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.