Oh, SEWRPC, could you meet one simple New Year's request, and do some outreach and updating to your 'please-don't-look-at-me' website?
For example, your home page offers "Useful Links."
Some links to municipalities are offered, along with links to the state's other regional planning commissions (more about that in a moment) and then there is a link to one environmental consortium.
That's it - - for a seven-county region with about 1.8 million people, the state's largest city, most of the state's financial and business centers, and, well you know the story.
Want a visual and substantive contrast: Check out the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission site, here - - and hey, it's got actual photographs on it to draw you in.
But don't bother clicking on the link to the Capital Area RPC provided on SEWRPC's useful links list, because the dead link appears to be trying to find the moribund Dane County Regional Planning Commission site - - http://www.danecorpc.org/ - - instead.
Are you telling me that in its list of regional planning commissions in the state, SEWRPC has yet to note that the Dane County RPC went out of business in May, 2007?
Just another stale SEWRPC webpage that doesn't look like it's been updated for a longggg time.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Oh, SEWRPC, could you meet one simple New Year's request, and do some outreach and updating to your 'please-don't-look-at-me' website?
We'll see if the Tavern League and other enablers of Wisconsin's pathetic OWI policies (first offense is a ticket, etc.) can overcome plans by Gov. Jim Doyle and some legislators to get tougher on drunk driving in Wisconsin.
I expect some movement in both enforcement and education, but not a wholesale reform. The state still tolerates over-consumption of alcohol.
So safe driving this New Year's Eve - - then contact your legislators and the Governor, and demand:
A first offense becomes a misdemeanor.
A second offense becomes a felony.
Ignition locks become mandatory for all second offenders, and a first-offender whose blood alcohol count is .10, or 25% beyond the legal limit.
A third offense requires mandatory vehicle seizure, because driving is a privilege, not a right, and three OWI convictions represent a dangerous inability to maintain sobriety and a serial threat to the public life and limb.
Substantial funds are provided to schools for alcohol education beginning in middle school.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:24 AM
Time Warner accuses Viacom of wanting too big a fee increase in 2009 to carry its channels, including Comedy Central, which means if this hassle isn't fixed quickly, no Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Reno 911 and more for you/me in SE Wisconsin.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:54 AM
Regional cooperation, Grothman style.
Nothing better to do during the holiday season in West Bend?
Posted by James Rowen at 10:34 AM
Gov. Jim Doyle is on the wrong side of the issue - - bringing back the automatic, annual gas tax increase (indexing) - - and should drop the idea.
Wrong because it pours money into the bottomless pit of highway expansion.
Wrong because it escalates the Wisconsin gas tax, already 30.9 cents a gallon, the country's second-highest.
Wrong because indexing absolves legislators and the Governor of having to face the voters over an intentional tax increase.
Wrong because it puts the Governor on the wrong side of the tax issue.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:00 AM
There's something amateurishly superficial that borders on self-parody for Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker to say he's going to wait to decide whether to run for Governor after seeing what incumbent Gov. Jim Doyle puts in his next budget.
And what the "people" think about that budget.
Please: stop with the condescension.
Does anyone really believe that Doyle would budget to mollify our county exec - - the same guy that dropped out during the last gubernatorial primary for a lack of gravitas and money?
And what might Doyle's Walker-avoidance strategy be?
A billion dollars to fund unfunded mandates?
Even more freeway lanes?
Financing for a capital punishment wing at the supermax state prison at Boscobel?
A state law that rewards county budgets put together with smoke, mirrors, Ouija boards and Monopoly money?
Another state law that mandates prison for any county employee caught riding light rail in another city?
This 'maybe-I-will/maybe-I-won't candidacy is on the same level as a candidate's exploratory committee formation, coupled with a pre-declaration announcement faux non-announcement.
The suspense is not killing me.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Seems some suburbanites and businesses see shortcomings in the I-94 North-South proposal.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:24 PM
Posted by James Rowen at 3:24 PM
The state Department of Transportation is about a week away from beginning a series of statewide meetings where you can weigh in on the long-range plan for Wisconsin transportation programs.
Here's a link to the schedule.
Here is the Milwaukee information:
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Milwaukee County Downtown Transit Center
Harbor Lights Room
909 E. Michigan Ave., Milwaukee, WI
If a thousand people attended each of these meetings, and broght the same simple message - - rail, road aides and repairs first - - the media, department, legislators and Governor would get the word.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:40 PM
And that question is: Will she decline the automatic pay raise legislators are due next year?
Same question goes for all those legislators and their staff who routinely gripe about Big Guvmint, public employee pay and the like.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:59 AM
It's the silver lining in an otherwise historically devastating economy:
With an understanding that we've been wasting our money on expensive fuel, overbuilt highways and oversized vehicles - - to say nothing of the overwhelming soot, smog and greenhouse gases the entire OPEC-dependent system produces - - there is no more logical time than right now to begin to shift public investments away from highway expansion to rail connections and infrastructure maintenance.
Leading economists tell us that the current dip in gasoline prices is temporary, that prices will again escalate.
Millions embraced transit at the height of the gas price spike. People clamored for better buses and more trains - - both in short supply in Milwaukee and across the state.
The incoming Obama administration plans to send the cities and states stimulus funding, and what better way to use it in Wisconsin than to repair our aging infrastructure - - from bridges to pothole-dimpled streets - - and to finally move towards a major statewide rail system combining High Speed regional links with local commuter and light rail initiatives.
Rail construction provides jobs; rail operation and maintenance also creates long-term employment, and more sustainable and logical development patterns will follow rail station and line construction.
The alternative will be wasting stimulus money on what is not needed: new lanes on roads that will see less traffic when inevitable fuel price spikes send more cars to driveways or scrap yards.
The day after the Governor's Global Warming Task Force announced its goals, the state Department of Transportation said full steam ahead on committing $1.9 billion to rebuild I-94 between Milwaukee and Illinois, including 70 new lane miles in the corridor.
Not a dime in that plan for rail anywhere in or near the I-94 corridor.
The stimulus funding offers Gov. Doyle a chance to fix these shortcoming: community leaders and everyday commuters and taxpayers will thank him if he uses that money to fix what is broken, and make real progress on what the state desperately needs: 21st century rail for a new American age of fuel scarcity, climate mindfulness and fiscal stress.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:52 AM
The tony Village of Chenequa, which has the highest per-capita residential property value in the state, mandates large lots and big houses, and bans commercial property by its zoning code now wants the state to dump traffic that runs on Highway 83 through the exclusive Waukesha County Lake Country community into neighboring municipalities instead.
I don't recall the good folks in Chenequa siding with Milwaukee neighborhoods on the I-94 corridor when they fought the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's freeway reconstruction and widening plan - - which calls for added lanes that will induce motorists to plunge into the I-94 commute.
Bit of a double-standard, eh?
The Village website is worth a visit, as it makes clear that the sole goal of the 90-year-old Village is providing "peace... quiet...and restfulness unobtainable in the City."
Village good: City bad.
But now there's more bad:
The Village website notes the "explosion" of development nearby - - sprawl, some would call it - - and its deleterious effects are spilling into Chenequa.
I guess one way to eliminate some traffic noise, and to maintain the Village's restfulness, is to divert traffic into someone else's backyard.
Hey - - if you're in certain nearby Waukesha, Washington or Dodge County municipalities, it seems as if Chenequa's traffic is better routed through your community.
Perhaps commuter rail could be instituted to serve the Lake Country and eliminate some of the 'rationale' for Chenequans and others who deign to drive on Highway 83 or through Chenequa itself.
If not...well, Chenequa...get used to the discovery made elsewhere: development ain't necessarily what its cracked up to be.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:20 AM
Monday, December 29, 2008
In a posting Sunday, I noted the insufficiency of the SEWRPC water study and regional water supply scheme because these two linked ideas and goals leave out all the other major elements of comprehensive planning - - transit, housing and jobs.
SEWRPC is the Pewaukee-based Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, a suburban/exurban-dominated public agency on which the City of Milwaukee has no seats and votes, and on which the four least-populated of SEWRPC's seven counties can be a voting majority.
Ironically, just two days earlier, the Journal Sentinel editorial board crafted a profound, one-paragraph summation of the region's comprehensive planning needs in the context of the recession recovery.
