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The myth of surplus parks and parking PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 July 2015 19:14

Port Washington’s lakefront parkland is in high demand this summer; selling parking space that goes with it would be a mistake

In the glorious days of mid-summer, it is hard to fathom that only a few months ago there was talk at a Port Washington Common Council meeting suggesting that the city has too much parkland and should consider selling some of it.

    Summertime is park time. Parks, those pretty places where nature is often at its best, are rewards that we denizens of these northern latitudes deserve for enduring long seasons of cold and gray, and the residents of Port Washington and its many summer visitors are taking full advantage of them.

    Port parks have been packed with people, during celebrations and other events, of course, but on almost any day there are folks strolling, picnicking and taking in the views. Far from thinking the city has overindulged in parkland, these park users would be more likely to have kind thoughts of gratitude for the elected officials of yore who had the vision to save the community’s prettiest land for public parks.

    The city “park” that may be the most popular is technically not a park. It is the brilliantly conceived inner marina complex, a downtown magnet for visitors and locals attracted by its busy harbor, the surrounding walkway, the union with gorgeous Rotary Park and the intimate connection to Lake Michigan and its splendid vistas.

    Seeing this parklike place at its best this summer adds dread to the knowledge that the current city government remains intent on selling part of it to a private developer.

    The annals of urban planning are replete with stories of cities that resisted the temptation to reap property tax revenue from valuable land whose natural beauty rightfully belonged to the public. Chicago is a shining example.

    That city is host this summer to hundreds of thousands of visitors attracted in large part by its two newest parks, Maggie Daley Park and Millennium Park, which together cover some 50 acres of land overlooking Lake Michigan.

    These park sites are surely some of the most valuable real estate in the country, if not the world. Yet instead of selling the land to private developers to inflate the tax base, Chicago spent more than half a billion dollars to create a pair of stunning parks that embrace natural beauty, art, walking and running paths and an assortment of attractions ranging from climbing walls to ice rinks.

    It all belongs to the people of Chicago, but is enjoyed by throngs of visitors, with resulting economic benefit to the city.

    On a much smaller scale, Port Washington’s waterfront parks also provide both aesthetic and economic benefits.

    The city government’s plan to sell the parking lot at the north end of the inner marina is based on two dubious premises. The more easily dismissed of the two is the unsupportable notion that selling this publicly owned land overlooking the harbor as a site for a private business operation would somehow benefit the people of Port Washington.    

    The other rationale, whose faulty nature is becoming more apparent as the summer season develops, is that the parking spaces on the site are not needed.

    Empirical evidence suggests otherwise. The lot has been heavily used since Memorial Day. On weekends parking spaces have been difficult to find throughout the entire marina complex, with the marina tenant and launching ramp lots, the parking spaces in front of the former Victor’s restaurant (expected to soon be converted to private use) and the parking lot the city has declared surplus property to be sold all filled.

    All of this waterfront parking space is little used and hardly needed during the cold months, but is well used and much needed during the summer. The city’s heretofore enlightened development of public spaces on its lakefront is a standing invitation to visitors. What sense does it make to invite people to this attraction and then make it difficult for them to find a place to park?

    In the sunlit skies of summer, it is becoming clear that Port Washington does not have too much parkland and does not have too much parking to serve the people using that parkland.

A threatened resource PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 July 2015 16:17

Ag agents such as Ozaukee’s Dan O’Neil have been bringing UW resources to counties for decades; misguided budget cuts are threatening that service

Worries over the consequences of the hundreds of millions of dollars in state budget funding cuts for the University of Wisconsin system have centered on the possibility of teacher layoffs at the various campuses. But the impact of the lost state aid could hit much closer to home for many Wisconsin residents. Counties could lose their UW Extension agricultural agents.

    One estimate is that counties could lose 65 to 80 UW Extension positions. Ozaukee County may be particularly vulnerable because the agent it has had for 33 years, Dan O’Neil, will retire this summer. No one is saying he won’t be replaced, but it’s clear that is a possibility.

    The county-based managers of UW Extension services have always been known as “ag agents,” but the term is a misnomer these days. They still work with farmers, but their reach extends far beyond agriculture into providing practical help that benefits nearly every resident in one way or another.

    O’Neil helps farmers with everything from advice about sheep shearing (at which he was once a champion) to providing information from UW scientists on milk and crop production and finding answers to questions about the increasingly complex business of farming.

    But citizens in any walk of life can get help from the agent and his office staff on an eclectic list of subjects, including anything to do with horticulture and programs provided by the UW Extension to help families in various ways.

    O’Neil’s services will be sorely missed in the organizations he has advised and supported  with hands-on involvement during his tenure, particularly 4-H and Ozaukee Master Gardeners.

