Thursday, January 31, 2008

Snow Pack In US West Melting Due To Human-Caused Global Warming

More findings are in: the snow pack in the US West, crucial for agriculture, drinking water, power generation and irrigation, is disappearing due to human activity.

The report will be treated with disdain by climate change skeptics, but on the ground, people with commonsense will begin to push their governments for action.

The Bush administration recently blocked California's more aggressive regulations designed to minimize greenhouse gas emissions: another example of why this administration can't leave office fast enough, and why it has to be replaced with the complete opposite.

NFL Trying To Green The Super Bowl

The National Football League is implementing plans to make its Arizona Super Bowl Sunday as environmentally-positive as possible.

It's good that conservation consciousness has made its way into mainstream events and on to corporate agendas.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bush Could Have Led The Nation Away From Alcohol Abuse

It was something of an undercovered story earlier this week - - Pres. George W. Bush using the term "addiction" for his past alcohol abuse.

But unlike other political leaders and opinion-makers who have used various personal problems to educate the public towards fuller disclosure and better health, Bush has been, until now, very closed-mouth on the subject.

He managed to keep his DUI conviction in Maine a secret until the closing days of his 2000 campaign when his campaign confirmed it.

There was no firm obligation on his part to talk more about his drinking problems, but many people who have dealt with addiction find it important to pass along their experiences, including their recoveries, as a way to help others.

For a President of the United States to do otherwise has certainly been a missed opportunity, a bully pulpit not seized.

Maybe in his last year as President, Bush will make alcohol education and sobriety more of a part of his public presidency.

Smoking Ban Snuffed

A delay to 2011 for the proposed Wisconsin smoking ban to cover taverns has apparently killed the entire workplace smoking ban in the state.

The Tavern League pushed the long delay for Wisconsin taverns knowing that it would be seen as unacceptable as other states are approving immediate, universal workplace bans.

This is a sad day for Wisconsin workers in settings where smoking is still allowed, and also for business owners who are likely to face litigation over the issue that they are bound to lose.

What a fiasco.

Senate Democrats Push Commuter Rail Spending

Senate Democrats want an economic stimulus plan adds more to highway budgets - - and also commits money to financce the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line.

The plan has an unclear future.

The Governor has his own business-stimulation plan, and there is strong opposition to the commuter line in the GOP-controlled state assembly.

My guess is that the legislature will adopt some measures before its short session expires in March, but nothing major.

Details from the Journal Sentinel's newswatch blog are below:

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 30, 2008, 11:56 a.m.By Steven Walters
Senate Dems offer economic plan

Madison - Wisconsin Senate Democrats formally broke with Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and Assembly Republicans on economic development today, recommending an immediate $50-million boost in highway spending and development of the KRM commuter rail line between Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee.

The Senate Democrats' package means the Legislature is not likely to pass any major economic development incentives before the session ends in mid-March.

"This is something that Senate Democrats want to push," said Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston).

The Democrats' package would also spend $5 million more to train welders and health-care workers, give vocational colleges $1.3 million more in state aid, and spend $15.1 million more to subsidize child-care costs for middle-income parents.

Decker said the new package would immediately let "Wisconsin companies hire Wisconsin workers," giving them jobs that "can't go to China."

Boosting highway spending by $50 million alone would result in 2,5000 new well-paying jobs, he said.Decker said he hasn't seen details of the Democratic governor's $15-million package of tax credits, breaks and exemptions.

Doyle has said his proposals, embraced by Republicans who control the state Assembly, would help create the next generation of jobs in technology and start-up companies.

Democratic Sens. John Lehman of Racine and Bob Wirch of Kenosha both said the KRM commuter rail line would be paid for a $13 increase in car rental costs in southeast Wisconsin and is backed by leaders from both parties.

Decker and Sen. Pat Kreitlow (D-Chippewa Falls) estimated that their economic development package would cost about $180 million - $90 million in the year that ends June 30 and another $90 million the following year.

The money would be generated by ending a corporate tax loophole that allows businesses to create out-of-state companies that don't pay Wisconsin taxes.

Will The Right Call For The Recall Of Its Idol, Sheriff Clarke?

I've been too busy today to listen, but did the righty radio talkers and Citizens for Responsible Government - - the folks who righteously ran Tom Ament out of office - - urge the recall of Sheriff David Clarke?

He and his predecessor, Lev Baldwin, failed to abide by court-ordered jail reforms, opening the door to millions of dollars in payouts to people whose rights were violated while being held in the jail that is managed by the Sheriff.

The story is here: Clarke was Sheriff and jail manager for most of the period cited in what could be a financially ruinous ruling.

Ruinous for the county taxpayers, already shelling out millions in the pension scandal that cost Ament and many supervisors their jobs - - but which was supposed to usher reform into county procedures.

So to the CRG and talk radio. If you haven't begun the process, for consistency's sake, bring it on.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In This Cold Weather, Imagine Commuting On Modern Trains

Had the region's light rail system not been killed in the planning stages in 1997, Milwaukee workers, visiting conventioneers, and commuters from Waukesha County, including students from UW-M, could be riding modern trains instead of skating down slippery highways and icy sidewalks as they head for their destinations.

And had that system been built, the fight over the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter line would have been over long ago, with the line either operating or getting ready to go.

We'd have relearned the lessons lost when Milwaukee's trolleys and the great Inter-Urban system from Oconomowoc to Chicago were torn out to make way for the automobile only.

And both new systems would have worked together to funnel people to and from Mitchell airport, using the new Inter-Modal station downtown, then west through the Menonomee Valley, with service on the drawing board should UW-M get its research park built at the County grounds, not far from the Zoo and the hospital complex.


There was no political will on the part of then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, which was followed by the pension-fund implosion of then-Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament, which was followed by the inspiration-free, risk-averse, talk radio-controlled anti-rail incumbent Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker...and voila! - - Milwaukee remains the largest rail-free (save for Amtrak to Chicago) community in the country.

And we wonder why urban sprawl still eats away at the Milwaukee job market?

Why housing proliferates on farm fields and suburban edges throughout the region?

Why those areas are pushing for Lake Michigan water diversions, along with more highways and interchanges - - even $25 million for an interchange to serve a privately-owned Pabst Farms shopping mall that still lacks local design approval?

Milwaukee is landlocked by a special, 1955 law, hemming in its population.

Without modern transit in the city, and with connections to its neighbors, Milwaukee's growth is stifled - - so a lack of rail is more than an inconvenience on a cold winter day.

McCain's Centrism, Though A Blow Against Extremism, Still Pales Against Obama's Inspiration

Sen. John McCain's victory in Florida indicates that the extreme right's hegemony in the GOP, especially laid down by its talk radio mouthpieces who have been bashing the Arizonan, is being extinguished by fairly traditional Republicans who don't want an ideologue (Mitt Romney), and a flip-flopper, at that.

McCain appeals to middle-of-the-road Republicans who are not anti-immigrant fanatics, flat-earthers or pre-Revolutionary War theocrats. Seems they are taking back their party. Or trying.

An interesting development.

In other words, McCain's got enough Republicanism in him to win at least a plurality against a Romney and a Huckabee, let alone Rudy Giuliani, who was a one-issue candidate with zero sense of timing.

And something like ten million bucks of other people's money down the drain.

Now we'll see how the Democrats respond, assuming it becomes also a two-person race, with former Sen. John Edwards bowing out, probably after Super-Duper Tuesday. (And without any Rudyesque embarrassment.)

A face-off between Sen. Barack Obama and McCain replays the 1960 John F. Kennedy-Richard Nixon race. Youth and vigor against age and establishmentarianism.

Advantage, Obama.

If it's a contest between Sen. Hillary Clinton and McCain, it's a closer call, but Clinton still wins, because at the national level, after years of Bush-Cheney, change is in the air.

With his support of the Iraq War and surge, McCain won't be able to disengage himself from Bush on what it was that defined Bush's presidency and dragged the country through hell since 2003.

The Best Location For Density Is In Cities

This battle over a proposed rural subdivision in Dane County is a perfect illustration of why development and density are best concentrated in places where there already are services, infrastructure and amenities:


By The Numbers: 1000 Friends Of Wisconsin, 10 Reasons To Oppose I-94 Expansion, 1 Succinct News Release

1000 Friends of Wisconsin...10 reasons to oppose expanding I-94...1 succinct news release: these are the only numbers that make any sense when considering how the state transportation department intends to spend $1.9 billion of your/our money from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line.

