John McCain finds out again that his decision-making skills are called into question.
Big-time, as they say,
Friday, October 31, 2008
Republicans attacks and voting suppression shenanigans are the tricking side of this pre-election Halloween, and the treats should be on the Democratic side, a reward for a positive and inclusive Obama campaign looking for victory on the high road.
For those of us who cut our political teeth in the civil rights movement, an Obama win on Nov. 4th is a long-deferred dream finally realized. What a shame it is that John McCain has contorted himself, along with many supporters, into a negative force that will not be celebrating an Obama victory they took a low, rhetorical road to obstruct.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:42 AM
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I continue to be fascinated that the harshest criticism for McCain-Palin comes from authoritative conservative pundits. Here is another example from George Will, who has done this earlier, as have David Brooks and others.
If Barack Obama wins, and if there are solid working majorities in both houses of the US Congress, there will be a genuine opportunity for progressive change in federal policy-making just as the GOP devolves into internal strife.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:18 PM
Many issues aired on this blog have an urban focus, but there are substantial environmental and political matters rooted in rural communities that should not escape our attention.
Here are the details of one such matter, courtesy of the attorneys and staff at Midwest Environmental Advocates:
New Factory Farm in Rosendale Threatens Significant
Impact to the Environment
People Empowered Protect the Land (PEPL) of Rosendale and Midwest Environmental Advocates Urge Further Environmental Scrutiny for Rosendale Dairy
October 29, 2008
Contact: Jamie Saul, Staff Attorney, Midwest Environmental Advocates
(608) 251-5047 or email@example.com
ROSENDALE, WI - In written comments submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Midwest Environmental Advocates and concerned citizens of Ripon, Rosendale, and Pickett urged the DNR to fulfill its legal obligations by preparing an Environmental Impact Statement that analyzes the full impact of the proposed Rosendale Dairy on the community’s land and water resources and air quality.
If approved, the new 8,000-head Rosendale Dairy will cause significant and permanent impacts to the environment, including the storage and land application of over 75 million gallons of manure and wastewater per year – making the operation the third largest “city” in Wisconsin in terms of biological waste production. Additionally, DNR’s Air Dispersion Analysis shows that the livestock operation will emit high levels of toxic gasses such as ammonia.
“We who have the privilege of clean air, safe drinking water, and the beauty of natural resources have an obligation to protect this inheritance for future generations,” states Elaine Swanson, a Pickett resident and member of People Empowered Protect the Land (PEPL) of Rosendale. Living on a 50-acre wildlife sanctuary one mile from the Rosendale Dairy site, Swanson has seen changes the massive industrial complex has wrought on the landscape. “The quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink is jeopardized by this new factory farm. We urge the DNR to resist the political pressures brought to bear on the agency by agribusiness lobbyists and conduct a meaningful and thorough environmental review.”
The DNR analysis failed to conduct a thorough review of the possible cumulative impacts of the operation and the various alternatives available to the DNR and the dairy, both of which are required by the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act.
“The DNR has taken several positive steps in this process, including withholding plan approval until the environmental review is complete and analyzing the potential emissions of hazardous air pollutants from the dairy,” says Jamie Saul, Staff Attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates. “But the law requires a more extensive environmental review than the DNR has provided. We hope the DNR will fully examine the known and anticipated impacts that this facility will have on the community’s environment and natural resources.”
DNR has faced considerable pressure from the proposed dairy’s operators and the Dairy Business Association, who have sought to fast-track the environmental review and permitting process and claim that DNR has been too thorough in its environmental review. Rosendale Dairy has already begun construction on certain facilities that may still require DNR approval.
The DNR will be preparing a wastewater discharge permit for Rosendale Dairy in the near future, and the public is encouraged to participate in that process by submitting written comments to the agency when the draft permit is released. PEPL of Rosendale will request that the DNR provide an informational hearing so that the public may voice their concerns.
# # # #
• The proposed Rosendale Dairy will be located on County Road M northwest of Rosendale, WI. According to public records, the operation will:
House 8,300 head of cattle, making the facility the largest dairy in Wisconsin;
Generate over 75 million gallons of manure and other waste per year, most of which will be stored in open lagoons before being spread on local fields. Only the cities of Milwaukee and Madison produce more biological waste.
Release more than three times the amount of toxic ammonia gas than is allowed by state law and the Federal Clean Air Act;
Require nearly 20,000 truck loads of traffic per year to bring in supplies and remove milk and manure (an average of 53 trucks per day);
Draw nearly 90 million gallons of groundwater per year from on-site wells.
• The Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act requires the DNR to prepare an Environmental Assessment (and, when required, a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement) for every agency action which may have a “significant impact on the quality of the human environment.” That review must include an examination of both short-term and long-term environmental impacts, including secondary effects and the cumulative effects of other nearby activities that would compound the impacts; and an evaluation of the alternatives to the proposal, including rigorous analysis of those alternatives that might avoid any of the adverse environmental impacts.
• Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) is the first and only non-profit environmental law center in Wisconsin. MEA provides legal and technical support to grassroots groups that are working for environmental justice in the Western Great Lakes region. For more information, visit www.midwestadvocates.org or call (608) 251-5047.
• People Empowered Protect the Land (PEPL) of Rosendale is an organization of concerned citizens seeking to protect their local environment, property values, and quality of life from the impacts of Rosendale Dairy and other factory farms across the State. PEPL promotes sustainable agricultural practices and supports a legislative moratorium on large-scale industrial dairies that have the capacity to cause lasting environmental harm.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:04 PM
Steven Filmanowicz, the communications director at The Congress for the New Urbanism, offers text and slides to show how, and how not, to insert freeways into an urban environment.
Not surprisingly, the Marquette Interchange that has gouged a now even-bigger hole in downtown Milwaukee rates lower in Filmanowicz's analysis than do comparable structures in Chicago, Filmanowicz shows.
There's a lamentable surplus of blame to apportion when it comes to the damage the freeway system has done to Milwaukee: the State Department of Transportation, the regional planning commission, and short-sighted local political and business leaders too locked into highway lobbies and captivated by the freeway's massive design and public works spending to see clearly into these projects' harm to tax base, priceless land, clean air and a city's soul.
It baffles me that conservatives, on the alert for onerous taxation and wasteful spending, and favoring local control/home rule, do not more often advocate against big government that lays down costly concrete on top of property that once paved, belongs to The State and cannot be developed.
Cities are more than parking lots and "thru lanes" to additional destinations. They are collections of neighborhoods, centers of culture and concentrations of commerce that traffic certainly helps - - but not when it is directed above and through the urban heart with little disregard for residents and their quality of life.
For a half-century, the freeway-first model has been the standard when it comes to transportation spending and execution in and around Milwaukee.
We build them at great cost, maintain them, plow them, patrol them - - then widen them - - and you know what? They simply congest again, sending the planners and the engineers and the tax collectors back for the next round.
Transit has been shunned, and now is starved, leaving Milwaukee without transportation alternatives that are more appealing at the very moment that energy prices and policy-making favors transit and other alternatives to the one-car-fits-all paradigm.
In the Milwaukee area, the conversation isn't even complete, as Waukesha County has declined to join the regional transit authority, preferring to put Waukesha's chips on a widened Zoo Interchange, and then another lane from Milwaukee all the way in both directions to the Jefferson County line.
It's galling to be shown that something works better in Chicago, but there's no arguing with Filmanowicz.
[Full disclosure: Steve and I worked together in the office of former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist. He is now President and CEO at the Chicago-based CNU.]
Posted by James Rowen at 6:34 AM
So the Milwaukee Common Council, by a 12-0 vote, has confronted the numerous inequities in the financing and operation of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
These are key components of the resolution that passed the Council Wednesday, according to Common Council records:
1. Directs the Intergovernmental Relations Division to lobby for state legislation changing the composition of a regional planning commission containing a city of the first class such that membership is proportional to county populations.
2. Urges Milwaukee County to withdraw from membership and participation in SEWRPC only if the state legislature does not pass legislation changing SEWRPC’s structure such that membership is proportional to population.
3. Directs the City Clerk to also send copies of this resolution to Milwaukee’s representatives in the state legislature and to the Federal Highway Administration.
Point #1 directs the city to lobby for state legislation that would make representation on the seven-county, 21-member commission board proportional by population. Now Milwaukee County gets three of 21 board seats, or 14%. If regional population were used, Milwaukee County, with 47% of the region's population, would get at least ten of the seats - - something that would be fought by the six, non-Milwaukee County counties that now enjoy membership that exceeds their share of the region's population.
Milwaukee County also pays more than one-third of the SEWRPC annual operating budget; As Ald. Willie Wade said during the meeting (as I am told; I did not see or hear the meeting live or taped), this is "classic taxation without representation."
