Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Controling the growth of bureaucracy

City governments may start out small and lean, but over time, bureaucracy takes over and takes on  a life of its own, apart from the communities they serve.

What are the incentives at work that encourage the growth of government bureaucracy?  You will recognize the truth of the theories discussed below.  What can be done to control and limit government bureaucracy to meet our community's needs?

The Mathematics of Bureaucracy
By jfontelera, January 20, 2009

Although he saw many advantages for this arrangement, Weber (German sociologist Max 
Weber, 1947) also believed that in practice, it (bureaucracy) could become an "iron cage" for employees who are bogged down with excessive controls. He also lamented that bureaucracies will become an end in and of itself and will ultimately cease serving society, the IEEE Computer Society paper states.

Weber's criticism of bureaucracy is probably closer to how many people see it today. John Pourdehnad, management consultant and educator, agrees with Weber's criticism, writing on his blog that a bureaucracy "takes steps to preserve itself: It makes work and introduces red tape, and it imposes nonfunctional requirements on others, which 'justify' the made work."

Pourdehnad also adds that because people are being promoted based on seniority rather than merit, the bureaucratic organization continues to grow uncontrollably. "Since performance is not critical for survival, size is. ...Therefore, growth becomes an objective because it is an efficient way to secure survival," he argues.

Parkinson's Law, theorized by C. Northcote Parkinson, a British Royal Navy historian and author, explains this phenomenon by stating that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion" and in bureaucratic organizations, the number of people required to do the work will continually rise whether the actual volume of work stays the same, increases, decreases or disappears. (Source: New Scientist)

According to Parkinson, this occurs because workers want to multiply subordinates, not rivals, and make work for each other. For example, an overworked employee wants to diminish the amount of work he has to do. He can either: 1) resign, 2) halve the work with a colleague of equal standing in the company or 3) hire two junior employees to work under him.

The first option leaves him jobless, and the second brings a potential rival for a promotion. The third option is the only one that allows him to keep his standing in the company while allowing him to do less. It is also important to note that he requires two subordinates, because if only one were hired, he'd potentially end up with a rival again.

Inevitably, says Parkinson, the two subordinates will feel overworked and will want to hire people (two for each) to work below them. Now the organization has seven people doing the work that one person used to do — not exactly the model of efficiency Weber hoped for. In mathematical form, Parkinson's Law follows the formula:

x = 2km + p

Note: The article also discusses what the maximum number of committee members is before a committee becomes disorganized and disfunctional.   

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On Monday the forecast is iffy

We're in the countdown days to Christmas, and if you don't have anything better to do, I have just the thing to fill you time!

In preparation for the Planning Commission Public Hearing on Nov. 26, and up until yesterday, I spent countless hours pouring through EPA, State DEQ and City permits and regulations regarding stormwater management.  Now that's some FUN!   You ought to try it.

I did this because I was having trouble with what the Engineering Department was telling the Planning Commission, and I had questions about their new Stormwater Management Manual.  I didn't like what I saw, so I (along with countless others) wanted to know: What are the minimum regulations the City has to comply with?  This should be simple for the experts who deal with this stuff every day, but since an answer from Staff was elusive, someone had to figure it out.  The following is a smidgen of the research I did.  If I made any errors, please let me know!  Accuracy is extremely important.

The Planning Commission will be deliberating their recommendations to the City Council at their meeting on Monday night (December 14), starting at 5:30 pm.  The meeting will be in City Hall, broadcast live on Tualatin Valley Cable TV, and streaming live online.  Do the Commisioners have all of the information they need to do their job?  What questions might they have, and will they be answered clearly and thoroughly?

Here is a brief summary of what I learned:

1.   The City has been using the proposed, but never approved, stormwater regulations for new development for some time.  How does that work?  Can they just tell builders what they have to do, even though there are no codes to support it yet?  Wow.  Even if they are that confident, that is putting the cart way before the horse.  But what choice do builders have but to do as they are told?

2.  Finding all of the intersecting rules from several agencies and multiple documents was the most difficult part of getting answers to what the minimum requirements were.  Even those posted on the City's website can be hard to find because they are spread across several webpages.

3.  Staff told the Planning Commission, aka Commission for Citizen Involvement, that citizen involvement in creating the Stormwater Management Manual was not possible because the information was too technical and couldn't be changed anyway, but they would undertake to educate us instead.  At first blush, this sounded reasonable, until I started reading the background documents and realized this was not true.  The main policy issues are not at all technical, and they can be changed.  The public should definitely be involved in determining what course of action the city should take, but they were intentionally blocked from meaningful participation.  How much easier would this have been if citizens were brought into the process early and educated about the choices to be made.  Wait - isn't that what is supposed to happen anyway?   Oh, this is confusing.

