seven other Great Lakes states have to approve the plan.
The City of Wauwatosa will no doubt be heard from, given that the river (well, creek) runs through it.
Then there are all the interests in the Menomonee Valley that have worked for years on development, pollution abatement and stormwater management there: is a higher, faster, wastewater-laden Underwood Creek emptying into the Menomonee Valley what the doctor ordered?
And then there is the water supply plan moving simultaneously through the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - a set of recommendations, surprise, surprise...that endorses a Lake Michigan diversion to Waukesha. Expect there to be significant public discussion of that set of recommendations and the narrow framework in which it was developed,
Not to mention the City of Milwaukee's 'true-value-of-water' consultant study. That should include measures by which a water sale to Waukesha should be crafted.
At all these stages of review and analysis, the public can get involved, with elected officials and policymakers listening attentively.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:56 AM
Monday, November 17, 2008
Shut out of leadership positions after their party won control of both houses of the legislature, Milwaukee Democrats were given two seats on the pivotal, budget-writing Joint Committee on Finance.
The committee has 16 members.
Milwaukee County supplies the largest number of Democratic voters in the state, and Milwaukee is the only city its size in Wisconsin.
All in all, a weak showing by and for Milwaukee.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:54 PM
Readers of this blog will not be surprised to see that activists are beginning an effort to strengthen a provision of the Great Lakes Compact.
At issue: whether water is a commodity that can be sold beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin.
As written, the Compact compromises the bottling issue, allowing unlimited export of water in containers with volumes less than 5.7 gallons each, but bars pipeline diversions in most circumstances.
Some observers think that is good enough, while others disagree with the bottled water exemption, and others believe that any sale of water on its own in a container, as opposed in a product, leaves the Great Lakes vulernable to unrestricted sale.
So this is the beginning of a process: amending the Compact is a tough row to hoe, but individual states can implement other rules than can toughen up bottling activities in their states.
At some point, a court or courts will sort this out.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:43 AM
One of the GOP's no-name, no-heft US Senators keeps up the intra-party, post-election sniping by blaming John McCain's loss on a failure to adhere to party principles - - something of an oxymoron as George W. Bush follows The New American Socialism and other Big Guvmint programs that are out-McCaining McCain.
If Sen. DeMint thinks the way for the GOP to win a national election is to run farther to the Right, great. That will push the Republican Party towards minority, fringe status - - strong in portions of the west and south, and among Evangelical Christians, but far from the mainstream.
Obama's was a victory based on inclusion and pragmatism. He ran away from ideology, basically as a centrist, especially on foreign policy, and followed a political patth to the White House similar to the moderate road taken by Bill Clinton.
Of course, the Obama campaign was organized far differently, so the internal dynamics and strategies were separate, perhaps unique.
But Obama proved that it is in the middle that election margins are identified and expanded, and this seems to be a lesson that DeMint is missing.
Fine with me.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:37 AM
I've been in and out of DC recently and I can report that by all accounts, the transition to Pres. Obama is going smoothly.
There seems to be little need for the outburst of gun sales reported back home, and Obama's interview on "60 Minutes" last night - - ratings story and video link here - - again demonstrated that the guy has a refreshing familiarity with the English language and how it applies to the country and the world.
More than a million people are expected to line Pennsylvania Ave. on inauguration day, so that must mean there is a continuing bond between the electorate and the winner of the Nov. 4th election.
And reasonable names for Cabinet positions are being discussed, including commitments to Republican appointments.
The fear factor is about zero.
So here's hoping that the Right and those survivalists fearing either the hordes, or confiscatory gun laws, can relax, roll with it and even enjoy the historic times we're lucky to be in.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:03 AM
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Saturday news accounts now show Alaska Senator Ted Stevens behind 1,000 votes in that state's recount, and I am predicting that Al Franken eventually wins the recount in Minnesota, where he is behind by only 206 votes.
Republicans who benefited from the Florida recount in 2000 that awarded that state, and thus the presidency to George W. Bush can't complain too loudly if recounts in closely-contested states tip elections to the Democrat candidates.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:52 AM
So the City of Waukesha has rolled out a key element of its Lake Michigan water diversion plan by announcing that it intends to return water to Lake Michigan via wastewater discharges into Underwood Creek.
