Sunday, May 31, 2009

Where Water Conservation Is Serious Public Policy

I spent a few days recently in and near Santa Fe, NM, and believe me, they take water conservation there seriously.

The signs are everywhere, literally - - notices are posted in hotels telling you that linens and towels are changed sparingly, and notes on restaurant menus let you know that water is served only on request.

There are yard watering prohibitions from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., from May 1 to October 31: not your every other day restrictions but flat-out bans during the warmer hours - - half the year.

No cleaning off a hard surface like a sidewalk or driveway with water from a hose.

No grass seed content with more than 25% of water-hungry Kentucky blue grass seed allowed.

No spraying water from overhead devices on trees or shrubs.

Violations bring first-time fines of $20, with higher costs to repeat offenders.

There's a host of additional water use restrictions, rate charges, and real incentives, too - - all designed to reduce water demand in a dry area with a growing population.

It all might make a free-marketer or Libertarian blanche, but the programs are working. 

Details from the City's website, here.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Common Council Kills Water Privatization Study

Great news. I should go out of town more often.

That said: it's clear that Milwaukee faces genuine hurdles financing its basic services, so if water privatization is off the table, community organizations and activists who helped shelve the privatization study should keep working on alternative revenue and service solutions.

Friday, May 29, 2009

National Recognition For Milwaukee Watersheds' Improvements

The Joyce Foundation is spreading this good news.

Healthy Debate On Freshwater School Site

Glad to see that there is a healthy debate on the siting for UW-M's new school of freshwater site.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bus Service Extended To Lake Express Dock

A victory for transit connections: 

Milwaukee County buses will begin stopping at the Lake Express ferry dock June 14th.

It took five years of pressure to get the connection made.

I still believe that there will eventually be light rail service in and through the downtown to the lakefront, but for now, let's celebrate this victory.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Milwaukee Water Lease Options Need Public Airing

It would behoove Milwaukee Comptroller Wally Morics to get out the details of the 17 private sector lease proposals - - the sooner the better.

Dave Dempsey Notes New Berlin's Weak Conservation 'Plan'

The blogger and Great Lakes expert Dave Dempsey, from Minnesota by way of Michigan, notes that New Berlin's diversion application approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Thursday offers a pledge of conservation rather than a program, in place, with demonstrable gains.

Good point.

Truth is, the DNR, preparing for the bigger fish out Waukesha way, wanted to get this application out of the way and thus asked little of New Berlin because the city, already hooked up to the region's sewerage treatment system, will be returning slightly more water than they will acquire from the Lake Michigan diversion.

So New Berlin got an "A+" for return flow, deserves a "D" on conservation, but with a "B-" average (and this is my shorthand) was green-lighted by the DNR which had already blessed the provisional 20-year water sale arrangement between New Berlin and the City of Milwaukee.

I think that Wisconsin's approval, coming before New Berlin demonstrated a genuine conservation effort and also without  DNR's administrative rules defining and governing an application process, will hurt the state's credibility with the other Great Lakes states.

Those seven other states did not get a crack under the new Great Lakes Compact at reviewing New Berlin's application because the community is partially within the Great Lakes basin.

But the City of Waukesha, which says it will submit an application by the end of the year for nine times as much water, and which sits entirely outside the basin, must, according to the Compact, undergo a review by all the Great Lakes states and receive their unanimous approval before the water can flow.

And while New Berlin is returning more water than it receives, Waukesha has already indicated it would seek permission to send some diverted water away from the Great Lakes basin to protect a nearby marsh - - a use of discharged Great Lakes water that the Compact does not allow.

I see troubled waters ahead for Waukesha.

And the other states might be tempted to give Waukesha a double-dose of scrutiny, including one helping for the review they couldn't apply to New Berlin, just to let Wisconsin know that New Berlin got away relatively easy - - certainly far easier, as Dempsey points out, than the eight-state review for all diversions that was required by federal law prior to the approval of the Compact in 2008.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Milwaukee Water Works Privatization Feels Like A Done Deal

You read between the lines of this comprehensive piece, and you don't see a strong voice in City Hall slowing down the water privatization deal-making.

Once the consultant gets hired, and that person or firm puts the deal together, it's done.

Government Decisions Push Wealth To The Suburbs

Government is at it again - - pushing growth and wealth away from Milwaukee to richer suburbs - - and in the process, paving over some of the remaining open space in a highly-urbanized area.

Decades earlier, local and state agencies decided Children's Hospital and much of the region's hospital cluster - - a huge employer and provider of basic services - - would be transferred from Milwaukee's near west side to Wauwatosa.

Two fresh examples:

First is UW-M's decision to locate a new engineering school on the County Grounds, also in Wauwatosa, accelerates the trend.

If you're a young faculty member recruited to teach at the new school, are you likely to buy a condo on the East side, or downtown - - or will you buy in Wauwatosa, or Brookfield?

Will you grab lunch on Downer or Oakland Avenues, or might you instead head to Mayfair or the new hotel ticketed for  school expansion in the County Grounds?

Whether it is highway expansion, construction, or institutional expansion, the public sector plays a major role in big-picture economics as well as individuals' spending.

And in this case, UW-M and the County government joined forces to further chip away at the City of Milwaukee's economy and reward Wauwatosa's.

Some will argue that the school location is secondary to the region's benefit, and that if engineering and research firms sprout up next door to the new school, as planners hope, everyone wins.

I would argue that what will trickle back to Milwaukee will be minimal, and if spinoff development is the goal, locating the new school downtown - -  closer to Marquette, the Milwaukee School of Engineering, or major firms like Rockwell - - would have made much more sense.

The retail, commercial and employment realities, opportunities and needs of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa are hardly equal - - regardless of their close geographic proximity - - and government is continuing to make the separation more profound.

Second example: The approvals by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the cities of New Berlin and Milwaukee to send Lake Michigan water to central New Berlin under the terms of the Great Lakes Compact.

New Berlin could see $1 billion of new development in the area where the water is headed; the thousands of jobs and new homes to be created there will benefit from the surety and quality of the water delivery.

Q.  Are the benefits more to New Berlin, Milwaukee, or the region.

A. New Berlin.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Transit Spending Creates Broad Benefits, Groups Say

Another cogent case made for transit as a stimulus priority for Wisconsin, a coalition argues.

Details, here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

New Berlin Diversion Gets Mixed Reviews Outside Wisconsin

Here's a sample of commentary following the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' approval of New Berlin's diversion of water from Lake Michigan.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Where's That SEWRPC Certification Review?

Every four years, the Federal Highway Administration comes to town to review the performance of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

If SEWRPC passes the test, the feds recertify the agency as the area's Metropolitan Planning Organization, and as a duly-certified MPO, SEWRPC gets to allot certain federal dollars in the region that build highways and run transit systems.

Powerful stuff.

In 2004, the review included a public hearing that went on for hours, as aggrieved citizens lined up to bash SEWRPC's ineffective inclusion of low-income and minority residents.

The certification was reissued, but SEWRPC was made to create an Environmental Justice Task Force to formally bring in the excluded groups.  That task force got named in 2007 and, after some bumps in the road, has prevailed on SEWRPC to begin including socio-economic analyses by independent contractors in all SEWRPC studies and plans.

The 2008 review was carried out in the fall; the release of the findings were delayed, and federal officials told me in March that the report would be made public in two months.

That would be sometime next week, at the latest.

My efforts to get a more precise date, or a draft of the report, were unsuccessful.

I'm predicting SEWRPC will get better marks this time because it actually got the task force off the ground, and a few weeks ago hired an outreach manager, Steve Adams.

And managed to launch a housing study for the first time in 35 years.

The feds will say that is progress - - even though SEWRPC is now the subject of two civil rights complaints over its hiring and committee appointment record, spending priorities and other issues.

