Talk about a lack of something new.
And isn't this the guy who dumped his wife - - when she was in the hospital recovering from cancer zurgery - - for a staffer?
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Talk about a lack of something new.
Oconomowoc taxpayers should remember that they are on the hook for a $400,000 share if the state forges ahead with the I-94 interchange to a Pabst Farms mall in Western Waukesha County that doesn't exist.
And Waukesha County taxpayers are also obligated for a separate $1.75 million payment, though state taxpayers have to put up the biggest share, $21.1 million.
Not sounding so great for folks out that way, right?
And you wonder when the mall developer - - this is developer #2 who has down-scaled to a big-box, glorified strip mall the upscale mall project fantasized, then abandoned by mall developer #1 who has pulled out - - will ask either the state, the city, or the county to pay its $1.75 million contribution.
Let's get some truth in governing and call a boondoggle a boondoggle, and get busy repairing some local streets instead.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:00 AM
Friday, February 27, 2009
Close it to traffic.
To reduce congestion.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:14 PM
Waukesha's effort to obtain a diversion of Lake Michigan water is not on a fast track.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, doing its statutory duty under Wisconsin law and the newly-established, multi-state Great Lakes Compact water management agreement, has told the City of Waukesha that its plans to divert Lake Michigan water out of the Great Lakes basin must meet substantial and substantive water quantity, quality and procedural thresholds, according to documents sent me by the DNR.
I will post their entire content when I get the records converted from hard copy, though this is not the first indication that Waukesha has a tough row to hoe, and it won't be the last.
At the heart of the discussion are two October, 2008 letters from DNR officials answering questions raised in April by Daniel Duchniak, manager of the Waukesha Water Utility.
In the first letter, dated October 14th, DNR Water Use Section Chief Eric Ebersberger makes these points:
"Final state administrative rules" have not been promulgated, so the DNR will work with a previously-issued procedural, interim outline that lines up with the requirements of state law and the Compact.
The letter makes clear that Waukesha is invited to make proposals to the DNR, given the absence of final administrative rules and the existence of the interim procedures.
One key issue for Waukesha - - the calculations of what constitutes acceptable return flow of diverted water back to the lake - - is still awaiting the writing of administrative rules. Ebersberger tells Duchniak that "the discussions with the other states on this issue were based on the assumptions of an immediate and continuous return flow. If you choose to propose something different than an immediate and continuous return flow, then you will have to make the argument for doing so and describe the impact your proposal will have on the water resources of the Great Lakes."
This is a major issue because Waukesha has said it would like to achieve return flow through discharge to Underwood Creek - - but wants to retain the right to discharge some diverted water after treatment into the Fox River, and thus away from the Great Lakes basin.
And that will probably not sit well with other states, such as Michigan, which would want strict adherence to the Compact's return flow requirements, especially since Waukesha's application would be the regional precedent, and the Compact does not spell out an exception for discharging diverted water away from the Great Lakes basin.
Ebersberger also tells Duchniak that a similar issue exists with respect to defining what the term "consumptive use" will mean until final administrative rules are written, and urges Waukesha to present detailed information in its application about water conservation and water loss prevention.
Another requirement is included in the letter to Duchniak..."the application must evaluate the alternative of connecting wastewater discharges to other nearby systems, including the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District," including cost-effective analyses.
That's some big-ticket consulting and staff time requirements, for sure.
Two days later, Duchniak receives a separate letter about water quality issues from DNR Bureau of Watershed Management chief Duane Schuettpelz.
He tells Duchniak, among other things, that Waukesha's application must include "an analysis of impacts of the wastewater flows in the tributaries on river stage, flood flows and storage and associated impacts. Similarly, as assessment of the effects associated with the diversion of the wastewater discharge out of the Fox River must be included. Finally, it must also, as identified in [the earlier letter from Ebersberger] demonstrate that the amount of return flow is equal to that withdrawn as described in the "Great Lakes Compact" legislation."
Schuettpelz tells Duchniak discharged wastewater must meet existing standards, notes that Underwood Creek has "the most stringent effluent limitations," and that there cannot be "lowering of water quality unless allowed and appropriately justified and then only if the uses in the receiving water are maintained."
So Waukesha, the state, the Cities of Wauwatosa and Milwaukee through which Underwood Creek flows and empties, the MMSD and the seven other Great Lakes states certainly have their work cut out for them.
No wonder Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson said the other day that Waukesha's application will not proceed quickly, though some of these hurdles were referenced in January at a public meeting in Waukesha run by Nelson - - about which I blogged, here.
The records indicate that meetings and communications about the application process among Waukesha and DNR officials are ongoing.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:50 AM
The owners of the venerable New York newspaper Newsday, hard hit by the recession, online competition and recent debt, are going to try and generate fresh revenue by charging online readers for access to its website and content.
Newsday thinks it has a shot at success because it is now owned by a cable TV company, and some bundling of options could help attract reader/viewers.
Problem is, online readers are in the habit of seeing content on sites like Newsday for free. Other papers have tried this model, and most have not been successful, including The New York Times, which did make some money a while back on its Select subscriptions for certain features, like the high-profile columnists, but didn't like the accompanying backlash.
Newspapers are in trouble, obviously, and their dilemma is ours, too: we need the vetted, professional news that only a Dan Bice or Dave Umhoefer can generate.
That is why I expect newspapers to survive, but through smaller and fewer editions; mergers and combinations (the Capital Times morphed into an online entity, plus two weekly hard copy supplements delivered with the Wisconsin State Journal, for example); and perhaps fees for speciality content, like Packers Plus-type sections.
I could even see the Journal Sentinel moving their popular Brewers and Packers beat writers to some sort of a separate fee/subscription, capturing people willing to pay for expertise the way other readers pony up for investment news and insider opinion on financial websites.
What's facing newspapers is obviously a big problem for a culture that functions best when it is informed, and is certainly a 'worst-of-times' burden internally in too.
And not only in dailies' newsrooms, because younger generations are using smarter phones for entertainment and news along with music.
I don;t think Newsday's experiment will succeed. Why buy access to its website when the New York Times and nearly all other news websites are free?
Posted by James Rowen at 10:31 AM
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett used his State of the City address Wednesday to urge state road planners to abandon the proposed $21.1 million I-94 interchange to the now-not-so-ritzy planned Pabst Farm shopping mall.
He called for that money to be redirected to more pressing needs, like fixing Milwaukee streets.
It's a reasonable suggestion - - raised often on this blog and elsewhere for months - - since a) the mall developer shelved its plan for the upscale mall, b) Pabst Farms, like many developments, has been torpedoed by the recession and a burst housing bubble, and c) a second mall developer has turned the upscale mall concept into a glorified strip mall.
The state should build a special interchange for that?
I think we're all coming to our senses, which means pay as you go, fix what you already have, buy what you need and can afford, and when given the choice, don't use public money to build Bridges, Roads and Interchanges To Nowhere.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:36 AM
Despite the right's caterwauling and doom-saying, let's be clear about what Pres. Barack Obama is laying out in his first budget.
And what he was also up to with the stimulus legislation that addressed the economic crisis and the Bush administration's legacy of deficits and national, deferred maintenance:
Fulfilling his campaign promises.
So none of his bold plans should be treated as a surprise.
He is doing what he was elected to do - - not what John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Rush Limbaugh, Bobby Jindal might have done.
The country voted for middle-class tax relief, national health care, energy conservation, cleaner water, a phased-end to the War in Iraq and a cohesive approach to improving America's role on the planet.
He's striking politically while the iron is hot, which is the smart thing to do.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:18 AM
For a pittance, generations to come will enjoy an expanded Ice Age Trail, thanks to the stimulus bill writers.
And Republicans think their opposition makes sense?
People of both parties will enjoy the improved trail.
Thanks to Tom Held for this bit of good news.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:26 AM
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Want to join the planetary effort again this year to save energy and make a statement, too?
Details here about the worldwide effort to go dark for an hour.
You'll hear more about this as March rolls on.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:41 PM
President Barack Obama's budget proposal contains $475 million - - real dollars to begin the long-promised, but unfunded Great Lakes restoration.
This is good news on several fronts.
First, obviously, is the need for a sustained effort to restore the Great Lakes.
Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines and Ald. Michael Murphy were right to praise Obama's commitment.
Pollution and invasive species have taken their toll on these unique waters: look no further than the algae-infested Lake Michigan shoreline in Milwaukee County to see the damage caused by zebra mussels, deposited in the water by ocean-going freighters, that spur algae proliferation and its resulting stench.