The group's listing of the Top Ten reasons it opposes the next segment of the region's probable highway expansion plan is here.

Spoiler alert:

Among some of the main reasons to oppose the plan: It will raise taxes.

Musings On The GOP Vote In Florida

I found it interesting that in the last 24 hours of GOP electioneering in Florida, the two favorites, US Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, accused each other of the worst of heresies: liberalism.

I mean, what could be worse than any hint of liberal thinking in a Presidential candidate's brain or background?

To me, liberalism has always connoted open-mindedness and tolerance.

And in the nation's history, liberal politics gave us Social Security, Medicare, The Clean Water Act, The Clean Air Act, The Civil Rights Act, Rural Electrification and a host of other programs that most Americans use, support and take for granted.

Liberals let conservatives like Rush Limbaugh demonize the term and substitute their own false definitions for liberal and liberalism.

Liberals need to reclaim the language, be in charge of defining it, never apologize for it and certainly not run from it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Green Side of New Berlin, On The Web

New Berlin is often in the news and associations with environmentalism there are not particularly strong.

Its State Senator, Mary Lazich (R), is leading the fight in the legislature against a strong Great Lakes Compact bill for Wisconsin, partnering with a states-rights ally in Ohio who is stalling the water conservation agreement there, too.

Lazich has been backed by the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce, and its allies, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Metropolitan Builders Association.

And New Berlin is pushing for precedent-setting permission to obtain Lake Michigan water for acreage west of the subcontinental divide, where new development, along with a water park, could use an infusion of fresh water piped in from the Big Lake.

But there is a regular web presence posted by the Ecology Association of New Berlin that is raising awareness about the Compact, climate change and other pressing environmental issues.

Check it out.

Climate Change's Severe Storms Hit China

Wonder how many climate change deniers are left in China, where the worst snow storms in 50 years have caused massive problems.

What does 600,000 people stranded at one train station even look like? That's nearly equal to the entire population of Milwaukee!

Wisconsin Groups Reveal Deficiencies In Regional Highway And Water Plans

Four Wisconsin legal and environmental organizations filed extensive comments last week with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, noting substantial flaws with the department's plans to rebuild and expand I-94 south of Milwaukee.

You can read the comments through this link to the group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which is one of the four organizations making the joint filing.

In a nutshell, the comments document why the project should be redrafted.

The comments also provide another valuable analysis of how major project expenditures in our region exclude minority and low-income taxpayers.

The department's proposes spending $1.9 billion in a 38-mile corridor between Mitchell airport and the Illinois state line, but not a penny for rail or other transit components, and without regard to Environmental Justice issues spelled out in the comments.

The Milwaukee Common Council has also objected to the highway-only spending, so these criticisms have spread into mainstream political and governmental actions.

And this analysis has also been made clear in a related issue - - water supply planning - - where development, transportation, housing and land use also are arguably distorted by a lack of planners' fundamental fairness.

In November, a coalition of legal and environmental organizations - - some also supporting the highway critique - - wrote to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and alleging a lack of compliance with key federal justice regulations in the structuring and planning of the water study committee's work.

The 32-member, all-white and heavily suburban committee is writing a set of recommendations for water distribution across the SEWRPC seven-county region.

The groups' letter was distributed with the committee's November 27, 2007 packet, but has not yet been posted on the commission's website.

The letter's opening paragraph was an attention-getter, much like the detail and import in the highway commentary, too.

So you'd think that savvy people at both SEWRPC and the transportation would take these legal missives to heart. Hard to know. Hard to tell. But here's how the letter began:

"We are writing," said the organizations to SEWRPC, "to express concern that the SEWRPC Water Supply Study appears to be operating in violation of federal civil rights regulations and environmental justice requirements.

"We are requesting that you immediately distribute copies of this letter to all Water Supply Study advisory committee members and to all Environmental Justice Task Force members.

"We do not believe this study can or should be completed until there is meaningful participation from, and the inclusion of meaningful outcomes for, minority and low-income communities in our region."

UW-M Prof., Conservative Columnist Debate Water, Race And Class

The debate over water sales to the suburbs continues to expand, and that's a good thing, because people need to be heard on the issue, and as UW-M Professor Bill Washabaugh tells the Journal Sentinel's Patrick McIllheran, it's all not as simple as McIllheran believes.

Their debate is included in a posting by McIllheran, who also reprints in full a response by Washabaugh to something McIllheran had written Sunday.

Washabaugh is a sociologist, and there is a deep reservoir of social attitudes and regional history that water sales - - just the latest spur to suburban growth - - have and will continue to influence.

Credit both of them with putting their arguments out there for the public to absorb.

Water Rate Reform Rises To The Surface In New Berlin

This is the pressure of the pending Great Lakes Compact, and some mixed feelings on the Milwaukee Common Council at work - - New Berlin is considering some charging large users of water higher rates to encourage water conservation.

The outcome of the planning will be instructive, as for every water conservationist in New Berlin politics, it seems there are two free-marketers who want less regulation, not more.

The City of Waukesha implemented a version of a rate alteration, but it affected few users. New Berlin may go beyond Waukesha.

Let's wait and see what the details are, but encourage New Berlin and others to stay on this path.

Barrett's Perspective On The Great Lakes Compact Is Crucial

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett joins the growing chorus of support for adoption of the Great Lakes Compact with an op-ed in Sunday's Journal Sentinel Crossroads section.

Of the political leaders in the state, Barrett is perhaps in the toughest spot when it comes to the Great Lakes Compact.

He has made clear his opposition to selling water to suburbs outside of the Great Lakes basin until the Compact is approved by the Wisconsin legislature.

That would provide some standards and guidelines for such water sales - - procedures that would make the diversion application and conservation measures within the Compact reasonable and rational - - and, importantly, bring the entire process into line with existing federal law.

But Barrett and the city have been jammed by pressures from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to begin those water sales negotiations now with the City of New Berlin, and then with the City of Waukesha sure to follow.

That is because the DNR either assumes that the Compact will get adopted by the Wisconsin legislature (a shaky proposition, given opposition to date in among an alliance in the State Assembly, the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, among others)... or the DNR believes that it has the power to approve water sales without either the Compact in place or the federal law being followed.

The history of that DNR belief, despite a detailed opinion to the contrary issued by the Wisconsin Attorney General in December, 2006, and continually unreported by the traditional news media, is here.

Those aggressive and risky DNR scenarios are fraught with political and legal pitfalls, so the cleanest thing to happen would be the adoption of the Compact - - which Barrett, many legislators, editorial writers, conservation groups and even some political leaders in Waukesha County say they also want - - and then diversion applications for water sales could follow the Compact procedures and be aligned with federal legal dictates, too.

As the Mayor of the largest city in the state, where the Common Council has also taken strong, pro-Compact positions - - for years - - and from which diversions might be had if terms can be negotiated within the language of the Compact and the law, Barrett's point-of-view is crucial to the debate.

With the Compact's introduction in the legislature a matter of days away, Milwaukee's position, as articulated by Barrett and the Common Council, should carry significant sway in the debate.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Murphy Oil Spill Victims In Louisiana Have A Website

As Murphy Oil moves towards applying for a permit to expand seven-fold its refinery on 400-500 acres of wetlands in Superior, WI, there is interesting reading embedded in a website created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's damage to the neighborhoods around its refinery there.

Washington Post Highlights Economic Losses Tied To Lowered Great Lake Levels

The Washington Post does an excellent job cataloguing the economic hardships that have come with falling water levels in the Great Lakes.

Other than one off-note about the falling levels perhaps being appreciated by beachgoers, the story adds information to the explanations for why the levels are falling, as well as journalistic weight to the need for the approval of the pending Great Lakes Compact.

Briggs & Stratton CEO Urges "Positive" Tone, Then Has A Counter-Productive Meltown Himself

John Shiely, Briggs & Stratton's CEO, adds to the uproar over Milwaukee's business climate with an op-ed in Sunday's Journal Sentinel Crossroads section.

Some people just don't know when to quit.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an outbreak of debate over the business climate in these parts that began with a column by Steve Jagler, editor of The Small Business Times.

Jagler criticized Shiely and other business leaders for negativity about Milwaukee expressed at a Public Policy Forum discussion - - and then others weighed in, including this blog.

In Part, Jagler wrote:

"Shiely criticized the collective mindset of Milwaukee, saying the region is more likely to have a great-grandson of "one of Milwaukee's socialist mayors" denounce the gap in salaries between CEOs and front-line workers than it is to encourage the creation of wealth.