Squaring those complaints with a finely-tuned MPO operation in a region with one of the poorest and most segregated populations regionally will be a bureaucratic spin of the highest order.

I don't believe there will ever be genuine participation in regional planning by low-income and minority residents, groups and communities until Milwaukee withdraws from SEWRPC, and with the county, and perhaps Racine, launches a new planning body that can focus on urban issues, and with MPO status and powers.

I've made that argument before, and think it's completely accurate today.

RTA Mess In Wisconsin Gets Murkier

The legislature didn't do the greatest job of policy-making when it set up the first Regional Transit Authorities, but with differing taxation and geographic boundaries.

Now we see that the authority approved for Dane County is facing another challenge: some want the money raised for transit eligible also to be spent on roads.

Other than governments are short of funding for every purpose, what's the reason to take money finally dedicated to transit and allocate to road purposes?

Commenters: enlighten me. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chicago Radio Personality Waterboarded

Journal Sentinel media critic Tim Cuprisin put this up on Facebook, and it's very informative to say the least.

How'd it go?

You be the judge.

Thoughtful Citizen Letter About The UW-M Wauwatosa Campus Land Sale

Great letter. Check it out.

Can Lawmakers Tweet And Legislate At The Same Time? Vos Experience Suggests "No."

Now we have state legislators tweeting while they should be legislating. 

Tweetmeister Robin Vos, (R-Racine) is enjoying his phone toy (are taxpayers picking up these costs?), but clearly can't legislate and tweet at the same time, as he managed to vote on the losing side of a 14-2 effort to kill the proposed new UW-M School of Public Health.

Public Health? In Milwaukee? Where there is intense poverty, and where swine flu illness and testing was and still is are major issues? 

If you don't understand why siting a school of public health in Milwaukee is a good idea, you don't belong in the legislature.

Statewide Coalition Organizing Against Nuclear Power Expansion In Wisconsin

A coalition of organizations is making the case that nuclear power plants are expensive and dangerous.

And the coalition is getting some decent ink.

Puts the current flirtation with nukes into perspective.

Details here.

State Sen. Darling: Domestic Benefits/Rights Too Expensive Right Now

Ain't situationality a great way to figure out when's the right time to grant people their rights?

State Sen. Albert Darling, (R-River Hills),  says "it may be a good idea" to extend partner benefits, but hey: can't we wait until a more convenient moment, when the state is a little flusher?

Look past the squishy ambivalence in her statement, and consider that surely someone made that same 'lets wait/too expensive' argument when the move was on to extend to women the right to vote, or when other civil rights legislation was in the wings.

Word from the Capitol: Joint Finance approved what Darling was opposing. 

Good for the committee; Darling should know better.

Will State Cutbacks Extend To Highway Building?

Wisconsin (and municipalities) will be cutting programs, laying off workers, adding taxes, boosting fees and doing just about anything to face the recession's realities.

But 100% taxpayer-paid highway expansion, with its maintenance, plowing, patrolling, and eventual replacement, will continue unabated.

Valuing Water: City Of Milwaukee Bid Information Available Now

The City of Milwaukee, anticipating future water sales under the Great Lakes Compact to communities like Waukesha that lie completely outside the Great Lakes basin, begins advertising Friday  for a contractor to put a value on the water.

It's an interesting and vital proposal.

The proposal could yield a framework for pricing water's relationship to growth.

And if the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission follows through on its pledge to add a socio-economic analysis to its pending, draft water supply study, the City of Milwaukee and future municipal customers could use this new information and work together to achieve strategically some measurable and real regional growth.

It is nothing short of amazing that SEWRPC has already spent three years and more than a million dollars in contracting and staff time to produce a regional water supply study that left out a socio-economic analysis of regional water usage or transfers.

And fought for months with its own Environmental Justice Task Force over adding that study element.

And probably will not include for study what could br the most productive, and yes, controversial socio-economic topic - - tax base sharing - - wherein a community buying water would rebate to the selling community a share of value of the water-aided development.

Remember: we're talking about the region's planning commission. What's so hard about the commission being a comprehensive, forward-looking agency?

New Berlin, which won Thursday from the state the right to buy Lake Michigan water over 20 years from the City of Milwaukee, could see growth of $1 billion in the area to be served by the new water hookup.

Milwaukee made the deal for water rates approved by the Public Service Commission, yielding revenues in the hundreds of thosands of dollars annually, and accepted a one time so-called cooperation payment of $1.5 million.

OK - - that is water over the dam or under the bridge or wherever political decision-making took it, but let's get a better system in place.

SEWRPC needs to somehow reconfigure its regional supply study draft, and connect with Milwaukee's consultant to make sure its work finds its way into the study and is used by decision-makers,

Waukesha Water Application Will Take Years To Review

Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson was clear at a Thursday water policy conference hosted by the Public Policy Forum that the city's application for a Lake Michigan diversion will be forthcoming before the end of the year.

Since we're about to roll into June, that means Waukesha's application is a matter of weeks or months away.

And while Nelson and others in Waukesha would like fast action on the application, the process will move slowly for a host of solid reasons.

Here are a few:

* All eight Great Lakes states must approve the application, with differing internal procedures and external political pressures that will influence their reviews. 

These other states can, and some almost certainly will turn back an application for clarification regardless of whether their eventual finding is "yes," or "no," in large measure because Waukesha's will be the first application under the new Great Lakes Compact full eight-state review and everyone will want the precedent-setting process done right.

Let's remember that first and foremost, the Compact is a US-Canadian conservation plan designed to preserve Great Lakes water and manage a unique planetary resource responsibly and sustainably.

That's why the Compacy was crafted over five long years of negotiation and debate.

The Compact is secondarily a diversion-permission document. 

The permissions are written in as last-resort exceptions, and it's important that in addressing Waukesha's eagerness, Wisconsin and other Great Lakes officials not get overly diverted by diversions.

* In fact, Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources has yet to write administrative rules that will define what a diversion application, and a Wisconsin review, should include to be considered legal and complete.

* The DNR, and perhaps the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, will have to review scientifically whether Waukesha's probable method of returning Lake Michigan water back to the lake - - into either the Root River or Underwood Creek - - can be achieved without causing flooding or dimunition of water quality in the tributary Waukesha chooses for its discharge.

^ The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has not completed its regional water supply study: the incomplete draft does recommend a Waukesha diversion, but also indicates that Waukesha has sufficient alternative well water, so a diversion is not the only possible long-term source. 

A completed SEWRPC study could shed light on the full ramifications for the region of a diversion, and add weight, for or against, an eventual diversion application.

* The City of Milwaukee is the most likely seller of Lake Michigan water to Waukesha; after months of drafting, Milwaukee is releasing Friday a request for proposals to consultants to answer a profoundly relevant question heretofore not addressed:

What is the real cost of water?

The proposal request seeks ways to quantify the true overall value of a finite resource like water to an eager buyer like Waukesha with development and other long-term needs.

So here's the bottom line:

Waukesha has to have a cleaner water supply in place by 2018.

Even if it gets its application to the Great Lakes states for review this year the process will take a long time because there are many important questions to be answered first, accurately, and completely. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Milwaukee County Endorses Sprawl At Its Vacant Wauwatosa Land

Milwaukee County supervisors, taking the money and running, approved selling land at the County Grounds to build an engineering campus that will split its programming between a relatively remote site near the county line and the current East side City of Milwaukee campus.

Water Conference Yields Some News

The Public Policy Forum's "Politics of Water" panel discussion Thursday at the Crowne Point Hotel yielded some news:

First, it was announced that New Berlin's application for a Lake Michigan diversion of about 2.1 million gallons of water daily to a portion of the city that is outside of the Great Lakes basin has been approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 

The City of Milwaukee has agreed to sell the water: New Berlin approved a $1.5 million, voluntary one-time cooperation payment in addition to a water charge per gallon already established by the State Public Service Commission.

