Sunday, April 30, 2006

Rising Motor Fuel Prices 

The Wall Street Journal is reporting As Gasoline Prices Soar, Americans Resist Major Cuts in Consumption (subscription required - if you want to read the full article, leave me a comment with your e-mail address).

With gasoline prices in the U.S. approaching an average $3 a gallon, Americans are moaning about the rising cost, but so far they are resisting big changes in their gas-guzzling ways.

A 25% jump in prices at the pump since December has set off a firestorm in Washington. Politicians are threatening auto makers with tougher federal fuel-economy standards and oil companies with higher taxes on record profits, while warning against price gouging.

And in a related article, the WSJ reports that Gas-Price Uproar Is Likely To Shift U.S. Energy Policy:

The surging price of oil and gasoline has sparked a wave of jockeying in Washington that could presage the biggest change in federal energy policy since the 1970s.

Suddenly, ideas that have languished on various wish lists for years have a realistic chance of becoming policy, as motorists in many parts of the country face $3-a-gallon gasoline even before the summer driving season starts. Among those getting serious consideration for cutting gasoline costs and reducing foreign-oil dependence: higher fuel-economy standards for cars, new incentives to shift cars away from gasoline, a crackdown on energy-price manipulation and inducements to encourage more refining.

Norfolk Southern Helps Failing Project 

Research Triangle Park, NC - The Triangle Transit Authority has taken another step toward realizing its plan of a regional rail system by sealing two deals with the Norfolk Southern Railroad company needed to ensure use of existing sections of railroad. TTA also signed a deal with state-owned North Carolina Railroad Co. to allow use of the railroad corridor between Raleigh and Durham and an agreement with freight carrier CSX to secure access to a corridor between Cary and Raleigh. The agreements with Norfolk Southern gives the TTA access to the corridors necessary to build the 28-mile rail transit system, which is schedule to have 12 stations connecting Durham, Research Triangle Park, Cary and Raleigh. The TTA's plan for a regional rail linking the key destinations in the Triangle has suffered major shortfalls in terms of funding and support. In December, the Federal Transit Administration announced that the project would receive a low rating. Less than a month later, a number of Wake County commissioners and state legislators opined that the plug should be pulled on TTA's local funding.

Selling or Taking? 

Research Triangle Park, NC - TTA agrees to pay $3.67M for less than two acres in downtown Raleigh and puts brothers out of business. Larry & Reece Hester probably couldn't stop TTA from taking the land via condemnation, they challenged the amount TTA offered. The two sides reached afigure in mediation, preventing them from having to argue the case in court. The brothers served a downtown clientele from a strategic location with little competition but plenty of state government workers who liked being able to walk to the office after dropping off their cars. Larry, an affable 57-year-old originally from Durham, developed an eye disease early in life that rendered him blind at age 35. He was able to continue working at the garage because he had become so familiar with where everything was. Every morning, he and Reece, now 47, would get a chance to talk about family and the business over coffee as they opened the store. Knowing that TTA was going to take the land, the brothers closed the business in December. "We thought and prayed hard about it for a long time," Larry says of the decision to close the business. "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I had blood, sweat and tears in that place," he says.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Va.: Smart Growth means lower taxes? Perhaps not. 

There's often a lot of carrying-on about Smart Growth and lower taxes, thanks to "compact," high-density residential development.

Then we have Prince William County, Virignia. Not exactly an ideal Smart Growth community - in fact, very suburban, with a touch of exurban at some of its edges - a diverse county where many people have moved in search of the American Dream.

Compare and contrast with Arlington County, Virginia, home to the Ballston Corridor, Rosslyn, Pentagon City and Crystal City.

Now the Washington Post reports that Prince William's Board of County Supervisors has adopted a budget with a property tax rate that's lower than Arlington's.

On a 6 to 2 vote, supervisors shaved nearly 16 cents off the current tax rate, bringing it to 80.7 cents per $100 of assessed home value. With the average value of a county home at $423,403 -- 27 percent higher than last year -- the average homeowner will see taxes rise by $187 this year.

The new tax rate is lower than Arlington's, which until yesterday was the region's lowest rate, at 81.8 cents per $100 assessed value. Board members had approved the new rate last week.

Something to consider.

Property Rights Help for Mobile Home Owners 

• An Oregon law enacted in August enables displaced mobile home park residents with an annual household income of less than $60,000 to receive a tax credit of up to $10,000, State Rep. Jerry Krummel says.

• Pinellas County, Fla., on Tampa Bay, requires park owners to find affordable housing for displaced residents or to help provide them rental assistance for two years, says Anthony Jones, the county's director of community development.

• Commissioners in Clark County, Nev., home of Las Vegas, are considering a moratorium on the rezoning of mobile home parks for town homes, condominiums and other development, County Commissioner Myrna Williams says.


Tree Murderer 

LAKE TAHOE - A California business executive has agreed to pay a $50,0000 fine for poisoning trees to enhance the view from his Lake Tahoe home. John Fitzhenry apologized Wednesday to officials with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency saying "This has been the most foolish thing I've ever done." Fitzhenry poisoned three, 40-foot Jeffrey pines on his $2.4 million property in Dollar Point on Tahoe's north shore. Fitzhenry hopes the fine would go toward future protection and restoration of Lake Tahoe.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Md.: Growth laws aggravate sprawl, research says 

I think it was my Dad who introduced me to the phrase "the road to Hades is paved with good intentions," and it applies when we talk about so-called Adequate Public Facility Ordinances (APFOs), at least in my home state of Maryland. I've seen APFO used to deny development plans that would otherwise be approved (thus implicitly debasing the value of private property).

APFO has repeatedly led to approval of new residential developments using unrealistic assumptions about transit patronage by residents of the new development - which in turn leads to increased traffic congestion.

Perhaps worst of all, APFOs allow local elected officials to assure constituents that they are "doing something" about traffic congestion and over-crowded public schools by just using APFO to deny development approvals.

Read more about APFO in Maryland at the links below:

Press release: “Inappropriate Use, Inconsistent Standards and Unintended Consequences” (Adobe Acrobat .pdf, 33 KB)

Full report: Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances in Maryland: Inappropriate Use - Inconsistent Standards - Unintended Consequences (Adobe Acrobat .pdf, 355 KB)

The Effects of Moratoria on Residential Development: Evidence from Harford, Howard, and Montgomery Counties (Adobe Acrobat .pdf, 5.31 MB)

Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances in Maryland: An Analysis of their Implementation and Effects on Residential Development in the Washington Metropolitan Area (450 KB)

Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances in Maryland: An Analysis of their Implementation and Effects on Residential Development in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area (435 KB)

Poll Doesn't Fool Participants 

Dear News & Observer Editorial Staff,
Regarding your 4/27 article "Poll shows support for Triangle rail service," I was one of the 811 respondents to the April 12 telephone survey. Why am I not surprised that the poll showed overwhelming support for regional rail? Let me answer that with a simple question: Who paid for the survey? The very people who are trying to save their jobs - the Triangle Transit Authority. I found it very difficult, during the telephone survey, to answer the questions in a way that would convey the fact that I don't support the rail system. Many questions were worded such that most answers would show at least some support. Your article noted an interesting point - why didn't the survey ask if the respondent would ride the rails?
Dick Rentfrow
Raleigh

Poll Full of Bull 

Research Triangle Park, NC - Recently the Triangle Transit Authority conducted a self preservation poll. They will say anything to promote a rail project that never seems to get approved by Congress or the voters. Thankfully, there are excellent men in office, who won't tollerate their lies, and will go on record stating such:

Hi Damien,
You stated: "The survey shows that a majority of Triangle residents believe that a regional rail system is needed and will improve the quality of life".
A poll does not speak for the majority of the triangle residents. If that were the case, then every elected official would be able to claim they speak for a majority of the citizens they are elected to represent, which would not be true, but certainly be more accurate than your poll. They were elected by a majority of voters and not a majority of citizens. The same for your poll. A majority of those you polled is different than a majority of the triangle citizens.
So with that said, I guess if you can claim your poll speaks for the majority of the triangle, then I speak for the majority of Cary by saying " TTA is a waste of taxpayer dollars and should stop trying to push for a train that would be the biggest boondoggle of the triangle".
Sincerely,
Michael A. Joyce
At-large Representative
Cary Town Council

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Va.: Tunnel Back On Table for Dulles Rail 

Tunnel Back On Table for Dulles Rail
Cost Dispute Threatens To Delay Metro Project

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 26, 2006; A01

A proposal to build a tunnel under Tysons Corner for the Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport has regained momentum but has created a major rift among the partners that threatens to delay the $4 billion project.

