Posts Tagged ‘Madison Wisconsin Politics’

Why I’m Voting for Twink

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I’ve gotten several queries about the various campaigns in the offing. Here is an adaptation of an email I just sent out to a neighbor regarding the 6th District race with Twink Jan-McMahon bravely going up against Progressive Dane icon Marsha Rummel.

Hi [name withheld],

Thanks for asking. Before I launch into this, I just kind of want to lay out where I’m at in terms of the two biggest issues facing us as Madisonians as well as civilization as a whole:

  • Energy — A future with a lot less of it (not necessarily a bad thing if we manage it right, which our current alder is not).
  • Drinking Water — There will be a lot less of it, and it will be a lot dirtier, thanks to bad policy decisions by the incumbent alder and mayor. It doesn’t have to be this way.

So I should also warn that,

a) Most of the world — even among my more liberal/progressive friends —  is still in denial about the importance of energy and water issues and their integral nature with our land use and transportation decisions, and,

b) Though there has been much teeth gnashing amongst neighbors regarding perceived personality flaws of each of the candidates, the personality stuff means about zilch for me. That said, I pretty much agree that both Jan-McMahon and Rummel can come across exactly as you described them (and after some cajoling, Jan-McMahon has come some ways in working out many of those issues). But I just don’t care about personality quirks. I only care about results. And, personality quirks or no, Jan-McMahon has done quite a lot for the neighborhood (certainly more than the incumbent) even while wielding no formal political power, and while active in a political environment that is hostile to activism. Rummel, on the other hand, continues to block citizen-led initiatives at every turn.

A brief synopsis of Jan-McMahon’s accomplishments & vision are summarized here and here.

And she knows how to give heartburn to very powerful people; witness this little hissy fit from Isthmus. It reads like a Rummel press release, being quite redolent of conventional wisdom. How dare she run against Marsha! it screams. (The dig about Eastwood Drive was likely fed to the author, Joe Tarr, directly from his employer’s associate publisher. The latter threw a tantrum back in 2009  at our neighborhood meeting about plans to re-invigorate the Schenk’s Corners business district through returning our neighborhood’s public land to civilized uses. Many in the neighborhood, including yours truly, looked forward to reconnecting our residential neighborhoods to the business district by eliminating the expressway slashing them in two. There were publisher claimsed that it would have increased traffic in front of her lakefront homes. She That is mistaken. It ain’t 1970 anymore. We know how to keep traffic off of neighborhood streets now; we didn’t then. [See: Update 2.])

Anyone who can irritate powerful people whom are in favor of blasting giant highways through our cherished neighborhoods gets my vote.

I absolutely understand the confusion about all the back & forth on the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara listserv (SASYNA-Discussions@yahoogroups.com) about the two candidates. The discussion, though lively, doesn’t include a lot of people who are still quietly holding back what they really feel. Even Rummel supporters are disappointed in her lack of dynamism. Thus, we have yet another example of why it is so hard to go up against an incumbent. In this case, a 1970s icon who enjoys, as the political philosopher Max Weber put it, “the authority of the eternal yesterday” (i.e., historical prestige, an iconic reminder of the good ol’ days, an enduring symbol of life back in the day).

So here are a few reasons why the Jan-McMahon campaign happened at all:

  • Cars before people. Before Rummel ran the first time (’07), I had considered running. Before the campaigns even started, she approached me, we discussed, and, based on my stated concerns, she assured me that she would rein in the wasteful highway expansions. Why was that my priority? Energy, economic/fiscal prudence, drinking water supply damage, unhealthy air, etc. are directly related to Madison’s road expansion mania. (More information below in a little capital budget analysis I ran; also here, here and here.) Instead of reining in highway spending, she ended up voting again & again for highway budgets that expanded roads at ten times the rate of population growth. Over the course of her four years in office, Rummel boosted total highway spending by 46%, road debt by 50%, & on & on. Meanwhile, she voted to either flatline or slash most everything else in the budget.
  • A green Williamson Street denied. The big one was this, right in our hood: Anne Walker, Jo Schilling, John Coleman and several other neighborhood activists have been vigorously engaged in making Willy Street a truly green project. They researched, analyzed and found successful examples of strategies to promote:
    • good water infiltration
    • less pavement
    • buried utilities to protect our trees
    • keeping the existing trees, and,
    • ways of bringing it all together in a synergistic whole.

Very little of this civic work made it through the process. Yet, Rummel brags about the meager accomplishments as if they are major. While there was a little progress, what little was accomplished happened in spite of Rummel, not because of her. She tried to stymie the neighborhood activists at every turn. Finally, when she heard footsteps on the campaign trail, she decided she would allow a couple of tiny “pilot projects” using the green measures. Too little, too late, as far as I’m concerned. We could have had a much better project if Rummel hadn’t stood in the way.

  • Overpumping and Overpaving. Why is green street infrastructure important? I don’t know if you’ve been following the water saga or not, but the crux of the matter is this: we must re-establish a healthy hydrologic cycle with better infiltration replenishing our aquifer, the source of our drinking water. Most of the chemical contamination emerging in our drinking water (predicted to get worse) can be attributed to two processes set in motion by city policy: Overpumping & Overpaving. Rummel has done nothing on either front. (Ok, except to make things worse.)
  • Edgewater debacle: She voted for it before she voted against it. The March 17, 2010 minutes of the Urban Design Commission (pdf) show that she voted in favor of the project when a vote against could have killed the project.  (Rummel’s comments start on page 6.) Although she may have fought long and hard against the project later on (maybe after her constituents reminded her that the 6th district doesn’t look kindly upon taxpayer-funded corporate boondoggles), the fact remains that, when it really mattered, she voted in favor. (H/t Tim Wong for some of these insights).
  • Trashing our civic values. And while it is true that Edgewater needed to be redeveloped, it should have been carried out,
    • within the existing development processes (i.e., respectful of neighborhoods, our shared heritage, and existing urban scale), and,
    • with no public funding. The developer, Hammes Co., is headed by one of the largest donors to the Walker campaign. So by giving public treasure to the likes of Hammes, we are digging our own grave.