It's also important to note that the Obama administration is putting money behind its promises across the board, from Greta Lakes restoration, to health care reform to tax fairness, with public purpose at the foundation.
Finally, we're seeing that the Obama administration is giving resource management and conservation a top policy priority.
Environmental protection and resource management in the public interest was allowed to slide in the US, and across the Great Lakes, so it's high time the trend was reversed.
Remember when Dick Cheney said conservation was a private virtue?
Oh, how things have changed.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:18 PM
The Waukesha Plan Commission rejected one of two pending Sonic Drive-In restaurant permit applications, with these ramifications:
Waukesha will no longer be the sole Wisconsin city with more than one Sonic Drive-In.
And since Sonic Drive-Ins feature slushies, water demand in Waukesha will fall precipitously and negate much of that city's future water needs that were to be filled by a Lake Michigan diversion.
Savings to Waukesha water rate and taxpayers: $60 million!
Posted by James Rowen at 10:36 AM
Bobby Jindal's near-universally panned post-Obama response speech (well, Sean Hannity had him on the air in the aftermath, awarding the Louisiana Governor something of a mulligan), might have ruined his chances of sharing a national ticket in 2012 with Sarah Palin.
Even GOP stalwarts might think two goofs on a national ticket is one too many.
That's not to say that someone like Fred Armisen on "Saturday Night Live" isn't already honing his Jindal impression for a grateful audience.
President Barack Obama's interest in taxing the wealthy to pay for health care reform will cause certain local and national high-earning talk radio squawkers to go apoplectic, then hoarse. Now there's a real step towards tax fairness - - and national well-being.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:17 AM
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I had a couple of postings Tuesday about where Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett would point the city in his Wednesday State of the City speech - - sample here - - and looking at the text, I think I got it right.
I see also that the city is moving towards mortgage mediation and related actions, and that is a necessity, or the foreclosure tide will damage property values across the city.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:05 PM
I'm telling you, Scott Walker's too-cute-by-half behaviors, from turning down/turning around/maybe taking stimulus funds, to returning to finance filings on paper that makes searches and research much harder, is going to come back and bite him in the 2010 gubernatorial run he's already begun.
People just won't accept it.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:11 PM
Posted by James Rowen at 11:50 AM
Posted by James Rowen at 10:20 AM
A new direction from the US Environmental Protection Agency could bring some coordinated action to combat invasive species. Sounds good.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:52 AM
I think we will hear more from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in his State of the City address Wednesday about the need for green investment in Milwaukee, with water research and production being major priorities.
In other words, Milwaukee can grow by managing its water resources in the city, from the Lakefront to the Menomonee Valley, and in partnership with agencies like the MMSD - - managing the water for the benefit of people who live here and who might move here, and not shipping it out.
[Update: Here is the full text of Barrett's speech, and, as predicted, there are details about his commitment to infrastructure improvement, green job development and other grow-the-city initiatives, thanks in large measure to the stimulus funding.]
You combine that mindset with strategic investments of stimulus funding, and you have more than a plan to ride out the recession: you've got a plan to grow the city's tax base and workforce.
Which should help drive down crime.
And improve the schools.
And revive older neighborhoods, and their commercial and industrial property.
It's all connected.
Some people get it, and some don't (we're looking at you, Scott Walker).
This is what urbanity and sustainability are all about, and it's great that Barrett wants to make those issues and principles central to Milwaukee's future and its identity.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:58 AM
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Capital punishment has always been an expensive proposition - - lengthy trials, long appeals, special cells and other costly procedures - - and as states trim budgets, the death penalty may be deemed too expensive.
As a death penalty opponent, I say, whatever it takes.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:29 PM
I've been blogging lately about the condition of local streets, wiscracking that some teeth-jarring, alignment-wrecking potholes should have their own excavation permits or environmental impact statements, and stressing in all seriousness that local street repairs should be a high stimulus-spending priority, but the 20-by-30-foot sinkhole/pothole that has closed the Locust St. bridge this afternoon over the Milwaukee River drives home the point.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:50 PM
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett delivers his annual State of the City address Wednesday, and with federal stimulus dollars likely to flow soon is likely to urge that transit, and local infrastructure repairs get special attention.
Barrett is expected to urge other leaders to cooperate, promote those priorities and thus turn from one-dimensional transportation spending that favors highway building.
Milwaukee County has a failing bus system; the region has no commuter or high-speed rail, but does have streets and bridges that need fixing.
These deficits stunt business expansion and block the easy movement of people and goods - - so a cooperative effort that combines local spending with broad transit expansion can be the basis for stimulus investments as they are proposed, planned and implemented in Milwaukee and beyond.
It's a matter of better planning and political will: Barrett is definitely on the right track.
Others are not, as I noted earlier today.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:30 PM
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, obsessively-politicized and contemptous of the voters, should take a time out from his 24/7 sprint to the 2010 gubernatorial race and read about how Milwaukee's mayor and sewerage district suggest spending some stimulus funds to add jobs, save local tax dollars and conserve energy in the the city, county and region.
The details are here, thanks to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Mayor Tom Barrett and Journal Sentinel reporter Don Behm, a long-time staffer who has revived environmental reporting at the paper.
In a nutshell, the MMSD aims to capture methane gas at its Muskego landfill - - some intergovernmental cooperation linking Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties - - put it in a 17-mile pipeline and send it into MMSD operations at Jones Island.
Hundreds of jobs would be created in the pipeline construction, so the project would be good for the workforce, air quality, and property taxpayers.
It is this inter-governmental creativity, big-picture, pragmatic, Smart Government approach to stimulus dollars that Walker blew off with his "no thanks" approach.
It's what real leaders practice - - easier when not in full-time campaign mode - - as stewards of public funds and other shared resources, like air quality and natural resource supplies.
Never mind that Walker backtracked and said, yeah, I'd take money for new buses - - because we're in line for those dollars anyway.
He's got a crumbling parks and transit systems, open space in the Park East he doesn't know how to develop, and a host of under-funded and antiquated programs across the board, yet he preferred to ape his seniors in the Congress and now in some state houses who will turn their backs on stimulus funds to make am incoherent political point.
They think they are knee-capping President Barack Obama, but by channeling Bobby Jindal, Walker and the rest of the "No" Party are only stiffing their constituents and further isolating and marginalizing what remains of the GOP.
So kudos to Mayor and the sewerage district for getting this one right.
And what do you want to bet that if there's a ground-breaking soon should this methane pipeline project get green-lighted that Walker will be there bright-and-early for the photo op?
Big smile now, shovel in hand, camera-ready for the campaign brochure.
I'd say the odds are about 99-1 in favor, unless Walker is back in Washington, DC, raising more campaign cash at events hosted by other Republicans who opposed stimulus funding, hoping for national financial failure.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:06 AM
The Wisconsin Chief Justice drew a fine, upbeat crowd at a fundraiser Monday night.
We're lucky to have such a bright and classy chief jurist running Wisconsin's court system.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:37 AM
Monday, February 23, 2009
How long do you think it will take for New Berlin to change the rules and begin moving diverted Lake Michigan water west of Calhoun Rd., past the current development boundary that was part of its purchase agreement with the City of Milwaukee?
I'd guess within 18 months, or whenever the housing market recovers, or if a persuasive developer prevails on New Berlin for approval of "Lake Michigan Estates."
Who's paying for the pumps and other infrastructure that Milwaukee's Water Works will need to add to its system to get Lake Michigan water across the subcontinental divide and out to New Berlin?
Just asking...since that will be a major issue that the City of Waukesha will have to grapple with, too.
The cost of the New Berlin-connected upgrade is not included in its $1.5 million one-time payment to Milwaukee.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:42 PM
Though not reported in great detail in Wisconsin, Mayor Tom Barrett's letter about distorted stimulus priorities has landed in a network of transportation activists and planning experts, here.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:17 AM
Do you think that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, with a regional economic development mission, responsibility for transportation plans and some federal spending, and a staff of 49 professionals, is an active partner - - perhaps a leader - - in aligning incoming stimulus funding to benefit the "highly urbanized" area of the state its website says is its turf?
I looked at the agendas for next week's meetings of the agency's key executive and administrative committees, and there's nothing listed on the subject.
Also nothing about the stimulus on the agenda for the 2/10 meeting of SEWRPC's Planning and Research Committee, and those minutes won't be published for a long time. More about that desultory process in a few paragraphs.