Last month, contractors ruled out a tunnel as too expensive compared with an elevated track, but others involved in the 23-mile extension say that the builders overstated the cost to avoid sharing the job with tunnel-building companies. The tunnel's proponents have succeeded in reviving its prospects, but time is running out for a change in plans, with applications for federal funding due next month and construction scheduled to begin this year.

Study Contradicts Conventional Assumptions of Urban Development 

A new University of Toronto study using satellite imagery from 1976 and 1992 concludes that recent urban development is no more scattered than development in 1976. The authors also conclude that roads have no impact on development density:

"We looked at a lot of measures of road density -- miles of road per area, average distance to a road, distance to an interstate exit -- and we could find no relation between those measures and the scatteredness of development."

Two sources speak out against the Mississippi "Railroad to Nowhere" 

Two sources not always known for having the same point of view, the Heritage Foundation and the Washington Post's editorial page, have spoken out against the spending of $700 million in federal taxpayer funds for this project.

Senators Should Derail Mississippi's "Railroad to Nowhere"
by Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D., and Brian M. Riedl
WebMemo #1048



Ron Utt, on the rails in Mississippi.

Post Editorial: The Great Train Robbery, 2006
Adding to the deficit at a rate of $80 million per minute


Added later: See also this in the Wall Street Journal's opinion pages: Mississippi Burning Tax Dollars (subscription may be required).

Lawyer Demands Town Stop Clubbing His Client 

TOPSAIL, NC - Topsail Beach is invoking its power of eminent domain to avoid a long court battle over land for a public boat ramp.“This will allow us to take possession of the boat ramp in about 30 days, and we’ll be able to open it to the public for the summer season,” the Mayor said gleefully. The property owner’s attorney, Kieran Shanahan, calls the move heavy handed and asserted that the town had always intended to take his client's property.“It’s the ultimate trump card for the government. It was Topsail who was unable to close the deal because they didn’t have the money,” he said. “My client has legitimate offers from third parties who are willing to pay twice what Topsail Beach is... it’s just unfortunate that they think they have to club him with eminent domain because they couldn’t close.” Town officials say they did not, in fact, have financing arrangements – $345,000 from the Coastal Resources Commission.

Better Than Nothing 

RALEIGH, N.C. — Members of the House Select Committee on Eminent Domain Powers stopped short of asking the General Assembly to approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit government power to acquire homes and businesses for private projects. North Carolina law already limits local governments to nine conditions in which cities and counties can condemn private land, but some towns and cities have received exemptions over the years for economic projects. Committee members have said they believe the existing law is pretty strong, but have proposed a law that would close any loopholes. The bill recommended to the Legislature by the House panel would limit eminent domain exclusively to public uses already set out in law, such as the creation or expansion of roads, parks, sewer lines and government buildings. Any laws granting additional condemnation authority to specific local governments beyond the statewide restrictions would be repealed July 1 unless condemnation proceedings were ongoing. Critics of the proposal argue any bill will be insufficient, since the General Assembly could repeal the law later.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My Street or Your Street? 

MATTHEWS, NC - What makes a public street? That issue was before the NC Court of Appeals recently, as Matthews landowners challenged a ruling that the town had a public right-of-way across their property. In the fall of 2002, the owners of the street, the Wrights, e-mailed Robert Brandon, the zoning administrator, contending that the county had issued building permits along their street in violation of a county ordinance. In their e-mail, the Wrights contested whether their street was, in fact, a public street - Brandon replied that it was. The Wrights challenged Brandon’s determination before the Matthews Board of Adjustment. Testifying before the board in February 2004 was Ralph S. Messera, Matthews’ public works director who noted that the town had annexed the property now owned by the Wrights in 1983 and maintained the street since 1985. In an April 2006 decision, the state’s second highest court held that the road in question was never a public street, despite it possibly having been maintained some by the state in the past, being paved by the town, and showing up on state maps as a public street.

Farmers Worry About Kelo 

MISSOURI - The Missouri Farm Bureau President was not pleased with the language in the legislation that was introduced in the House. The bureau had assurances, from the leadership in the Missouri House that the bill was going to strengthen landowner notification by requiring condemning authorities to provide information to those impacted by their plans. "I don't think that is too much to ask," he said. "The House-passed bill is not what we were led to expect and certainly not what we hoped for. Quite frankly, it falls far short of what Missouri property owners deserve." Now the Bureau's Vice President is urging the Senate to to produce a much stronger bill.

Jane Jacobs dies; planners rewrite history 

Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities died after a stroke at age 89. News reports on her death claimed that her most famous book "questioned the sprawling suburbs that characterized urban planning, saying it was killing inner cities and discouraging the economic vitality that springs organically from neighbourhoods."

In fact, The Death and Life questioned the urban renewal plans that planners were using to destroy inner-city neighborhoods. While Jacobs was not personally fond of the suburbs, she was tolerant of them but intolerant of urban planners who wanted to impose their ideas on other people. She did not blame the suburbs for "killing inner cities"; she blamed urban planners, whom she described as "know-it-alls (who also possessed a supposed knowledge of the future) who wade into a piece of the world and its population with visions of how to transform the whole shebang and proceed to try to do it."

While she carefully described inner city life in detail, she also warned against applying her observations to small towns or suburban areas. Yet this is exactly what urban planners have done; so-called smart growth is an overt attempt to convert suburban areas into the inner-city neighborhoods that Jacobs described in her book.

Jane Jacobs and the truth; R.I.P.

Va.: Ties to Far-Flung Homes Drive Commuters to Great Lengths 

Some people live far from work because they want a home that costs less.

But others live far from work because there's little or no work near home. That's the main point of this article, which describes the 77 mile (one-way) commute that ten residents of Luray, Virginia endure every day to get to jobs at the George Mason University, a state school with its main campus located in Fairfax.

Charge Landowners a Windfall Profits Tax? 

Portland's regional planning agency, Metro, wants to charge landowners a "windfall profits tax" when it expands the urban-growth boundary, making land available for development.

Let's see how this works. First Metro draws the urban-growth boundary, depressing the value of land excluded from the boundary. Then it expands the boundary, restoring that value. Then it taxes landowners for the increased value.

"It's based on the increased value created by government action creating a windfall for some property owners," says Robert Liberty, former director of 1000 Friends of Oregon and now a member of the Metro council. Of course, Liberty was totally opposed to paying landowners compensation when government regulation depressed the value of their property. Now he sees the windfall profits tax as a fair response to Measure 37, which requires such compensation.

Such a tax might makes sense if government action really did increase the value of someone's property. For example, it might make sense to create a special service district that taxes local landowners for roads and other improvements made that enhance land values in the district.

But Liberty's idea smacks of Mafia thugs destroying people's businesses and then expecting "protection money" from businessowners whose businesses they allow to continue. Let's hope this idea dies a quick death.

Monday, April 24, 2006

D.C.: Transit- (and train-) oriented development 

OK, I'll admit it - I'm a railfan. I love to watch trains, and the anticipation of waiting for a CSX or NS freight at a grade crossing is something I find enjoyable (and I'd never, ever try to "beat the train," and not just because it's unsafe, but because it would deprive me of a train to watch).

Having said that, here are some photographs that I took recently of some fairly new homes that were built next to the Takoma Metrorail station on the Red Line in the Takoma area of the District of Columbia. In addition to being close to the Metro stop (they are), they are also hard by the CSX (ex-B&O) Metropolitan Subdivision tracks, which run on either side of the Red Line at this location.

First, a development that was built at the corner of Blair Road and Cedar Street, N.W., and just to the west of the Metropolitan Sub and Red Line tracks.