In sum, someone was going to run. If Jan-McMahon had not stepped up, there were several others who were going to. In other words, this isn’t a personality contest, it is about the issues, pure & simple.

As you read the analysis of Madison’s road building budget below, keep in mind that the roadbuilders are also among the biggest donors to Governor Walker and the rest of the Republicans. (More information about how the roadbuilders are rewarding the Republicans here.)

************************************

CAR-FRIENDLY BUDGETS ARE BROKEN BUDGETS: A Budget Analysis of the Road Expansion Budgets Approved by Ald. Marsha Rummel

Road building is the #1 budget buster. The city’s looming budget crisis isn’t due to city workers. It isn’t citizens demanding more services. It isn’t wasteful government agencies. The budget problem can, in a large part, be attributed to wasteful, robotically planned, road expansions, all approved by Marsha Rummel. Most of the road expansions are occurring at the extreme periphery of the city. The expansions do not benefit city residents; they benefit exurbanites who don’t even pay taxes here. Worse yet, the city has undertaken a risky borrowing scheme to pay for these extravagant acres of paving, putting our fiscal house in jeopardy.

Specifically:

*In the year alder Rummel took office the road building budget (major streets) was $46m.

*By 2011 she voted for a whopping $66m road building spree.

*In each year of her tenure (except 2009), she voted for road expansions at *more than 10 times* the rate of population growth.

*The total: an outrageous 46% increase in road spending in her 4 years in office.

*By far the single largest capital budget item is road building (major streets); that hasn’t always been the case. In 2001:

*The road construction budget was only $12m. Now it is $66m.

*Road construction was only 17% of the total capital budget

*Now it is a whopping 27% of the total capital budget, with Ald. Rummel’s support

*Borrowing for roads has increased by 50% under Ald. Rummel’s tenure (from $25m in 2007 to $37m in 2011.

*This isn’t for fixing existing roads, these budgets are all about road expansions; 17% of each of her roadbuilding budgets is dedicated to road expansion, in a time of population growth at only 0.8%, inflation is nonexistent, and more people than ever are using alternatives to driving.

*Debt service for roads is now squeezing the operating budget, resulting in cuts for Madison Metro and other essential city services.

In sum, the Rummel/Cieslewicz paving spree is occurring at a time when more Madisonians than ever are taking the bus, carpooling, walking and biking. Now is not the time to be spending so much on gilded highways. The city’s total debt burden, driven by Ald. Rummel’s suburban paving spree, has reached historic highs. The debt squeeze is already on. Debt — much of it due to over-building roads — is predicted to gobble up nearly one in every six dollars in our operating budgetby 2015, according to our city comptroller, Dean Brasser. A squeezed operating budget means lower quality services. As we have seen with the current mayor, the first to take a hit will be Madison Metro. We’ve got to protect the essentials: our basic services, our programs that protect the weakest in our community, our lakes, our aquifer, our air and everything that makes quality of life so great in this city.

***************

By building roads far beyond that which is necessary, we are simply making the Republicans stronger. It is time to start connecting the dots, folks. When: Voters support-> Liberal/progressive politicians who support->big highways which support->roadbuilders who support->Republicans…we get FitzWalkerstan.

Please think about those relationships on April 5.

So there you have it, the world according to Mike. And thanks very much for asking.

See you around the hood if the weather ever gets nice again!

-Mike

Update 1: More on how roadbuilders use public monies to subvert the public good.

Update 2: Isthmus reporter, Joe Tarr, informs me that he got the information about Eastwood Drive from other council members, not the Associate Publisher as I had mistakenly suspected. Apologies for the error.

Pay No Attention to the Trainwreck on the Left

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, and after much pleading from the organizers, I agreed to show up to a meeting entitled, “What’s Up With The Left in Madison.”

My reluctance was based in my long involvement with Progressive Dane from its inception (’93?) until a couple of years ago. For all of those years I tried to get the party’s leadership as well as elected officials to understand the economic & environmental trainwreck around the bend if they didn’t start applying the brakes to all of that car-mandatory development out in the ‘burbs. I even worked hard for countless candidates — many of whom won — who promised to do something about all of the bad planning.

All of those efforts were to no avail.

Not only did they not listen, but PD alders & county supervisors actively accelerated the paving at an alarming rate.

The result:   An economic and environmental policy trainwreck with one train piling into the next in a fog of bad decisionmaking.

Trainwreck #1: Foreclosures. Housing in Madison’s ‘burbs, extending out into rural subdivisions and horsey-doggie sprawl, is now so far flung and anti-pedestrian and anti-transit that the poor, the young, the elderly and the conscientiously carless cannot access it. And for those who just value a human-scaled place (regardless of their socio-economic demographic pigeonhole), it has no value. This destruction of value was brought about by a widely recognized lack of universal access planned into these developments. Walls of distance and speeding car traffic as it were.

In a sense, cosmic justice prevailed as the foreclosure crisis hit car-mandatory places the hardest. Unfortunately, however, it is hurting us all, as the cratering real estate values out there are devastating Madison & Dane County’s tax base.

These economically unsustainable development patterns were heartily supported by elected progressives with nary a peep from party membership (yours truly excepted, of course).

Did the price crash have to happen, given the national foreclosure crisis? Nope. Most of our walking/biking/transit-friendly ‘hoods have either a) maintained their value or b) actually increased in value. This same trend has occurred across the country with human-scaled neighborhoods holding their value while cul-de-sacs tank in the same region. Instead of seeing the foreclosure crisis for what it is — a disaster for all — progressives see it as an opportunity to…squat! (Yes, this is the next direct action actually proposed at the meeting.) So ok, it will make for great theater. And I like theater. But then what? Do we sit there all self-satisfied that we have stuck-it-to-the-man while continuing to support policies that continually drive down our tax base?! What sort of vicious cycle of insanity is this?