And SEWRPC's Intergovernmental and Public Relations Committee? It last met in November, 2006, and has convened only twice since 2005, though with stimulus funding passing from the feds, to the states, to local governments, and some directly to regional planning bodies like SEWRPC, you'd think this committee or some other SEWRPC arm would be thinking and working and planning along these lines.
I'm not making this up: work you way through the meetings and agendas, here.
Now log onto the Chicago Metropolitan Area Planning Commission's (CMAP) website - - something I have suggested on this blog - - for further proof that in Chicago, the regional planners are anxious for, and genuinely seek, public participation, feedback, communication and action.
Item number one on the CMAP site:
Regional response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
"At a new CMAP web page about the federal economic recovery package, our staff are posting frequent updates and analysis. Among the highlights are CMAP's draft recommended criteria for evaluating and reporting on projects eligible for funding. Check back often for new additions, or subscribe to the RSS Feed. "
The new CMAP webpage referenced is updated every week.
In fact, I'll save you the trouble of finding the 2/20 update. Here it is:
"ARRA upate. Since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was signed on Tuesday by President Obama, we have been working closely with local partners to prepare for the infusion of stimulus funds for infrastructure, including transportation, water projects, housing, economic and workforce development, energy, brownfields, and more. Don't forget to watch our Regional Response web page for updates. (You can also subscribe to the page via RSS feed.) According to FHWA, the highway funds for each state from the ARRA are distributed as follows: 67 percent for allocation to any area of the state, 30 percent for suballocation to areas based on population, and 3 percent for Transportation Enhancements. In Illinois, this will result in distribution of a total funding amount of $935 million, broken down as $626 million to any area of the state, $280 million for suballocation to areas based on population, $28 million to Transportation Enhancements. We are in continual contact with IDOT and other CMAP partners to help ensure that our region and its residents benefit to the fullest extent possible."
Alot of information there - - CMAP even sent the public and community groups suggested criteria for stimulus spending and asked for feedback 28 days ago.
Why isn't SEWRPC doing this sort of work - - even some modest, risk-free convening? - - and posting it, and encouraging people to read and join in, as the Chicago organization is doing for and with what it calls its "partners?"
Partners? SEWRPC does not even think that way.
It didn't even follow the recommendations of its own Environmental Justice Task Force when the EJTF sought a role in the pending hiring of a new SEWRPC Executive Director, and, later, when the EJTF asked that the regional water supply study and all future SEWRPC studies contain an independent socio-economic analysis.
And urging people to tap into an RSS feed of its work?
Don't make me laugh: I am not sure if SEWRPC's management even knows what an RSS feed is, and if it does, the instant public communication by RSS feed of work-in-progress would be seen in the agency's second-floor, buttoned-up management offices as a threat.
SEWRPC still hasn't even bought a digital tape recorder at the local Radio Shack to capture and post verbatim meeting minutes and proceedings on its stodgy, monochromatic and barely interactive website - - the internet equivalent of an eight-track tape deck or a black-and-white analog television set.
The taxed-but-unrepresented City of Milwaukee on the SEWRPC governing board- - heck, the entire seven-county structure created in a misdirected 1960's brainstorm that includes Walworth, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine, Kenosha, Waukesha and Milwaukee Counties - - suffers every day that this anachronistic, unresponsive and disconnected agency burns through $7 million tax dollars annually without a real-life, street-level mission, and a sense of urgency.
I've said it before, and I repeat it now because it's more necessary with every passing day:
The City and County of Milwaukee, on behalf of the tens of thousands of residents and taxpayers for whom stimulus plans could be the difference between life and death - - and a region, the difference between more stagnation or a fighting chance at some growth and employment - - absolutely must extract itself from this sonambulant and self-perpetuating irrelevancy.
Poor Jeff Wagner. He walked out of Slumdog Millionaire, saying he just didn't get it.
As he says, it's a subjective thing, but maybe if he'd stuck around for the ending...
Posted by James Rowen at 12:02 AM
Sunday, February 22, 2009
The goal is to get invasive species out of Wisconsin port waters in the Great Lakes by preventing ocean-going ships from depositing them in discharged ballast water.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:32 AM
Saturday, February 21, 2009
This is this blog's 3,000th posting, so most of the stardust accompanying this historic event in Wisconsin electronic media achievement is owed through pure coincidence to a link to Journal Sentinel Darryl Enriquez's piece about a new designation he has unearthed about the city that makes up his beat:
Waukesha, we learn, will soon become become the first Wisconsin community hosting and boasting two Sonic Drive-in restaurants.
Will we see "Waukesha, The Sonic City" signs anytime soon? Maybe - - if Timmermann Field were upgraded to take F-16's.
Waukesha used to be "Spring City" because so much clean water literally bubbled to the surface there, creating a locale known for bottling companies, spas and train (yes!) cars loaded with health-conscious visitors looking to "take the waters."
So - - things change.
Had there been a different mindset out Waukesha way over the years, perhaps the city would not be paying consultants hundreds of thousands of continuing dollars for a likely plan to divert Lake Michigan water - - at a potential political cost to the region, and a financial tab of $60 million that might eat up a disproportionate share of possible federal stimulus funding.
Anyway - - I might give one of the Sonics a nostalgic try even if I wish Waukesha's springs and the land above and surrounding them had been better preserved.
And I am still partial to Rochester's Deli, with the great cornbeef and homemade desserts available in the historic downtown as the place to grab lunch in Waukesha.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:25 AM
Panelists at the Congress for the New Urbanism panel discussion Friday afternoon at UW-Milwaukee were in general agreement that stimulus funding should be focused on job and transit development in the City of Milwaukee, because that's where the bang for the buck would be the loudest.
New Urbanism promotes development in cities and neighborhoods where residential and retail uses are linked by a variety of transportation choices - - transit, sidewalks and bikepaths, as well as streets and roads for automobiles.
New Urbanism encourages density - - in other words, the 'old urbanism' clustering of people - - rather than their dispersal in hodge-podge subdivision and sprawl developments where there is little transit and more automobile-only commuting.
Some panel discussion highlights:
Peter McAvoy, Vice-President for Environmental Services at the 16th St. Community Health Clinic, said a key issue was job development, especially in water-related industries that were already here or that could take advantage of the region's water resources.
He also said that spending stimulus funding on energy retrofits to the city's older housing stock was a relatively low-cost way to achieve multiple goals - - conservation, cleaner air and reduction of global warming greenhouse gas pollutants.
Developer Bob Monnat said city infrastructure should be the focus, not highway spending far from Milwaukee.
Former 3rd District Alderman Michael D'Amato said there was a lack of political will to orient stimulus spending more heavily towards transit.
D'Amato said the City of Milwaukee did not create a large enough list of "shovel-ready" transit projects for stimulus spending consideration, and that a major continuing problem was that permission was needed for progress on transit from the leading obstacle to transit expansion in Milwaukee County - - Scott Walker.
The same Scott Waljer who will not make a deal with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to split $91.5 million in existing federal transit funding already earmarked for Milwaukee, but losing value to inflation and inertia.
Panelists said poor stimulus spending and planning in a highway-hungry state could waste the potential leveraging of private sector dollars: a past example of leveraging cited by architect Mike Ernst was Milwaukee's Riverwalk, which triggered a building boom along the river downtown and through the Third Ward.
Developer Monnat bluntly said the stimulus could become a "travesty" if Milwaukee infrastructure got short shrift in the allocations at the expense of out-state road-building.
[My opinion: this possibility is already a partial reality, as one-third of the first $300 million in stimulus funding has been dedicated by the state for the rebuilding and widening of the north/south leg of I-94 between the airport and the Illinois state line, and first-round stimulus funding rules laid down by the state Transportation Department for urban projects so favored major road projects that Milwaukee street and bridge repairs were not eligible.
To his credit, Mayor Tom Barrett protested the state's rules, but the not-surprising but still embarrassing silence from Milwaukee's legislative delegation shows how widespread and deep-rooted is the power of the road-builders' lobby.]
The panel discussion, part of an ongoing lecture series at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, drew about 100 people, and also served as an organizing meeting for the CNU and its nascent Wisconsin chapter.
The Chicago-based organization, run by former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist since 2004, will hold its 2011 national convention in Madison.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:52 AM
Friday, February 20, 2009
Remember the acrimonious debate over New Berlin's water deal with Milwaukee last year, during which New Berlin said it would not pipe the water west of Calhoun Road, where New Berlin has always said development was limited?
