I love that I was wrong about this!

I’m not sure I was strictly wrong: I didn’t think we’d get a real bill, and if we did, it would be the Republicans’ bill.  A two-year bill isn’t really a long-term solution, but nobody zero-funded transit, and it does include America Fast Forward.  This doesn’t resolve the issues we’ve got with the HTF, only puts them off, but it’s a bill–at least it’s a bill. I have no idea what broke the logjam–maybe House Republicans seeing polls did, or maybe even they are tired of their own fighting, hairpulling and posturing, the way you eventually become tired of your own body odor–but I’ll take what I can get!

Nora Ephron on at least one war metaphor

From an interview at NPR:

“One of the things I’m completely fascinated by,” she said, in her characteristically wry way, “is the determination of many film directors — mostly men — to believe it’s like fighting a war.

“If you have a caterer along,” she said, bringing the joke home, “it is not quite a war. I think we have to remember this.”

Nora Ephron passed away Tuesday. We’re pretty sad around here as a result.

The war on zoning is a secret??!

There are a couple of things that need to go away from writing right now. 1) Analogies between the modern world and ancient Rome (or ancient Greece) that make no sense and 2) using “The War on X” to title anything. The first observation I credit to brilliant former student Peter McFerrin, who noted we should just ban people from making these analogies because most of them are entirely specious and usually self-serving. The second is self-serving, too; overly emotional metaphor that nicely exemplifies the logical fallacy, if-by-whisky. Oh, those liberals! They are AT WAR with the Constitution. There is a CULTURE WAR. Blah blah blah. Retch, Puke, Vomit.

No, war actually involves militaries. Somebody trying to change policies in a way you don’t like is not a war.

Before anybody says it, I don’t think there is a GOP war on women. But that doesn’t mean we’re not in a backlash, a serious one, or that the people leading it aren’t a-holes. It just means that the war metaphor has been over-used, and I’m tired of it.

SO this selection from the Atlantic Cities crossed my desk this morning: The Secret Conservative War On Zoning.. I don’t mean to be rude, but are you kidding me? Is the war a secret? Or are the conservatives secret? Every so often I wish that people in planning would engage in some serious reflexivity about their own biases, one of them being that the field attracts people who believe in progressive social change. There is nothing wrong with that: in fact, that sentiment strikes me as noble and compassionate in my students. But that doesn’t mean that it’s right all the time.

So the shopworn “war on” title combined with an assumed conservative bogeyman. Why conservatives would resent being cast in this role in public discourse is anybody’s guess.

The rest of the article doesn’t help me get over my original grump.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate lobbying group known for pushing the “Stand Your Ground” gun legislation that factored into the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, may be getting into a new line of business: planning and zoning.

Note the careful dodge: “may be getting into.” I love leads like that. And the emotional lead: Trayvon Martin.

The rest goes on to explain that ALEC has put “poison pill” language into model legislation that would to make local zoning much more difficult or impossible. Shocking! Lobbyists rolling legislation? Utterly shocking! How DARE THEY? Naive planners must be taken aback at the dirty pool out-maneuvering!

Of course, planners and environmental organizations have already set up their OWN pre-fab legislative models and language that contains their own regulatory agenda. But it’s right when WE do it, and wrong the Bad Guys do it. Three words: form-based codes. Environmental lobbies have promulgated these and their variants as God’s Own Truth in model legislation and policy. The idea that another group might be forming up in opposition to the values assumed in these regulations should hardly surprise us: it’s how American politics works. Planners and planning ideas, even zoning, do not get a free pass in the political realm, no matter how convinced we are of our own individual rightness and our opponents’ wrongness, ignorance, and bad faith.

Only conservatives hate regulation, after all, right? That’s why Democrat Jerry Brown is in the middle of deconstructing CEQA–not because it’s an over-reaching law, which it is, but because it might stop him from spending $3billion in federal funds on his pet luxury train project.

Going back to War on Zoning, Flint tells us that zoning fights are not new, and the American Planning Association has set up training to help planners…Read More »

What Helen Dargas at UVa could learn from Rage Against the Machine

So unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve watched the media firestorm surrounding the firing of UVa President, Teresa Sullivan. There’s been a ton of writing on subject, including this shot from Siva Vaidhyanathan in Slate. Since then, University of Virginia rector, Helen Dargas, has been blathering on in various apologies in the media. People have used the episode to illustrate everything from corporate control over state institutions (shocking!) to the higher education “bubble”.

I have to admit, I don’t understand the idea of the ‘bubble’. I get that it’s possible that university educations cost too much and the financial value of a college education can fall…but hasn’t that already happened with all the youth unemployment?

States have already pulled back so much of their support for places like UVa I don’t even know why they are allowed to appoint overseers. It’s like me owning 7 percent of a company.

I know we’re all supposed to be trembling in our boots of the Mighty Republicans and their plans to reform to higher education, but what will really affect higher education are the demographic changes in the market–there aren’t going to be as many young Americans going to college any more–and income equality. When people don’t have any real wage growth, they can’t afford a lot of things. Like college for their kids. (Class warfare, class warfare, socialist! Even discussing inequality is UNAMERICAN, even if you are still discussing business). We’ve known this for some time: there’s a reason why places like Stanford and Harvard have been working so hard to re-enforce a global brand for their universities.

American higher education is changing, no doubt, but the University of Virginia was one of the select few of public universities–like Berkeley and Michigan–that was going to be able to survive state zero-funding of higher education. It wasn’t Ivy–but it was close enough that it could have weathered that change–yes, the change to becoming an entirely private institution–pretty well. It had its own pedigree, like Harvard—the touch of Renaissance conveyed by founder, Thomas Jefferson.

