Thursday, November 8, 2018

Hardball at the MPO? SKATS to Request new Hearings on SRC

Revanchist forces at the MPO are poised to raise the pressure on the City of Salem about the SRC.

Is this a "request" or a demand?
They've called a "special meeting" for the Policy Committee on the 13th - two weeks early, and piggy-backing a little on the Technical Advisory Committee meeting later that day - to call for finishing the SRC final Environmental Impact Statement. It's unclear what the timing element is that requires the special meeting and why this cannot wait until the next regular meeting on the 27th, but that apparent urgency is worth noting.
At the October 23, 2018 SKATS Policy Committee meeting, the Policy Committee directed staff to draft a letter from SKATS to the Salem City Council related to Salem River Crossing. The purpose of the letter is to request that the council respond to the LUBA remand and support completion of the Salem River Crossing Final EIS.
Of course the current Council has responded. By action or inaction they have said they don't believe the UGB expansion is warranted. And there is increasing sentiment that the FEIS can be completed for a "no build" alternative and satisfy all the Federal requirements.

But this letter would be written clearly to talk past all that.

It's not clear also how much of a "demand" is this "request." What is SKATS prepared to do if the City continues to say "no thanks"? Is this just a diplomatic exchange of "requests"? or is this a sign that they are prepared to ratchet up the conflict? It certainly reads as a tit-for-tat following the City's letter on Goal 7. But what force would they use to back it up? Are they going to start withholding funds on Salem projects or ranking them low in scoring and prioritizing assessments? Maybe just use the letter to rally public pressure from the "build it now" autoist expansionary camp?

Maybe you will have a better idea for how vigorously Council might have to defend its position. But certainly, Council should not be lulled by appeals to collegiality. (Also, is Cherriots prepared to do more to defend transit and non-auto mobility? Or have they caved again already? Why did Cherriots go along with the letter?)

Earlier in the year, the MPO made a show about comity and respect for individual jurisdictions:
Chair Clark said that this committee has had difficult issues to decide in the past. She thinks that what makes this MPO stand out and makes it stronger as an organization is that they find ways to reach agreement. She would hate to lose that by eliminating the unanimous process and moving to a majority vote on SKATS. She said there is a space for local jurisdictions to try things that are in the best interest of their communities, but they need to recognize that they don’t have jurisdiction over their neighboring jurisdictions. Regional planning is best done by best practice and collaboration. If a jurisdiction wants to add an overlay for greenhouse gas as part of their planning that is fine, but the city of Keizer won’t accept a resolution passed by the city of Salem as mandatory on Keizer.
The asymmetry here suggests it's only supposed to work one way. That unilateral and instrumental approach to comity and fealty is certainly our National model these days, and perhaps this move should be read in alignment with that.

So this will be interesting to watch.

Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
There is no draft of the letter attached to the agenda. (Update - here's the full meeting packet and agenda.)

This Special Meeting of the SKATS Policy Committee meets Tuesday the 13th at 11am. SKATS is at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Table Five 08.

(Comment on the TAC agenda will be in a separate note later this week.)

At what point will the MPO recognize science?

Update, midday

Remember that editorial counseling against despair and paralysis?

It contained cheery bromides about walking and biking, home energy audits, and reducing animal protein.

And all of those are reasonable and incrementally effective.

Meanwhile, the large apparatus of government power pushes in precisely the opposite direction, and at a magnitude that dwarfs personal choices made in a system whose incentive structure works against them.

The asymmetry between puny personal actions, which pricing signals, other incentives, and general social capital don't yet always support, and huge scaled-up spending programs is a very great part of the problem and central ingredient in despair.

The start of a long letter
Through the MPO, the County, the State, and perhaps even the Feds, push for more driving and counteract any progress much smaller programs make on reducing driving. It's time for a consistent message and spending from all levels: We need to drive less.

More immediately, the draft letter is maybe a little more whiny than I expected, and this may be a sign of weakness rather than negotiating strength. On the surface and in tone it is "request" more than "demand." You'd think an actual demand letter would be a little more terse and not so long. Maybe this misunderstands bureaucratic courtly gesturing, and you will have a better reading of it all. But I don't read it as coming from a very powerful position, curiously.

In the letter they go in hard on the sunk cost fallacy.
Sunk cost fallacy and no-build option
But the more interesting thing is that it sure looks like Council could say by resolution or other formal notice, that they prefer a no-build Record of Decision.