Trainwreck #2: The abovedescribed tax base destruction (developers churning out soulless subdivisions -> 1960s-educated planners collaborating -> ‘progressive’ elected officials wielding rubber stamps approving every car-mandatory subdivision ->  gullible homebuyers (or, perhaps more likely, homebuyers given no choice) -> crazy bankers -> (soon) crazy squatters) is now squeezing every city & county department, including those departments forming the social safety net advocated for by the good progressives. At today’s meeting, progressives at first stood stunned, then started casting about for scapegoats. People, only one department has continued to receive double digit year-over-year budget increases, and it is the very people who brought the housing crisis to you in the first place: The highway department! Pavement expansion is raging at 10 times population growth + inflation. TEN times! That’s good money chasing after bad, folks. We’ve been there, done that…and crashed. Yet we keep piling the people’s cash into the same bad land use patterns. It’s not a goat you’re looking for, it’s a hog; and the hog sits in the chief of highways seat. And your endorsed ‘progressive’ elected officials continue to slop that hog.

The car-mandatory nature of our elected leaders’ policies has created trainwreck #3: Increasingly filthy air, thanks to city-mandated driving (a direct result of car-mandatory places). The air is getting so filthy, in fact, that Madison is soon to be designated a dirty air zone by the EPA (‘non-attainment’ in the jargon). This will seriously damage Madison’s ability to attract & retain good jobs, as potential employers will recoil at the extra hoops mandated by the feds when air pollution exceeds the allowable levels.

And while progressives perseverate mightily about the need for good, family-supporting jobs, they fail to see the environment as anything but a white environmentalist/elitist/hobbyist’s concern. (Emphasis on white; there was much hand-wringing about the overwhelming whiteness of the progressive community.). Folks, dirty air is bad for everybody. But the poor — disproportionately non-white — will be disproportionately hit. Those jobs the poor need? Gone thanks to dirty air. (Milwaukee and other rustbelt cities, perpetually under the EPA’s thumb have been hemorrhaging jobs since the inception of the Clean Air Act. Coincidence? Me thinks not. And no, it isn’t the Act’s fault, it is the fault of short-sighted local & state leaders who worship cars more than their constituents’ economic and physical health.)

Then there are the children of the poor. We know that they will suffer disproportionately from air pollution-induced asthma (do I need to go into how bad this is for the developmental progress of a child?).

Fighting against dirty air is not a hobby. Nor is it only a concern of only white enviros.

Trainwreck #4: Dirty drinking water. So much land is paved over that our aquifers are no longer recharging as they should, thus rendering increasingly contaminated water. Combine the paving with constant leaking of petrochemicals onto that pavement (tire & brake grit, exhaust that settles on soil & pavement, oil leaks, etc.); then, after a rain, that filth rushes across that pavement, to sewers, then directly to our surface waters (which now feed the aquifer thanks to paving over of infiltration zones) and you’ve got a recipe for hydrologic disaster…. Case in point: the combination described here has put the kibosh on developing a well for the industrial southeast side, perhaps imperiling hundreds of jobs. Jobs, people!

The biggest trainwreck of all is upcoming: energy. The $4/gallon summers of 2007 & 2008 were the first dominos to set in motion the housing market catastrophe. (In car-mandatory places families faced 2 choices: fill the SUV or pay the mortgage; in the end, neither was economically sustainable.)

But that is nothing compared to what we will be facing soon.

So far, the military has been able to keep the oil supplies open, but the endless wars over oil are proving to be costly in lives, treasure, constitutional rights and basic justice. Social justice advocates often bemoan the de-facto military draft (crushing economic necessity forcing individuals to ‘volunteer’ for the military, etc.), but they typically fail to see first causes: Most of our military is now dedicated to fighting for oil. The world’s #1 consumer of oil? The military. For what? Fighting for oil. The snake is eating its tail.

That is to say, expect even more of the above.

Unless. Unless, we get a handle on our resource consumption and the fouling of our own nests. Because folks, if we don’t, there won’t be any justice left to attain. For anyone.

But this was entirely too mind-blowing for the good progressives to grasp at the meeting Saturday. When we were asked to write down our vision for the city if we achieved a progressive majority on the city council, most people dreamed their dreams as the exercise intended. Affordable housing for all. Racial harmony. Family supporting jobs. Full funding for social services. A strong Regional Transit Authority. And on & on, the same litany we’ve come to know & love about the progressive vision. (And yes, I do love it. As far as it goes. Which isn’t far enough to do any of the above….)

My response to what Madison would look like with a progressive majority? Massively increased paving over of rich, precious, Dane County farmland. Dirtier air. Filthier water. More car traffic. Poor people cut off from jobs due to walls of distance. Planning that plans universal access out of our urban landscape.

Face it, our ‘progressive’ elected officials voted for all of the above in the past and continue to do so. There is no evidence it would change with a majority.

Thus, many of us have simply quit working for any candidates. (At least until we see some evidence of real change.) With the loss of key electoral volunteers, progressives have continued to lose strength on the council.

For no amount of pressure from organized groups seems to have any bearing on their decisions. Neither 20 hours a week of volunteer labor….Nor being a ward captain turning out margins of victories….Nor cold hard progressive cash…Nothing seems to work with these people. (This was, thankfully, alluded to by several other participants).

Many at the meeting lamented the high level of apathy in Madison. I strongly disagree. This city is so organized around mutually supporting — and countless — progressive causes that it should be clear to our elected officials that we do, in fact, want progress. Not Detroit’s vision of a city-enforced car mandate. Not the Teabaggers’ vision of an unstable, grindingly impoverished and violent future. We have stated over & over that we want something better. In fact, I view Madison’s strong civic culture much like a venerable Roman arch, with each organization forming the arch & wall (each brick in the pillar or stone in the arch representing an organization) mutually reinforcing neighboring, allied organizations.