Here is that editorial, and the specific graph, which I have set off in boldface:
"In rebuilding from the current recession, it will be critical for the region to physically connect workers to jobs. That connection needs to be made on three fronts: building jobs where there are unemployed workers, such as the inner cities of Milwaukee and Racine; building a better regional transportation system under one authority to transport the unemployed to jobs; and building housing that average workers can afford closer to jobs in the areas around Milwaukee."
The editorial notes the distortion of the housing market in Waukesha County, where 41% of that county's workforce cannot afford to live in the county that employs them, so they commute.
So the question of the day is:
Where in the regional water plan, which brings Lake Michigan water to Waukesha city and county is the companion plan for using that water to stimulate job growth in areas of high-unemployment, open up housing that is affordable, or to provide transit to make jobs more accessible?
Along with the fiscal balance sheet describing its piping and pumping and flowage costs is the social balance sheet indicating the housing, jobs and transit benefits the water sale and development increment can provide?
New Berlin hopes to gain a billion dollars in long-term growth from the smaller water sale it wants to conclude with Milwaukee: The probable sale to just the City of Waukesha is six times the New Berlin volume.
Huge opportunities are there for the benefit of tens of thousands of workers and homebuyers if the parameters of the plan and discussion are widened.
As they should be, since water is a public trust resource, and all the infrastructure dollars are public, too.
This is where SEWRPC fails the region: it intentionally left these issues out of its water study, as it left water needs out of its transportation and freeway widening plan, along with a transit piece there, too.
So what to do:
* Halt the water plan until these issues are approached and worked into a new plan.
* Restructure SEWRPC with a new mission - - genuine comprehensive planning - - and give it a different structure and management.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
I grew up in Maryland and spent a lot of time on the Chesapeake Bay: the ruination of the water's quality and its fisheries is a crime that bears remembering as the Great Lakes are corrupted by invasive species, pollution and developmental disregard.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:11 PM
Smokers kick the habit when the taxed price gets intolerably high.
Along with the public health benefits, the personal gains for ex-smokers make higher taxes good policy.
Smoking puts carcinogens into the air.
Next step: A total ban on public smoking.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:08 PM
The GOP declines to a marginal collection of fools.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:21 AM
A comprehensive water plan?
A water supply plan, yes - - but with no regard for all the impacts of water diversions and piping in a region where resources are already inequitably distributed.
This, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
It sees an issue here, and an issue there - - like water, or transportation - - and deals with them as if they were not connected.
Sorta like fielding a baseball team missing the shortstop one day, the centerfielder the next, or maybe playing an entire year without a catcher.
The result: major policy moves are recommended, and in some cases (major highways) approved, that are based on a publicly-fianced Land Use Plan decades old, and that set the stage for urban decline and suburban sprawl, with contemporary realities, and shifts in the economy and modern concepts like climate change and sustainability routinely ignored.
The water supply plan has got to be analyzed as a political document - - not in the partisan sense - - but as a proposal that will cause changes in housing patterns, development opportunities, transportation and other matters of public and private investment.
Where is that awareness and analysis?
The water plan - - with its nuts-and-bolts and water infrastructure cost/benefit approaches - - misses the bigger picture.
In it there is no recognition that we are approaching the end of the first decade of the 21st century - - so an ineffective and discriminatory status quo is maintained, and our region continues to lag behind, because political leadership and regional planning managers wear blinders and avoid bold, new, innovative and genuinely comprehensive work.
Additional commentary here.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:14 AM
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I agree with outgoing SEWRPC executive director Phil Evenson that the region needs more affordable housing - - a need that is pressing in Waukesha County where SEWRPC is headquartered in which many of its key administrators live - - but it's hard not to mention that for Evenson's entire tenure as the regional planning agency's boss there was no plan written there for the region's housing needs.
The last such plan was written in 1975, and a committee SEWRPC has named to finally begin such a study after nearly 34 years has yet to meet.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:11 AM
Friday, December 26, 2008
Having been trapped in rush hour Tuesday on I-94 from Milwaukee to the west - - and yes, it was my choice to drive - - I again observe how insane the traffic is, and how greatly is better transit, and a reil link needed in that corridor.
Do you folks out Waukesha way have an idea of what is coming at you when the Zoo Interchange goes under reconstruction for four years somewhere around 2012?
You will be begging for a fast train downtown and back - - but your County killed light rail a few years ago and because Waukesha County is boycotting the regional transit authority, you will not be hooked up to commuter rail (the KRM) or better buses, either.
Speak up now, Waukesha, or be consigned to gridlock for the next decade, at a minimum.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:21 AM
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
You remember "Chinatown," right - - the 1974 film classic about diverting the Los Angeles city water supply to nearby land where there was development and money to be had?
Who knows how closely life will imitate art when the City of Waukesha files its formal application for a diversion of Lake Michigan water - - a process presumably devoid of the Chinatownesque secrecy that accompanied an earlier effort by Waukesha to get a 24-million-gallon-per-day diversion permission from state officials?
And will Waukesha acquire water for itself, or will it bring in other municipalities, or will SEWRPC use the application and its recently-concluded regional water supply study to recommend the creation of a water authority to help expand diversions where over-pumping and over-development has enhanced demand?
Sensors and gauges and computers can track the environmental impact of waters' movements, but how closely and broadly will the political and financial course that diverted water and its return flow regime takes be monitored, analyzed and corrected?
Wealth will follow the movement of Lake Michigan west to Waukesha County, which brings to mind a memorable scene from "Chinatown" when Jake Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, has his suspicions about a secret diversion away from LA confirmed by Russ Yelburton, a water system bureaucrat.
Yelburton minimizes and spins and outright lies, and doesn't give Nicholson the whole seedy story, but ends up speaking a truth worth remembering:
"We're not anxious for this to get around but we have been diverting a little water to irrigate orange groves in the Northwest Valley. As you know, the farmers out there have no legal right to our water. We've been trying to help some of them out. Keep them from going under. Naturally when you divert water, there's a little run-off."
Posted by James Rowen at 6:39 AM
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha are among six Wisconsin counties violating federal air pollution rules, but the state Department of Transportation and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission are cooperating to add more lanes and traffic there.
The other counties are Brown, Columbia and Dane - - all still free of light or commuter rail, but with pavement aplenty.
As I have often written, there is a severe disconnect between scientific and regulatory findings in the US and in Wisconsin about air pollution and greenhouse emissions from vehicle tailpipes that is not coordinated with publicly-financed planning and spending that encourages more driving precisely where the air is already rated as unhealthy.
The state DOT paid SEWRPC $1 million several years ago to write a transportation plan for the region that called for adding 127 miles of new freeway lanes in Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, Kenosha, Washington, Walworth and Ozaukee Counties.
The plan did not call for adding one cent to transit systems.
Of course, the DOT then embraced the plan it had paid for, spent $810 million on the Marquette Interchange reconstruction and widening (and by the way, is there a more chaotic, serpentine piece of new interstate highway in the country than the 'improved' exit from I-94 east to I-43 north past the courthouse, or a more dangerous downhill ski-run on interstate pavement than the now-rebuilt High Rise Bridge's descent to the west past the Marquette campus?), and is now busy launching between $2 billion and $3 additional billions to add lanes and rebuild both the Zoo Interchange and I-94 north and south between Milwaukee and Illinois.
OK: that's a long sentence, but this is the point:
Why should WisDOT be expanding the highways in known air quality non-attainment counties, and accelerating its plans after the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming set out a remedial agenda for the state to implement.
So the feds are telling the state that Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha Counties are in violation of air quality standards, but the state continues to spend billions in federal highway funds to widen the roads there.
On a recommendation by SEWRPC, which receives 100% of its funding from taxpayers.
That's not government of, by and for the people.
It's government against the people.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:15 AM
Monday, December 22, 2008
The smartest guy in the Milwaukee TV biz talks about jobs and the state economy with Roberta Gassman, Wisconsin's Secretary of Workforce Development.
The piece is a good, no b.s. combination of questions and answers.
The economic climate is obviously stressed in Wisconsin, and nationally; it's good to hear that Wisconsin's unemployment trust fund is well-positioned, and that routien federal lending to that program for unemployed workers is available, too - - because as Secretary Gassman tells Gousha, job losses such as those at General Motors in Janesville will ripple through the state workforce beyond next year.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:00 PM
Or at a newly-constituted regional planning body, about environmentalism and environmental justice - - areas neglected at SEWRPC.