"That shouldn't be … You just don't hear the 'two Americas' rhetoric (down South)," Shiely said."

There are two strange thing about Shiely's Crossroads piece.

First, there is the repetition of that irrelevant, old-timey anti-socialist rhetoric.

The second is how much space is devoted to a personal and family attack on Michael Rosen, blogger and economics teacher at MATC.

Rosen had responded to the business leaders remarks at the Forum meeting with an op-ed that the Journal Sentinel ran in the Crossroads section January 18th.

It comes just a few sentences after Shiely bemoans the lack of "positive" attitudes towards corporate leaders and their roles in the economy.

Seems Shiely is out to settle some old scores, reprising decades-old company history in which Rosen's sister played a role as a union leader.

Shiely complains about how politicians and media behaved - - back when Henry Maier was Mayor.

It's information about which an entire generation of Crossroads readers probably knows nothing, and from which everyone else has moved on.

Or should move past, since harboring such resentments is unhealthy, and airing them doesn't do much for the community's spirit, either.

In his Crossroads piece, Shiely explains what it was that so upsets him about Milwaukee that led to his remarks at the Public Policy Forum event.

"I suggested that the most important thing Milwaukee community leaders could do to improve our prospects for economic development in this region was to bury the vestiges of the old Milwaukee socialist ethic by abandoning the local zero-sum culture that views all wealth creation as coming at someone's expense and embrace an integrative, pie-expanding view. "

Later, he labels the piece Rosen had written previously for the same Sunday section as a "neosocialist rant."

As the Milwaukee Journal Labor Reporter in the early 1980's, I covered the situation at Briggs & Stratton, and other businesses and unions which were going through difficult times.

There had been a severe downturn in the US, Wisconsin and Milwaukee-area economies in the late 70's and early 80's.

There were structural changes foisted on companies and workers alike. There were strikes, layoffs, concessions.

And at Briggs & Stratton, as I remember it, there was a hard line on both sides. The strike went on for several months, then was settled.

It was contentious, and there was fallout everywhere, but my goodness, it was 25 years ago.

And as the newspaper itself points out Sunday in an editorial not aimed at either Shiely, or Rosen, there are plenty of things that business leaders can do to help grow the area, like the push for commuter rail.

As the paper says, and the boldfaced type is just below the headline:

"Business leaders need to make their political counterparts understand that a transportation system including commuter rail is essential to the region's economic health."

Now there's something positive to do - - today.

Journal Sentinel Gets On Board The KRM

The Journal Sentinel editorial board makes a strong case for commuter rail, and urges business leaders to twist a few arms in the legislature to move it forward.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What's Wrong With A Bigger Oil Refinery In Superior?

On The Fighting Bob Blog, the reasons are enumerated.

And isn't it ironic, perhaps lamentable is a better word, that the permit applications to ramp up refining at the Murphy Oil facility in Superior seven-fold are being formulated just as the Great Lakes Compact is to be debated in Wisconsin?

The Compact is an effort to preserve the Great Lakes: other efforts are underway to address invasive species and other water quality issues, as consciousness grows nationally and internationally about the many threats to the planet's fresh water - - and 20% of the world's supply of fresh surface water are the Great Lakes.

So on the one hand in Wisconsin, which is getting into the game late there will be in a week or two a full-court legislative press to adopt the Compact and help secure water conservation in the Great Lakes.

On the other hand, there will be a push to bring the big refinery expansion online, on hundreds of acres of filled-in Lake Superior wetlands, using Lake Superior water by the millions of gallons daily in production, with inevitable airborne pollutants or straight-up toxic seepage finding their way into Lake Superior - - still the cleanest of the five Great Lakes.

Suggests something of a disconnect in Great Lakes stewardship in our state, doesn't it?

Here We Go Again: Dirty Air Statewide

Bad air quality forecast for the entire state Sunday, according to the
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Remember that the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce wants air quality standards relaxed in southeastern Wisconsin.

Here's how the DNR put it in an email alert late Saturday:

Air Quality Watch for Particle Pollution effective Sunday, January 27, 2008 12:01:00 AM through Sunday, January 27, 2008 11:59:59 PM for all counties.

The watch is being issued because of the forecast for elevated levels of fine particles in the air. Fine particle pollution is composed of microscopic dust, soot, liquid droplets and smoke particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller. These fine particles come primarily from combustion sources, such as power plants, factories and other industrial sources, vehicle exhaust, and outdoor fires
The Air Quality Index is forecast to reach 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 air quality watch is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous activities during the watch period.

People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis and 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

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 outdoor wood fires.
Conserve electricity.
For more ideas on how you can reduce your emissions t oday and every day visit: Do a little, save a lot!

For more information:
Federal interagency air quality web site, for information on the Air Quality Index and nationwide air quality forecasts and air quality conditions,
DNR's statewide air quality monitoring web page,
For local DNR air management program contacts,

Public And Private Sector Leaders Note Job Growth In Milwaukee

It was refreshing to see local Milwaukee leaders join state Workforce Development Secretary Roberta Gassman in highlighting job growth in Milwaukee's central city.

With the myriad difficulties pairing central city job-seekers to employment in distant suburbs, nurturing work as close as possible to the heart of the employment pool makes the most sense.

When A Blogger Should Stop Typing

Oh, dear.

From The Grassroots, Climate Change Solutions Reach The Governor's Task Force

The Madison Capital Times publishes proposals designed to advance the proposals put forth by Gov. Jim Doyle to address climate change.

Good to see momentum. If government and a range of organizations like Wisconsin Environment can merge their ideas and resources with a sense of urgency, good things can happen for which our children and grandchildren will be grateful.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Guest Posting On A $1.9 Billion Boondoggle

Steve Filmanowicz, communications director for the Congress for the New Urbanism, sent thoughtful and informed comments to the state transportation department on its plan to spend $1.9 billion to rebuild I-94 from Mitchell airport south to Illinois.

The CNU is directed by former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, for whom Steve and I worked: Steve was kind enough to send me a copy of what he wrote while on Amtrak (try that in your car!) and to allow its posting:

By Stephen Filmanowicz

Although the costs involved are enormous, the planning for the rebuilding of I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line has completely lacked any rigorous cost-benefit analysis and has resulted in a deeply flawed conclusion to extensively re-engineer and expand this stretch of freeway.

The planning is based on outdated assumptions about low-priced gasoline (projecting years of sub-$2.50 per gallon gasoline, even though prices like that are a thing of the past).

Now and in the future, our country depends on oil from the Canadian tar sands, which is expensive to extract. SEWRPC and the DOT function too much like creaky old bureaucracies -- they need to synthesize new information like this much more efficiently.

The plan is based on equally outdated assumptions about the acceptability of Vehicle Miles Traveled growth and resulting growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

Since our governor has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state to levels at or below 1990, this plan to improve freeways must be tested to determine its effect on greenhouse gas emissions, factoring in the VMT growth anticipated in this highway plan and expected improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency under current laws.

The latest research, including the Growing Cooler report issued by the Urban Land Institute and its lead researcher from the University of Maryland, concludes that status quo planning of this type will result in rising -- not falling greenhouse gas emissions -- even after fuel efficiency gains take effect.

Instead, we need coordinated transportation and land-use planning to encourage clustered development that is more conducive to transit use.

This type of planning and development is succeeding in regions such as Washington DC, which is seeing a flurry of high-value development around its Metro rail stations and a weakening market for housing in far-off exurbs where residents face long commutes.

Denver and other communities are making plans to intensively develop around rail and it's high time such progressive comprehensive transportation and land-use planning comes to Wisconsin.

For these reasons, I strongly oppose this overpriced and counterproductive plan.

The latest report from the Texas Transportation shows that the Milwaukee region ranks 52nd in highway congestion. Without any structural changes to the highway system, the length of the Milwaukee commute has been falling, along with hours lost to congestion.

The continuing high price of gas obviously is playing a role in reducing highway driving. So what is the justification for driving up the price of this project by hundreds of millions of dollars with extensive re-engineering (on-ramp lengthenings and lane widenings) as well as the addition of lanes along the entire length of the project?

SE Wisconsin is growing modestly and its residents are looking for transportation options including rail and improvements to local roads, not more of our tax dollars poured into overbuilt highways.

When there are clear signs that these highways are straining from too much congestion -- is there even a daily rush hour visible on I-94 near Racine or Kenosha?? -- then it's time for us to consider spending hundreds of millions of our gas tax dollars on these projects.