We all hang together or....

But when the keystone element at the top is missing/weak/lacking in conviction, the whole edifice falls apart. In this metaphor, the keystone element is each of our elected officials. Given that they are universally AWOL with regard to the desires of their constituents, the whole edifice falls apart, just as a Roman arch would.

In the case of Madison, the people are doing a yeoman’s job of holding things together, pulling together the increasingly tight resources they have in their non-profits to make things work as best they can for those who have very little. Yet there was a lot of self-flaggelation/blaming ourselves for this sorry situation. Again, I vehemently disagree; the hardworking, civically-engaged people of Madison are not to blame. What is missing is that strong keystone element, starting with the out-of-touch mayor, but including every alder — yes, the ‘progressive’ ones inclusive.

There is no hope of getting through to the current crop of elected officials. In their hands, our destiny lies in gluttonous energy use, car-mandatory land use patterns, transportation only for the well-wheeled, dirtier & dirtier air  and filthier & filthier water.

They simply do not have the capacity to get it.

Latest Edgewater Fun

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010
Hey Mike,
Check out these two links. The video from Beverly Hills is amazing! Maybe posting these on your Blog? Not sure if you have seen www.edgewaterproject.com.
Scary moment of the day…
What is up with the weird way the Fontana store is closing, and no info on the plan for the building?
The old White Horse Inn and assorted stores behind the Overture that are all defunct are not seeking new renters.
One half of the first hundred block of State St. in front of the Overture has been bought and sold to Marty Rifkin and his rumored partner, Jerome Frautchi.
Maybe other big buck people are waiting to get a precedent setting overturn of Landmarks to get busy and tear down a significant portion of the downtown to make the setting of the Overture less conspicuous by removing the “ugly old buildings” surrounding it.
Don’t believe me? Google Pleasant Rowland/ Aurora New York, and see what you get.
The Overture..The gift that keeps on taking.
Hope your party is a huge success! I’m working the whole day and will be too wiped to party, but thanks.
Happy New Year to both of you!This
Joe

David Waugh (a leader in the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood) put together an excellent fact sheet replete with some big, fat, ugly factoids that leave more big, fat questions than answers regarding the developers of the Edgewater Hotel project. It just gets more & more apparent that the partners involved in the Edgewater redevelopment are rather unsavory.

Here is a little prognostication, from an always-in-the-know friend, regarding the Edgewater project and its implications for the future of State Street & environs……

Hey Mike,

Scary moment of the day…

What is up with the weird way the Fontana store is closing, and no info on the plan for the building?

The old White Horse Inn and assorted stores behind the Overture that are all defunct are not seeking new renters. [Though I did just talk to the owner of Fontana today–the store is apparently moving a couple of doors down, on Henry St. — MB]

One half of the first hundred block of State St. in front of the Overture has been bought and sold to Marty Rifkin and his rumored partner, Jerome Frautschi.

Maybe other big buck people are waiting to get a precedent setting overturn of Landmarks to get busy and tear down a significant portion of the downtown to make the setting of the Overture less conspicuous by removing the “ugly old buildings” surrounding it.

Don’t believe me? Google Pleasant Rowland [Frautschi’s wife] / Aurora New York, and see what you get.

The Overture..The gift that keeps on taking.

Meanwhile, Alderman Brian Solomon (one of the good guys on the project), had a lot to say in his defense of the law, our civic processes and the future of the look and feel of our downtown.

And for a little levity, my in-the-know friend also sent along a fun video which uses the It’s a Wonderful Life trope to make the point about the importance of planning for a quality place.

Tuesday evening (Jan 5) at the council, folks, council “reconsiders” the Edgewater, with a rumored “compromise.”

Edgewater: Mayor Pave v. Historic Neighborhoods

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Edgewater: Ugly beyond belief. Not just architecturally. Not just in scale & proportion. Not just in the way the developer bullied the neighborhood. Now we have a very ugly legal precedent brewing.

Indeed, the mayor is prodding the council to actually break the law. (More of his histrionics here.)

Fortunately, we have antidotes for such sociopathy in the form of civic-minded community leadership, well grounded in the ways of research, analysis and good will….

For starters, check out a clear-eyed view of Madison’s historic preservation laws brought to you by Brenda Konkel; details here & here.

Another former alder had this warning for current alders with regard to bully-proofing themselves.

Jay Rath at Isthmus has done a yeoman’s job of chronicling the Edgewater saga. He puts Madison’s historic preservation efforts in, well, historic context this week.

Civic leader Ledell Zellers lays out the moral case for historic preservation laws and the implications of breaking them (i.e., bulldozers coming soon to a neighborhood near you!):

Historic Districts in Peril—Speak up to help save Madison’s heritage districts.

The Hammes Co. has appealed the decision of the Landmarks Commission to reject the Edgewater proposal.  The proposal was rejected on the basis of it not complying with either the requirements of the Mansion Hill preservation ordinance or the provisions allowing for a variance from the ordinance.  The basis of rejection was that the proposed tower, because of its huge size (see attached), is not visually compatible with the small scale buildings with which it is “visually related”, nor with the historic district scale of buildings.

If this decision is overturned by City Council, it would essentially gut the provisions of the landmarks ordinance and open up all Madison historic districts for inappropriate development.

Your voice is needed if you care about Madison’s historic districts.   What can you do?

·         Email all alders NOW at allalders@cityofmadison.com to let them know you value our historic districts and you do not want an out of scale building to be built which the Landmarks Commission rejected as inappropriate; and

·         Come to the City Council meeting and testify on Tuesday December 8 at 6:30 pm in room 201 of the City County Building.

·         If you cannot stay to testify on Tuesday, please come and register in opposition to this out of scale, inappropriate project in our oldest heritage landmark district.

What are some of the issues?

