Monday, April 23, 2018

A Tussle at the MPO? The RTSP and a Revised Goal 7 on the Environment

The Policy Committee for our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets on Tuesday the 24th, and they are facing a strong request to include consideration of greenhouse gas emissions in the upcoming 2019 Regional Transportation System Plan.

In a survey over the last month, support for including a clause on greenhouse gas emissions was an overwhelming favorite, much more popular than support for the Salem River Crossing.

GHG reduction more popular than SRC
In addition to this Salem City Council tonight looks to approve and send a letter to the MPO in support of a policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

That's a strong convergence.

Hopefully it will be enough. But there are also reasons to worry.

One of the problems in governance at the MPO is the way unanimity is required on votes - a "consensus" model, they describe it. It is deeply dual-edged: On the one hand, it might seem to be a check on wild ideas, though over the years I have never seen a wild idea that needed to be checked; but on the other hand, it functions powerfully for inertia and to steer away from useful change. It's a centrist force for more of the same. If you think considering greenhouse gas emissions is a wild idea, well, the system has checked it; but if you think considering greenhouse gas emissions is reasonable and prudent thing to do, and that the policy debate is not whether to do this but what particular steps to take next, then the "consensus" model has utterly baffled useful and even necessary progress.

We can see how this is exploited in the minutes from last month on discussion of the procedural action to shift and reallocate Federal funds on the Union Street Bikeway project in order to use Urban Renewal Funds only on the project portion inside the Urban Renewal Area's boundaries.

Abstention as threat?
One of the committee members, a consistent foe of non-auto travel, abstained from a vote in order not to cast a vote against it. This was for a project that had already been approved!

What is this if not an implied threat that some time he might cast a vote to kill a project? It's a power move to that says "don't get carried away" on projects for non-auto travel. It's important to underline the difference: Salem City Council and many other bodies operating by majority rules can make all kinds of important decisions by a 5-4 vote; SKATS is immobilized on an 8-1 vote. Any abstention is a reminder of this fact.

Now, you may say, well the "consensus" model actually helped the Union Street Bikeway project. If it had required only a simple majority, at present on the committee there's no consistent five vote majority for non-auto projects. Maybe the "we all have to play nice" spirit of amity actually helps some projects like this. So even while I have doubts about the "consensus" model, it is not possible to be certain about it. Just generally it seems like a low-risk/low-reward model, and maybe a model of decision-making with greater volatility, a high-risk/high-reward model, would be better overall.

(Cherriots has this power at SKATS also, it should be said, and they could have exercised it more strategically on the Salem River Crossing, but they have been unwilling to play hardball in this way. It is interesting to see who is willing to make this implied threat and who is not.)

The prospect for no votes on greenhouse gas reduction seems high. Also last month, there was a lot of talk against consideration of greehouse gas emissions. On new administrative rules for the "Transportation Planning Rule" SKATS has been very skeptical and obstructionist.

Doubt about wisdom of GHG rules
Equity and Equality seem problematic
The problem with a letter from City Council is that our representative to SKATS will not be on board with it whole-heartedly and is likely unwilling to withhold a vote in order to force acceptance of a revised RTSP goal to include reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Our local plans to be there.

Work Plan

On the April agenda, there's a new draft of the formal Work Plan, which they look to adopt.

Despite a letter from Salem City Council, the MPO is acting like everything is fine on the Salem River Crossing. "In late 2016, Salem, Keizer, and Marion and Polk Counties approved land use actions..." but nothing about the LUBA remand and that Salem is not interesting in scheduling a new Public Hearing. This is disingenuous and intellectually dishonest, even if it doesn't rise to the level of an outright lie.

Full speed ahead on the SRC!
(Stepping back a little, the letter from Salem City Council on greenhouse gas emissions will be the second time that Council collectively and formally will have a position at odds with the personal votes of Council's representative to SKATS. There's a disconnect here, and this is more evidence that we need to appoint a different representative to SKATS from Salem City Council, one who is more attuned to the current sentiment and formal policy positions of Council.)

More positively, there is a germ of attention to the round of development out at Mill Creek Corporate Center, to the idea of the train depot as a real transportation hub, and to the significance of the North Campus project at the State Hospital.

Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
You can download the agenda and meeting packet here.

SKATS Policy Committee meets Tuesday the 24th, at noon. SKATS is at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Andaluz Kitchen and Table Five 08.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

A few days after the meeting, our chapter posted some comment:

"At this meeting Marion County Commissioner Sam Brentano was outspoken in his opposition [to language on reducing GHG]. Other SKATS members seemed more open to the proposal. In the end the Committee decided to put off a decision to a future meeting. They asked the staff to draft compromise language for Goal #7 that might make mention of greenhouse gas emissions along with other forms of air pollution. This will clearly be unacceptable to 350 Salem OR and we hope to the City of Salem as well. We plan to attend every meeting of the SKATS Policy Committee to stay on their case with our demand that they address climate change in the regional transportation goals."