Until then, do the responsible thing and rebuild I-94 at its current width with modest safety-related improvements.

And one final message: Do not seek to raise the gas tax or license fees by one penny to pay for this bloated project or others like it around the state.


Stephen Filmanowicz

Both National Parties' Dynastic Figures Are Torching Their Bases

I hate to admit it, but former President Bill Clinton is a negative force out there on the campaign trail, and the Democratic Party, seeing its best chance to win the White House in eight years, is being fractured by the Democrats' once-most effective ex-President.

And Pres. George W. Bush?

He's destroyed the GOP, says a party insider, Peggy Noonan, who crafted the Reagan message so effectively.

I figure the party that puts forward the freshest face, with the least connections to older administrations, is the one that wins the White House and Congress.

Get Involved In Online Anti Gun-Violence Effort

The Wisconsin Anti-Violence Educational Effort is mounting an online campaign to broaden gun registration in the state at the time of sales.

Read and join, here.

Pabst Farms Mall, Modified, Is Still Big-Box Heaven On The Road to Sprawlville

Chapter XI on The Road To Sprawlville finds a new pond planned for Lake Country:

Developers of the proposed upscale shopping mall at Pabst Farms, anxious to preserve $25 million in financing pledges to build the full-bore "Diamond" interchange at I-94 and State Highway 67,, have made some changes to the mall's design, and the City of Oconomowoc will probably mute its criticisms and keep the project moving forward.

The City of Oconomowoc already has sunk $24 million in tax increment financing into the Pabst Farms development for roads and other infrastructure, and only has to put up $400,000 to get the interchange into the ground (a sweet deal, as the state is the big donor at $21.9 million), so the city is unlikely to demand any more concessions from the mall's designers.

The next stages of home building on the 1,500-acre site have been delayed a year because of the housing market downturn; killing off or side-tracking the mall might devalue the subdivisions and retail business now in the development, so my guess is that the mall will gets its city approvals.

And the interchange planning, now a major activity at the state transportation department's District Two offices in Waukesha, will continue to stay on the fast track.

Regional cooperation, west of 124th St., is when the County, a municipality, the transportation department, the regional planning commission (SEWRPC is facilitating the addition of the interchange to the area's highway spending priorities) and private businesses come together to spend money and lay concrete.

(No rail or bus connection into and out of Pabst Farms, even to nearby by downtown Waukesha, fyi.)

The modifications to the sit plan to accommodate the mall include a pond at the interchange (in what used to be genuinely known as Lake Country, this gesture to the past, as an ornament, is pathetically paradoxical).

Other aesthetic tweaks slightly reorient the location of the big box stores, though they will still show their backs to motorists - - a throwback away from modern city planning principles, and a victory for the developers who said that's the way it has to be.

Waukesha County residents are on the hook for a $1.75 million contribution to the interchange (as is the mall developer), and even though the region is at the heart of the anti-taxing rebellion, my guess is that most taxpayers won't object to a spiffy new shortcut off the interstate to a new brace of big box stores and the kind of stores you see at Mayfair.

Patrick McIlheran Post On Water Issues Makes Little Sense

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's in-house conservative blogger and columnist casts aspersions everywhere in a fear-driven posting about the Great Lakes Compact and an opinion poll which his newspaper apparently covered too neutrally for his tastes.

Darn that fact-based reporting! It's!

Anti-Compact forces must be really see storm warnings on the horizon, if McIlheran is their barometer.

You can read his posting here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Milwaukee Council Moves On Water Deserve Praise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All that history is here.

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it.

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

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

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

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

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

Transit? Transportation options?

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


Buy yourself a car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whole Foods To Drop Plastic Bags

Good plan, as described in the Madison Capital Times.

Better than having Big Guvmint mandate it, some readers will argue.

I don't care which way it happens. Just get on with it.

1/25 Public Comment Deadline About I-94 Expansion To IL Approaching

Less than 48 hours remaining to tell the Wisconsin Department of Transportation that spending $1.9 billion to rebuild and expand I-94 from Mitchell airport to the Illinois line - - without launching a parallel commuter train system, too - - is a wasteful, short-sighted one-sided boondoggle.

But use your own words, and send your comments to:

The comment period closes at the end of the day, Friday, January 25 - - and thanks to our good friends in the Bush administration's Federal Highway Administration for telling the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to extend the comment deadline past the '07 end-of-the-year busy holiday season.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Doyle Touts Energy Initiatives, Impending Great Lakes Compact Legislation

In his State of the Street address Wednesday night (full text here), Gov. Jim Doyle had this to say about the Great Lakes Compact, the pending and controversial water management agreement dormant in the state legislature since its preliminary approval by the Great Lakes Governors in December, 2005:

"Protecting the Great Lakes

"To build a bright future for Wisconsin we must continue to reach across the aisle, put partisanship aside, and focus on the incredible assets we have in this state.

"From the majestic shores of Lake Michigan to the brutal and beautiful waters of Lake Superior, the Great Lakes are Wisconsin’s most precious natural resource.

"But the Great Lakes face many new challenges. Regions of the country that have overbuilt look at our freshwater with an envious eye.

"As Chair of the Council of Great Lakes Governors I along with my fellow Governors have taken aggressive action, signing the Great Lakes Compact to preserve and protect our fresh water for generations.

"In the coming weeks, leaders in the Legislature will introduce a bipartisan plan to approve the Great Lakes Compact.

"I want to thank Democrats and Republicans for helping to move the compact forward.

"Let’s continue to work together to ratify and implement this historic agreement and ensure that our Great Lakes remain protected forever."

He gave no details. The bill may be introduced in a few days.

Doyle also announced renewable energy initiatives that take advantage of the state's agricultural and manufacturing industries, attract investment, and which could help Wisconsin contribute solutions to global warming.

Here is what the prepared text had to say about these matters and several related proposals:

Creating Renewable Energy

"We have set Wisconsin on the right course to seize new economic opportunities and lead our nation’s response to one of the most critical challenges of our time.

"Our addiction to foreign oil is compromising our national security, paralyzing our economy, and melting the polar ice caps. The global threat of climate change is undeniable. Temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere have reached their warmest point in over two thousand years.

"A barrel of oil has topped $100… and just look at the price of gasoline at the pump – nearly double what it was just five years ago. The oil companies don’t care. They’re making the biggest profits in history. Our country is sending over a billion dollars a week in oil payments to the Middle East.

"Just imagine if we were investing that kind of money right here in Wisconsin.

Energy Accomplishments

"I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we should depend more on the Midwest and less on the Mideast, and today we are. Since I became Governor, we’ve worked together to increase production of Wisconsin-made ethanol from zero gallons to half a billion gallons per year.

"Last fall, I brought governors from across the Midwest together in Milwaukee to chart a new energy direction for our region and our world.

"At the University of Wisconsin-Madison we are launching the Great Lakes BioEnergy Research Center bringing together researchers from five other universities across the country. Our nation’s dependence on foreign oil must end, but drilling our way out of this crisis is not the answer.

"We must invent and innovate our way to a cleaner, safer energy future. …and tonight, from generating wind power in Fond du Lac to harnessing the power of biomass in Rice Lake, Wisconsin is ready to lead the way.

Energy Independence Fund

Tonight we’ll launch an aggressive new strategy to reduce the pollution that causes global warming and grow Wisconsin’s economy – the Wisconsin Energy Independence Fund – a major new investment to make Wisconsin a world leader in renewable energy and homegrown power.

"Over the next 10 years Wisconsin will invest $150 million to help our businesses, our farmers, our foresters, and our manufacturers produce and promote renewable energy.

"Our strong manufacturing base and rich agricultural industries, along with the wealth of resources in our vast northern forests and world-leading research universities, position Wisconsin to become the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.

"From manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels to retro-fitting fuel pumps and exploring the latest clean technologies, we will seize green opportunities and create good jobs for our citizens.

"But we won’t stop there.

Renewable Fuel Initiative

"Tonight we’ll launch a new campaign to increase the availability of renewable fuel by 1 billion gallons.

"First we’ll provide new tax credits for biodiesel fuel producers and add 400 new renewable fuel pumps to our roads.

"Second let’s pass a renewable fuel standard sponsored by Senator Kreitlow and Representative Suder to require oil companies to provide renewable fuel for our consumers.

Energy Efficiency

"Energy costs continue to rise and Wisconsin families deserve relief. Over the next 18 months, we will make another historic investment – $95 million – to help save families and businesses over half a billion dollars over the next decade."