A new urban-focused commission made up of Milwaukee County, and others that might wish to join (Racine, for example), might make sense politically - - an agency that could partner with a downsized, intentionally-exurban and suburban SEWRPC with Milwaukee and other allies removed.
But let's see what happens in the next session if such a proposal and argument moves forward. The ball is in the court of Milwaukee County, SEWRPC, the other counties and the legislature.
Talk about a crowded game...
#2. This follows #1, and looks reasonable, should the legislature not meet Milwaukee's initiative. Smart move by the Common Council.
#3. This is a very important amendment because placing the City of Milwaukee's unanimous council resolution into the ongoing federal highway administration certification review has got to be respected by the reviewers.
Submissions by activists are easier to dismiss, but a unanimous, debated and approved resolution by the governing body of the largest city in the SEWRPC region, and in the entire state, carries real heft.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:23 AM
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The good folks at the water division of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) have put together a report on their multi-various activities covering the last 18 months, and to save resources (note that word in their agency title) have published the report online only.
No paper copies, mailed and trucked, killing trees and burning fuel in the process.
So I'm glad to do my bit and post it online where you and I can read it for a few cents of electricity.
I'm as guilty of photocopying documents in this era of the paperless office as the next obsessive record-keeper, so I admire the water division at the DNR for walking the walk and helping the rest of us break bad old habits.
Someday, there will be no file cabinets...
Posted by James Rowen at 11:07 PM
I knew that MA in English was gonna be relevant someday.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:55 PM
You may remember that state and property rights' zealots in Ohio held hostage the legislature's approval of the Great Lakes Compact until there was a measure inserted into the Ohio Constitution that was more about rhetoric and fringe politics than sound water management in the public interest.
Here is a good explanation in Ohio media of the measure that is on the Nov. 4th ballot in The Buckeye State, and as the story says, it's unknown down the road how this provision could effect Ohioans and their portion of the region's Great Lakes watershed.
Thank goodness when these kinds of irrelevancies were offered into the Wisconsin debate by people like State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) , the State Department of Natural Resources, the rest of the legislature and Gov. Jim Doyle turned her down.
Ohioans were not that lucky, or well-prepared, or able to block that ideological sideshow, so the ballot initiative is there. Conservationists oppose it because they understand that the Compact, above all, is a conservation plan to preserve and sustain the Great Lakes, not a narrow scheme to lock up rights to waters that in Wisconsin law, and in common sense, are 'owned' in the public domain, in trust for generations to come.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:06 PM
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Milwaukee's Common Council committee on Steering and Rules voted unanimously Monday to urge fundamental and long-overdue changes in the structure of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, and to further ask the federal government to withhold the agency's quadrennial certification to approve transportation projects in the region.
Coincidentally, that certification review is underway right now.
This critical and assertive approach to SEWRPC, and its recognition that the agency structure and plans continually neglect the City of Milwaukee, has been years in the making.
Pick your tipping point:
SEWRPC's $6.5 billion freeway-only regional transportation study, pushed onto the state and feds while transit has declined in the area?
The 33-year-delay in writing a regional housing plan, despite recent efforts to promise, again, and again, that the study is right around the corner?
Last week's charade cooked up by the agency and the federal certification reviewers to deny the public the right to step up to a microphone and testify against SEWRPC?
The embarrassing grand total of three minorities among SEWRPC's 49-member professional staff? After 49 years of staffing - - just three minorities in the professional ranks, and no minority or City of Milwaukee resident in the so-called core staff of senior manages?
The agency's battle with its own Environmental Justice Task Force over whether the agency would include independent socio-economic analyses in its studies?
[Read a full brief in favor of a more urban-focused regional planning agency, here.]
Maybe this is the beginning of real public planning around here with a democratic basis, and a genuine role for Milwaukee in housing, transportation, water supply, land use and development work - - a role other than providing an easy-access bank account.
Assuming the full Council approves the resolution, it sends a signal to Milwaukee County, to SEWRPC, and to the feds, that the status quo is no longer acceptable.
I hope so, and I applaud the committee for its action.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:00 AM
There's word Monday that the County is moving faster towards selling land at the County grounds to UW-M for its new Engineering campus.
Of course the county is a willing seller: A land deal means revenue to the county from a willing buyer, UW-M, which wants to set its new Engineering and Research campus on bucolic, brochure-friendly acreage.
But what about the students? Is separating them from the main campus on the East side in their interest?
Is this how students get a well-rounded education?
And how will they get back and forth to the main canpus, their dorms, their apartments and the rest of their lives?
Will all their social science, liberal arts and elective course teachers also be shuttling back and forth from Wauwatosa and their East side offices? I talked to a faculty department chairman the other day and this official was not happy at all with this prospect.
Will Milwaukee County be running shuttle buses cross-town every ten minutes? Every hour? Daily?
Will Scott Walker, the champion of the Wauwatosa campus, start campaigning for a light rail line there, too?
Let's be be honest: a lot of kids are going to have to buy cars to get an Engineering degree from UW-M.
This new campus should either be sited on the East side, or on a bus route near Marquette and the MSOE campus, where the other engineering and science students and programs in Milwaukee are already located.
Given the price of gas, the cost of owning and operating cars, the region's already-dirty air, and the congested traffic patterns near the County grounds, it looks like at the very moment when society is turning towards green, the County and UW-M are taking their new school in an old school direction.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:00 AM
Monday, October 27, 2008
Will John McCain campagn through Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania attacking Barack Obama as some sort of treasonous socialist as Congressional leaders in both parties now plan to use taxpayer bailout cash to save the US auto industy - - the heart and soul of American manufacturing?
Wouldn't surprise me, since self-sabotage has been the McCain campaign trademark.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:35 PM
Lester Pines puts the GOP's failed Wisconsin voter fraud lawsuit into its correct perspective on CNN.
Mulder, Scully, come in please...
Posted by James Rowen at 2:22 PM
Local journalists and activists have had to absorb the shocking news that David Doege died Saturday at the impossibly young age of 53.
He was a former reporter at the Milwaukee Sentinel and The Journal Sentinel. Most recently, Dave worked at The Milwaukee Business Journal.
And as is noted in today's death notice in the Journal Sentinel, Dave was husband and best friend of Gretchen Schuldt, our friend, and blogging and grassroots colleague.
Dave was a sweet guy and a professional reporter and writer who elevated the quality and tone at every publication he worked.
If you saw his byline on a story, you knew that you were going to learn something, and get the facts - - straight - - written and organized to keep you reading to the end.
My heart goes out to Gretchen, and her family.
There will be a time of gathering on Thursday, October 30 from 10:30 AM-12:30 PM at MILWAUKEE COUNTY COURTHOUSE, CEREMONIAL COURTROOM (Room 500), 901 N. 9th St., Milwaukee. Memorial service to follow at 12:30 PM. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Wisconsin Humane Society. CHURCH AND CHAPEL 262-827-0659; www.churchandchapel.com
Posted by James Rowen at 12:53 PM
The Milwaukee Common Council's influential committee on Steering and Rules will hold a hearing on Monday, at 1:30 p.m., in Room 301-B, to debate a resolution calling for Milwaukee County to withdraw from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
It's a long-overdue matter - - both the debate and the move - - and while some defenders of the status quo have likened such a change to the falling sky, the truth is that with existing city and county funds, technical staffs and office space at their downtown Milwaukee buildings, the city and county could re-create a dynamite planning body for urban residents that would make better use of the $840,000 in property tax dollars that the County ships to SEWRPC annually.
As things exist now, smaller rural counties like Walworth, Ozaukee, Washington, along with sprawl-addicted Waukesha County, constitute a board majority at SEWRPC without a single City of Milwaukee commissioner, and who consistently take Milwaukeeans money each year but run SEWRPC with a virtually all-white and suburban-minded staff that leaves Milwaukee interests at the curb.
Remember, SEWRPC is 100% funded with public dollars - - about $8 million annually - - but frequently operates more like a family business or private consulting firm than a public agency.
Here's something of a primer that explains SEWRPC's flaws and failures that need not be continued in the region:
Discriminatory processes and structure:
• SEWRPC does not have any voting members who are elected officials from the
City of Milwaukee. In fact, the City of Milwaukee has no representation on the
21-member SEWRPC commission, which has contributed to the disregard of
urban needs and City of Milwaukee issues, residents and potential hires.
• None of SEWRPC’s 11 core staffers (senior managers) live in the City of
• SEWRPC rejected requests of its own Environmental Justice Task Force to
conduct a diverse and inclusive search for impending vacancies in the executive
and/or assistant director positions.
• SEWRPC has no office in the City of Milwaukee where most of the region’s
people of color live.
• SEWRPC chose to move from downtown Waukesha, which at least was
accessible by transit, to a more remote location in a Pewaukee industrial park
that is not served by transit.
