Archive for July, 2007

by Pete Talbot

“You don’t fill a pothole different as a Republican or Democrat.”

Those words came from former Missoula County Commissioner Barbara Evans. I’ve heard them before, in various versions, from city and county officials for many years now.

And I suppose those words are true. But how you budget for roads and maintenance, and craft transportation and growth policy, is political. So are zoning and affordable housing and open space and, well, just about everything except how you fill potholes.

Progressives and conservatives have a different view on how to accomplish public policy.

The “politics” debate is heating up for the city council races, too. There are those that like the idea of a warm, fuzzy council with no bipartisan conflict. It ain’t gonna happen. The ‘R’ and ‘D’ may not be behind a candidate’s name on the ballot anymore but we know who’s who. Or we’ll certainly find out as soon as they start casting votes on council.

City council hasn’t become any less contentious since we went to nonpartisan ballots over a decade ago. And I prefer knowing what a candidate stands for before electing him or her to office. Ergo, I prefer partisan elections.

Meanwhile, back at the county. Commissioner Bill Carey said of Evan’s replacement, “It’s not a political job.”

Baloney.

During county campaigns, why do you think the Chamber of Commerce and the development community line up behind the Republican candidate, usually, and the rank-and-file tends to line up behind the Democrat? It’s because the different parties represent different interests within the community.

I’ve been accused of being a Utopian, and as such, I should embrace politics that don’t promote rancor and conflict – things like nonpartisan elections and apolitical appointments. Since when does not having a political designation make someone a better candidate?

So call me a Utopian realist because it’s been said that all politics is local. I’d add that local is political – there’s no getting around it.

by jhwygirl

This is just too timely to pass up a quick post.

The median home price in Jackson Hole Wyoming has jumped from $1 million in April of this year to $1.18 million in just three months. At this time last year it was $920,000. The current median reflects an increase of 28% in just one year.

In June of 2003 the median was $542,500.

The average home price over the six months was $1.8 million.

While some markets are slowing down, hot markets in the west maintain or exceed any downward trend being experienced elsewhere.

So, South of Town, how do you explain that?

by Jay Stevens

In yesterday’s post on bike lanes on 5th and 6th street, I mentioned that there’s a completely-unofficial-but-very-cool listserv email thread on city business that anyone can subscribe to and participate in.

I neglected to give out a web address where you can subscribe.

Here it is:

Missoulagov.org.

Subscribe. Discuss. Be good citizens.

by Jay Stevens

I admit I don’t read my Missoula City Council listserv discussions as often as I should. It’s a great idea, to start a correspondence between City Council members and the public on issues pertaining to the city. (Just a reminder: none of the correspondence is official business and should not be construed as such.)

In the most recent correspondence, bike lanes on 5th and 6th streets were discussed – two major one-way, two-lane arterials that stretch east-west across the city from Russell to the University. Sixth street is much broader than 5th.

Council member, Bob Jaffe:

In Public Works we saw the plan to re-stripe 5th and 6th streets. A while back the public works department proposed raising the speed limit on those streets to bring the posted limit in line with what people actually drive.

The neighbors didn’t like that idea so we asked the department to come up with ways to bring people’s driving speed more in line with what was posted.

The least expensive approach is to re-stripe the road with more narrow lanes. There will be a bike lane on 5th but there is not enough room on 6th.

John Wolverton responded with an accurate description of biking 6th – which goes towards the city center, towards Higgins. Included was a brilliant suggestion for accommodating bike traffic:

Bicycle-commuting on 6th Street is like a slalom; trying to hug the curb for safety sake, but constantly having to veer left around the numerous and deep stormwater drain-sumps. It really needs a bike lane…

This is especially true of 6th street between Orange and Higgins, where the traffic is the heaviest and the street the narrowest and sketchiest…

I’ve rarely seen more than 4 or 5 motor-vehicles qued up at 6th Street stoplights; so if space is an issue perhaps a single motor-vehicle travel lane is in order. That would also allow for right turn lanes at the stoplights which could alleviate some of the queuing.

If you believe that 6th Street is an important avenue for moving motor vehicles; properly striped, it could be just as important for bicycle commuters.

Brilliant! John is absolutely correct about the traffic. In fact, 6th street between Russell and Orange is hardly used. (Don’t tell all the folks plowing east-west on Broadway, though.) One lane would easily accommodate motor traffic along those blocks. Between Orange and Higgins is another matter; the stretch from Higgins to the university should probably remain two lanes, but it’s wide and already has a decent bike lane. (Repaint it?)

