Archive for January, 2008

by jhwygirl

No one around here (or there) was happy when we found out that Baucus removed the income caps on the subprime buyout stimulus checks….but Roll Call (subscription required) paints a dire picture of the precarious position that the current bill has in the Senate.

Let’s frame it:
First – Bush, together with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner have warned the senate that any any changes to the House version threatens to derail or delay the package.
Second – Republicans have 23 Senate seats to defend in what is shaping up to be a very hostile election cycle. Given that, several are jockeying to make their marks on the bill when it comes to debate.
Third – the ‘Filibuster Factor’, meaning that the Senate must, if it amends, seal the deal with 60 votes to keep it from going back to the House for conference.

That leaves Baucus with a tough challenge – leave the bill as it is (the House’s version) – which wasn’t going to happen – or strike some compromise that includes stuff that most from both sides can agree to and stave off the filibuster by picking off 9 to 12 GOP Senators.

Then there’s this:

Senate Chief Deputy Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said GOP leaders’ objective in the coming floor debate will be to make sure the finance stimulus package does not get a filibuster-proof 60 votes. He declined to detail how Republicans planned to do that.

Baucus and ranking Senate Finance member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), working on a Senate compromise package before it even hit their door, originally ironed out a proposal that removed the income cap, but expanded unemployment benefits an additional 13 weeks and added stimulus checks (slightly reduced from $600 to $500) to 20 million seniors and $250,000 disabled veterans.

Keeping in mind the vulnerability of Senate Republicans, there was no shortage of people willing to seek politically popular additions. Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) faces a tough re-election and a state with unemployment moving upwards (currently 4.9%). “I haven’t seen the package,” he said, but “I would be open to adding a few targeted things to the package,” including unemployment aid, as the Finance package would do.

Maine Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (Collins also facing re-election) also sought the addition of low-income heating assistance. Democrats are more than happy to oblige on both, with that amendment expected to come from that side of the aisle.

Baucus himself had to face concessions in the Senate-facing-re-election realm: Max initially removed the income cap, which raised the ire of Senate Democrats…while on the other side, Senate Republicans pushed for no cap. That’s how we’ve come to the (ridiculous) $150,000 income cap.

In the end, only two Republicans joined the Grassly-Baucus compromise – Snowe and Senator Gordon Smith (OR).

Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) explains: “If we bring the Finance Committee bill to the floor and start adding to it, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. But if they bring the Finance Committee bill to the floor and don’t let us amend it, they’ll be in trouble,” he said.

Like I said – Baucus is between one big rock and one hard place.

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by Jamee Greer

I have to say that I’m not surprised by two things on the front front page of today’s Montana Kaimin –

1.) That the Babs Building on 4th Street SW is possibly turning into condominiums, and

2.) That the Kaimin broke this story.

The staff at The University of Montana’s student paper have really earned their fee increase this year, covering (and breaking stories) on everything from queer rights at UM to student renters displaced by gentrification.

I’m not going to offer much commentary on the possible conversion, other than to say it’s too bad to see yet another affordable housing option disappear in a city with a ridiculous vacancy rate – at least for rentals. First there was the Wilma (with its 25 units), then the Montaigne-slash-“Historic Penwell” (with it’s, I believe, 47 units), and now (maybe) the Babs – coming in at an additional 14 units.

Update: I was mistaken in saying the Montana Kaimin has “earned their fee increase this year” – while I knew that students voted against the fee increase (the only increase to fail the student ballot in ’07) – I was under the impression that the Board of Regents went against student wishes and funded the paper anyway.

by Rebecca Schmitz

Rudy who? That’s the question this morning. “America’s mayor” hasn’t done so well in…America. But another, better candidate will be leaving the race. According to the AP just now, John Edwards is ending his campaign. There will be an announcement later today.

by Rebecca Schmitz

Er…I mean Hooters.  I wonder if Missoulian reporter Lori Grannis had a hard time keeping a straight face while writing her article about Missoula’s newest restaurant.  The careful efforts of the owner, Steve Edgar, to distinguish his property from all the other American chain restaurants serving mediocre food without mentioning Hooters’ obvious attractions are unintentionally hilarious.  Some choice quotes:

Hooters, he said, was just too intriguing a prospect to give up on.