Images 1 and 2 are the front and rear of the same units. In the second image, we see the tops of the buildings peering over the roof the the Metro station and a passing CSX freight train.



Image 3 is of the "other" side of this "V"-shaped complex, which fronts onto Blair Road, N.W. (and the BP gas station). Note also the garage entrance on the left side of this picture.



Image 4 is taken from 4th Street, N.W. looking north, at two old facades that were used to connect the legs of the "V". The garage exit is on the right of this picture, next to the Metro station entrance (which is out of the picture on the right).

Now I don't think any of this is very attractive, and it does not strike me as having much of a "sense of place."

Second, on the east side of the tracks, in the 300 block of Carroll Street, N.W. is another project that was completed recently.





In image 5 we also see a CSX train rumbling by. Image 6 shows the entrance to the parking garage.

While I generally like buildings built of brick (my grandfather was a mason), this does not do much for me, even though it's more attractive than the project above.

And in spite of my interest in trains, I don't think I'd want to be this close to a mainline railroad! Were I to live there, I would probably get used to the sound of the motive power and the trains, but I wonder if anyone considered what would happen in the event of a derailment?

Click on the link below for a Google map of the area. Note that Cedar Street, N.W. changes names as it crosses under the Metropolitan Subdivision's tracks for some reason - east of the tracks, it's Carroll Street, N.W. Note also that the satellite image of this area was taken before either of these projects was built, though the Takoma Metrorail station, and the Metropolitan Sub tracks are clearly visible.

Blair Road and 4th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.

Air quality: Joel Schwartz comments on propsed changes to federal particulate ("PM2.5") standards 

Words below are quoted from Joel's letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding Docket ID: EPA-HQ- OAR-2001-0017:

Randomized, controlled studies of PM and mortality could provide more definitive evidence of PM2.5 risks. Such studies can not, of course, be performed on humans. However, animal studies have failed to provide evidence that PM causes premature death, even at concentrations much higher than ever occur in ambient air. Studies of less adverse PM2.5 effects have been performed with human volunteers, but these studies have provided little or no evidence for harm at contemporary PM2.5 levels.

EPA and CASAC have ignored the evidence against the validity of observational epidemiology as a tool for assessing PM2.5 risks. And they have marshaled evidence selectively so as to create an appearance of greater and more certain risks from PM2.5 than is warranted by the weight of the evidence.

Given that current PM2.5 standards are sufficiently stringent to protect Americans with an adequate margin of safety, EPA should reject its proposed PM2.5 NAAQS rule and leave the current PM2.5 standards in place.

Read Joel's entire letter here. (Adobe Acrobat .pdf, 80 KB)

Montgomery County's Agricultural Preserve - who are the roads for? 

As some readers of this blog no doubt know, Montgomery County, Maryland has set aside a large section of its land area for use as something called the Agricultural Preserve. One of the things that the county allows in the Agricultural Preserve is, well, agriculture (the Ag Preserve is also a de-facto urban growth boundary, though it's never called that and has had little or no impact on growth and development of areas beyond Montgomery County).

But agriculture and farming (at least in my mind) normally means tractors, combines, trucks and the like (some Maryland counties have farms owned by the Amish, who do not generally use such equipment, but as best as I can tell, there are no Amish farms in Montgomery County). Many roads in the Ag Presrve have been designated as so-called Rustic Roads, which means no widenings, no new shoulders - no improvements at all. But this has produced a conflict between those that want no changes to the rustic roads, and the farmers that the Ag Preserve is intended to "protect."

This conflict is described in a Washington Post article today (Monday, April 24, 2006) by Nancy Trejos, Where the 'Rustic' Clogs the Road.

A map of the county's Rustic Roads can be found here (Adobe Acrobat .pdf, 2.31 MB).

See also a presentation on the Rural Rustic Roads Improvement Program (714 KB) by the Virginia Department of Transportation, which is based on the Montgomery County, Maryland program.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Skyrocketing Aerial Tram 

PORTLAND, OR - To its supporters, including Mayor Potter OHSU is a valuable ally that will help produce thousands of good-paying jobs in the new neighborhood rising along the west bank of the Willamette River. To its critics, including Commissioner Leonard OHSU isn’t a reliable partner and has placed itself above the public good. The clash of opinions helped inflame the dispute over the skyrocketing costs of the aerial tram that will link OHSU’s existing facilities on Marquam Hill to the district. No one is happy that tram costs have nearly quadrupled, to approximately $57 million. But OHSU insisted on the tram before it would commit to the overall development. Wednesday they voted to approve a new financing plan that includes additional incentives to OHSU and South Waterfront property owners to accelerate the construction schedule. Leonard accused OHSU of lying to the council about the costs of the tram and using its role in the development to financially benefit its employees saying “They have not been forthright with us. They are not a trustworthy partner.” The attacks on OHSU have been even sharper in the neighborhoods affected by the tram, “The reason they wanted the tram was so that OHSU doctors could get to better restaurants for lunch,” said David Redlick, a consultant who is the former chairman of the Homestead Neighborhood Association.

Final Stop on Free Ride 

PORTLAND, OR - The continued ability of Portlanders to ride TriMet buses and light-rail trains for free as part of the 31-year-old Fareless Square program is under review because of a proposal from an agency budget advisory committee to save money and combat “undesirable behavior.” That proposal to review the program is contained in the committee’s April 12 report. The report said the agency is wrestling with increased costs and needs to find money in order to provide “adequate financial security.” One way to do so is to reduce or end Fareless Square. Although the TriMet committee made a similar recommendation last year, this year the proposal appears to have legs — judging by the city’s action and TriMet’s plans for a committee to study just this topic. But spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said no decision will be made without an extensive public process.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Why Not Buy the Land? 

"Hello, I think I may be the Hospital Fairy," Stephens said as he was introduced at the end of a forum on Measure C, Thursday night. If Stephens has really succeeded at finding a new 'why not buy this property that is for sale instead' solution, he may have helped not only save a hospital, but friendships as well. What Stephens has done is put together a deal that would allow the Sonoma Valley Hospital District to back away from using eminent domain.

400% Fee Increase 

RALEIGH - The Raleigh City Council is expected to reject a 72 percent increase in impact fees when it meets in April 18, but home builders beware - the reason Mayor Charles Meeker expects the proposal to be killed is that he and other city leaders want a bigger increase, perhaps as much as 400 percent. Raleigh's fee has hovered unchanged for 10 years. The proposal under consideration would raise the fees to $1,173 - a 72 percent increase that essentially would catch the rate up with the inflation of the past decade. That's not enough to satisfy Meeker, who says Raleigh needs to collect higher impact fee income to offset the cost of infrastructure improvements - specifically, new roads and parks - required by new housing developments. He cites a recent report that says Raleigh could charge a maximum of $3,404 in street and park fees, or 400 percent more than its current $682 rate.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Project Frontline 

The eminent-domain activist who received national attention by attempting to have the home of a Supreme Court justice seized is starting an effort to help any American whose property is about to be taken against their will by a government entity. Logan Darrow Clements of Freestar Media has launched "Project Frontline," a campaign to surround pieces of property set for government-enforced seizure with protesters, hoping it will attract media attention and stall the eviction of the affected property owners.

Whistleblower 

The stunning April edition of WND's acclaimed Whistleblower Magazine titled "THE END OF PRIVATE PROPERTY" Subtitled "How bureaucrats use eminent domain to steal homes, trample the Constitution and destroy lives," is a groundbreaking investigative report that takes readers on a jarring tour of America – a land where bureaucrats can decide to take away your home and give it to another individual or company, for no other reason than that it will the result in higher tax revenues for them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Perhaps Portland should consider the New York City experience with aerial trams? 

As reported in this story in the New York Times: Power Failures Leave Tram Passengers Hanging for Hours.

A four-minute trip on the Roosevelt Island Tramway turned into a harrowing ordeal that lasted hours last night as a series of power failures left more than 70 passengers suspended hundreds of feet in the air.

Around 9:30 p.m., after officials had tried and failed to restore power, and with options running out, emergency workers scrambled to prepare for a daring midair rescue. The ordeal began shortly before 5 p.m. when the power gave out, leaving two tram cars motionless on cables that rise as high as 250 feet above the East River between the East Side of Manhattan and Roosevelt Island.