Jordan Hess, chair of the ASUM board of transportation, responded with a more specific suggestion:

I checked all the traffic counts for 5th/6th streets and we could realistically have one vehicle lane with a bi-directional bike lane for the entire length of both streets.To satisfy the university and the state DOT, these streets could revert to 2 travel lanes during the half dozen events on campus that require that much capacity.

In a 40 foot street, the following would be a good use of space:
— Curb and Gutter
— 6 feet of bike lanes in each direction for a total of 12 feet
— 10 foot vehicle travel lane
— 18 feet for angled parking
— Curb and Gutter

The angled parking would keep cyclists safe by keeping parking cars from traveling through the bike lanes. It would also allow for the same amount of parking as is currently available. This would provide another safe route for bicycles traveling to and from the university. Considering the high mode share of bikers to and from campus, this is a great way to safely accommodate everyone.

(It was later clarified in the correspondence that the angled parking should be between the traffic and the bike lanes as a buffer.)

I don’t know if we need 12 feet of bicycle lane. In Europe, they fit two bike lanes in about three feet. But now we’re talking! This would be a biker’s dream!

Council President Ed Childers adds this warning:

One item of concern of which we’ve been apprised: when a lane is wide enough for cars & trucks, cars & trucks will use it.

It’s possible that traffic volumes can easily be accommodated by the single-lane approach. If so, how should that (motor vehicles in the bike lane) be addressed?

…reminding me of trying to bike in downtown San Francisco where FedEx and UPS trucks used the bike lanes as their personal delivery spaces.

Jordan recommended using bollards, steel poles used a barrier, but removable for special events.

All fine and good, excellent suggestions, wonderful discussion, we’ll see it implemented when pigs fly. Why? Cost. Also, consider that the 5th and 6th street corridors are some of our best biking corridors now available. Should creating a biker’s paradise on streets that are half decent take precedence over improving disasterous roads? On the whole, our north-south arterials need help, fast! Orange street? Nightmare. Russell? Death road. Reserve’s pretty good if you breathe exaust and can actually turn onto the street. Higgins north of Hellgate High is pinched, crowded, and has poor sight lines. (Tho’ south of that intersection is a dream!)

On the other hand, if we create a “model” road that’s safe and fast and accommodates bikers and traffic, maybe we could build interest for like projects, and slowly build excellent infrastructure for bikers…

For a last bit to mull over, Bob Giordano of Free Cycles chips in with an observation about city planning:

It’s frustrating to have officials always say we need to design the roads for exact predicted motor vehicle traffic volumes in the future, but when it comes to having excess capacity, there is reluctance to make that space available for non-motorized transport. It’s a double standard that discriminates against cyclists…

Discuss.

by Pete Talbot

A few updates on the local political scene:

First, kudos to Ross Best for requesting that the public be allowed to comment on Republican Commissioner Barbara Evans’ replacement. Just a few seconds before a vote on Monday to appoint Larry Anderson to the commission, Best, who was in the audience, suggested three days wasn’t adequate time to select a county commissioner. Ms. Evans was not happy at delaying the vote for her handpicked replacement, but Commissioner Bill Carey went along with Best’s request and Commissioner Jean Curtis voted with Carey to postpone the vote for a week. The three Republican candidates for the position are Anderson, Dave Mihalic and Jeff Patterson. But before Best put the skids on the process, Anderson got the nod from Curtis and it looked like he had the votes from the other two commissioners.

(Public comment will take place Wednesday, July 25, at 1:30 pm in Room 201 of the Missoula County Courthouse. Anderson, by the way, was a former staffer for Montana Senator Conrad Burns.)

Missoula Democrats may not endorse city council candidates after all. Local party leaders, Ron Erickson of the Montana House for one, have raised some concerns. So, the Missoula Democratic Central Committee’s Executive Board is revisiting endorsements. The board could choose to endorse, just make recommendations, or not endorse at all. Whatever the board’s decision, I do hope that the Democrats hold a forum for the candidates, as they had previously planned. Stay tuned.

There has been a flurry of emails on a city government website (set up by Ward 3’s Bob Jaffe, I believe) about turning 5th and 6th streets into major bicycle arterials. These one-way streets, if I understand it correctly, would change to one lane for cars and trucks, and one lane for bicycles. They would still remain one-way streets, though, with 5th going west and 6th going east. There are terms being bandied about, sharrows and bollards for example, that are foreign to me. Maybe some of the bike/ped folk can clue me in. It should be an interesting debate. Again, stay tuned.

(The website is missoulagov-bounces@cmslists.com if you want to be involved in this, and future city government conversations. Just email a request to be placed on the list.)

I’m sure there are more city/county issues to write about but my muse has left me for cooler climes.

by jhwygirl

Driving west from Missoula, many of you may have seen the billboards for Frenchtown Rural Fire District (FRFD) advertising for volunteers. It’s not very often you see big expensive billboards used to put out a call for volunteers, so it’s pretty plain to see that FRFD is hurting for volunteers for an important community service.