Wouldn't hurt for the leadership at WisDOT to give it a read, too, since these issues raised in The American Prospect relate to projected federal stimulus funding and the new direction that voters want Team Omaba to follow.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:55 AM
A clue: think highways.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:09 AM
Steve Hiniker, Executive Director of the land use and environmental group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, has summed up in the Sunday Journal Sentinel Crossroads section our state's need for more rational public spending on transit, local roads and parks.
While we are getting ready to pour $2 billion into I-94 south to Illinois from Milwaukee, with another massive expansion and rebuilding also scheduled for the Zoo Interchange west of Milwaukee, the county parks have gone to hell, the bus system is collapsing and potholes can't get filled fast enough.
And you watch: a huge share of federal stimulus money will not get allocated to sustainable, green and long-term job creation in this region. It will be gifted to the road-builders for major highway projects that continue to pull the economy farther from its center, adding sprawl costs and making Milwaukee's minority poor less likely to reach jobs in the out counties.
It will not be used as a one-time down payment for a better future for the region.
The fundamental policy problem in southeastern Wisconsin is an out-dated regional land use plan that is driving highway expansion, water diversion and sprawl.
With sprawl as the outcome, and a $6.5 billion highway expansion and rebuilding plan underway, there are few incentives or opportunities to boost transit and add rail. Instead, the likelihood is more of the tired status quo - - even as builders postpone subdivisions and retail slumps.
Going hand-in-hand is the regional water supply plan, which, just like the highway scheme, is designed to move wealth away from the urban center to development at the edges - - areas not served by transit.
No wonder the Milwaukee County parks and bus systems are failing: if the economy is being shifted away by the government, why reinvest in the infrastructure in Milwaukee County?
The craziest thing about this blindly wasteful policy-making is that collapsing housing prices, unpredictable lending and costly fuel have made suburban housing too risky and expensive for a middle-class that is shrinking by the hour.
We have 2009 needs, but are under the thumb of 1970's planning and spending, with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission at the center of this spectacular, failed disconnect.
With its suburban and exurban commission majority ruling the roost, SEWRPC wrote the land use and water plans, has failed to deliver a housing plan since 1975, and perpetuates its old-fashioned mission through senior management self-selection.
There can be improvements and solutions, but these will require political courage to break the mold and the region's slumber:
* The freeway expansion should stop in favor of transit investment, rail initiatives and local road repairs at the top of the list, not as after-thoughts.
* The water supply study should be shelved.
* The SEWRPC-blessed $25 million interchange to a stalled shopping mall on former crop land in the Pabst Farms development in Western Waukesha County needs to be scrapped.
* The Land Use Plan should be re-written by a newly-constituted planning commission with a 21st century mindset that places the highest priority on economic and environmental sustainability and development.
That will require a clean sweep of SEWRPC management and the installation of a different body setting policy, making hires and recommending how and why transportation funds are spent in the region.
It would make no sense for the federal government to bail out General Motors if it wanted to bring back the 1970 Oldsmobile, or if Chrysler chose to spend its federal money to start building Dodge Darts.
By the same token, we have to stop financing antiquated planning and infrastructure in southeastern Wisconsin, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:00 AM
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Global Warming is melting the very polar and Greenland ice massess, and thatice reflects sunlight and keeps the planet habitable, NASA finds.
It's a fact.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:44 PM
Dave Dempsey blows the whistle on another sleazy, last-minute Bush Admimistration favor to a business at the expense of the environment - - this tmee, for Dow Chemical and its dioxin contamination in Michigan.
Another example, here.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:26 AM
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Note the slack cut by judges for this 7th-time OWI offender's earlier convictions.
To what end?
Posted by James Rowen at 4:24 PM
Friday, December 19, 2008
In its waning days, the Bush Administration's EPA has ruled that power plants need not install technology that can remove carbon dioxide from their emissions.
Let's hope the incoming administration can reverse this rule, or that it can be tossed by a judge.
Thanks, Don, for sending the link to me.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:08 PM
As I have been saying, Democrat Al Franken will win the US Senate seat in Minnesota now held by Republican Norm Coleman - - by a thread.
republicans who gloated over Florida's Hanging Chads For Bush please mute your complaints.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:32 AM
Barack Obama's pick of Illinois Republican Congressman Ray LaHood as Secretary of the US Department of Transportation makes good on the President-elect's pledge to have a bi-partisan cabinet, but doesn't send a strong signal that the agency might flip its highways-first/trains-second priorities.
But there are indications that LaHood, a consensus-builder from Peoria, is close to Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and because the City of Chicago needs infrastructure upgrades to help it win the 2016 Olympic Games, the expanding Illinois nexus in the Obama administration could mean that Midwestern High-Speed Rail gets on the fast track.
And with a Democratic Congress, whose urban constituencies ride Amtrak along the Eastern seaboard and between Milwaukee and Chicago, it may be LaHood's job to implement a more balanced transportation policy to which Obama and key Congressional Democrats have said they support.
So let's see how it works out, and for now, give Obama and LaHood the benefit of the doubt.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:42 AM
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The Madison Capital Times says the ACLU's complaint against WisDOT's North-South I-94 expansion has merit.
The complaint has similarities to two complaints that the ACLU of Wisconsin has filed against the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission: the complaints allege that public planning and transportation resources are being aimed at upper-income, whiter portions of southeastern Wisconsin at the expense of lower-income and minority residents and taxpayers.
Some details, here.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:19 PM
Remember when it was going to be the end of the world that grocery store discounter Aldi wanted to move into upscale Brookfield?
Well, the store is open, and the timing couldn't be better, since in a bad economy, everyone wants to save a buck.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:35 PM
Readers of this blog have perhaps seen the frequent posts about the state transportation department's unjustifiable plan to hurry up and build a $25 million interchange to that dreamy, upscale Pabst Farm shopping mall off I-94 in Western Waukesha County's Sprawlville District - - a mall that has yet to break ground.
Now we learn that not a single tenant for the mall, already cancelled by one developer, has yet to be signed, and what are the odds that in a recession, this mall will ever be built?
The state and local officials have to deep-six this Interchange to Nowhere and redirect that $25 million into pothole filling, transit expansion or other good uses.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:22 PM
Two nuggets about the state's wacky transportation spending, and the legislators who are always willing to hand more of your money to the road-builders, are found in this intriguing Daily Reporter story:
1. State Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), prefers a tax tax increase over tolling for Wisconsin highway projects - - though tolling is a dead issue in Wisconsin for all practical purposes.
Oh, there's no stopping those tax-and-spent, Big Guvmint Republicans.
2. But maybe we don't need either tolls or a higher gas tax, as WisDOT says its budgets are just fine until 2015 - - so let's get that billion dollars or so off the Obama stimulus list for I-94 north/south, OK?
Posted by James Rowen at 4:56 PM
Talker Charlie had Scott Walker on for a half-hour of political chit-chat this morning.
Nothing special. Walker had Christmas treats to drop off and the Republican lovebirds just shot the breeze...
Scott had anecdotes to share from his recent trip to the Republican Governors Association meeting, and the 2010-GOP gubernatorial-candidate-in-waiting reminded Charlie that every GOP incumbent governor on the ballot in November got re-elected because people like fiscal conservatives in the their state houses.
Scott said there was no problem with the GOP's message: it just needed better messengers.
The chums rambled on, bashing commuter rail - - note to readers: now that light rail is off the table politically, commuter rail is the far right's new fake phobia - - and couldn't even resist holding back a fully-sympathetic eulogy for Paul Weyrich, one of the conservatives' Godfathers and a Wisconsin guy, too, because Weyrich, who died suddenly this morning at 66, liked trains.
Weyrich, an ally of former Mayor John Norquist's on the rail issue despite their party differences, thought government's monopoly provision of highways violated free market principles because it withheld the rail choice from taxpayers.
That is how ideologically-rigid these guys are: even Weyrich, who founded The Heritage Foundation, takes a political shot in his home state (he was from Racine) before people have made their plans to get to the funeral.