4.  The EPA makes its rules for the states to follow, and then the State DEQ adds more rules to pass on to local jurisdictions.  At every level, a governing body may not subtract from, but may add to the regulations of the higher-authority government agency.   For LO, the sequence is : EPA  to State DEQ to Phase I Permittee.  Phase I is for medium and large cities, or groups of small cities working under a common permit.  The end set of regulations that Lake Oswego is obligated to follow is the Phase I MS4 NPDES Permit from Clackamas County Service District #1.  Lake Oswego must follow the terms of the County permit.  It can make its rules more stringent, but not less.

5.  The City, as a co-permittee on the MS4 Permit, is required to have its own MS4 Permit.  The most recent permits are posted on the State DEQ Stormwater webpage.  Both the common permit and the city permit expire in March of 2017.  While the city is required to update its Stormwater Management Manual (amend its current design manual, adopt another city's manual, or develop a new one), the hotly-debated trigger thresholds for complying with onsite stormwater infiltration systems are not required to change.  Both the County's and Lake Oswego's existing MS4 Permits state that only projects more than 3,000 SF in area must comply with new stormwater regulations - to the "maximum extent practicable."  Bingo.  What was so hard about that?    

6.   The biggest question remains - why does the Engineering Department want to push the threshold down to 500 SF?  After hearing so many complaints about the lower limits, the newest proposal (at the Planning Commission Public Hearing on Nov. 23) gave a new recommendation that would soften requirements for projects between 500 SF and 3,000 SF.  Unfortunately, the proposal before the Commission did not have any of the codes changed to reflect this new way of thinking, so it is unclear what, exactly, the new recommendation would look like.  Also, without new codes, the recommendation means nothing, so why put it in at all?

Why should anyone care?  With stormwater coming out of our ears, our yards, flowing down the slopes, across roads and other yards, turning ditches into torrents and flooding streets and basements, doing something - anything - seems imperative.  Here's what you need to think about:  pushing stormwater problems onto individual homeowners at great cost and trouble for them is wrong.  Development of public infrastructure has always been the city's responsibility and shouldn't become an expensive burden for just a few.  The additional personnel needed to administer, map, inspect and track all of these systems will break the City's budget also and add even more to our tax bill.  And most of these green facilities don't work.  There are many of these things all over town that flood every time it rains, even just a little.  A decent storm water system is better than idealistic, bureaucratic thinking.  And if you don't think you will have to deal with this, think again.  As codes are written now, it is only a matter of time before every home in the city (except on extreme slopes, etc.) will have to comply.  Will you be ready?

Where do we go from here?  
As always, let your City Council know what you think.  

It's our city after all!  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why alarmists can't quit

WSJ December. 2015

'Warming' Science Is Anything But Settled

Because the vested financial and political interests are too great for alarmists to drop

In re­gard to your Dec. 2 ed­i­to­r­ial “We’ll Al­ways Have the Il­lu­sions of Paris”:

Con­cern­ing il­lu­sions, we will al­ways have the il­lu­sions of global warm­ing, too, be­cause the vested fi­nan­cial and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests are too great for the alarmists to drop. Their il­lu­sions are great: Sea level rise is go­ing to be cat­astrophic de­spite the top sea level ex­pert, Stock­holm ge­ol­o­gist Nils-Axel Mo­erner, say­ing that is “the great­est lie ever told”; Arc­tic ice is melt­ing de­spite its 5% in­crease in the last nine years; the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarc­tica is fail­ing de­spite the in-creased ice pack there over the past 15 years; ex­treme weather events will in­crease be­cause of global warm­ing de­spite cy­clonic ac­tiv­ity fall­ing to a 30-year low af­ter Rita and Ka­t­rina in 2005, de­spite tor­nado ac­tiv­ity trend-ing down for 50 years, and de­spite the U.N. IPCC con­cur­rence that ex-treme events are not in­creas­ing; global warm­ing is caused by in­creased car­bon diox­ide at­mos­pheric con­cen-tra­tions de­spite the U.N.’s model sig-na­ture for this to oc­cur, a hot spot 10-12 kilo­me­ters above the trop­ics, has never been found, de­spite those con­cen­tra­tions be­ing much higher though ge­o­logic his­tory, at times dur-ing glacial pe­ri­ods, and de­spite the in­crease in car­bon diox­ide con­cen­tra-tions over the past 17 years not caus-ing Earth tem­per­a­tures to rise; tem-per­a­tures are ris­ing quickly de­spite satel­lite data show­ing no tem­per­a­ture in­crease since 1998.

These are the lies alarmists say really need to be mitigated immediately or there will be catastrophe.  The immediacy is needed, of course, before the misinformed populace learns the truth.  Perhaps alarmists should abide by their own precautionary principle and not wreck our economy before the science is settled, which it definitely is not.

Terry W. Donze
Wheat Ridge, Colo.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Yours, mine or ours?

Our Urban Forest

Consider these questions:

1.  Under what conditions should property owners be allowed to cut their trees?

2.  Under what conditions should property owners be prohibited from cutting their trees?

The first question assumes society has ultimate control of the whole of people's rights and can give them back as allowable actions. The second question assumes the individual is empowered with all of his natural rights and is only prohibited from acting in a way that will harm others.  If there is a question of balance, which philosophy should weigh more heavily?  