Edgar said Hooters and the casino will be “a haven for sports fans,” with more than 38 large-screen plasma televisions planned.

Staff training for Hooters is intense, according to Edgar. “Hooters employees spend eight weeks training in another Hooters location, learning every station in the restaurant,” he said. After a series of tests, each work with the restaurant’s general manager, then head off to Atlanta for a week at Hooters University, he said.

Hooters U? What’s its nickname, Home of the Bouncing Implants? I didn’t realize people needed to be schooled in selling sex.  Whatever. I hope all those breast men “sports fans” in the area “intrigued” at the idea of ordering chicken wings with a side of celery sticks and blue cheese are happy.  I’m pretty sure there’s something else they serve that’s different from all the other chains on Reserve, but for the life of me and Mr. Edgar we can’t think what that might be.

by jhwygirl

Just had to say it, and damned if that doesn’t feel good.

by jhwygirl

For the second time in as many years, the At-Risk Housing Coalition (ARHC) will hold its annual Project Homeless Connect event on January 31st, 2008.

The At-Risk Housing Coalition was formed by Women’s Opportunity and Resource Development (WORD) in 1993 to initiate a community-wide program to address and bring awareness to our community’s homeless citizens.

On Thursday, Project Homeless Connect will provide a variety of essential services for Missoula’s homeless citizens in one location – services like food, clothing, housing, medical and dental services, mental health counseling, financial services, employment and education, and senior, legal and disability services.

Project Homeless Connect is supported by not only the City of Missoula and Missoula County, but also 50 local agencies and over 150 volunteers.

In conjunction with the event, ARHC will also conduct a survey. Last year the results were shocking:

551 homeless in Missoula
Over half were families with children
33% were employed
53% either rented an apartment or owned a home prior to being homeless
1/2 had lived in Missoula at least 2 years
20% had lived in Missoula all their lives

Veteran’s make up a large portion of homeless people – 25% nationwide. 89% are honorably discharged. 64% served in Vietnam and after, and 67% served 3 or more years in the service. Montana has over 100,000 veterans, ranking 10th per capita in the nation. Needless to say, you can not speak of homelessness without thinking of veterans.

January 31st falls darn near the middle of winter, folks. Those facts are shocking and sad.

Tonight, showing the city’s commitment to addressing homeless issues in Missoula, the Mayor will proclaim this week Homelessness Awareness Week.

If you can offer services or can help with volunteering this Thursday, contact the ARHC coordinator at 258-4650.

by Rebecca Schmitz

Once again, one of the nicest people in Montana politics has been treated shabbily–by his own party. Even though he’s currently on his honeymoon in China, I hope someone told Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger about this latest snub before it occurred.

John McCain unexpectedly gave chairmanship of his Montana campaign to former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., Saturday. The position had belonged to Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger for four weeks.

There’s something ironic about the Republican champion of campaign finance reform handing the reins of his Montana campaign to a lobbyist who, in the past, was one of the biggest recipients of K Street’s largesse. Huh. I guess that old saying is true: opposites attract. Nevertheless, the Governor’s office is taking the high road on this one.

“John is honored to support McCain and is also happy to see former senator Burns jump on board,” said Sarah Elliott, a spokeswoman for the governor.

It’s nice to see someone rising about the tawdry pettiness that has characterized Montana–and party–politics over the past year. The spectacle of our state’s Republicans treating Bohlinger so ungenerously over the past several months is the perfect follow-up to the childish behavior of the the 2007 Legislature (for which Legislators would like to blame everyone but themselves). When Executive Director Chris Wilcox refused to allow him to attend the party’s convention last summer, pretending tickets weren’t available, it was a pathetic nadir in Montana partisan politics. Because Wilcox, Erik Iverson and other GOP officials are determined to engage in a kind of behavior not seen since high school, I have some advice for our Lieutenant Governor straight out of those tedious four years: find another clique, Mr. Bohlinger. The jocks don’t want you to eat lunch at their cafeteria table anymore.