I'm not a fan of the so-called radio fairness doctrine, which once upon a time required that overt political air time be handed out equally between parties because the government owns the airwaves, and I don't think there will be a serious move towards reinstating it despite conservative talkers' Machiavellian, ratings-driven hand-wringing on the subject, but freebies like this morning's half-hour handed to the Republican Walker this morning by AM 620's lead talker and unabashed Republican booster gives supporters of the fairness doctrine their ammo.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:01 AM
There's yet another story in the Journal Sentinel about a jaw-dropping pension deal for well-positioned county employees - - a career prosecutor and his spouse, also a county retiree, who together, by being in the right place at the right time, will take down $1 million in pension bonuses and $100,000 in annual pensions, for life.
Worse: the newspaper calculates the amount of money already paid out in those shocking bonuses at more than $140 million - - much of which continues to come from taxpayers supplementing a burdened pension system that cannot sustain the special benefits added, with hardly any discussion, by a handful of bureaucrats and elected officials.
Recalls, resignations, and a single prosecution cannot atone for the scandal's abuse of the public trust.
There has been no reimbursement of these tens of millions lost to the bus system, to the parks, to law enforcement, to child-welfare and health-care services - - life-savers, to be sure - - and to taxpayers looking for much-needed relief, too.
Though eligibility for the added pension benefits was halted, the destruction of an entire county's ability to tax and spend correctly - - in other words, to function properly - - will continue for years.
While services falter, and taxes remain high, one small group of people - - county workers whom I am sure were hard-working, and deserving of good retirements - - is being enriched by everyone else at rates unparalleled in public service.
This was a legal, moral, fiscal, and political fiasco.
And we can't say that all the lessons have been learned, as pension abuses continue well into the tenure of current County Executive Scott Walker, the man county residents thought they were electing to clean up the courthouse and a culture of narcissistic self-enrichment.
Surely there is a best-selling book waiting to be written about once-proud Milwaukee County, a blue-collar bastion of hard work that is now wrecked financially.
It predated the subsequent hubris and greed on Wall Street - - Milwaukee County, an entire municipality rocked not by a single Madoff-like schemer but by a group of insider public servants with the power and chutzpah to commander the treasury, and its future revenues, and an entire government's ability to do its true job: service.
What a story - - chronicaled locally by Journal Sentinel reporter Dave Umhoefer, who won a much-deserved Pulitizer Prize in 2008 for exposing the intrcaciies of many courthouse pension shenanigans.
And there's surely at least a master's or Ph.D thesis to be written comparing how differently the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County chose to alter their separate pension plans at about the same time.
While the wise guys and gals were busy self-dealing at the Courthouse, a city government working group convened by then-Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist (on whose staff I served at the time) worked for months to craft a method to redistribute some of a surplus in the city pension system without harming its viability.
People like Ald. Mike Murphy, City Attorney Grant Langley, Administration director David Riemer and others, along with independent counsel and financial experts crunched numbers, ran computer scenarios and eventually produced a fair and conservative plan.
Then put it to a vote of the system's 25,000 beneficiaries who approved it overwhelmingly.
I sat in on many of these meetings. There was not a whiff of self-interest at the table.
Nor was there a sense of panic, though there was litigation by the police union that was forcing a settlement.
It was all about protecting the system, saving money, being reasonable, being fair.
The county could have taken the same sober approach to pension reform, even though it was not facing the same legal pressures, but it didn't.
These painfully gaudy super-benefits will mercifully be finally and fully paid out to the last eligible retiree sometime down the road, with a more rational system in place.
But at a huge cost to taxpayers, public services, and the notion that government serves the many, not the few.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:36 AM
Laurel Walker has added her typically strong voice to the reporting about the lack of affordable housing ion Waukesha County by reciting the many studies that shown the extent of the problem, but have not sparked commitment to a solution.
Her column is here.
I've posted several items lately about the subject (one example here), with one fine guest blog here.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:26 AM
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The arrest of State Rep. Jeff Wood, (I-Bloomer) for misdemeanor OWI and drug possession, and the revelation that it is his 3rd OWI, again shows how weak are Wisconsin's OWI laws.
And while I agree with TMJ4 talker Charlie Sykes this morning as he tees off on Wood and the state's lame OWI statutes, I disagree with one thing Sykes said today - - that repeat offernders are the problem, but anyone can acquire a first offense.
For one thing, many people do not drink, period. I've seen estimates of around one-third the population, nationally.
Secondly, there is a fine line and a lot of luck separating a first-time offender from a repeat offender because there isn't a first-time offender caught the very first time he or she drove over the limit.
Finally - - you have to drink a lot to get over the limit, and if you think that's not true, you really shouldn't be out driving after drinking - - ever - - because you are the problem.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:30 AM
This is not the way to keep Lake Superior and Michigan healthy, and it's a sop to the international shippers whose ballast water discharges have already brought economic damage to these precious bodies of water.
Things ought to get better after January 20th when the states, Congress and a more publicly-spirited EPA can get on the same regulatory page.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:51 AM
I found myself on I-94 Tuesday afternoon during a rush-hour snowstorm - - and not the heaviest snowfall, by any means - - and the bumper-to-bumper traffic from downtown Milwaukee out to the west was simply stunning.
Radio reports put the travel time between the Marquette Interchange and Moreland Rd., a well-known Waukesha County interchange, at between a half-hour and 45 minutes, and this was before the traffic would be building up, along with additional snow and falling temperatures.
[Update: At 6:40 p.m., the WisDOT travel website was reporting the travel time between Downtown and Moreland road to be 32:31 minutes:seconds. About three times normal.]
I've been in these circumstances before, and while I cannot imagine making this or a similar rush-hour trip everyday, I also think Waukesha County is subjecting its residents to unnecessary hassle, fuel expense and waste of time by failing to join the Regional Transit Authority.
That body is trying to coordinate and upgrade transit services in what is now only Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha Counties.
High on the RTA's list, and also among business leaders' priorities in those three counties: getting the KRM commuter train up and running so that much of southeastern Wisconsin has heavy rail connections for commuters much like what is provided in and out of Chicago by METRA.
Waukesha County commuters would fall in love with the KRM train - - on snowy, rainy and clear days, too - - if politicians and business leaders there would promote the transit authority and push to add Waukesha to the KRM route.
City of Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson is the only Waukesha County politico of whom I am aware that has supported getting his residents served by the KRM, but he has few allies on that position.
Even The Freeman, Waukesha's daily paper, has bad-mouthed the county's joining the RTA, suggesting in a fit of ideological blindness and regional monkey-wrenching that an RTA would raise taxes and be of too much benefit to Milwaukee.
I wonder if all those Waukesha commuters trapped on I-94 Tuesday afternoon would agree?
Will Waukesha County's power brokers continue to leave their constituents on a side track, or at the curb, or wherever under-served voters and taxpayers get deposited as the world is allowed to move past them?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Even in a tough economy, Milwaukee is figuring out how to continue to build affordable housing.
I'd love to see suburban communities get as creative.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:05 PM
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, (SEWRPC), has functioned as such an insiders' club that Kurt Bauer, first executive director of the nearly-49-year-old agency, is still a three-quarters' time consultant there - - with a $6,500-per-month salary, office and a 2008 Ford Crown Vic sedan at his disposal, to boot.
Now Phil Evenson, the executive director who replaced Bauer in 1997, is getting ready to retire at the end of this month.
Will history repeat itself?
Will Evenson step into another, no-bid SEWRPC consultancy for retired-executive directors, hang on to the Chrysler Town & Country SEWRPC-owned minivan to which he has a priority assignment, and chair an advisory committee or two, as Bauer has been doing?
SEWRPC has said that one reason there are so few minorities on staff (3 of 49 professionals, and no senior managers) is that there is little turnover in those ranks.
You can say again:
Bauer has been there since the beginning, while Evenson worked at SEWRPC for 37 years and his replacement, current deputy director Ken Yunker, has been there for 34 years.
And when the Environmental Justice Task Force got wind of Yunker's impending selection earlier this year, and asked Evenson to stop the hiring process so the Task Force could participate, it was Evenson who decided the hiring should go forward, telling the Task Force that keeping the process on track was his decision - - and also that promotions like Yunker's was SEWRPC past practice, meaning that to consider other candidates would have been unfair to them.
Details in this post, towards the bottom.
There's something good to be said for continuity, but Yunker's in-house, no-search selection as Evenson's successor spoke volumes about just how tight and self-selecting is the circle and thought-process running and directing the agency.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:03 AM
New York, with its subway, commuter trains and buses more tightly integrated has managed to absorb a big recent increase in population - - without adding traffic, reports The New York Times.
