Posts Tagged ‘Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Association’

THE Unreasonable Man: Tim Wong

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

A very dear friend recently died. For 25 years we were brothers in bikes, water & energy conservation, anti-consumerism and so much else involved in community building.  Below was my contribution to his Celebration of Life last weekend (this is the disco version; my talk was a much more condensed version). I hope to add further posts about all things Wong over the next few weeks. -MB

Tim was THE DEFINITION of The Unreasonable Man. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Progress in Madison toward a better biking future, a more energy sustainable future, a more water efficient future happened in great measure because of Tim and his unreasonable ways.

And the thing is, people hated him for it. But the way some of us saw it, the more people hated him, the more we knew he was on the right track.

Circa 1980, this unreasonable headline blared across the top of the front page of one of his many underground newspapers (a succession of which, he was routinely booted off of, btw): “$5 a Gallon and a Pound of Sugar in Every Gas Tank!”

And the fight against the deathmobile was on. But it was, of course, on before that.

Not long after high school (ca 1860?!), Tim joined in the defense of a minority neighborhood in Washington DC. It was the beginning of Tim vs. the highwaymen. That fight never abated for the entirety of his life. The DC highway fight was moral combat against environmental racism even before there was a term for it. The middle class black neighborhood that was slated for the bulldozer fought back. Tim joined that fight. They won. That neighborhood is still healthy & happy. Compare to the fates of once-successful minority neighborhoods across the country that went under the bulldozers. From Chicago’s Bronzeville to vast swathes of St. Louis, now they are just husks of their former selves.

Tim was in the thick of the fight to unshackle Madison’s minority neighborhoods from their highway entombement. An early 90s example: The Williamsburg Way/Beltline underpass that would have eased highway segregation was fought by the racists on the one side of the highway. Tim was on the other. He was in the thick of the fight to build the underpass and thereby push the all-neighborhood connectivity forward. Another example: The Beltline overpass was denounced by the aristocrats over in the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood on the grounds that “those people” would sneak into their backyards and rape their daughters; their property values would crater. Tim pushed for the overpass and for all-neighborhood connectivity there too. It was built. Crime is still negligible in the surrounding neighborhoods. Property values have soared. Hmmm.

At no point could Tim be construed as a ‘leader’ in any given fight. That would be anathema to him. But he was always there. Providing spine, bombast, data crunching, analysis, and snark. Basically, he was the villager that needed to be destroyed in order for the highwaymen to keep “saving” our villages from traffic. Saving us always meant more traffic, of course.

And they did keep trying to destroy him. At one point, he was the chair of the city’s ped-bike subcommittee. The highwaymen & others tried every strategem possible to shut him down. But they just couldn’t. So they did the midwest nice thing, and did away with the committee altogether.

When he was on the Transit & Parking Commission, he used the city’s own data to show how awfully they were managing Madison Metro’s resources. This really pissed off the powers. Eventually Mayor Pave summarily threw him off of the commission for the crime of analyzing data.

I think the apotheosis of all things Tim came through our neighborhood’s plan, The Schenk-Atwood-Darbo-Worthington-Starkweather Plan of 2000. They made the “mistake” of making him an official appointee. A mistake because he just wouldn’t act at all like an official power broker (as all too often happens with people in appointed positions). It soon became apparent that Tim was not about to accept the boiler plate pro-car neighborhood plan that the Planners wanted to shove down our throats. But what made this the pinnacle of Tim’s power was not Tim’s POWER. He was more about just getting the ideas out there. Bombastically, YES. But he was about putting the onus on others to follow their own consciences to just do the right thing. Vote their own true consciences. The problem is, most people, once in power, even low level power like a little neighborhood committee, believe that it is their duty to submit to powers above them, to the detriment of ethics, morality, just doing the right thing. In most activist endeavors, victories are scarce. But it was different on this committee. It was made up of others who were dedicated to doing the right thing, powers be damned. And almost all could hear past Tim’s bombast and understand that what he was ultimately pushing for was really just a more civilized community and sustainable environment. Every traffic calming measure was a blow for civilization. Every bikeway, another push for the people. In militating against zoning and parking regulations that strangled our neighborhood business district, Tim and the whole committee made this neighborhood the cool place it is today. But the point was, it was the whole committee. That was where Tim was most comfortable: when ordinary citizens banded together as co-equals to push for the good & the just. If someone had made Tim King of the World, he wouldn’t have liked it. Remember his standard salutation: SLAY A LEADER!!!! If he were designated a leader, he would have just killed himself instead of being boss! The most natural order for a dedicated anarchist like Tim: A united front of co-equal citizens working in the trenches together.