***UPDATE***

Our liberal and conservative friends agree: the level of discourse between Bohlinger and the GOP is getting increasingly bizarre. The party’s behavior has regressed from high school to second grade. Now the message isn’t “f*ck you” so much as “neener neener neener”.

by jhwygirl

The check is in the mail, right? Whoa-hooo! Yipee-ki-yeah! Right?

Wrong.

At least that’s what I was thinking when the idea of passing out a “stimulus check” was first being tossed around…$300….$800….and now, where it sits at $600. “It’s a bailout of lazy fat mortgage lenders who didn’t do their job right in the first place,” is what I told friends. No different than the bailout of Chrysler or bankruptcy ‘reform’ – which, wait a minute, wasn’t that bankruptcy ‘reform’ enough back in 2005? And now we’re at it again?! You gotta be kidding me.

1.26 million foreclosures in 2006, 2 million foreclosures in 2007, and 1.5 million more people projected to lose their homes in 2008. 100,000 in housing-related industries are projected to lose their jobs in 2008 and, get this, an estimated 100 sub-prime mortgage companies may go under. Hear the numbers enough and they’re drilled into your head.

Lovely.

I’m not alone. Spend enough time watching CNN or MSNBC or Fox News, or listening to talk radio on either side of the aisle (I get a few channels of that, being that I not only get the local stuff, but I also have Sirius), and you realize that there are a whole hell of a lot of people mad that they’ll be sent a check. I’m one of them.

I don’t deny that getting some extra cash won’t be nice – and that if they are going to do so, perhaps it should be sent to everyone – like the ones who really need it – but sending out cash as part of a stimulus package doesn’t do much more than put a band-aid on a much larger problem.

Which is the banking industry run amok.

So while congress is busy putting lipstick on a pig, maybe someone up there in the decadent halls of congress should utter the word “regulation.” Sure sounds a lot better than “bailout.” But that’s just me. Maybe bailout after bailout is a palatable thing for the masses.

Look, I’m no economic Einstein here, but it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure all this out. That check is a payoff in hopes that the common man doesn’t do a whole rewrite of the legislative and executive branch this November. I’d rather see a stimulus package that included reform and regulation of the people that put us here in the first place, and some cash thrown into aging infrastructure across the United States. That’s a fair start, no?

….and what will I do with my $600? I’m thinking I’m just going to put it under the mattress. Because that is exactly what they don’t want me to do with it.

by Pete Talbot

There are about a half-dozen contested races, so far, for the Montana Legislature. The filing began Tuesday and ends Thursday, March 20. The secretary of state’s office updates the list online, daily.

In our neck of the woods, there is a state senate primary, which Matt covered over at LiTW.

But the one that really caught my eye was HD 100. It is currently held by Republican Bill Nooney and he has filed to run again.

But good news! A fellow named Gary Brown has filed as a Democrat. I don’t know much about him; whether he was recruited by the party, by concerned constituents or that he signed on out of a sense of obligation to the district.

What I’ve learned is he’s retired from the U.S. Forest Service and on the board of the National Museum of Forest Service History. The museum is planned for Missoula, out by the airport.

A quick Google shows that Brown testified at the last legislature on HB 753, Rep. Betsy Hands’ bill to curb global warming. He was with the good guys (M.E.I.C., Montana Conservation Voters, Montana Water Trust, Montana Audubon, Northern Plains Resource Council, etc., etc.).

The other side was comprised of the Montana Coal Council, Montana Petroleum Association, Rio Tinto Energy, and their ilk.

The bill lost in a 46-46 tie. The entire Missoula delegation voted for the bill except Nooney.

The Republican Party needs Nooney and will put resources into this race, but he can be beat. Gary Brown needs our support. 4&20 will keep you updated.

by Jamee Greer

Recent UM grad, and pal of mine, K’Lynn Sloan is rockin’ MTV as a Choose or Loose Citizen Journalist this election year — featuring reports on the political scene here in the MT.

Check out her videos, and read her blog. www.streetteam08.com

by jhwygirl

When a 4-year funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS) was stripped from an energy bill last month just before the close of congress, 34 of Montana’s counties lost out on $93.3 million in funding.

Missoula’s share was nearly $2.7 million. Our FY 2007 SRS payment was $752 million.