Contrast this to southeastern Wisconsin, where bus service has been trimmed, light rail blocked, commuter rail stalled - - but where billions in new highways are on the books.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:21 AM
Monday, December 15, 2008
And undermines the name of his organization, The Reason Foundation, by derailing his own support for commuter rail.
I noted six months ago that it was a bad idea to hire an anti-rail consultant to pitch a rail system.
Live and learn.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:21 PM
An Indiana blogger says Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is the wrong choice as a key decision-maker to implement the Great Lakes Compact.
The last I heard about Daniels was his support for the polluting expansion of the BP refinery on Lake Michigan at Whiting.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:09 PM
A dozen local and statewide groups, including civic organizations, environmental groups and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, band together to call for federal stimulus spending to be aimed at green investments.
The categories suggested do not include, by the way, extra lanes on I-94 between Milwaukee and Kenosha.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:35 PM
Doesn't matter that the feds say the number is false - - Rush Limbaugh and his lieutenants keep right on broadcasting a false number about bad mortgages held by illegal immigrants to further panic their listeners.
Many listeners think that they are getting facts and news on these shows, when a lot of what they are getting is spin, propaganda and flat-out falsehood.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:05 PM
State Rep. Jeff Wood joins a too-long list of legislators arrested while driving under the influence.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:15 PM
Why can't SEWRPC's dreary website look more like this one?
Which one draws you in, and which one turns you away?
Which one wants the public to see it and roam around it for data and links, and which hopes only insiders ever stumble onto it?
Which one has energy, and which one is as dated as a rerun of "Lassie?"
Posted by James Rowen at 9:34 AM
That was the headline on an editorial this summer in The New York Times, and while the context was California, it could easily be applied to Southeastern Wisccnsin.
The state has instituted some thoughtful approaches in the fight against climate change, including job training programs, power plant regulatory reform and alternative fuel research - - all to the good - - but then pushes forward with billions in highway expansion and will endorse elaborate schemes to pump Lake Michigan water into development on Waukesha County farms and open space that exacerbate - - not diminish - - the sprawl/warming connection.
The blame for this planning and financing disconnect runs from the State Capitol to the Waukesha city government and its water utility to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and its 1950's mindset, to talk radio, which has helped block rail transit and the air quality benefits that come with it.
Without real reform in both thinking and plan implementation, Wisconsin will be trapped in a policy contradiction that keeps the air dirty, rewards the highway lobby, paves farmland and wastes the opportunity to deal with climate change at the local, state and regional levels.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:44 AM
There is a disturbing and demoralizing anecdote towards the end of Kori Schneider-Peragine's fine commentary on affordable housing in Waukesha that I posted Sunday.
A housing expert and planner, Schneider-Peragine recounts a conversation with other planners who told her, after a recent hearing on the subject in Waukesha, that affordable housing would not be permitted in their communities because elected officials in Waukesha County equate affordable housing with African-American occupants.
Here is that portion of her commentary:
"Waukesha County and its historic and present policy is part of the reason that no other metro area in the COUNTRY has suburbs as white as does this metro area. No other metro area in the country!
"The day the housing element was finalized, with no strong, meaningful recommendations, sadly I was the sole NO vote on our subcommittee. I walked out of our meeting with a couple of planners that work for a couple of the County’s municipalities, also on the subcommittee.
"They informed me that there was no way that this committee would have come up with meaningful recommendations. The leaders of these communities, the communities that make up Waukesha County, their elected officials just don’t want multi-family housing. Multi family housing I was told equates to African-American residents. Then they each relayed a story from their specific jurisdictions where their Mayor, or elected leader, prevented multi-family housing from being built in their community for that very reason – racism."
That acknowledgement of racial bias in local Waukesha County policy-making reminded me of a similar discussion I had with elected officials a decade ago during the light rail debate, when two elected leaders of Waukesha County communities told me after a meeting in the Milwaukee Mayor's office where I was working as policy director that they could not support light rail because their constituents feared light rail would bring African-Americans into their communities.
I posted an account of that conversation towards the end of a blog about race 20 months ago, here.
As long as the region condones these attitudes, and as long as local officials falter in leading the region towards away from its legacy of racial discrimination - - particularly in housing - - southeastern Wisconsin's economy will be held back, too.
John Austin, The Brookings Institution's Great Lakes economic expert and author of the highly-touted "Vital Center" study about problems and opportunities in the region, made that very point in his presentation to a legislative committee in Madison in 2007.
We will see if this issue is faced head-on by SEWRPC's long-delayed Housing Study Task Force, and if the agency has the courage - - the trait that Schneider-Perragine is looking for regionally - - to tackle the issue.
SEWRPC could do two things next year as it comes under the leadersip of Ken Yunker, its new Executive Director, to send that very message:
1. It would stop fighting with the very Environmental Justice Task Force SEWRPC the agency created in 2007, and approve the Task Force recommendation for outside and independent socio-economic analyses to accompany all SEWRPC plans as they are developed.
2. It would suspend ongoing studies, making its number-one action item the re-casting of the region's master Land Use Plan into a blueprint for an open and sustainable region for all residents.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:01 AM
It's the SEWRPC's Intergovernmental and Public Relations Committee, hasn't meet for 25 months, and hasn't even approved the minutes of its November 16, 2006 meeting, either.
Is that "S" in SEWRPC for "Southeastern" (Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission), or "Sleepy Hollow?"
But seriously, as I pointed out when I posted a link to the outdated, 2004 economic profiles for SEWRPC-member counties and cities - - what's the point and value to taxpayers of maintaining web postings/data, or in this case, one of just four standing SEWRPC committees, if they are allowed to go stale?
The Intergovernmental and Public Relations committee, in fact, has met just three times since March, 2003, SEWRPC records show.
The SEWRPC website says the committee is a communications conduit for its constituent county boards - - from which it takes about $2.3 million every year in quietly-and-routinely disbursed property tax dollars, thank you very much - - so maybe SEWRPC is taking those county boards a wee bit for granted, eh?
You'd think that a public planning commission representing seven counties with scores and scores of municipalities would use every communications means at its disposal, since it has:
A) Been forced to establish an Environmental Justice Task Force to bring minorities and low-income residents into SEWRPC processes;
B) Been called out publicly by dozens of aggrieved citizens at the last two federal certification reviews;
C) Been hit recently with two civil rights complaints;
D) Made the subject of formal reform calls by separate votes of both the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and the Milwaukee Common Council.
As publicly-paid planners, isn't SEWRPC leadership curious enough about their standing in the region use a standing committee as a route to some institutional awareness?
Or not, though SEWRPC is busy hiring a PR and outreach staffer.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Michigan may approve a massive increase in coal-fired power plants - - as federal regulators have signalled that coal is unacceptably-polutting - - which is why environmentalists in Michigan urge the state to put air quality, water purity and public health first instead.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:04 PM
Northern Wisconsin officials who hope to see federal stimulus dollars headed their way should look out for one huge diversion of that goal: The I-94 widening and 'improvement' south to Illinois from Milwaukee that could eat up a billion dollars or more of a $2 billion project.
The project includes an unneeded extra lane in both directions (70 miles of new concrete) at a cost of $200 million - - an expenditure opposed by the City of Milwaukee - - but pushed forward by state transportation planners regardless.
Stimulus money should go into projects that are better for the environment (adding greenhouse gases and inducing more driving is hardly a 'green' use of federal dollars in the post-Bush era) and that offer more sustainable, long-term jobs, including rail construction.
Antiquated, short-term fixes along I-94 won't help that region, or Northern Wisconsin, either.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:54 PM
This is a guest post by Kori Schneider-Peragine of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, similar also to remarks she delivered at a public hearing on December 11 regarding affordable housing in Waukesha County, a topic often addressed on this blog.
Smart Growth Testimony – Waukesha County
December 11, 2008
In my role as a housing expert and advocate in metropolitan Milwaukee, I was asked to be a part of the Waukesha county smart growth sub-committee charged with creating the housing element.
The State of Wisconsin smart growth law established several goals for comprehensive plans; the goal most relevant to the housing element is the following:
“Providing an adequate supply of affordable housing for all income levels in the community.”
In the year and a half in which we were meeting to create the housing element as well as the transportation and land use elements, I regularly brought up issues important to ensuring that the goal of “Providing an adequate supply of affordable housing for all income levels in the community” was met, such as: determining the need for affordable housing, properly defining affordable housing, providing recommendation that the county could implement, etc.