The first argument is that government codes were important to maintain control over trees "for the common good."  Trees act as a public infrastructure that we all benefit from.  There is a growing movement away from individualism toward a community-based world view, and that was a good thing.  

The second argument claims validity from rights to property guaranteed by the Constitution, and man's natural desire for autonomy.  The lean towards maximum liberty can be pursued with better effect by using encouragement, education and incentives than relying on regulations.  

It is important to note that in either case, there will be abuses, errors, and actions that neighbors do not like.  Communication before a tree is cut, or before any potential problem act, is be better than all the rules that can follow.  

Acknowledging that there should be laws and rules to regulate our behavior so that we do not have chaos, where is the balance between group and individual rights?  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Fiction or fact?

The Story of Betty and Joe elicited this response from a reader:

Gerry Good
"This depicts exactly what life will be like for those in Lake Oswego on fixed incomes - about one third of the residents. Some have adequate funds to deal with the new regulations but many do not. But perhaps most important of all the new regulations will do very little to solve the pollution problem at which they are directed! Why? Because only a few hundred homes a year will be required to make these changes. It will take 40 years or more to cover all homes in Lake Oswego. is that a real solution?????"  on The story of Betty and Joe

 Response: "It will take 40 years or more to cover all the homes in Lake Oswego."  Of course, Gerry's  right.  But only if this is the end of stormwater regulations for residential areas.  Now try to imagine a bureaucracy that stopped making new rules.  You can't do it, can you?

In the October 26, Planning Commission study session, on page 1 of Attachment 1 of  draft of the Stormwater Management Manual, the engineering department commented, "City staff believe that Stormwater requirements should be applied to all impervious surfaces on a site, not just the incremental increase of impervious surface."

However the public or our politicians think, at least it is clear what the staff thinks.

By now, he biggest polluters of our waterways have been taken care of.  What is left are smaller and smaller pieces of the pie that are increasingly more difficult and expensive to deal with.  Logic is not the bureaucrat's best friend.

At the Planning Commission public hearing on November 23, person after person came forward to attest to the fact that rain gardens don't work and now expensive they are.  The same information is available to the engineers, but nothing is ever said about the downside to this infrastructure, and their estimates of potential costs were remarkably lower than what the construction professionals who testified quoted.

While Lake Oswego is not off the hook to create some regulations that comply with the General MS4 permit, there is a choice about how strict the city should be.

Should Lake Oswego require property owners to install infiltration systems when they build or replace 500 SF, 1,000 SF, 3,000 SF, 5,000 SF of impervious surface?  (The 5,000 SF number may be very difficult as LO's current limit is 3,000 SF.)   Should the City err on the side of the environment and assume the stormwater systems work?  OR should the City consider what residents will have to deal with and adopt the least restrictive regulations possible?  (Note - even the least restrictive will catch too many and cost too much.)  Should the City lobby the state legislature to back off on the regulatory burdens it is forcing on citizens?  Finally, should the City do more to install public infrastructure that would take the burden off of private property owners?

I think readers will know my answers to these questions.  What are yours?  Let the City Council know what you think.
It's our city after all.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A website for thinkers

HBD: Human BioDiversity

I am going to make some time to read at least a few of the suggested titles on this list about HBD: Human BioDiversity.  The issues are or have been controversial and the material should be educational.  Filtering fact from fiction is necessary to come to logical conclusions about the BIG stuff like IQ, gender differences, nature vs nurture, etc.

Stroll through the website for a lot of fascinating and captivating pages.  You will want to bookmark this site.

JayMan's Blog
A Fastidious Connoisseur of Empiricism 


Here are a few maps from the site's American Nations Series:

The Story of Betty and Joe

The Story of Betty and Joe
(and what may happen when they replace their leaky roof)

Betty and Joe Williams had lived in Lake Oswego for over 45 years in the same house. They raised their 3 children in the home, they knew all their neighbors, and they adapted the one-level ranch home to their future needs because they planned on staying there for as long as they could. This was the house their children would come home to for the holidays. And this is where they wanted to live until they didn't.  Next year they would finally get rid of the old
wood shake roof and put on a shingle roof that would last them longer than they would be alive, and then all the big jobs would be done!

Betty and Joe were worried.  They heard from friends that the city was considering a new rule that anyone putting on a new roof over 1,000 sq. ft. would have to put in an expensive stormwater
infiltration system.  This was all new to the Williams. They couldn't understand why the city would make them hire professionals to design a rain garden or something like it just because they replaced their old wood roof!  But the city could decide on a 3,000 SF rule if they wanted.  That wouldn't help them, so maybe the minimum could be higher?
And to add more pain, they would have to have an "operations and maintenance manual" for the thing recorded with their deed (so new owners would have to keep it up, even if the infiltration system didn't work), and then have maintenance and reporting tasks to do each year. All to replace a roof?  How stupid. This regulation was infuriating, and really unfair.   Dozens of their neighbors replaced their roofs without this expensive new rule.  What were the Greenies trying to do them - throw them out of their home?  What could they do?