This link will take you to a breakdown, by county, of funding for all states that received payments.

Funding was stripped because Senate Republicans objected to the inclusion – which Senator Baucus, chair of the powerful Finance Committee insisted on – of a $21.8 billion measure that included renewable energy tax incentives and repeal of $13 billion in tax breaks for big oil and gas. The White House threatened veto, and the Senate fell one vote short of the 60 votes it needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.

The SRS originally expired in 2006, but received emergency funding for additional year. Now that has expired, and 13 western states face a yearly shortfall of nearly $410 million.

You might recall that last year President Bush proposed selling off $800 million in federal lands as a way of keeping the funding alive.

First signed into law in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, the SRS provides additional funding to rural counties that face shortfalls because of reductions in timber harvests. It isn’t just about school funding. In addition to providing funding for teachers, SRS pumps money into roads and emergency services and provides funding for local police and sheriff’s departments.

Showing his commitment to rural Montana and renewable energy, Senator Baucus is determined to push for the funding package. As chair of the Finance Committee, Senator Baucus is in the right position to do that.

“Congress had a golden opportunity to do what’s right for rural America, but they chose to turn their backs on our Main Streets,” Baucus said. “This fight is far from over. We’ll come back and try again and again until we make our counties whole.”

by jhwygirl

Jake passed on peacefully yesterday morning. He was family – my brother’s dog.

My brother had rescued Jake about 10 years ago from an in-ground pool, where he found him swimming – tired and desperate – sometime after midnight.

My brother was – still is- friends with Jake’s original owners – but Jake never wanted to leave my brother’s side after that evening. Recognizing where Jake’s loyalties lay, they willingly succumbed to their puppy’s wishes.

You will be missed. Terribly.

jake-boy.jpg

A bus koan

by Jay Stevens

Here’s science hard at work on your everyday problems: a study performed by a Harvard University mathematician on late busses, and whether you should stick out a wait, or move on.

The answer, of course, is obvious. You wait it out. If the bus goes by while you’re tramping to another stop, you’ll have to wait even longer for the next bus.

But the study begs some questions. First, why in h*ll would you go to the next stop? It’s not like there’s a reward for going to the next stop. After all, even if you reach it before the bus arrives, you’ll arrive at your destination at the same time you would have had you waited at the first bus stop. And – as anybody knows who’s tried this little trick – the odds of the bus going by while you’re still hoofing it are pretty d*mn good.

So, really, I didn’t find this study very helpful at all.

Here’s a more realistic situation for our Harvard friend. Say you get to the bus stop one minute late and there’s no sign of the bus after a five-minute wait, so you’re not sure it’s late, or you missed it. Say the bus comes only once an hour, and it’s -3 degrees F outside? Wait, there’s more. It’s 8:59am, it takes forty minutes to walk, and you have a 9:30 am conference call?

Do you walk? Or wait? Or go back home for a 40-minute nap?

Just askin’…

Grammar and moderation

by Pete Talbot

Who and whom, affect and effect — these are just a couple of grammatical quandaries that always give me pause.

And I appreciate the corrections that alert readers offer in their comments. I really do.

What I don’t appreciate are the additional remarks such as “you f*cking idiot” or “you illiterate slut.” I don’t believe that these advance the dialogue.

Blogs aren’t scholarly periodicals, for the most part. I think that they are more about content than a lesson in grammar, punctuation and syntax. Basic writing skills are nice to have, if just to get ones message across. If the the writing is jibberish, the content is lost.

But then there’s the issue of common usage, for example: who and whom. Folks just don’t use “whom” that much anymore. Some would say it even sounds a little snooty. So, if you’re trying to get a message out to the masses and folks balk when you use “whom” in a sentence, is it better to go with “who?” I don’t know the answer.

This brings me to a current dilemma. A recent comment took a 4&20 contributor to task for using “like I said” instead of the proper “as I said.” My mom used to correct me all the time when I substituted “like” for “as.” But current usage, particularly here in Montana, leans toward “like,” and we are targeting a Montana audience at this site.

More important, though, is after the commenter questioned the grammatical usage, he needlessly added, “you illiterate slut.”