The wastewater will be treated to such a high degree that the extra discharge will be good for the creek, Waukesha representatives say, and the entire arrangement is a boon to the regional ecosystem.
You can see the momentum building for Waukesha's diversion application: The Great Lakes Compact has been approved, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's water supply study endorses a diversion to Waukesha, and Waukesha follows through with an announcement about how to return the water to the lake.
After a few perfunctory hearings, the deal is done, right?
Well - - not so fast.
Though the Compact has been approved, an application has yet to be received, and since Waukesha's effort will be the first to go through the formal, eight-state review, expect close scrutiny across the region that could easily take a year or more.
Then there is the matter of the SEWRPC study, which gives cover to the Waukesha application. The SEWRPC plan needs hearings of its own. More about that in a minute.
Then Waukesha has to explain to its taxpayers and ratepayers how it will find the more than $50 million to build the series of infrastructure improvements it will need to purchase, deliver, treat and discharge the water and the waste.
So everyone can take a breath, and while we're coming back to earth, let's ask these questions:
If Waukesha wins permission to get the Lake Michigan water supply, what are the impacts on the region's housing, transportation, and development sectors?
Will new jobs follow a guaranteed supply of fresh water to Waukesha? A housing need? More roads? Bus lines? Public spending at many levels?
Ah, you say, surely the SEWRPC water supply study included these elementary questions, right?
These questions need to be raised during the study's hearings, and then the study committee and its consultants should get busy with the answers.
Add that planning deficit and fix to the long list of shortcomings at the agency, as well as to the list of procedural changes that need to be inserted into all SEWRPC studies, and to the agency mindset as well.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:00 AM
Friday, November 14, 2008
Six civic, civil rights and environmental organizations have submitted together formal comments to the federal reviewers who are required to assess the performance of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission every four years.
It's an excellent analysis - - linked here.
Similar analyses have been forwarded into the process by many individuals, and also by both the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County - - the latter being highly-significant because it pays the largest share of the SEWRPC operating budget annually (about half from city taxpayers), so any statement about equity in the agency's structure, management or work product has got to get the attention of the reviewers.
Four years ago, the federal reviewers, hearing similar public complaints, worked out with SEWRPC the creation of an Environmental Justice Task Force to serve as a bridge to low-income and minority communities excluded from SEWRPC activities.
The task force is operating, but it took until 2007 to get it created, and as the task force gets its bearings it has found its desires opposed by SEWRPC senior managers. At its most recent meeting, the task force approved a resolution unanimously over the objections of SEWRPC's Executive Director, Phil Evenson - - that SEWRPC be required to include in all its studies an independent socio-economic analysis.
The trigger for that resolution was SEWRPC's indefensibly slow start of a regional housing study - - it may begin later this year after a 33-year-plus-delay - - and SEWRPC's new, recommended regional water supply plan that has no socio-economic analysis even though water transfers and access have enormous implications for economic justice.
Water affects economic development, job creation, housing construction, transit networks and the multi-level distribution of taxes and infrastructure - - and SEWRPC, to date, has not been inclined to include in its focus and advisory committees and decision-making apparatus the voices of independent analysts or low-income and minority advisors.
Certainly reform at SEWRPC has been a need for years. I have argued that Milwaukee should be at the center of a new regional planning agency that could also partner with SEWRPC's more suburban and rural neighbors.
The goal should be active inclusion of all communities into planning and fair distribution of the resources. The current arrangement short-changes Milwaukee and is a clear-cut example of taxation without representation.
The case for changes, big and small at SEWRPC, is made in the groups' formal comments and the feds should read it carefully.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:29 AM
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The City of Waukesha revealed a key element in its plan to divert drinking water from Lake Michigan - - discharging its treated wastewater back to the lake by sending it down Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa.
From there, the wastewater will flow into the Menomonee River and into the lake, and while the Great Lakes Compact requires that diverted water be returned, it is not clear whether Waukesha's preference for Lake Michigan water as its long-term supply solution is superior to finding additional underground supplies in Waukesha County's clean, shallow aquifers.
That will be up to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; the other Great Lakes states would have to agree to the Waukesha diversion plan, and one element of the Waukesha proposal is sure to raise objections in the other states: Waukesha's belief that it can discharge a portion of the diverted water after treatment into the Fox River, which flows into the Mississippi River, not towards Lake Michigan, if the return flow might cause flooding.
