Sunday, November 18, 2018

City Council, November 19th - Policy Agenda and Priorities

Council meets on Monday for a Work Session on the Policy Agenda. They're scheduled to formulate the 2019 Policy Agenda in January, so this really is just a progress report and time for rumination.

Are the Crosswalk and Transit Committees really
this far in front of the Congestion Task Force?
In the transportation areas of the progress report, staff identify the Crosswalk Committee and Public Transportation Committee as "on target," much further along than the Congestion Relief Task Force, which is merely in "planning." (The four steps, from most done to least, are "completed," "on target," "underway," and "planning.")

It is hard to see ways the first two are far in advance of the third. How is the Crosswalk project ahead of the Congestion Task Force? In fact, the Crosswalk Committee is furthest behind: Both Public Transportation and Congestion groups have published recommendations. The Crosswalk Committee has hardly started to meet.

More nit-pickily, but perhaps relevant, the 19 walking projects identified in the explanatory paragraph were initiated way, way before the 2018 Pedestrian Safety Study. Any benefits from them should not accrue to this particular Council goal. What should be reported on are new projects arising from the Council goal specifically.

Similarly, the fall 2019 expansion of Cherriots service has nothing whatsoever to do with the Public Transit Committee, and any benefits from this should not be tallied in Council's favor on this Council goal. It's new projects developed from the Council goal that count.

There might be a pattern of borrowing or taking credit in order to inflate the magnitude of progress on these Council goals.

As far as independent action that can be directly ascribed to Council and related to a 2018 Council goal, the Congestion Task Force is actually the one that is farthest along.

So this little subsection is muddled and overoptimistic at best, and perhaps deliberately misleading at worst.

Are more fire trucks really our next priority?
There's also a hint of a 2020 bond for new fire trucks. But maybe we should first reconsider how we organize the Fire Department.

We blew it on the Police Station. The new facility is needed, but we may also suffer from an enlarged, overmilitarized force that is sometimes too independent of civilian/Council oversight. We had an opportunity to rethink some about the way we deliver police services, and we chose not to it.

The problem with the Fire Department is different, but there might an opportunity here also. The truck fleet is imbalanced, biased too much for big fires, which are rare, and not enough for medical response, which is common. The fleet is also oversized, imposing deleterious standards for weight, width, and length on our roads and neighborhood streets. Our former Secretary of State, Phil Keisling, wrote about the proportion of medical calls a couple years back in "Why We Need to Take the ‘Fire’ Out of ‘Fire Department’." Even trade publications talk about it, in articles like "More Departments Choose Smaller Fire Apparatus to Handle Typical Runs." And here's a Streetsblog piece, "How Fire Departments Stopped Worrying and Embraced Safer Street Design."

There's also the fact that our property tax system is messed up, and we have new bonds out for the Police Station, for the Library, for the School District, and the City is looking at new funding sources with its "Sustainable Services" Task Force. A fire truck bond for 2020 may not really merit the first priority.

The first two claims are false
In the Work Session materials are also a couple of papers summarizing citizen comment, one in-person from the Open House, one on-line from a survey.

There's lots of "build it now" sentiment for the SRC, including multiple copies of a flier.

But of course things that are popular are often wrong or bad. This is one of them.

The flier contains some myths. The first two claims are plainly false.
  1. We need the SRC to survive the big earthquake. But the SRC is planned over a liquefaction zone and spans unstable soils. With now-funded reinforcement the Center Street Bridge will be much more likely to withstand the quake. If "build it now" advocates think this is not enough, the proper next step is to advocate for reinforcing the Marion Street Bridge, which has perhaps unfairly been dismissed as inappropriate for reinforcing.
  2. We need the SRC so that idling cars pollute less. But more capacity induces more travel and more pollution. The best way to mitigate pollution is to drive less, not to drive more and drive faster. The SRC's own analysis suggests 16% more energy use (and more pollution therefore) over the no-build conditions. This is an attempt at greenwash and is instead just hogwash.
Two of the other points are not as much myths as they misunderstandings.

"Our community loses out as individuals are unable to participate in the life of our community while they needlessly sit in traffic [which they themselves have created in the decision to drive]." This may be a matter of life choices and trade-offs. The decision to live in West Salem comes with a constrained river crossing. If proximity to things on the east side of the river is so important, perhaps housing on east side of the river would be "a better life choice." This sentiment also conceals the ways that West Salem wants others to subsidize river crossing and vehicular access.

What this looks like is a kind of resource hoarding. West Salemites want access to hills and views, access to certain schools, and unfettered road access. Everyone wants it all, but life does not usually deliver the desired cornucopia of free and low-cost goods.

As for an "irresponsible and unnecessary risk" that $9 million might have to be refunded, well, there's a clear out: Write the final Environmental Impact Statement and craft the Record of Decision for the "no build" alternative. That concludes the process in an orderly and legitimate way, and lands on the best outcome.

These last two points in the flier are not clearly false and do represent other takes on values. But they are not obviously the right takes, either, and it is not at all difficult to contest them with different, and better founded, opinion.

We should lead with parking reform
As for the Congestion Task Force recommendations, parking reform is unpopular, but right-priced parking downtown and smarter parking throughout our development code and city policies would help the demand side a great deal and boost efforts to build more housing. It would also help create the space for a lot of other policy reform.

From "Walkable City Rules" by Jeff Speck

Also from "Walkable City Rules"
(Councilors should consider reading Speck's book over the holidays! It is written for specific policy actions in mind, and not merely high-level generalities. It is meant to be useful.)

Not at all on the agenda, but interesting to consider is a letter Councilor Andersen posted on-line.

It is lengthy, and it starts like this:
Mayor and Council, below is an update of City’s actions taken in response to this summer’s drinking water advisories:

Funding improvements to harmful algae bloom detection and water treatment. The City expects to invest over $50 million in water treatment improvements, initial deployment of secondary water sources and algae detection in the next two years. Financial modeling of the City’s Utility Services Fund indicates that this amount of funding can be applied with the current 3 percent rate increase per year.

· Ozone contact chamber. The City is in the initial planning phases for design and construction of an ozone contact chamber at Geren Island. A request for engineering services has been issued. Ozone is easier to operate and more robust than the PAC system. The project will take three years to design, permit and construct.

· Powdered activated carbon pre-treatment system. The City installed a powdered activated carbon (PAC) treatment system at the Geren Island Water Treatment Facility. The PAC system includes the PAC inductor, mixers, alum/polymer injector, and acetic acid injector. The PAC system provides a backup system to the existing slow sand filtration system for treating any contaminants found in the source water, including cyanotoxins....[etc]
Maybe this is a bunch of water magic, but it has seemed like the science behind it is reasonable and the treatments reasonable effective. The fact that we meter water use and have a funding source is enormously helpful.

Contrast this with our approach to congestion, on which we also deploy hydraulic metaphors and hydraulic analytics.

If we treated road access more like a utility - actually treated it like water!- we might be able to attack road problems, including congestion, with the same alacrity and positive actions that we see deployed here. The City, also, is not chasing after an "SRC-scaled" mega-project solution for cyanotoxins. Its suite of solutions is much more finely-grained.

Finally, it cannot be said enough: People die on our roads regularly, and yet no one has been shown to have died from last summer's cyanotoxins yet.

There's not a perfect one-to-one comparison here. There are important differences. But placing the problems of congestion and cyanotoxins side-by-side shows ways that our approaches to road use and congestion are not very wise and in some ways self-defeating.

Overall, in the materials for the Work Session I'm not sure there's any single grand, over-arching conclusion. Maybe you will have a better reading of it. It'll be interesting to see what they decide in January.

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