So why did the draft water supply plan for the diverted water - - a plan and map required to be part of New Berlin's application for the diversion - - show territory west of Calhoun Road in line for diverted water?
The draft has been corrected, but why didn't New Berlin city officials catch the mistake before the draft was shown to its city council?
If a sharp-eyed politician hadn't noticed...?
Posted by James Rowen at 10:59 PM
The Governor is proposing a widespread public smoking ban. Health and environmental activists have got to organize to make sure it becomes law.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:54 PM
We're so disinterested in the war in Iraq, and sated by Pentagon PR pablum, that an horrific mass murder during a religious procession rates but page A-8 in The Washington Post.
Shame on us.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:43 PM
Chicago development and transportation expert Scott Bernstein looks into Journal Sentinel columnist Patrick McIlheran's recent attack on the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail and concludes that the region, businesses and residents would suffer increasing costs if they followed McIlheran's advice.
Bernstein's column is here.
McIlheran's is here. He is the paper's in-house conservative columnist, and on transportation issues, is to the right of mainline business groups like the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, that support commuter rail, regional transit authorities and county sales taxes to operate them.
Several weeks ago, Bernstein was invited by southeastern Wisconsin regional civic and business leaders to address a conference on transit's contribution to growth.
With stimulus funding opportunities on the horizon, Bernstein's arguments are timely and compelling.
"Southeastern Wisconsin families pay $8.5 billion out of pocket to own and operate cars, businesses $5.5 billion and government $1.5 billion annually. Over 30 years, you pay a half-trillion dollars. KRM and tandem bus and streetcar services pale by comparison, and they bring back many times their initial cost in growing and recurring benefits.
"The region's tab is high because it lacks alternatives. A household driving 25,000 miles per year pays 66% of its income for housing and transportation. A household driving 15,000 miles pays 56.5 % of its income for that - a 10% increase in disposable income, tax-free, at today's prices. When gas returns to $4 a gallon, transportation will cost more than housing.
"You could miss these savings if officials don't pass new Regional Transit Authority legislation, blend existing Milwaukee County funds with other funds for a true three-county system and use the new American Renewal and Reinvestment Act - $600 million for Wisconsin highways, streets and public transit, plus last-minute appropriations for Amtrak and new high-speed-rail services."
Posted by James Rowen at 11:45 AM
Details are here about a Friday late afternoon panel hosted at UW-Milwaukee by the Wisconsin chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism to discuss the federal stimulus package.
The program is free and open to the public, and is extremely timely for two reasons.
The first, obviously, is that stimulus funding is on its way.
The second, just as obviously, is that there is already a disconnect between the greatest socia-economic needs, and politics:
Though poverty and unemployment are concentrated in Milwaukee, the first $300 million of federal stimulus financing is already out the door - - to highway projects including I-94 widening and rebuilding south of Milwaukee to the Illinois state line.
And additional rules for urban projects announced by the State Department of Transportation have ruled out Milwaukee street and bridge repairs, according to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and WisDOT.
The CNU fosters development and job-creation in cities that supports transit, pedestrian movement and other basic city infrastructure precisely because that's what knits together neighborhoods and connects people with work, commerce, entertainment and interaction.
New Urbanism, put into practice, was the theory behind Milwaukee's Riverwalk, Commerce Street development, Third Ward and King Drive revivals and a host of other investments - - private and public - - that added huge value to Milwaukee.
Federal stimulus money can be leveraged into similar improvements in cities across the state - - if the state and local governments commit themselves in this direction.
The CNU panel can point us in the right direction.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:01 AM
I suspect that the toll road trial balloon floated out by Gov. Jim Doyle will fall to earth, given public outcry, leaving two options: a whopping increase in the gas tax and fees (and borrowings), or a trim in the road-building budget.
Now is the time to go for the trim, sparing the taxpayer, leaving wetlands alone, and improving air quality, too.
Stimulus money can be funneled into transit and repairs to existing roads, streets and bridges.
That's where the job growth can be in the cities, too.
We do not need more new lanes on already-overbuilt major highways, continuing the wasteful, contractor-happy road-building spree begun in the really big tax-and-spend days of former Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:55 AM
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Wisconsin Republicans are imitating their counterparts in the US Congress, where "No" has become a strategy...and a way of life.
This is not a Grand Old Party. Just a party with old ideas.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:41 PM
It should be an easy discussion between city advocates who 'get it:'
So we're counting on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to tell President Barack Obama - - their meeting is tomorrow - - that city infrastructure and job needs should be higher stimulus spending priorities than, say, constructing two 35-mile unneeded toll lanes for $200 million connecting Milwaukee with the Illinois state line.
Barrett wants to spend federal funds on local street aids, but at least in the first round of stimulus financing, state highway planners have lobbed that money at their I-94 contractors.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:06 PM
Website and tools, here.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:47 PM
Thanks to Lee Bergquist at the Journal Sentinel for this comprehensive summary.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:35 AM
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Blackwater Worldwide, in Illinois and Beyond: The Dangers of Outsourcing Our Security. Dan Kenney of the Clearwater Project, organized in Illinois to oppose the privatization of war and law enforcement, will speak at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 20, in Room 001, Cudahy Hall, 1313 W Wisconsin Ave., on the Marquette University campus.
Sponsored by Veterans for Peace, Iraq Moratorium, Peace Action-Wisconsin, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Progressive Students of Milwaukee and the Marquette Center for Peacemaking.
The event is free and open to the public. More information, contact Peace Action, 964-5158, or Email Iraq Moratorium-Wisconsin: Iraqmoratorium@wi.rr.com
Posted by James Rowen at 5:27 PM
I'm glad to see President Obama reiterate his opposition to reinstating the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which mandated equal time for opposing views on federally-owned airwaves.
Proponents are angry at ubiquitous conservative talk radio, and I agree that it is a corrosive phenomenon, but fighting it with legislation is a mistake, and has led to a lot of audience-churning chatter by rightie talkers.
The way to counter right-wing talk radio is with solid, fact-based commentary, whether on the radio, or elsewhere - - including the wild west Internet that offers so many choices and outlets, for free.
Look at talk radio's inability this election cycle to protect Republicans and conservatives. They lost.
So fight it out in the marketplace of ideas, and let's take away one of the right's current causes.
Drop the idea of reconstituting the Fairness Doctrine.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:49 PM
When the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission was putting the final touches on its $6.5 billion freeway expansion and rebuilding project plan, then-Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist said the plan should include a fiscal blueprint explaining how it would be financed.
He often said "freeways" was a misnomer, because they certainly weren't free.
The SEWRPC advisory committee that wrote the plan declined to recommend a financing plan as Norquist suggested, but did include in its formal recommendation that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation provide the Governor and state legislature a financing plan for each segment of the 25-30 year plan as they unfolded.
See the relevant SEWRPC committee minutes, pages 10-11, here - - and while I regret that Norquist's initial recommendation was not approved, I wonder how detailed WisDOT's segment-by-segment financing work has really been.
That's because Gov. Jim Doyle today told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was slowing down work on the Zoo Interchange phase - - a segment he had moved up on the schedule about three years ago to mollify Waukesha County politicos who were demanding a quicker fix for their constituents' mini-commutes - - because the projected cost of the Zoo Interchange was going to exceed that of the Marquette Interchange.
That's a stunner.
And reflects a whopping expansion of the estimates, as the Marquette Interchange came in at $810 million, and was only shrunk on paper from the $1 billion+ first estimated by the failed McCallum administration because the parameters of the Marquette Interchange were reduced.
And Doyle indicated a willingness to consider tolling some Wisconsin highways - - something sure to cause an uproar, because Wisconsinites consider tolls to be an Illinois-style burden and foreign to people on our side of the border.
There is $200 million of untrimmed fat in the $1.9 billion I-94 North-South segment for 70 miles of new lanes that Doyle is keeping on schedule even though the need for that fourth lane is not supported by the data.
All in all, it's proof that freeways aren't free, and that the real way to reduce the cost of these bloated projects is to trim or cancel them.
A final note: When the full SEWRPC commission approved the advisory committee plan - - also thus approving freeway expansion in the City of Milwaukee opposed by both the Milwaukee Common Council and Milwaukee County Board in separate votes, then sent it off to the state - - it washed its hands of fiscal responsibility, saying it was the state's responsibility to prioritize and spend transportation money.
The Commission also said, on p. 237 of its final, approved plan, that there was only a "modest gap" of $50 million annually that the state would be raising and spending on transportation projects.