With all the new subdivisions popping up all over Missoula County, one might assume that with those expanding number of households would come an expanding number of volunteers – but apparently that isn’t true. The Evaro Fire Station, because of the lack of volunteers, may have to close.

That, coupled with a budget crisis in which $300,000 mill levy failed in May, is bringing to rural Missoula County a crisis that has been creeping upon rural fire companies across the United States. FRFD stretches from Mineral County to Frenchtown, and encompasses the huge area of Frenchtown, Huson, Upper Nine Mile, Petty Creek, Six Mile and Alberton. Frenchtown has not raised its mill levy since 1991.

Anger towards growth is what long-time residents are fighting, and they are taking it out, hell-be-damned with the consequences, on FRFD. Six Mile resident John Appelt, a retired Chicago firefighter sums up his feelings like this:

This is our fire department. We own it. We will decide what level of services it provides. We’ll decide how much in taxes to pay.

We don’t want anything to do with Missoula. They descend upon us, telling us what to do in our own backyard. They are 180 degrees different from us. We are very clannish here. I would have seceded from Missoula so I don’t have to pay for things like open space. I have all the open space I need. Why would I pay for more? I was outvoted by a bunch of liberal college punks.

Translation: I’ve got mine, now the hell with the rest of you. Welcome to the neighborhood, I guess?

Shannone Hart, who was born and raised in Frenchtown but now lives in Missoula, wrote a guest column in the Missoulian back on June 28, in reply to Mr. Appelt’s comments. Her well written piece took offense at his use of the word “clannish” for his neighbors and community members – I sure wished the Missoulian archived these local guest column pieces – and she quite righteously took him to task:

My three generations of family members helped make the community where Mr. Appelt now lives in. We helped shape that community with the help of other people and we helped make it a desirable place to live. Mr. Appelt obviously saw this hardwork pay off, as he sold his place in Chicago and moved into the valley that others before him helped to mold.

Those three generations dealt with obstacles along the way, just as Mr. Appelt and other Frenchtown community members currently are. Everyone needs to understand that everyone wants what is best for the community as a whole, not what is best for select individuals.

Nestled in her wonderfully written response, Ms. Hart also added this tidbit, explaining to Mr. Appelt why he was wrong to think that budget cuts were the simplistic answer to FRFD’s woes:

Mr. Appelt and others would like to restore the fire department to its 1962 vestige; however they are not dealing with a 1962 community. Folks simply can not volunteer that much time anymore. Home prices are very high and most families are holding down multiple jobs to keep their heads above water.

Ms. Hart paints a picture of that which is at the core of FRFD’s woes – a shortage of volunteers due to the high cost of housing and a lack of enough personal time to allow for volunteer commitments. A sad but very real reality that is facing not only rural Missoula County, but communities all over the state that rely on volunteer firefighters.

As another stark example of what a lack of volunteers can do to a community – exhibit the community of West Yellowstone – who’s Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating was recently downgraded from a 7 to a 10. A 10 rating is the equivalent of essentially no fire protection coverage at all. This downgrading will cost the West Yellowstone Day’s Inn an increase of $15,000 per year for insurance coverage.

$15,000 per year.

Fire Chief Jason Catrambone explained that while the rating had to do with both staffing and training, without enough qualified personnel, the ladder truck meant very little. “The only true issue is staffing.”

Other issues stem from a lack of volunteers – one being an aging volunteer base – already (remember?) shrinking because of a lack of volunteers. Of the 48 volunteers with FRFD, 14 have less than one year of experience, while 12 have more than one and less than 3 years of experience. Only 11 volunteers have 7 or more years of experience.

Less than 1 in 4 with more than 7 years experience.

The time of volunteers that hopped off their bar stools to answer a fire siren are gone – being a firefighter requires training and commitment. Lack of experience not only increases the risk to both the community and its structures, but also its firefighters. Fighting fire in rural Missoula – rural Montana- is no easy task. We’ve got structures large and small, old and new, grasslands, cropland, and timber. Training is pretty darn diverse and necessary.

********

A lack of housing that is affordable to its community members has serious impacts. Not only does everything from your car repair work to hamburgers cost more, but government services cost more because hiring that county clerk to process your license plate request means that the county has to pay a wage that is conducive to keeping an adequate county employee on staff. It means that your taxes have to be set at such a level that supports essential services that are needed to keep a community running. Everything from that county clerk to the county sheriff to the paid or volunteer firefighter to the county attorney to the support staff at the county commissioner’s office.

And that same holds true for the City, which goes without saying now, doesn’t it?

