Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Where Shall We Put those Railroad Tracks?

Three hundred people showed up Monday night to hear city plans on the railroad relocation project. It is natural for the proponents of the project to attack those residents who are opposed to it being in their "neighborhood." This is an exciting project that would spur development in the downtown area, the heart of Sioux Falls. However, opposition to the proposed main switching yard location from Brandon residents or opposition to the Canton siding alternative from southeast Sioux Falls residents is very real and must be addressed by city officials.

Two different issues in this project, two very real concerns. One area is zoned industrial and has always been industrial. One area  is residential and has never been zoned industrial.

I am at a crossroads regarding this debate because I am a southeast Sioux Falls resident. I am pro Downtown, always have been, always will be. But I also live less than a mile from the proposed Canton line siding alternative. Full disclosure - I am one of those southeast Sioux Falls residents that question why this siding alternative is proposed for a residential area instead of an industrial area. I question why the southeast and east side of Sioux Falls must be sacrificed for this project.

The primary component of the Rail Relocation Project is the relocation of the downtown main switching yard farther east, along Rice Street. But a smaller switching area would be needed to allow railroad crews to move the engine from one end of the train to the other. This switching area is referred to as a "siding alternative."
 The Canton siding alternative is new to this project and this location was just introduced last year because the Falls Park alternative is not considered viable. The Canton siding alternative proposal impacts a zoned residential area. Railroad switching activities should not be located in zoned residential areas. What happened to the proposed siding alternatives in the northeast part of Sioux Falls?  What happened to a possible location for a new siding along the existing Corson Subdivision mainline south of downtown.

This project has languished for so long that options seem to be getting financially out of reach. The Feds are threatening to take back the authorization of funds. It looks like the taxpayers will have to pony up additional money to help pay for this project. As a result, residential areas are proposed to be sacrificed to make this project work. Whose fault is this? It is the city's fault for not moving this project forward when the federal earmark was first given to the city back in 2006.

Why did the first environmental assessment get rejected?  The intent of the EA is to provide a full
and fair discussion of environmental impacts of the Project and to inform decision makers and the public of the reasonable alternatives that would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human environment. When you keep changing or adding new locations, or when you can't come to an agreement on where the main switching line should be and where the siding alternative should be, an environmental assessment will never get done.

2006 to the present, 2012; no wonder everyone is upset and now taking sides. It has grown into something no one initially envisioned when the project was first proposed. Houses have been built near a zoned industrial area identified for the main line move. A zoned residential area is proposed to be sacrificed to accommodate railroad switching activities. It's no wonder this project has become controversial. That's what happens when 6 years elapse and no activity or real progress takes place to move a major project forward.

Public hearings were held in 2006, 2007 and 2008 after the federal earmark was approved. No presentations were made to the City Council on this project until November 2010. Give credit to Mayor Huether for attempting to finally move this project forward since he was elected in May 2010. Five presentations have been made to the City Council since November 2010 regarding this project. Yesterday was the first public hearing on this project since 2008.

It's just too bad that this administration wants to sacrifice the entire eastside corridor to do it. It is just too bad this administration wants to put a flurry of train activity in the heart of residential southeast Sioux Falls. It's just too bad that the Canton siding alternative will create a stanglehold on various high volume traffic intersections in east Sioux Falls. It's just too bad that the money needs associated with this big project are growing leaps and bounds and the promise of federal money is not even a sure thing anymore. The rush to keep the federal money while sacrificing the east and southeast residents of Sioux Falls is a poor solution.

Where indeed shall we put those railroad tracks? The chant - not in my neighborhood - seems to be growing every day. It will continue to grow when you choose to sacrifice zoned residential instead of choosing zoned industrial land for this project.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

City Council Election-Is That All There Is?

I looked at the candidates who have submitted a petition to run for open city council seats. It is no surprise that incumbent elected councilors Jamison and Anderson, Jr. are running for re-election. It is also no big surprise that "anointed" councilor Karsky is running to keep his gifted seat on the council. They all have challengers.