·         The Landmarks Commission in following their charge under the Landmarks Ordinance rejected the proposed Edgewater tower as too large for the Mansion Hill Historic district.  The proposed tower is HUGE.  The total gross floor area and gross volume of ALL four buildings combined in the “visually related area” (an area defined by ordinance) is 60% that of the proposed tower.  On an individual basis the proposed tower is 3 to 16 times larger than each of the other buildings.  It was this massive tower that the Landmarks Commissioners found violates the ordinance which was established in 1976 to protect Mansion Hill.

·         Some people are arguing that building this building would create jobs.  Get the size right for the district and go ahead with the project.  But don’t build the wrong building in the wrong place simply to make work.  The jobs will last for a short period.  The historic district will be damaged forever.  This mistake will loom over our lake forever.

·         Commissions have a basis of knowledge on which they base decisions.  The Landmarks Commission considered this issue and discussed it in detail for 7 hours.  These are experts, informed citizens and one alder the mayor has appointed to look at details of the historic district ordinances and how they apply in specific situations.  To disregard, devalue and dismiss such judgments undercuts the committee process which has been long established and long respected in Madison.

·         The appeal ordinance requires that in order to overturn the Landmarks Commission the Council must find “that, owing to special conditions pertaining to the specific piece of property, failure to grant the Certificate of Appropriateness will preclude any and all reasonable use of the property and/or will cause serious hardship for the owner, provided that any self-created hardship shall not be a basis for reversal or modification of the Landmark Commission’s decision.” (Emphasis added.)  The Hammes Company does not yet own the land.  Other provisions of the appeal ordinance also appear not to be met.  Simply because a tower of the size desired by the developer cannot be built it does not preclude any and all reasonable use of the property.  Current owners are responsible for the deteriorated state of the 1940s Edgewater.

·         The precedent which would be created should this proposal be approved will result in a wall of towers hugging Lake Mendota.

Please act to save the Mansion Hill Historic district…to save all Madison historic districts.

Ledell Zellers

510 N Carroll Street

Madison, WI  53703

ledell.zellers@gmail.com

Appropriate scale? Proportionality? Me thinks not.

Appropriate scale? Proportionality? Me thinks not.

My take on the whole thing? Ledell for Mayor 2011!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Mayor Pave Drives Off A Budgetary Cliff

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Wisconsin State Journal headline screams:

“Madison to face budget deficit for the first time in at least 20 years.”

Wow. We had no idea this was coming, now did we?

As usual, Dean “the last journalist standing” Mosiman gives Mayor Pave a pass, and fails to address the root cause of the emerging budget catastrophe: Mayor Pave’s paving proclivities. (I guess sycophancy pays off).

For a better perspective on how paving has produced this very-predicted budget catastrophe check out this key quote from that abovelinked November 2008 Op-Ed regarding 2009’s budget:

This is a highway-heavy road budget, as anti-green as it gets. And when I say anti-green, I’m not necessarily talking about the tree-hugging kind. This budget is bad for our economy. The emphasis on cul-de-sacs, cars and sprawl sets us up for broken budgets forever.

Forever just started.

And forever is getting worse given 2010’s continued paving spree (more critique here).

Note to Madison’s pliant council: You can’t go on jacking up paving budgets by double digits, year after year, and expect to achieve responsible budgets. You simply cannot. Cut up the credit card (i.e., rein in all that roadbuilding debt), sharpen your pencils, and set up a budget that is within your means. You’ll find that supporting deathmobiling to the exclusion of all else just won’t be sustainable economically, much less environmentally.

Sustainable Sheep Herding

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

The city has held a series of “Sustainable Madison Community Forums.” I went to the first one on Thursday, October 22, 2009.

It wasn’t promising.

The foremost problem: we got talked at. The entire meeting was structured to shut up and shut out thoughtful community input. And in the Atwood neighborhood, where you’ve got the highest concentration of environmental activists & practitioners in the country (enviro organization EDs, the Geo/Enviro Professoriate, sustainable design professionals, enviro rabble rousers of every stripe, etc.), shutting up & shutting out is just bad public policy. The city has a lot to learn from these folks. To shut them up is just unacceptable.

Madison’s environmental brain trust turned out in droves to this meeting. We had the leading lights of Sustainable Architecture, Alt-trans, Hydrogeology, Renewable energy, etc., et cetera, et cetera. Unfortunately, not only was the forum designed to minimize citizen input, when people tried to break through the input-stifling format, the Chair of the Sustainable Design and Energy Committee actually shouted them down. Sherrie Gruder is a problem. More on that in a moment.

At least 2/3 of the meeting time was scheduled for dog & pony shows.  City staff & the UW Planning Dept’s Doogie Howsers laid out state of the art sustainability, ca. 1979. That is to say, the “presentations” consisted of nibbling-around-the-edges sustainability initiatives undertaken by the city to date. It was a laundry list of 1970s-era ideas such as solar panels & LEED design criteria. (There was no mention of what level of LEED was attained; my guess is that they are all at the Silver Level, something that you can attain by just following the state building code plus a green gew-gaw here & there. In other words, nothing to brag about here.)

The URPL students regurgitated their planning 101 textbooks. Again, nothing new for the brains getting talked at.

The people doing the talking at were in their little boxes and had little in the way of imaginative, low/no-cost green measures that could get right to the heart of sustainability. And the heart of the sustainability issue is energy. 80% of sustainability is energy. There simply is no getting around it. Energy use is entropy.* That is to say, our energy gluttony is the root cause of the vast majority of our environmental destruction, lack of sustainability.

And the sustainability issue at the heart of the matter: Paving for the Deathmobile.

Practically every aspect of sustainability comes back to this.

Water quality? Guess what caps off aquifer recharge more than any other impervious surface? Paving for the deathmobile.

Guess what the #1 use of land in Madison is? Paving for the deathmobile.

Guess what the #1 use of paving is? Moving & storing deathmobiles (roads, storage, a.k.a. parking).

Urban heat island effect’s #1 contributor? Paving for the deathmobile. (See the above #1 use of land.)