The Road To Sprawlville Is, Well, A Private Road: Chapter IX

This installment of our ongoing series, The Road To Sprawlville, is about the unintended consequences of plopping a house here, and a house there, on large lot.

The opposite of that curse, urban density!

Turns out over in Germantown that when you restrict lots size to five acres, so few properties are built and so few tax dollars collected that private roads to the houses are the only way to provide them.

Interesting story in the Daily Reporter.

Milwaukee Aldermen, Tired Of Being Kicked In The Teeth, Fight Back On The Water And Transit Issues

Good for Milwaukee aldermen who are showing more spine in their struggles to link water, transit and employment in something approaching substantive regional cooperation.

I was especially pleased to see the Aldermen citing the disgraceful elimination of County Bus Route 9, which served low-income city residents with a transit line to their jobs in Waukesha County - - where low-income housing is virtually non-existent.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel News Watch blog Wednesday afternoon:

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 23, 2008, 4:39 p.m.

By Larry Sandler
City panel holds up water deal

After pointed comments about lack of cooperation on public transit and affordable housing, a Milwaukee Common Council committee delayed action today on renewing a 10-year, $1.3-million-a-year deal to sell water to Menomonee Falls.

By contrast, a study of selling water to Elm Grove easily sailed through the same panel after Elm Grove Village President Neil Palmer voiced enthusiastic support for regional cooperation and said he wished his community could be connected to downtown Milwaukee by a light rail line.

The debate before the council's Public Works Committee was the latest example of Milwaukee aldermen trying to use water as a tool to pull the suburbs into talks on other regional issues.

Similar questions were raised last year, when the city agreed to start negotiations on boosting water sales to New Berlin.

Suburban officials see access to clean water as a key factor in their communities' development. Urban leaders generally want to see more compact development and believe suburbs should share the city's social costs if they benefit from their proximity to the city.

"When we talk about regional cooperation in this community, it's very much a one-sided approach," Ald. Michael Murphy complained.

Menomonee Falls benefits from Milwaukee water, but municipal governments and businesses in Menomonee Falls and Butler refused to help Waukesha County pay for a Milwaukee County Transit System bus route that carried some 70 Milwaukee residents each day to Waukesha County jobs, said Murphy and Ald. Bob Bauman.

Some of those Milwaukeeans likely lost their jobs when Route 9 shut down a few weeks ago, Murphy said.

Those low-income workers also couldn't move closer to their jobs, because the suburbs have little affordable housing, noted Murphy and Ald. Willie Wade.

"Having decent, family-supporting jobs does more to fight crime than having armies of police," Murphy said.

Root River Communities Want A River For Recreation...

...But it's also where Waukesha is aiming to send treated, diverted water back to Lake Michigan, not necessarily year-around, should it win a diversion.

Which means, should the Department of Natural Resources approve, a) there will be more water in the river, b) a lot more water during storm events, c) possible water out of the banks, effecting the shoreline and banks, and d), of course, the water will have to be cleaned scrupulously prior to its discharge.

After all, as the river passes through Racine, there's a DNR fish hatchery on the route.

These are big issues - - environmentally, and fiscally - - perhaps contradictory.

Are the Root River communities downstream from Waukesha talking to the DNR about the Waukesha discharge plan?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Poll Indicates 80% Support For Great Lakes Compact

A poll commissioned by Wisconsin conservation groups, conducted by the UW Survey Center and released Monday, indicates 80% support statewide for adoption of the Great Lakes Compact.

That's good news for advocates of the Compact, and for backers of strong water conservation policy in Wisconsin and across the Great Lakes.

Details provided by the environmental group Clean Wisconsin to the Superior Daily Telegram indicate widespread bi-partisan support for a strong version of the Compact, with pro-Compact sentiment also measured both near the Great Lakes, and in communities far from the Great Lakes basin in Wisconsin, too.

Among the poll findings, as reported by the Daily Telegram:

"• 86 percent say it is important to provide further oversight and regulation before bottling and selling Great Lakes water.

"• 86 percent say it is important to prevent local communities from changing boundaries to qualify to take water from the Great Lakes.

"• 94 percent say it is important to require local communities to use water conservation programs before increasing use of Great Lakes water.

"The vast majority of those surveyed indicated they favor programs in their communities to help conserve water, and think dropping water levels in Wisconsin’s lakes, streams and groundwater is a serious problem."

The Journal Sentinel's coverage is here.

Legislation to approve the Compact has been stalled in Wisconsin since the eight-state agreement was approved by the Great Lakes states' governors in December, 2005.

A Wisconsin bill is expected to be introduced within ten days, but its specific language is apparently still being tweaked at the State Capitol, as proponents of various versions of the legislation with differing water conservation and diversion management measures are being pushed by Compact supporters or opponents.

The poll should inform legislators that Wisconsinites want a strong bill, not one shot through with loopholes and exemptions that weaken, not strengthen, the Compact's water preservation goals.

It took more than four years to negotiate the draft Compact: exceptions for the bottled water industry and diversion standards for communities outside of the Great Lakes basin remain key points of contention among Compact supporters and foes.

Wisconsin is the only state without a bill under review. Illinois and Minnesota have approved the Compact, and other states have versions under debate, or through one legislative house.

Cuprisin Tracks Conservative Talkers' Delicious Cat Fight

Tim Cuprisin, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel TV and Radio critic, has been blogging about the intriguing internecine war among righty talkers over which Republican candidates are the most politically correct.

Michael Medved, a conservative pundit whom Cuprisin quotes, suggests that the radio war led by Rush Limbaugh and other talkers against GOP candidates like Mike Huckabee and John McCain could kill the medium because those talkers were offending the base.

Said Medved, after Huckabee and McCain ran 1-2 in the South Carolina primary, while the national talkers' candidates were losers:

"The talk radio jihad against Mac and Huck hasn’t destroyed or even visibly damaged those candidates. But it has damaged, and may help destroy, talk radio"

Kill talk radio?

Led over the political cliff by Rush Limbaugh and his minions?

Be still, my heart.

Congress, The Fed And The President

Why are they all scrambling to head off a recession, prop up the stock market and infuse some capital into the housing market?

It's an election year.

More Double-Standards To Defeat Rail Transit, Wreck Regional Cooperation

I have often written about the imbalances in transportation planning and implementation in our region.

Billions for highways, zip for rail, with the $6.5 billion for rebuilt highways and 120 new miles of regional lanes, $0 dollars for rail or transit upgrades or additions as exhibit #1.

Now there's more.

State Rep. Robin Vos (R-Racine), signing onto legislation to allow binding referenda on rail transit systems and their funding - - but nothing equivalent on highway expansion.

His bill would give small communities the ability to block rail systems in nearby cities, and in Milwaukee, require the referendums to be county-wide, thus diminishing the voting power in the City of Milwaukee.

This anti-urban, anti-rail phobia is reminiscent of a provision added to the state budget some years ago by then Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, (R-Town of Brookfield), to ban any state spending on light rail planning, period.

So much for regional cooperation, or balanced transportation.

Monday, January 21, 2008

If Real Estate Values Fall Across The Board...

And municipal budgets across Wisconsin are based on property tax collections levied on devalued properties, and levy increases are limited by law:

What happens to municipal budgets and services, debt obligations, pension payouts and a host of other responsibilities?

I have posed this question before on this blog, dating back to September, when I said the biggest threat to municipal budgets was not the stalled state budget - - it was the threat wrapped up in a housing market decline, and a recession.

Paul Soglin comes at this general subject with some useful historical perspective, too. This is George W. Bush's Iraq War recession.

I don't have an answer, or a ten-point plan to bring about fiscal stability - - except having nerer begun the $250-million-a-day war in Iraq would have kept us out of it in the first place..

But I do know the obvious: most public budgets are made up of salaries and benefits to pay for the delivery of services.

So a municipality would have to have one heck of a rainy day fund, or massive new development solidly in the ground, or plenty of unused borrowing authority in hand to avoid layoffs and profound service cuts.

For an entity like Milwaukee County, already facing severe problems due to years of pension scandals, the results could devastating.

Environmental Advocates Endorse Sam McGovern-Rowen For Milwaukee Alderman

I have mentioned on my blog that our son Sam is running for Alderman in Milwaukee's Third District - -the district where Susan and I also live.

His campaign has posted a statement of support from several leading environmental, Smart Growth and land use advocates who cite his coordinated sustainable work in the District, opposition to Great Lakes diversions and Milwaukee River protections.

