Monday, August 15, 2016

Some lesser known justice facts about Milwaukee & Wisconsin

[Updated, 8/16] Media and others interpreting civil unrest in Milwaukee might want to dig deeper into a few issues:

*  Cities are creatures of the state in Wisconsin, and during the Scott Walker era, Milwaukee has lost state-supplied revenue - - the program dates back decades as a substitute for local income tax collections - - and also lost the ability to expand its budget above state-mandated limits.

*  The "hypersegregation" label applied to Milwaukee is regional, tolerated for decades.

Many of these issues and impacts have been studied and reported to death, but the state and region resist meaningful change.

*  The state put a permanent limitation on Milwaukee's growth, tax base, job market and citizen opportunities when it froze the city's borders in 1955 through the so-called anti-annexation "Oak Creek Law." No other Wisconsin municipality has had its borders - - and its future - - fixed by a special state law.

As a result, suburbanization around Milwaukee boomed, and with it also a proliferation of discriminatory housing local ordinances which, though ruled illegal years later, remain camouflaged through legal substitutes mandating expensive, relatively large site and interior square footages in Chenequa, in Waukesha County, for example, or on big lot minimums in Mequon, in Ozaukee County, that for decades effectively kept residency upper-income, thus predominately white.

No other Wisconsin municipality has had its borders - - and its future - - politicized, influenced and fixed - - by a special state law: 
Through the use of restrictive covenants, exclusionary zoning, and aggressive police patrols, these suburbs have over the years tried to keep the City of Milwaukee, as a real and symbolic embodiment of the “urban,” out of their self-styled sanctuaries. These policies, in turn, have had the effect of concentrating the poor, people of color, single moms, and unemployed young men in the City of Milwaukee itself. The new suburbs form what [historian John] Gurda calls the “iron ring” around the City of Milwaukee, and there is no obvious way to break through the ring.
Interestingly enough, the new suburbs are the very communities in which support for Governor Walker is strongest. 
*  The state created a seven-county Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission in the late 1960's made up of Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Walworth, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha Counties. 

SEWRPC, with staff and headquarters in Western Waukesha County that is far from Milwaukee, literally and philosophically, prepares influential studies, provides technical assistance to governmental agencies in matters such as land use, housing, water and transportation, and has the power to approve certain highway projects paid for with federal funds.

All effect job creation, access, distribution, and economic opportunity.

The commission's makeup, focus and output is heavily suburban and exurban.

Each of the counties has three commission seats. For most of its existence, the commission had no African-American members.

Most of the region has higher incomes and housing values than does Milwaukee. 

Commissioner appointments are controlled by the Governor and the counties.

The City of Milwaukee, with a population larger than all the non-Milwaukee counties, and by far the largest number of transit dependent, minority and low-income residents in the region and state, has no designated commission seat or appointing authority.

Yet the commission's budget comes 100% from taxes, so the city of Milwaukee and its residents are taxed through a routine county appropriation without representation for commission purposes.

Milwaukee County transferred just over $800,000 to SEWRPC ' S 2016 budget, more than any other county share, for which city residents received little direct benefit and over which they had no direct control.

I noted SEWRPC's disconnect from minorities in this blog's first month in February, 2007.
The Wisconsin ACLU, from its Milwaukee offices, has rightly told the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission that the agency is moving far too slowly with the formation of a task force on environmental justice.

SEWRPC has had months to get this outreach effort underway but has not made task force appointments and is not aggressively getting input on appointees from communities to whom this long-overdue outreach effort is aimed, the ACLU says in its new release.

With its laissez-faire approach, SEWRPC is skating on thin ice with watchdog groups like the ACLU, and federal regulators who could use federal civil rights to light a fire under SEWRPC, as the ACLU further reminds SEWRPC by letter.

The Pewaukee-based agency already has minimal credibilty with large sections of the region because of its pro-suburban history, and giving the task force formation a low priority only reinforces SEWRPC's negative image.

At this very moment, SEWRPC and other entities are discussing major changes to transit and water management policies that will guide development in the region for generations, and will therefore profoundly impact low-income residents.

Yet those residents are regularly shut out of many of these policy discussions - - a problem the environmental justice task force could help remedy.

If SEWRPC had a comprehensive planning strategy and a more inclusive mentality, it wouldn't need an environmental justice task force in the first place: its commissioners and multiple committees would have integrated genuine environmental justice principles and goals into all their work as a matter of routine.

For example, if environmental justice were an important thread in SEWRPC operations, its last housing plan for our heavily-segregated region wouldn't have been done in 1975, and SEWRPC would have been a champion for transit expansion, not $6.6 billion in new, suburb-serving freeways lanes.

It's a disgrace that community groups representing low-income and minority populations had to demand a task force in the first place, and reprehensible that SEWRPC continues to drag its feet on its implementation.
In recent years, the commission did establish a task force on economic justice, but only after initial resistance at the top and successful pressure from citizen and civil rights organizations.

The same kind of pressure recently led to federal civil rights litigation which forced the state to add a relative pittance - - about $13 million dollars worth of temporary transit services - - to a billion-dollar regional highway expansion at Milwaukee's western border with more affluent, faster-growing Waukesha County which the state is building at the recommendation of the commission.

More billions have been spent and will be added in future years to the same freeway expansion principally serving white, affluent areas in the region without  transit extensions.

*  Waukesha County, GOP state legislators, and then-GOP Gov.Tommy Thompson blocked light rail connections between the City of Milwaukee and Waukesha County then went further and blocked light rail development within the City of Milwaukee.

A summary story about light rail, regional politics and disparities and SEWRPC, here.

Some years later, Waukesha County officials pulled the plug on a jointly-funded bus line that connected the two counties, thus depriving Milwaukee residents of reasonable access to out-county jobs who, in large numbers, have no access to an automobile.

*  As has been par for the course, the state just helped win for the City of Waukesha a jobs-and-growth guaranteeing diversion of water from Lake Michigan

In other words, state and regional policies have kept Milwaukee and its residents land-locked, economically stunted, disconnected from neighboring wealthier, whiter areas and thus segregated - - regionally - - by race and economic status.

This blog has covered these issues for nearly ten years. There are hundreds of posts with supporting documentation. Use the index box at the upper left.

if we're going to have a discussion about segregation, let's look at the bigger picture.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As I have had to say to others elsewhere in the metro area and state, who attack Milwaukee as segregated: My city actually is the most integrated in the state.

And that, with the segregation within the city, is a sad statement -- about the metro area and the state even more than about my city.

So, what are you doing to help us continue to integrate -- so that you don't have to do so -- suburbanites and Wisconsinites? Nothing; indeed, you repeatedly and consistently make it more difficult for us, committed to living in Milwaukee and to working to improve the lives of all Milwaukeeans.

Look, burbanites and Wisconsinites, I get it: You're not going to really integrate. Not even a one of you is willing to become the sort of black middle-class suburb seen in other metro areas, so we will keep losing a lot of our black middle-class, like many friends and former coworkers of mine who have given up to go elsewhere for truly integrated areas -- integrated by economic class as well as by race.

A few of you burbs are going to keep boasting about your five-percent minority population as cause for self-congratulation. Fine. Heck, aim for six percent.

But do not then blame my majority-minority city for your segregation beyond my city borders, throughout the metro area and the state, while you take no blame for your repeated and consistent defunding of all we are trying to do to more truly integrated Milwaukee and make Milwaukee work, in every way. (And that's just stupid for you to do as taxpayers, too, like us -- when we are the economic engine of the state that you keep derailing.)