Jim and Margaret Summers down the street were planning to replace
their cracked and broken driveway.  Because they lived up a slope, the driveway was long - well over 1,000 sq. ft. - so they were in the same boat as the Williams.  They had heard that pervious pavers
might cost about the same as regular concrete, so the added expense wasn't the issue.  Was there any maintenance to do for a permeable driveway?  Why would the city want them to record the driveway pavers with the deed considering that NOTHING - certainly not a driveway - lasts forever?  They were pretty sure they could still visit their children and grandchildren in Texas this year, but best not to count on anything until all the costs were known.

When were the rules going to be voted on anyway?  Should they call one of the city counselors?

Betty and Joe wondered how their retirement budget, which they thought was generous 10 years ago, was going to survive the escalating water and sewer rates, and now this "rain tax" that only  some people would have to bear.  The financial landscape ahead looked scary.  Perhaps the government wanted everyone to live in a box in the city and turn the suburbs into forest preserves that a lucky few can walk or bike in, as if bureaucrats and environmentalists know what was here before humans touched the landscape.  Where would the next generation live?  Young people can't afford this!

The Williams and the Summers talked with their neighbors and friends at the Ming's annual holiday party and all expressed the same concerns.  They all faced the same ugly choices to pay an additional price to fix up their aging houses: 1. Take money from their retirement savings; 2. Take out a HELOC; 3. Defer needed maintenance as long as possible; 4. Patch, patch, patch; 5. Not do maintenance at all; 6. Move to a condo or apartment; or 7. Move out of the city.  Poor Mary Worth on the corner
and other single ladies like her would probably just not do the repairs or remodels they planned and the city would be the worse for it.  This is what happens when people can't keep up with the demands of government or don't feel the pride of ownership of their own land - they become de-facto renters with government making the rules.

Betty and Joe and their neighbors' houses had already lost value with all of the new building requirements and high cost of living facing property owners these days.  The stricter the rules, the less desirable the property was. They all agreed that Lake Oswego had changed and it was no longer the city they once enjoyed living in.

The old relaxed demeanor of the town had given way to a fancier, more controlled way of life, with so many rules that neighbors were now spying on neighbors.  What ever happened to live and let live?  Why does everyone want to control us and our land, they thought.  Just thinking about this mess made
them angrier and sadder. These ordinances get through one at a time and only affect a handful of people at first so no one pays attention - it's not THEIR problem.  But over time, when the noose tightens, everyone will be caught.  How do the politicians plan to keep themselves out of the messes they create?  Oh yeah, it doesn't affect them NOW, so it isn't a problem!  Evidently the "experts" are expert at persuasion.

Now they understood why those people were fighting against the Sensitive Lands on their property.  But what could they do, Betty and Joe thought?  Only rich people would be able to afford houses in the future. The City Council still has the choice to fight to turn back the clock - if only.  Or, the citizens could vote for a new mayor and council members who would.  It may be too late for them and their roof though.

Merry Christmas to all they cheered, but no Happy New Year, they mumbled as they headed for home that night, heads down and footsteps slowed by the huge financial and regulatory burden they all carried.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Two days late

happy (late) thanksgiving

Enough' is a feast.

Buddhist Proverb

When a city over-regulates land

No amount of land-use regulation will ever be enough - that would mean government would have reached a state of perfection - which doesn't exist.  What we are left with is an increasingly aggressive regulatory environment that is chasing an ever-decreasing rate of return.  When is enough enough?  Where will we end up?

In every civilized society property rights 
must be carefully safeguarded; ordinarily 
and in the great majority of cases, 
human rights and property rights are 
fundamentally and in the long run, identical.

-- Theodore Roosevelt

Land use regulations exist because some people want to be sure their neighbors act in a way they find appropriate.  Some regulations are good. But when the general public's freedoms are too restricted, people may not want, nor be able to afford to keep up with increasing requirements.  The value of all of the land in the city is subject to a decrease in value when property upkeep and maintenance deteriorates and potential buyers perceive there is an overly-controling regulatory environment.

Who can afford all of the government's rules and requirements?  Why would one willingly subject themselves to an additional cost burden to live in one town if there were better alternatives?

If Lake Oswego wants to be considered desirable and competitive, for residents and business, it needs to examine its regulatory controls over private property and lifestyle choices.  Even the most wealthy resident will not stand by and watch their cost of living go up and up when they can choose to live elsewhere.   Many of Lake Oswego's most onerous land use regulations are "self"-inflicted by our own staff and political leaders.

Be informed about what is going on in City Hall and speak up and vote accordingly.