You can read the statement here. My wife and I, both with experience in various environmental causes and campaigns, are happy to identify ourselves with the people signing the statement, and of course, support Sam for the same reasons...and others.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's Role In Environmental Justice

A program underway at Yale University is exploring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's role in environmental justice.

Dr. King had an agenda that was broadening beyond the Civil Rights movement prior to his assassination, making it all the more tragic.

Gaps in SEWRPC Mindset, Performance, Require An Overhaul

Thanks to the Internet, you can read the extensive, detailed comments the Sierra Club made recently to several agencies and officials on regional transportation issues.

It's really well-done, a first-rate collection of finely written and researched commentaries by a few people, particularly about state transportation policy and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's (SEWRPC) work on some transportation plans.

Which got me thinking:

If local, state and regional agencies would put the same time and energy into comprehensive planning that is reflected in the Sierra Club's analyses of important issues, we'd have something reflecting comprehensive planning coming out of SEWRPC, for example.

But stodgy SEWRPC's model - - its practice, if you will - - is the repetitive creation of separate studies and plans on major themes as if they were isolated, and not integrated.

Each in its silo, so to speak.

That explains how SEWRPC could commit to a three-year regional water supply study without regard to fundamental environmental justice considerations for groups excluded from the process.

Or an awareness of how recommending diversions of Lake Michigan water to fast-growing suburbs might have impacts on the region's employment, transportation and housing patters.

That is why SEWRPC could write a highway reconstruction and rebuilding plan for the region, and recommend it enthusiastically to the even-more enthusiastic state transportation department that paid for and received it - - without any transit component or upgrade or addition.

It's mind-boggling to pretend that transit and highways have no relationship, and that all the other planning issues for the region are not influenced by the continuing imbalance in spending that favors highways over buses, and certainly rail options.

That's also why SEWRPC is busy working on various transportation, land use and water supply studies - - but no housing plan - - and has not written one for the region since 1975.

Yes, that's right. 1975. A nice, neat, one-third of a century ago.

The year the Vietnam War ended. When Gerald Ford was President and the Milwaukee Brewers were still seven years away from their only World Series appearance, usually seen as a marker for something around here that happened a long, long, long time ago.

Since 1975, we've had the condo boom, advances in green building, the emergence of the home office and telecommunications revolutions, a wave of sprawl development across the region, skyrocketing gasoline prices, the emergence of New Urbanism, the resurgence of downtown and urban preferences, growth of an across-the-board conservation ethic, early Boomer retirements and now the prime-lending fiasco - - and no regional housing plan predicting, reacting to or acknowledging any of these developments and trends.

People in the seven-county SEWRPC region (Milwaukee, Washington, Ozaukee, Waukesha, Kenosha, Racine, Walworth) fund the agency every year with millions in property tax dollars, peeled off every tax bill with virtually no debate.

Are we getting our money's worth?

Is there a big-picture focus at the top of the SEWRPC directory, and does that approach infuse all the work there, govern its hiring practices, its communications and interactions with media, agencies, customers?

I don't see it.

It's time that taxpayers demand a better product from SEWRPC's top managers and Commission members, and from the Governor and county boards and county executives that share Commission appointment powers.

What we need in our region of modest growth, but real environmental and economic problems, is bolder, cutting-edge, inclusive thinking that is matched up intentionally with aggressive outreach and an unlimited intellectual horizon.

A good start would be an outside, performance-based audit of the agency, with genuine citizen input from the get-go.

That could be required by any of the seven counties as a condition of making its annual property tax contribution.

2008 is a big year for the region. Huge decisions are pending with regard to water supply policy and transportation spending that will push land use and housing and job-creation - - all intertwined even if SEWRPC's current leadership does not endorse or embrace that reality - - for decades.

SEWRPC could be at the head of this effort. It could position itself as the authoritative regional source for data as well as vision, for comprehensive solutions, for energetic and inclusive outreach - - all to deal with the region's daily realities and needs.

That would mean remaking itself, and if SEWRPC won't or can't, then everyone - - Smart Growth advocates and tax reformers, Republicans and Democrats, low-income workers and business owners, suburbanites and city-dwellers - - should demand, and oversee, the overhaul that SEWRPC needs and that they/we all deserve.

If not, the region will remain where it is: often uncompetitive, closed-off and closed-minded, exclusionary to minority and low-income residents, the perpetual "C" student when "A's" are attainable, and absolutely vital to the region and its residents' success.

Without fundamental and strategic and willful changes to many of the levels of business-as-usual around here - - with SEWRPC being a major example - - that agency will remain where and what it is:

Cloistered in Pewaukee, inaccessible by transit, densely bureaucratic, opaque, muted, even without audio taping, let alone video streaming, of its meetings, hidden behind an unexciting, anachronistic website (news flash: did recently add something really cool, a breakthrough - - something called a "search" function!), being quietly powerful when it chooses (more highways), but more often than not, remote, and irrelevant.

Lobby Legislators For A Strong Great Lakes Compact Jan. 30

The annual Conservation Lobby Day - - when citizen-lobbyists swarm the State Capitol on behalf of progressive energy, environmental and conservation issues - - takes place this year on Wednesday, January 30th.
Here is a link to the best approach to take with legislators on the Great Lakes Compact, along with other information about the day and how to participate.

And another link from the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, with additional registration information, is here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Firings Continue At The LA Times: More Evidence That Print Media Is In Trouble

For the second time in less than a year-and-a-half, the editor of the Los Angeles Times has been fired over cuts ordered from on high to the operating budget.

These are hard times for newspapers, and other traditional media,as the Internet draws surfers and readers, particularly younger people not inclined to pay for, or plow through, a hard-copy newspaper.

The new media keeps on providing more choices, and while the older media has had success in merging its offerings with Internet options, the trend is favor of electronic over paper.

So the editor at the LA Times went out in a blaze of glory, proving again that everyone has a boss.

And like Dylan said, everyone's "gonna have to serve somebody."

"Greener Oconomowoc" Group Is In The Right Place

Given the heavy presence of Pabst Farms in the new Oconomowoc, it's good to know that there is a "Greener Oconomowoc" meeting around the principles of The Natural Step, a guide to sustainability.

Details here.

Milwaukee Business Editor Reacts To The Full Belling Treatment

Steve Jagler, editor of the Small Business Times, reprises how it feels to endure Mark Belling's wrath.

And gives as good as he got.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Climate Change Talk Scheduled For Waukesha Public Library, 1/23

Take in the evening program at the Waukesha Public Library on Wednesday, 1/23.

Details here.

Big Legal Win Keeps ATV's Off Hiking, Biking Trails

A Polk County Circuit Court judge ruled last week that certain trails are off-limits to all-terrain-vehicles.

It was a win for commonsense and good for the environment.

There are plenty of trails where motorized vehicles can move logically without tearing through land where people are moving more slowly and quietly.

2008 Likely To Be Hot, But Not The Record-Breaker

As you settle in to watch the Green Bay Packers defeat The New York Giants on a brutally cold field - - and no doubt the announcers will make the requisite 'bring on global warming' wisecracks - - keep in mind that predictions for the 2008 climate are for a year among the hottest, but not a record-breaker.

That's because it's time for the cyclical La Nina, which produces cooling from tropical water.

The climate change deniers will probably say this means that global warming is a hoax.

Unfortunately, they are wrong, but expect them to demagogue a bit, courtesy of the La Nina phenomenon.

Sharing Taxes From Development Could Help New Berlin Win A Water Deal, Waukesha Consultant Wrote

A few years ago, an attorney working for the City of Waukesha Water Utility said in a memo that sharing tax revenues from new development could be a factor in convincing the City of Milwaukee to sell Lake Michigan water.

I have blogged about this memo more than once, and now I can finally post an online link to the memo, and in the same file, the written response from the water utility distancing itself from the memo, all of which is here.

Ultimately, the water utility declined to pay the bill for the memo's preparation, then settled for a small portion of the total.

All that history is here - - along with State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), suggesting that Milwaukee is interested in extorting money from the suburbs for water.

(Expect that kind of opposition from the suburbs to become even hotter, since it gets to the nub of what a lot of that opposition is all about: moolah.)

Many observers believe that if water deals are approved to the suburbs under the regional, cooperative eight-state Great Lakes Compact - - deals that would include return of water to the lake and conservation measures, too - - payment for the water will have to include money more than a simple, per-gallon charge, and will have to bring in housing, transportation and other related regional issues, too.