Over the last 20 years or so I’ve had many a conversation with those who think that affordable housing really isn’t that important – but in that same breath they would say that police and fire service are.

How much do you really want to pay out of your own pocket to keep yourself protected with an adequately trained, prepared and supplied police and fire? How much is an increase in your taxes worth if it means preventing a $15,000 increase in cost for insurance?

Or might it not be better to look at one of the root problems of the issue at hand, and look, comprehensively, at the problem that the lack of affordable housing means to a community?

When a community lacks affordable housing it lacks economic viability. That is pretty plain to me.

This is the first piece of many more to come on the subject of essential affordable housing.

by jhwygirl

Ok, I have to admit, I’m a bit excited. Feeling a little guilty about it – after all, it’s just vehicle – but nonetheless, I wish the darn thing were here already.

I’ve been waiting a month and a half. I take delivery on Tuesday.

Because my brother (who really spoils me, quite undeservedly I might add) will be taking my current vehicle, I’ve got it all cleaned up and as a result will be attempting to stay close to home this weekend so that it stays that way. No camping and no doggie swimming trips (unless she gives me those ‘eyes’.)

The new one is a 4×4 with a green rating of 68. 25 mpg city/29 highway. Those numbers more than double what I’m currently getting in the city – and very decently increases my highway mileage. I currently drive a Grand Cherokee.

My new vehicle is the only non-hybrid SUV 4×4 on the Top 100 Green Cars list. Well, not quite true, I guess – it has a ‘sister’ version for the soccer mom set – which is essentially the same vehicle with a different body style. But ‘my’ vehicle sits higher on the list.

I go off-roading, so having a 4×4 is a necessity for me. I know that might sound obnoxious to some. And while I’m only a one-dog woman right now, they’ll be another one joining the household when I’m ready. My first trip is already planned – a return to Monument Valley for some rock climbing with the red geolithic giants in southern Utah.

by jhwygirl

NewWest.net is reporting that Barbara Evans has announced her retirement, effective August 30th.

{{happy happy, joy joy}}

I’ve got no love for Barbara – having watched her over the years, I can direct you to this post which sums up what I’ve come to see from her.

It will be real interesting to see what the Republican Central Committee comes up with. Wouldn’t surprise me if it was Jim Edwards – who ran last year for County Commissioner, challenging Democrat Jean Curtiss. Barbara endorsed Edwards.

And – if you go to the post I reference above – you’ll learn that Barbara Evans only reluctantly voted against Jim Edwards’ (who was running for election at the time) misguided gravel pit-next-to-the-river-and-smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-rural-residential-uses after first suggesting that if the public doesn’t like something first they should buy out the developer (i.e., Jim Edwards). There’s more than that to the post though – go read it.

This move is an attempt by both Barbara and the Republican Central Committee to help insure that her seat will be filled by a Republican when it comes up for election in November 2008. Incumbents can be hard to unseat.

RCC Chair Will Deschamps notes “This would be an opportunity, quite frankly, to give somebody on the job learning before the election, rather than try and get someone elected cold.” Barbara goes on to say “If I wait until the election, chances are it would be one political party.”

So Barbara – is it about the voice of the people or about protecting the political needs of the Missoula Republicans?

by jhwygirl

The Helena Independent Record is reporting that Helena is in the running for a new operations center that General Electric is apparently looking to house in Montana.

A 150 employee Commerce Finance division needs a new home, and apparently there are 4 cities in Montana that General Electric is considering. The HIR indicates emails have circulated which confirm Helena is on the short list. The other cities aren’t listed.

Missoula is noted as a logical candidate, as is Billings and Great Falls – but none of that was verified by either Evan Barret of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development or John Oliver of General Electric.

I’d certainly hope that some agency or elected officials here in Missoula are doing the same schmoozing that Helena appears to be doing – 150 high-paying jobs from a tech industry giant like General Electric seem to be just what Missoula needs – high paying jobs that can afford what our housing market offers – not the $9/hour jobs that Missoula fell all over themselves to get in the Direct TV call center now housed in the Missoula Development Park. (For my short thoughts on that read this.)

Now, I am a curmudgeon of sorts – few would disagree – and while I grouch on the Direct TV deal – what I’d like to see is that the City and the County and anyone who is involved in this type of thing – that they look at the wages of the industries that they use taxpayer $ to attract – and ensure that what they bring into any given town is an industry who’s wages support the infrastructure – not burden it. And one of the things the Direct TV situation did, with the $9/hour jobs, is that it placed greater pressure on an already pressured housing market. And our housing market really didn’t need something like that.

by Pete Talbot

The next obituary you see in the Missoulian may be the Missoulian itself – along with the Helena Independent-Record, Billings Gazette, Ravalli Republic and Butte’s Montana Standard.