From PERC:  Property Environment Research Center
By Matthew Turner, Fall/Winter 2014

A new study says a little less may be more

WITH THIS IN MIND, our results are striking. There is a clear decrease in land values as we cross into more heavily regulated municipalities. There is also a steep decline in the share of land developed in more regulated municipalities. In short, the own-lot effect of land-use regulations is clearly negative and sufficiently large to warrant concern.
More surprising, we find that prices drop slightly as we move further into the interior of more regulated municipalities. That is, land-use regulations seem to be having a negative external effect. This suggests that the regulatory burden may be high enough that it reduces people’s willingness to maintain or improve their properties. In this case, as we travel into more regulated municipalities, we are likely to be traveling into neighborhoods that are less well maintained.
The potential upside of land-use regulations—and the reason they are so pervasive—is that regulations might reduce the irritations that your unregulated neighbors cause you. Our data, however, suggest that the external benefits of land-use regulations do not outweigh the costs of regulations, particularly if we account for the decrease in the total amount of land developed. That is, at the margin, land-use regulations are even more irritating than your neighbors would be if they were given a little more freedom.
The implications of our research are straightforward. The benefits from a modest reduction in land-use regulations are likely to be greater than the benefits landowners receive from regulating their neighbors.
Read more: “Land Use Regulation and Welfare,” by Matthew A. Turner, Andrew Haughwout, and Wilbert van der Klaauw. Econometrica, Vol. 82, No. 4 (July 2014).
- See more at: http://www.perc.org/articles/economics-land-use-regulations#.dpuf

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Raining on our parade

The stormwater police are gearing up to expand their (work)force and fire power.  This time it's city engineering staff that wants to pick your pocket, take part of your yard, and load you with odious regulations related to rain water.  Remember, it's the government's water.
 Oh no! People covered with large, impervious surfaces!    
Why the extreme rules? What problems are the staff trying to solve?  
According to the Lake Oswego Review, city Stormwater Manager, Anne MacDonald, said that the streams and lakes in the city do not meet water quality standards. But that is not what the TMDL Report says.  Oswego Lake has a problem with phosphorous and a couple of streams are too warm. Did I miss something?  Another lake perhaps?  
Are the proposed regulations required by the state or federal government?
Some. A lot of the proposed new rules go way beyond what are required by DEQ.  The proposed codes don't separate the two.  
How many new city employees and consultants would it take to create, administer, inspect and enforce the new rules and how much would it cost?
Good question, but it's obvious that MacDonald cannot do everything herself. The head of the engineering department, Erica Rooney, said they were being run ragged as it is. As time went on, the sheer volume of installations to administer, inspect, follow and enforce would be enormous.  All those new deed restrictions are to track compliance.
“A big part of the city has never been looked at for stormwater management — older sections and subdivisions never had requirements 40 or 50 years ago,” says Planning Commission Vice Chairman John LaMotte. “The city has to catch up (to stormwater requirements) in these areas.”  

"LaMotte says the proposed changes to the city’s Stormwater Management Manual implement “more modern” techniques for addressing runoff." (LO Review)
Older sections of town have to "catch up"?  Be "more modern"?  There will always be newer, "more modern" methods to do everything.  How far will our regulatory machine go?  
What is happening to our property rights? 
Why would the citizens, Planning Commission and City Council allow these over-the-top rules to be approved?  
Another good question.  In times past (and not that long ago), the city adopted the least restrictive regulations that the state required so as not to impose undue hardship and rules on citizens.  This made for a happier town.  At some point, about 13 or so years ago, it became the fashion to follow Portland's decent down the rabbit hole of smart growth.  This resulted in a new age of eco-zealotry, over-bearing, neighbor-spying-on-neighbor, regulatory hell.  There are thousands of citizens who want their city back and don't want to have it run by "staff" and NGO activists. This IS a HOME RULE city.  Just do it!
Who is making policy and running this town?  
We'll see.  The Stormwater Management Manual is mainly a policy statement with code language.  Will the Planning Commission and City Council misinterpret (with staff help) as a required regulatory necessity, or understand that they get to decide what direction this town goes in?  Code follows policy, so get the policy right.  Once approved, the combined policies and code, written by staff, would be difficult or impossible to change.  
On Monday night, there will be a Public Hearing on new policies and codes that will establish the conditions and methods property owners will have to follow to take care of rain water that has the audacity to fall on their land.  Uninvited, like a bad party guest.  But now that it's on your property, it's your responsibility.  Maybe.  

I know of a couple of developments where the stormwater systems installed per the new dictates don't work. Downhill neighbors are getting more than their share of water and grief.  It isn't supposed to be their problem, but the codes are final, so what are they going to do?  (Downhillers who complain are called "whiners" - don't listen to them.)

Planning Commission
Public Hearing for Stormwater Management Manual
Monday, November 23, 2015
5:30 PM at City Hall 

There is every reason to disapprove this SMM.  A delay of a decision so that the public can have meaningful (advertised and solicited) input is ideal.  At the Open House in October, MacDonald explained that the schedule for work sessions and public hearings was the shortest possible timeframe possible as this document was being fast-tracked.  When that happens, it is typically done to avoid close scrutiny.  There is no magic behind the concepts in this book.  The main points are the minimum triggers for when a property owner would be swept up into the program, and what would be the extent of the new regulations.  In both cases, the minimum limits go way beyond what DEQ requires.  