• SEWRPC frequently creates “advisory committees” - with significant decisionmaking
roles - that lack meaningful (or any) representation of persons of color
and persons with disabilities.
• SEWRPC has failed to adequately comply with its federal obligation to diversify
its staff. SEWRPC has 49 professional staff, only three of whom are people of
color. Not one of SEWRPC’s directors or “chief,” “senior” or “principal”
professional staff members is a person of color. Yet SEWRPC insists on
promoting from within - an action that only reinforces the segregated nature of its
• By a vote of 8-1, SEWRPC’s Environmental Justice Task Force recommended
that “every SEWRPC plan, i.e. housing, land use, water, etc. will incorporate
socio-economic impact analyses by a reputable, independent source other than
SEWRPC before the plan may be adopted...”
• SEWRPC’s transportation planning routinely approves highway improvements
that are sought, without consideration as to who bears the benefits and burdens
of highway improvements - especially in light of declining transit service.
• SEWRPC knows that transit services is being reduced and that communities of
color and low income communities are disproportionately harmed by transit cuts.
• SEWRPC rejected multiple requests to develop its 2035 Regional Transportation
Plan with elements that would seek to enforce actual implementation of its transit
recommendations. SEWRPC also refused to allow community groups
representing communities of color to participate on the 2035 transportation plan
• SEWRPC recently approved the fast-tracking of a $25 million I-94 interchange to
serve a western Waukesha shopping mall at Pabst Farms, an area not served by
transit. The mall has been delayed, but rather than delay or kill the interchange -
- which is, like Pabst Farms, on prime agricultural land that SEWRPC itself had
recommended for preservation as Primary Environmental Corridor land - -
SEWRPC put the interchange on a list of approved projects and approved
accelerated construction of it.
• SEWRPC has not taken the same kinds of urgent, affirmative steps to ensure
transit expansion, nor has it utilized its authority to seek to require transit
improvements to occur concurrently with highway improvements.
• SEWRPC proposed the $6.5 billion freeway reconstruction and widening project
for Southeastern Wisconsin - - even as it knew that transit recommendations
were not being implemented and that transit service was being cut. The plan
calls for the disproportionate loss of homes, businesses and tax base in
Milwaukee County, and was opposed by a majority of the Milwaukee Common
Council and Milwaukee County Board. SEWRPC’s commission nevertheless
recommended it, and its subsequent transportation planning all assumes this
massive construction and expansion will occur.
• SEWRPC’s land use plan “serves as a guide for growth and development in the
seven county SE Wis. Region.”
• The 2035 Regional Land Use Plan (the most recent one) simply recites
principles and concepts of the plans going back to 1966.
• The 2035 land use plan does not address the fact that many low and moderate
income working families and unemployed persons, who reside in the older urban
communities of the region, are harmed by the lack of affordable housing in the
outer suburbs of the region. The plan also does not address the racial import of
• The 2035 land use plan does not address the harm and racial disparities caused
by the fact that new and expanding employment centers are increasingly locating
in the outer rings of the region - and access to those jobs is only available by
automobile, making them unavailable to many low income persons and persons
• The 2035 land use plan fails to adequately address or seek to remedy the
negative environmental impacts of pushing new development onto prime
farmlands and open space, or factor in the added costs of new infrastructure and
utilities such as highways, water supply and waste water treatment facilities. It
fails to address who benefits from this growth, and who is burdened by it.
• Milwaukee is the most racially segregated region in the country - with the least
diverse suburbs - and our region also suffers from a tremendous lack of
affordable workforce housing, and accessible housing.
• SEWRPC has not conducted a regional housing study since the 1970s.
• In 2004, SEWRPC's Executive Director stated, in writing, that he expected the
housing study to begin in the spring of 2005. Three and one-half years later, that
study still has not begun.
• Even though advocates repeatedly suggested that SEWRPC conduct its housing
study BEFORE moving forward on local Smart Growth plans (so that the housing
study information could be included in those plans), SEWRPC refused to do so.
• Earlier this month (Oct. 2008), SEWRPC said it didn't know when the regional
housing study would begin - because it refused to ask local governments to help
pay for the study (In contrast, SEWRPC was more than willing to get hundreds of
thousands of dollars from local goverments to support the water supply study
requested by Waukesha county communities.)
• The SEWRPC water supply advisory committee had 32 members, 31 of whom
were white non-Hispanic, and none of whom was African-American.
• From the outset, the advisory committee and SEWRPC staff excluded from the
study nearly all factors related to water supply except supply and demand. In
particular, the study failed to evaluate any socioeconomic effects of diverting
Lake Michigan water to suburban communities, a particular problem given the
residential and employment segregation in this region.
• SEWRPC failed to include projected socio economic impacts, such as impacts
on the location of job growth, housing and transportation, in the study, yet
moving water across the region will have an impact on these and other matters
directly affecting low-income communities and people of color, particularly those
who live in the City of Milwaukee.
• SEWRPC failed to meaningfully evaluate who would benefit from, and who
would be burdened by, a water supply expansion, or whether there would be a
disproportionate harm to communities of color and low income communities in
• The water supply plan takes as a given the assumptions of where and to what
extent growth will occur as projected in the 2035 Regional Land Use plan, a plan
that is also quite flawed. Rather than tie growth to water availability, the study
seeks to find as much water as needed to support suburban growth.
• Despite the fact that two of the alternatives proposed by the study involve
Milwaukee’s Metro Sewerage District (MMSD) (i.e., sending “return flow” to
MMSD or sending it to the Menomonee River, for which MMSD is currently
creating a restoration plan), SEWRPC did not request MMSD’s input in the
creation of the water supply study.
• The water supply plan fails to adequately account for water quality and
ecosystem impacts that would occur with discharging large new volumes of
wastewater into tributaries of the Lake Michigan basin.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:01 AM
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Thanks to Michael Horne, we learn that federal highway officials short-changed Wisconsin taxpayers by hundreds of millions of dollars in billings for the Marquette interchange - - and will use the same almost 50-50 split for the billions needed for the next round of regional freeway projects.
All that talk about the feds paying 80% of major highway projects: forget it.
Even for yours truly, the region's number-one cynic about the schemes and plots by WisDOT, the feds and the local regional planning agency that came up with the $6.5 billion freeway boondoggle - - I'm telling ya, this leaves me speechless.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:22 AM
Saturday, October 25, 2008
For some local righty blogger or talk radio bloviator to say that there's no difference between the 15-year-old in West Bend who is being accused of making up a story of a racially-motivated attack, and the twisted McCain volunteer now charged with making up a tale about blacks carving the letter "B" in her face when they saw her McCain bumpersticker.
The differences are that the second woman is an adult, has admitted her lie, and had a political motive in her tall racist tale, and it became a national story.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:57 AM
Friday, October 24, 2008
Mark the time and date: 10:30 a.m., Friday, October 24th, 2008:
Charlie Sykes said the possible election of Barack Obama as President, and Democratic control of both houses of Congress, is a factor in the stock market's dive.
As Charlie might say: "Oh, really?"
forget failed Wall Street regulation, greed, a trillion dollars spent on the Iraq War, ubiquitous bad housing debt sinking entire financial institutions - - the falling stock market and its impact on savings and retirement accounts is partisan.
And Obama's fault - - and he hasn't been elected yet, though Charlie is certainly waving a white flag.
This is the single most intellectually-unsupportable bit of spin I have heard on local talk radio.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:32 AM
It sure has been a busy few weeks for SEWRPC, and activists who have been faced with forum after forum at which suggestions and complaints about the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission could be aired.
Last week, SEWRPC's Environmental Justice Task Force held a meeting where its members, by an 8-1 vote, told the agency it wanted all future studies to include independent socio-economic analyses.
SEWRPC brass objected to the idea; the fate of the task force's recommendation, and thus its role at the agency and in the community-at-large, is unclear.
Then on Wednesday, federal reviewers were in town to carry out their quadrennial evaluation of SEWRPC's handling of transportation plans in the region. The reviewers and SEWRPC thought they had figured out a way to impose an alternative format on the review - - one without a hearing - - but the public demanded public speaking, and prevailed.
Somewhere in there is a good one-liner about the best laid plans of planners...
And Monday, October 27th closes out the regional planning October trifecta - - a Milwaukee Common Council meeting before that body's most powerful Committee, Steering and Rules, composed of council committee chairs and led by the Council President, Ald. Willie Hines.
Item #3 on the 1:30 p.m. agenda - - a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Milwaukee County, and thus the City of Milwaukee, from SEWRPC's seven-county structure.
I support that resolution with the proviso that Milwaukee County create a new planning body, in cooperation with the City of Milwaukee, to make housing, transportation, water supply, development and other planning relevant and efficient for urban residents.
Milwaukee County ships $840,000 a year to SEWRPC - - half of which comes from City taxpayers - - but the City of Milwaukee has no seat on the SEWRPC commission, with urban needs, prospective employees and potential SEWRPC committee members receiving short shrift from the Pewaukee-based agency.
Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee could pool their existing resources, house the new operation in vacant public office space, and contract with the old SEWRPC for any technical services it chose.
And apply contracting standards, diverse hiring goals and a host of other performance measures to SEWRPC that are not required or provided now.
The time of day is not ideal, but if you have the time, stop by City Hall Monday afternoon and leave your two cents worth with the clerk.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:00 AM
The principles of the United Nations, and its peace-keeping, development, human rights' and health-care activities have made the world a better, safer, and more humane planet.
UN flags will be raised across the country, and right here in Milwaukee on Friday morning at 10 a.m. at the Zeidler Building flagpole, at Broadway and Kilbourn (801 N. Broadway), with remarks by Mayor Tom Barrett and local UN supporters.
Stop by and give peace a chance.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 AM
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Props to the judge, and defense attorney Lester Pines, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:40 PM
Just because it's clear and in a bottle doesn't mean that high-priced water you're drinking is pure, a study proves.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:16 PM
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
SEWRPC's relationship with the public - - made dysfunctional through years of bad outreach to and geographic isolation from Milwaukee and low-income communities - - turned downright surreal Wednesday night in front of federal reviewers in town to carry out a quadrennial evaluation of the regional planning agency.
The review is done by the Federal Highway Administration because it confers on the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission power to approve certain federal highway and transit projects.
Every four years, the evaluators come to town, check out the agency's performance, and ask the public for its opinion as part of the process, too.
Four years ago there were so many complaints about SEWRPC's ineffective connections with low-income and minority communities that the evaluators told SEWRPC it had to improve these relationships.
In 2007, SEWRPC complied by establishing an Environmental Justice Task Force, but things have gotten rocky there because SEWRPC turned aside a task force request to participate in the agency's in-house-only hiring procedure for a new Executive Director, and only last week fought with the task force when it recommended that SEWRPC include an independent socio-economic analysis in all its plans and studies.
I had repeatedly urged readers of this blog to come attend the meeting at the Downtown Transit Center, even though SEWRPC and the evaluators had agreed beforehand to tamp down the public role by eliminating the formal hearing format and substituting question-and-answer listening stations.
A private area where statements could be taken by stenographers would also be provided, but no hearing and especially no microphone.
So all the set pieces were there. Imagine a football field, where a row of tables with maps and handouts and charts on easels were lined up at the 30-yard-line, each staffed with one-to-four local, state and federal transportation and planning officials.
At the other end of the field, say at the other 30-yard-line there were a few dozen chairs in rows facing a screen at the 20-yard-line before which a federal transportation official stood and offered a greeting and short power point presentation.
He then invited the 25 or so citizens seated in the chairs to walk across the room, chat with any of the officials, drop written comments in a box behind one of the tables, or to go to a far corner behind the tables in the end zone and make a statement to a stenographer.
Some citizens questioned this arrangement.
Hey, they said, why can't we make our statements where others can listen, should that be OK with the speakers?
Others agreed. They wanted some interaction. We want to hear the statements, they said. Can't the format be changed?
One federal official stepped forward back at his 30-yard-line and said, no, this was all agreed to in advance. Nervous glances were exchanged among the brace of officials standing at their tables. What to do? What to do?
Shrugs were exchanged. Eyebrows went up.
OK, said someone in authority, addressing the citizens across the field. Why don't all of you walk back to our end zone where the stenographers are and make your statements back there together?
No, said some citizens. Why should we all move? Why doesn't one of the stenographers come over here where we are seated? It's easier for one person to move.
More hemming and hawing. All the suits conferred, and agreed: OK - - We'll have a stenographer come to you and anyone who wants to make a statement where others can hear is free to do so.
Up walked a stenographer, a very patient woman, who set up shop at the citizens' 20-yard-line - - right where the lead-off federal official had stood, and presumably where a microphone would have been located had a hearing been permitted, and the statements began.
Citizens moved forward, listened as speakers talked to the stenographer, politely applauded each one, and so forth. It was a quintessentially orderly, restrained Milwaukee crowd.
This went on for an hour or so.
Except for the absence of a microphone, it was, for all intents and purposes, a public hearing about racial discrimination, transit deficits, lack of affirmative action, lack of comprehensive planning and other critiques of SEWRPC's standard methods and practices.
But here is the strangest thing about this de facto hearing:
Except for a stray minute here and there when an official wandered over to listen to a few public words amidst a statement, none of the officials back at their tables could hear the statements because there was no amplification.
Most of the officials spent most of their time glued to their listening station, even if no one was there asking a question. Often there were little knots of officials chatting at the tables while the public speaking was going on in conversational tones before the stenographer.
It looked like the old Junior High School dance: boys on once side of the hall, girls on the other, and little sustained interaction except an occasional foray.
So the evaluators came to town to review SEWRPC's performance - - and missed the public input portion.
The evaluators will meet with SEWRPC behind closed doors Thursday - - no reporters or citizens allowed, per federal transportation policy, an official told me - - in what they call the "site visit" portion of the review.
Paperwork will be reviewed and discussions will be held.
Then the evaluators will read the public comments and transcribed remarks from the Wednesday night meeting, and ask for SEWRPC's side of things.
"I'll read every one," one official assured me.
A report will be issued in 60 days, federal officials told the assembled.
But had the evaluators and SEWRPC not monkeyed around with the tried-and-true hearing format, everyone present could have heard the public comments Wednesday night and already have begun to think about what the public came out to say.
And you wonder why people in the region think that SEWRPC doesn't listen?
[Note: Written comments may also be submitted no later than November 10, 2008, by mail, fax, or E-mail to:
Planning Certification Review
Federal Highway Administration
525 Junction Rd, Suite 8000
Madison, WI 53717
Posted by James Rowen at 9:04 PM
The Journal Sentinel offers SEWRPC praise along with tepid chastisement for delaying a regional housing plan - - for 33 years.
The editorial did not mention that SEWRPC has refused to show the housing study draft to its own Environmental Justice Task Force, a body created by the agency to help serve and reconnect with low-income and minority communities.
SEWRPC was forced by federal evaluators to create the task force after SEWRPC's 2004 quadrennial public hearing on such matters produced a blizzard of complaints.
Coincidentally, those evaluators are in town today for the 2008 review (5-7 p.m., 2nd floor, Downtown Transit Center, 909 E. Michigan St.), but the open microphone this time has been replaced with a separate quiet room where a person with a gripe about SEWRPC or regional transportation spending can deliver it behind closed doors to a stenographer.
It's one thing to define yourself as a passive agency. It's another to abscond from a public forum that takes place every four years. What kind of message does that deliver?
Does SEWRPC even care?
Hardly. It is just trying to get through the day with as little democratic process and criticism as possible.
The newspaper should have cared more.
It should have slapped SEWRPC and the feds for diminishing the value of an evaluation of an agency that gets 100% of its funding from the public, and which could be playing a stronger role in the success of a seven-county region.
This amazing episode in which both the feds and SEWRPC itself have cooperated in shielding the regional planning agency from public input - - just as the economy is entering an historic plunge - - is all the evidence that Milwaukee Common Council members and Milwaukee County Board supervisors would ever need to justify pulling out of the commission and investing Milwaukee County's $800,000+ annual gift to SEWRPC in a more open, productive and publicly-spirited planning body or arrangement in the Milwaukee area.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:18 AM
When George W. Bush told us to go shopping after 9/11, Sarah Palin just kept on buying.
Just not with her own money.
That's reforming' and stylin'.
More later on the taxpayer-paid vacations for the family. I see a pattern emerging, and the inspiration seems to be one Ted Stevens.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:58 AM
So WisDOT has commited to something like $3.25 billion to expand and rebuild Highway 41, and the Zoo Interchange AND I-94 between Milwaukee and Illinois - - and is talking out loud about another $715 million to widen 50 miles of I-39/90 from Madison to the Illinois line, too?
After having just swallowed $810 million to finish the Marquette Interchange?
Have cannabis products been legalized in Madison, and are they being injested at WisDOT's central office?
Gas tax collections - - the source of federal highway grants to the states - - are declining nationally because driving is down.
The highway trust fund is about broke, and the smart money is on lower funding for highways in the next transportation authorization, and perhaps more money devoted to transit.
WisDOT has been treading water for years in Wisconsin, over-promising on projects statewide (every hamlet of more than 50 people gets an eight-lane bypass) while over-spending and committing to freeway expansion to please contractors and sprawl developers across southeastern Wisconsin.
The only way the I-39/90 stretch could get done, and some of the other state projects, too, is through tolls.
As in toll roads.
All those in favor of having paid for roads through local, state and federal taxes, then paying again with a Wisconsin version of I-Pass, raise your hands.