That's because as the memo points out, and it's common knowledge, too, development has moved from the city to the suburbs, and along with it, jobs and tax-base expansion.

Taxable property is the revenue life-blood of Wisconsin municipalities, so a water-selling community could end up damaging its ability to provide basic services to its citizens, visitors, commercial properties and infrastructure if it made a deal for water that chipped away at the city's tax base.

And those losses would happen regardless of the income that might come in on the supply, much of which would be eaten up meeting the fixed costs of the selling city's water utility.

Selling what is essentially a priceless resource requires the creation of an entirely new balance sheet to make sure that the liability to the seller does not overwhelm whatever income is derived.

Tax-base sharing, or as the memo calls it, "tax sharing," are methods to share the fruits of new development and help protect the seller while providing the resource the buyer wants.

With Lake Michigan water certainly believed to be an asset that would fuel the creation of new industry and the building of residential properties that could tout access to the new, fresh water supply, tax sharing of some sort becomes logical.

Finding the documents as I did through Open Records law procedures in the files of the Waukesha Water Utility about a year-and-a-half ago was a surprise.

Publicizing it then and again now continues to genuinely inform the diversion debate, especially as Compact legislation is poised for introduction into the Wisconsin legislature before the end of the month, and the rules and ramifications of diversions can finally be comprehensively addressed.

Friday, January 18, 2008

No Bill Yet, But First Hearing On Compact Is Set For 2/5

Buried at the bottom of this story about getting invasive species out of ships' ballast tanks is word from State Sen. Robert Cowles, (R-Allouez), a probable Great Lakes Compact bill co-sponsor, that a hearing is scheduled on February 5th at the Capitol.

That would suggest something of a fast-track for the bill, since it has not yet been introduced.

Highway Systems Take Their Toll

While Wisconsin continues to spend itself towards highway budget ruin - - a torrent of un-budgeted commitments, including $5.7 billion is being poured into more lanes and modifications to the misnamed 'freeway' system in Southeastern Wisconsin - - other states are turning their existing, taxpayer-paid interstates into toll roads under new federal rules.

Used to be you could do that, but the feds have eased the rules, so expect other states to do the same, with corporations, even foreign entities building and managing the systems, and collecting the tolls in some cases.

Wisconsin hasn't asked for that permission yet, instead forging ahead as it has for decades, building and expanding roads and adding to expensive maintenance, patrolling, plowing, debt-service and other recurring costs.

The highway lobby in Wisconsin is the Badger State equivalent of the national Military-Industrial Complex - - an interconnected, self-serving web of lobbyists, contractors and government officials keeping one hand in our pockets and the other on the revenue spigot.

It's much the same in other states, except in Wisconsin, the lobby is monomanically focused on only one form of transportation spending - - roads - - while excluding rail innovation from the mix.

There's plenty of money to be made building, maintaining and operating transit lines, but in Wisconsin, change comes slowly. What the Government-Contractor Highway Complex knows is only one thing.

More roads.

The lack of choices keeps city, suburban and rural populations heavily auto-dependant, artificially fueling the demand for more road-building, the unsustainable spending it requires, and the additionally unsustainable development sprawl it creates.

In southeastern Wisconsin, this distortion has been aided and abetted by the regional planning commission, SEWRPC, which gives lip service to transit recommendations and enthusiastic support for highway planning.

The regional 'freeway' plan - - zero funding for any transit components- - that began its 25-30 year implementation in 2004 - - was drafted by SEWRPC with a million-dollar grant from the state transportation department.

An unintended consequence, perhaps?

The need for new funding sources to pay for and maintain all these new roads and lanes - - so it may be the specter of tolls on the horizon that causes some road warriors to think twice about this unrestrained highway construction.

Toll road advocates, like former Milwaukee State Rep. Kevin Soucie, have said that tolling to pay for projects like those in the Southeastern Wisconsin plan is the only way to continue to support the size major highway projects.

I used to think: No Way - - that anti-tolling, anti-Illinois sentiment would help keep tolls out of Wisconsin, but with public budgets getting thinner and thinner, and the highway lobby continuing to lobby for, get and spend fresh billions here each year, maybe Soucie will turn out to be right.

The burden would fall heaviest on the poor, and on business people who could not afford to risk taking non-tolled, more circuitous routes to their destinations.

Some special toll lanes, or those with tolls rising and falling with the time of day, or level of congestion, are called "Lexus lanes," and not without justification.

Much of this entire debate would be different if rail were in the mix, if there were balance in the transportation plan, and if there was some semblance of reason or limits in the highway lobby's dreams.

There there are no such restraints, making toll roads in Wisconsin more likely in our lifetimes, and sooner that you might think.

Waukesha Continues To Shell Out Big Bucks For Water Consultants

Another year, another quarter of a million bucks+ for public relations and technical advisors contracted by the Waukesha Water Utility, its general manager reports.

The City of Waukesha, already having unsuccessfully tried twice to obtain a back-door diversion of Lake Michigan water, could insert its next application under the rules and guidelines of the Great Lakes Compact - - if that regional water management agreement is adopted by the Wisconsin legislature this year.

(To date, Illinois and Minnesota have approved the Compact; several of the other states have bills under review, and only Wisconsin has not yet considered a bill.)

A Wisconsin bill is expected later this month after more than two years of delay.

Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson is on record favoring the Compact, as is Jack Chiovatero, Mayor of New Berlin - - a city partially within the Great Lakes basin, and whose application for an out-of-basin diversion has been forwarded to the other states by Wisconsin officials.

But it is not yet clear which among several versions of Compact bills might advance in our state's legislature, especially in the State Assembly.

There has been strong resistance among Waukesha-area business leaders and legislators to Compact procedures that require the approval of all eight Great Lakes governors to a diversion of water to a city like Waukesha which is entirely outside of the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin.

Among the opponents to that provision are the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce, the Wisconsin Builders Association, and State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin).

Historical Site Damage At Pabst Farms Echos Earlier Destruction

Call this chapter IX in our continuing series, The Road To Sprawlville:

Rare Native American effigy mounds, some in the shape of panthers, have been damaged at Pabst Farms, the Journal Sentinel reports.

Turns out it's not the first time this has happened out Waukesha way. More on that in a few paragraphs.

In the march towards Progress that has moved the economy west on the Interstate Highway across the region - - and in the case of Pabst Farms, turned 1,500 acres of prime agricultural land into big homes, on large lots, surrounded by businesses and a hospital - - degradation of the land has been among the outcomes.

That these 800-1,400-year-old Native American mounds were there is a known fact.

Pabst Farm's website contains this information:

"Our vision is to carry on the Pabst family’s love of the land through protection of important natural resources including wetlands, woodland areas, and historically significant Indian mounds. And what we build to the Pabst Farms land must also be a tribute to the rich heritage handed down from generation to generation. "

The irony is that Pabst Farms is constantly referred to as a "planned community."

Except that the planners a) forgot to pencil in an interstate interchange so motorists could get to the fancy shopping mall still under consideration, and b) didn't get the word to employees in vehicles clearing brush that rare effigy mounds were on the site and had to be protected.

Those are exhibit a) and b), to date.

Maybe we should have a contest to name what c) and d) will be?

Planners and experts say the damage to the mounds can be fixed. Depends on what you mean by fixed.

Is a rare painting slashed by a vandal in a museum, or an icon or relic broken in one of our major religious shrines or temples, really restored after the damage is done?

For cultures that built and used these mounds for spiritual ceremonies, does adding fresh dirt in tire ruts repair the physical and psychic insult?

How long will it take someone to leave a comment on this posting essentially saying, 'who cares, those cultures are long gone, and roads and subdivisions are good for the regional economy?'

Repairing the damage done is moot argument, however, when it comes to other mounds in - - well, that were once in the area.

Officials and others were discussing the Native American mounds, and a pit in the Pabst Farm site, during the December 6, 2005 meeting of the Waukesha County Land Use, Planning and Environment Committee.

The minutes say:

"At one point there were close to 30 Indian mounds in this area. The I-94 construction wiped out the lion's share along with the [pit]."

Looks like the mound-builders were bad planners, too. Imagine putting these structures where an Interstate Highway, the road to Sprawlville, had to run.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New York Governor Spitzer Calls For Adoption Of The Great Lakes Compact

In his State of the State message delivered Wednesday, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer called on his legislature to approve the Great Lakes Compact.

The full text to the lengthy speech is here, but the portion relating to the Compact is below:

'We also must do all we can to protect Upstate's environment, so we can pass on cleaner air, cleaner water and beautiful landscapes to our children and grandchildren.