Energy use city wide? #1 consumer of energy is transportation. The #1 consumer of transportation energy? The deathmobile.

Guess what the # 1 mode of transportation in Madison is? The most inefficient form of transportation ever devised: the deathmobile.

CO2 emissions? #1 source in Madison: deathmobile.

Madison risks becoming an EPA designated dirty air zone (‘non-attainment’ as they say in bureau-speak). Where are these smog forming compounds coming from? #1 source: deathmobile. (Yes, including that deathmobile that you ‘never’ drive. How so? Fuel evaporating from fuel injectors & the fuel line creates volatile organic compounds (precursors to smog); this process is responsible for upwards of 20% of smog forming compounds.)

Budget constraints preventing implementation of green ideas? Guess what the #1 single item on the city budget is? Supporting the deathmobile. From road paving, repair, maintenance, street sweeping & snow plowing to police & fire & ambulance services dedicated to cleaning up after car crashes, there is no other single item in the city budget that costs more than, yup, the deathmobile. Furthermore, every budget during the green mayor’s tenure has included double digit increases in paving budgets.

Why not boost alternatives to the deathmobile? Well, the most obvious transportation alternative is transit. Rail transit is 8X more efficient than the deathmobile. Bus service is 4X more efficient. When you factor in the land use efficiencies of transit-oriented-development (i.e., density, mixed-use, all scaled to walking & biking), the efficiencies become incalculably large. Priceless as it were. But this mayor has repeatedly slashed bus service and jacked fares to the point that he is leaving people — literally — at the bus stop. His pro-sprawl policies undermine any hope for a transit/walking/biking future.

The budget squeeze brought on by the deathmobile. The 2009 budget included a whopping 60% increase in paving. Mayor Pave calls paving his “capital” budget, and claims that it is distinct from the operating budget (from which transit draws the funds it needs to run). But every year, as the mayor piles on debt to build bigger highways, the service on that “capital” debt becomes more & more burdensome on the operating budget. Yes, debt service on capital expenditures is put onto the operating budget. So yes, he commingles capital and operating funds. The effect: When the mayor was elected, debt service was in the single digits as a percentage of the operating budget; by 2009, that had risen to 11%. The recently passed 2010 budget is 12%. The comptroller predicts that by 2013 it will be 17%. That means a squeezed operating budget for decades. That means more cuts & fare jackings to the bus system forevermore.

Paving. Deathmobility. The Siamese twin elephants in the room the Sustainable Design and Energy Committee fails to look at.

Instead, all we get is braggadocio for all that nibbling around the edges.

Those nibbled edges.

Every ounce of carbon prevented by each solar panel ever installed by the mayor has been cancelled out by orders of magnitude thanks to his decision to jack up bus fares to pay for his paving debt service. Why? Because, in his years of jacking fares and cutting bus service he has decimated bus ridership. That ridership often shifts to cars.

Furthermore, it is likely that every watt generated by his groovey-green gizmo solar panels has been canceled out by the increase demands for air conditioning thanks to the increased ‘heat island’ effect of the paved area of Madison he has increased. And whatever emissions reductions are achieved by those groovey-green hot water panels will have been canceled out by the increase in smog forming compounds emitted from parked cars on hot paved parking lots baking in the sun. (Yes, Virginia, some 20% of volatile organic compounds — i.e., smog forming compounds — come from parked cars.)

So until the city takes the paving/deathmobile complex seriously, there will be no sustainability.

Yet in all of the city’s discussion of sustainability, there is no mention of the paving/deathmobile complex as a root problem.

City’s spending on sustainability, is being overwhelmed by the negative effects of paving & other deathmobile promotion. Instead of spending more on complicated technical solutions toward sustainability, the city could be spending less while promoting sustainability to a much greater degree. Indeed SDEC, the mayor, our alders, are all missing the obvious, Occam’s Razor-esque approach: Obviate the need for yet more energy.

The Great Energy Obviation: A Kyoto Paving Protocol.

The idea: Set the city on a glide path down from automobility and upward toward cool place making. That is, immediately set the city on a paving limit which, on a per capita basis would amount to the same paving per capita as Madison had as of 1990, then subtract 10%. That should be the goal of the next budget or two. Then, set city policies to achieve the same numbers for driving: per capita ‘vehicle miles traveled” (VMT) as of 1990, minus 10%. For budgets 3-5 years out, subtract another 25%. Continue on that trajectory until we are on target to reduce carbon emissions to achieve an atmospheric CO2 composition of 350 ppm.

Some salient measures to achieve these goals:

  • Increase bus service, decrease fares.
  • Plan for the grid for all new developments. The only pattern of development which has been conclusively shown to actually increase walking and biking is grid-patterned development. Transit also needs the grid to be effective. The grid. Boring? If you let it be (take a trip to Manhattan or the fun ‘hoods of Chicago for examples of a non-boring grid development!). Effective at providing access for all, regardless of mode of transportation? Definitely.
  • TWLTLs. Convert all 4-lane city highways to two-way-left-turn roads (one lane each direction, center turn lane) with bike lanes.
  • Bus transit lanes. Convert one lane to dedicated bus lanes on all existing 6+ lane highways in the city.
  • The high cost of free parking. Expand smart parking meters to more parts of the city, and implement yield-managment algorithms to increase prices at peak times and reduce prices at off-peak times, and reduce, overall car usage.
  • Pro-neighborhood business districts. Return all neighborhood arterials (such as Williamson St., Gorham, Johnson, Monroe St. etc.) to neighborhood business use at all times (i.e., end the rush hour parking restrictions).
  • Bicycle Boulevards. Begin designing key streets for reduced through-automobile traffic, and optimize for convenient and enjoyable bicycle traffic.
  • Emphasize Placemaking. Use the savings from reduced paving to create places people want to be a part of. Why placemaking instead of paving for speed? If we begin to create places people don’t want to run away from, then there will be less inducement to run away. As fast as possible. Preferably sealed up in a speeding steel & glass cage. Because right now, we are creating urban spaces so ugly, so scary, that all anyone can think to do is get away. Instead, make places that are cool, fun, interesting, beautiful and people will be more likely to relax where they are, rather than constantly running away from one ugly place to another.
  • Rein in the Engineers. The first step in the placemaking process would be to put competent, committed (to creating cool places) design professionals (place planners, architects, landscape architects, etc.) in charge of the engineers. Portland, OR never got anywhere in terms of sustainable transportation until they did this. For too long this city has been dominated by engineers lording over design professionals. That must be reversed. Places must be for people first. The machinery (cars) so fetishized by engineers must be made subservient to this prime directive: People first.