Is the kind of city you want to live in?
Whose city is it?  

Monday, November 16, 2015

It's that time of year

It's November

It's the start of the rainy season in the Northwest  

But who's rain is it? 

The forecast for winter 2015-2016 is for a lot of precipitation, so get out those rain barrels and fill them up!  So far, you don't need a permit to harvest rain in Oregon, but you never know how long that free rain will last.  It appears that rain, like the air we breathe, is a free resource, but once it hits the Earth (or your roof) it becomes part of the Waters of the U. S.

About rain barrels - will someone please tell me how useful they are?  In the rainy season you don't need to capture water, and in the dry season, a barrel (or two or three) of water won't do very much.

With the price of water going up (and up), a well would be nice, but the city collects most of its money from fees assessed on a per household basis, not on water use, so having one's own water source would not cut down on those water fees by much.

And then there is the monthly storm water fee. Will new construction be able to catch a break on their monthly fees since property owners will have to put in their own infiltration systems?  Not likely.  The existing stormwater system must be maintained for existing development, and now for all of those private infiltration systems that don't work.

Rain - you can't live without it, but when the government gets involved, you might wish you could!

By the way, did you hear about the guy in Clackamas County who.....

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Housing shortages mean new rules

Housing shortages incite local governments to control rental market

Is it right for cities to dictate how private homes are used in order to solve a city-wide, government-created, social problem?  

Some cities want to limit or ban short-term home and apartment rentals for different reasons.

Traditional vacation towns like Cannon Beach have struggled with tourists overtaking  neighborhoods where full-time residents live and have limited total days a house can be rented to restore neighborhood stability.  Next on the list may be Gearhart.

The newest category of cities to restrict short-term housing rentals are those with housing shortages.  The feeling in these cities is that homeowners are taking homes that would normally be sold or used as long-term rentals off the market in order to rent to tourists.  Rent for just a few days or weeks can easily bring in what one month of normal rent would be, but with the supply of housing low, affordable housing is hard to come by.
  • What is causing the housing shortage (and high prices) in some cities besides the obvious popularity of the area?  
  • Are government smart growth policies to blame for the high cost of housing with artificial limitations on the supply of buildable land and other land use requirements? 
  • Behind all the regulations, who promoting smart growth in small towns, and why?

Have you heard of these firms (see below) before?  This is the planning team for a study of the urban growth boundary for the Hood River School District.  At least 4 of the firms (that I know of) have worked for Lake Oswego.  They are representative of the consultant cog of the government/industrial machine that is keeping housing so expensive.  These firms work regionally and nationally and all work from the same script.  Is there any wonder why all comprehensive plans (and other local land use plans) look the same?   See how many people made money just from the (small) Hood River School District:

Project Team
Angelo Planning Group
Archeological Investigations Northwest
Cogan Owens Cogan
Kittelson and Associates
Turnstone Environmental

Here is how it works:
1.  Government creates an artificial shortage of buildable land with an urban growth boundary (see map above).  The price of land goes up when demand exceeds supply.  Housing prices rise with the high cost of land.

2.  Smart growth (high density) land use strategies are employed to deal with the [artificial] housing crisis.  (The crisis is real, but the cause is artificial and can be reversed quickly.). "Never let a good crisis go to waste."  And if there isn't a crisis to further your cause, create one.  

3.  New housing types are planned, but because land is still in short supply, even new,  smaller, denser housing units are pricey.  

4.  Repeat #2 and 3 indefinately, add public housing and increase regulations on private residential property.  The crisis is here to stay.  High housing prices, loss of property rights and class warfare ensue.  

Why can't houses be built beyond the UGB in this 9k-person town?  

When will politicians get smarter than the Central Planners and consultants who concoct and profit from these bad plans?

Hood River, dealing with housing affordability issues, tackles short-term rentals
Oregonian, Novembr 1, 2015

City Council holds hearing on strategies for housing
Hood River News, August 7, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Back from Texas

Landing in Dallas, besides the weather change from rain to warm sunshine, we realized we had entered a new territory with an entirely different mindset.

Before we even left DFW, we were surprised to

see the amazing array of SUVs available for rent:  BIG SUVs, small SUVs, crossover SUVs, luxury SUVs, 4WD trucks and vans, and more.  Regular cars were clearly in the minority.  Texas is not apologetic about using SUVs the way greenies want us to feel on the West Coast.  Automobiles (and personal freedom) rule in Texas - especially trucks.

Toll roads are everywhere and are heavily used.  The Interestate Freeway system is alive and well, but to siphon off excess congestion, toll roads were built and funded by the users.  When points of congestion appear to be unmanageable, the regional transportation agencies plan (ahead) for ways to keep auto traffic moving.   Conditions in Texas demonstrate that personal-mobility is unnecessarily difficult in our blue state where government doesn't just allow congestion, but works hard to create it.      