Everyone else: hold onto your wallets, then sit down and write WisDOT a letter telling them to pay more attention to the real world, like potholes, better buses and new trains.
Let Illinois be Illinois; Wisconsin needs to commit to fixing the roads we have and investing all additional funds into transit.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:28 AM
A West Bend teenager may be found to have made up a story about racial harassment in her West Bend high school.
Let's hope that the harassment didn't occur, and that if there is a troubled teen there implicated in a fabrication that she gets some help, and faces the consequences in a reasonable, legal sense, too.
But let's remember that 15 is 15 - - a very young age - - and let's not be so anxious as some are to jump on this sad incident and use it as a deep bucket of whitewash to erase all claims of and responsibilities for our endemic racial difficulties.
Mark Belling was on his high horse this afternoon about this case, too, delivering an additional tounge-lashing to reporters whom he said had too willingly accepted and reported her story.
Sure - - this girl has not helped matters if she made up her story - - but neither does blogger Patrick McIlheran, or Belling.
Playing gotcha for political purposes with a 15-year-old is hardly a fair fight.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:00 AM
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Republicans run at the mouth, poll numbers fall, and apologies come spilling out in the wake of more self-inflicted wounds.
My advice: just keep on talking, you Grand Old Party folks, you.
You can do more of that with less effect as the minority party.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:51 PM
Though SEWRPC and the feds have tamped down Wednesday evening's format for the planning agency's quadrennial review, the reviewers will still be accepting comments in oral or written form.
Court reporters will be available at the Harbor Lights room, second floor, Milwaukee Transit Center, 909 W. Michigan St., from 5-7 p.m.
There will not be an open microphone as in previous reviews, but comments can still be made or dropped off, which means public officials and taxpayers are encouraged to attend and speak out in favor of more transit, genuine open planning (unlike Wednesday's dumbed-down 'hearing' procedure), city and urban priorities and more inclusive SEWRPC hiring.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:34 PM
A fine read.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:29 PM
Reuters reported today that the Zogby poll showed an expanding lead of eight points for Barack Obama, with gains in most groups.
The New York Times reported separately that McCain and Palin's negatives are on the rise, and it all suggests that negative campaigning is blowing back.
The Obama campaign has had a theme of unity since its beginning, while Team McCain has gone around the bend, divvying up states and people into "pro" and "anti-American" camps.
That's not much of a message to bring voters into a campaign.
I think people know the country is in trouble, and that we're all in this together, which dooms a divisive campaign to well-earned defeat.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:03 PM
I am hearing that government requirements for stronger steel following the collapse of a section of the Hoan Bridge a few years ago will push the costs for replacing the entire structure to financially unsustainable levels.
In other words, it's not affordable - - and the reality has been known in and around the construction industry even before a bad economy and the federal bailouts' borrowings make it likely that the states will not get all the federal transportation money they need.
An Obama administration might push more transportation spending for the jobs it creates, but more likely towards greater transit and certainly, hopefully not for a boondoggle when there are reasonable and more cost-efficient road-and-bridge alternatives available.
So officials on Milwaukee's southern flank who are out there cheerleading for a brand-new Hoan replacement better take a good look at the regs and the costs before they get tangled up in arguments that are absurd.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:30 PM
The contradictions in her candidacy are getting overwhelming.
But her audition on SNL for a talk show on Fox did go pretty well.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:20 PM
SEWRPC-blessed highway expansion in Waukesha and Washington Counties against the wishes of rural and small town residents has sparked the creation of The Highway J Citizens Group.
It offers its views below:
Dear Friends and Neighbors:
On Wednesday, October 22, 2008 (between 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM), the Federal Highway Administration will be holding a public hearing at the Milwaukee County Downtown Transit Center in the Harbor Lights Room (909 East Michigan Street, Milwaukee, WI) to receive citizen input concerning the recertification of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC). Please join us there to speak out in strong opposition to the recertification of SEWRPC. For your convenience, I have attached a PDF file with some detailed information about this public hearing to this e-mail.
For the past nine years, SEWRPC has been nothing more than "an unresponsive, taxpayer-funded, rubber stamp" for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the roadbuilding lobby in this region of our state. THAT IS NOT THE INTENDED PURPOSE OF SEWRPC!
40 years ago when SEWRPC was organized, its stated mission was to create a reasonable balance between the transportation, land use, environmental, social, economic and other interests in Southeastern Wisconsin so that our communities could be well-planned and provide a high quality of life for this area's residents. All of these interests were to have "a place at the table" during this planning process. However, that is not what is happening here.
During the past nine years, many HJCG members and other like-minded, concerned citizens from both Waukesha and Washington Counties have attended SEWRPC meetings and hearings to speak out against unnecessary, fiscally-irresponsible and environmentally-damaging road expansion plans (including the Highway 164 four-lane expansion, the Pioneer Road-Waterford Road-County Highway E expansion, the Lannon Road expansion and many other related projects) only to have their thoughtful comments "fall upon deaf ears" and ignored.
For example, in 2006, many of our members attended SEWRPC's 2035 Regional Transportation Plan public hearings in Washington County to speak out against these road expansion projects and offer more reasonable alternatives. GUESS WHAT -- Even though 100% of the people who spoke at that meeting were vehemently opposed to SEWRPC's roadbuilding plans, this unresponsive agency refused to eliminate or modify those plans. Also, earlier this year, concerned citizens participated in the Washington County Smart Growth Plan public meetings and raised concerns about several road expansion projects as well as the unresolved groundwater contamination problems in the Ackerville area -- only to have the SEWRPC representative at those meetings summarily dismiss or minimize these valid community concerns.
By caving-in and catering to the WisDOT and their roadbuilding allies at the great expense of our precious environmental resources (air, water and land), our neighborhoods, and our health and public safety, SEWRPC has effectively "abandoned its original mission" and, thus deserves to be immediately decertified as a taxpayer-funded, regional planning agency. If SEWRPC is decertified, then it will no longer be able to tell the WisDOT which highway projects need to be built or expanded in Southeastern Wisconsin (which includes Waukesha and Washington Counties). Decertification of SEWRPC would give the people greater control and more influence over the roadbuilding decision-making process and ultimately lead to implementation of more reasonable alternatives, better protection of the environment, and greater preservation of our local communities.
Please join us at this very important public hearing and "make your voices heard" on this matter of great concern to all of us. If you are unable to attend, then you can submit your written comments before November 8, 2008 to the Federal Highway Administration at: Federal Highway Administration, Attn: Planning Certification Review, 525 Junction Road, Suite 8000, Madison, WI 53717, FAX: (608)-829-7526, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your sincere concern for our homes, families, communities, and the environment. We hope to see you on Wednesday, October 22nd at the Milwaukee County Downtown Transit Center (between 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM) to vigorously oppose the recertification of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC).
HIGHWAY J CITIZENS GROUP, U.A.
P.O. Box 152, Hubertus, WI 53033
Posted by James Rowen at 9:57 AM
A few days ago I learned that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission routinely gives away old, but working, computers to employees, though the agency is 100% funded with public dollars and its operating budget comes annually from property tax revenues forwarded by the seven county boards in its region.
I have written in this blog and elsewhere that SEWRPC has behaved more like a private consulting firm than a government body by filling senior staff positions, hiring comsultants and purchasing its current multi-million dollar office building in Pewaukee without searches, advertising or competitive bids common to public agencies' staffing and spending.
Someone else remarked that the property giveaways and other top-down management practices made the agency seem more like a family business, run by the founder or a relative, than a public agency using public dollars with a public service mission.
Family business struck me as far more precise, especially since SEWRPC has had only two Executive Directors since its creation in 1960.
And it led me to wonder what we'd think if we read in the newspaper that some area Town or Village Presidents or Mayors, or Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, for example, were letting employees walk out of their offices with computers?
Or Scott Walker, Mayor Tom Barrett or any other official directly accountable to the voters - - not a part-time board of commissioners - - for the stewardship of millions of dollars in public dollars annually.
SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson confirmed the computer giveaway in an email exchange with me, which I will reproduce in full, below.
I sent him a follow-up email asking if there were any additional points he wanted to make, and he did not send back a response.
From: James Rowen
Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 10:14 AM
To: Evenson, Philip C.
Cc: Yunker, Kenneth R.; Larsen, Elizabeth A.