Our dialogue addressed both the need for affordable housing as well as the challenges in providing affordable housing.
The intermediate projection developed by SEWRPC for the number of households within the County in 2035 is 174,100. Projecting that the County continues to have a similar percentage of households (46.61%) that are extremely low, very low, low, and moderate income will result in a total of 81,218 households in the following categories:
• 15,164 households or 8.7 are projected to be extremely low income
• 23,226 households or 13.3 percent are projected to be very low income
• 25,418 households or 14.6 percent are projected to be low income
• 17,410 households or 10.0 percent are projected to be moderate income
This is roughly 64,000 low income, very low income and extremely low income households.
AND THE CHALLENGES:
• Land is costly, limited financing resources.
• Regulatory barriers, minimum lot sizes, etc.
• Home rule – limitations on the county’s ability.
The resulting housing recommendations will do nothing to address those challenges.
The most frequent reason given for the weak recommendations is home rule – the county can’t force municipalities within its borders to do anything…which is true to a point. But I suggest they could do more – but won’t.
The County should work with municipalities to study the feasibility of an affordable housing trust fund to assist in meeting the projected employment housing needs. In terms of implementation - this means nothing! Why won’t the county “work with local housing advocates and developers to create a HTF to assist in meeting the projected employment housing needs?”
The other recommendations include terminology that has the County
1. studying the potential,
4. supporting, promoting,
All important things BUT - How many units for those 64,000 projected low income households will be created by studying, encouraging, examining, supporting, and promoting?
The County needs to take the Housing Element back to the drawing board to develop real recommendations that will create the needed housing. We are in an era in which we need real leadership to help our communities move forward – that’s what the smart growth movement was intended to be.
The last thing I wanted to address is perhaps my biggest regret on this committee. I should have and didn’t address the big elephant in the room. I thought if we just created some good policy for affordable and workforce housing, the elephant didn’t need to be moved. Regretfully, I didn’t want to make the group of all white, mostly men uncomfortable.
Waukesha County and its historic and present policy is part of the reason that no other metro area in the COUNTRY has suburbs as white does this metro area. No other metro area in the country!
The day the housing element was finalized, with no strong, meaningful recommendations, sadly I was the sole NO vote on our subcommittee. I walked out of our meeting with a couple of planners that work for a couple of the County’s municipalities, also on the subcommittee.
They informed me that there was no way that this committee would have come up with meaningful recommendations. The leaders of these communities, the communities that make up Waukesha County, their elected officials just don’t want multi-family housing. Multi family housing I was told equates to African-American residents. Then they each relayed a story from their specific jurisdictions where their Mayor, or elected leader, prevented multi-family housing from being built in their community for that very reason – racism.
I have a Master's in Urban Planning and understand how planning works. I fear that what occurred in this housing element was less about sound planning and more about politics!
I realize the one advantage that I have in this testimony is that I don’t have to fear losing my job to stand up for what is right and just.
Again I am asking that staff take this plan back to the committee, and that committee needs to COURAGEOUSLY stand up to its elected officials for good planning, which includes housing affordable to its workforce and most vulnerable.
Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council
Posted by James Rowen at 11:16 AM
Some good news out of the recently-concluded UN planning session on climate change, amid sure signs that there are expectations workdwide that Obama will reverse the do-nothing approach of the Bush administration.
Bush certainly lowered the bar, giving Obama many opportunities despite all the economic and foreign policy crises Bush is leaving behind.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:07 AM
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Conflicting state and federal efforts and agendas continue to leave the Great Lakes vulnerable to invasive species ferried in by ocean-going freighters dumping their ballast waters in the lakes.
State Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) says a solution is close, perhaps this weekend. Stay tuned.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:02 PM
Among the lessons of the sit-in at the Chicago window and door company: business and finance can do the right thing, as shown in this fine piece in The New York Times.
Blogger Rick Esenberg had earlier expressed his misgivings about Bank of America being pressured to pony up additional lending.
I was not surprised by my old WMCS-AM radio talk show pal's discomfort over how the Chicago sit-in played out. For conservatives, a victory for organized labor makes the needles jump on their political Richter scales, suggesting that this Obama "yes we can" movement is really the start of something big.
But back to the Chicago sit-in: we know now through the Times that the Bank and company management had been communicating about the plant closure months before its announcement, and that a deal to end the sit-in nearly fell through because the plant owner wanted a piece of a fresh Bank loan to cover his luxury car leases and tens of thousands in his salary, too.
Key graphs from the Times story about business, legal and moral expectations, obligations and actions:
"Bank officials said it was not their responsibility as lenders to ensure that the company made these payments. They said later that they had been discussing closing the plant with the company as far back as July, giving it plenty of time to fulfill its obligations to its workers.
"Nevertheless, union officials argued that Bank of America had received billions of taxpayer dollars in the recent federal bailout, meant to free up credit to companies like Republic.
“'We never made the argument you have a legal responsibility,” said [US Rep. Luis] Gutierrez, who described bank officials as willing to be helpful almost immediately. “We said, ‘Will you make a corporate responsibility decision?’ ”
As I said in a comment on Rick's posting, I think the Bank cut its PR losses and won a few points by helping guarantee workers' pay and benefits. The Bank made a choice: businesses constantly weigh the public and political ramifications of their actions, and in this case, the Bank did the right thing by the workers and for its corporate image and community standing, too.
And in the end, the company came up with money to help cover some of the workers' pay and benefits owed, too.
Win-win-win, as they say.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:43 AM
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tells the GOP it needs to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh.
I heard Rush yesterday refer to the "ChiComs," and it occured to me that there are millions of younger people who would have no idea what he meant by such a dated reference.
Rush's demographic skews so old and ideologically reactionary that he's speaking to the very minority that Powell says helped cost the GOP the presidency.
Neither Limbaugh or GOP leaders are likely to welcome Powell's advice, which, if you think about it, is really good for the country.
A marginalzied GOP helps keep Democrats in power and also keeps alive at least the chance for a progressive agend'a success.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:16 AM
Friday, December 12, 2008
Don't ask Robert Frost what he'd have to say about this WisDOT-endorsed benefit for people living too close to an expanding highway.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:06 PM
New York Times columnist David Brooks understands that there are social opportunities to be had in strategically using economic stimulus billions, but trying to remake aging suburbs into fake little cities with phony downtowns and squares is all wrong.
Certainly there needs to be better transit in the 50's era suburbs, but the stimulus investment has to be aimed at cities first.
Letter writers weigh in.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:35 PM
As print media weaken, their online efforts increase, as this fresh example about The Wall Street Journal shows.
At some point, newspapers will figure out how their online operations can generate advertising and other revenue streams, but the dollars won't support hard-copy dailies as we have come to know them.
Seems as if the Detroit papers could cut home delivery to a few days a week - - not there's a way to make sure subscribers seek out the paper online.
After cancelling their subs.
So look for fewer dailies - - the recession will spur that development - - and certainly a reduced number of magazines, too, but also plenty of news online, in blogs and even on radio and television.
Update: Electronic advances are beginning to shrink TV bews crews, too.
Just like the internet has made every blogger a 'journalistm' YouTube now makes every person with a computer into a video 'reporter.'
And so it goes.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:10 PM
The Republican Party is continuing its march towards political marginalization by blocking the lending bill to aid GM and Chrysler.
The hypocrisy is overwhelming: Republican senators in southern states with Japanese car-making plants in their states, where lesser wages are paid, sticking it to Michigan and Ohio and Wisconsin and other states, where UAW workers make higher pay through federally-protected collective bargaining.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:38 PM
There is this blurb online from The Freeman (longer version only available to subscribers) about just how pressing is the need for affordable housing in Waukesha County.
Four questions before the text:
1. Why is Waukesha County balking at joining a regional transit authority?
2. How thick are the blinders at the Waukesha County-based regional planning commission (SEWEPC), which has balked at writing a regional housing plan since 1975?
3. Why should Milwaukee sell water to Waukesha County communities if economic development and housing starts there continue to be at the upper end, thus pushing affordable housing to other communities and counties, such as Milwaukee?