The Great Lakes Compact is an eight-state regional agreement designed to establish uniform procedures and standards.
It does not allow for a partial return of diverted water. The Compact requires a return of all water, minus a reasonable portion that is consumed.
The Compact says nothing about withholding a portion of return flow to assist with local flooding issues.
Waukesha's return flow declarations have run the gamut.
First it said it was too expensive to accomplish return flow of diverted water.
Then it said it would be bad for the Fox River to take away the current return flow regime; currently, all Waukesha wastewater is sent into the Fox, where downstream communities remove it, clean it, drink it, treat it as wastewater and send it further downstream for more communities to do the same.
Then it said it would achieve a return flow to comply with the Compact.
Now Waukesha is saying its application will comply with the Compact...but it wants to shave off a portion to avoid flooding.
I think Waukesha's motivations are two-fold:
1) It wants to continue to discharge some wastewater to the Fox River to maintain the Vernon Marsh.
2) Waukesha does not want to decommission its existing treatment plant, and won't if it needs the plant to be operational for the occasional discharges during heavy rain events.
We'll see if the DNR greenlights the plan, and that is likely, since the two units of government have been in close communication as the diversion application process has unfolded, post-Compact approval this year.
The bigger question is whether Waukesha can convince the other states that its plan to send any Lake Michigan water out of the Great Lakes watershed towards the Gulf of Mexico is what the Compact intended.
It says nothing about formulas to permit a portion of diverted water to be lost permanently to the Great Lakes to resolve a purely local issue.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:51 PM
Waukesha County's 2009 budget slams bus riders, proving again that west of 124th St., "regional cooperation" is confined to the dictionary.
When it comes to transportation policy, Waukesha County prefers to serve the single-passenger, highway-bound Sprawl and Crawl constituent.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:14 AM
The inability of Milwaukee legislators to hold or gain caucus leadership positions is more than an obvious lose of prestige at the state capitol.
It's a danger sign for the city and urban issues generally as the economy slides into recession.
Milwaukee and city residents statewide will need an effective presence in the legislative and budget-writing processes; the state's looming red-ink crisis needs a solution, and it will hurt Milwaukee and diverse populations in the state if fiscal approaches come at their expense.
The city's political machinery has not found enough new and persuasive voices to run in legislative elections, though Sandy Pasch has great potential.
This isn't a knock on the Dems who won leadership positions.
But as we congratulate the winners, let's also understand that a diminished role for Milwaukee in the next session is the political reality of the day.
[Update: Milwaukee did score two seats on Joint Finance.]
Posted by James Rowen at 7:20 AM
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
More pressure is on the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to move from exurban Pewaukee to Milwaukee - - one step towards righting a half-century's worth of urban planning neglect - - but I'd be surprised if the 21-member commission that is dominated by six non-Milwaukee counties would agree to the relocation.
The agency bought a $3.4 million office building in Pewaukee a few years, further grounding the agency in its remote location.
Look to SEWRPC to suggest opening a satellite office in the region and state's biggest city - - a gesture that would only further aggravate those in the region who think SEWRPC will not give Milwaukee its due.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:48 PM
Tuesday begins a 60-day period during which federal reviewers will assess the email, letters and verbal submissions received during the just-closed comment period that is part of a quadrennial certification assessment.
It's no small matter, because the certification gives SEWRPC its authority to move certain federal transportation programs along in a seven-county region in southeastern Wisconsin. And the feds awarding to SEWRPC a higher planning status as a result of the certification provides a federal imprimatur to the agency - - more reason to get it right.
As was the case four years ago, most of the public comments took SEWRPC to task for undervaluing the needs of the region's cities and low-income residents, while favoring suburban and more rural areas.
And for the first time, the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously weighed in with criticism that included a related demand - - that the state legislature amend SEWRPC governance to achieve more adequate representation for Milwaukee taxpayers and a more urban-focused agenda, too.
It's not in the hands of the federal reviewers to bring about internal changes needed to improve the SEWRPC structure, but the reviewers need to hear the position of the City of Milwaukee - - loud and clear.
SEWRPC is already the subject of two civil rights complaints about agency transportation spending recommendations, hiring and committee appointments.
So both the federal reviewers and state legislature need to get cracking on a new-and-improved SEWRPC, or a completely overhauled planning, urban-focused apparatus in the region, which is my preference.