I’m guessing that the loyal readers of this blog site don’t follow the day-to-day New York Stock Exchange listings of the newspaper publishing industry. I do. I’m from a newspaper family. At my grandfather’s knee, I used to watch guys turn melting lead ingots into the plates that went on the presses that then cranked out the daily paper.

Stock in Lee Enterprises, the company that owns the above-mentioned papers, is at its lowest point in a dozen years. And in less than two years, its stock has lost more than 50 percent of its value.

This does not bode well for the newspaper reading public. As Lee tries to keep its board of directors and stockholders happy, it will be cutting back on everything: reporters, editors, features and technology. It’s a downward spiral.

This is painful for a newspaper junkie like me. The first thing I do in the morning, no matter where I am, is get a cup of coffee and read the paper. I suppose that I could go on the Internet and surf around for all the news I need but it just isn’t the same.

That’s part of the irony here. The Internet is the most responsible for the death of the newspaper. Newspapers have been slow to adapt. The industry hasn’t quite figured out how to capitalize on the Internet. A few of the national newspapers of record will most likely survive – the New York Times and Washington Post and, ugh, USA Today – but the smaller dailies are in big trouble.

Newspaper online revenue from advertising is a fraction of the revenue a paper gets from the full-page ads, glossy inserts and classified advertising one sees in the daily rag. For example, who needs a daily’s want ads when you can go to Craig’s List on the Internet?

Despite my (and many of my blogging colleagues’) constant criticism of the mainstream media’s failings, I believe newspapers play an important role in society. I also believe that most reporters and editors strive to be objective in their craft. The same cannot be said about the many blog sites out there and it is important to have a measuring stick – a sort of mainstream public pulse – on which to gauge the rants of bloggers.

Newspapers (and to a lesser extent, other periodicals, TV and radio) aren’t called the Fourth Estate for nothing. It’s a brave new world and it is my sincere hope that real journalism can survive the death of the daily.

by Pete Talbot

Some ruminations on last week’s Democratic Central Committee meeting here in Missoula. I’m posting a little past deadline. I’m blaming my lethargy on the heat.

First of all, there was unanimous consent for supporting the troop withdrawal resolution that will be on November’s ballot.

(Granted, there were only about twenty people at the meeting, which is usually the case for mid-summer Democratic Party meetings held on a hot July evening. I was still surprised, though, that there was nary a nay to be heard in opposition to the resolution.)

Second, the Dems will hold a forum, sometime in early August, for all the city council candidates.

Here’s the zinger: after the forum, the central committee will actually endorse candidates! This has been a controversial issue ever since the city adopted nonpartisan elections about a dozen years ago. Over the past twelve years or so, the central committee endorsements have ranged from none at all, to endorsing some candidates, to endorsing any candidate who claims to be a Democrat.

The details have yet to be worked out on the exact endorsement process but apparently forum questions will come from the Montana Democratic Party platform, and Missoula’s platform (which local Democrats crafted last spring).

In a city that votes mostly Democratic, an endorsement from the party means something to the candidates – especially in nonpartisan elections when there isn’t a ‘D’ or ‘R’ (or ‘I’ or ‘C’ or ‘G,’ etc.) after a candidate’s name.

Which is why there’s such a controversy around endorsing. Turnout in city primaries can be hideously low, so a Democratic Party endorsement can tilt the tide, especially in those Democratic leaning wards – which are most of them.

Those opposed to endorsements say it’s divisive to pit one Democrat against another. These “big tent” Democrats question whether there’s really a litmus test as to who’s more Democrat. They say it’s important to stay “one big, happy family.”

Those advocating for the endorsement process say it’s important to let the voters know which candidate really supports the Democratic Party platform. They add that it’s important to winnow out candidates who may call themselves Democrats because there’s no way in the world they’d get elected in certain wards as a Republican.

I’ve vacillated on the subject of endorsements. The state party insists on not endorsing in primary elections that are partisan – that is elections where a Democrat is running against another Democrat to see who’s going to be on the general election ballot. Individuals can and do endorse, and work and raise money for the candidate of their choice, but the local central committee is supposed to stay out of it. I guess this makes sense. I believe this rule holds true for the Republican Party as well.

But what to do in nonpartisan elections, especially primaries? Take Ward 4, for example, where there are five candidates vying for two slots on the November ballot. Do we trust the local media to give us the information we need to make an informed decision? I think not.

As to the divisiveness claim that it shows party favoritism to one Democratic candidate over another – well I suppose that’s true. It’s called accountability. And as long as the process is transparent, that strict guidelines are followed, that the questions asked are based on established party platforms and issues, I say go for it.