Anne Applebaum on opposition to wind-driven electric power generation 

Anne Applebaum often writes about foriegn affairs, including a well-regarded history of the former Soviet empire's network of secret forced-labor and concentration camps, GULAG: A History.

But her column today, Tilting at Windmills (Wednesday, April 19, 2006) in the Washington Post is about people and groups that oppose everything, including, in particular, new electric generating capacity powered by the wind.

She rightly refers to these people and groups as examples of BANANAism: "Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything."

I've also heard BANANAs described as Build Absolutely Nothing Anyplace Near Anyone and as CAVEs (Citizens Against Virtually Everything).

You can choose the one you like.

Vegas Finds a Big Winner! 

Las Vegas, NV - The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada approved moving forward with the Regional Fixed Guideway project today at their April Board Meeting. The choice of rubber tire rapid transit was based on greater flexibility and lower-cost than rail alternatives. During the public process, citizens expressed a desire to go to McCarran Airport and UNLV, among other places close to the proposed route. The plan provides the flexibility to adjust the route according to demand, while a rail option does not. In addition, the lower initial cost of the rubber tire rapid transit system presents a more attractive offer.

$400K Blight? 

FLORIDA, Lakeland - The Community Redevelopment Agency has moved closer to taking private property for a plan that could put condominiums on blighted land. But at least one property owner isn't convinced the key to renewal is tearing down neighborhoods to build new homes. John Shelburne, who rehabbed the home on East Bay Street for rental property, disagrees with the CRA's methods. Shelburne bought the property about 1 1 years ago, remodeled it extensively and said the CRA's offer is not enough. He estimates replacing the property could cost $400,000."I'm not trying to squeeze the city for extra money," Shelburne said. "I'd rather keep the property than break even or take a loss."

Monday, April 17, 2006

More Education Needed 

CHICAGO- One development, singled out by consortium members as a model development in the making, built with smart-growth design principles in mind is the Coffee Creek Center. Reggie Korthals, environmental director for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission said,"Local planners have identified a need of more education for smart growth and conservation design principles..." However, Korthals is somewhat critical of the development, noting it has neither met initial expectations nor grown as fast as it should have.

Smart Growth Increases Homelessness 

"We are seeing more middle-class people and people working two jobs falling into homelessness because wages are not keeping up with rents," said Karol Schulkin, coordinator of Ventura County Homeless Services. HOWEVER, what they fail to mention is that Ventura has a very strict no growth policy, and trying to build a tract of new homes requires voters approval. They can't have it both ways since every housing proposal on the block so far has been rejected by voters. Real estate in ventura county is a solid investment, prices will remain high and homelessness numbers will get higher too.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Calif.: Repeat of Quake Of 1906 Could Be Even More Deadly 

Repeat of Quake Of 1906 Could Be Even More Deadly
Study Simulates Disaster in Bay Area

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 17, 2006; A03

Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the catastrophic 1906 San Francisco earthquake this week, researchers have calculated the possible death and destruction that could occur if another temblor of equal strength struck the Bay Area today.

The worst-case scenario? As many as 3,400 dead, mostly crushed by buildings; up to 700,000 people displaced or homeless; 130,000 structures extensively damaged or destroyed; and immediate losses exceeding $125 billion -- a forecast that rivals the mayhem unleashed by Hurricane Katrina and the breaching of the New Orleans levees.

[snip]

Mary Lou Zoback, a senior research scientist with the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., reviewed the study and endorses its forecast. She says what leaps out at her is how vulnerable the urban core of the Bay Area is -- the cities of San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland -- because so many of the residents live in apartments and houses built before building codes were tightened in 1970. (And because many units are rent-controlled apartments, she says, landlords have few incentives to seismic retrofit.)

[Op-Ed] Trucks on the Highway: How to Live With Them 

This op-ed, by Lon Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic and Anne Ferro of the Maryland Motor Truck Association raises some good advice, and some good points to ponder.

Good advice:

For the immediate future, motorists should concentrate on doing better at sharing the road with trucks. For their own safety,
they should avoid:


· Holding a position on either side of a truck. Trucks have large blind spots on both sides. If the truck driver's face isn't visible in the side-view mirror, a truck driver can't see a car that is traveling alongside his vehicle.
· Tailgating. Trucks also have huge blind spots behind them. A truck driver cannot see cars that are following too closely, and if the truck driver must brake suddenly, a tailgater has no place to go.
· Cutting in front of a truck after passing. Trucks require nearly twice the stopping time and distance that cars do.

While National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that the fatal accident rate for both cars and trucks is at a historical low, last year more than 42,000 people were killed on the nation's highways and more than 2.5 million were injured.

Points to ponder:

Government officials and law enforcement agencies can do their part to improve this safety record by:

· Increasing enforcement efforts, especially by targeting aggressive and careless drivers.
· Improving engineering and adding capacity where feasible, especially at exit and entry ramps to ensure adequate space for safe merging.
· Reinforcing the restraining barriers on heavily traveled overpasses above interstates to better protect vehicles below.
· Increasing truck parking along busy routes.
· Maintaining wide shoulders along highways as a refuge for disabled vehicles.
· Creating a bypass for through traffic on Interstate 95 so that traffic is not forced on to the [Capital] Beltway.
Motorists, truckers and government working together can ensure that increasing cargo and congestion on the highways do not mean
more accidents.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

So you think your commute is bad? 

From the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch :

372 miles round-trip a day

BY CHIP JONES
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Apr 15, 2006

Think you have a long drive to work?

Meet Dave Givens, an electrical engineer from Mariposa, Calif. Five days a week he drives 186 miles one way from his home to Cisco Systems Inc. in San Jose.

That's a round-trip journey of 372 miles a day, a drive that takes a total of seven hours.

He makes the trip five days a week and has been doing so since 1989.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Two Maryland interchanges among worst in the nation 

A few comments about this story are in order.

First, regarding I-270 and I-495 in Montgomery County, Maryland, this is really a complex of SIX interchanges, not just one, as you can see from this Google map. Though the congestion here is indeed terrible.

Second, this is Montgomery County. Home to Smart Growth long before anyone in Portland, Oregon was using the word. Home to land use plans for suburban areas based on "concepts of transit serviceability." Home to a county general plan based on Wedges and Corridors as far back as 1964 (same year that the Capital Beltway was completed).

Third, the other Maryland interchange, I-95 and I-495, is right next to Montgomery County, in its "sister" county, Prince George's, which has been home to similar land use themes, including a general plan based on Smart Growth (and cancellation of many highway projects) as well.

Did I just write that cancelling highway projects does not ease congestion? WOW!

Garden apartments - suburban densification gone wrong? 

"Garden"-style mid-rise apartment buildings are often touted by advocates of Smart Growth (who generally don't reside in apartment buildings) as a way to achieve increased transit patronage and "livable" communities in suburbia. But there are problems with with these apartment complexes - problems that the advocates of same don't mention.

Do garden apartment complexes have a monopoly on fires? No, of course not. But garden apartment fires seem to impact lots of people (including fatalities).

Consider the following recent incidents:

People Rescued During 3-Alarm Fire In Wheaton (from NBC4)
Three Alarm Apartment Fire - Georgian Way (Burtonsville VFD)

Two Alarm Apartment Fire In Wheaton - - April 8, 2006 - 0342 hours (Kensington VFD)
10857 Amherst Ave (from TheWatchDesk.com)
Garden Apartment Fire - Amherst Avenue (Burtonsville VFD)

2300 Blue Ridge Ave(also TheWatchDesk.com)

2nd Alarm Fire in Laurel (Laurel VFD)

Apartment Fire – 7100blk Hanover Parkway (Berwyn Heights VFD)

3-Alarm Fire – 6200blk Springhill Ct (Berwyn Heights VFD)

Five Alarm Fire In Glenmont Destroys 42 Apartments - June 19, 2005- 12100 block of Shorefield Court (Kensington VFD)

Vienna Apartment Fire Displaces Sixty-Five Residents (Fairfax County FD)

Springfield Garden Apartment Fire (Fairfax County FD)

Perhaps nothing better sums up the problems with garden apartments than this brief from the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department (Prince George's County, Maryland - Company 33):

WORKER FALLS FROM ROOF OF "NEW" LOW-INCOME HOUSING

For those interested in how fire fighters plan for and fight garden apartment fires, see a Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation by the Montgomery County Department of Fire and Rescue here (3.3 MB).