Neighborhood was Tim’s laboratory for doing the right thing, for a more sustainable future, a more just future. He never had that liberal angst about other places being “denied” because of our efforts. His idea was that our neighborhood could serve as an exemplary beacon for doing the right thing. Indeed, once our neighborhood plan started making its way through the city committees, alders started asking the planners why their neighborhoods couldn’t have the same pro-community things. The green eyed monster worked for good! And here is what started happening: the zoning regulations that strangled cool neighborhood business districts started getting suspended. Our older hoods started to flourish (and how many of Tim’s beloved micro-brewpubs sprouted because of it?!!!). Eventually, thanks to the successful example of Tim’s collective efforts with his neighborhood, the entire zoning code was scrapped in favor of zoning that allows neighborhoods to look like our old hoods built before the dominance of the deathmobile. Mayor Pave & his powerful sycophants could never understand what was happening over here, but it was Tim and co-equal cohorts that got the ball rolling and transformed this city from a boring highway to the suburbs into the cool place it is now.

His life’s way was a) read everything there is to read about a subject, b) process it through a moral lense (is it good for lowering our pollution output? Is it good for community? Does it reduce the need for engineered bossiness (or any bossiness)? c) to get the truth out there, d) let people follow their own consciences once they have this information. No bossiness allowed. Bombast, yes, bossiness, no. The problem, of course, was that most people couldn’t hear the truth for the bombast. Some of us loved the bombast as much as the underlying truth. Because the bombast was just a wayfinding sign to the truth.

Tim is perhaps best known for his bike advocacy. But his activism went well beyond. In my google perusals I even found a comment Tim left for the Securities & Exchange Commission, excoriating them for some random de-regulation of the banksters. One of his more memorable fights for me is one that probably only 3 people know about: Water conservation policy.

As Dan Melton, former president of the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Assn., said in an email around the time of Tim’s death:

Here’s a little “resume” Tim put together, in 2011 (sent at 1:50 AM–one of his favored times to send email).

Of all his many civic activities, one I’d like to call attention to — because not many got to see it — was Tim’s vital involvement in 2011 in the Madison Water Utility’s East Side Water Supply Citizen Advisory Panel (ESWS CAP). It was grueling work, important work — and, frankly, I wasn’t sure Tim was up to it. Boy, WAS he. Former City Engineer Larry Nelson was the eminence grise on the ESWS CAP. Larry knew everything–about everything. If you wanted to challenge Larry, you had to know your stuff–inside-out. Tim did. Tim was the ONLY citizen on the ESWS CAP who would directly challenge Larry. Tim didn’t just spout slogans, he KNEW his printouts. I’m not sure how he did it but Tim would go printout to printout with Larry. Tim made some important points to nudge the City Water Utility towards more conservation–and less willy-nilly well-building. Tim pushed Madison to come up with a water rate structure that would “punish property owners for over-watering their pesticide grass”–(‘their pesticide grass,’ a typical Tim flourish). Tim and Dan Moser (who know lives in NYC) worked hard with Larry to craft a Conservation Advisory statement. Tim suspected the ESWS CAP was “sort of window dressing more than anything” but he was willing to swallow his doubts, and put in the work, work that no one else was willing to do, to help nudge the Water Utility towards more conservation.

From bikes, to water, to people, He was the true Renaissance Man of Activism.

But as with those Renaissance greats of yore, Gallileo, Dante – jailed, run out of town– Tim pissed off just about everyone he came into contact with, most especially the powerful, the sycophants & suckups, the propriety obsessives, the moral peacocks. The snowflakes on every listserv he was on wanted him to drink hemlock. Listmarms were left clutching pearls at Tim’s every e-utterance. For those with a less pinched view of the world, we could listen past his bombast and actually hear the truth of what he was saying. Deathmobile? Well, yeah, it’s the #1 killer of all people ages 4-44. What else you gonna call it? Pesticide grass? Well, why else would suburban lawns look like astroturf?

Tim was very much the community’s moral compass. I will so very much miss him.

To close with another George Bernard Shaw, so channeling Tim:

“I hear you say “Why?” Always “Why?” You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”

 

Isthmus: “Citizen: The Real Reason for Atwood Avenue’s Renaissance”

Saturday, November 1st, 2014
Just published at Isthmus.com….
***
Citizen: The real reason for Atwood Avenue’s renaissance
Eliminating parking requirements for small storefronts buoyed business growth

Michael Barrett on Saturday 11/01/2014 10:23 am

“Destination: Atwood Avenue” was a nice little promo piece inIsthmus that should definitely be featured in the Greater Madison Convention and Visitor’s Bureau pamphlets. It lacked, however, a good investigative question: Why has Atwood seen such a revival?