The winds of change are blowing through both Washington, DC and state government. There's no way, after years of discriminatory operations at SEWRPC )after 50 years, only three minority professionals among 49 on the staff there) that have also enabled sprawl development that the agency should be given immunity to substantial changes, top-to-bottom, by federal and state policy-makers.
Some earlier perspective, here.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:19 PM
Looks like grassroots pressures are setting the stage for a real approach to new drunk driving laws in Wisconsin. Long overdue, but it's taken an epidemic of fatal OWI crashes to get this done, or it's the constant, denied and tolerated epidemic only better publicized by the Journal Sentinel in its ongoing series on drunken driving.
Reforming the state's drunk driving laws has been a steady subject of this blog, and rather than reprint citations to what I've written, let me again post a link to a speech by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.
In her remarks, Falk laid out a comprehensive confrontation to the state's wasteful enabling of alcohol over-indulgence in more phases of our lives than just driving, though certainly OWI is a huge problem in Wisconsin, as the Journal Sentinel seies has shown.
Public officials in all the state's counties should have joined Falk's call to action, and it's not too late for state leaders to partner with what is becoming a consensus movement across Wisconsin in favor of new laws that will better protect the public for abusive drinking.
Perhaps some of those community organizers will be involved. I hope so.
But new laws, while important, will be less effective if they are not reinforced with a long-term attitudinal shift - - in families, in organizations, in schools - - and on the part of everyday people, one-by-one.
We need to retire the two-fisted slopper as a Wisconsin stereotype.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:13 AM
Monday, November 10, 2008
So the County Board turns down Scott Walker's privatization agenda goes down in flames, including his plan to bail out the transit system by leasing the airport.
Are we surprised?
Sure - - Midway Airport is being leased, and so are toll roads around the country, but people figure that the lease-holders want to make a profit, so all the fees and costs will go up - - parking, landing charges, store leases - - and in the end, county residents will still pay and pay and pay.
Walker's tenure as County Exec has been marked by years phony budgeting - - bogus revenue estimates filling service lines with dollars that were never going to arrive, forcing the inevitable call for more service cuts and budget wailing by Walker, year in and year out.
It's so tiresome.
Can we get a real executive as County Executive, please?
Posted by James Rowen at 7:21 PM
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Certainly Barack Obama is the big story, followed by any number of intriguing plot lines, both nationally and in Wisconsin.
There's a Democratic majority in the state legislature, and suddenly, numerous issues are available for new thinking, both fiscally and strategically.
But let's not forget one matter hanging over the state's political environment: the pending State Judicial Commission ethics complaint against State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.
It's an extremely serious matter, as it is alleged that Gableman did something which a judge (during the spring campaign he was a circuit judge in Burnett County} simply cannot do, or have on his resume as as a member of the State Supreme Court: be willfully misleading.
Some background here.
It's a contradiction that could deeply impair the state justice system, and which has already been a body blow to a State Supreme Court already embarrassed by recent, separate ethics matters.
Gableman is accused of approving a campaign TV ad broadcast statewide that suggested opponent Louis Butler had helped free a sexual assault defendant who then committed another sex crime.
In fact, Butler had, as a public defender, argued that a client should get a new trial, but the argument was rejected, the client remained incarcerated, and years late, following parole, did commit another sex crime.
The election was close, the ad became instantly controversial, and may have played a role in tipping the outcome to Gableman.
If Gableman is found to have approved an ad that was false, or willfully misleading, the Court's disciplinary processes will have to determine an appropriate sanction.
It issued a reprimand against Justice Annette Ziegler for ethical lapses regarding financial conflicts-of-interest related to cases she heard in a lower court
Gableman's problems could turn out to be far more serious, with consequences both for Gableman and campaign financing procedures that give candidates access to funding that fuels television advertising.
Post-election stories about the state legislature and the budget are sure to be major 2009 stories, and, of course, so would the fallout should Gov. Jim Doyle or Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett accept positions in the Obama administration.
Gableman has indicated that he plans a First Amendment defense. Successful, or not, the state supreme court and Wisconsin's political reputations will suffer great harm.