[Disclosure: I worked for Mayor Norquist while the freeway plan was being written and attended the meetings to which I linked and referred.]
Posted by James Rowen at 1:48 PM
The Wisconsin Chapter of The Congress for the New Urbanism is sponsoring a panel discussion on stimulus funding opportunities and issues this Friday, at 4:30 p.m., at UW-Milwaukee.
Scroll down briefly on this UW-M website for contact information. The campus sponsor is the School of Architecture.
The CNU promotes development that is neighborhood-scale, transit-connected and walkable, and is a leader in urban revival. Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist is president and CEO of this national, Chicago-based group.
This very timely event is free, has a fine panel of speakers, and should serve as a good organizing event for CNU and the urban agenda it promotes.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:39 AM
The Governor also pledged to "move forward" with the proposed UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Science, a real boon to the university and Great Lakes science that knits together business and education.
Great news for Milwaukee in a tough budget repair bill address.
Kudos to Gov. Doyle - - and it is important to support the Governor when there are solid efforts on behalf of Milwaukee like this.
Right now (no pun intended), the debate is being framed by right-wing talkers bashing the tax and revenue portions of the speech.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:52 AM
In Wisconsin, and elsewhere, corn ethanol businesses are going broke.
Plenty of farmers are going to get hurt as the price of corn falls but there are bills to pay.
Maybe the next flavor-of-the-day energy solution will be more carefully thought out, as corn was always too expensive to grow, and as a food commodity, inappropriately being converted into a fuel.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:38 AM
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
And while a few turtles won't slow down the largest road project in state history, has WisDOT figured out yet where it's going to rebuild/replace/remediate some wetlands for those they will pave in the project, too?
Seems I remember that they just couldn't find any.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:39 PM
Some things jump out at me in the first accounts of the Governor's budget speech:
* No cut to shared revenue. Every local taxpayer should turn a cartwheel.
* The proposed capital gains and high-earner tax increases are reasonable. Another bump in the cigarette tax will help drive down usage, so there's an additional benefit.
Expect an uproar from the GOP and their megaphones on talk radio, but most or of those increases are going to happen.
* Delaying the Zoo Interchange is a good step. It should never have been moved to the faster-track schedule that had it over-lapping with the I-94 North/South leg from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line.
While engineering study continues, a premium has to be placed on design simplicity and property retention, and a basic repaving with minimal improvements would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
* Another $200 million could have been shaved off the North/South project by eliminating its new, fourth lane, as studies show it will relieve only imaginary congestion, but Gov. Doyle is betting the farm and $97 million in early stimulus funding on that project, and there seems to be no turning him from it.
* Authorization for regional transpotation authorities to save and expand transit in SE Wisconsin, The Fox Valley and Madison, in Dane County, are good institutional steps that could eventually support commuter train service, but the half-cent sales tax authorizations accompanying the enabling law that require county approvals may not happen, so transit may remain in its desultory position statewide for some time to come.
Milwaukee County's bus system is running out of time, as Scott Walker, the Executive, is only too willing to preside over the system's death spiral.
Direct state aid or a takeover may be needed, or Milwaukee County may be forced to further trim an already ailing system, raise fares to unsustainable levels, or shut it down altogether.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:14 PM
I am being told that formulas in the just-signed federal stimulus bill will give regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO's) a direct say in how a big chunk of new federal transportation stimulus dollars will be spent.
Forgive me if this sound arcane or irrelevant. It is not.
The goal of that section of the legislation is to get some transportation spending decisions closer to the grassroots than state Departments of Transportation, which have a tendency, as does Wisconsin's, to pour transportation funding into new highways.
Wisconsin has already laid down rules for stimulus spending it controls that rewards freeway contractors and denies Milwaukee money for shovel-ready local road and bridge repairs.
But will the good institutional intentions written into the stimulus bill for MPO funding control play out well in Wisconsin, and particularly in a seven-county region around here where the MPO is the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - SEWRPC?
Since SEWRPC wrote the ongoing $6.5 billion freeway expansion and rebuilding plan, and as recently as last year recommended spending $25 million on a useless interchange to serve a stalled shopping mall project at Western Waukesha County's Pabst Farms project, I'd say the law of unintended consequences may be giving a biased and distant agency a fresh budget with which to build more roads and kick off or reward urban sprawl.
I have often pointed to the absence of any City of Milwaukee representation on the 21-member governing body running the taxpayer-funded SEWRPC, and argued often on this blog and elsewhere that Milwaukee should withdraw from the Commission, create a similar body of its own, and thus implement an urban agenda in the state's most-urbanized region and gain more control over land use, water rights, housing, employment, development and transportation programming.
Milwaukee and a broader urban agenda often get short-shrift at SEWRPC, where heavily-rural counties have a majority of Commission seats, and where exurban and suburban policies are implemented by a self-perpetuating network of managers that reflect the commission's structure.
A summary of my argument was published in the Journal Sentinel Crossroads last June, here, and I used the example of the Madison-based Capital Area Regional Planning Commission as an example of an alternative that rewarded urban needs.
That Commission has turned over the entire transportation component of what is a one-county (Dane) commission and MPO to the City of Madison.
Imagine if such an arrangement were the way regional and transportation planning were guided here: we'd have less spending on regional freeways and more on city-focused programs such as transit and local street services as the priorities.
Milwaukee leaders and local groups are going to have press SEWRPC hard for a fair portion of stimulus dollars that will come into SEWRPC's hands for transportation purposes.
And make sure that transportation doesn't get defined as moving water, so that federal stimulus dollars are handed through a back door to Waukesha, or a new regional authority created by SEWRPC to move diverted Lake Michigan water through the region.
That's not as far-fetched as it sounds: SEWRPC financed close to a third of its just-concluded $900,000 water supply study (which recommends Lake Michigan diversions) by tapping into a Milwaukee County mapping kitty funded with property deed registration dollars.
Mapping became land use/became water policy planning because water policy influences land use and changes to maps, so it would not surprise me if someone in Waukesha city government or at SEWRPC isn't already thinking...stimulus funding for regional transportation planning might justify regional regional water uses because water availability influences development, transportation and land use - - all of which are SEWRPC tasks.
Do we really think Waukesha wants its tax and water rate payers to pay the cost of diverting and returning Lake Michigan water? That could be $60 million, or more if the Underwood Creek return flow discharge point in Wauwatosa falls through.
Tragic would not be too strong a word if an already arrogant agency that treats the city like an unwanted step-child (SEWRPC approved freeway expansion in the city on valuable real estate over the formal objections of both the Milwaukee County Board - - 15-10, and the City Common Council unanimously) got unencumbered millions to spend and ignored the state and region's largset city?
And spent those public, stimulus dollars based on the wishes of unelected, non-City of Milwaukee managers and commissioners?
Posted by James Rowen at 11:59 AM
The Road To Sprawlville in this chapter of our continuing series runs through Franklin, where blogger John Michlig's sharp eye and camera notes what happens when you plop pavement on top of wetlands.
I'm a fan of John's aptly named Sprawled Out blog, on which he often focuses on Franklin, where planning sometimes seems on vacation.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:12 AM
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, after a nearly-34-year-delay, is about to begin a study of regional housing issues.
SEWRPC has finally published the study's scope of work, which outlines how the agency wants an advisory committee to proceed.
You can read it here.
It's an important document - - unfortunately prepared in secret without community input - - and I have posted several commentaries of my own about the scope, its drafting, and shortcomings, with the most recent February 11th.
In response, a knowledgeable Southeastern Wisconsin resident and reader sent me a further critique, which I am pleased to post, below, as it raises key issues that the housing advisory committee must address when it holds its first meeting on March 5th.
These issues are too important, and too much time between studies elapsed, for this process to begin down the wrong road.
The author cited in a self-description ongoing concern about "the future of Southeastern Wisconsin" and knowing "first hand the value of partnership and public participation through my work in community planning over the past 20 years in numerous locales."
This is not the first time that I have posted an anonymous commentary. I do this selectively when I am assured of the person's credibility, and, of course, I routinely post anonymous comments, too.
Here is the guest posting:
"I just read your Feb. 11 posting on the SEWRPC housing plan and read the scope of work; I see the scope of work slightly penetrate the intellectual "brick wall" there in terms of getting more relevant content and structure into the plan report. However, as you indicate, many deficiencies exist with regard to public participation and report content.
