Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Why is the Hurricane Harvey response lurching around and late to get started?

Twelve years to the day after Katrina our government is still improvising and coming up short on dealing with this predictable disaster in Texas and Louisiana and, of course, has done nothing worthwhile to prevent it.  

The reason why was displayed today listening to the California Report on KQED.  Our upbeat reporter was talking upbeat innovation with our upbeat candidate challenger who wants to run against “old guard” (read white, male, Republican) in a congressional district on the border with Nevada.  

What was so innovative? Some new internet site to raise money for politicians online that will let them sell their campaign ideas before actually becoming a registered candidate. The “innovation” was to test market this kind of fundraising. 

In the course of her report, the upbeat reporter had talked about how prior challengers to the old white republican guy hadn’t gotten very far and had only raised $50,000 to $100,000 which the reporter called “chump change”. 

Now “chump change” is an ugly, money grubbing expression closely related to the phrase “money talks and bullshit walks,” but to call more money than most of us make in a year “chump change” says a lot, including the fact that most of us are seen and treated as chumps by those who bask in the favor of our vile, money-mad, status-minded elites.  

Why are we evacuating residents of Houston in private fishing boats?  

Because we have a political system that organizes itself around money and the job of governing and providing for us chumps is secondary at best and usually an afterthought or brand positioning for the next round of vote marketing and paid advertising “political” campaigns.  

We all know this.  So much has been said and reported that there is not one person in the country who does not know that to be an elected official one needs piles of cash.  All of us have seen the avalanche of political advertising every two years.  

Why should we expect our elected officials to have any other priority than Dollars?  

Why isn’t Houston ready for this hurricane? It is hardly the first one to hit the area between New Orleans and Corpus Christi.  Galveston has been blown down how many times now?  

The words “fiscal reality” have already been used to explain away the poor response, failing dams and levies, failed pumps, lack of evacuation vehicles, etc. while the press is flooded with a bunch of boosters talking about how well the underfunded local, state and federal emergency agencies are cooperating and how heroic the first responders are.  There is no talk of why everyone is so underfunded past the vague, now accepted poverty of “fiscal reality.”

The first responders and the volunteers with their fishing boats ARE heroic.  
The elected officials who made the “fiscal reality” decisions are not.  

A couple days back a very important Op-Ed was published by Newsweek.  In it the point was made that Houston was the proud home of regulation-free urban growth under a system of free market madness worse than the nationwide norm. 

The article gets to the point when it comes to letting the market take the place of zoning. 

I say only worse than the norm, because the norm is to cave into the moneyed interests first and then “balance” the “needs of the other stake holders” second.  Our government is a process of players at the table where you have to have cash to play and the rest of us are chumps who are not “stake holders” and who are not at the table when “win-win” deals are cut because having a stake in the game is more important than unfunded things like paying attention to science or being a citizen.

And not listening to basic hydrology science is THE source of the current problems in Houston.  

There is every material reason not to have allowed Houston to expand in that area using those methods. 

Even without global warming, Houston was a place where the hurricanes were going to come, have come and will come again. The city was built in the path of heavy rains and they paved over the ground that should have soaked up the water in the process.  

So now there is a flood?  Well duh, we built a city in a flood plain

Those rains are going to come, and the reason we don’t have rain proof cities there is squarely the fault of the elected officials, state, local and federal. 

And who were all those national, state and local elected officials listening to?  
Let’s try looking at where those politicians get their campaign funds for starters.  

Well, just looking at the disaster news, one sees that the prices for gas has gone up at the pump and supplies have dropped because the refineries that transform the oil are in the areas affected.  

Any wonder that the local political class is so close to the free market fanatics and the climate change deniers?  Or is someone going to try to tell us that the world's largest industry, the oil industry, does not advocate for itself and exert influence where they have so many refineries?  

By the way, until the situation gets better, Chevron’s office in Houston is mostly closed. It is one of the largest Chevron has and one of the largest in Houston.  

It is easy to sit in California and take pot shots at Texas and its ultra-right Tom Foolery, especially when a center of climate change denial is busy shaping fiscal realities and finding a balance between the economy and whatever they don’t want to do, as their feet are wet. 