So regardless of the rest of political news in 2009, the wheels of justice in motion in re Gableman could make it the biggest story of the coming year.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:52 AM
Will the politicians (see, Palin, McCain, et al) and their media mouthpieces who threw the socialist and Big Guvmint labels at Barack Obama stop buying General Motors' products like Chevy Tahoes and Cadillac Escalades if the federal government bails out the automaker to keep it afloat?
Posted by James Rowen at 5:34 AM
Saturday, November 8, 2008
The Sat., 11/8 deadline - - that would be today! - - for public comment on SEWRPC's management and work has been extended to Monday, 11/10.
SEWRPC is the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. Type SEWRPC into the search box at the upper left on this blog for an archvie of posts and op-eds about SEWRPC's problems, some of which are the basis for two recent civil rights complaints alleging discrimination in planning activities and personnel decisions.
One with some historical and political context is here.
Here is the comment process information from SEWRPC's website, but ignore the 11/8 reference, and remember - - if you believe that SEWRPC has spent too much money and time on road-building plans, or if you think its guiding land-use plan and pending water distribution proposals enables sprawl, or if you think its suburban tilt is a bad deal for Milwaukee and low-income residents regionally, you only get a chance every four years to tell federal evaluators that you think planning in this region needs major surgery:
Written comments may also be submitted no later than November 8, 2008, by mail, fax, or E-mail to:
Planning Certification Review
Federal Highway Administration
525 Junction Rd, Suite 8000
Madison, WI 53717
Posted by James Rowen at 7:37 AM
I know it's hard to be on the losing side of an election, but some conservatives pundits are looking silly by writing too fast and claiming that Barack Obama doesn't have a mandate.
I'd say that a 7.5 million vote margin (53-46%), and a 349-163 majority in Electoral College is pretty darn decisive. The numbers are from CNN.
Trying to parse data into something they are not is bad politics and fuzzy math.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:34 AM
Jim Wigderson sees the Democratic sweep bringing about a priority shift he doesn't like.
I see the transit and transportation changes he worries about as real advantages for the region.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:33 AM
Friday, November 7, 2008
So Obama wins, and WKTI-FM dumps its third-of-a-century format:
Coincidence that it's coming on the heels of the election?
Or is this a pre-emptive move by Journal Communications to avoid the left-wing radio censorship that the Right is predicting during Obama's Reign?
So hard to know what the real story is, because we know it's not radio industry re-programming without a political agenda - - that's for sure.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:41 PM
One more thing about SEWRPC, and how it is managed when it comes to deciding which issues to tackle, and on whose behalf.
This has been on mind, as I was out of town twice in the last month, without the documents - - and wanted to interject one matter into the ongoing debate about how that agency performs.
Now it's one thing for SEWRPC to throw up its hands helplessly when critics allege institutional passivity or benign neglect by the agency and say, "no one is accepting our recommendations; there's little we can do."
This is the argument that SEWRPC and some of its defenders have offered when explaining away the agency's lack of a major regional housing study since 1975.
And while it is true that municipalities in the region did not pick up the housing ball and run with its recommendations for more affordable housing after the 1975 report, some of the responsibility for that lack of reaction actually returns full circle to SEWRPC.
And not because SEWRPC does not believe in advocacy, though that is a very subjective term, as we shall see.
SEWRPC should bear some of the responsibility because it did not follow through on the recommendations it made to itself in the 1975 housing study report.
Not a county board or city council or town manager, mind you:
In addition to a wide range recommendations the report made to local and state governments, there is this lengthy set of recommendations that aimed at SEWRPC itself on p. 456-457 of the final housing plan, known as "Planning Report NO. 20":
"...it is recommended that the Commission provide, on a continuing basis, technical assistance to enable county housing authorities and local units of government to more precisely establish the magnitude and characteristics of the existing housing need on a community and neighborhood level. The Commission should also provide technical assistance on a continuing basis as required with respect to the utilization of housing subsidy programs which are available for the abatement of the identified housing problems. Furthermore, the Commission should establish a monitoring system to determine whether housing subsidy programs are being utilized in the appropriate areas and are assisting appropriate households. It is also recommended that the Commission undertake a major reevaluation of the magnitude and characteristics of the housing need at regular intervals to determine the extent of the housing problems, the effectiveness of efforts undertaken to abate those problems, and the need to modify or adjust the recommended regional housing plan. A major reevaluation of the regional housing situation should be conducted approximately every fifth year after the publication of this report."