Two retreads are running for the at-large seat vacated by Vernon Brown - Knudsen and Staggers.  Both these candidates have had 8 years on the council. Frankly, I think it is time to let some new blood get a chance at policy decision making on the city council. Unfortunately, no civic and business leaders have stepped up to the plate. Knudsen says she is running because no one else will and Staggers just wants another chance to irritate and annoy with his personal agenda - again. The rest of the candidates are unknowns except for Ysbrand who is a repetitious wannabee.

I have actually heard people who normally wouldn't give Staggers a nod say they will vote for him just because he will be an an irritant and stick in the eye to the mayor and it will be worth watching. It is a poor excuse to vote for someone. However, it is indicative of the state of city politics these days and a sad commentary on what is going on down at City Hall.

I have a theory. Maybe it is all wet but here it is. I think no one of business caliber, thoughtful thinking and demonstrated civic responsibility and involvement has thrown their hat into the race because the current climate at City Hall and Carnegie Town Hall is just too out of control and unattractive. Who wants to be in office when that event center debacle shows it's true fiscal colors? I wouldn't want my name on those documents either. Who really wants to work with this mayor or current councilors?

Who wants to be in office right now with a city council and mayor who don't seem to understand that this is not about them. Who wants to be on the city council when the city council fires people in secret, seem to defy open meeting laws, breaks their own administrative rules and does't show real vision for this city.  The self indulgent behavior down on 9th and 10th Streets makes one have to seriously consider whether now is the right time to want to join such a group. Obviously not.

I feel sorry for the dedicated, hardworking appointive and civil service employees who go to work everyday and keep city government running in spite of these elected officials. They are the unsung heros and they are the ones who make sure we have water when we turn on the faucet, when our toilets flush, who plow our streets, protect us and are first responders in time of need. They are the ones left standing long after elected officials leave office. They are the ones who provide continuity, stability and sound professional advice and counsel regarding city government operations. And they are the ones faced with these elected officials who think they are the only ones who seem to know what is right and what should be done. The elected officials seem to just like the sound of their own voices and are intent on who is going to win which debate.  They must look at the pool of candidates and wonder what next.

Is that all there is out there? It seems so.

Friday, February 17, 2012

I have a family emergency and will not be posting anything for the next two weeks. Thanks for visiting Jennifer's Musings.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Neighborhood Activism in the Southeast District

A citizen living in the new residential development south of 57th Street between the new bridges over 57th Street and 69th Street has decided to get involved in the Railroad Relocation Project. This southeast resident has put together the flyer below and is handing it out in the neighborhood. This person indicated to me that the majority of the residents indicated they knew nothing about the issue and don't subscribe to the local newspaper. Very disturbing considering the fact that a switching railroad line accommodating 100 car trains could be in their backyard in the distant future.

At issue is the city's proposal to select the Canton rail line as the siding alternative in the relocation of the main switching yard in Downtown Sioux Falls. The city says they need the smaller switching yard to allow railroad crews to move the engine from one end of the train to the other. The city says that the two new bridges at 57th Street and 69th Street make this an attractive site for an alternate siding option for these trains.

They have chosen an area that is totally residential which will impact the quality of lives of thousands of residents. They are choosing to sacrifice the citizens in the Southeast District of Sioux Falls.

In addition, the entire east side of Sioux Falls will be impacted at the intersections of 49th and Southeastern Avenue, 26th Street and Southeastern Avenue and 14th Street and Southeastern Avenue and Cliff Avenue between 14th and 10th Streets. People need to wake up and get involved in this issue or they will certainly be woken up to the sound of the clickity clack of the trains moving on those rail lines, tooting of train horns at all hours of the day and night and the traffic congestion and blockage on the east side corridor of Sioux Falls.

This resident informed me that in talking with Southeast District Councilor Sue Aquilar, she said she wasn't sure the city might have little say in where the tracks are relocated. How can that be possible? If the City Council does not have final approval on this project then who does? This is a city project and the City Council, by Charter, has final authority over all appropriations. This project does not move forward without Council action.

Below is the flyer being distributed to neighbors in the Southeast District of Sioux Falls. Let's hope they all pay attention to what is being proposed for their neighborhood.