I like to think that Missoula Democrats are mature enough to look beyond some of the controversial, parochial issues and support the best candidate for the job. And if for some reason their candidate doesn’t get endorsed that they don’t flee the party or refuse to get involved in other Democratic campaigns – say Senate, House, governor or even presidential campaigns. Lord knows that over the years not all the Democratic candidates I’ve supported have received a helping hand from the party, but I keep plugging away.

And who knows, in some wards, a Democratic endorsement might be the kiss of death. We’ll see who shows up for the forum and what they have to say.

by jhwygirl

At Monday nights council meeting, one of the more mundane tasks was accepting 2 bits of open space from the Pleasant View subdivision (over behind Home Depot) as city parks.

Pleasant View was reviewed in the County some time ago, with expectations that it would be annexed to the city. Jackie Corday, City parks and open space coordinator, noted that City Parks was very involved from the beginning with the subdivision, knowing that the open spaced required of the subdivision would later become part of the City Parks system.

So when the innocuous feel-good item appeared on the agenda, surely it would be a simple one-two approval.

And while the wording “detention pond” was utilized in the meeting, apparently the Missoulian doesn’t know what that means. Their article on Tuesday identifies it merely as a ‘pond’. Sounds peachy, right?

The ‘pond’ is a glorified 2.7 acre ditch, immediately adjacent to busy Flynn Lane, and is part of an engineering regulation that requires all storm-water runoff to be detained on-site. Most of the time it is and will be dry. Frankly, I’ve never seen water it it – but I don’t drive that way often, either. I do know, though, what it is – and what it certainly isn’t is usable park space.

So while the presentation was going, and a map was shown, all I could ask was “why in the world are we taking a huge 2.7 acre ditch as a city park?!

Why in the world is an infrastructure requirement considered open space anyways? Especially when it is probably 4 feet deep by maybe 20 foot wide and runs the length of the Flynn Lane frontage? What real type of activity is going to take place in that?

But the plan to accept the detention pond as a City Park was laid well in advance of Monday nights City Council meeting. Councilperson Stacy Rye, though, seemed to be the only one who remembered that what was being proposed as a new city park (proposed to be accepted as a city park, actually) was a detention pond. And she asked politely asked Ms. Corday, after her 10 minute or so presentation, about “that detention pond” during the Q&A from city council.

{applause}

The answer was muddled, but it went something like this – ‘We agreed way back when this subdivision was approved that we’d take this…and the Homeowners Association didn’t want to take care of it anymore.’

Well, that sure is a good reason. I don’t want to cut the grass in my yard – maybe City Parks wants that too?

To its credit, City Parks did manage to get one good park out of the deal – a 5.37 acre park, centrally located, which awaits topsoil, irrigation and seeding. The developer is installing that, BTW.

{whew!}

But really – do we have to be sooo pro-development that we accept infrastructure detention ponds as open space and city parks?

by jhwygirl

This is cross-posted at MontanaNetroots.

Governor Brian Schweitzer announced yesterday that he will be directing that the flag be lowered to half-mast when a Montana member of the Armed Forces is killed in the line of duty.

On June 29th, Congress signed into law the Army Specialist Joseph P. Micks Federal Flag Code Amendment Act of 2007, which authorizes the Governor of any state, territory or possession of the U.S. to order that the flag be flown at half-mast when a soldier from that state, territory or possession is killed.

Schweitzer has ordered that flags be flown at half-mast two days prior and until dusk on the day of service for any Montana Armed Forces member. “Our soldiers deserve no less than one of our nation’s highest honors, flying the flag at half-mast.”

I know many of us in the Montana blogosphere have pondered why the flag isn’t flown at half-mast when a soldier is killed. I know that it has been done in the hometown of the deceased soldier.

While I am glad the our Governor has acted so quickly to act on the Congressional act – it will be a sad day when it has to be implemented.

Discuss the war – end the war. Now.

Support the City of Missoula War Referendum.

by Jay Stevens

New West’s Jessica Mayrer wrote a profile of Chou Moua, a Hmong farmer and lumber mill worker who’s often seen at the Farmer’s Market. It’s a decent, if shallow, story about a Missoulian who comes from a people who are not only fascinating, but integral to the city.

You may remember I touched on the Hmong in a post about cultural “bartering,” a skill we Americans generally lack, and one of the reasons the Iraq War was doomed before it started.

But the point of this post is to urge everybody out there interested in the Hmong – or who live and work in Missoula – to read Anne Fadiman’s brilliant book about Hmong in California, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.” I’ve rarely read a book that so well digs into the psyche of peoples – both Hmong and Americans.

by jhwygirl

Ward 2 Councilman John Hendrickson bit back at tonight city council meeting, attacking critics of his amendment (at July 2nd’s city council meeting) which removed the West Broadway corridor from the Northside/Westside Neighborhood Plan Update.