We deleted that comment. It added nothing to the subject matter and actually, IMHO, damaged the commenter’s credibility.

This is called “moderation.” (Not “moderation” as “I drink in moderation” but our ability at 4&20 to moderate the comments that are posted at this site.)

So keep those grammar, punctuation and syntax suggestions coming but please keep the insults and profanity to a minimum; you low-rent, scum-sucking dogs.  You will be “moderated.”

by Rebecca Schmitz

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I wanted to post a link to what is, in my opinion, Dr. King’s most moving speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop“. He gave it the night before his assassination on April 4th, 1968.  Beacuse of that, his final words are some of the most poignant in American history.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

If you have the time, I really encourage you to listen to the audio file (others are available here). The words above are beautiful, but Dr. King’s delivery is meant to be heard.

by jhwygirl

Missoula rock star and occasional book reviewer for New West Chris La Tray has entered the blog world with Stumbling the Walk.

Wonder how he picked that name?

Chris is bass man for The Lazerwolfs. His bios describe him as an “extreme volume tree hugging dirt worshiper,” and a “data collection consultant” who fumes over political shenanigans. In the short time his blog has been up, he’s put out some interesting stuff. Go check it out.

Welcome to the blog world Chris!

by jhwygirl

State Republican Chairman Erik Iverson paints an absolutely rosy picture of the state’s Republican chances to grab up – at least – 3 of the 5 seats which comprise the State Land Board.

Iverson said he believes Montana Republicans have an excellent chance to control the Montana Land Board for the first time since 1992. That would mean winning three out of these five races: governor, attorney general, auditor, superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state.

Iverson seems to paint his hopes on State Auditor, Attorney General and Secretary of State. The Republicans currently have no challenger for School Superintendent.

Both the State Auditor and the Attorney General seats are being vacated by term-limited Mike McGrath and John Morrison.

There are two challengers for State Auditor – Rep. Monica Lindeen (D – Huntley) and former Sen. Duane Grimes (R- Clancy). Clancy lost to Morrison in 2004. Lindeen ran against Rehberg in 2006, in a race where the state’s Democratic party were almost wholly focused on unseating Conrad Burns. Iverson is banking on Grimes, saying “He’s run before and knows what it takes.”

There are 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans running for Morrison’s seat. Money is the winner in this race according to Iverson:

Iverson said whoever emerges from the Democratic primary will be “a great competitor and probably will be a little beaten up and not have much money. The Republican primary winner probably will have more money and be more politically stable than the Democratic candidate,” he said.

It is a sad reality when all a candidate or party chair can rest on is $.

But do tell, Erik Iverson – what is it, exactly, that the State Land Board has been failing at doing? What agenda is it that the MT GOP has for the state’s lands? Is big industry whining? Do they miss their “lap dogs”?

Follow the money, I guess, and maybe we’ll find out.

Patrick Duganz, a local newspaper (The Missoula Independent) reporter that I’m a real fan of, has entered the blogosphere with his own Duganz at 23.

Just a few days old, he already has a self-admitted stalker.

Happy B-day Patrick – and welcome aboard!

by jhwygirl

Cabela’s is attempting to make peace with Montanans over a recent outcry over their real estate franchise Cabela’s Trophy Properties. They presented a $50,000 check to Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission on Thursday, and pledged an additional $12,000 per year for the next five years.

The story reports that the commission accepted the check “cautiously.”

The cynic in me says “I’m sure that’ll buy lots of public access,” and “Wonder whose commission that cut into.” The realist in me says that “Gee, that’s more than a whole hell of a lot of other realtors are doing – some that have been born and raised right here.”

Anyways – there it is. A promise of new policies and $110,000 over the next five years for FWP to purchase public access.

(Update: Via the Houston Chronicle, the AP has the story up on Cabela’s interaction with the Montana FWP commission)

by jhwygirl

Word is out (and video too!) about Obama’s interview, Monday, with the Reno Journal Gazette, where he compared himself to (gasp!) (or is it “gag!“) Ronald Reagan.

Could he have just jumped the shark? I’m sure Edwards and Hillary fans are hoping so. I know I’m not gonna throw him any rope.