"When it comes to the environment, there are so many priorities, so let me just outline one. In recent years, many New Yorkers near the Great Lakes have been troubled to hear that water levels have been dropping. This poses a threat to shipping, to our fisheries, and to our ecosystems-in other words, to the economy and quality of life in Great Lakes communities.

"That's why, today, I call upon the Legislature to pass the Great Lakes Compact, so we can join a multi-state effort to regulate water levels and maintain a strong, sustainable Great Lakes ecosystem and economy. "

'Stuck' Ship, Partially-Submerged in Duluth-Superior Harbor: Did Lowered Lake Level Contribute?

One of the bigger Great Lakes freighters is partially underwater in the Duluth-Superior harbor, having struck something underwater as it was docking, according to news reports.

The back, or stern section of the ship is submerged; the front end afloat and efforts are being made to refloat the entire vessel.

Lowered levels in Lake Superior had been increasing the risk to ships this summer: we'll have to see what caused this mishap. So stay tuned.

Conservatives Like Less Voting

Conservatives in the GOP are pushing for voter ID to limit votes among lower-income citizens, presumably Democrats.

Now the Wisconsin Assembly Republicans want to limit the topics that can come before residents through referenda.

Like resolutions calling for the end to the Iraq War.

Yeah, all this democracy-stuff is just too, well, democratic.

Zilber Implementing Green Standards At Pabst Redevelopment Site Downtown

Props to Joe Zilber for making the Pabst complex a green model of redevelopment, and to Avrum Lank at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for bringing the information to readers.

Pretty soon, green building, engine design, energy generation - - all this and more will become routine, and the only remaining question will be: "What took so long?"

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No One Wants The Pabst Farms Mall Interchange Built, Records Show

People had their chance to urge public funding for a highway interchange to a privately-owned shopping mall owner in Western Waukesha County, and no one raised a hand in support, records show.

Here's the story:

Kenneth Yunker, SEWRPC's Deputy Director, made available what he described as the sum total of about 50 comments mailed or emailed to the agency to help planners decide whether the proposed I-94 interchange to an upscale shopping mall planned at Pabst Farms should move forward.

In order for the interchange to be funded and built, a regional transportation plan covering 2007-2010 projects would have to be amended; advisory public comments on such amendments are part of the process.

SEWRPC - - the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - is the agency delegated to accept such comments.

The interchange would cost $25 million, most of it state money, and is on a planning fast-track because officials had failed to include it in the overall Pabst Farms scheme.

Some background is here.

Pabst Farms is a mini-city on 1,500 acres of former farmland that now is the gateway from I-94, north along state highway 67 to the City of Oconomowoc.

Some of the parcels are on the south side of the interstate, too.

The overall development is set to contain 1,200 houses and condos (no apartments, no transit service), plus a hospital, offices, light manufacturing, a school, a YMCA, stores and shops - - and the retail centerpiece: a regional, upscale mall, first designed to mimic Mayfair Mall, but now to look more like the open-air Bayshore Town Center mall.

The initial mall plan fell through some months ago, and the replacement design is even more controversial because it's larger, places unsightly store backs, even Dumpsters facing the road leading to Oconomowoc, and raises the profile of adjacent proposed big-box stores, too.

Waukesha County, the City of Oconomowoc and the mall developer are to pay a total of $3.9 million of the cost, while $21.1 million would come from the state - - you and me and other taxpayers - - though some highway extensions to service private developments, or local communities, require much higher shares.

So I went out to SEWRPC today to read the comment file - - and found that the backers of the interchange completely whiffed: there was not one comment of support for the project in the file.

People from River Hills, Wauwatosa, Milwaukee, Brown Deer, Oconomowoc, Mequon, Summit, Madison and Racine registered objections.

Remarks like "oppose...strongly oppose...huge waste of tax dollars...travesty...poor public policy...height of irresponsibility...and outrage" were sprinkled throughout the letters and emails.

Commenters, some on form letters, said they preferred more transit spending, didn't want more road-building to contribute to air pollution, opposed private development receiving a public highway subsidy and wanted farmland preserved.

Four non-profit organizations and one unit of government sent in comments of opposition, too.

They organizations were the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, (ACLU-WI), Midwest Environmental Advocates (a public interest law firm), NAACP Milwaukee Branch and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

Additionally, the City of Milwaukee opposed amending the 2007-2010 regional highway plan and funding the interchange, but supported including it in a future transportation plan for the region "as necessary when the schedule and traffic demand associated with the proposed regional shopping mall have been defined."

That letter was signed by four Milwaukee officials: Jeffrey Mantes, Commissioner of Public Works, Jeffrey Polenske, City Engineer, Paul Vornholt, Intergovernmental Relations and Michael Maierle, Long Range Planning, Department of City Development.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Battle Over Diversions, Conservation In Florida Has Familiar Ring

Thanks to the Daily Reporter for this story about water supply struggles in Florida, where population and development growth has led certain areas to look to their neighbors for a water bailout, while others say it's time to manage the water more wisely first.

Conservancy Deal For Ozaukee County Golf Course Vanishes

The Ozaukee Washington County Land Trust (OWLT) thought it was closing in on a plan to acquire the Squires Country Club, a 142-acre golf course on Lake Michigan in the Town of Belgium - - only to learn that a development group had swooped in with a higher and accepted offer of $2.6 million that keeps the property a golf course.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the deal came together quickly after "a casual conservation" between Ozaukee County Board Chairman Bob Brooks and Harm Modder, a development partner.

The Squires Country Club is owned by Bruce and Bonnie Bloemer.

The paper said this about the sale, which took place as the Land Trust was awaiting a counter-offer from Bruce Bloemer to its offer of something more than $2 million.

"Brooks, himself a real estate investor, said it [the property] was [on the market] and set up a Jan. 5 meeting between Modder and Bloemer, who negotiated the deal and signed an agreement on Friday, the three men said Monday.

"Brooks drew up the paperwork but was not involved in the price negotiations. He is not taking a commission on the deal, they said."

So the golf course remains a golf course and the Ozaukee County Board will not further pursue grant funding that was crucial to the conservancy plan.

Soglin Finds Appreciation For Wisconsin Business Climate - - in Illinois!

Wisconsin business leaders routinely bash Gov. Doyle as anti-business, and look longingly to Illinois, where tax incentives and other inducements supposedly give the private sector there everything they are denied in Wisconsin.

Paul Soglin finds that some Illinois movers-and-shakers are complaining that they are losing out to...Doyle and Wisconsin.

Can't our business leaders get anything right?

Dave Dempsey, Great Lakes Expert, Skewers Waukesha Opinion

Dave Dempsey, as others have tried, too, explains that business leaders quoted in a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about the Great Lakes compact misunderstand how the Compact would work and how it relates to existing federal law.

I reminded readers in a recent posting that Waukesha business and political leaders have been trying to evade or water down (sorry, bad pun) the Compact for years.

And suggesting, as they did at the forum to which Dempsey is referring, that they could support the Compact with its so-called "single-state veto" provision governing diversions removed is just another way of killing it altogether.

Which, as Dempsey and others keep saying, leaves everyone with the existing federal law where the single-state veto is chiseled in stone.

But would lead to the next logical/illogical step - - challenging the law in court, and losing control of the Great Lakes if the case were won.

George McGovern, James Hightower On Restoring Our Democracy

Former US Ambassador and Senator George McGovern (D-SD) gave the Washington Post an op-ed published January 8th that summarized the case for impeaching President George W. Bush and Vice-President Richard Cheney.

Here is a link to what I think is the most compelling case yet written to justify removing Bush and Cheney from office.

The political commentator Jim Hightower posted six days later a related approach on his website, which requires a paid registration.

Here is the key paragraph:

"There should be a barrage of investigative hearings, a proliferation of exposes on war profiteering, a surge of subpoenas, a hailstorm of contempt citations, a thousand specific cuts (none harming the troops) in Bush's war budget, an unleashing of Congress's "inherent contempt" power--in other words, a strategic, unrelenting antiwar offensive using all of the unique powers of the legislative branch to march right in the face of BushCheney executive arrogance, reframe the debate, and rally the people."

The progressive news aggregator, Alternet, posted the entire Hightower essay, here.

Hightower noted that he had worked with Sen. McGovern in 1970 as a volunteer organizing members of Congress, and public opinion, against the Vietnam War.

(Disclosure: Sen. McGovern is my father-in-law.)