It is the first application green-lighted under the new Great Lakes Compact, but because a portion of New Berlin is inside the basin, only the DNR - - as the applicant city's home state - - needed to approve the application.

A probable application from the City of Waukesha for a larger diversion will require the approval of all eight Great Lakes states because the city is entirely outside the basin.

Secondly, Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson confirmed that Waukesha will forward a diversion application by the end of this year, but will ask for permission to withdraw 25% less water, or up to 18.5 million gallons daily, than the 24 million gallons discussed earlier, Nelson said.

Eighteen-and-a-half million gallons is still twice Waukesha's daily usage, and even with growth and likely annexations adding future water utility customers, it is still not clear why Waukesha would seek such a substantial surplus of water.

Some other interesting nuggets from the meeting:

Nelson said even though Waukesha had nine years in which to fully meet federal clean water mandates,  the city would be moving forward with its diversion application now because of the complex, multi-state review, and because there could be delays if groups opposing a diversion filed a lawsuit, or if one of the Great Lakes states turned down the application and Waukesha needed to litigate.

Nelson also said Waukesha would soon release lengthy responses to a set of questions posed to the city months ago by local and statewide conservation and environmental groups.

A link to the questions, submitted nearly five months ago, is here.

Among those concerns are:

How will Waukesha manage to send back treated water to Lake Michigan through a yet-to-be named tributary - - perhaps Underwood Creek, or the Root River - - without causing flooding or environmental damage to the tributary;

Will Waukesha will agree to close off its existing wells, or keep them in reserve;

Does Waukesha intend to discharge some treated diverted water into the Fox River through its existing sewage treatment plant knowing that the water will flow towards the Mississippi River, not the Great Lakes, as required by the Great Lakes Compact?

The panelists, including Nelson, environmental attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin, private sector attorney Matt Moroney (formerly the executive director of the Metropolitan Home Builders), and Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy endorsed cooperation between Milwaukee and Waukesha communities on water planning.

Moroney said it was important, for pragmatic reasons, to separate water from other regional issues, but saw cooperation on water as an initial step towards a broader dialogue.

Murphy said a larger set of issues could be addressed in the revenue agreement between Milwaukee and Waukesha should a diversion be approved, or in a new water rate approved by the state public service commission for out-of-basin diverting communities.  

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission said earlier this month that it would add an independent analysis of socio-economic issues to the draft of its regional water supply study.

That analysis could pinpoint the impact of water transfers in the region on development, transit, land-use and housing.

When completed, the analysis could provide a documented basis by which these issues - - often at the heart of disagreements between the City of Milwaukee and its higher-income neighbors - - could be worked into water sales agreements in the region that met the technical and legal framework required by the Compact and another law, State Statute 227, that panelist Sinykin noted also guides water policy and decision-making in Wisconsin.

Reminder: Water Program, Noon Today

The Public Policy Forum's Politics of Water luncheon program today at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wauwatosa - - that would be in the neutral zone between Milwaukee and Waukesha - -  is a must-attend event.

More GOP Disarray Born In The USA

For weeks, Rush Limbaugh has been the GOP's defacto media face and Overall Public Blowhard.

Earlier this week it was widely reported that Michael Steele, the GOP's new odd-and-off-note chairman had invoked the ancient Edmund Burke (circa 1797) to re-brand the party's identity at an insiders' event that fell flat.

Wednesday we have it reported that New York Times GOP sounding board and conservative Beltway-insider David Brooks had copped VIP seating with Rahm Emanuel at the DC Springsteen concert.  

Look's like no one is charge of a shrinking, ill-defined and powerless bunch of Republicans.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Comprehensive OWI Reform? No - - Just More Official Enabling

Legislators say they have a package of OWI reforms designed to combat our state's boozy and bloody behavior on the highways, but if you look at the details, it's a very weak approach that cannot be reasonably defined as comprehensive or effective.

A felony doesn't arise until a 4th conviction.

Now it's a 5th. Does going from five to four sound like a bold step towards protecting the driving public?

How many times do you think a careless and impaired repeat drunken driver actually gets out on the road by the time he or she is caught a 4th time?

And now legislators, citing the state's fiscal picture, are saying that locking up repeat offenders is too expensive.

Suppose we took the same position with other serial criminals who threatened the public?

Would we say, "Jail? Oh, too expensive" - - which is exactly what these legislators are saying, as their so-called package of comprehensive reforms endorses a suggestion by Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen that would allow judges to put 2nd-and-3rd time offenders on probation.

That's insane, because many of those repeat offenders will continue to drunk and drive.  

Talk about a legislatively-endorsed 24-7 Happy Hour, out on the roads, for people who have already demonstrated a proclivity to repeatedly drink, drive and re-offend.

The truth is that alcohol lobbies still wield too much power in the legislature, and lawmakers are afraid to confront them, so drunken drivers get accomodation and consideration.

The entire issue is upside down.

The public is sick and tired of repeat offenders killing and injuring innocent motorists and passengers, yet Wisconsin's legislature seems unable to take even a needed, positive first step and make an initial OWI conviction here a misdemeanor.

Wisconsin is the only state in the US to issue a ticket only to a first-time convicted OWI motorist, and that kid gloves' approach begins the state's rise to the top of OWI fatality and other negative impairment ratings.

We will continue to have OWI carnage on Wisconsin streets and highways until the state treats the situation as a public health emergency, and applies a genuine combination of well-financed education, treatment and law-enforcement solutions to turn the tide.

Anything less is a public policy and political failure.

And please don't call it comprehensive.

Jesse Ventura Speaks Truth To Sean Hannity, Larry King

Ventura mops the floor with Hannity - - on Hannity's show.

And on Larry King - - text and video link here - - reduces the case against water-boarding to a dead-on one-liner about Dick Cheney.  

National Water Organizer On Milwaukee Radio

John Keesecker, from Food and Water Watch, Washington, DC, spoke on WUWM-FM's "Lake Effect" program a few days ago.

The context is the solicitation of proposals sought by the City of Milwaukee's Comptroller, Wally Morics, for contractors to lease the Milwaukee Works.

A link to the interview is here.

Nuclear Power Plants: Who Would Pay For Or Insure Them?

You can talk all you want about nuclear power plants, but the truth is that no one wants to pay for, or insure them.

Let alone live downwind.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tomah Journal On Republicans And The Private Sector

Tomah Journal shows, again, why it is one of Wisconsin's journalism gems.

I've been posting these great editorials for a while. Here's another example. More found by inserting the word "Tomah" in the blog's search box. Enjoy.

Scientists Say Vehicle Fuel Standards Will Save Gas, Money

Today on Milwaukee talk radio I heard local talker Jeff Wagner fret about the new federal fuel efficiency standards adding thousands and thousands of dollars to the cost of new cars people won't want, and Rush Limbaugh further fretting about consumers being forced to buy multiple "putt-putts" to load up all the kids and groceries.

How about some facts, in the form of a simple release from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Aaron Huertas, 202-331-5458

WASHINGTON (May 18, 2009) -- The White House today released details of a plan to develop ground-breaking regulations that would require the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation to work together to dramatically reduce heat-trapping emissions from the nation's cars and trucks.

Analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) indicates that, compared to staying at today's fuel economy and heat-trapping emissions levels, implementing the standard outlined in the plan would:

--curb U.S. oil dependence by about 1.4 million barrels of oil per day by 2020, nearly as much as we currently import from Saudi Arabia.

--cut heat-trapping emissions by 230 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020, equivalent to taking 34 million of today's cars and light trucks off the road that year.