That's a big role SEWRPC carved out in print for itself - - technical assistance, a monitoring program, and serial studies every fifth year, which would mean right now, had SEWRPC followed its own assignments, we'd be in the middle of plan revision #6.
But as we know, the first follow-up major revision has been waiting for 33 years, and counting.
Several months ago, I asked SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson what happened to that set of recommendations that the 1975 housing study made to the agency itself.
"Jim: In response to your email inquiry of June 30, please see the attached excerpts from SEWRPC Annual Reports for the years 1975-1981. During that time, we had a rather intensive staff effort relative to housing plan implementation and potential plan updating. Indeed, we had hoped to sustain an ongoing housing planning program akin to transportation planning. Unfortunately, the national election in 1980 changed all that, we lost substantial federal funding for housing planning when the federal metropolitan planning program was eliminated, and we had to terminate our housing planning staff and the program that went with it. As to the current effort, a draft work scope is under preparation and not ready for release. Phil Evenson"
So a 1980 funding problem set in motion decades of inactivity?
Doesn't SEWRPC do grant-writing, and receive federal, state and local funding for numerous projects every year?
Note that when SEWRPC chose to begin a $1 million regional water supply sought by Waukesha, Racine and other counties in the region - - but not Milwaukee County - - it simply dunned all seven of its counties a share.
And when Milwaukee County would not pony up what was the largest of those shares - - SEWRPC wanted than a quarter-million Milwaukee County property tax bucks - - SEWRPC tapped into a little-known Milwaukee County real estate mapping committee that had a budget, pulled some strings, and got the money it wanted.
Add a funding raid to grant-writing to the sources of SEWRPC study dollars.
This is my point: When it is motivated, SEWPRC can launch a study and find its funding.
And there is little surprise that it was water-hungry Waukesha County that SEWRPC chose to serve with a budget, and a study with recommendations that called for a Lake Michigan diversion - - thus validating the assumptions of SEWRPC's guiding land use plan and massive growth in Waukesha County.
But when it came to finding the will and the means to repeat the housing study and implement even the in-house recommendations decades earlier - - an effort that had begun with a request from then Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier - - the City of Milwaukee and the region's low-income residents got the SEWRPC shoulder shrug.
This is why Milwaukee County and City will never get the commission's full attention so long as SEWRPC's structure under-represents Milwaukee's population in its governance, and overtaxes it for budgetary purposes.
And goes about its business servicing the more suburban, rural, white and upper-income Walworth, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Walworth Counties - - while not calling that "advocacy."
Posted by James Rowen at 5:55 AM
Thursday, November 6, 2008
State Rep. Sheldon Wasserman did not unseat incumbent Alberta Darling in the north shore state senate race, but that does not mean he should give up considering a run for Milwaukee County Executive.
Just a thought, and I wish Wasserman well.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:14 AM
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Talk about great timing: Just as the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission says it is close to releasing its plan to update its most recent regional housing study - - the 1975 report! - - along comes a push for more affordable housing in Waukesha.
Release and video here.
Waukesha County has a modest number of affordable housing units compared to Milwaukee, but that need will expand as the faltering economy and subprime mortgage mess increases home foreclosures.
And a larger number of working families in the suburbs will need access to housing options to stay relatively close to their jobs.
These issues were aired during the recent debate before the Milwaukee Common Council when the New Berlin water sale was on the table; New Berlin has about 80 affordable housing units - - nearly all for elderly residents - - and critics of the water deal felt New Berlin had not assertively built affordable housing while pursuing Lake Michigan water that would benefit new business development and upper-income subdivisions.
The Waukesha County affordable housing effort should definitely be folded into the SEWRPC study and it deserves continuing support across the region from fair housing and economic justice advocates.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:30 PM
Regaining control of the State Assembly is a real achievement for the state's Democrats and independently-minded progressives.
It offers hope and raises expectations that some needed services, like transit, can finally get more attention, and I expect to see initiatives from an Obama administration and a Democratic Congress to upgrade and stabilize Amtrak, launch high-speed rail in the Midwest, and substantially improve bus and local rail options in Wisconsin.
The local sales tax shift referendum that was approved yesterday in Milwaukee County could provide funding to save Milwaukee County Transit, though there has to be commitment in the County Executive's office to see the value of expanded transit - - including rail - - to create a viable and coordinated system.