Subject: computer questions
Dear Phil; I am checking the accuracy of the following information brought to my attention, and respectfully ask for clarification and verification: Once or twice a year, dating back some years, I was told that SEWPRC has held a lottery through which it gives to employees used SEWRPC computers being replaced with newer models. And that there is no charge for these computers. Correct? The information was that one such distribution took place in 2008 and that this year 20-to-40 in-house computers were given away in this fashion, as an upgrade took place where older computers were replaced with machines that had flat screens. The computers given away are Dell PC's (perhaps other brands, but the information was that all are Dells through a government purchase) and come with software. Is that accurate, and if not, can you tell me where is it not accurate? The information is that these giveaways have gone on for so many years, eight-to-ten was mentioned, that some families have outfitted their children with computers in this fashion, too. I remember that when I worked for the City of Milwaukee, used property was auctioned, and later, a web auction service established and offered to other jurisdictions, too. I have also read that government entities sell their surplus on eBay or other similar sites. Does SEWRPC do that, or contemplate it? Does SEWRPC giveaway any other surplus property to employees - - office equipment, computer peripherals, furniture, vehicles? Does SEWRPC have a written policy to govern these computer or other giveaways so they are not abused by later resale, or certain individuals obtaining selected items through favoritism (first to see the list?) or other means? Could these items instead be donated to non-profit groups? Thank you.
----- Original Message ----
From: "Evenson, Philip C."
To: James Rowen
Cc: "Yunker, Kenneth R. Larsen, Elizabeth A"
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2008 8:53:58 AM
Subject: RE: computer questions
Jim - We try to take a low cost, common sense approach to the disposal of material items, taking into account that we are a small agency with few resources to expend on overhead and only occasional needs to dispose of unneeded or obsolete items. As to used office furniture and some equipment, we try to give unneeded/obsolete items to nonprofit agencies. From memory, I recall giving items to such groups as La Causa, the Boy Scouts of America, and the National Cristina Foundation. As to vehicles, we tend to run them until there is little value left, and then trade them in. On some past occasions, we have let employees bid on vehicles to see if we could improve on the trade-in offer from the dealer. A few vehicles were sold that way. In recent years we have simply traded them in or sold them to a used vehicle vendor for a better price. We have occasionally used EBay to dispose of equipment. I recall selling some field equipment that way, including a trailer and a John Deere Gator vehicle used for field surveying activities. Computers and peripheral equipment pose the biggest challenge both because of relatively rapid obsolescence in the office environment and because of the need for proper recycling. Typically, such items have little market value. I recall trying in past years to sell or even give away to nonprofits used items with little or no success. We then offered these items to employees at no charge. No equipment was given away with any licensed software. I was not aware the the City of Milwaukee had a web auction service for this purpose and that other agencies could use it. That's a great concept and we would be glad to use it for computers and peripherals. Unfortunately, in checking yesterday we were told the the City no longer disposes of such equipment via that technique. Rather, the City turns over all such equipment to an outfit called Cascade Asset Management. If this outfit can sell a piece of equipment, the City gets some revenue. If a piece of equipment must be recycled, the City gets a charge. Perhaps these amounts balance out. I like this idea, too, and I think we will follow the City's lead in this regard. Phil
Posted by James Rowen at 5:25 AM
Monday, October 20, 2008
Kudos to the Journal Sentinel for its combination of data and compelling personal stories to illustrate our state's problems with alcohol.
Newspapers are at their best when they take on institutions and sacred cows, of which none is bigger and more devastating in Wisconsin than booze.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:47 PM
A new study about the region's transit deficits has been released by UWM researchers.
The timing couldn't better, as county voters will have a chance on Nov. 4th to approve a sales tax referendum that would direct funding to transit, and because on Wednesday evening, from 5-7 at the Downtown Transit Center, federal reviewers will be in town to get your opinion about how well the regional planning agency has overseen transit/transportation spending in southeastern Wisconsin.
The study, by the UWM Center for Economic Development, documents the connections between transit and employment, and where the needs are.
Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties need to be better connected by more than highways if the regional economy is to succeed.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:35 PM
As more and more Republicans defect to Obama or choose to sit it out, the GOP will become a marginalized, minor party of Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the Righty Zealots.
Limbaugh will actually be happier with an Obama presidency that the self-proclaimed El Rushbo can rail at daily.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:30 PM
Readers of this blog know that I have written a great deal about the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, and I won't further bore you all with citations to letters and op-eds I've also written about SEWRPC going back a decade and more.
I'll just summarize it one sentence:
The regional planning commission spends millions of public dollars every year on studies and staff that do not add value to the heart of its seven-county region - - the City of Milwaukee - - thus helping perpetuate the region's corrosive racial and economic discrimination.
That said, it's important to take note of some very recent developments that have placed SEWRPC right at the top - - finally - - of a political tipping point.
We'll know soon if SEWRPC can make some internal changes that could at least begin its reform and save its standing, reputation, credibility and effectiveness.
But self-preservation is tough when denial is strong and decades of insular thinking make accurate perception and self-analysis impossible.
Regrettably, the early signs are that SEWRPC does not grasp the severity of the political problems it faces, having so isolated itself intellectually and geographically from so many constituencies that it no longer sees the realities in the region, and that are surrounding SEWRPC, too.
For a planning agency, that's the end of the line.
After a 2004 public hearing in Milwaukee before federal regulators who must every four years re-certify SEWRPC as the region's ubertransportation planning agency, speaker-after-speaker criticized SEWRPC's disconnections from low-income and minority residents.
In response, and at the urging of the regulators, SEWRPC created in 2007 a body called the Environmental Justice Task Force, named one of its commissioners the chair, and appointed citizen representatives to advise the agency about making its work more relevant to these otherwise disregarded constituencies.
After several meetings, the Task Force last Tuesday expressed its discontent with SEWRPC by approving a resolution 8-1 that recommended SEWRPC include an independent socio-economic analysis in any SEWRPC plan before its approval by the full commission.
SEWRPC's Executive Director Philip Evenson strongly opposed the resolution, saying before the vote that it "offended" him and that he took it "personally."
If, and I emphasize, if, SEWRPC's full 21-member board - - on which the City of Milwaukee has zero representation - - does not accept the recommendation of its own Task Force, it would be telling its members, and the public, and the agency's federal regulators that the SEWRPC commitment to citizen input in the planning process, and to social justice in this region, is a sham.
Why did I say that the early signs are not positive for SEWRPC grasping the peril that is approaching?
Because the next federal review before the federal transportation regulators happens to be Wednesday evening, from 5-7 p.m., at the Downtown Transit Center, 909 E. Michigan Ave. - - the very spot where, in 2004, the public came out en masse and showed the regulators that SEWRPC needed some basic changes.
But the 2008 hearing has essentially been cancelled, with SEWRPC's participation.
This time, there will be no public speaking truth to power.
Instead of a formal hearing, SEWRPC and the regulators are substituting an open house, where citizens can ask questions of federal and SEWPRC staffers spread around the room at tables - - and if a person wants to submit testimony, they can go to another room and speak privately to a court reporter.
So at the very moment that SEWRPC needs to be embracing public dialogue, and incorporating public opinion from the grassroots into its work and attitudes, it is running the other way.
After having openly resisted its own Task Force just a few days earlier when it had the courage to suggest that SEWRPC's work needed socio-economic analysis from outside, independent experts.
SEWRPC is on the verge of beginning a housing study for the region - - an issue it has ducked since its last major housing study was released in 1975.
If there ever was an issue that required comprehensive socio-economic planning analyses in this region - - often described as the country's most segregated, and where transit deficits further limit housing and employment options - - it would be housing.
But SEWRPC is resisting public input into its work and direction by refusing to release a draft of the housing study work plan - - despite saying it has been thinking about it for several years and working on a document for months.
If SEWRPC's housing study misses the mark by too-heavily relying on the 1975 study - - which reaffirmed in style, structure and findings the agency's overall land-use plan that has been in place as the region has sprawled away from Milwaukee - - the agency will be broadcasting again the message that fundamental change in its approach and production are not in the cards.
The water advisory study omitted a socio-economic analysis of moving Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee to distant suburbs that are primed for more annexations, job creation and housing construction where there is little-to-no transit.
SEWRPC cannot and should not make that mistake again when it comes to housing.
In other words, if the housing plan is being drafted first-and-foremost to be just a formulaic, additional element of an ineffective land use plan - - why should anyone think SEWRPC would then create ground-breaking housing recommendations to confront and then tackle discrimination, along with gentrification, the mortgage industry meltdown, green construction, sustainability, transit needs and all of housing's nuances and connections to the full range of "socio-economic" realities?
The one-paragraph "Fair Housing Environment" section, which appears to be a decent start, should be vastly expanded in tone and intention. And moved towards the front of the work plan as a primary priority, given the region's well-documented barriers through zoning, transportation and employment deficits to true "fair housing."
That is where and why SEWRPC should have let the Environmental Justice Task Force work on the housing work plan draft, and also welcomed, not fought, the Task Force recommendation that all studies contain independent consultation.
[Sidebar on the discrimination question: Founded in 1960, SEWRPC now has a professional staff of 49, three of whom are non-white, according to its current Affirmative Action report. Enough said.]