You and the Railroad Relocation Project

City Staff will brief the City Council at Carnegie City Hall on the latest developments on Feb. 27, at 4:00 P.M.

On Feb. 27, the public will be able to present their comments at a meeting to be held at the Orpheum Theatre on Phillips Avenue. Meeting time is 6:00 P.M.  to 8:00 P.M.

In 2005, the City of Sioux Falls secured an earmark of $40,000,000 with the help of Senators Thune and Johnson. The purpose of this money was to pay for the removal of some of the tracks and the relocations of the switching yard in the downtown area.  Once this can be accomplished, the railroads would be able to sell this land to investors in the downtown area. 

The City has floated a number of proposals for this relocation project. One of the more recent ones is to move the switching yard to the area between 57th Street and 69th street. This would mean that we would have two tracks in our backyard, a lot of movement and noise at all times of day,  and trains parked there for extended periods of time.

This would have a huge impact on the quality of your life and on your property values. While it would affect property owners south of 57th street the most directly, it would also affect property owners north of 57th street because of increased train traffic through this neighborhood. Street crossings would be also blocked more frequently. 

I recommend that you read the attached links to learn more about how this project could affect you.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Running for Political Office

The city is facing an election in the Spring and 4 city council seats are up at the ballot box. People are circulating petitions to run for one of the four council seats and the filing deadline is February 24th.

One thing we know for sure is that appointive employees and civil service employees are prohibited from political activity per city ordinance:

Sec. 30-23. Political activity.
No officer or employee under the civil service or appointive officers shall, directly or indirectly, contribute money or anything of value to or render service in behalf of the candidacy of any candidate for nomination or election to any city office. The expression in private of personal views concerning candidates for political office is not prohibited hereby. Violation of this section shall be grounds for discharge or other disciplinary action.

Sec. 30-24. Political interference.
No officer or employee of the city shall discharge, degrade or promote or in any manner change the official rank of any other officer or employee or promise or threaten to do so for giving or withholding any contribution of money or other valuable thing for any party or political purpose or for refusal or neglect to render any party political service.

It is a fine line, however. Unions representing city employees have endorsed candidates for mayor and city council. A city employee can't publicly state they support someone or give money to someone's campaign but their spouse could do so. The point is, city employees still have the power to influence an election just by talking about it with friends and family and spreading the word that one candidate or another is good for employees or not.

Candidates go to the labor temple and promise the union membership all kinds of things. Sometimes those promises don't materialize once the person gets elected. Candidates can buy lists and send city employees letters about their campaign. I think we all can relate to the fact that what is said on the campaign trail doesn't always materialize into reality once elected. People say what ever they think is expedient to get support and win elections. Just watch the current GOP primary and you get the picture. People say things when they have no idea what city government is all about. They don't have any understanding of the doings of local government until they take office and start the hard work as a duly elected official. Attending a council meeting a month or two in advance of a campaign does not prove one is a knowledgeable candidate on public policy issues related to city government.

It was always interesting to observe the qualifications of candidates and read between the lines on what the candidate's motivation was to run for public office. I think some people just like the notariety and attention they get from running for office. They don't have any real sense of what influencing public policy means nor do they have the ability to identify a problem, recommend solutions and build consensus for change. Usually, building consensus and influencing public policy through various ordinance changes requires a tit for tat sometimes. You give me your vote on this and I will give you my vote on that. It happens at the national level, it happens at the state level, it happens at the local level. If you don't believe that, then you are very naive.

The question remains, do you need to be affliated with a political party to effectively run for and get elected to local office at the city or county level? Our political leanings are influenced by our families, others who may influence us and by our political affliliations. Anyone can circulate a petition to get on the ballot. You don't necessarily have to be politically active or be affiliated with a certain party to run for mayor or city council. Actually, party politics was not evident in city elections until this new form of government became effective back in 1995. Party politics is slowly creeping into city elections. There is no place in city government for left wing or right wing politicians like you see in the SD Legislature.