--deliver net savings to consumers of $30 billion in 2020, even after covering the cost of technology improvements, based on a gas price of $2.25 per gallon.

--deliver $70 billion in net savings in 2020 if gas prices spike to $4 per gallon again.

"When candidate Obama went to Detroit, he told the automakers what they needed to hear - they had been making bad choices, and as president, he would steer a new course and revitalize the industry by bringing more fuel efficient vehicles to market," said Michelle Robinson, director of UCS's Clean Vehicles Program.

"Now President Obama is delivering on his promise to strengthen the auto industry, while reducing vehicle pollution and our dependence on oil."

Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer with the program, said automakers can use off-the-shelf technology, including cleaner engines, more efficient transmissions, better air conditioning systems and cleaner fuels, to meet the standards.

"This agreement is the breakthrough the nation needs to cut carbon emissions and help consumers deal with volatile gas prices," Kliesch said.

"Automakers have the technology they need to meet and beat these standards while saving consumers billions."

David Friedman, the program's research director, said the proposal was a long time in the making.

"This is an historic day for clean cars in America," he said.

"President Obama has brokered a major agreement by working with states, EPA, DOT, the auto industry and environmental leaders. These first ever national global warming standards for cars and trucks will help revolutionize the auto industry. Everyone involved deserves credit for making history."

The announcement also protects state authority and paves the way for automakers to drop their litigation against state standards.

"Without aggressive action from California and so many other states during the years when political will was absent from Washington, the plan announced today would not have been possible," said Eli Hopson, Washington representative for the program.

Ron Burke
Union of Concerned Scientists
Midwest Office Director
Midwest Climate Campaign Director
1 N. LaSalle St., Suite 1904Chicago, IL 60602
312-578-1750 x 13

Now It's Credit-Card Reform: Oh, No - - More Change From Obama

Good grief: Obama's winning on credit card reform, too.

This is too much socialism.

Retired Military Leaders See Security Risks In Oil Dependence

Retired military leaders understand the relationship between national security and our dependency on petroleum.

Which is why Pres. Obama's vehicle fuel efficiency standards make a lot of sense.

And why we will be hearing a lot more this year about the need for climate change legislation - - long overdue, blocked by the Bush administration and likely to move through the Congress in some form by the end of 2009.

As a beginning step.

Some Ignition Locks For Some OWI Offenders: Tepid Step Towards Reform

The legislature is going to have to a do a great deal more than OK some ignition locks for some OWI offenders to make a dent in the state's drunken-driving culture.

Until Wisconsin joins the other 49 states and criminalizes a first-offense, everything else is window-dressing.

Also needed: making a second offense a felony, and providing widespread drunk-driving education and treatment.

Hotel On The Lakefront? More Buzz

I began hearing a couple of weeks ago that planning discussions about locating the new UW-M School of Freshwater Science at the former Pieces of Eight restaurant site - -  along with some some private sector water industry offices - -  included a hotel in the complex.

People told me there was no hotel in the plan.

Now Bruce Murphy has heard hotel-on-the-lakefront talk, too, and, predictably, it is running into opposition from the good folks at the Milwaukee Art Museum who are not keen on a hotel so close to the Calatrava addition.

And can you blame them?

There's a public hearing on the issue next Friday, May 28th, at 6 p.m. in room 301-B, City Hall.

Check Out Brown And Caldwell's "Water Cooler" Website

Nicely-designed water issues news blog.

More Argumentation For Great Lakes Restoration Funding

Details from, here.

Obama To Raise Vehicle MPG Standards, Saving Energy, And US Car Industry

Pres. Obama keeps on keeping his campaign promises.

This week's installment comes Tuesday, when US industry leaders and environmentalists gather to endorse tougher fuel conservation mandates and engine efficiencies that will save energy, reduce reliance on foreign oil, further clean the air and help US automakers meet a uniform, national standard.

Led by oil industry insiders, the Bush administration turned down this approach, helping insure its demise, along with its party's tumble, too.

So the new administration, bringing change, moves quickly to implement the new standards in a reasonable time frame that gives industry certainty and clarity.

Righty talkers will attack the consensus announcement as communistic, or fascistic, but rally - - who cares?

Monday, May 18, 2009

UWM East Side Campus Still In Expansion Play

The Daily Reporter says there could be Engineering School expansion on the East side campus.

Waukesha Trout Streams...Ahh, Who Really Needs 'Em?

Freeman columnist Pete Kennedy touts the long-debated, just-approved $51 million Waukesha Bypass.

Environmental concerns are not high on his list, as he explains away several possible problems with the plan:
On to point 3, environmental concerns: The project needs an environmental study because, among other concerns, Pebble Creek apparently has trout.

I’m all for saving Waukesha County trout streams. But would there be trout if not for DNR stocking?

I hadn’t been able to get a conclusive answer by my deadline. A visit to the DNR Web site informed me that 24,242 brown trout have been stocked in the creek between 2001 and 2008.

If we didn’t stock the creek for two years, would the environmental impact be substantially less? Should we be worried about the impact on pink flamingoes and woolly mammoths as well?


Interesting Take On Same-Sex Marriage, From Moderate Columnist

Mike Nichols on why same-sex marriage makes political sense for the GOP.

The longer the Republican Party fights what is equitable, and inevitable, the more likely the Grand Old Party will continue to be old, but not so grand.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

UW-M Could Encroach On Two Key Public Places

That would be the County Grounds and the Pieces of Eight lakefront site, each for new schools.

There's a national website dedicated to public place preservation.

The goal around here by preservationists isn't to deny UW-Milwaukee growth. But is the County Grounds the best spot for a new Engineering school, when the rest of the campus is miles to East?

And is the former restaurant site next to the Calatrava museum addition the right spot for another lakefront edifice?

I get the feeling that these decisions were first solidified by powerful interests behind closed doors - - even though both potential sites are in the public domain and there will be after-the-fact public 'input.'

Rate Your Commute: Send It To Congress Through A Website

Congress will soon pass a six-year, multi-billion dollar reauthorization for transportation spending nationally, and there is more pressure than ever to communicate with Congress and help transit get a bigger piece of the pie.

One national coalition is using the Internet to collect commuting stories.

Enter your information here.

Obama Following Through On Great Lakes Restoration

Amid all the news about failing banks, torture and the rest of the Bush administration legacies, it's important to remember that some good things are happening, too.

If you live in the Great Lakes region, restoration fundng is overdue and welcome.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Patrick McIlheran Underscores Why He Should Be Ignored

He doesn't like it when you challenge his argumentation.

I posted this a couple of days ago:
FRIDAY, MAY 15, 2009

Patrick McIlheran argues that we need more ways to move people through cities as the solution to congestion.

Buried freeways. Wider streets. New tolls.
Missing from this one-dimensional discussion: promoting growth in cities to put people and jobs close to other people and jobs, which reduces the need for new concrete infrastructure and minimizes commuting time.
Then I found this response on Twitter:

Thanks for the link, Jim! My paper's 214,000 circ will appreciate the addition of your 14 readers! Cheers.

Kids Too Close To Drunk Driving Lobbying Legislators, Who Haven't Yet Budged

There's something touching and infuriating about this story.

SEWRPC Needs To Do A Lot More

I posted news Friday that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission will, in fact, add what is called a socio-economic analysis to its draft regional water study.

The realists among you will ask, given water's relationship to things like development, employment, housing, transportation and land-use: Isn't that Planning 101 at an agency funded entirely by public tax dollars? Why wasn't it an integral part of a study by a regional planning commission from the beginning?

There could have been a broader study when it began in late 2005, but the core group of water utility and public works managers who wielded substantial influence on the advisory committee weren't looking for that kind of study.