The neighborhood plan, which underwent years of comment and input from community and public leaders, has cost Missoula taxpayers $15,000 in study fees and additional funding of an enormous amount of staff time.

Hendrickson, who campaigned in 2005 on an anti-Broadway road diet theme, made the amendment to remove West Broadway from the plan in an effort to eliminate any input that the neighborhood plan would have with any future decisions facing the city on efforts within the West Broadway corridor.

Neighborhood Plans, much like Comprehensive Plans, provide an informal guide to city staff, board members and elected officials when making decisions in any given area. They do not, on their own, provide the same legal standing as a zoning ordinance, but Missoula has utilized them as tools to reinforce a long term ‘vision’ for the city, helping to keep the city focused on greater goals over the long term.

Tonight, in defending himself from critics in city council, local government, and the public, Hendrickson said that “as far as spending $15,000 on the update, there are no guarantees that when we do impact plans or studies that we will get our desired results. And it wouldn’t be the first time that we spent $ unwisely.”

Note to John Hendrickson: When one does a study, one doesn’t presuppose an outcome to said studies. Studies are expected to analyze a situation without prejudice.

Hendrickson went yet further in his own defense, calling for the 4-lane on West Broadway to be revised to “eliminate parking, bikes lanes or both so that the 4-lane could become a reality. And that the 4-lane could be implemented sooner than the 11 to 20 years as called for in the charette vision plan.”

Nice. No parking OR bike lanes. Now that’s community transportation planning at its best!

At July 2nd’s council meeting, Hendrickson clung mightily to his petition from West Broadway businesses (he claims to have 25 signatures), defending those businesses for not having participated in the Northside/Westside Plan Update meetings by subtly accusing the Office of Planning & Grants (OPG) of not sending out neighborhood notices to the businesses for any of the 4 public meetings that were held. He further questioned the sign-in sheets for the meetings, saying they were “questionable – OPG explained it and I take them at their word – but – it still raises a question.”

Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

Stimson Lumber Mill’s plywood workers punched the clock on their last shift Friday, in the final end the plywood production of the plant. A Missoulian article on Friday detailed the shocking news that the productive and profit-making Duratemp production is also being shut down – its patent, held by Stimson, now sold to Roseburg Forest Products (who will make the product at its plywood plant in Oregon.)

An anonymous comment in one of my previous posts on Stimson Lumber Mill suggested, back on June 6th, that Stimson sold out its Duratemp because it was “a lot easier to make money without all those buildings and pesky employees.” Anonymous’ comment was the first I had heard that Stimson sold off its Duratemp, and at the time I found it hard to believe since Duratemp is the up-and-coming very profitable wood product.

Duratemp is a ready-finished wood siding product. It’s pre-painted, looks like siding, is easy to maintain and goes up in full sheets.

Stimson is still maintaining it can’t find competitively priced raw product – i.e., timber. Ironically, while it says it can’t get any competitively priced timber, its plant manager Nick Olsam reports that “Stimson is doing its best to compete in a rapidly changing industry – including investing in its Bonner facilities. The equipment inside the plywood plant will be liquidated to Mill Machinery LLC., and some of the remaining machinery will be repaired and upgraded. The company is rebuilding a lot of its equipment and actively pushing the plant to higher levels of productivity.”

Really? How do you do that by selling off the patent to your most profitable product – Duratemp? And how do you actively push to higher levels of productivity without timber?

Something is stinking really bad down there and the Missoulian is failing miserably at reporting the whole story, while Stimson Lumber Mills, centered out of Washington, looks to be lying to the community and its employees.

The Missoulian has done several stories on Stimson over the last month and a half. What is astounding to me is that they have accepted, de facto, Stimson’s claims that it can’t get any timber. The Missoulian has never investigated whether Stimson looked to other typical sources – the sources that other mills, like Pyramid, utilize for timber – and they’ve failed to point out that Stimson owns fairly large timbered land holdings in Missoula and surrounding counties.

They’ve also failed to investigate the failure of Stimson to competitively bid on timber sales put up by the large timber land holders in the area – sellers like the USFS, Plum Creek Timberlands, BLM, and the State of Montana. A few thorough questions asked of those agencies would show that not only has Stimson failed to aggressively bid on numerous timber sales in the area, but that when they did bid, they bid at prices that were nearly half of what the winning bids were for those timber sales.

With management like that, and a mill that was importing timber for its plywood plant, it’s no wonder they closed the plywood and Duratemp side of the plant.