Nissan Motor = Crazed Bully 

MISSISSIPI - In an example of Nissan Motor's flexing its corporate might, old eminent domain laws have been rewritten in Mississippi allowing the State to take land and homes from local landowners for the sole private benefit of Nissan Motor. How the State was "convinced" to change these laws is unclear, but it is clear that local individuals are being deprived of their property rights so Nissan Motor can build its own plant.

Eminent Domain From Hell 

This video of the State forcibly taking people's property will make your stomach flip, viewers be warned.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Va.: Cry for Secession Grows in Loudoun County 

Cry for Secession Grows in Loudoun County
Apr 13th - 1:02pm
Hank Silverberg, WTOP Radio

LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. -- Ever heard of Catoctin County?

That's because it doesn't exist -- yet.

For the past few years, the east and west in Loudoun have been battling over development.

Now, a group called Citizens for Catoctin County have a new study they say bolsters the economic viability of splitting away from Loudoun County.

Md.: Aladdin residents fear 1-year notice 

Aladdin residents fear 1-year notice
Anxiety rises as mobile home park's sale advances
By Larry Carson
Sun reporter
Originally published April 9, 2006

After school, children play in the streets of Aladdin Village Mobile Home Park near Jessup as they have for decades. But their shouts and laughter belie a quiet tension gripping many of the families living there. By summer, residents expect to get a letter that many of them dread, giving them the state-required, one-year notice that the 241-lot park will close for redevelopment and that they must move or lose their homes.

With land values in Howard County soaring, park owners are looking toward more lucrative redevelopment, which is what county officials want along U.S. 1. But that also means the loss of the kind of traditional affordable housing that mobile homes represent.

On Thursday, the Planning Board recommended, on a 3-2 vote, that a rezoning of the property being sought by the owners of Aladdin be approved. The matter will now be considered by the Zoning Board, made up of the five members of the County Council.

Va.: On Road Funding, Kaine Finds Slow-Growth Camp Is No Ally 

On Road Funding, Kaine Finds Slow-Growth Camp Is No Ally

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006; VA04

In 2002, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) put his chief political strategist (now helping to run his presidential exploration) in charge of winning a referendum on a sales tax for transportation in Northern Virginia.

He made sure that Mary K. " Mame" Reiley had $2 million and a virtual who's who of the business world to counter the expected barrage from anti-tax activists and lawmakers.

But the tax effort lost, and it was the surprisingly strong opposition from another quarter -- the slow-growth and environmental crowds -- that caused Warner to fume about betrayal.

Fast-forward four years. Just elected and planning another fight for transportation funds, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) was determined
to woo the green and slow-growth groups to his side.


It looks as though he has failed.

With Kaine's proposal for higher taxes in limbo, the leaders of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Piedmont Environmental Council issued a statement three days before the end of the 2006 General Assembly session: "Far too much emphasis has been placed on increasing transportation funding and far too little on better growth management or transportation planning reform" at the Virginia Department of Transportation, said Stewart Schwartz , the coalition's executive director.

Developers Snatch up Trailer Parks  

EVERYWHERE, USA - Mobile home parks around the country are being scooped up by developers, depleting affordable housing in many booming real estate markets and spurring states and counties to help residents being evicted. The rising price of land has made mobile home parks a hot commodity and developers are replacing the trailer parks with condominiums, town houses, strip malls and big-box stores. Suburban sprawl has surrounded these communities and now you have a 10- to 15-acre property in a suburban area - then it is an attractive target for developers.

Symbolic Stand Against Annexation 

WINSTON SALEM, North Carolina - Forsyth County commissioners can't stop the city of Winston-Salem from annexing unincorporated parts of the county, but the commissioners took a symbolic stand against involuntary annexation last night. About 20 residents of areas affected by the city's annexation attempts stood and loudly applauded after the commissioners unanimously approved a resolution calling for the discontinuation of involuntary annexation. The resolution asks the county's municipalities to employ only annexation by petition. The resolution was similar to one recently passed by Buncombe County. Gloria Whisenhunt, the chairwoman of the Forsyth County commissioners, said that her goal is to help spread the resolution to counties throughout the state. "It's certainly for Forsyth County, but I don't see the city of Winston-Salem stopping just because we ask them to," Whisenhunt said. "But if we can make it a statewide issue, then perhaps we can have an impact."
• Author James Romoser can be reached at jromoser@wsjournal.com

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

TOLLROADSnews: Tollroads play increasing role - report by PB for FHWA 

2006.04.12
SURVEY
Tollroads play increasing role - report by PB for FHWA

A survey by PB Consult for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) details the expanding role of tolling in highway development. Titled "Current Toll Road Activity in the US: a Survey and Analysis" the report finds that in the past 15 years 22 states have advanced a total of 147 new tollroad (TR) projects that provide 3,400 new centerline-miles (5,472km) and 13,800 lane-miles (22.2k lane-km) of capacity, representing $76.7b in cost.

The report says that over the last decade, an average of 50 to 75 miles a year of new expressway has been constructed as toll roads out of an overall average of the less than 150 miles of urban expressways opened annually.:

"Toll roads, therefore, have been responsible for 30 to 40 percent of new upper level road mileage over the past decade."

"I just don't want to hear it again and again..." 

FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina - Residents would have access to public transportation under a proposal that would cost millions of dollars more each year. But local leaders have yet to embrace the idea.The main obstacle has been the politically unpopular decision to raise taxes to pay for expanding transit service.
The current Fayetteville Area System of Transit, or FAST, costs the city about $4.8 million a year. One option for expanding the system would cost $14.1 million; the other option would be almost $11 million. Under both options, bus hours and routes would be extended beyond the city. Fayetteville transit officials first proposed the expansion two years ago, hoping to increase the speed and frequency of riders, and for the first time, get the county’s financial support.
But local officials have yet to act on that proposal. Commissioner Jeannette Council said county commissioners are unwilling to raise taxes to pay for mass transit, even though they have heard a presentation on expanding FAST three times. “I just don’t want to hear it again and again...,” she said.

Apparently They Have Something To Say 

TENNESSEE/NORTH CAROLINA - The U.S. Forest Service has more than 200,000 comments to sort through, and rangers have calls to take — some from landowners and some from developers. The Forest Service is finding people have plenty to say about a proposal to sell public land to help cover costs of a rural schools program. The Forest Service wants Congress to approve using land sales to raise $800 million over five years to help pay for the popular Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination program, which is up for renewal this year. Up to 300,000 acres of land could be at stake.

Map of Nantahala National Forest showing the tracts of land that have the potential to be sold (1,674 KB)
Map of Pisgah National Forest showing the tracts of land that have the potential to be sold (1,262 KB)
Map of Uwharrie National Forest showing the tracts of land that have the potential to be sold (449 KB)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

BBC report: Brazil's sugar crop fuels nation's cars 

It seems that the United States has plenty of land for agricultural use (consider this Heritage Foundation brief from 2004).

Could use of land to raise crops (be it sugar cane or other plants) be viable for producing motor fuels in the U.S. and other First World nations?

In the July/August 2004 of the Washington Monthly magazine, Sam Jaffe made the case that switchgrass might be one of those other plants. Read more about it here.

Va. Leaders Rally for Metro Financing 

It seems that none of the parties in this debate have read the op-ed by Wendell Cox in the Washington Post from 2005 (you can read it here).

More on Maryland's InterCounty Connector 

Baltimore Sun: ICC foes criticize impact report

Washington Post: Impact Statement Prompts Threat Of Renewed Environmental Fight

Monday, April 10, 2006

Federally-mandated Growth Controls Across Four States Proposed 

AP Via WTOP Radio: Preservationists Seek Heritage Trail Designation
Apr 10th - 4:55pm

By DERRILL HOLLY
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - A Virginia congressman announced plans Monday to preserve a nearly 200-mile, history-rich corridor that stretches along U.S. Route 15 from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate in Virginia to Gettysburg, Pa.