Just because you are an incumbent, doesn't necessarily mean you deserve to win re-election. However, incumbency is a powerful tool to winning re-election. I think the public is lazy when it comes to voting in an election. They either take the no-brainer approach and blindly vote straight party no matter what the qualifications of a candidate might be. They see a name they recognize and think, well, they already won an election, why not just let them keep their seat. They let someone else tell them who to vote for in an election and they blindly do it without asking why that person should get their vote. What makes them the best candidate? I wish more people would think about the answer before putting their pencil down on that little circle next to someone's name on the ballot just because someone told them to vote that way. Yet, party affliliation is evident in city elections these days and in appointments of director positions and boards and commissions.

It sure seems that running for political office is no longer made for everyone. If you don't have a political machine behind you, you might not be successful at the voting booth. The last mayoral election proved that. Local politics and running for local office is no longer a Mayberry moment where anyone can run and win. You need money. You need an organization. You need time. You need volunteers. You need some sort of a grass roots machine to run for political office. You need to knock on doors and spread the word about who you are and what you will do to be an effective elected official.

Influencing public policy and overseeing the public administration of city government is no longer a simple task. City government is complex. Influencing public policy and making changes to public policy is a big deal. Running for political office is no longer easy and for everyone. You need to have the stamina, a thick skin, a brain, humility, an open mind, some knowledge on public policy, a willingness to serve the public and the ability to learn local public administration issues PDQ.

I don't think the office of mayor and the city council seats are the same nor do I think they demand the same type of political candidate. One is an administrator or like our current mayor likes to call it, a CEO while the other one is influencing, adopting or amending public policy. Very different qualifications for very distinct political offices.

Pay attention to who is running and think about why they should have your vote. There is a lot going on in this city, important issues, and we need people who can see the forest in spite of trees. This council race is not about finding someone who will fight the current mayor or provide good theater. It's about good government and who is going to be an effective councilor instead of an individualist with a lone objective. The race is about to begin.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Super Bowl Means Super Everything

It is that time of year when the Super Bowl takes over the airways and the hearts and minds of a lot of Americans. Football is to the U.S. what Soccer is to the rest of the world. Even people who aren't really into football, get into the mania of the Super Bowl.

It is a marketing genius with unbelievably funny and creative commercials. Which is a feat in and of itself considering the fact that most people DVR programs these days just so they don't have to watch those endless commercials. If they can make them so funny on Super Bowl Sunday, why can't they make them this funny and entertaining the rest of the year?

It isn't just about football though.

It is about food.

It is about camaraderie with friends and family.

It is about the next big gathering after the big gathering during the holidays. However, it is the gathering that doesn't bring the same kind of anxiety that comes with shopping, spending too much money or not making it even steven with the grandchildren.

It is about shouting loud, big pats on the back, high fives and eating and drinking, and drinking and eating.

It's about getting together to watch a football game even if your team isn't in the game.

It's about watching the half time show, wondering if there will be a wardrobe malfunction.

It's about betting something if you are so inclined.

It's about watching the endless hype shows leading up to the big game.

It's about trying to decide who you are going to cheer for when your team has once again let you down for the umpteenth season but you know when the season comes back in the fall you will be right back as a loyal follower again.

It's about the pre-game show and all the stories about the players.

It's about an afternoon and evening in the warmth of your house or someone's house having fun and not having it cost you an arm and leg.

It's being thankful you are watching the fun extravaganza on a flat screen TV with a resolution that makes you feel like you can step right into the picture.

It's about the mad texting to your father after some unbelievable play or touchdown.

It's about hoping to see Betty White in another commercial this year. Who doesn't love Betty White?

It's about the anticipation of the new Pepsi commercial featuring Elton John.

It's about the two quarterbacks and wondering why is it that the quarterbacks are always the good looking guys on the team.

It's about hoping the owner of the winning team doesn't hog the trophy again this year.

It's wondering how they picked Indianapolis for the site of the Super Bowl this year even if it is indoors. I wonder if they would ever pick Minneapolis as a super bowl site if Minnesota promised to build the Minnesota Vikings a new stadium?

It's about the hope that the big game will be an exciting as the game between the San Fransisco 49'ers and the New Orleans Saints this year. Was that a game or what?