The advisory committee had plenty of SEWRPC regulars - - without any representation from low-income organizations ( the home builders, and Miller Brewing, and We Energy had their reps), and without a single non-Caucasian representative among 33 appointees - - so the narrowly-focused study committee went on their way for three years, at a cost of about $1 million.

As long as the study conformed to SEWRPC's existing master land-use plan - - and look at the loss of ag and open space to highways and subdivisions that has taken place with that plan in place - - SEWRPC was satisfied with the effort. 

One member, a long-time water and planning expert who was on the committee representing the non-partisan and moderate Public Policy Forum, resigned after being blasted by SEWRPC staff for having had the temerity - - without consulting the agency - - to publicly suggest there be a broader focus and framework in the region about water policy planning.

Nor were there initiatives from SEWRPC senior staffers or their paid consultants about including, perhaps even featuring, a socio-economic analysis in the water supply study.

The prevailing attitude at the advisory committee meetings was that the study was all about economic and structural factors - - costs and benefits, supply and demand - - thus leaving little doubt that the final recommendation would call for diversion of Lake Michigan water through the City of Milwaukee Water Works to Waukesha communities.

The lead consultant was the firm of Ruekert & Mielke - - also hired by the City of New Berlin to write its Lake Michigan diversion application - - further cementing the belief that Lake Michigan diversions would be among the study's eventual recommendations.

Which is how the draft turned out - - and now a consultant - - Ruekert & Mielke? Another firm? Who? - - must somehow shoehorn in a socio-economic analysis amidst completed charts, chapters, and scientific data.

Will it be a quickie appendix, or a do-over?

I'm not even sure how it can be done at this late date. 

Isn't it like expending a large amount of consultant dollars and years of a committee and agency's time studying, say, the grid system economics of adding a major new coal-fired power plant to a regional system, finishing the report, and recommending its construction - - and then deciding to add back a look at an array of development, jobs, health and air quality issues?

All in all, the water supply study is a questionable and incomplete planning effort, and an object lesson in why SEWRPC doesn't well serve the needs of many of the region's residents and the lands on which they live and work.

And why there needs to be major change, not mere cosmetics or tinkering, in the agency structure, leadership, output and overall definition.

Q. Still: what has begun to turn the tide a bit at SEWRPC, as seen in its last-minute agreement to indeed add a socio-economic analysis to the water study?

A. Grassroots political pressure, and legal action.

So let's take a look at that.

In 2007, following a contentious federal certification public hearing in 2004, SEWRPC finally established an Environmental Justice Task Force to ensure more formal participation from low-income and minority groups.

The certification gives SEWRPC the right to approve certain federal transportation spending in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Walworth Counties; it gives SEWRPC power and prestige, and the certification, renewed every four years, provides an opening for public comment.

The 2004 hearing was so long and caustic that the SEWRPC and the feds tried, unsuccessfully, to substitute quiet, one-on-one statements to officials by aggrieved citizens instead of an open microphone at the 2008 review last fall.

More about that in a minute.

The task force, once established, and grasping quickly why it had been set up, began to push for the inclusion of socio-economic analyses, by outside contractors, in all SEWRPC studies, beginning with the water study.

After balking initially, SEWRPC leadership agreed.

No doubt because it knew if it kept saying "no," legal action was coming, and it would hard to explain why it had created an environmental justice outreach arm, but then wouldn't take the task force advice.

Further driving change inside SEWRPC: two federal civil rights complaints - - still pending.

These complaints were filed in 2008 with federal agencies over long-standing allegations of discriminatory hiring (only a handful of minorities in its planning, engineering and management ranks), committee appointments (such as the water advisory committee's membership) and planning activities ( such as SEWRPC's advocacy for a $25 million rural Interstate highway interchange to a proposed - - and still-delayed shopping mall located amidst stalled subdivisions on open land in Western Waukesha County called Pabst Farms).

The complaints could lead to penalties, and orders for remedial actions, and could help explain why the 2008 federal certification has not been completed.

Federal officials tell me that the review should be made public by the end of May.

We'll see.

Furthermore, the City of Milwaukee Common Council approved last year a resolution asking the legislature to reconfigure SEWRPC's structure because the city has no representation on the Commission's 21-member board.

Milwaukee County's Board of Supervisors passed a separate resolution asking the state to audit SEWRPC's performance; both the city and county are unhappy that SEWRPC gets a big chunk of Milwaukee city and county property tax dollars annually (about $840,000, or more than a third of its operating budget), but gets relatively small benefit from at what is essentially a suburban/exurban agency. 

I still believe that Milwaukee and its people suffer every day they are confined in this insular, hide-bound (founded in the 1960's, its only two previous executive directors still work there as consultants) regional agency, and have made that argument on this blog and in the Journal Sentinel.

State legislation is needed to establish a new, urban-focused planning agency that would represent Milwaukee, and other areas with urban populations and needs.

And relevant.

Milwaukee and other urban legislators: What are you waiting for?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Independent Socio-Economic Analysis Will Be Added To Water Study

Ken Yunker, Executive Director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), confirmed by telephone today that the agency will add an independent socio-economic analysis to the draft regional water supply study that had gone out for public comment earlier this year.

Critics had said that without such an independent analysis, the study could lack credibility because water has direct effects on key regional issues like housing, land use, transportation and development.

Including a socio-economic analysis in the water supply study performed by outside consultants had been sought by SEWRPC's outreach arm, the Environmental Justice Task Force; Phil Evenson, SEWRPC's previous executive director, had resisted task force suggestions to broaden the study scope with socio-economic analysis by outside consultants.

Yunker had said recently that SEWRPC staff believed the analysis should be included - - some details here - - and confirmed Friday he had obtained approval from SEWRPC's executive committee to find a consultant to perform the additional analysis for the water study.

He said did not know how long it would take for the analysis to be completed.

It's worth remembering that when the water study advisory committee began meeting in late 2005, it chose - - without objection from SEWRPC senior staff present - - not to broaden the study scope away from its relatively narrow, cost-benefits/supply-demand construct.

It did make sure the study conformed to SEWRPC's existing, master Land Use Plan, but that document, as amended over the years, has also been criticized as lacking in socio-economic focus.

All in all, I think Yunker's decision and the commission's approval are positive steps - - and they won't hurt SEWRPC in the eyes of federal regulators who have yet to release their quadriennial re-certification review that would permit SEWRPC to retain rights to approve certain federal transportation projects in the region.

That review began in the fall, and the report release, previously scheduled in March, has been delayed at least until the end of May, federal officials have told me.

But back to the independent socio-economic analysis that will now be part of the water studies, and, also, all future SEWRPC studies.

I expect the task force to offer suggestions about which consultant to hire to work on it.

The agency would be wise to take direction from the task force, which meets next Tuesday, June 2nd, from 4-6:00 p.m., at IndependenceFirst, 540 S. 1st St., Milwaukee.

Leaving Growth In Cities Out Of The Argument

Patrick McIlheran argues that we need more ways to move people through cities as the solution to congestion.

Buried freeways. Wider streets. New tolls.

Missing from this one-dimensional discussion: promoting growth in cities to put people and jobs close to other people and jobs, which reduces the need for new concrete infrastructure and minimizes commuting time.

Public Sector Furloughs Cut Madison Deeply

Insightful column by The Capital Times' Mike Ivey highlights the impact of state government finances in Madison.

The comments are further illuminating.

Business, Grasping Obama Realities, Making Energy and Health-Care Moves

Excellent analysis about the ramifications of compromises emerging on health and energy issues.

In short, business is dealing on these issues because they know change is coming, and the old-timey GOP isn't around to help.

We Want Lower Taxes, Until...

People clamor for lower taxes.