"The public participation aspect is quite predictable, and as you mention, and it enables SEWRPC staff to maintain control over the process. This approach detracts 80 percent or more from the relevance of such a housing study and its ability to have any influence, or create sufficient awareness of, a very important issue.
"Given that sad fact, very little value, if any, will be added to the taxpayer funds spent to undertake such an effort and important issues will go unaddressed in the needed comprehensive fashion.
"Without the added value, one could easily reason that the money should be spent on something else besides another useless document.
"What is sorely needed here is partnership with and direct participation from community organizations, universities, and various other knowledgeable people who can provide valuable insights and meaningful analysis to the effort. That's what will make it effective, useful, and in the public interest.
"Creating another document behind closed doors in Pewaukee, with limited expertise and no meaningful external input, is not effective, not in the public interest, and creates no value.
"As you mentioned, there is nothing in the proposed scope of work pertaining to mortgage financing or foreclosure issues. While this is a dynamic situation, and has been since late 2006, it is the single largest influence on housing affordability and availability today, and probably for at least 10 years to come.
"Unfortunately, it is understood by very few people, which makes formulating any kind of meaningful public policy/strategy impossible. These issues can be explained in everyday terms for people to understand, and included in the report so that informed decisions can be made. Nobody on the SEWRPC staff has a complete understanding of this subject, hence the need for outside partnerships, assistance, and co-authoring of a report.
"At the very least, the SEWRPC staff should recognize this as an important issue and admit they need help to address it.
"Finally, I take issue with the discussion of funding difficulties for housing planning, as described in the scope of work. As you mentioned, there was no difficulty in raising money needed to complete the water supply study.
"In addition, the management staff at SEWRPC has had no problem (or ethical dilemma) funding the recent purchase of automobiles for the exclusive use of themselves, including those who have "retired" from their positions. You've certainly addressed that issue in the past as well.
"What possible conclusions can be made, other than the obvious one that self-interests come before the public interest at SEWRPC.
"Management by ego makes for some really bad government. Southeastern Wisconsin is behind the curve in terms of regional planning, and not getting what we pay for. This puts us at a significant disadvantage relative to other regions of the U.S. in terms of economic development potential and quality of life. Given the area's many assets, that doesn't have to happen."
Posted by James Rowen at 5:43 AM
Monday, February 16, 2009
But there are others.
And in between this project and the already-widened Marquette Interchange stands Story Hill and I-94 near Miller Park, the state transportation department's as yet unattained and unwidened prize.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:30 PM
Nice-looking program that I learned about through Twitter, by the way, so in the spirit of adapting to new ways of doing things, here's my suggestion:
Get these interesting Nelson Institute programs off the UW-Madison campus (this one is a nine-parter!), where many attendees will already be among the converted, and put them on the road.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:11 PM
A shovel is the right implement for Scott Walker, given the barnyard mess his phony stimulus plan (sic) would create.
I don't think there has ever been such blatant, one-dimensional use of a taxpayer-paid local office as the platform to another office than the way our County Executive has used that position to grasp after Gov. Jim Doyle's.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:52 PM
I had earlier posted the news, based on Wisconsin Department of Transportation documents and web postings, that the agency was telling local governments that big roads were to get the first round of stimulus funding - - at the expense of city street grids and other urban needs.
Late last week, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett sent WisDOT secretary Frank Busalacchi a letter pointing out specifically how that decision will hurt Milwaukee's street and bridge needs.
Here is the text of the letter:
February 12, 2009
Mr. Frank Busalacchi, Secretary
Wisconsin Department of Transportation
4802 Sheboygan Avenue – Room 120B
P.O. Box 7910
Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7910
Subject: Federal Stimulus Local Project Solicitation
Dear Mr. Busalacchi:
In response to your February 6th memo, City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works staff is evaluating and attempting to identify projects that meet the criteria, as you have outlined, for economic stimulus funding.
In anticipation of the Economic Stimulus Plan, the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works had identified in November of last year approximately $43 million of local street and bridge work ($15 million in local street paving & preventative maintenance work, $13 million in moveable bridge work, and $15 million in alley work) that would require little to no additional design work and could be let to contract for construction very quickly.
This work was included in a larger inventory of City of Milwaukee projects (attached) that I had forwarded to the President-Elect Barack Obama Transition Team and the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation on December 18, 2008, for consideration under the Economic Stimulus Package.
Governor Jim Doyle was copied with this transmittal.
However, based on your memo and guidance on the use of stimulus funding for transportation purposes, the projects that we had identified late last year are not eligible.
I don't know if WisDOT is getting insight or direction from the Federal Government on how the stimulus funding must be used or if WisDOT has some flexibility and discretion on how to administer the use of the stimulus funding, but the criteria and process that you have outlined not only prohibits all of the street and bridge work we originally identified but it significantly limits the number of local projects that could utilize such funding.
The types of projects and the level of detail (all environmental reports, DSR, utilities coordination, permits, right of way, TMP, and PS&E) that you are asking us to submit by March 17, 2009, generally requires 2 to 3 years to develop under WisDOT processes. It is impossible to advance such a project in one month. The only way we could possibly meet your criteria is if we submit projects that have already been
Mr. Frank Busalacchi
February 12, 2009
developed and planned for under the existing STP-Urban (STP-U); STP-Rural (STP-R); Local Bridge; Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP); Transportation Enhancements (TE) and Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality (CMAQ) (air quality non-attainment counties only) programs and possibly redirect the funding that has been authorized for these projects to future projects.
However, this doesn't accomplish the intent of the stimulus plan to generate immediate additional work above and beyond what is already scheduled.
To that end, I strongly urge the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to determine some way for the local communities that have the capabilities, such as the City of Milwaukee, to directly utilize a portion of the stimulus funding for projects that can have an immediate impact in putting people to work.
Our $43 million in local street and bridge work would provide that immediate impact. I respectfully request a meeting with you and your staff to discuss any possible options that might be available to us.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:21 PM
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has posted the hurry-up rules and procedures for first-phase stimulus funding applications, and "Collector or higher" roads - - the biggest we've got - - get the priority under urban projects, says the website.
More information here.
In the classification jargon of federally-funded road systems, arterial and collector are higher-level, higher-capacity than are local.
This isn't arcane: the feds explain it simply here.
And, of course, transit planning and funding always is at the back of the transportation system bus.
That leaves out your local neighborhood or commercial-strip streets, sidewalks, bikepaths and other modalities that need investment, and that are good for cities and clean air because they de-emphasize petroleum burn.
Who wins in this funding decision announced by WisDOT? (Read WisDOT Secretary's Frank Busalacchi's funding application letter and proposal requirements here.)
The politically-connected road-building contractors, and the suburban and exurban constituencies they serve.
Final question: Does the Milwaukee delegation plan to speak up? Does it have a pulse?
Posted by James Rowen at 11:32 AM
Though noting the highways/transit imbalance, one writer is thrilled at what's in the bill.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:35 AM
Sunday, February 15, 2009
They'd prefer more Bush-era programs.
That worked out well for Wisconsin/the country/the planet, right?
More commentary here on the Republicans' political death-wish fascination.
Instead of a Grand Old Party, it's becoming the Party of Political Necromancy
Posted by James Rowen at 4:38 PM
Posted by James Rowen at 3:12 PM
Milwaukee County's transit services are the subject of a current study, which is now in the comment period.
Here are a couple of useful links:
The website describing the plan and the comment period, is here.
Substantive comments by local activist Bill Sell are here.
Now if only the officials running the plan would actually listen to the detailed comments, we'd have a real transit system here instead of the floundering, failing, flailing operation that may not survive Scott Walker's deliberate, Grover Norquist-inspired drowning.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:07 PM
College students ride an ice flow down a river.
Snowmobilers ram into each other and trees all winter long, or kill wildlife and jump their machines over open water, sometimes making it across, sometimes not.
Sturgeon fishermen with children drive pickups onto frozen lakes - - sometimes into the water, with deaths resulting.
Do snow, ice and cold temperatures freeze the brain, too?
Posted by James Rowen at 12:39 PM
Well-done piece about mortgage financing and political leadership by the Journal Sentinel's Waukesha columnist Laurel Walker.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Combine that with 'my son was blocking the set,' and Dad should soon be on the way to the pokey.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:52 PM
So says the SEWRPC website, here.
If this is your issue, and you were, say, 35 years old when SEWRPC last published a regional housing plan, you are now approaching your 70th birthday.
Feel free to consult the count-up clock I installed on the face page of my blog that breaks it out by days, hours, minutes and yes, seconds.