Friday, February 3, 2012

Event Parking to Spill Over Into the Neighborhoods

No one should be surprised that parking will spill over into the neighborhoods surrounding the proposed Event Center/Convention Center/Arena area. West Sioux residents were given the news at a planning and input meeting Tuesday night in preparation for the construction of the Event Center.

“But there’s no doubt, folks, if there’s a big huge event going on that is taking up all three buildings, that there is still going to be some parking around the streets,” said Mike Cooper, director of planing and building services.

We all knew that would happen though no one from the city actually came out and said it would happen. During the Event Center debate, there was plenty of discussion that parking was not sufficient if multiple events were held at this site. No one from the city refuted it. They just never addressed it.

If I lived in that area, I would not want all that traffic blocking my ability and the ability of my friends and family to park in front of my house or in my neighborhood. Can you just imagine the traffic and the noise that will spill into those neighborhoods and at all hours? The residents living in the neighborhoods surrounding the event center should start a petition drive to prohibit on-street parking in their residential areas between the hours of 6 p.m. to Midnight, seven days a week. Signs would be posted to prohibit parking during those hours.

I suppose this could spur the mayor and the public parking director to say we would need to build a parking ramp out there next to the Event Center. The ramp talk has been floating around for some time now.

Details, Details, Details. These pesky little details will continue to dribble out as the bonds are sold and the construction of the event center begins in earnest. The new tag line for the mayor's press conferences and news releases relating to the Event Center construction could be taken from a couple of well known songs -  Musician Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" or American Country Music Group SHeDaisy's "Don't Worry 'bout a Thing."  A philosphy of denial.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Parking Fee Policy not Downtown Friendly

According to a KELO-TV report on January 26th, the city has expanded the hours they are charging customers. Customers used to pay to park in the ramp between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. With the new automated upgrades to the 1st Avenue Ramp, the city expanded the hours they are charging customers to park from 8 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Isn't it interesting that the public finds out about the expanded hours for charging customers to park in the main downtown parking ramp through a local TV station? With all the press releases coming out of City Hall, you would have thought there would have been a new release telling the public of the new parking policy.

I wanted to see when the Public Parking Advisory Board passed this new policy so I went to the city's official website and looked for the minutes to the board meetings. The Community Development section lists the Public Parking Advisory Board and it states monthly meetings are scheduled the first Tuesday of the month at 8 a.m. at Carnegie Town Hall at 235 West Tenth Street.

The Board met nine times in 2009 and 12 times in 2010. It met consistently every month in 2011 through October 4, 2011, except for September when the meeting was cancelled. There are no meetings or minutes listed after the October 4, 2011 meeting.  In the upcoming meeting dates section it says: Next meeting date(s) unavailable at this time. Please check back later....

In checking the meeting minutes listed on the website, there is nothing in the posted minutes regarding the advisory board approving the expanded hours to charge for parking in the 1st Avenue Ramp. So, what is the reason for this new policy? Is it to offset revenue shortfalls in the parking system? I thought the hourly parking fees didn't raise significant revenues and weren't something to be concerned about.

Back in December 2011, when the new automated parking system was still not operating and hourly customers were parking for free, City Director Darrin Smith said, "We wanted to make sure that, especially in the month of December that customers Downtown go shopping, visiting Downtown was as convenient as possible for them so we've allowed them to park in the ramp."  He went on to say that the hourly parking only brought in $50 a day so the implication was it was not a big enough deal to worry about.

If hourly parking fees were not a big deal back in November and December and brought insignificant revenue, why expand the hours for hourly parking to include nighttime hours now? It is a negative increase against Downtown activity in the evening.  Will free parking continue on the weekends or is this new policy of charging between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 a.m. seven days a week?

Did this new policy get reviewed by the Public Parking Advisory Board? It appears not since this Board has not met since October 2011. Where is the transparency in policy decisions promised by this mayor. This new parking policy affects the Downtown. Were the Downtown merchants told of this new policy change so they could respond to questions by their customers and patrons?

This is not a very good example of business acumen, Mr. Mayor! An explanation by the director responsible for public parking and oversight of the Public Parking Advisory Board and its inaction of late seems to be in order. This whole thing seems very strange and certainly does not appear to be an example of being Pro-Downtown as this Mayor professes!