The proposed four-state National Heritage Area, known as the "Journey Through Hallowed Ground," includes 13 national parks, 47 historic districts and dozens if historic downtowns that played roles in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

"The Journey Through Hallowed Ground holds more American history than any other region of the country," Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., said at a news conference in Leesburg, Va.

Wolf's bill will be introduced when Congress returns from spring break the week of April 23. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., will introduce a Senate version of the bill, which would designate the corridor one of 28 National Heritage Areas in the country.

Kat Imhoff, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation that runs Monticello, said the goal of the heritage area designation is
tying the sites together while promoting tourism and managing growth to preserve history for future generations.

The Problem with Global Warming Is It Stopped 

Global climate warmed from 1970 to 1998, leading to mass hysteria. But guess what -- since 1998 it hasn't warmed at all.

Global climate also warmed between 1918 and 1940, which the models say is before we were emitting enough greenhouse gases to make any difference. But it did not warm between 1940 and 1965, when we were emitting enough CO2 and other greenhouse gases to supposedly make a difference.

The author of this article, a paleoclimatologist, says that the global warming bandwagon is made up of anti-technology alarmists and scientists going after the "gravy train" of research funds provided by the United Nations and other government bodies. But he concludes that recent changes in global temperatures have natural causes, "partly in predictable cycles, and partly in unpredictable shorter rhythms and rapid episodic shifts, some of the causes of which remain unknown."

So don't blow a billion dollars on a light-rail line with the expectation that you are doing something for the global climate. It is much more likely that you are merely making a few contractors rich at everyone else's expense.

City Commissioner Caves, Tram Construction Continues 

Portland city commissioner Dan Saltzman caved in to pressure from the mayor and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and voted to spend more city money building the aerial tram. The tramway, which was already under construction, was nearly 300 percent overbudget and contractors expected to run out of money in a few weeks.

Thoush OHSU is the biggest supporter of the tram, it wanted the city to pay some of the cost overrun. Saltzman, along with two others of the five-member Portland city commission, vowed not to spend another cent on it. But Saltzman changed his mind and tram construction will continue -- at least until the next cost overrun.

Saltzman's turnabout is especially curious because he is up for reelection in just five weeks. Voters will start casting their vote-by-mail ballots in a few days. Since the tram is one of the biggest controversies in Portland, Saltzman's decision to vote for it risks his seat. He may be betting that his incumbancy will override any irritation the voters may feel about his tram vote.

Only one of the four candidates challenging Saltzman has come out against high-density projects such as the SoWhat District (which the aerial tram is to serve), so he probably feels pretty safe. Under Oregon law, if no candidate gets a majority, there will be a runoff in November between the top two.

Two Classes of Homeowners 

By Jeff Ostrowski Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Save Our Homes, the tax relief package aimed at keeping Floridians of moderate means from being taxed out of their houses, increasingly divides Florida property owners into two classes — winners and losers. The winners? Longtime property owners with homestead exemptions. The losers? Everyone else, from recent buyers of homes to apartment tenants, from snowbirds to owners of malls and office buildings, even longtime residents. Throughout Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, neighbors in nearly identical homes pay vastly different tax bills depending on when they bought their homes and whether they have a homestead exemption.
Even Save Our Homes' supporters acknowledge that such gaps aren't fair, and a growing chorus of critics complains that the tax break disproportionately rewards owners of high-priced homes.
But the measure's staunchest critics say Save Our Homes won't go away. Instead, there's a push to expand the break by letting homeowners take it with them when they move.
The wide discrepancies in tax bills aren't the only unintended consequence of Save Our Homes. Faced with big increases, many homeowners stay put rather than moving up or downsizing, creating a drag on an already-slowing housing market.

Now Ordinary Folks Rant Too 

These days, people come up and rant about the topic - and not just policy wonks, but ordinary folks of various political perspectives. Friends from all over the country send newspaper clips of eminent-domain abuses in their community, with yellow sticky notes bearing their outraged comments. The sea change occurred June 23, 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that cities should be granted the utmost latitude when they decide to condemn homes, businesses and whole neighborhoods and turn the properties over to big-box retailers, auto malls, condo developers or whatnot. Most of the public understood what Justice Sandra Day O'Connor explained in her dissent: "Today nearly all real property is susceptible to condemnation on the Court's theory. In the prescient words of a dissenter from the infamous decision in Poletown, '[n]ow that we have authorized local legislative bodies to decide that a different commercial or industrial use of property will produce greater public benefits than its present use, no homeowner's, merchant's or manufacturer's property, however productive or valuable to its owner, is immune from condemnation for the benefit of other private interests that will put it to a "higher" use.'"

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Paris Mass Transit Priority: $1B Loss & More Pollution 

Over at From the Heartland, Wendell Cox shares the results of a recent study of transit priority in Paris, France here.

The blog entry describes where to obtain the report, which is unfortunately only available in French.

D.C.: Activists Prefer Car Lots to High-Rises 

Activists Prefer Car Lots to High-Rises
Victories Seen by Some as Intimidation

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 9, 2006; C12

For Carolyn Sherman, the latest front in the ground war for her neighborhood is a used-car lot steps from the Friendship Heights Metro station. She says a proposed 79-foot-tall building with condominiums and ground-floor retail would be more of an eyesore than the old Buick dealership on the site.

"It doesn't fit in," explained Sherman, insisting that a seven-story, boxy edifice would be "destabilizing" to the area she loves. Sherman moved to upper Northwest 13 years ago and enjoys listening to the robins chirp in her back yard, watching children play on the tire swing down the block and walking to an independently owned coffee shop just off Wisconsin Avenue.


This area is, in my opinion, Ground Zero for anti-highway, pro-congestion and old-fashioned not-in-my-backyward-ism in Washington, D.C. and its suburbs.

In spite of its location within the corporate limits of the District of Columbia, it is very suburban in apperance - single-family homes predominate off of the main drag, Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.

These neighborhoods (never mind the auto-oriented land use) got themselves "saved" from the U.S. 240 (I-270 today) Northwest freeway in the late 1950's and early 1960's, promoting Metro as an alternative (and the Red Line runs below this section of Wisconsin Avenue). But now they don't want the transit-oriented development that's supposed to go with a multi-billion dollar investment in rail transit. Why would that be?

See also Doug Willinger's Highways And Communities web site for more.

Va.: Forever the Negotiator: Brzezinski in a Stalemate Over a Sidewalk 

Apparently, Dr. Brzezinski has lived in his home in this area of McLean, Fairfax County, Va., for many years - perhaps even before McLean was as fashionable and expensive as it is these days. As the Washington Post reports today, there are some people that want him to give up some of his private property for a sidewalk.


For more than half a year after DuBois's first letter, there was little communication, according to the file of correspondence in her office, and several calls to the Brzezinskis went unreturned. In July, a neighborhood representative, Michael Fruin, called Brzezinski's son, a Washington lawyer, who put in touch with his father. Fruin reported to others that Brzezinski was concerned about compensation and privacy.


It's unfortunate that the people wanting the sidewalk are discussing the use of eminent domain to take it from the Brzezinski property.


Hugh Neighbour, another McLean resident, was less resigned, saying that a sidewalk would make it easier for children to ride bikes on errands and thereby help keep them fit. He raised eminent domain as a possibility.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

N.Y.: As Home Costs Rise in Suburbs, Who Is Left to Fight the Fires? 

As N.Y. Times columnist Paul Krugman puts it, much of New York is part of what he calls the "zoned zone." That would include the communities mentioned in this article.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Md.: With His Mate Wounded, George Tends the Nest 

With His Mate Wounded, George Tends the Nest
Female Eagle Rescued After Attack Near Wilson Bridge

By D'Vera Cohn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006; B01

A grim drama is playing out at a longtime bald eagle nest near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, with an uncertain ending for the chicks that are due to hatch there any day now.