Texas is an economic powerhouse drawing newcomers from all over the country; Texas has four of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in the U.S.: Houstin, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin, San Antinio. Housing is in short supply, and the apartment boom is in full swing there too.  However, in all cases, homes are still a lot more affordable than in West Coast cities where land use (and land supply) regulations take their toll on housing affordability.  (Below: homes in Dallas' north suburbs from $199k to $400k - from 3 to 5 bedrooms, all with pools).  Austin is losing its affordability.

Austin is a blue city in a red state.  Some things work well, but the growing emphasis on smart growth and light rail is telling.  It's just not persuasive.  You want vibrant?  Go to 6th Street.  But don't go the ground-floor, mixed-use, walkable developments near transit.  These new place-making places are so generic they feel like just another Olive Garden or Chili's in another mini-mall.  You can't "make" "vibrant" without lots and lots of free alcohol.

* San Angelo is the largest city in the U.S. that
Isn't served by an Interestate freeway.  I guess someplace had to have the title, and San Angelo is it.

* Highway speeds limit on the cross-state freeways are (officially) 80 mph.  Great for making that trip to Far Far West Texas.

* The Marfa Mystery Lights are real, but what are they really?

* The stars and galaxies in Dark Sky communities like Ft. Davis are breathtaking!  (Clear skies help too.)

* Texans love their BBQ, chili cook-offs, cowboy culture, football and independence.  I hope the influx of newcomers does not change the essential character of Texas like it did Oregon.

Back home in Lake Oswego.  It's good to be in one's own space, even if it raining and cold.  But the general feeling of oppression that hangs over our state and city - unnecessarily - is disturbing.  We need to learn a few old-fashioned lessons on freedom and mobility from Texas, and they should be looking to Portland for lessons on how their dreams can go astray, even with the best of intentions.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A godless religion for alarmists

In a Wall Street Journal commentary, the author, Brett Stephens wonders about the motivations of people willing to believe and act on failed "big ideas" of an apolyptic future.  He cites Paul Erlich's dire predictions of mass starvation due to population overkill (we should be all be dead by now), and the Chinese experiment with the one-child policy that resulted in forced sterilization and now a dearth of young workers to support the elderly.  Mass starvation has not occurred because of overpopulation but from political unrest, poor farming practices and weather-related crop failures.  But predictions of a doom-and-gloom future by mainly liberal thinkers continues.  Why?

The writer, like many others, concludes that "as the alarmists fed the hysteria, the hysteria fed the alarmists."  It's a religious movement for the Godless: Apolyptic end times are nigh unless we repent and change our wicked ways.  Who is attracted to these beliefs, and why?

Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2015  By Bret Stephens
The Tyranny of a Big Idea
Modern liberals are best understood as would-be believers in search of true faith.

Power is se­duc­tive, as are fame and wealth, and it’s easy to see how be­ing a sci­en­tific prophet of doom af­forded ac­cess to all three. So long as the alarmists fed the hys­te­ria, the hys­te­ria would feed the alarmists—with no end of lu­cra­tive book con­tracts and lav­ish con­fer­ences in ex­otic des­ti­nations to keep the cy­cle go­ing. It’s also not sur­pris­ing that some­one like Mr. Ehrlich, trained as an entomologist, would be tempted to think of hu­man be­ings as merely a larger type of in­sect.

But the real ques­tion isn’t what dri­ves peo­ple to be lead­ers of a new move­ment. That’s easy enough to under­stand. It’s why so many peo­ple—usu­ally well-ed­u­cated, ur­bane lib­er­als—would wish to be fol­low­ers.

It isn’t the strength of the ev­i­dence. The idea of a pop­u­la­tion bomb was al­ways pre­pos­ter­ous: The world’s 7.3 bil­lion peo­ple could fit into an area the size of Texas, with each per­son get­ting 1,000 square feet of per­sonal space. Food has never been more abun­dant. As for re­source scarcity, the frack­ing rev­o­lu­tion re­minds us that scarcity is not so much a threat to mankind as it is an op­por­tu­nity for in­no­va­tion.

What mat­ters, rather, is the strength of the long­ing. Mod­ern lib­eral­ism is best un­der­stood as a movement of would-be be­liev­ers in search of true faith. For much of the 20th cen­tury it was faith in His­tory, es­pecially in its Marx­ist in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Now it’s faith in the en­vi­ron­ment. Each is a comprehen­sive be­lief system, an in­struc­tion sheet on how to live, eat and re­pro­duce, a story of how man fell and how he might be re­deemed, a tale of im­pend­ing cri­sis that’s also a moral cru­cible.