    Once an activity mainly pursued by farm children, 4-H clubs now embrace urban, suburban and rural young people and are thriving in Ozaukee County even as the number of farms declines. A 4-H leader quoted in last week’s Ozaukee Press said O’Neil is an essential resource who “is always there” for the leaders and members of the dozen 4-H clubs in Ozaukee County.

    Nowhere has O’Neil’s influence been more  influential than in the Ozaukee Master Gardeners. The president of the organization, Mary Reilly-Kliss, put it succinctly: “Without him, we wouldn’t exist.”

    O’Neil helped found the organization and has guided it as it has flourished as not just a service to train people in the art and science of gardening, but as a public service organization that has beautified communities and institutions throughout the county.

    Gardens tended by the volunteers of the Master Gardeners include those at the Lasata campus for the elderly in Cedarburg, Advocates of Ozaukee, Pioneer Village, Tendick Nature Park, Kuhefuss House Museum in Cedarburg and the Grafton public library.

    In Port Washington, the Master Gardeners have taken responsibility for the public garden in the triangle at the entrance to the downtown at Jackson and Franklin streets. Members maintain the garden and this spring added an array of new perennials purchased with money raised by the organization at its annual plant sale.

    The county agent’s influence on the organization, Reilly-Kliss said, “is immeasurable.”

    Immeasurable too—in a bad way—would be the loss or diminishing of UW Extension services to the people of Ozaukee and other counties because of the extreme funding cuts with which legislators want to punish the UW system.

    For nearly 80 years, the UW Extension has improved the lives of state residents by extending the resources of the University of Wisconsin to the people—on their farms, in their 4-H clubs, their gardens, yards and homes. Reducing funding for those services would take Wisconsin down on the quality-of-life scale.

Assault on democracy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 08 July 2015 19:24

Outraged citizens made legislators bent on secrecy back down, but the display of contempt for open government remains a vile portent

Our cheers are muted, our relief tentative.

    We, the people of Wisconsin, won a great victory over the Independence Day weekend, but our celebration is diminished by the grim reality that the legislators who voted to destroy a crucial element of our democracy have contempt for open government and will likely not stop trying to stamp it out.

     Public outrage forced leaders of the Joint Finance Committee on Saturday to say they will withdraw a motion to dismantle the state’s open records law. But two days earlier, the 12 Republican members of the committee were unanimous in their approval of provisions inserted into the state budget to keep records created by the Legislature and the Walker administration secret.

    Those records—containing information essential for citizens to have in order to know what the government they elected is doing—have been kept available to the public by the open records law.

    The intent of the measure to change that was secrecy and it was carried out as secretively as the committee majority could manage, slipped into the budget at the end of the day on the eve of the holiday weekend when almost no one was looking and with no identification of the legislators who did it.

    The press was looking, though, and reports of the attempt to blindfold the public provoked a furious response.

    Attorney General Brad Schimel, the elected official responsible for enforcing the open records law, a Republican, condemned it. “Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy and the provisions in the budget bill limiting access to public records moves Wisconsin in the wrong direction,” he said.

    Another Republican, Sen. Robert Cowles of Green Bay, accurately described it as “an assault on democracy.”

    The chorus of criticism was joined by conservative and liberal organizations, newspaper editorial writers and Democrats in the Legislature, but it was the citizens of Wisconsin who with a fusillade of emails and telephone calls shamed, or frightened, Republican leaders of the Joint Finance Committee (Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren) and of both houses of the Legislature (Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and Rep. Robin Vos) and Gov. Scott Walker into issuing a statement Saturday promising the open records changes would be removed from the budget.

    Their statement added a dubious claim: “We are steadfastly committed to open and accountable government.”

    Really? No one committed to open government would have supported a budget provision that denies the public access to government records.

    The budget process in Wisconsin has a long tradition of being perverted by whichever political party is in power to make policy changes in a bill meant to deal only with fiscal matters, but it was dragged to a new low by the current Joint Finance Committee.

    Proposals to end licensing requirements for public school teachers, sneaked into the budget at 1 a.m., and to abolish the Legislative Audit Bureau, an essential nonpartisan watchdog on government, along with the move against open records, lead the list of important changes to state government that were inserted into the budget, rather than being introduced in separate bills, to avoid debate and public scrutiny.

    Wisconsin for many years was admired as one of the nation’s most progressive, open and democratic state governments. No more.

    A good start at restoring that reputation would be to reform the budgeting process so that legislators can’t go thorough the back door to make bad laws, or as in the case of the attack on open government, destroy good laws.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. But do keep watching.

    In face of a potential voter rebellion, the perpetrators of the attempt to deny the public access to government records joined in a statement saying the measure would be withdrawn.

    But their votes in the Joint Finance Committee made a stronger statement.

    What it said was—when it comes to open government, these legislators can’t be trusted.    

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