Yes, yes, we are lucky to have so many creative entrepreneurs who have worked hard to make their businesses successful on this once run-down thoroughfare; good on them, and thanks. And yes, the the transition of the Barrymore Theatre from adult movie theater to hip venue was a signal event. But it is a tired old story, because there it sat for nearly 20 years, a lonely beacon, with neighbors of empty storefronts and no resurgence in sight.

The true linchpin of the revitalization of Atwood: city parking policy. Had it not been for the informed, critical activism of a few people in the neighborhood, not one of the hip enterprises that have grown up on Atwood in the last 14 years — the era of sustainable and rapid resurgence — could have ever happened on Atwood. Why? Because the city prohibited it through parking policy.

Until the early 2000s, suburban parking requirements were imposed on dense, parking-light urban business districts such as Atwood. It was a death warrant.

Creativity and entrepreneurship were throttled. Coffee shops were told to brew in strip malls. Boutique beers, ordered to industrial parks. Eclectic restaurants, stymied.

Here’s how it worked: The city required that there be an off-street parking space for every table for two, no exceptions. This meant no fun. No funky. No creative. No nothing.

This went on for decades. As older enterprises faded, the city parking bosses ensured that no new businesses could move in to keep the district vital. It wasn’t the mall that killed Atwood, it was public policy.

By 1999, a (very) small group of visionary citizens had had quite enough of this. These active alt-transportation agitators worked with verve and persistence, at times getting in the faces of hidebound alders and parking bureaucrats, to put a stop to the desertification of Atwood Avenue. Over the shrill warnings of planners and highwaymen, the citizens who crafted the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Worthington Neighborhood Plan (PDF) of 2000 enshrined a provision that prioritized a walkable business district. To that end, it strongly recommended eliminating parking requirements.

Yes, eliminating parking requirements. Altogether. This was a radical notion up to the mid-aughties, believe it or not.

Once passed, these same citizens started showing up at zoning meetings, plan in hand, demanding that cool businesses be allowed to locate on Atwood sans parking.

Cafe Zoma was the first successful — but hard fought — “exemption” under the new neighborhood plan. It featured zero car parking stalls. That set the precedent for all the coolness that followed. Creative entrepreneurship blossomed, and just keeps blossoming.

Under new city leadership in 2003, Atwood Avenue’s successful elimination of parking requirements was recognized and even incorporated into the new zoning code. There are no longer minimum parking requirements for small storefronts anywhere in the city.
Michael D. Barrett is an energy efficiency and community plan analyst with UrbanThoreau LLC and publishes urbanthoreau.com/blog.

Kipp Pollutes, DNR Stonewalls

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) continues to do Madison Kipp Corporation’s bidding.

For decades WDNR has covered up the corporation’s willful & wanton toxic pollution in contravention of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. Now WDNR is covering up public comment.

A detailed list of links to public comment & background information on Kipp can be found here. Much of it will not be found on the DNR’s public comment site. (However, the best DNR-published comment is from the neighborhood association, Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara (SASY) (pdf).)

Below is my letter to the DNR secretary regarding her latest stonewalling. The emails below also were cc’d to several elected officials at state & local levels as well as several relevant WDNR officials and SASY.

Please keep in mind, this is no accidental oversight; others involved in this process have admonished relevant DNR administrators—for months—for not having posted my comment.

-Mike

***

March 2, 2012

Dear Secretary Stepp,

Below you will find a copy of my emailed comment dated 10/21/2011 regarding Madison Kipp Corporation’s pollution.

I asked that you enter this comment into the record. To date, my comment has not been included in the record at: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Brownfields/kipp.html#tabx4

I have an acknowledgement of receipt of this communication from your office through other communication. Thus, I once again insist that my comment be included in all public record regarding Madison Kipp Corporation.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Barrett

***

October 21, 2011

Dear Ms. Stepp,

Please enter this communication into the record with respect to Madison Kipp “Scope of Work” (SOW) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR).