That may require a new County Executive, because the backward-looking ideologue sitting there inert, except to salivate about running for Governor, is weakening county government, losing out on transit-related economic development and undermining the transit system every day he's in office.
So the state and nation are nack on the right track...we are on the road to coherence in state and federal policy-making on behalf of everyday people, but Milwaukee County still needs a people's champion and friend to the City at the helm.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:53 AM
I'm just savoring the moment. There's really no punditry needed.
Except this: It was impossible not to notice the difference between the crowds in Grant Park and other cities around the country rallying for Obama, and the gathering in Arizona for McCain.
The Obama crowds were much more diverse across the board - - and that was the basis of his electoral coalition that rolled up an impressive win.
William Faulkner believed that slavery was a sort of original sin in the formation of the country, and if you believe that, as I do, then there is a certain logic to believing that only an African-American can lead the healing that is needed to wipe the sin away.
Some of my family have been working hard for Obama for months, and they reported the rewarding work that was taking place in that campaign on a daily basis between blacks and whites.
So it's a shared victory with a great deal of promise, and that is available to everyone regardless of whether you voted for Obama or McCain.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 AM
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I am sure there are many voters like me who were around for the civil rights movement and see an Obama victory as the fulfillment of a big measure of that movement's promise.
We need a major change from so many policies of the last eight years - - the Iraq war, the contempt for Americans' civil liberties, the coddling of the rich; it's a long litany and not worth repeating here.
Electing Barack Obama is the surest route to at least beginning to undo the damage to America that the Bush-Cheney reign has wrought, and it will be a bonus if the country elects a mixed-race President and can move affirmatively past some of its deep-seated racism.
Then the hard work begins, and with a fighting chance of success because the best team and attitude and intentions will drive the effort.
That's the benefit of a campaign based on inclusion and grassroots participation - - historic community organizing techniques laid down by one veteran organizer from the south side of Chicago despite the sneers from the genuinely elitist Far Right.
John McCain twisted himself into something unrecognizable during his campaign, and if he loses, will pay dearly for that unseemly and unnecessary transformation: stinging defeat, cannibalistic criticism from within his party, and full responsibility for what could be massive losses by down-ballot Republicans in the Congress, state houses, legislatures and local offices.
The Sarah Palin sideshow, a pratfall entirely of McCain's own scripting, will stand out as his most flawed campaign decision.
He didn't have the strength or the will to stand up for himself against the wacko fringe in his party and go with his preferences - - Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge - - so he started off looking weak in the face of threatened revolts from the likes of Rush Limbaugh.
If you lose an election, it's comforting to know that you didn't compromise yourself into defeat. McCain, should he lose, has cost himself that satisfaction.
And if I'm wrong, well - - I'll be the first to admit it and to acknowledge that it won't have been the first time, and surely won't be the last. People like me will just work harder the next time around.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 AM
Monday, November 3, 2008
The famous waterway is making a quiet comeback, thanks to geography, new industry and fuel prices, The New York Times tells us.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:54 PM
A coup for the Shoppes at Grand Avenue and a boon to the downtown.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:34 PM
One gun store owner in Waukesha may be seeing an increase in gun sales because of fear about Barack Obama's election.
That's what happens when you get to believing those anti-Obama ads and literature that the GOP has let loose in the state.
I've been out of town for ten days and the crap that piled up when I was gone from the state GOP is really stunning. Three pieces of foreboding literature designed to frighten people.
Looks like it's working out Waukesha way, made famous with that unruly McCain rally featuring "Mr. Angry" and a throng of full-throated back-up singers..
I'm hoping that the onslaught of neagativity and fear-mongering from the right and the McCain=Palin campaign - - calling Obama a socialist, a communist, dangerous...the repetitive theme that he is hiding something sinister and that we don't know the "real Obama - - sways few voters and turns off a lot more.
But let's be clear about one thing: buying a handgun won't help, but might someday get you shot by accident or by intention in your own home.
Data back that up.
So to the irrationally-fearful victims of the GOP's ugly 2008 campaign, try a less expensive, potentially-lethal, lower-caliber solution.
Go see a funny movie. Take a long walk. Turn off the TV, and if the symptoms persist, call a therapist.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:42 AM
The only thing worse about losing after an election is knowing you sacrificed your dignity.