The Problem with Sustainability in the Public Process.

Prior rounds of input have been largely ignored by SDEC as well as city government at large. In 2003-4 there was a similar sustainability public process. Input from the general public was openly disdained by the chair of SDEC  (again, Sherrie Gruder).

Then, when the city opened the public process for the City Comprehensive Plan (2005?), staff’s boilerplate language predominated, and public input was largely shunted aside. This was a major opportunity to codify sustainability into every aspect of city policy — from transportation to planning to water & sewer policy. Many of us submitted detailed comment that, if implemented would have set us on a sustainability path.

This round of ‘public participation’ is looking to be similarly pro-forma. Indeed, it was so clear that the chair of the SDEC, Sherrie Gruder was so adamant about excluding public input, that I decided early on to submit my comment online, as suggested by the coversheet handed out at the October 22 forum. Here is what it said:

“To partake in providing input if you can’t attend in person and to learn more about Sustainability[sic], go to www.cityofmadison/sustainability/community “

I did. There is no medium for providing input. None. Once again, public input faces a dead end.

At some point, city leadership should mature into “idea input machines.” Even criticism should be seriously considered. If, under scrutiny of a rigorous energy/sustainability cost-benefit analysis, it proves beneficial, then it should be assimilated into policy. Neither the personality of the messenger, nor the personality of the receiver of the message nor the style of delivery of the message should have any bearing on the validity of any idea in the final analysis.

To understand how successful this new attitude toward governing could be, consider this quote from Bill Gates: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Plug that quote into Google and you’ll find a million & one management gurus riffing off of it. The City of Madison in its quest to become more “customer friendly” might take a hint here.

*Entropy, for those who forgot their 7th grade earth science, is destruction of matter. E = MC2. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Or, as the Talking Heads put it, “Things fall apart, it’s scientific.”

Note: I have more sustainability ideas that I will post on this blog as time permits.

Mayor’s Budget Puts Madison on War Footing

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Last night the mayor made a perfunctory resolution honoring veterans in commemoration of Veterans Day (Kristin Czubkowski live blogged it here; see 5:45 PM). It was sponsored by him and him alone.

How magnanimous.

As a veteran, here’s something I’d like to see him and his pliant council read as they wield their rubber stamps for a budget bloated with paving, automobile promotion, energy gluttony and thus more war forevermore.

Instead of doing something about the repercussions of our automobile addiction (i.e., war), the “green” mayor has budgeted for:

  • Doubling overall spending on paving since taking office ($33M in 2003 -> $68M in 2009).
  • Doubling the overall paving debt of the city (from an already bloated $47M in 2003 to $96M in the 2010 budget).
  • Trebling the annual increase in the paving contribution to the city’s debt ($11.5M in 2003 -> $35.3M in 2010).
  • Bloating debt service by 33% as a percentage of the operating budget (from 9% of the city budget to 12%).
  • An explosion of debt service to a whopping 17% of the operating budget by 2013.

Where does this fit into the big picture of the city budget? Well, guess what the single largest item in the capital budget is? Paving. The fastest growing component (ongoing) of the capital budget? Paving.

And the mayor’s passion for paving isn’t just a fiscal disaster. The capital budget is one of the major determinants of the look and feel of our city for generations to come. The budgets put together by this mayor have been highway heavy in the extreme. So he is creating places that promote automobilism to the exclusion of sustainable ways of getting around. His highwayscapes endanger pedestrians, terrify bicyclists and make transit untenable. Every tool we have to help pull us out of the climate/energy/fiscal tailspin is nixed by his highwayscapes.

Moreover, the ever tightening squeeze on the operations budget will mean budget difficulties for our quality of life, social & basic services. Saliently, Madison Metro bus service, considered an “operating” expense, will forevermore be in a vise between anti-transit/highwayscaped land use patterns (which cost more to serve) and an eternally squeezed operating budget (that is, a squeeze induced by debt service on those selfsame highways.)

Indeed, at this year’s “Neighborhood Roundtable” the mayor declared his intention of completely cutting all city funds to Madison Metro.

Yet he brags that this is a “reasonable budget for hard times.”

I call it a warmongering budget, Mayor Pave.

Yuppies Abandon Cars in Droves

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

It’s happening. It first became apparent to me that going car-less was becoming socially acceptable around here circa 2004-5. I think Ölkrieg II in Iraq got a lot of people rethinking their lifestyle choices. (Yes, the sudden, belated realization that our personal consumption habits cause wars; specifically of the Middle East  ‘blood for oil’ variety….) Then things  really ramped up along with the gas price spikes of aught 7 & 8. I think I last counted 12 friends & acquaintances who are now car-less by choice (i.e., they could easily afford one, but choose not to). Suddenly, Pam & I weren’t so alone & odd in our car(e)-free lifestyle. (We’re going on year 20 sans le voiture de mort.)

And now these observations have been given the imprimatur of none other than the Voice of God itself!

My favorite writing-on-the-wall warning to the auto industry was this quote in the article:

If public opinion swings too far away from cars, some environmentalists warn that the car industry could find itself in the same circumstances as cigarette manufacturers, who have hung on to their most fervent users even as public policy, health concerns and public opinion have cast a shadow over their products.