And public budgets and payrolls are shrinking because sakes tax revenues and property tax base collections are shrinking.

No doubt the Right thinks reality is matching up with ideology.

But man, oh man, do people ever want public services when the need arises.

For example, who do you think is paying for all that swine flu testing?

Or this: A City of Milwaukee HAZMAT team rolled through the East side yesterday - - in expensive equipment, with highly-trained firefighters - - because a gas cloud emerged from a UWM laboratory.

Definitely not a situation for neighbors to attack with garden hoses and window fans.

Major cities provide these specialized services, along with employees that fill the potholes, pick up the garbage, inspect restaurant kitchens and perform a multitude of tasks that make neighborhoods desirable.

And we are more than glad to be taxed for them.

And the same goes for county, state and Federal services, too.

Most people want lowered taxes, but don't want a diminished service environment, either.

So in this era of furloughed public employees and trimmed services, be careful of getting what you wish for.

Mary Lazich On Carp Shooting, With Many Photos Of Herself

State Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin), uses her Journal Communications blog to bring us details of a recent carp shooting, along with an album's worth of photos of herself at the event.

Proof that not everything about one's self deserves to be on the Internet, or without some moderation.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

UWM Faculty Not Happy With Probable Wauwatosa Campus

Faculty responding to a poll found reasons to dislike moving portions of the Engineering program to the County Grounds in Wauwatosa north of the Zoo Interchange.


Spinning, UWM officials say not to worry - - it's just research that'd move there.

Oh: That'll take care of the objections.

Clean Wisconsin Explains Its Intervention In Waukesha Water Rate Case

Op-ed, here.

Sadly, Buffalo Plane Crash Raises Old Issues Anew

In the 1980's, I covered aviation safety for the Milwaukee Journal and wrote story after story about the very issues revealed in this winter's crash in Buffalo, NY, of a Colgan Air/Continental Express Dash-8 commuter plane that killed 50 people:

Pilot training that didn't exceed Federal Aviation Administration minimums.

Sleepy, inexperienced, low-paid pilots unable to react quickly to bad weather or other stressful conditions, particularly on take off or landing.

Poor cockpit management (chit-chat side-by-side, as conditions deteriorated and the landing approached) and coordination between pilot and co-pilot.

Most aviation accidents involve what used to be known simplistically as "pilot error," which we now know to be very human mistakes when relatively unforgiving events like equipment failures, bad weather or a combination of factors cascade quickly to disaster.

What's heart-breaking about the Buffalo crash is that the FAA has not moved assertively to require of owners more intensive flight simulator training and other safety-minded upgrades to company programs governing how pilots are selected, trained, monitored, evaluated, and - - crucially - - how they are matched up in cockpits.

The two-person crew at the controls of the doomed Dash-8 had relatively few hours flying that type of plane.

The 24-year-old co-pilot was making $23,000 a year. Both pilots were commuting to their New York-area base from far away - - Florida and Washington State - - and were fatigued before they took off.

The best pilots - - like the heroic US Airways Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger who glided his enormous and powerless Airbus safely into the Hudsom River - - rise to the top of the major airlines, flying big jets above the weather and earning good salaries.

Younger, or lesser pilots, are too often flying those very shorter-hop commuter runs where there is a greater number of potentially problematic take offs and landings and also more lower-altitude, rigorous flying - - the very circumstances where weather and danger can come faster, more furiously and perhaps fatally.

In icing conditions above Buffalo, without enough rest, experience, team work and luck, an over-matched crew lost control of their airplane, and 50 people died.

It's really not hindsight to say it shouldn't have happened.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

State Smoking Ban Closer To Reality

State Senate approves, Assembly next.

Waiting until next July is a drag, so to speak, but the end is within sight.

Journal Sentinel Endorses Stronger Clean Water Act

Nicely-done editorial endorses a needed re-write of the US Clean Water Act sponsored by US Sen. Russ Feingold.

Water, Highway Expansion In Waukesha County Helps GOP

Tax money - - for highways and water diversion - - is set to pour into Waukesha County.

Which is the base of the state's Republican Party.

Any Democratic policy-makers making these connections?

As I Predicted, Highway Contractors Getting Excess Money

Some months ago, I put up a posting, based on some very well-sourced information, that said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation would be pleased to spend the stimulus dollars sure to come our way, but without staff to engineer and manage the projects, it would farm out more work to outside contractors.

This is because WisDOT says it does not have enough in-house employees to handle the tasks, yet the stimulus program was going to increase road-building in the state.

Today, the Journal Sentinel is reporting that state auditors are finding out that more and more state highway engineering work is indeed being farmed out to contractors - - who cost more than would state employees. in millions of dollars more.

As I said in January, "k-ching, k-ching."

Shorewood Church Going Green

From Keith Schmitz, Northshore progressive:

CALLING ON A HIGHER POWER -- Solar Panels to Be Installed on Local Church

North Shore Presbyterian Church, (NSPC), in Shorewood, will be going green and using less electrical power thanks to solar panels that will be installed and activated Wednesday May 13th and Thursday May 14th. NSPC will be the first church in the Milwaukee Northshore to utilize solar power to augment its electrical needs.

The nearly $50,000 project was made possible for the over 55-year-old building, thanks to anonymous donations, along with additional support from Focus on Energy and We Energies.

According to analysis prepared for the project, the 30, 5.4 Kw Kyocera photovoltaic solar panels will reduce CO2 emissions at NSPC by 5.42 tons annually. Estimated electrical savings for the congregation are estimated to be $1,000 a year, reducing the church's electrical usage by 10 to 20%, depending upon the time of the year.

The installation is being performed by H & H Solar Energy Services of Madison. A Fat Spaniel monitoring system will give real time performance information on the system.

North Shore Presbyterian Church is located at 4048 N. Bartlett Ave. in Shorewood.

For more information, please contact the undersigned.

Keith Schmitz
KR / PR Inc.
Phone -- 414.963.0847

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another Voice In The Regional Government Debate

The Public Policy Forum's Rob Henken, echolng the national debate, offers some thoughtful discussion about whether regional governance can be made to work here.

I agree that the recent decision-making process that ultimately distributed some regional transportation dollars offered a glimmer of hope for regional outcomes.

I'd still rather first see Milwaukee, and perhaps with its urbanized neighbors, such as Racine County to the south, create a new regional body that could have representation and agendas that reflect their populations, rather than a reconfigured SEWRPC that keeps its crazy-quilt seven counties (rural Walworth, Washington and Ozaukee Counties, for example, stitched to Milwaukee).

But keep the debate going.

$50+ Million For New Waukesha By-Pass: The Road To Sprawlville, Chapter XXVII

Folks living south of the City of Waukesha will finally get their easier north route to I-94.

Thank goodness!

Everyone should have the quickest access to the nearest Interstate, don't you think?

Even in an era of less driving and declining subdivision demand, right?

And wouldn't you know that there's one of those pesky wetlands in the way.

Damn you, panfish!

Planners apparently have a way around the problem, if need be: they can redesign the bypass in a configuration that will approximate the route taken by Oliver Stone's magic bullet in his film "JFK," turning the bypass into something resembling a "Z."

But there shall be a bypass, in part because your town or village or city hasn't really been anointed by the state transportation department until it has provided you, at taxpayer expense, with a bypass.

Heck, even Mineral Point has one - - between the booming metropoli of Dickeyville and Dodgeville, to the tune of $70 million.

You don't see this kind of persistence, or creative routing, when it comes to transit connections in Waukesha County. And elsewhere in the state

When obstacles to transit present themselves, the response is, "well, that's the way it goes."

Or: "how on earth would we pay for that?," a question that is never a problem for the DOT.