A pair of eagles, nicknamed George and Martha by bridge construction workers, have set up housekeeping in Maryland within earshot of the bridge's traffic and construction cranes each year since 1999. Last month, the female laid at least two eggs, which the pair has taken turns incubating. If all goes well, the chicks will hatch this week.

But Martha was attacked in midair Wednesday by another eagle, probably a female seeking to take over her turf. The eagle population has boomed in the Chesapeake Bay region in recent years, and the competition for real estate has grown fierce as available habitat has dwindled.



The Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project is reconstructing this vital Interstate crossing between Virginia and Maryland on the south side of Washington, D.C. The current 6-lane span will be replaced by two six-lane bridges. Environmental groups opposed this project long and hard, claiming, among other things, that the project would damage the bald eagle population (see this for an example).

'Envision Utah' Has Blurred Vision 

UTAH, Salt Lake City - Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, said he is not opposed to planning, but he is opposed to aggressive planning (advocated by Envision Utah) that adds bureaucratic delays and costs to developers that are eventually passed to homebuyers. "Government regulation is being used to plan communities as opposed to the marketplace," Mero said. "If government would just provide oversight for health and safety matters and then let the marketplace handle the distribution of our communities and how they are laid out and set up, I think Utah would continue to be a marvelous place to live. But the more we try to appease environmentalism, all in the name of being 'smart,' I think we are headed down a track where Utah is not going to be the unique, livable place that it is today."

City Extorts $251,000 from Family 

CALIFORNIA, Escondido – Eleven years after being forced to sell its property under a threat of eminent domain, the Redding family will finally get its land back for $596,000. “I wrestled with this issue for weeks,” Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler said. “This is not a legal issue. We are not obligated to sell the property back to the family.” County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price weighed in on the debate last week, urging the city to sell the land back at the original purchase price of $345,000 plus property tax, because it was “taken under eminent domain.”

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Need to Get Your Heart Rate Up? READ THIS 

Natural Resources Defense Council - Sprawling land development is gobbling up the American countryside at an alarming rate of 365 acres per hour. In most communities the amount of developed land is growing faster than the population! This pattern of growth forces us to be overly dependent on automobiles, increasing the pollution and damage they cause. It also destroys farmland and open spaces and pollutes more. At the same time it contributes to a range of serious social problems. In response to these trends government has begun to develop smart-growth solutions to revitalize our cities, promote more compact and transit-oriented development, and conserve open space.

Growth Policy Act - Please Exit Stage Left 

TENNESSEE, Chattanooga - Tennessee’s housing prices are rising faster than the national average. This may be a result of housing shortages caused by the state’s 1998 Growth Policy Act which limits annexations and municipal incorporations, while requiring counties and cities to define future growth areas in an attempt to reduce urban sprawl. Smart growth and other restrictive land-use rules create housing shortages that force homebuyers to pay tens of thousands of dollars more for homes, according to a new report from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

Hospital Ready to Sue Portland Over Tram 

Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) has filed notice that it will sue the city of Portland if the city does not come up with an extra $10 million or so to finish the aerial tram that is to connect OHSU's hospital with the South Waterfront (So What) district. The university says that the city is obligated to complete the tram under an agreement reached in 2003. The city says it is obligated to complete the tram only if someone else puts up the money.

Portland blogger Bill McDonald observes that OHSU, as a semi-public institution, has obtained a cushy deal from the legislature allowing it to escape any more than $100,000 liability in the event of malpractice. Recently, for example, the hospital admitted negligence in a case that led a young boy to suffer permanent brain damage, but only had to pay the boy's family $100,000 in compensation, which is far less than it is costing to care for him. McDonald suggests that the city pay OSHU no more than $100,000 to complete the tram. (Many transit agencies enjoy similar liability limits, so I suppose if the tram ever fails, it too will enjoy limited liability.)

OHSU's president earns a salary of $600,000 a year, making him one of if not the highest paid public employee in Oregon. He lives in a mansion provided for him by the state, meaning he pays no property taxes on it, so won't have to worry about the increased taxes other Portland property owners will have to pay to cover the tax waivers, tax-increment financing, and other subsidies to the So What District and its aerial tram.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Impact of Impact Fees 

NORTH CAROLINA — The Raleigh City Council wants to raise impact fees on construction by 72 percent. Cities charge “impact fees” on residential construction to pay for the increased costs of growth on city services. But the rationale behind impact fees focuses only on the negative impact of growth and ignores the obvious other half of the equation: growth’s benefits.“New homes lead to higher property-tax revenues,” Sanera, JLF research director and local government analyst, said. “Converting old farmland with low property values to a subdivision with lots of new homes raises property values exponentially. Land that used to produce low property-tax revenues for the city now yields relatively high property-tax revenues.”The impact-fee report commissioned by the city ignores those benefits, Sanera argues. The report prepared by Duncan & Associates neglects to consider Raleigh’s increased tax revenues from home construction and ownership.“What Raleigh needed was a comprehensive economic analysis of growth,” Sanera said. “What Raleigh paid for was an unbalanced, one-sided look at the impact of growth. How can you gauge something’s real impact if you don’t examine its benefits along with its cost?”

NC Residents Not Protected 

North Carolina has some of the weakest constitutional protections for property rights in the country. Basically North Carolina has punted to the federal Constitution and federal judiciary on the issue of property rights. The NC House Select Committee on Eminent Domain Powers, has yet to seriously discuss or propose major reforms. In fact, both co-chairs reportedly are opposed to a constitutional amendment.

Gas Prices Up Sharply Ahead of Peak Season 

Gas Prices Up Sharply Ahead of Peak Season

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 4, 2006; A01

High gasoline prices have had only a modest impact on the driving habits of American motorists, who have done relatively little to moderate their gasoline consumption. Ever since oil prices soared in September after Hurricane Katrina, gasoline consumption has been within 1.5 percent of the previous year -- some months lower, some months higher, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Gasoline deliveries in January, barely lower than a year earlier, ran 13.3 percent higher than January 1999, when crude oil prices were a fraction of current levels.

"People are wealthier, they've been enticed into buying homes further from work, and the auto industry has been enticing them into buying very inefficient vehicles," said Philip K. Verleger, an oil consultant. He estimates that it takes a 20 percent increase in price to trim consumption by 1 percent today while a 10 percent price increase in the 1970s would have an identical effect.


I am not sure I agree with the estimate in the last sentence above, but it's an interesting one anyway - I suppose we'll see what happens during the U.S. summer driving season to come. Of course, one thing that we are not seeing in the U.S. is long queues of people waiting their turn at the pump to fill up.

Amazing what (the lack of) government price regulations can do!

Illinois: Wal-Mart to open stores in blighted areas 

In the fine book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything), quite a few pages are devoted to the activities of a gang selling crack cocaine on the south side of Chicago, Illinois.

Compared to the "job" of selling illegal narcotics on a Chicago streetcorner, a job at Wal-Mart is pretty darned appealing - and legal, too.

How Toxic Was My Valley 

How Toxic Was My Valley
By Joel Schwartz 04 Apr 2006

Based on EPA's own estimates, air pollution even in the "most toxic" areas of the country poses a miniscule cancer risk. More importantly, EPA's cancer risk estimates are grossly inflated, because they depend on the false assumption that chemicals pose the same per-unit cancer risks at real-world trace exposures as they do at massive laboratory exposures.


Here's another area where some straight (and straightforward) talk would be helpful. Joel does a fine job of making sense out of a complex issue for the reader, and for that I commend him.

Md.: [Immigration] Demand and supply 

From the Baltimore Sun

Demand and supply

American businesses offer jobs, and illegal immigrants come

By Hanah Cho
Sun reporter

April 2, 2006

As Congress struggles with the politics of dealing with a flood of illegal immigrant workers, relatively little attention is being
paid to the issue at the heart of the problem: the fact that they are lured here by American businesses offering millions of jobs.


It is against the law to hire an unauthorized immigrant worker, but neither the employers nor the federal government has been
paying much attention to that fact.



This article has some of the best and straightest talk on immigration and jobs that I have seen in this whole debate.

I encourage readers of the blog to have a look at Hanna Cho's story.