It appears that Council may have wanted to dodge the need to say outright that they prefer the "no-build" conclusion, but it may not be possible to avoid that explicitness. The MPO and ODOT don't appear inclined to take the hint, and instead prefer an obtuseness that will flush out a more explicit statement by City Council.
The close with autoist notions of total system
For the close, the MPO conflates "transportation system" with "autoist system" and does not recognize any kind of multi-modal system or that the future may need to look rather different from mid-century autoism and its Eisenhower-Moses school of highway expansion. We already suffer from an inadequate and autoist system!

Separately, it is interesting to note that Council's own representative at SKATS continues to subvert and work against Council's intentions and goals with a personal agenda at odds with Council direction.

As for Cherriots, which a commenter suggests "registered opposition," the agenda item says "the Policy Committee directed staff to draft a letter from SKATS." SKATS currently operates on a "consensus" model that requires unanimity. A Cherriots dissent should have vetoed any direction to staff on drafting a letter. So the Committee elicited from Cherriots sufficient assent to be able to "direct staff to draft a letter." Maybe Cherriots will vote against the letter on the 13th, but when they might have done so at the last meeting, they did not. Vigorous criticism that includes a "no" vote from Cherriots will be welcome!

Addendum 2, November 21st

Apparently the committee members themselves thought that decisions had to be unanimous, but this does not seem to be the case (see comments below, also). So that is helpful to confirm. Here are a couple of clips from the minutes on the October 23rd and November 13th meetings.

From the minutes: Simple majorities are sometimes ok
Cherriots also included detailed criticisms of the project, and they recommend a "no build" decision.

Part of the Cherriots criticism


Anonymous said...

You write: "There is no draft of the letter attached to the agenda."

The agenda with the draft letter and supporting material is available here:

2018 November Special Meeting

Was only the agenda cover sheet sent out?


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Briefly, the COG calendar entry -

- earlier yesterday linked to a one-page agenda only. The link has been updated to the full 11pp agenda packet with draft letter and memo from ODOT. Will update the post later today! Thanks.

Jim Scheppke said...

I understand from an informed source that the Cherriots representative to SKATS, Kathy Lincoln, registered opposition to sending the letter to the Salem City Council when this last came up and that she will be voting against sending the letter at the special meeting next week. Maybe you can correct your post.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with links to full meeting packet, comment on the letter, and notes about Cherriots.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

It was clear to me at the City Council work session on Congestion Task Force Recommendations that the mayor and the majority of City Councilors are in no mood for pressure. The mayor expressed some desire for the bridge issue to be resolved, but what I heard like him saying we need to pursue another choice.

Truth is there are not the votes to move forward with the SRC alternatives.

I think the sooner we stop this foolishness, the sooner we can move on to looking further up the river while making some local improvements to make what we have more efficient.

The majority seem to want to see Salem focus on improving the existing bridges.

One point that stuck out was that even if we did build the bridge or added lanes to existing bridges it would only buy us about 7 years of reduced congestion. Most reasonable people see that working on alternative modes is a much more efficient use of our scarce resources.

As to the issues around safety, I tossed out that perhaps it is time for the City to work on such things as a high quality emergency clinic in conjunction with Salem Health, and perhaps encourage the use of a helicopter when life saving emergencies exist.

I saw with Lancaster back in the 1990s people getting excited about the traffic congestion. After a study by the City, County, ODOT and neighborhoods, a series of improvements were recommended. These smaller projects improved the efficiency of the existing street to such an extent that Lancaster carries about twice the number of vehicles a day without adding lanes.

I believe that some of those strategies could be applied to Wallace Road.

But the real solution is for people to stop thinking that the congestion is a crisis. It is not, and in so many ways it is much better than other places. Bottom line is that people are just going to have to make some personal changes in their lives. Get over it!

Jim Scheppke said...

About the SKATS "consensus model": I understand from talking to a SKATS PC member that SKATS needs to have unanimous consent when approving the Transportation Improvement Program and the Transportation Plan.. Otherwise, the decision on either of those items goes back to the governing bodies. It does not apply to this decision about sending a letter about the SRC to the Salem City Council. That's my understanding. I also understand that the Cherriots representative plans to vote 'no' on sending the letter.

Doug's Transportation Ramblings said...

Interesting discussion at the SKATS meeting today. The representative of the Salem City Council came out in strong support of construction of the 3rd bridge and the representative of the Marion County Commission made some very threatening comments toward transit. One has to wonder if these elected officials are representing their organizations, or themselves.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here we go! "Third bridge to return to city council on Monday" at Salem Reporter. There will be more to say when the Council agenda is posted.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Updated with a couple of relevant clips from the October and November minutes.)