In short, a re­li­gion with­out God. I some­times won­der whether the journal­ists now writ­ing about the fail­ure of the one-child pol­icy ever note the sim­i­lar­i­ties with to­day’s cli­mate “crisis.” That the fears are largely the same. And the po­lit­i­cal pre­scrip­tions are al­most iden­ti­cal. And the lead­ers of the move­ment are cut from the same cloth. And the con­fi­dence with which the alarmists pre­scribe rad­i­cal cures, their in­tol­er­ance for dis­sent­ing views, their in­sis­tence on “global solu­tions,” their dis­dain for de­mo­c­ra­tic in­put or tech­no­log­i­cal adap­ta­tions—that every­thing is just as it was when bell-bot­toms were in vogue.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

EPA extends power over states

For the second time in the last few months, a sizable group of states have filed suit against th EPA.  In each case, the plaintiffs assert the EPA has overstepped its powers to make regulations that will limit freedoms and raise household expenses for Americans: One is called the Clean Power Rule, and the other is the Clean Water Rule.

The impacts of EPA's plans are wide-reaching and can be a hardship for many people.  These rules are the equivalent of heavy taxes on every property owner (and renter) and every person who uses electricity and heats their home.  Even though people will be cold and broke, they should feel proud that they are doing something noble for the common good.

After all, it's for the planet!  
(Is there enough wind and sun to power the planet's needs?)

Below are excerpts from articles in the US News and The Wall Street Journal.

US News, October 24, 2015 By Michael Biesecker AP
States and industry groups reliant on fossil fuelschallengeObama's Cean Power Plan in Court

"The Clean Power Plan is one of the most far-reaching energy regulations in this nation's history," said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, among those leading the challenges. "I have a responsibility to protect the lives of millions of working families, the elderly and the poor, from such illegal and unconscionable federal government actions."

The Obama administration and environmental groups counter that the rules are needed to cut carbon emissions while curbing the worst impacts of climate change and sea-level rise. They also say the plan will spur new clean-energy jobs.

The EPA says it has authority to enact the plan under the Clean Air Act. At issue are dueling provisions added to the law by the House and Senate in 1990. The EPA's interpretation relies on the Senate language, but opponents argue that the House version should win out.

EPA already regulates other powerplant pollutants under a different section of the Clean Air Act, and the opponents claim the law prohibits "double regulation."

The states challenging the plan in court are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming and Wisconsin.

Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2015 By Amy Harder and Brent Kendall
States Sue Over EPA Clean Power Rules
Challengers are expected to focus on whether the EPA exceeded its powers by pushing utilitiesto shift to cleaner forms of energy

WASH­ING­TON—What could be a years­long le­gal and po­lit­i­cal bat­tle over the Obama administration’s main cli­mate change ini­tia­tive formally kicked off Fri­day, with two dozen states filing a lawsuit against reg­u­la­tions aimed at cut­ting U.S. carbon emis­sions.

The states sued in a fed­eral court here to chal­lenge the rules, which seek to re­duce car­bon out­put from hun­dreds of power plants across the na­tion. Con­gres­sional Re­pub­li­cans also said Fri­day they would in­tro­duce mea­sures in the com­ing week seek­ing to block the rules.

In the works since 2013 and is­sued in early Au­gust, the reg­u­la­tions require a 32% cut in powerplant car­bon emis­sions by 2030 based on emis­sions lev­els of 2005. They are de­signed to force the util­ity in­dus­try, the largest source of U.S. car­bon emis­sions that con­tribute to cli­mate change, to shift to­ward cleaner-burn­ing en­ergy sources over the next sev­eral decades.

The EPA is re­ly­ing upon a sel­dom-used sec­tion of the Clean Air Act called 111(d) as its au­thor­ity for the rules, which leaves an open­ing for le­gal scru­tiny. Chal­lengers are expeced to fo­cus on whether the agency ex­ceeded its pow­ers by pushing util­i­ties to shift to cleaner forms of en­ergy in­stead of just focus­ing on pol­lu­tion con­trols at fos­sil-fuel-fired power plants.

Se­nior EPA of­fi­cials say they are con­fi­dent the rules, known as the Clean Power Plan, are legally sound.

“The Clean Power Plan has strong sci­en­tific and le­gal foun­da­tions, provides states with broad flex­i­bil­i­ties to de­sign and im­ple­ment plans, and is clearly within EPA’s au­thor­ity un­der the Clean Air Act,” EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Gina Mc­Carthy said Fri­day.

The state coali­tion’s law­suit against the EPA was filed Fri­day in the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for Dis­trict of Co­lumbia Cir­cuit, a pow­er­ful federal court that reg­u­larly re­views the le­gal­ity of gov­ern­ment reg­u­lations.

Many of the states and politi­cians lead­ing the le­gal and po­lit­i­cal challenges, in­clud­ing West Vir­ginia and Ken­tucky, de­pend heav­ily on coal for their economies and elec­tric­ity. West Vir­ginia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Patrick Mor­risey said the EPA rule was il­le­gal and “one of the most ag­gres­sive ex­ec­u­tive-branch power grabs we’ve seen in a long time.”