At the recent neighborhood dog & pony show put on by WDNR, we witnessed professional malfeasance on an epic scale. In addition to doing everything possible to shut out the public from the process, WDNR employees promulgated lies, half-truths, dissembling and exhibited willful ignorance. To wit:

  • Your presenter, Michael Schmoller “felt” that there is no danger of Kipp pollution polluting our water supply because of a shale formation. Apparently Mr. Schmoller has not kept up with research of the last several years conducted by Professor Ken Bradbury. That research has found that the shale formation is completely permeable; so much so that viruses from surface waters have been detected in the deep aquifer from which we draw our drinking water. If viruses can move through from surface to our deep aquifer, so can toxins.
  • Your presenter claimed that he was not aware of contamination on Goodman Center land. I have seen a 2008 WDNR document, addressed to Goodman management which states unequivocally that contamination exists, and is from an “off-site source.”
  • The “Scope of Work” (SOW) is not designed to put the priority on assessing and mitigating the most likely routes of human exposures in the neighborhood–vapor intrusion into homes and other buildings. Appropriate mitigation depends on appropriate assessment of the plume and the vapor intrusion in the first place–if the vapor intrusion problems are not adequately and thoroughly assessed, the mitigation will not be adequate either.
  • Because the SOW does not fully map the plume (not even close), it is impossible to say how many homes/buildings might be affected by vapor intrusion, and in turn impossible to know which homes/buildings to monitor and then to mitigate if needed.
  • Ken Wade’s proposal is a good start, and should be followed, but doesn’t appear to fully map the plume either.
  • Testing a total of 14 homes is completely inadequate; it doesn’t begin to help risk assessors understand the potential scope of the vapor intrusion problems. Given the levels of contaminants that have been spreading in the shallow and deep groundwater for many years and probably decades and what is already known about their locations and levels in groundwater, the plume is likely under a much wider area than just these 14 homes.
  • The locations selected for monitoring do not make sense from a public health standpoint–e.g., they do not appear to be designed to put the priority on understanding and mitigating the most likely routes of significant and direct human exposure (vapor intrusion into buildings). For example, why are you only testing just at the edge of yards on the boundaries with Kipp? Why aren’t you going straight to monitoring closer to where people are living–e.g., testing subslabs and in-home vapors? That’s the monitoring that would be most relevant to people’s potentially most significant exposures.) Given the point below, you could test the edge of the yard and find no detect and there could still be significant vapor in the subslab and possibly the home.
  • Related to the above, single (one-time) tests of soil vapor (in locations that don’t make sense) to determine if vapor extraction or the installation of in-home vapor mitigation systems is completely inadequate on a number of levels. Single tests are not adequate to determine if there is a soil vapor problem. As noted in this paper– http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-6592.2009.01216.x/pdf–adequate sampling of vapor intrusion requires repeated tests over space and time because “measured concentrations of volatile organic compounds…can vary considerably from month to month and season to season. Sampling results from any one location at any given point in time cannot be expected to represent the range of conditions that may exist at neighboring locations or at other times. Recognition of this variability is important when designing sampling plans and risk management programs to address the vapor intrusion pathway.” Because soil gas samples can vary so much over space and time, a much larger number of sample locations over multiple times are needed to accurately characterize the contaminant distribution in soil gas.
  • The SOW completely ignores monitoring soils around and vapor intrusion under/in buildings very close to Kipp, and in particular the Goodman Center. Why? While Schmoller said he “felt” that Goodman wouldn’t have vapor intrusion problems, there is no data justifying his belief, and he never explained his reasoning. Regardless of his “feelings” on this, I think it’s a no-brainer that Goodman should be tested, just to make sure.*
  • The impacts, current & future, on Well 8 [Olbrich Sledding Hill] must be documented and modeled; this would include an increased withdrawal scenario. If Well 8 is filtered for Manganese and Iron, which is under consideration (pilot tests very soon if not already), this will also draw the Kipp contaminants into the well faster/sooner.
  • The neighborhood is already getting water from PCE/TCE contaminated wells–Well 11 and Well 15. The Schenk-Atwood area drinks water from a combination of Wells 8, 11, 15 (and 29?). Well 15 has the worst PCE contamination. Any additional PCE/TCE and related contaminants that end up from Well 8 will only add to existing levels from those wells.
  • This is an environmental justice issue: While most middle/upper middle class people can afford a filter, most low income people cannot. The poor should not be poisoned. Most especially, they should not be poisoned for being poor.
  • Put all relevant Kipp SOW/legal documents at Hawthorne Library and make them available for download. ALL documents–even the embarrassing/sensitive ones.
  • The vapor dispersal system you have proposed is so 1960s. Dilution-the-best-solution-to-pollution? Wrong. And it contravenes the agreement my government and I, as a citizen, came to through the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
  • The public engagement process so far has been highly inadequate on a number of levels. For starters, the neighborhood had less than a week to comment on this SOW; that is not even close to adequate. It is clear that WDNR sees public comment as completely token.
Ms. Stepp, clean up your mess.
Now.
Completely.
Dig up the source contaminant.
Remove it from the site.
All of it.
Dispose of it properly.
Make the perpetrator pay for all of it.*
Plus significant penalties.
Your agency has had decades to fix this problem. Do your job as you promised the US Environmental Protection Agency you would.
Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett
*As good conservatives love to say, ‘you do the crime, you do the time.’