Tram Cost Increases -- Again 

The cost of building an aerial tram from Portland's "Pill Hill" hospital district to the South Waterfront or So What district has increased by another $1.6 million -- either to $51.6 million or $57.5 million, depending on who is counting. The tram is under construction but contractors expect to run out of money in a few weeks.

Portland's city council will vote on April 26 on whether to increase the city's share of funds by at least $10 million. By that time, however, so much will have been invested in construction that it would probably be cheaper to finish it than to tear down the parts that have already been built.

The hospital that will form one terminus of the tram and the developers at the other terminus have each agreed to put up more money to finish the tram -- although in the case of the developers most of the money they "put up" is tax-increment financing that would otherwise go to schools and other urban services. The hospital says it has to have the tram so that doctor's offices will be within fifteen minutes of the hospital -- though it adds that if the tram is not built, it will move those offices to Hillsboro, well over thirty minutes away.

In an editorial today, the Oregonian admits that the city and other parties to the deal all knew "or should have known" the project was going to be far more expensive than the original $15 million estimate. But the paper says the tram should be finished anyway. But most Portlanders know that the editor of the editorial page is married to the hospital's chief public relations officer, so what the paper says no longer has any credibility.

Monday, April 03, 2006

American Dream Out of Reach in Chicago Suburbs 

ILLINOIS - When people think about affordable housing in DuPage County, they don't necessarily think about firefighters, teachers and nurses — but they are the people having a hard time finding a place to live in the area. According to the DuPage Housing Action Coalition, the median price for a single-family house in DuPage in 2005 was $334,900, which is 59 percent higher than the median price statewide. Former Attorney General Jim Ryan talked about equality of opportunity saying, "We believe that everyone who works hard ought to have a shot at the American dream, and part of that American dream is owning your own house."

New York City Losing Blacks, Census Shows 

New York City Losing Blacks, Census Shows

By SAM ROBERTS
Published: April 3, 2006

An accelerating exodus of American-born blacks, coupled with slight declines in birthrates and a slowing influx of Caribbean and African immigrants, have produced a decline in New York City's black population for the first time since the draft riots during the Civil War, according to preliminary census estimates.

Toll Roads Get You There 15 Years Faster 

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina - The NC Turnpike Authority says toll financing would make it possible to open 3 Triangle freeways 15 years sooner than the state's most optimistic timetables using traditional tax funding. This article has a nice Q&A Section for the layperson which explains the basic concepts of tolls roads.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Another effort to make Montgomery County, Md. what it isn't - a dense city 

Planners Imagine a More Walkable Montgomery

I have lived in Montgomery County since 1960, and watched numerous efforts (usually started by the County Council) to densify targeted areas of the county for an assortment of reasons, I have to wonder where this latest effort is going to lead.

One thing is clear - none of this has had much favorable impact on traffic congestion, nor has it helped housing affordability.

Framework For Planning In The Future
(Adobe Acrobat .pdf, 110 KB)

New Mexico: Where's Wile E. Coyote? 

Nope, you can't ride the Rail Runner -- yet

Nine stations across over 50 miles of track - though I did not see much in the way of Smart Growth claims for this project, at least not after a quick look around the Web site for the project.

More residential density is going to make this better? 

Consider this Washington Post article about a large garden apartment complex in Oxon Hill, Prince George's County, Maryland:

Md.: For Tenants, Threats Lurk in The Unknown

Then consider that the Campaign to Re-Invest in the Heart of Oxon Hill asserts that more density in Oxon Hill around the Southview Apartments will somehow obviate the need for more highway capacity to the south of this area, and will "induce" demand for a Metrorail heavy rail transit line.

Then consider this from 2001.

Then consider:

(1) This - the Sierra Club's effort to stop the reconstruction and widening of the nearby Woodrow Wilson Bridge in 1999; and
(2) Sierra's effort to "save" Eagle Cove on the Potomac River (a mined-out sand-and-gravel pit) from the developers of the new upscale National Harbor project - while also demanding more density around the Southview Apartments.

And the according to this Washington Post article from 2005, the eagles are doing quite well in spite of the noise, dust and the mud of Wilson Bridge reconstruction project - and the massive queues of traffic that form at this narrow six-lane Capital Beltway crossing of the Potomac River on almost a daily basis. Scott Kozel's excellent Roads to the Future site also has a page about the Wilson Bridge that he updates frequently here (including nice photos of the construction effort).

Getting back to the Post story above about Southview, why is it that so few want to talk about crime, criminal activity and residential density? Land use and how it relates to transportation modes is something we hear about all the time, but land use and crime, almost never.

Calif.: 2 Indicted in Placentia Rail Project 

From the Los Angeles Times

2 Indicted in Placentia Rail Project

The former public works chief, who won a lucrative consultancy, and the former city manager are accused of conflicts of interest.


By Dan Weikel and David Reyes
Times Staff Writers

March 30, 2006

Two former Placentia officials were indicted Wednesday on felony conflict-of-interest charges stemming from a controversial rail project that pushed the north Orange County city to the edge of bankruptcy.

After an 18-month investigation, the Orange County district attorney's office obtained grand jury indictments against former Public Works Director Christopher Becker, 46, of Rancho Santa Margarita and retired City Manager Robert D'Amato, 69, of Placentia.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Induced-Driving Myth 

Do new highways merely "induce" more driving? Or is that just an excuse for not building any and letting cities become even more congested?

Robert Cervero is a planning professor at the University of California (Berkeley) who supports New Urbanism and transit-oriented developments. But he is also an honest researcher. So when he looked at the idea of induced travel, he concluded that previous studies "suffered from methodological problems that distorted their findings," such as by confusing cause and effect.

Cervero's own research shows that "for every 100 percent increase in capacity," new development leads to about a 40-percent increase in traffic. This is "substantially less than reported by past induced-demand studies" and shows that new construction can lead to a reduction in congestion.

"Fighting highway projects, regardless what benefit-cost numbers say, is misguided," concludes Cervero. "The problems
people associate with roads—e.g., congestion and air pollution—are not the fault of road investments per se. These problems stem from the use and mispricing of roads, new and old alike."

Part of the problem is that highway construction today is so delayed by planning studies and processes that, by the time any road gets built, the demand for that road has already exceeded its capacity. For example, Minnesota did a study of highway 10, a four-lane road north of Minneapolis, and found that by the time it could build two new lanes, traffic will have grown by more than 50 percent. Thus, the road at completion would be more congested than it is today -- not because of induced demand but simply because of the normal growth in traffic. This does not mean we should not build roads, only that we should speed up the process.

Black Bears - in Maryland 

I suppose it's reasonable to assume that the black bears of Maryland don't surf the Web and visit the Maryland Sierra Club's Web site what with all that carrying-on about "sprawl" and the like.



But the black bears might just enjoy the Web edition of the Baltimore Sun (source of the above image) if they did surf the Web, and, in particular, most of this article by Candus Thomson, Sun reporter.

If the black bears are doing so well, then this question follows - is there really a "sprawl" problem in Maryland?

Va.: Extending the Washington Metrorail system to Dulles Airport and beyond 

Plenty of news this past week about the proposed extension of the Washington, D.C. regional heavy rail (subway) transit system from West Falls Church in Fairfax County to Washington Dulles Airport in Loudoun County; and beyond to the interchange of the Dulles Greenway and Va. 772.

What's clear to me is that the strategy of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is to have motorists using the Dulles Toll Road (Va. 267) fund a large (and apparently increasing) share of the cost of building the line.

Here's some of the press about this project of late:

TOLLROADSnews: Washington Airports Authority takeover of Dulles TR agreed by Gov VA

TOLLROADSnews: Opposition to transfer of Dulles TR to airport authority

D.C. Examiner: [Opinion] Rail project built on deception

Washington Post: Dulles Rail Project Faces Cuts as Costs Swell

Washington Post: Toll Road To Fund Rail Line To Dulles

Washington Post: Dulles Toll Road Changes Hands

Washington Post: Va. Speaker to Attempt To Void Toll Road Deal

Washington Post: Going Over, Under and Around and Around on the Dulles Metro Expansion

Officials Fret Over Dulles Rail Plan
Remake of Tysons Hinges on Project Being 'Done Right'

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