Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SEWRPC Committee Provides Blueprint For Agency Replacement: A Milwaukee-Centered Commission

A relatively obscure but important advisory committee of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) offers a tantalizing road map to get Milwaukee and an urban agenda to the center of regional planning in this area.

As things stand today, SEWRPC is composed of seven counties - - Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine, Kenosha and Walworth - - with each county holding thres unelected commissioner seats on the SEWRPC governing board.

SEWRPC's direction is heavily suburban and exurban.

Its management and staffing is overwhelmingly white; its offices are located in an upscale Waukesha County suburb, and recent SEWRPC planning and hiring decisions have led frustrated organizations and others to file two separate discrimination complaints against the agency.

The City of Milwaukee, with a population greater than each of Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Walworth Counties, has no commissioners, and thus is in a taxation-without-representation relationship with SEWRPC because City of Milwaukee taxpayers provide about $400,000 annually for SEWRPC operations through their Milwaukee County taxes.

Last June, I proposed in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sunday Crossroads op-ed that Milwaukee - - the city, or County, or both - - use available processes in state statutes to leave SEWRPC and create a more urban-focused planning body.

Dane County and the City of Madison share planning activities, for example, in a planning commission that performs all the tasks that SEWRPC is empowered to do, but in a more equitable structure.

And the legislature changed the Dane County format a few years ago, so there is precedent for reworking the shape of a state-authorized planning commission when there is the will to get it done.

There was the predictably dismissive response to my op-ed in a subsequent Crossroads op-ed signed by several regional county officials, but the City of Milwaukee Common Council approved unanimously a resolution that asked the state legislature to approve basic representational changes to SEWRPC's structure, and if that did not occur, requests the creation of a new planning organization with Milwaukee and urban priorities front-and-center.

Though the exact mechanics and details of a new entity have yet to be formally debated, and you could configure it in many different ways, it's important to note that one powerful SEWRPC advisory committee - - in structure and function - - already provides some important clues about how to better organize planning and public spending with Milwaukee and an urban agenda as the core.

The endlessly-titled "Intergovernmental Coordinating And Advisory Committee On Transportation System Planning And Programming For The Milwaukee Urbanized Area" does just that.

Let's call it for the purposes of this argument the Committee.

And it's an important Committee, because it has the power to authorize how federal transit and highway money, and now, stimulus money also, are spent in the Milwaukee area.

Here is the map that reflects where the transportation stimulus funds should go.

Clearly, Milwaukee is its appropriate focus.

With transportation being a key element in true, comprehensive regional planning because of its linkages to land-use, housing, development and other planning basics, why not use the Committee as a model for the creation of a new regional planning body?

It has 19 members - - this link to its structure does not account for three current vacancies - - but unlike the SEWRPC governing body, is based on population, including these representatives:

Five from Milwaukee County;

Two from Milwaukee County's Western Suburbs;

Two from Milwaukee County's North Shore communities;

One from Milwaukee County's South Shore communities;

Five from the City of Milwaukee;

One from Waukesha County;

Two from Waukesha County cities, villages and towns;

One from Ozaukee and Washington Counties.

A Milwaukee area planning commission that is based on the Committee model provides a reasonable basis upon which to provide planning and related spending in the area - - the Milwaukee area - - because it improves upon the arbitrarily-drawn seven-county SEWRPC map that disenfranchises urban populations, and Milwaukee residents, but takes their money.


Ron said...

Your plan for a Milwaukee dominated commmittee aside, why have your not notified the world of your enviromentallly friendly time nachine. I mean as I read your post dated Tues. March 31, it is actually 1:44p Monday March 30. How have you accomplished this?? Did you find a time machine or develop one using "green" technology and tin foil hats!

James Rowen said...

To Ron;

Sometimes I post ahead a day if I want an item to stay at the top of the blog for more than one day, or if I plan to be off-line, perhaps.

By the way - - in your comment, I see the following - - "commmittee...environmentallly...nachine...and "1:44p" with the "m" missing.

There is a preview function on the comments, and you don't have to have a tin foil hat to figure out how to use it.

Have a green day.