It would be a lot funnier if this was not costing lives, and causing suffering and loss for tens of thousands of common people in their homes. 

And California has little to boast.  

Our state is currently building environmentally destructive aqueduct tunnels to take northern water south, under the delta, and “balancing” the needs of “farmers” with the environment (for “farmers” please read “owners of agribusiness”). All the while we Californians still don’t have a sustainable water usage plan, much in the way of water recycling, grey water use, or any serious management of our depleted Central Valley aquifer.  We have declared our drought to be over, but have no plan to really adapt to our own climate and stop using, sourcing and disposing of water in a unsustainable, albeit profitable, way. 

Any idea of how much political power agribusiness wields in California?

We are also letting money dictate the constant loss of farm lands and natural spaces to track homes and strip malls.  We have some regulation and planning, more than Texas, but are still poorly prepared for fires, floods and earthquakes -- all of which just as are sure to come as the gulf winds are sure to blow more rains upon East Texas.  

Any idea of how much political power developers wield in California?  Try that at the state and local level and don’t be surprised that some of the people transforming farmland into profitable real estate are those who owned the land already.  Oh, and protective regulations to keep some of the land as a natural buffer?  Those get chipped away at every session of your county board or city council.  

The distortions I describe here are just development and water regulation. One could go on with other examples.  Mass transit comes to mind.  How many other subjects relating to regulation and planning play out a similar song of not doing the intelligent thing because of political and fiscal realities imposed by those with the cash?  How many don't?

And remember, we live in a state where $50,000 for a candidate running for office is “chump change.”

Of course, when the time comes, we always have heroes in our own first responders dealing with disasters that our own elected officials could have avoided, but don’t because they respond to one thing above all others, and that is money.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

No plan for more parking

Last week we had a meeting in Temescal to discuss the parking situation, which is not good and not getting better and there is no plan to make it better. 

Our lead speaker was Michael Ford, Parking Manager from the OakDOT, our Oakland Department of Transportation. 

He held up a copy of Don Shoup’s The High Price of Free Parking and declared himself a proud “Shoupista” and went on to give his presentation. 

The plan is to make the price of parking so high that there will always be spaces available to those who can pay up. How high? Well it should be raised until there is always about 15% of the spaces available. Ford described pulling up and having parking available, he did not describe where the people who did not come and park had gone. 

In his presentation our Parking Director called this process “creating parking”. 

Now I am a radical environmentalist, bike riding, Green Party activist and I strongly believe in spending on mass transit, conversion off of fossil fuels and radical reduction of automobile use. 

I don’t see how driving poor people out of their cars will help. 

I also don’t see how having people decide not to park here and drive to another area will really reduce car use or help our local economy. This question was asked very clearly and did not receive any answers. 

In this meeting we got some upsetting news. To start with they handed out a survey results on parking situation in Temescal as they describe it. The map showed that the survey applied to upper Telegraph, the back streets going towards the freeway and one block east into the residential areas east of the commercial strip. It was basically a circle around the business strips and the residential areas that could be used for business parking. Our neighborhoods were “out there”, not surveyed. 

One nearby resident took a quick glance at the map and declared it to be inaccurate even in the limited area it covered, in which this resident lives. That, at least, was acknowledged. We got the normal disclaimer that the information on the map is dated (only five years) and “everything” is so different now and before we do anything we need to do a new study ….. 

According to Mr. Ford he has to balance the parking for three groups:
1 Commuters,
2 Business clientele and
3 Residents. 

After saying that he went on to describe a situation that went about 75% restaurant and shop clients and 25% residents and when it came to talking about what can be done for the people who work here, we talked about something done in another neighborhood as maybe a good example. 

For the business clients, the only thing put forward was raising the prices of parking where it is already over filled. “Price mechanism” was the euphemism and details were scarce. What was clear is that they plan to implement this kind of different price schemes in downtown Oakland first. 

Temescal is on the list as being next because they have a “history”, meaning the study that led to the map that they were handing out. 

For the residents there was only the suggestion that people get neighborhood restricted permitted parking. 

And again, for the people who work in our thriving restaurant and shop district, not one practical thing was offered. 