All told, for the bypass, we're looking at a boatload of local and state tax expenditures - - and the generous DOT will cough up 75% of the tab - - for new pavement to and through and bypassing Sprawlville.

Credit Waukesha County Exec Dan Vrakas for picking pockets statewide for the project. Earlier proposals had the locals paying more, and Vrakas said "no," until the state, with money from the rest of us said, rolled over.

And all this is taking place in the very heart of Sprawlville, an area known for it anti-government, anti-tax-and-spend attitudes, but also where diverted Lake Michigan water could fuel more development.

In essense, the bypass is a key element in the Waukesha County long-range expansion plan.

Another is Lake Michigan water delivered into and outside the City of Waukesha's current water utility service territory, giving developers more reason to see annexation or hook-ups.

Another piece of the puzzle is the widening of I-93 through the count between the Zoo Interchange to the east and the Jefferson county to the west.

Already on the books, thanks to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

All in all, more than a billion dollars of induced sprawl, with public dollars.

Bruce Murphy On UWM's Looming Lakefront Battle

I had blogged a few days ago about UWM setting itself up for a struggle over its desire to locate a new school of freshwater science on the lakefront where the Pieces of Eight restaurant was finally being removed from what had been an illegal intrusion onto the lake bed.

There are alternatives available that do not include the host of political/environmental/design/ issues on the Pieces of Eight site.

Bruce Murphy provides more details about how ugly that struggle could get.

Right Wing Getting Organized In Wisconsin

I remember initially hearing about this sort of coalition-building after John Gard first lost a Congressional race to Steve Kagan in 2006.

Some GOP activists had simply counted on the GOP and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and other large groups to raise enough money to buy ads and fuel campaigns, but now they feel out-organized at the grassroots.

Which is correct.

The problem is, or the reality is, that at the grassroots, people are not buying what the Right is selling on basic quality-of-life and fairness issues - - health care reform, environmental or conservation protections, and re-regulation of financial institutions.

People are sick of predatory practices and partnerships between big government and big business, exemplified by the Bush administration's entire two-term disaster.

Furthermore, getting people stirred up over immigration or gay marriage or abortion rights - - GOP, right-wing playbook material - - may make a shrinking GOP base feel good, but it's going to take more than tired ploys to win elections.

Brookfield Goes Further Upmarket

Gathering spot wins approval in conservative community with fresh design.

Monday, May 11, 2009

UWM Closer To Wauwatosa Expansion

The monument builders will have their way out at the County Grounds in Wauwatosa, as a committee of the cash-starved County Board approves a $13+ million-dollar land deal.

This reminds me of the Madison Area Technical College's expansion at the Madison airport years ago, when the local tech board wanted a bucolic, picture-postcard campus far from Madison's downtown...bus connections...housing...retail amenities...culture, and so forth.

Which is why UWM never seriously considered downtown Milwaukee for this expansion even though there is square-footage galore, private sector facilities, and engineering and science programs at Marquette University and the Milwaukee School of Engineering nearby.

Once the higher ed powers-that-be get that monument-building fever, there are few antidotes.

Milwaukee Water Works Stimulus Funding Announcement Tuesday Morning w/Governor

Gov. Jim Doyle travels to Milwaukee to announce a stimulus grant to the city's water works Tuesday.

Announcement is at 11:30 a.m. at the city's southside treatment plant on Howard Ave.

[Tuesday update: I got a little ahead of things: What was announced was the availability of funding, and a competitive process. Still a good use of stimulus funding.]

Join National Movement To Add Transit Dollars To Federal Legislation

The national transportation reauthorization is up for consideration in Congress, and unless members hear that people want more spending on transit, the road-builders are gonna win again.

Here's how to get your voice and opinion heard, thanks to a national coalition petition drive.

More information here, at T4America.

And that "T" is for transportation, not "tea."

UWM Faculty Awfully White For An Urban University

As the area absorbs the news about patently discriminatory firefighter employment in the Milwaukee County suburbs, Gretchen Schuldt discovers a similar situation on the UWM School of Engineering faculty - - the same school that is now getting closer to white-flighting itself to Wauwatosa and the county grounds.

Major Green Jobs Program Announcement By Michigan Governor

Details here.

Regional Water Conference On May 21st Looks Promising

The Public Policy Forum is hosting a regional water conference on Thursday, May 21st, with an impressive line-up of policy-makers and advocates.

Details and registration materials, here.

Apartheid In Milwaukee Suburbs: Again

The Journal Sentinel has a story that is both shocking and not: Of the 600 firefighters in Milwaukee County suburbs, one is African-American, and he was hired only nine months ago.

Suburban chiefs, while denying racist hiring - - and let's hope that the US Justice Department Civil Rights Division goes a little deeper into the issue than that - - say they cannot remember ever having an African-American in the fire service.

The story says that there are 12,000 African-Americans living in the eighteen suburban Milwaukee County communities - - you know the names: Franklin and River Hills, Greenfield and Oak Creek, and so on - - and their African-American residents make up 3.3% of those suburban communities' population.

You get into the surrounding counties, and the African-American population shrinks below that paltry 3.3% percentage.

Ozaukee County: 1.4%.

Waukesha County: 1.3%.

Washington County: 1.1%.

Go deeper into the US Census Bureau website date, and the effects are apparent of certain public, non-market factors, like legally preventing Milwaukee in 1955 from expanding by annexation, and disconnecting job centers, like the City of New Berlin's industrial park in Waukesha County, from direct bus service.

City of Waukesha: 1.3%

City of New Berlin: 0.4%.

Keeping going west but still in neighboring Waukesha County (using a different census website):

City of Oconomowoc: 0.3%. (Remember a few years ago when an off-duty volunteer fire chief and another off-duty firefighter in that general area chased an African-American fisherman off a public bridge? With a pistol and a German Shepherd. True story.)

City of Delafield: 0.1% - - six African-American residents of 6,472.

And some of you are still wondering why others of us been appalled at the ongoing, 34-year-delay by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) in writing a regional housing plan that would address and give credibility to affordability and expose discriminatory housing practices.

(See the counter at the upper-left of the blog home page for the actual data - - and yes, SEWRPC has created, after years of delay, broken promises and pressure, a committee to begin a roughly two-year study. The committee not long ago had its first meeting. More are scheduled.)

SEWRPC would be perfectly within its statutory mandate to assertively investigate the region's racial and economic segregation, but it chooses not to.

In 2007, SEWRPC grudgingly created an Environmental Justice Task Force, and only last week hired an outreach manager: both are supposed to facilitate communication with low-income and minority communities.

Little wonder that civil rights complaints have been filed over transportation and SEWRPC decision-making, policy planning, hiring, spending or appointing members to advisory committees that favor the suburbs with public dollars and other resources.

Or that some, including myself, have urged Milwaukee to withdraw from SEWRPC so that public agendas that include minority communities can get real study and action in a new, urban-focused body.

And why selling diverted Great Lakes water to growing Waukesha County communities like Waukesha and New Berlin will intensify the racial and income separation between the City of Milwaukee - - with its majority population of minority residents - - and the surrounding, sprawl-happy communities and counties?

Had SEWRPC included these socio-economic issues and others in its draft regional water supply study, its pro-diversion analysis and recommendations might have been different, or at least more fully-informed and useful.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Gun Owners Fleeced By Their Own Paranoia

Fearing Pres. Obama - - and why, exactly? - - gun owners have stocked up against their invisible foes and created an ammo shortage.

This is not a new story - - guns sales began spiking as Obama was within striking distance of winning the Presidency - - but the madness continues.

Chicago Trib Misfires, Misses Real Story

A Chicago Tribune headline whining about upcoming traffic congestion on I-94 in Wisconsin is an odd self-parody, since traffic is perpetually congested in Chicago.