The Fair Housing Environment section now reads:
"Fair housing practices must be followed to ensure all households that potentially want to reside within specific areas of the region, such as households wanting to locate close to employment centers, have the opportunity to do so. Federal and State housing laws make housing discriminiation illegal against any individual in a protected class [footnoted to a definition of protected classes]. These laws also address a wide range of unlawful housing acts ranging from refusing to rent, insure, construct, or finance housing to printing, publishing, or displaying advertisements or notices that indicate a preference affecting a protected class. Barriers to fair housing practices in the Region and sub-areas of the Region will be identified through analysis of demographic data, housing supply inventory data, community housing policies and regulations, and lending practice as it is available. Programs promoting fair housing practices, such as State and Federal laws and programs identified in community consolidated housing plans will also be identified."
Alot of identification, inventorying and description. A start, as I said, but to what ends, and with what vigor towards change?
So I go back to how SEWRPC's managers handled the recommendation from its Environmental Justice Task Force, and how it helped kill the public hearing next Wednesday.
Not hopeful signs, suggesting that SEWRPC is heading for the bunker where there is no sunshine.
For the umteenth time, I think that Milwaukee needs to move towards an alternative agency to get the public advocacy and policies it needs, and that its taxpayers deserve.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:00 AM
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I like the way Darryl Enriquez of the Journal Sentinel has followed the aggressive efforts by the Wisconsin Department of Vatural Resourced to keep land in the public domain in sprawl-addicted Waukesha County.
I have spent considerable time in Waukesha County, and changes to the landscape there in just the last few years have been dramatic.
And don't forget that more open space will fall to 'development' when Lake Michigan water gets exported to Waukesha County under terms of the recently-approved Great Lakes Compact.
Additionally, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's water supply advisory committee is recommending moving water to the City of Waukesha - - a move sure to set off annexations and building past the city's current boundaries.
The DNR wants to expand the Kettle Moraine State Forest through land purchases from willing sellers which will provide guaranteed buffers and recreational opportunities between areas sold to subdividers and commercial builders.
That's a great move: Our grandchildren and their children will thank the DNR for this far-sighted work,
Posted by James Rowen at 11:20 PM
State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) had worried on her blog a few weeks ago that federal regulations were going to mess with personal freedom and lawnmower choices.
Now she's fretting about light bulbs, with a loopy segueway to pro-choice Democrats being opposed to freedom of light bulb choice.
Lazich and staff that help produce this blog are paid tax dollars for this work.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:03 AM
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The McCain campaign, finding itself behind in Virginia, says Northern Virginia is not "the real Virginia."
That's a divisive message for sure.
The ultra-conservative radio commentator Michael Savage said on his Friday program that the McCain campaign was "taking a dive," a boxing metaphor for deliberately losing.
When I look at the Virginia remark, the self-destructive McCain ads, rallies, robocalls and the entire Sarah Palin debacle, I can see why a conservative like Savage, as loopy as he is, would be so disenchanted with John McCain.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:50 PM
John McCain said Saturday in North Carolina that Barack Obama's tax plans were socialistic, but then criticized Pres. Bush for not using government funds to buy people's bad mortgages.
So Republican socialism is OK but Democratic socialism is not?
So McCain wants Bush to be more like..Obama?
Egad: At this point, "erratic" is a fair adjective for the McCain campaign.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:29 AM
Isthmus of Madison carries a fascinating piece by Phil Ball, long-time Wisconsin political activist - - and fine reporter, too - - that uses search tools and data from both campaigns' official web sites to prove the supremacy of the Obama ground game.
A mystery that no other writer attempted this bit of digging and analysis.
All in all, nicely done.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:13 AM
Friday, October 17, 2008
GOP stalwarts and related ideologues were shocked, shocked that the US Supreme Court decided Friday that the Republican Party of Ohio did not have standing to demand that state officials flyspeck 200,000 voter registrations.
The blatant attempt to throw a monkey wrench into the Presidential election in Ohio - - a variation on GOP trickery there in 2004 - - got thrown out of court instead, but Republicans were baffled that the High Court, with so many Republican appointees, could rule against them.
Sorry fellas. You're not an official party, an arm of government, the Court said.
Tough love, since Karl Rove promised a permanent Republican majority.
It looks like one-party rule from The Right is coming to an end on Nov. 4th, and with it, Rove's arrogant machinations.
A "W" on election night in the Democrats' box score will also restore dignity and the context to that poor, abused consonant.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:26 PM
After Wednesday night's debate, the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks opined to Jim Lehrer on PBS that he couldn't imagine John McCain stuffed into our TV screens for four years, or words to that effect.
I wasn't taking notes, but I indeed took note, because Brooks was saying he couldn't and didn't want to see McCain at President.
In this column, Brooks explains what it is that he finds intriguing about Obama.
The columnist finds that when it comes to temperament and internal resources, Obama is no McCain.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:42 PM
Posted by James Rowen at 12:46 AM
what about the added organic matter and other pollutants that would be added to Lake Michigan, or tributaries used as discharge routes to get there, if Waukesha is permitted to divert Lake Michigan water and then send back treated effluent?
Isn't that just transferring one problem to deal with another?
So less salt is used because there is no more need to soften Waukesha's hard well water - - salt that would end up in the Fox River - - but more organic material gets into the Root River or Underwood Creek, and then Lake Michigan when diverted water is returned?
Posted by James Rowen at 12:38 AM
Thursday, October 16, 2008
John McCain told Barack Obama during Wednesday's debate that the Democrat's refusal to appear at national town hall joint appearances was responsible for the wave of negative commercials John McCain had no choice but to unleash.
The new McCain blame game: I'm your fault, and so are you!
Then McCain follows up with a new round of over-the-top negative robocalls.
I'm waiting for McCain to tell Obama this is his fault, too. Maybe for having been born.
Remember how McCain's poll numbers went straight downhill the more negative his campaign became because this time around, voters wanted a substantive message about that wonky, wordy stuff - - like how stave off The Great Depression II, or insuring your family's health if you've lost your job?
Which leads me to predict the deserved failure of the McCain robocall onslaught.
They will not move poll numbers or sway voters because they are just more of the same tacky tactics that the public is rejecting.
And robocalls will fail because people hate them.
From candidates. From the pharmacy. From the dentist.
They break your train of thought, sap your cell phone minutes, and worst of all, make you feel like an idiot for saying "hello" to a recording programmed by a computer for eight cents each.
So bring on the robocalls three weeks before the election, you self-destructive McCain strategists (sic), and drive voters away.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:59 PM
The Milwaukee Rising blog documents SEWRPC's cynical manipulation of its mandatory federal review next week, tamping down public participation in the very process that determines whether federal transportation funds are being spent in our area wisely and fairly.
Trying to mute criticism of its record and procedures is a major behavior these days by SEWRPC - - the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - a seven-county, 100% taxpayer-funded organization with offices in Pewaukee, no City of Milwaukee appointees to its 21-member governing board, and only three minority employees among its 49-member professional staff.
SEWRPC does has an Environmental Justice Task Force (EJTF). It is a relatively new advisory body with members representing low-income, minority and disabled persons that was created last year under pressure by federal reviewers and local activists - - and it held its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.
But did SEWRPC encourage it, or members individually, to attend next Wednesday's federal transportation policy review, perhaps to report on how well the EJTF effort is going here?
SEWRPC had somewhat the opposite message for its task force.
At Tuesday's EJTF meeting, SEWRPC management unsuccessfully tried to block its own task force from recommending - - merely recommending - - that all future SEWRPC studies include an independent "socio-economic" analysis prepared by outside experts.
That sort of analysis was not included by SEWRPC's water supply advisory committee, for example, in its preliminary findings and suggestions released recently after a three-year planning effort.
And SEWRPC's affirmative action effort - - more a boiler-plate annually printed document than a true action plan - - has been so unproductive that some community organizations carried out their own socio-economic analysis of SEWRPC procedures, priorities and management by filing two recent civil rights complaints with federal agencies alleging discrimination.
It makes complete sense that the EJTF would give SEWRPC managers a vote of no confidence over the low priority assigned by the agency to socio-economic issues both internally and externally, and would go on record recommending the need for independent socio-economic analyses just as SEWRPC is on the verge of beginning a regional housing study after a 33-year delay.
But it was an odd and somewhat embarrassing drama, as EJTF members respectfully made their arguments and recommendation, which passed 8-1, only to have SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson oppose it, saying he was "offended" by a motion he took "personally."
It is a crying shame that SEWRPC does not electronically record these meetings, or for that matter, any of its meetings.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:04 AM
John McCain seems to forget that a national televised audience is not a rally of supporters.
Supporters may be ticked off, like that Angry Foamer From Pewaukee who made the cable news highlights after the boisterous McCain-Palin rally last week, but everyday voters and mainstream viewers are looking for calm and competence, not more finger-wagging by a sarcastic candidate serving as a self-appointed, vicarious ventilator.