By creating parking we did not mean any space that was not parking before becoming parking now. We were not talking about the new construction all over our area putting more cars off the street. 

We mean driving client cars out of the commercial district using high prices and we mean driving employee cars out of the neighborhoods with residential permits. 

Then Ford went on to wax poetic and revel in the irony that the City Charter clearly states that parking enforcement dollars should go to pay for parking structures. He seemed to be bemused by the fact that this is not getting done. 

One of the local property owners has already let this crowd know that as a private developer he cannot get a loan for a private parking structure as long as there is free parking nearby, and by that we mean the free parking lot between Walgreen’s and the Post Office in that plaza at Telegraph and 49th. Our BID board president made this point seeking some kind of engagement of the issue.  

There was no discussion of seeking a resolution of either of these roadblocks so we have an area going high rise without a parking structure even being considered anywhere in the district. 

What was offered, some by Ford, and some by attendees, was reasons why other people should not own their own car. There was some ugly stuff about people who leave their cars in the area for a long time and never drive them. Michael Ford told his own disdain story about a woman who wanted to start a residential street parking program near her new home in the MacArthur Transit Village and had two cars; one she keeps in the space provided, and the other she needs for work. 

Now there is part of me that thinks it fine if people are using their cars less and taking transit and I did not hear of any plan to help them have a place to leave that car behind. The practical message was to either own an off street space, or sell your car. 

We got a lecture about the cost of ownership of a car, as if people don’t know what their most expensive possession other than a home means to their budget. Others asked about workers who cannot afford the time to take transit because they need to get to do things like pick their kids up from school where there is no transit or go home where there is poor transit. 

Nothing they answered seemed to have any practical value to me. This meeting left me with nothing I could say to a local employee that might sound like a practical solution getting to or from work with or without their car. 

We heard a lot about how the plans were going to be flexible, and that there were twenty different things that the parking policy could do for us, but when the discussion became specific the plan was clearly always going back to raising parking meter costs, expanding metered parking zones, maybe putting in residential parking permit areas and then do more studies to do the same in other areas, ours included. 

This is where I drilled in on the other OakDOT representative, Danielle Dai. 

She was talking about these studies and I asked about the danger of asking questions that bring about a foregone conclusion and always come up with higher priced parking meters as an answer. So I wanted to know about the methodology. Have we done a census of the local business employees? (Not just count cars on the street). Will they survey residents on what their needs are and how they could be better served with parking rules? 

After some very common waffling I asked her point blank if the OakDOT had the resources to do the kind of studies that they really needed to re-engineer our parking and traffic and the answer was a clear no. 

“No” is also the answer to the question “Is there going to be any more parking?” 

“No” would also be the answer to the question: “Is there an overall plan?” 

There is no comprehensive plan. What we have is different groups pushing around public property, bits and pieces of transit and the odd ad hoc arraignment as if each action was some determinant influence over a market mechanism that will sort things out for us. 

We know that plan. That is the plan that usually hurts those with the least money. 

The only mention of more and better transit was the extension of the bike path and the B Bus. That the B Bus ever started without connecting the train station to BART or filling in the difference between BART stations, combined with neglecting the Grand Lake area, kind of makes one ask “what problem they are trying to solve”? Have they heard of Emeryville? They have a shuttle and one line runs from Amtrak to BART. 

Others asked more questions about the spate of new housing going in all around us and we got another set of philosophical answers justifying insufficient parking in those new buildings. Most of the answers were about how people in these new buildings should adopt a new lifestyle, and there was no clear idea if these new, affluent residents would actually forego car ownership or what that actually should look like. Will a sufficient number of our new residents not own a car to make it work or will they end up using more of the already overcrowded street? Was not owning a car a requirement for anyone moving in? 

Again there was little to nothing said about those who might make less use of their car and instead ride a bike or take transit, such as myself. Where are we supposed to leave our cars behind? Since I own a shop large enough to park that car off the street, I can do that without having to deal with the street sweeping, broken car window break-ins and predatory parking tickets in front of my home. 

I rode my bike back from this meeting knowing that I can do so because of my social privilege, feeling that the parking plans will cause more hardship among the people who live and work here and drive potential clients away from local businesses.