Yes! Death to the Deathmobile! & Only losers will be left driving deathmobiles!

Now if we can just get politicians like Ald Satya Rhodes-Conway to realize that, by redlining bicyclists out of her district, she is actually a) depriving her neighborhood of the creative minds we should be trying to attract here for problem solving and economic success, and b) dimming her own political prospects by filling her district with car curmudgeons instead of progressive-oriented, bright minds.

The Most Disappointing Alder in Madison’s History

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

This is so disappointing. This stalwart of Progressive Dane, the member who was always pushing the party to be more progressive, more environmentally friendly, more alt-transportation friendly, now in elected office (under the power of progressivism) has slouched right back into mediocrity; stuck in the muddy middle right along with Mayor Pave and the rest of his pliant, car-crazed council.

Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway is probably, technically (SATs, ACTs, GREs, etc.) the smartest person on the council– possibly the smartest in its history. In her day job she burnishes her progressive credentials with extensive research on–as they say in smart people-speak — ‘high road’ public policy strategies. Now that she is in a position to actually make it happen, she cowers before the auto-obsessed rightists in her district. Sure constituents are important when one is an elected official, but the particular constituents she cowers before have never — and never will — vote for her anyway.

But cowering before bellowing blowhards seems to be all the rage among good liberals. Indeed, the trickle down theory seems to be at work here, as The Current Occupant (of the Oval Office) is cowering before the generals, insurance executives and coal barons even as we speak…..

Looks like I’ll be adding Ald. Rhodes-Conway to my ever-lengthening list of zombie politicians.

Glacial Heritage Area

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning a new “Glacial Heritage Area.” Earlier this summer they had a survey in which they invited comments from the public. Unfortunately, I didn’t post this until too late; the comment period is closed. Apologies, apologies, apologies. However, I did submit comment. I really like their thinking about this. The questions were, shall we say, a bit leading. But I liked where they were leading us. The following are my narrative responses to some of their questions:

***********************

Item 5 (Conservation Parks):

NO ATVs!!!!!!!!! Also, it is really irksome for those of us who, for environmental reasons, do not own a car, but who periodically rent one and so thus must pay the daily rate at parks. I think you should have a special annual pass for non-car owners that can be transferred to rental cars.

Item 8 (Linking Trails).

The horseback riders always end up on the bike trail, pitting and tearing up the surface (see the “400 Trail” right now for an example.). I think horse trails should be very separate from the bike trails.

Also, the Glacial Drumlin trail really should be paved. It links communities. It isn’t *just* a rec trail. There are billions in stimulus funds available for exactly this sort of upgrade. As it stands right now, the trail is only usable for about 2.5 mos out of the year because it is either snow/ice covered or muddy or a series of sandtraps the rest of the year. And I’ve heard that the reason it is kept this way is snowmobiles. That is a bogus. You should talk to your counterparts over in MN who have done studies showing that there is no difference in snow coverage over the course of the winter between gravel and asphalt.

Also, there should be some parts of the trail reserved for XC skiing in the winter, especially segments that can make for interesting overnight connections (i.e., places with lodging).

DNR survey said: “11. The GHA project also proposes to create buffers of working farmlands and scattered conservation lands adjacent to many of the wildlife areas. These buffers, known as Rural Landscape Protection Areas (RLPA), would complement efforts to protect farmlands in the area. In total, the GHA project proposes to establish 3,000 acres of protected lands within the 25,000 acres encompassed within the RLPA.

Item 11 is something I’ve been dreaming of for a long time. Excellent idea. So much of Wisconsin’s beauty is in it’s rural landscape. We all know we aren’t in the High Sierras; so enjoying the rural heritage is what one enjoys here. It really sucks that so many state parks are now hemmed in by hideous McMansions. The Kettle Moraine units are the worst case scenario in this regard.

Item 16 (River based Conservation)

A. I don’t think the bands [along the river] should be so narrow.
B. I think you should use conservation funds as an adjunct to CRP [conservation reserve program] funds to really target highly erodable lands all the way to the hilltop and *pay* farmers to put those lands into permanent conservation, or at least perennial crops like hay, clover, etc.
C. Work with farmers to at least have contour strips of permanent perennials at intervals [alternating with crops] all the way up all hillslopes which provide more infiltration zones to facilitate more even flow in the rivers across the course of the year [as opposed to storm surges straight into our surface waters].

That is to say, protecting rivers starts at the top of the hill, not down at the bottom. Once you’ve got a problem down at the wetlands, it is too late.

On the boat access issue: NO MOTORS!

18. What do you think the priorities of the GHA project should be?

Saving the rural landscape–and not just along the trails. As we see farmland getting gobbled up, we are losing the great biking this state offers. As a rec cyclist, I consider an acre of farmland to be better than an acre of parkland in terms of getting away from it all while still living in the city. If DNR could manage to team up with the farm folks to ensure that a) their practices are sustainable, and b) they remain economically vibrant *and preserved* green zones surrounding cities (instead of being used as development zones), I think we could see a real win-win for the environment as well as our ability to continue to enjoy Wisconsin’s great outdoors. So the thrust isn’t necessarily to buy land; it should be to ensure that the remaining open spaces remain rural. I think you could get a lot more bang for your buck (from a recreational & environmental standpoint) by doing transfer of development rights/purchase development rights or land trusts & the like rather than outright purchases. And this is particularly important in these sprawl zones between Madison & Sprawlkesha. Why? So we who live in the city won’t need to drive for hours to get to the great outdoors. We should be able to bike for a half hour from the capital and find ourselves in the middle of farm fields.

19 (Additional comments).

Is there any way we could work out a more extensive foot trail network that is similar to the snowmobile network? I mean, the farmers are already on board with having the motorized menaces ripping across their land in the winter. How about extending it to peaceable hikers in the fall?

Also, how about gun-free zones for fall hiking?

*********

In sum, Wisconsin Department of Natural resources is proposing a place that does not suck. Thanks, Ranger Rick!