And that's what viewers got Wednesday night watching the Hofstra University debate.
Yes, McCain on the attack, but to what end? It merely reinforced the negatives in his rallies and his ads, thus in his person, persona and message, such as it's been when the campaign hasn't been trapped in suspension.
And it revealed a distance from the real world around the rest of us, but which has not penetrated his consciousness, let along his campaign bubble.
The Dow Jones index plunged another 700 points Wednesday, retail purchasing is stalling, unemployment is rising, and McCain showed he had precious little of himself to offer as salve, or solutions.
It just ain't there, and that's why the polls show it ain't happening for Team McCain.
McCain's debate performances have been displays of self-inflicted wounds. He seems incapable of avoiding them, from being Mr. No Eye Contact, to the "that one" gaffe, to tonight's jaw-dropping sexist "health" put-down, complete and replete with the juvenile and dismissive air parentheses.
Suddenly McCain was starring in his own episode of "Wayne's World."
He came across as unteachable, unfriendly and profoundly unpresidential. His body language and smirking sent out a steady message of condescension.
McCain is certainly not right to lead the country through the times we live it, particularly after installing Sarah Palin in the wings embodying his first, and most-damaging post-nomination decision.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 AM
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
As he does, Michael Horne is following the money trail.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:31 AM
Talk about citizen empowerment and an effort to reform the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission from within:
By a vote of 8-1, the agency's relatively new Environmental Justice Task Force is recommending that "every SEWRPC plan, i.e. housing, land use, water, etc. will incorporate socio-economic impact analyses by a reputable, independent source other than SEWRPC before the plan may be adopted..."
The task force met in Waukesha on Tuesday afternoon.
The key word there is "independent," as the task force is saying that for SEWRPC's plans to be more credible, new professional voices from the outside have to be added to all the agency's studies.
The 8-1 vote came despite pointed remarks in opposition by outgoing Executive Director Philip Evenson. He said took the resolution "personally" and was "offended" by it.
The task force said it respectfully disagreed; the resolution is a recommendation only, and could be ignored or dismissed by the full Commission.
But doing so would send a signal to the task force, created in 2007 to satisfy federal reviewers who found the agency's outreach to minority and low-income communities lacking, that the task force was window-dressing.
SEWRPC has already dissed the task force once when the agency did not heed a request to include the task force in SEWRPC's closed process to name Deputy Director Ken Yunker to replace Evenson as Executive Director in January.
How self-defeating would that be, since the agency is currently the subject of two civil rights complaints by organizations alleging discrimination by the agency against the very people the task force represents?
SEWRPC would be smart to work with, not against its own task force, and to incorporate the perspectives sought by the task force into agency studies.
SEWRPC is nearly 50 years old, and has a decision-making structure in which a small number of people wield great power over its multi-million dollar budget and staff of about 75 people.
In its nearly 50-year history, it has had but two Executive Directors, and the first, Kurt Bauer, is still a three-quarter time consultant as Executive Director emeritus.
Other consultants do regular business with the agency: the current lead consultant on the agency's three-year water supply study, Ruekert-Mielke Inc., also sold SEWRPC its headquarters building in Pewaukee, and Bauer had a consultancy at R-M after his departure as full-time SEWRPDc Executive Director, too.
The task force is not a full-fledged SEWRPC technical advisory committee of the sort that often advises it on a detailed planning issue, like transportation, water, land use, telecommunications or housing - - the latter an item not reported on in a full study by SEWRPC for 33 years, though a study may be forthcoming by the end of the year, Evenson said Tuesday.
Those committees are heavily-populated by local elected officials, agency heads, engineers, planners and other technicians; the task force is heavier on community activists with grassroots' experiences who are determined to speak for groups that have not had meaningful representation in SEWRPC processes.
That is the entire point of the task force, and it appears after Tuesday's session that it wants to be heard within SEWRPC.
We'll see if Evenson, Yunker & et al. are listening.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:06 AM
As Dave Dempsey notes, there are plenty of items that make up a strong country and productive economy, and some are as basic as clean drinking water.
Our national security and quality of life are measured by more indices than the size of our weaponry and number of banks bailed out, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:26 AM
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
This is another reminder that the regional planning commission's Environmental Justice Task Force is meeting today in Waukesha at 4:00 p.m.
The task force is SEWRPC's relatively new official link to low-income and minority communities and issues; Tuesday's meeting will include significant discussion of the region's land use plan and SEWRPC's long-delayed housing study (33 years and counting).
Coincidentally, SEWRPC is up for its every-four-years federal certification review - - a public meeting scheduled for Wednesday, October 22nd, from 5-7 p.m at the Milwaukee Downtown Transit Center.
Four years ago, the meeting was a public hearing that produced such concentrated heat on the agency in public testimony that federal reviewers told SEWRPC it needed to improve its community outreach - - thus leading, three years later, to the task force creation.
Not looking for a repeat performance by the public at the 2008 certification review - - if SEWRPC were to flunk the review, it could no longer have a major hand in transportation spending in its seven-county region - - the feds and SEWRPC have changed the format to a town-hall chit-chat, where people who wish to testify or comment can talk to an official at one of several listening stations in the big Transit Center conference room.
So while attending and commenting at the certification review is important, it's also recommended that activists come to the task force meeting today and directly comment on the broad agenda there.
The task force opens the floor to the public at the end of each of its meetings.
The address is Rotary Building, Frame Park, 1150 Baxter St., Waukesha. Details and a link to the agenda are here.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:42 AM
Sean Hannity tonight as his 10:00 p.m. hour closed out on WISN-Am 1130 opined that he hoped that all the guilty ACORN organizers should be sent to prison where they'd have to shower with a guy "named Bruno."
Got a fix on the images coursing through Mr. Hannity's mind?
Strike you as fair and balanced?
Posted by James Rowen at 5:43 AM
Monday, October 13, 2008
Another call for getting the City of Milwaukee out of SEWRPC - - this time, from Ald. Mike Murphy, whose remarks are on the Milwaukee Rising blog.
Murphy cites SEWRPC's continuing failure to write a regional housing plan - - the last one was published in 1975.
A recent news story about the issue cited by Milwaukee Rising quotes the soon-to-depart SEWRPC Executive Phil Evenson saying the busy agency is chasing other butterflies to get to the housing study.
33 years is a long chase. Those must be some big butterflies.
Time for Milwaukee to get out of SEWRPC's net, as I have been arguing for some time.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:11 PM
A picture says the proverbial thousand words in this Chicago Tribune story about unfinished subdivision decay in the wreckage of the housing collapse.
While gasoline prices are falling, I think buyers and builders alike have learned their lessons and will focus on housing in cities, where transit, bike paths and sidewalks offer connections to jobs, schools, retail and entertainment.
We'll know if the message has been absorbed in southeastern Wisconsin when the state, or Waukesha County, or both, pull the plug on that $25 million I-94 Interchange to Nowhere.
The interchange threatens to become an icon for sprawl and a symbol of bad planning and wasteful public spending.
The interchange would connect I-94 to empty land at Pabst Farms that is still without one turned spade of ground for the shopping mall once described as upscale, but now looks on paper more like another ho-hum collection of big box stores and non-descript mall businesses.
Why spend millions to direct motorists to a site that will drain money from merchants in nearby traditional Main Streets downtowns?
Tip of the hat to CNU in Chicago for sending the story along.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:11 AM
The Journal Sentinel cites another study showing the huge economic chasm in the region between white and African-American populations. UWM's Marc Levine has again crunched the numbers and offered us a regional self-portrait that is infuriating.
If we had a proactive regional planning commission, we would have had a coordinated, passionate, risk-taking campaign years ago to make sure these studies' conclusions were reversed.
And that the planners would use their public resources to attack the region's real problems that hold the regional economy back.
The state statute that creates Wisconsin's regional planning commissions has this to say about each region's master plan - - and you tell me if the evidence over SEWERPC's 50 years - - and only two Executive Directors - - is meeting that objective, especially for Milwaukee?
"66.0309(10) (10) Adoption of master plan for region. The master plan shall be made with the general purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the region which will, in accordance with existing and future needs, best promote public health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity or the general welfare, as well as efficiency and economy in the process of development"
But that is not how the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has defined itself. It is content to manage piecemeal planning from a remote location in the City of Pewaukee.
From an office building it bought without competitive bids or advertisments from one of its frequent contractors.
Every day that SEWRPC churns out its business-as-usual reports that are disconnected from its residents and its other studies, too, the longer and deeper is the region's missed opportunity for Big Picture,Cutting-Edge Planning.
In a word: Leadership.
As I have said many times on this blog and in various op-eds, Milwaukee County should stop flushing away more than $800,000 annually on SEWRPC operations because Milwaukee city and county residents are getting back nothing of value in return.
Enough is enough.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:00 AM