4. Shouldn't the US Justice Department come into the region and do a comprehensive review of SEWRPC and Waukesha County spending, programs and policy-making (transit, transportation, housing, zoning, water distribution, etc.), given the apartheid-like behavior of these bodies and their relationships to low-income, urban and other regional residents of color?
From The Freeman:
Report: Waukesha County needs
more affordable housing
WAUKESHA - It is a startling statistic: 41 percent of Waukesha County’s work force lives outside of the county because of a lack of affordable housing. This statistic is what drove more than a dozen people to speak out Thursday night at a public hearing on the county’s proposed comprehensive development plan, asking that it do more to address the need for affordable housing
Posted by James Rowen at 10:25 AM
The Journal Sentinel prints a partial list of smoke-free restaurants, coffee shops and watering holes in the region.
Note also that Shorewood establishments are soon to be totally smoke-free, along with many in Wauwatosa, and with both communities near relatively upper-income areas of Milwaukee, I'd expect customers to take substantial bucks out of Milwaukee in order to enjoy brunch or a fish fry without a side of nicotine.
Now if the smoke-free Original Pancake House on N. Downer Ave. were only open for dinner...
Posted by James Rowen at 9:34 AM
The far-right will tell us the sky will fall, and West Coast capitalism is doomed, but even in a tough economy the State of California has done the right thing instituting a broad set of new rules - - including a carbon emission cap-and-trade incentive system - - designed to aggressively combat air pollution and climate change.
Given the density of people and traffic in southern California, the new rules are completely logical, and I'd expect and hope that there is political carryover to other parts of the US, and to the Congress and Obama administration, as a result.
Which brings us to Wisconsin, where some modest greenhouse gas controls and energy alternatives have been instituted by Gov. Jim Doyle, but nothing on the scale that California has decided is in the interests of its citizens.
In fact, the Wisconsin plan omitted any coordinated commitment to adding transit and reducing highway projects, so one major category of greenhouse gas controls - - tailpipe emissions - - was exempted.
Look no farther than the $5.6 billion in southeastern Wisconsin freeway expansion and 'modernization' funding that is still on the books, with the North-South leg of I-94 from Milwaukee to Illinois, and the Zoo Interchange behemoth now scheduled to be underway, in stages, in over-lapping years.
And talking up the North-South I-94 project as an economic stimulus with so many other pressing transportation needs really misses the point about how best to add value to a local economy, and not only to road-builder bottom lines.
Wisconsin should look to California as a model, especially given Obama's pledge to help stimulate a new, green economy, and to finally make the turn away from highway-building that induced 1950's sprawl that has proven unwise and unsustainable.
Look no further than the stalled subdivisions at Pabst Farms, or the proposal to twist the new Great Lakes Compact into knots right off the bat by piping Lake Michigan water to Waukesha, and dumping treated sewage in return into Underwood Creek at a possible cost of $60 million to just the City of Waukesha alone.
With its new rules and conservationist mindset, California will export to the Eastern US less air pollution - - along with a raft of good ideas and a political strategy worth copying.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:51 AM
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Remember when Milwaukee County's Courthouse Annex got torn down for the Marquette Interchange 'improvement,' with asbestos carelessly released during demolition?
The County and its contractors accepted a $25,000 forfeiture.
Hey, I'm breathing easier now.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:26 PM
Today is the 60th anniversary of the UN's Declaration of Universal Human Rights (thanks, malcontends), and there's news from the US Senate that former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others created those so-called harsh interrogation (read: torture) methods used after 9/11 based on directives from Pres. Bush.
For more on why Bush is earning his title as Worst President ever, see this domestic issue.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:18 PM
The other day I posted an item about stale and inaccurate data in the economic development profile created by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission for the City of Milwaukee.
You would think that economic development would be a basic priority and theme at a regional planning agency whose territory includes more than one-third of the state's population, its largest city, and a host of issues that have development at their core.
I took a look Wednesday at the roster at this agency with its more-than-$7 million-annual, all-public-funded-budget that is posted on the agency website, and see that the economic development planning section has one employee, a chief economic planner.
One staffer, out of 77.
This is a management issue. A commission issue: where is the rest of the team?
Any wonder that the public/private M-7 collaborative got created a few years ago?
Again I ask: what is the City of Milwaukee getting out of this seven-county planning operation, to which it sends more than $200,000 annually through the County's more than $400,000 property tax payment to SEWRPC?
How can you have an effective regional agenda refined and pushed at SEWRPC that could be relevant to Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, West Allis, West Milwaukee and other cities with employment and related challenges if the regional planning agency devotes token resources to the subject matter?
The region's cities, suburbs, villages and towns all suffer under such a laissez-faire approach.
And isn't this really a lens through which the big picture out at SEWRPC can be viewed: economic development and other overarching themes and parameters missing from big SEWRPC studies, like the pending water supply plan, because the agency approaches things piecemeal - - except that studies must validate the now-archaic, sprawl-inducing master Land Use Plan.
With economic news and change breaking and breaking out daily, with a new green economy offering development possibilities to those on the cutting edge, and with so many pressing economic needs in the region, how could SEWRPC have but one economic development staffer on board without people reading "Missed Opportunities" into the SEWRPC mission statement?
And seeing that reality in the mix of reasons why the agency needs a more contemporary, action-oriented agenda, with energized staffers hired or unleashed by bold new managers - - outcomes that Milwaukee can only achieve with its planning dollars through a new agency that puts cities and people first.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:30 AM
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Energy specialists with the public interest in mind, and other top-shelf appointees will soon take the reins at agencies dominated by Bush corporate types.
As I've said before - - January 20, 2009 can't come fast enough.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:29 PM
Mush-minded deniers will find more reasons to resist proofs about climate change, so don't expect them to take the disappearing coral reefs worldwide too seriously.
The rest of you/us: take note, and then take actions.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:29 PM
For those who missed Tuesday, December 9th's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I'm posting a link to the entire show so you can watch Stewart's two-part interview with former Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
Ostensibly, Huckabee was there to sell a book, Do The Right Thing, about conservative thinking to position himself for a 2012 GOP nomination presidential run, but Huckabee became a foil for the insightful and passionate Stewart in an extra-long book author segment.
Two things about this remarkable 14+ minutes:
1. The Daily Show's satirical platform provides more news and informed commentary than other 'real' news programs because it is in the hands of a really smart guy who has the ratings to get first-rate guests.
2. You can have serious and civil discourse about issues like gay rights, though Huckabee's "A" game - - remember, he was the one with the ideas to pitch - - came right back at him as unreturnable against Stewart.
I'd seen Stewart strongly turn a book author's ideas back onto a guest when neo-con Iraq war planner Douglas Feith's publicist ridiculously agreed to let the author become Stewart's debating plaything.
No one yelled or screamed, but Feith lost what was clearly an unfair fight. Link here.
I predict the Stewart-Huckabee gets archived and circulated as an influential piece of the national gay rights' discussion.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:44 PM
Thanks to Scott Walker and Milwaukee's railophobes on conservative talk radio, the national boom in transit ridership is bypassing Milwaukee.
Heck: we can't even get a regional transit authority funded in southeastern Wisconsin, a body which Waukesha County continues to boycott.
There's still $91.5 million in federal transit funds for Milwaukee sitting idle because County Exec Walker will not meet Mayor Tom Barrett halfway and split the funding between express bus service and a downtown trolley loop.
Walker would rather drive the failing bus system off a cliff than make a deal on rail service for the downtown and county bus riders because he fears the wrath of Belling, Sykes et al.
Milwaukee continues to be the country's urban rail-free zone, and while the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line has the best chance among regional rail options for eventual construction, the RTA's stall remains an obstacle, regardless of the business community's growing support.
What the business community could do to get things moving is to give Walker the ultimatum it should have delivered years ago: get off the dime on transit, or we withdraw our political and campaign war chest support.
Walker's pact-with-the-devil relationship with the righty talkers puts Milwaukee at an even greater economic disadvantage served by a national recession.
This means Milwaukee's recovery will lag - - for political, not economic reasons.
If Walker were the CEO of a financial institution or the chairman of the board, we'd say he'd forfeited his fiduciary responsibility and should be removed from his position.
Instead, Walker is hoping to transfer his politics to the State Capitol, and is planning a 2010 run for Governor.
You transit advocates out there, from Kenosha to Madison to Green Bay, take note.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:33 PM
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is a good choice for Commerce Department Secretary because he understands the need for commuter rail - - a deficiency in the so-called transportation mix in Wisconsin.