 

 

 

 

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.

Madison Mayor’s Race Heats Up: Eastside is Groundzero

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

While the incumbent announced his bid for re-election on the steps of city hall yesterday….

….A challenger will announce his candidacy from an emerging center of innovation & ingenuity — Sector67 — based right here in my ‘hood, the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara neighborhood. The event is today, Tuesday, 3:15 p.m., at Sector67, 2100 Winnebago St., Madison, WI.

I’m not endorsing anyone here, but I’d just like to point out that defenders of the status quo are predicting an easy path to victory for the incumbent — i.e., the candidate-of-the-status quo. They forget that in 2003 the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara neighborhood led the way in overthrowing the thinking of the past.* This neighborhood turned out so many people to the polls then that not only was the incumbent defeated, but the old bull, dominator-of-all-things-Madison-political, Paul Soglin, had his lunch eaten. No neighborhood in the city delivered more votes, and a greater margin for victory for either candidate than this neighborhood.

I believe that lesson was not lost on Radomski.**

*Ok, ok, all I can say is, at least we got 2-3 years of progressive thinking & action out of David J. Cieslewicz before he lurched rightward — right back to the status quo ante!

**Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I believe I was the first to call his candidacy, back in the summer of Aught 9.

Union Corners v Kelo: On Eminent Domain, Liberty and a Movement to Buy the Site

Friday, November 13th, 2009
Soon-to-be-Demolished French Battery Building

Soon-to-be-Demolished French Battery Building

The NYT ran an article about the giant hole still in the ground at the site of one of the most contentious eminent domain cases in the history of the country, Kelo v. City of New London.

In Madison, we were under similar threat. Back during the Great Real Estate Boom of the early->mid-Aughts, several developers joined with urban renewalists at the city to threaten eminent domain against small property owners in strategic spots across the city.

The SASY neighborhood (my hood) was steadfast in its opposition to using the awesome power of eminent domain for the profit of private enterprise. Our contention: there is no moral standing for using the power of government to bully property owners, except in the extreme case of public necessity for a public purpose (our nation’s constitution does a pretty good job of spelling this out). Enriching rich individuals further, using the tools of government, does not rise to the level of necessity; nor does it have a public purpose. To do otherwise would amount to — yes, I’ll say it — fascism. In fact, using the powers of government to expropriate individual property for the benefit of other, state-favored enterprises is one of the hallmarks of that form of totalitarianism.

The developer who did this…

Union Corners: Rayovac Building Comes Down
Union Corners: French Battery Building Comes Down

and left us with this…

Union Corners Hole in the Ground
Union Corners Hole in the Ground

had attempted to enlist our alder and mayor in threatening adjacent property owners (Trudy’s Cafe, Ford’s Gym, the old radiator shop, miscellaneous homeowners) in using eminent domain. City staff did actually wave the cudgel of eminent domain. Fortunately, neighborhood leaders stepped up to stare down these petty fascists, and we forced the big man developer to negotiate in good faith. We made certain that our political leaders knew that they would pay the ultimate political price if they allowed eminent domain to be invoked.

Thanks to the efforts of the neighborhood, the adjacent property owners were able to receive a fair value for their properties. We, as a neighborhood, stood together, in solidarity with our neighbors who were threatened.

Things didn’t turn out so righteously for Kelo in New London. And while Madison is stuck with the same giant hole in the ground, at least no one was economically harmed in the process. Well, ok, except for the developer who overreached at the top of the market. Justice prevailed on several karmic levels here.

The lesson seems to be:

A) When it comes to real estate, everything has a price. And when it comes to private developers, let that price be decided by private negotiation, not public bullying.

B) When it comes to massive projects that involve tearing down existing structures, the city should require some sort of bond to ensure that the project goes forward. The bond could be refunded in tranches as the project moves forward. At completion, the final half of the bond would be refunded.  If it doesn’t then that bond continues to be held by the city.

This should all be done in a way that is not harmful to a developer who acts in good faith and manages finances for completion of the project.

Cities should not be held hostage to the impulses of poor management. Giant holes in the ground for years on end, in the middle of existing neighborhoods are simply not acceptable.

Update on Union Corners: Last night Joe Mingle came to the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara neighborhood council meeting to give an update on the various movements afoot to do something with that giant hole in the ground. These groups are investigating ways of leveraging several sources of money, including, perhaps, the new Landbanking Fund, federal tax credits and various community lending sources to eventually buy the land. This would probably necessitate a new neighborhood planning process…..