Obama went on in the interview to explain how his lack of experience wouldn’t be a problem – that he felt the voters were looking more for a chief operating officer. (ahh, now I see the Reagan analogy!)

Earth to Obama! We’re at war. The deficit is miles high. Anti-American sentiment is on the rise in Europe and elsewhere. Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons. Putin is scary. North Korea is scary. China is scary. Chief Operating Officer?! We need a leader, not more of the corporate mentality that got us into this situation!

I can go on, but I won’t.

But Obama? Better zip up – your inexperience is showing.

by Pete Talbot

Although billionaire Michael Bloomberg denies it, it’s looking more-and-more like he’s going to make a run for President. What does that mean for Montana?

Another billionaire Independent (well actually, Reform Party, but you get my drift) helped hand Montana to Bill Clinton in 1992. Clinton received 37.6%, George Sr. had 35.1% and Ross Perot got a whopping 26.1%.

The pundits said that Perot stripped votes from both Clinton and Bush here in Montana, but he stripped more from Bush.

The pollsters say that Independents make up about 30% of the voters in Big Sky Country. In most cases, in a race between a Democrat and a Republican, whoever gets the majority of the Independents wins the election. And in a three-way race, a strong Independent candidate can radically change the outcome of an election.

I suppose a lot of it will have to do with whom each party nominates. So, you have to figure in which of the tier one Democrats (Clinton, Obama, Edwards) and tier one Republicans (Romney, McCain, Huckabee) will appeal most to Montana voters. (I think Giuliani is toast.)

But I still have to ask — will Bloomberg play as well in Big Sky Country as Perot? Would he strip more votes from the GOP or the Dems? What say you?

Update — Apparently not everyone shares my view that Rudy is toast.  This from New York magazine columnist John Heilemann on Michigan’s Republican primary:

“The real winner last night wasn’t any of these guys, however. The real winner was Rudy Giuliani, whose strategy of essentially blowing off the first month of the nominating process now seems to have a whiff of (mad) genius about it. Giuliani, to be sure, has seemed off-kilter the past few weeks, lurching from event to event, spouting themeless bromides and adopting a posture of Alfred E. Neuman–esque what-me-worryism …

Yet now the Republican field is exactly where Rudy’s people believed (hoped, prayed) it would be at this point: in utter disarray. If he wins in Florida, where he’s essentially been living, basking in the warm sunshine and building up his firewall, while his rivals have frozen their asses off in Iowa and New Hampshire, he will be in the catbird seat.”

by jhwygirl

A friend forwards me the nearly-daily updates from the Ravalli County Planning Department, headed up by Karen Hughes, a former planner with the Missoula County Office of Planning and Grants. They are seemingly (no, actually, as I hear it) working overtime to provide the public with as much information as possible with regards to the variety of projects they are working on down there….and not just information in the sense of seeking public involvement in the regulatory process, but education in the sense that they are bringing in experts in various fields – law, land use, water – to explain the underlying issues that the public brings up along the way.

Coming up tomorrow night, a Groundwater Forum is being held at 7 p.m. in the Hamilton City Hall. The form is free and open to the public. This link provides more information along with a list of speakers.

The issue of groundwater availability comes up repeatedly with subdivision development. To shed some light on the issue, the Ravalli Planning Department has arranged for several groundwater availability experts and agency representative to conduct presentations and answer questions.

Upcoming, the Bitterroot Water Forum is sponsoring a panel discussion on water quality data in the Bitterroot watershed on January 29th at 7 p.m. at the Victor High School multi-purpose room.