Richardson has supported the connection by commuter rail of Santa Fe, New Mexico's capital city, with Albuquerque, the state's largest city.
The line is long overdue, as Santa Fe is not served by scheduled airlines, forcing tourists and business travelers flying into Albuquerque to rent cars or take a bus for the hour+ drive north to the capital.
The commuter rail line will be a business boon to both cities, much as would happen if Madison could get connected by rail to Milwaukee, and on to Chicago.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:31 AM
Wait until customers begin paying their share of the Lake Michigan diversion and return flow cost, estimated at perhaps $60 million.
One Wisconsin Now has done its job publicizing progressive issues in Wisconsin, and there's no better way to recognize OWN's work and potential in the years to come by including the group in your year-end giving.
OWN's website is here. There is an online donation button on the right index.
OWN is a 501-C-4 organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.
OWN also operates a tax-exempt, 501-C-3 organization - - The Institute for One Wisconsin, on whose board I sit - - and online contribution information about the Institute is here.
Both groups can be reached at 207. E. Buffalo St., #503, Milwaukee, WI, 53202
Progressive agendas don't get moved forward without people pitching in - - a political fact of life certainly proven by the Obama grassroots campaign and victory.
Foundations, unions and concerned individuals have worked hard to make OWN effective in Wisconsin, and as a national model, too.
Please join the effort. I'm glad to help; let me know by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want more information, and can donate.
Many thanks, and feel free to pass this on.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The corruption scandal erupting around disgraced Illinois Gov. Blagojevich is shocking and disgusting.
Bring him to trial, and if he is convicetd, throw the book at him.
Too bad that the story has taken publicity away from positive developments at the suddenly-shuttered Republic Windows and Doors Company, where workers sat in and appear to be winning some concessions from Bank of America, the lender that took federal bailout money but abruptly pulled the plug on credit to the firm, throwing its work force into chaos and into the sit-in, too.
[In Wisconsin, firms with more than 50 workers must give public notice 60 days prior to a plant closing, thus effectively giving workers two months guaranteed pay and some time to begin to look for another job before the doors close. The law dates back to the sudden closing of the Red Dot Potato Chip plant on E. Washington Ave. in the 1970's. The law was worked out in meetings in the offices of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, where I was working at the time, and Madison state legislator David Clarenbach, in whose East side district the potato chip plant was located.]
The protesting workers in Illinois won public support of President-Elect Obama - - that's what you get when you put a former south side Chicago community organizer at the doorstep of the White House.
Can you imagine George W. Bush doing or saying anything remotely supportive of workers peacefully taking over their closed plant to make a statement about the fairness of the federal banking bailout.
The workers' story is a great one. How much they win, whether wages through the holiday season, or some jobs, or a shot at a worker-takeover of the company is unknown.
But they have put themselves into the national spotlight, come away with something and gave Obama a chance to highlight both his core values and the good news coming out of Illinois.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:04 PM
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has finally appointed its Housing study advisory committee.
Here is its website: Note there are no meetings scheduled.
The last SEWRPC regional housing study was completed in 1975, having been requested by then-City of Milwaukee Mayor Henry Meier.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:55 PM
As Gretchen Schuldt points out, project cost estimates are up, but so is the popularity of Amtrak service in the state, so why not go for the available federal funding and make this rail link a reality?
Posted by James Rowen at 8:48 PM
Hard to believe, but there was chief TMJ4 weather scareologist John Malan providing a lengthy live graphic-driven update about the emerging snow tsunami - - at midnight!
It's December in Wisconsin. It snows. We plan for it, then deal with it.
No wonder TMJ4's ratings are so wobbly. The station has lost its bearings.
11:00 a.m. TMJ4 update: 2.5 inches of snow at their studio. Video of traffic flowing smoothly on I-94.
To keep up the 'show,' they are now broadcasting ominous predictions of blowing snow later today, and ice accumulation because as the night approaches, the temperatures fall.
See how crazy this all makes us? I am updating live their live updates?
I think I'll go do something more productive, like shovel the sidewalk.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:02 AM
Oh, let her run, run, run in 2012.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:04 AM
Monday, December 8, 2008
SEWRPC's website contains links to economic profiles it prepares for the region's cities and counties under the heading "Economic Development," but someone at the regional planning agency ought to take a close look at the information in these profiles.
With nothing better to do on a cold and snowy weekend then peruse the SEWRPC site, I stopped at the list of three "largest banks" on the City of Milwaukee's profile and called 227-1111, the phone number for Bank One of Wisconsin, at the top of the SEWRPC-prepared list.
I didn't get a banker, I didn't even get a bank's voicemail.
But I did end up learning about a 10-ounce, $16 signature Chophouse Burger with smoked bacon, Boursin cheese and carmelized red onions, and a host of other scrumptious sounding meals, because 227-1111 connects to Kincaid's Restaurant at 1110 North Old 3rd World St., a relatively new and upscale chop, seafood and steakhouse.
These days you'd get more value investing in a meal at Kincaid's than, say, forking over money to buy your typical bank's common stock, but I don't think that's why 227-1111 remains printed in SEWRPC's online economic profile for the City of Milwaukee.
Seems SEWRPC didn't take note of the 2004 buyout of Bank One of Wisconsin by J. P. Morgan Chase, creating the current Chase Bank, which is the name prominently displayed on what had been the iconic blue-tinted glass Marine Bank tower on Water St. and Wisconsin Ave., in downtown Milwaukee.
Maybe these things would be clearer to SEWRPC if they were located in downtown Milwaukee, and not out in an office park in Pewaukee - - again begging the question of whether Milwaukeeans are getting much out of the 100% taxpayer-supported Pewaukee-based regional planning operation?
The SEWRPC website says the economic profiles are "updated periodically," but how useful are they if the data can get so stale?
For the City of Milwaukee profile (I saw the same patterns for Racine and Waukesha, too, so I stopped there), the revision date is listed as December, 2004, or four years ago, so let's take a look at some of the data categories:
Population - - 2004, estimated, 593,920. But the US Census bureau issued a more recent estimate reported by the Journal Sentinel in July, 2008 of 602,191.
See what I mean?
If I can find fresher data in 20 minutes on a PC using Google, imagine how meaty this report could be if a SEWRPC statistician spent a day surfing the web or calling contacts and colleagues in other agencies.
Housing households and unit type information - - 2000.
Building permits - - 2003.
Anyone call the City Department of Development of the State Department of Revenue, or Administration, for newer figures, or leads on where to find them, since 2004?
Actually, some newer data is even closer: The profile says the Milwaukee County median annual income is $30,456 - - for 2002.
But on another site - - here - - also accessible right off the SEWPRC economic development webpage, a more up-to-date profile uses 2006 data and puts the income figure more than 10% higher - - $34,128.
Left hand, meet the right hand.
The profile also says that using 2000 figures, the median housing rental rate in the city was $527, and the vacancy rate was 6%.
An industry magazine in 2007 put the Milwaukee rental vacancy rate at 4.8% - - a difference of 20% from the profile's 2000 number - - and the average rental (not the same as median) at $807.
Equalized value and tax rate - - 2003. (the City Assessor's website is chock full of 2007 data, here.)
Public High School graduates, and graduation rate - - 2003. But a quick Internet search shows 2007 data published in 2008.
Average ACT scores - - 2003. The profile says "Wisconsin scored the highest in the nation on the American College Test, (ACT), but a 2008 local news story says the state's ranking was #3.
The profile says the City of Milwaukee has 2,762 full-time police department positions, undated.
But the city's Fire and Police Commission 2007 data from the department says it has 2,041 actual sworn positions, with 2,112 budgeted.
Is the difference a matter of semantics? Definitions? Civilian employees not being counted?
More importantly, what's a useful and up-to-date figure?
Someone at SEWRPC has to sit down and gather newer numbers to redo these profiles - - if the goal is to provide a real public service.
If not, drop the pretense.
There's also that private sector information in the profile, too, but again, how useful is it?
Remember Bank One morphing into a steakhouse?
Under Transportation, Railway Service, the profile puts the Wisconsin Central, Ltd. in a list of four railroads, but Wisconsin Central was taken over by Canadian National in 2001.
Anyone for updating the rail planning priority at SEWRPC?
Posted by James Rowen at 9:00 AM