From start to finish, it will have been tactics like this that will make Nov. 5th a bad day for the GOP.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:32 AM
Sunday, November 2, 2008
County Exec. Vrakas plays Santa Claus.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:52 PM
He says he's glad he hasn't changed.
That's been the problem.
John McCain's problem, and ours, collectively, too.
January 20, 2009 cannot come soon enough.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:27 PM
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board backs some reforms of, and further debate about, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
This follows a 12-0 vote last week by the Milwaukee Common council that called for Milwaukee County to remove itself from SEWRPC if the state legislature did not rewrite the statutes creating SEWRPC to make the agency's board representatio by population - - right now, each of SEWRPC's seven-counties get three votes on the commission board, though Milwaukee County contains almost half the seven-county region's population and ponies up 36% of the agency's annual operating budget.
As I, among others, have argued for years, Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee are inequitably represented at SEWRPC, and over-taxed there for its operations, with the agency's suburban policy biases reflect that imbalance.
The Journal Sentinel editorial board does support Milwaukee County's withdrawal from SEWRPC. But it does agree that the City of Milwaukee should have a representative on the agency board, and that the budget and taxing imbalance needs addressing. The editorial is here.
A few observations:
The editorial is an indication that SEWRPC, now 50 years old, is finally getting some traditional media scrutiny that could lead to better and more fair work at the agency.
Whether there will be a concomitant change in the agency's daily management and board direction - - including hiring more minorities and City of Milwaukee residents in a commitment to real affirmative action and inclusion - - well, I'm not sure the paper's proposals go far enough to make that happen.
A seat for the City of Milwaukee?
That's a start, but does having one of 21 commissioners settle the fairness issue?
The city has more than 600,000 residents, and some SEWRPC counties like Walworth and Ozaukee have around 100,000 each.
It would shock me if the legislature met the City of Milwaukee Council resolution's request for proportional representation for the SEWRPC counties because that would turn 10 or eleven seats over to Milwaukee County and the other six counties would loose power and prestige.
And they would want their annual budget allocations slashed accordingly, just as Milwaukee now thinks its county contribution is too high.
The goal isn't to set up a political situation in which arguments about representation and taxation flow back and forth between Milwaukee County and the other six counties.
My suggestion, in print since a June op-ed on the matter, was that Milwaukee County separate itself from SEWRPC and reconstitute itself as a one-county planning operation just as exists in Dane County, where there is a one-county organization.
On which the City of Madison has many seats, but not a majority - - and the SEWRPC-like federal;y-designated transportation planning matters are handled on contract with the City of Madison's staffers.
Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee and any neighboring municipalities interested could join such an organization, making use of their existing public employees and facilities, and contract and partner with SEWRPC as needed.
SEWRPC has good technical staffers - - but is a separate SEWRPC bureaucracy with division heads, senior managers, a motor pool and an office building that cost more than #4 million to purchase from a private firm and take off the tax roles really needed to provide regional planning services in the greater Milwaukee area?
I'm happy to see the editorial. I think it's a positive sign. But I think there is a long way to go to make regional planning genuinely attuned to real people, citizen participation and urban issues in the existing seven-county region because it's not the highest priority in a grouping that includes Waukesha, Washington, Walworth, Kenosha, Racine, Ozaukee and Milwaukee Counties.
But it is a major priority in the region's most-populated county, with the state's largest city that is more than half-minority, and which has pressing housing, transportation and development needs side-tracked or ignored at SEWRPC.
SEWRPC does play a 'yes-or-no' role in the implementation of major federal transportation projects in the region, and by deciding which other issues to tackle with studies, SEWRPC creates and influences agendas and actions and outcomes whether or not its recommendations are adopted at the local level.
Inaction is a form of action.
And all actions are choices that rule out other actions and choices at SEWRPC because resources and staff are finite.
Wholesale reformation of planning and execution is what is needed in the region - - and that begins with redefining what are the useful boundaries for public planning purposes, and then what issues those regional planners can and will tackle.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:24 AM
Saturday, November 1, 2008
As has been writ large on this blog and elsewhere, light rail is an economic development tool.
Now comes a story from the Denver Post about light rail's enhancement of home values near the line.
I'd say that we are missing the boat here, but our train hasn't even left the station yet.
Thanks to Joe Klein for sending this along.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:01 AM