How can Stimson claim that timber is expensive and non-existent when a mill like Pyramid bids at nearly double Stimson’s infrequent bid prices, and then that timber is essentially driven right by the Bonner mill on its way up to Pyramid’s mill near Seeley Lake? Nearly 50 miles. With gas prices at all-time highs? Can I say “lipstick on a pig”? and the “pig” is the privately-held Stimson company?

Friday’s article also makes mention of the feelings of some of the 133 employees who lost their jobs, officially, on Friday…that Stimson isn’t doing enough to “hang on” and whether it hasn’t been planning a gradual exit all along.

I can understand the futility that these workers must feel – but I can’t help but also wonder whether an organized labor movement might not have helped stave off the permanent loss of their jobs – or what also seems to be coming down the pike, which is a complete shut down or sell-out of the mill. Remember, layoffs have been ongoing since at least 2005.

I’ll reiterate my concerns here regarding these jobs and the seemingly inevitable closing of Stimson’s Bonner plant: Stimson just left go of133 of its employees. By my calculation, there are probably about 150 (or less) jobs left. All of these jobs are good paying jobs, and supported a network of families in the region. The mill itself provides a tax base for the Bonner community. The impact of the recent loss of jobs, yet alone the reduced tax base from the plywood closing, will be felt throughout the region: gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, etc., will all suffer with the loss. Stimson Lumber Mill has been a center of economic production for the Missoula valley for more than a century, and watching it die without so much as a whimper from any elected official, is a failure for the community as a whole.

My first article on Stimson can be found here. The second article has a link embedded with this post.

by Pete Talbot

MISSOULA, Mont., July 5, 2007 – A record 102 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Missoulian, breaking the old record by five degrees.

Hot enough for all you neocon naysayers, Libertarian hacks and corporate whores who deny global warming?

Sure, sure – one day of extreme heat isn’t proof. But there’s other news in today’s paper, like the announcement that fire season is here. That’s three weeks ahead of normal, according to a Montana DNR spokesman.

And swimmer’s itch, the pesky little parasite that gets under your skin, has arrived.

“The weather’s a lot hotter this year,” said a Flathead City-County Health Department worker, “and the water’s heating up sooner.” Ergo an early outbreak.

Now I’m not going to get into a tit-for-tat with the officious Libertarians down at the think tanks in Bozeman. They’ll claim global warming is some kind of natural cycle, if they acknowledge its existence at all. It certainly isn’t human caused and even if it is, there’s nothing to be done about it.

I love that sort of “can’t do” philosophy.

I know I should be doing more about it, personally. Riding my bike (I did that yesterday and started sweating like a pig in a down jacket). Being more energy efficient at home. Traveling less for business and pleasure – that one’s really going to hurt. And the list goes on.

But where’s the national mandate? I’m going to need a little help here since, like most Americans, I don’t want to radically change my lifestyle.

So, where is the energy-efficient mass transit? Or the big push for conservation or solar? Why are we still burning coal? Or planning our communities with longer-and-longer commutes?

I realize that our current national leadership doesn’t give a rat’s *ss about this issue. Let’s hope that changes.

‘Cause today (July 6) is supposed to be even hotter – could break all records – and without some major energy, transportation and planning policy shifts, it’s only the beginning.

Stay cool.

by jhwygirl

A resolution to form an SID (Special Improvement District) within the University area, for placement of 13 traffic calming circles appears on Monday night council’s consent agenda.

Traffic circles were requested for this area by a majority of the residents. And at a neighborhood council meeting, attending by Phil Smith, Bike/Ped Coordinator for the City, the SID was also well received. The cost to each lot in the district will be approximately $350 bucks.

The traffic circle debate has been ongoing in the city. Some people just can’t fathom that something different might be better. Steve King, Director of City Engineering, has gone on record saying that they would be good for the city – slowing traffic down, while keeping it moving, helping to reduce emissions. Myself, I like the gardens that people in the neighborhood like to plant in them.

I have only one pet peeve to pass along – why not connect water up to them? I mean, can’t the city absorb the cost of a little water for the plants? I know a guy who lives by one of them, and he has to drag his hose out there and use his water to water the thing. Sure they look nice – but honestly – can’t the city run a pipe up from the center of the street and place a faucet there? Why do individuals have to maintain something like that?

At least the residents along Orange Street and SW Higgins don’t have to drag their hoses out to the median to water those plants. I mean, can you imagine?

Regarding the making of this fine SID through Public Works Committee and on to the consent agenda – I’m taking bets on either Wilkins or Ballas throwing a wrench into this (again). All it takes is one or two neighbors who don’t like it (despite the overwhelmingly favorable review spoken of above), and those two guys will turn anything into a controversy.




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