It's all about timeliness.
You might want to stop by the meeting at the Tommy Thompson center at State Fair Park from 4-6 p.m. and let the agency know that a lot has happened between meetings.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:13 PM
An easy-to-use website lists Milwaukee's proposed stimulus-funded projects, and allows you to vote for those you want funded, or not.
So far, local street construction is leading the list, and repairs are also high up there.
Having hit some potholes recently that should have had their own excavation permits or environmental impact statements posted, I support local road repairs and improvements as a wise use of stimulus funding.
As opposed to widening some piece of already overbuilt, sprawl-inducing interstate highway, erroneously called 'freeway.'.
So weigh In on various green building (the Villard Library, for example), energy-savings, infrastructure-fixing, job-creating, water-conserving, and other good proposals.
Thanks to the City for putting together such a list: Scott Walker denied Milwaukee County and its taxpayers such an opportunity by declining to create a list.
He preferred to bloviate about more tax cuts, thus stimulating only his presumptive 2010 GOP caniddacy,
To which we say what he said about stimulus funding:
Thanks, but no thanks.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:37 PM
The crimes alleged by the Milwaukee County District Attorney against former Milwaukee Police Association President Bradley DeBraska over an allegedly-bogus memorandum filed in an MPA lawsuit against the City of Milwaukee certainly raise a host of questions.
A criminal complaint usually contains just enough information to support the charging, so we will have to wait for additional facts, allegations and findings to emerge.
Here is a link to the full complaint.
Let me also say that I worked in the administration of Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist when the MPA was peppering the city with pension-related lawsuits, but I left city employment in January, 2004 - - before the allegedly false memorandum was created, so I was unaware of the situation until the news broke last last week about it.
Questions that leaps to mind are:
* How was the allegedly forged and back-dated memorandum that the complaint says was created at DeBraska's direction on an MPA computer transferred onto official city letterhead stationary?
* Who put the Kalwitz signature on the memorandum?
Here are copies of what the complaint says are the memorandum's original text, and the copy on official city/Common council President letterhead stationery on which Kalwitz said is not his signature.
These questions are not answered in the complaint, though the complaint says the MPA did not have the technical means to create such stationery.
Are there supplies of official letterhead outside of the control of the City of Milwaukee?
That would be a serious problem, akin to blank City of Milwaukee checks walking away from the City Treasurer's office.
Such a circumstance would enable misuse, regardless of how stupid such actions might be.
Kalwitz says in the complaint that he did not carefully look at the affidavit that he signed - - the memorandum purportedly from and signed by him was incorporated into the affidavit - - and did not realize that the signature on the memorandum wasn't his signature, the complaint says.
The complaint describes the memorandum as central to the MPA's case.
Kalwitz did receive along with the affidavit that he signed a $2,000 MPA check signed by Debraska for what Kalwitz understood to be consulting services, the complaint says, though the complaint does not further describe that consulting arrangement.
Kalwitz left city employment in 2000.
Finally, will the city bill the MPA for the time that city lawyers, labor negotiators, aldermen and others spent dealing with a lawsuit that the DA now says included an allegedly phony but important document - - that the city and not the city pension system participants (many of whom are members of the MPA) should pay the lion's share of a multi-million dollar pension system computer upgrade.
Some of those city employees who dealt with the police litigation are in the $100,000+ annual salary range - - so you're looking at plenty of hours at $50 dollars each, and more dollars for the time of support staff, too.
All the lawsuits were rolled into what was called the global settlement, hammered out over a period of years with the help also of city-paid expensive, outside lawyers and actuaries.
Those folks don't work for $50 an hour, believe me.
The allegedly forged memorandum also suggests a settlement that would boost one level of employee benefits for police union members to the level enjoyed by city firefighters.
I think the MPA, though it didn't authorize the drafting of the letter, should bear the cost of the actions of its then-President, since the MPA profited and prospered through DeBraska's advocacy as a union official and negotiator which won benefits for their members as part of the global settlement.
In other words, the union should win and lose based on the actions of its President, taking the good with the bad, so to speak.
The MPA did the right thing when it turned over to the DA records it discovered in its computers that showed the creation of the letter at the heart of the felony charges against DeBraska.
If a court finds DeBraska guilty of concocting what the DA alleges is a bogus letter, the MPA should pay for for the staff time that taxpayer-paid staffers spent dealing with a case based in part on a forged document.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:46 AM
Lots of good argument in this statement.
Growing and processing corn for ethanol is hugely expensive, wasteful of energy and water; alternatives can provide far-cheaper energy.
What better national valentine could there be that making the commitment to cleaner and cheaper energy?
Posted by James Rowen at 4:56 AM
Friday, February 13, 2009
Special interests still rule the roost, as the stimulus bill favors highway construction over transit.
The first $300 million of money for Wisconsin, which is about 7-9% of a possible $3-$4 billion state total, is already earmarked for highways.
And much of that will go for new lanes on I-90 and I-94, the highway lobby's speciality.
We'll see how much transit ends up with, and how much more goes for highways, as driving is falling off and the number of transit-dependent seniors is growing.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:25 PM
The Republican State Senator from New Berlin is griping that Wisconsin approved a 22 cents-per-hour minimum wage in 1919.
And as another increase is coming, Lazich says that's where state economic woes began.
Since adjusted for inflation, that 22 cents hourly today would be a mere $2.70, which I presume Lazich thinks would be a fair, decent, relevant wage.
Note to readers: yes, you read that correctly. This is from one of 33 Wisconsin state senators.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:07 PM
Polluted runoff and invasive zebra mussels conspire to stink up Lake Michigan's beaches.
This informative little video explains how it all works, and what we can do to attack it.
Hat tip, Shirley Krug at MMSD.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:43 PM
Minnesotans are urging their elected officials to restrict public dollars spent on bottled water and to legislate against the bottling for export of Great Lakes water, according to Dave Dempsey, noted author, blogger and Great Lakes water activist.
Dempsey has been consistent in his well-argued opposition to the bottled water loophole in the Great Lakes Compact, through which unlimited diversions of water can be poured if removed in containers of less that 5.7 gallons each.
Which leave Michigan in Nestle's "Ice Mountain" (sic) containers in truck fulls.
I especially like the Minnesotans call for their state to stop spending taxpayers' money on bottled water, and that is certainly something that Wisconsin public activists should ask of their officials immediately.
Conferences and meetings don't need to provide bottled water in plastic bottles that shipped from bottler to distributor to dealer to the site, burning more petroleum along with finite natural resources that went into forming the bottle in the first place.
Wisconsin has first-class drinking water.
As a matter of public policy, let's shelve the bottles and turn on the taps.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Journal Sentinel investigative columnist Dan Bice blows up the indefensibly wasteful Puerto Rican junket on the taxpayers' dime planned by Associated Bank .
If I had had an account at the bank I'd have closed it, figuring its management was terminally ignorant.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:45 PM
Now here's savvy marketing: The Brewers have a promotion combining game tickets, T-shirts and Amtrak seats for fans to get to Wrigley Field this season and cheer on the Brew Crew.
Now think ahead.
If the state and feds get their stimulus spending act together, the Midwest High Speed Rail plan, if implemented, would provide modern train links connecting Madison, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities, which means fans could regularly take the train to Miller Park.
That would remove some traffic from the roads (and perhaps some drivers who have imbibed Miller and other alcoholic beverages), thus removing more than mere congestion from the roads.
There is also a very pleasant social component to riding the train to a sporting event.
Coming from Washington, DC, I can attest to some wonderful Metro train rides to and from RFK stadium there to watch NFL Football. People are in their regalia and in fine spirits, too.
Friends who take the St. Louis light rail to Cardinals and Rams games report the same phenomenon.
So hats (caps) off to the Brewers for figuring out how to get more Brewer fans to Wrigley Field - - a site where the fans are sorely needed - - and in a fun way.
Hat tip to Don Walker.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:35 PM
To highway projects.
No surprise there. Look at the gargantuan spending the state has committed to freeway expansion in SE Wisconsin, even as driving is falling, and demand for transit is up.
So will the next $300 million go for train construction, like the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter line, or other rail projects - - all of which are job-creators, long and short term?
Or to the Milwaukee Housing Trust Fund, as someone has suggested, or to dozens of worthy, job-creating and especially to green initiatives?