It's like the makers of Marlboro cigarettes (Philip Morris) complaining about second-hand smoke from Camels (RJ Reynolds).

Too bad the Trib didn't get to the real story: that hundreds of millions of dollars in the project's $1.9 billion construction and expansion budget are not justified by traffic data.

As pointed out by several groups in detailed comments to federal highway officials, here.

Journal Sentinel Understands Need For Data, Science On Waukesha Water Issues

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel threw a bit of well-aimed cold editorial water on recent statements from Waukesha officials about why it could qualify for a Lake Michigan diversion.

The paper wasn't saying "no" to a diversion.

It was saying 'let's see more evidence' about water conservation and other diversion-related issues.

Governance by news release and PR spin (yes, Waukesha spends heavily on these services) is no substitute for public policy crafting that brings in real science and long-range planning.

Waukesha's diversion plan depends on building a pipeline, then a return pipe for treated water to Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa.

That creek empties into the Menomonee River downstream, and both have had their share of overflow issues.

The implications across-the-board have got to be understood, which I think is what the editorial board is suggesting.

And let's be clear, also, that Waukesha has years to go in writing an application for the diversion that must be reviewed favorably by all eight Great Lakes states.

The good news is that Waukesha has until 2018 to put into place a water delivery system that meets existing standards.

Plenty of time to get the whole thing right.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Boswell Books, Formerly Schwartz Books On Downer, Building E-Mail List

Boswell Book Company, keeping the Downer Ave. independent bookseller tradition alive, is open for business and building an email list.

Here's where you sign up for author visit notices and all sorts of other useful information:

Waukesha Should Consider Using Fox River Water

The conversation about Waukesha's water supply issue is constantly framed around two choices:

Well water.

Lake Michigan water.

Here is another example of that frame, though there is an internal logic there often absent from most of the debate.

There is a third option that should be brought into the discussion, especially since Waukesha has been given until 2018 to implement its solution.

That option is using the Fox River, which runs right through Waukesha, and which Waukesha currently uses as the discharge point for treated wastewater it sends down river to other communities that use it and discharge it again.

Wells placed at or near the river could provide Waukesha with everything it needs without the huge financial and environmental costs associated with diverting water 15-20 miles from Lake Michigan, and then discharging it into Underwood Creek - - and perhaps into nearby basements during heavy rain events - - for eventual return to Lake Michigan.

And the question of whether the Vernon Marsh could stay properly hydrated would be off the table, as Waukesha would continue its current discharge regime, thus keeping all its water supply issues within the context of the Mississippi River watershed where the city is, and not transfer Waukesha issues, troubles and needs to the Lake Michigan watershed.

This is not a matter of either or - - well water or Lake Michigan water.

Let's stop pretending that there are only scenarios to resolve Waukesha's long-term water supply issues.

Mirroring National Picture, DC's Water System A Mess

The water system beneath the Nation's Capital city and its surroundings is an antiquated mess, says The Washington Post, and it mirrors infrastructure and water supply issues nationally.

While I don't think a parallel situation is driving the City of Milwaukee to consider leasing its water works, I do think that water systems generally face revenue shortfalls, disregarded infrastructure and water losses.

It's a genuine problem, because leaky pipes release water that has been piped and treated.

What a waste to know that valuable water is leaking.

Estimates to fix the country's water systems exceed $500 billion - - certainly a big number, but a mere fraction of what we spent on shock and awe in Iraq.

Eloquent Statement Against Privatizing Great Lakes Water

Better late than never: I forgot to post Dave Dempsey's excellent piece from last Sunday's Journal Sentinel Crossroads about continuing flaws in the Great Lakes Compact and its implementation, particularly in water-rich Michigan.

Here it is.

And here is Dave Dempsey's blog address:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bold Site Idea For UWM School Of Freshwater Science

The proposal:

Rebuilding/adapting the County's under-utilized Downtown Transit Center at E. Michigan Ave. and Lincoln Memorial Dr. that is across the street from the Art Museum, and also the under-utilized O'Donnell parking structure.

That would put it on primo real estate within yards of the lakefront, but would get it off the Pieces of Eight site, and all the lakefront/Public Trust Doctrine legal/environmental/aesthetic messiness that new construction at the lakeshore would bring.

And it would link together water and transit: if you are serious about environmentalism, and attacking global warming, this would make UWM a pioneer and rebrand the city's downtown and lakefront.

Congratulations to the proposal author, Milwaukee County Supervisor Gerry Broderick.

Compromise Means Social Gains, But Slowly And Incompletely

In Milwaukee, a compromise by a regional planning commission committee moved about $15 million in a $38.7 million stimulus transportation package to the City of Milwaukee.

Federal stimulus legislation says the money was to be spent in economically-distressed communities, yet some of the money will go to communities with very fewer low-income residents and unemployed residents than the City of Milwaukee.

The formula agreed upon by the committee was better than some earlier proposals, certainly; the compromise solution broke a stalemate.

Likewise, a compromise finally among smoking opponents and proponents is moving a statewide workplace smoking ban through the legislature.

Proponents wanted a ban years ago. Opponents balked, and obstructed, and finally won another delay to July, 2010.

Another compromise - - and another year+ during which a lot of restaurant and tavern workers and patrons will breathe other people's carcinogens.

I have no doubt that this delay will cost some people their lives, with the danger finally ceasing next July.

I know it's in the nature of the political system that compromises are made: In these cases, I wish there had been more substantive or faster solutions, but I give credit to the people who kept fighting the good fight.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Priceless Audience Sidebar In Wednesday's SEWRPC Transportation Committee Audience

There were plenty of regional public-works bureaucrats in the audience at Wednesday's regional transportation funding meeting, and a few were telling war stories from the concrete battlegrounds.

One fella was reprising to others what his local electeds did with a recent road project in a community outside of Milwaukee County:

"Five people came and bitched. They backed down. I mean, grow some gonads."

SEWRPC Committee Shifts More Stimulus Funds To Milwaukee

An advisory committee to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission voted 15-4 Wednesday to move the bulk of $38.7 million in stimulus transportation funding that can be allocated by local officials to the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

This is more in line with language in the stimulus statute that says allocation priority shall go to areas of economic distress - - which in that portion of the seven-county SEWRPC territory known as the Milwaukee Urbanized Area means the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

This follows weeks of wrangling during which state transportation officials and some legislators outside of the City of Milwaukee were promoting suburban allocations.

To achieve the vote, SEWRPC staff proposed including an existing methodology - - the relative amount of arterial street miles in the region - - that is used to distribute regional transportation dollars annually.

There is substantial overlap between where those lane-miles are located in the region, and areas of economic distress, as the City of Milwaukee has a great deal of arterial street-lane miles relative to many smaller communities, as well as most of the region's low-income and unemployed residents.

While some stimulus dollars will find their way to smaller and suburban communities, preliminary estimates are that about 40% of the funding will go to City of Milwaukee projects, and more dollars to Milwaukee County projects, which means a great deal of these funds will be spent where County Executive Scott Walker said there'd be no stimulus money spent.

Lesser amounts would be allocated to projects in Cudahy, South Milwaukee, West Allis, the City of Waukesha and in the County of Waukesha.

SEWRPC Executive Director Ken Yunker, whose staff drew up the proposal that passed with no rancor and relatively little discussion, said the goals were fairness, reasonableness and following the statute, along with getting projects underway.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who had argued at earlier committee meetings that the stimulus funding should be focused on areas of economic distress, did not attend the Wednesday meeting.

All told, communities had submitted requests to the committee totalling more than $213 million.

Most stimulus dollars are under the control of state officials, but the stimulus law broke out a portion for allocation by Municipal Planning Organizations, such as SEWRPC, that could be more responsive to grassroots concerns.