Dargas and her clumsiness damaged the brand. They took the shine off the place. Rage Against the Machine made a lot of money for a lot of people selling an anti-establishment image. Selling an anti-establishment image. Selling. What UVa has to sell is a great history, an amazing tradition, and a superb faculty.

Liberal arts, by the way, are important to that brand. There is a reason that Yale hasn’t ditched their classics department, and it’s not because classics professors are so darn powerful.

So instead of retaining that image, building on it, and ousting a president they didn’t like quietly, Dargas and her buddies ousted a popular president and now has the world looking at the UVa as the same management as the University of Phoenix. Brilliant move. I assume they had their business school golden boy all picked out. Good luck installing him cleanly now.

I’m not snobby, btw; the University of Phoenix serves a market niche, very well. But the UVa niche was different. Presidents come and go–marks on your reputation, in this world, are harder to erase. A public relations foible of the first order.

New CalHSRA director to make $365,000 year to help the TEA Party illustrate the back scratchy life of technocrats

Brilliant Sol Price MPP alum Teddy Minch sent this little gem along today from the Modesto Bee: California high-speed rail director to earn $365,000.

Because, you know, Californians don’t hate this project or agency enough yet, we have to make it even more hated by making sure the director of the train wreck makes about 4.5 times the median family income. The CalHSR Director needs to make $1,000 a day to explain to you why this massively expensive project will benefit unemployed Californians by eating up the state’s debt limit while its schools experience cut after cut after cut after cut. If I were him, I’d demand quite a salary, too, because that much spinning every day takes a toll on a guy.

So let’s deconstruct this sock in the eye blow by blow.

First off, I respect and like Jeff Morales. He was, I believe, the Director of Caltrans when I was in grad school at UCLA. I remember being pretty impressed by his self-promotional and agency-promotional way of presenting to the public “the New Caltrans”, which wasn’t some tired, old highway department, but instead, a new and improved public agency that was going support our new dreams of urban trolleys and whatnot. He has a fine ability to make a photo op out of just about everything. He’d drunk the New Urbanist Kool-Aid in a major way, and why not, really, since no other ready-made models of urban development have been able to make peace between the developers and the environmentalists the way New Urbanism and all its variants have. The guy had a job to do in a public agency, and this model offered a way out of anti-growth politics when anti-growth politics was still relevant (i.e. before the crash).

Here’s where the TEA Party folks find grist for their mill.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the smart types like Jeff Morales, who are good at retail politics (part of their job as agency heads, after all) figure out who all the money people are–that’s why they get the jobs they do. Once they leave public agencies like Caltrans, they are super, super valuable to the consulting firms like Parsons Brinckerhoff, where Morales went, because it becomes what we in the business rather vulgarly call ‘the sugar t*t connection.’ It’s a money pipeline. You get to play insider baseball because you know everybody in the agency awarding the consulting contracts by their first names. You were an awesome boss back in the day, right? When he’s angling for contracts, half the people making decisions about those contract owe him their jobs. So, of course, PB gets the nod. Guys like Morales are pure gold to consultants.

Now, Morales is going to jump back to head another agency. This move is fooling precisely nobody:

“An outside observer could be excused for thinking the CEO’s job is to grease payments for Parsons Brinckerhoff,” Tolmach said. “As capable as Mr. Morales is, this is just another negative reflection on the project of inside dealing.”

The argument for Morales is that he knows how to get stuff done in California. Which isn’t easy. They’re right. But $365,000?

I have become Captain Ahab, but over a small black dog

Ok, the Suburban Lair does not need more foster doggies. We currently have two fosters, in an addition to an undisclosed number of permanent residents on the Island of Misfit Toys (just in case anybody from LA County Animal Control is reading this). One of the fosters is currently available for adoption. She’s a little Tibetan Spaniel named Hillary, and she’s a delight:

CA716 23103560 1 xRead More »

California HSR as Ballot Fraud? I’ve been wondering about that….

An Op-Ed in the San Jose Mercury News got rather pointed:

The latest end-run tactic by the train’s chief engineer, Gov.
Jerry Brown, would have California’s Legislature suspend its
tough environmental laws so the state could put this pet
project on the — pardon the pun — fast track.

Never mind that every independent analysis has been highly
critical of it.

Never mind that the High-Speed Rail Authority’s own peer
review group said it was terribly flawed.

Never mind that the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office
said even the new, new, new and improved incarnation still is
not nearly “strong enough” and relies on “highly speculative”
funding sources. That is bureaucratese for “not a snowball’s
chance in hell of finding the money to pay for it.”

Never mind that the state’s projected budget shortfall is now
greater than the total budget of 39 states and that the debt
service on the sale of these rail bonds would create another
fiscal chasm to be filled by another cockamamie budget

Never mind that the new, new, new plan bears so little
resemblance to the one voters approved that going ahead with
it now borders on ballot fraud.

Never mind that poll after poll — including a USC
Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released June 2 — has shown
that a strong and growing majority of voters does not want the
state to proceed with the project.

Nope, none of that matters. Casey Jones is at the controls of
his legacy project, so reason and fiscal prudence have been
abandoned on the far side of the turnstile.

We say all this despite having supported high-speed rail when
it was on the ballot in 2008. Rail is important to America’s
future, and we know the first steps toward any visionary plan
face hurdles and may require leaps of faith.

But back then nobody foresaw the economic plunge that still
leaves California mired in budget deficits. We lost faith in
the original board and its planning and construction team.
Then last year, an updated plan with wildly higher costs for a
smaller system sent us leaping to the sidetrack. (Oopsie, did
we say $45 billion? We meant $98 billion. No, no, wait, $68
billion. Well, you know, around there. Did we say San Diego
and Sacramento would be included? Um, our bad, they’re not.)

How can anyone believe a word of what comes from the
High-Speed Rail Authority now?

HT to Ken Orski