Posted by James Rowen at 8:27 AM
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Edging ever more closely to launching a regional housing study - - its last was published in 1975, so you can see just what priority the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has attached to this issue - - SEWRPC has finally released what it says will be the housing study advisory committee's scope of work.
The document, an 11-page pdf, is here.
A few initial observations:
On the positive side, SEWRPC is giving its Environmental Justice Task Force a formal advisory in the study development.
That makes sense, as the task force focus certainly incorporates housing, though SEWRPC has made a habit of ignoring its task force following its long, drawn-out creation in 2007.
But SEWRPC declined to adopt a task force recommendation to include independent, socio-economic analyses in all its studies, so the lack of a budget to hire independent consultants for the housing study - - acknowledged in the housing scope of work - - will limit the study's depth and credibility.
You will also note on page six that the scope dips its little toe into one of the deeply embedded socio-economic housing problems in the region - - exclusionary zoning - - which suggests to me that SEWRPC management is not looking for a study that really tackles controversial issues and moves us, as a region, to fundamental change.
Here is how the agency hints at the issue, in classic SEWRPC elliptical, infinitive-splitting, mind-numbing prose:
"An analysis will be undertaken on the extent to which local land use controls may operate to effectively - - albeit not illegally nor necessarily intentionally - - discriminate against sub-groups of the Region's population."
SEWRPC would have been smart to have shared the draft with policy experts and opinion-makers prior to its release.
Instead, it held it close, as is its practice, then will lay it on the volunteer advisory committee - - a group of very busy people denied their own staff or consultants - - so the committee will find itself in a very reactionary position.
Which is SEWRPC's goal: The agency will keep its hands on the controls, naming also in advance Bill Drew, one of its commissioners and long-time insiders, as the housing committee chair.
Note that the just-concluded water advisory committee operated with a three-year budget of nearly $1 million used to hire several consultants and recognized experts to which committee members could make specific requests for refinements, charts, maps, data, and so forth.
SEWRPC says it didn't have the funding for housing consultants, but when it needed financing for the water study it went out and found the money by assessing its seven-member counties proportional shares.
It has had more than 33 years to get this study underway (I've posted a running clock on the front page of my blog to make clear how long it's been) and SEWRPC decided not to seek grants or any other new dollars to make its housing study deep and timely.
I've been on task forces or committees, and staffed them over the years. Task forces and committees are weakest when they have no independent or consulting staff.
They meet every few weeks or months, and really cannot manage, with their limited time, the detailed oversight that a major study requires.
This arrangement will put SEWRPC staff and senior managers more firmly in charge of the agenda, work product, and outcome.
There will have to be a core group of housing committee and environmental justice task force members willing to roll up their sleeves and, as best as they can, assert leadership from Day One over the mechanics of the study.
That would necessitate naming a chair of their choice, and then re-writing the study's scope of work as its first order of business, because once the parameters of the study scope are approved, the direction and the outcomes are set, too.
A final observation:
It is amazing that even with all the headlines about a national and regional housing financing meltdown, these issues are not raised in the housing study scope:
Mortgage finance scarcity; ballooning foreclosures; emergent, post-Baby Boomer and ongoing housing crisis patterns (smaller, urban); technological advances in sustainable construction; significant regional transit deficits; or the impact of SEWRPC-recommended Lake Michigan diversions on regional housing markets - - to name a few contemporary matters.
That's what you get when a study scope is written behind closed doors, at an agency that is notoriously inward looking, and does not link its studies together in comprehensive fashion.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:22 PM
Given his BAC and admitted marijuana use, I'd bet it's not the defendant's first-time episode of impaired driving.
Just first-time caught.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:03 PM
Proposals galore - - ignition lock devices, felony charges for third-time offenders, and more - - but too many state legislators continue to dance around a basic and indefensible flaw in Wisconsin's drunk driving statutes:
The first-time offense, which today in Wisconsin is still a ticket, and unless legislators face reality, will remain only a ticket if kneed 'reform' proposals become law.
Wisconsin is the only state that treats a first-time OWI arrest as a non-criminal ticket.
There has been a concerted media effort about drunk driving in Wisconsin - - where we also lead the nation in binge drinking and other alcohol-related misbehavior.
The legislature needs to confront that glaring loophole in state law and make a first-time OWI conviction a misdemeanor - - because it is reckless, willful conduct that endangers motorists, passengers, pedestrians and property.
And the state should make a second offense a felony, putting an end to Wisconsin's kid gloves' tolerance for drunk driving and for repeat offenders.
It's a copout to say that Wisconsin's alcohol-friendly culture is too ingrained to withstand tough laws.
The state also needs to begin alcohol education in the schools at an early age, but no later than the end of middle school.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:08 AM
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Since a primary is an appeal to the base, and the GOP base in Wisconsin is in rightwing strongholds up north, in Waukesha and the Fox Valley, a primary between Scott Walker and Mark Neumann would be something of a RightieFest.
You can hear it now..."I'll cut taxes/No, I'll cut taxes more; "I'm for small government/No, I'm for teenie-weenie government," and so on.
Walker pulled out of the 2006 primary against eventual GOP loser Mark Green, while Neumann has a statewide defeat by Russ Feingold on his resume.
Bottom line: Weak field.
In truth, a moderate Republican would be the more formidable variant, but since there are few GOP moderates, and local talk radio has declared war on those they call RINO's, or Repubicans in name only, the Republican Party of Wisconsin appears to be marching with determination towards the fringes, where the national party is already firmly entrenched.
Where is where, by the way, that conservative talk radio, led by Rush Limbaugh, is keeping both state and national GOP locked down.
All in all, that's okey-dokey by me.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:42 AM
Isn't it refreshing to watch a US President - - this would be Mr. Obama - - speak, take questions from media in a news conference and at an unscripted Indiana event, and otherwise handle the ongoing economic crisis as national CEO - - while with an thinking on his feet and speaking in coherent sentences?
It's also refreshing to read that his advisers and cabinet officers are continuing to hammer out plans, including a public-private partnership to leverage the second half of the banking bailout, that bespeak a certain pragmatic, flowing creativity that was absent in the White House as the economy flamed out in the last year of the Bush presidency.
I get the feeling that the real grownups are now in charge.
The last group was a buncha fakes.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:00 AM
There's a plan to construct a giant transmission line to connect regional wind turbine farms across the Midwest.
Like all new ideas, it may not fly. May not be practical. Who knows. But it deserves fair and reasonable study.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 AM
Monday, February 9, 2009
I think that's what this "activist" word means.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:13 PM
More explanation from a national expert on why transit is good for Southeastern Wisconsin.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:53 PM
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has extended the comment period on its water supply study until March 16th.
The SEWRPC home page link will take you to more information, and a comment form.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:18 PM
If you live near the lakefront, or a power plant, or in an industrialized county...
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an Air Quality Advisory for Particle Pollution (Orange) for Brown, Columbia, Dane, Jefferson, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine, Sauk and Waukesha counties effective 11:00 am on Monday, February 9, 2009 through 10:00 am on Tuesday, February 10, 2009 .
The advisory is being issued because of persistent elevated levels of fine particles in the air. These fine particles come primarily from combustion sources, such as power plants, factories and other industrial sources, vehicle exhaust, and wood burning.
The Air Quality Index is currently in the orange level, which is considered unhealthy for people in sensitive groups. People in those sensitive groups include those with heart or lung disease, asthma, older adults and children. When an orange advisory for particle pollution is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous activities.
People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, an d heart disease should pay attention to cardiac symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns or are experiencing symptoms. Fine particle pollution deposits itself deep into the lungs and cannot easily be exhaled. People who are at risk are particularly vulnerable after several days of high particle pollution exposure.
To receive air quality advisories by e-mail, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/air/newsletters/.
There are several actions the public can take to reduce their contributions to this regional air quality problem.
Reduce driving when possible and don't leave vehicle engines idling.
Postpone activities that use small gasoline and diesel engines.
Minimize wood burning.
For more ideas on how you can reduce your emissions today and every day visit: Do a little, save a lot!
For more information:
Air Quality Watches and Advisories Status Web Site
Daily Air Quality Hotline - 1-866-324-5924 (1-866-DAILY AIR)
Federal interagency air quality web site, for information on the Air Quality Index and nationwide air quality forecasts and air quality conditions, http://airnow.gov
DNR's statewide air quality monitoring web page, http://dnrmaps.wisconsin.gov/wisards
For local DNR air management program contacts, http://dnr.wi.gov/air/about/regions.htm
Posted by James Rowen at 12:05 PM