Since Missoula is also part of the Bitteroot watershed, I thought these might be of interest to some.

~~~~~~
Back in December, in an effort to educate the public and dispel the cries of “takings” with regards to the impending streamside setbacks they, too, are working on, the Ravalli Planning Department held a forum with Michelle Bryan Mudd, director for the Land Use Clinic at the University of Montana School of Law.

That event was extremely well attended, and my friend down there (who supports both the county-wide zoning project and the streamside setback committee’s work) tells me that the public found the presentation very informing, and naysayers to streamside setbacks and zoning left with a sense of understanding the breadth of regulatory authority available to local authorities – and it went a long way in encouraging people to work with the process, rather than obstruct it.

When faced with a “Just say no” public, it appears that doing some background education can go a long way. Time will tell, ultimately, I guess.

Journalists blog!

by Jay Stevens

Intrepid Missoulian reporter, Michael Moore, has decided to dip his toe into the blogosphere, with The Other Michael Moore. Following in the fine tradition of Ed Kemmick and the Missoulian‘s Western Montana 360 (degrees), Moore has decided to air his laundry in public! And, in an even more daring move, it’s on a blog that does not fall under the auspices of his employer!

That more reporters are taking to the Inter Tubes is a good thing. It reminds us that they are human — for both good and ill — and gives us a peek into the minds of those that write our official records.

Welcome aboard, Mr. Moore, and don’t let the trolls grind you down.

by Rebecca Schmitz

In the comments of my previous post, I linked to an article in today’s Missoulian about the efforts of folks in Lakeside to establish “planning districts”–zoning–as a way to combat poorly planned development. Towards the end of Michael Jamison’s article is the description of a proposed subdivision in an un-zoned area of Flathead County that’s a prime example of everything the Fire Suppression Interim Committee is warning us about:

A recent Lakeside flurry centered on a proposed gated community called Bear Mountain, 26 lots on 160 forested acres once owned by Plum Creek. It is the vision of former Canadian hockey player Lanny McDonald…It’s 160 acres, subdivided into lots of about six acres on average…It’s behind a gate, above the lake, on the other side of the highway, with a shared lake access, in good wildlife habitat, with questionable emergency roads, built with individual septic systems. “It was fought pretty hard,” Harris said, “and we don’t really try to encourage that type of development at all. It’s steep with very thin soil, not a good place for septics…”

Forested Plum Creek land? Steep lots with poor access roads? Potential problems with the groundwater? Sounds perfect, if taxpayers are able to spend millions of dollars to protect these 26 trophy homes from a wildfire. How much longer can Montana afford these kinds of developments? How much longer can all of us afford to resist county-wide zoning?

by Rebecca Schmitz

Jhwygirl has written extensively and persuasively about the need for county-wide zoning in Montana. Yet another reason is emerging from the Fire Suppression Interim Committee meetings. The Committee, created by the 2007 Legislature, seems to have come to two conclusions already. First, Montana’s taxpayers, urban and rural, are forking over millions and millions of dollars for wildfire suppression. Pretty damn obvious, huh? Well, the second is a little more controversial. The bill for fighting wildfires will rise steadily every year unless something sensible and far-reaching is done now to curb the main reason for the rising costs: more and more homes being built in the wildland-urban interface. That something was mentioned just this past week in Billings. Committee members and the public actually said the dreaded “z” word.

Local governments have three ways of potentially guiding growth in wooded areas, according to documents submitted by Harold Blattie, executive director of the Montana Association of Counties. Regulations for subdivisions give some control over how growth occurs. Zoning is another option …Zoning is a “nonstarter,” said Mary Sexton, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, which oversees state firefighting. In almost all counties, it’s very difficult for commissioners to impose county-wide zoning.

Despite Sexton’s pessimism, and the potential for immediate pain to property owners in these vulnerable areas, it seems like the Montana Association of Counties and those with experience managing our state’s wildlands think zoning is a good idea:

Blattie and his group proposed a law just for fire-prone areas that would be similar to the way governments control building in floodplains. His idea is to allow local governments to identify the “wildland-urban interface” and formulate rules for building in the area. Counties would be able to enforce the rules. State Forester Bob Harrington said he would like to see some kind of enforceable regulation, not just recommendations to homeowners.

Predictably, one group was there to make sure zoning would be, in Sexton’s words, a “nonstarter”. Yes, it was that guardian of sensible responsible controlled rampant development, the Montana Association of Realtors:

Glenn Oppel, government affairs director for the Montana Association of Realtors, said his group favored a plan in which the state wouldn’t enforce building practices, only make recommendations. Oppel also questioned whether homes were driving up firefighting costs.

Frankly, having a Realtor testify before a committee honestly investigating the rising costs of wildfire suppression is like a member of NAMBLA speaking before a conference on the international sex trafficking of children. Sure, technically you could say they’re one of the stakeholders in the discussion but, like Realtors, only so far as they’re interested in relaxing laws and regulations.

I’m sure as the Fire Suppression Interim Committee moves across the state picking up testimony from firefighters, elected officials, foresters, concerned members of the public, and those, like Glenn Oppel, who simply want to represent their industry’s own narrow interests in the process, they’ll gather a lot of interesting and creative solutions to our state’s growing problem with the costs and dangers of wildland firefighting.  Most likely the Committee, and the rest of us, can look forward to the Montana Association of Realtors’ solution. Perhaps it will be something similar to the Bitterroot Board of Realtors’ plan for dealing with streamside setbacks in Ravalli County: a bewildering “gift” of proposed wildland buffer zones that will inevitably force Montana’s taxpayers to pay the ever-increasing bill for both wildfire suppression and their industry’s profits.

by jhwygirl

Today’s Great Falls Tribune is reporting that Billings Republican, Kirk Bushman, 41, has announced that he will formally announce his run for the Senate seat currently held by Max “Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee” Baucus next week.

He’s not even planning on coming to Missoula for the announcement.

So, ah, good luck with that Kirk – I guess the experience will be good for something.

by jhwygirl

During Wednesday’s city council Public Safety and Health committee meeting, a discussion was had regarding recruitment of police. I’ll let Bob Jaffe give it to you:

We confirmed a couple of police officers and had an interesting discussion about recruiting and retention of our officers. According to the Chief, we now have one of the highest paying and best trained forces in the state.Since our last contract negotiation we are in a much better place for recruiting and retention. But even with our new pay scale our officers find it hard to afford to purchase a home in this community. Some communities offer down payment assistance for their officers. Maybe we can find a way to do something like that.

That’s some good stuff there – the best trained forces in the state? – Missoula both deserves and needs that (especially with Bobby Hauck, run amok) – but it does illustrate some of the very issues I’ve been speaking about. (For more b’bird stuff on affordable housing, click on the “affordable housing” tag at the end of this piece).

Affordable housing is essential to provide essential services to the community. It’s also necessary to ensure economic viability.

In the situation put forth at Wednesday’s committee meeting, we’ve got the best paid police force in the state, and yet we’re still having trouble recruiting police men and women because they can’t afford to purchase a home.

But who all deserves to have the city subsidize or assist in providing assistance for purchasing a home? Police? (check) Fire? (check) Ambulance Drivers? (check) Teachers? (check) School bus drivers? (check) Nurses? (check) Public Works employees? (check)

You understand where I’m going with this…..

Now – I support having the best police force Missoula could possibly have – hell, I support every community having the absolutely best police force it could absolutely have. Policemen and women deserve to be well-paid. Not only do they protect the community and ensure its sustainability, they take their lives into their hands every single time they put on that uniform. Absolutely without a doubt. I am not trying to say that the police don’t deserve to have help with their housing.

But if we’re looking to help the best-paid police force in the state with down payments for housing, we’re putting a bandaid on the problem.

The issue Missoula faces is that people who make the median income can not afford to buy a home. We’ve got plenty of agencies that help people get a home, but if you make more than 80% of the median income, you are SOL.

The reality is that if you make less than 80% of the median income you can head to any one of the multiple housing agencies and seek assistance and end up with housing that is costing you approximately 1/3 of your gross income. If you make more than 80% of the median income, you’re putting 50- 60% (or more) of your gross income into housing – and you’re on your own.

Missoula needs to be safe and provide those essential services like police, etc. – but we also need to ensure economic viability. In order to do that, we’ve got to ensure housing for more than just police officers.

It’s time for the discussion. Let’s not put it off for 2 years or 4 years or whatever – time’s a-wastin’.

(I want to thank Bob Jaffe for the listserv. It provides a valuable service to the community, providing us with insight to the workings and discussion of committee meetings held each Wednesday during the day. By citing Bob’s listserve, I am not implying that he is solely or in any way responsible for the issues discussed. He’s reporting them for us, and that is a very, very good thing.)




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