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Lake beckons developers . . . and they’re coming PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 February 2017 21:11

Grafton has I-43. Port Washington has Lake Michigan. The lake is Port’s freeway.

The metaphor is about real estate development. The City of Port Washington is on the threshold of development so immense that it begs comparison to the retail explosion that added tens of millions of dollars worth of valuation on the Village of Grafton’s east edge.

Grafton’s development is mainly big-box commercial on land that was irresistible to investors because it fronts the freeway. Port Washington’s development will be mainly residential on land that is irresistible to investors because it fronts Lake Michigan.

The combined value of developments proposed for Port Washington’s marina district and lake bluff land south of the power plant approaches $100 million.

Aldermen’s heads must have been spinning after the six-hour Common Council meeting last week during which three complicated proposals for a complex of houses, multifamily residential units, community buildings and some commercial-use structures were pitched by competing developers for the 44 acres of lake bluff land.

Sorting out the proposals to determine which will best benefit the city economically and aesthetically is a daunting challenge. Taxpayers likely would not object if some city funds were spent on consultants to lend expertise to the process.

One judgment concerning the bluff land, however, should come easily. The proposal by a Mequon company that wants to acquire the land for a token one-dollar payment deserves quick elimination. The land, owned by the people of Port Washington, is worth millions. Developers are eager to acquire it not to perform a public service, but to reap business profits. That’s fine, but they should have to pay market value for the resource that makes their project possible.

Besides free land, the Mequon developer wants a $6 million TIF subsidy from city. The other two developers are asking for roughly $4 million in taxpayer contributions. City officials will have to answer questions of where this money would come from—the bluff land is not in a TIF district—and whether developer subsidies are needed at all in what is obviously a seller’s market. Meanwhile, the first public benefit of the impending development of the bluff and marina district land is already at hand. The surge in economic growth promised by these projects has rendered the Blues Factory irrelevant.

The city’s rationale for selling public land at the edge of the north slip marina for this entertainment complex has always been that it is necessary to foster a “catalytic” development.

Now it is perfectly clear that the notion of bringing this attraction in to encourage development has no merit whatsoever. The development is here without it. 

Moreover, the marina district development plans make the north slip land more valuable than ever as public greenspace overlooking the water. Except for the main marina parking lot, it will be the last open space in the north sector of the district. Filling it with the factorylike Blues Factory building would not only interfere with the public’s enjoyment of the water, it would diminish the appeal of surrounding residential development.

The developer anointed by the city to take over the Blues Factory project, New Port Holdings, is involved in development plans for both the bluff land and the marina district. The company would be doing a service to the city in which it is investing by cutting its ties with the troubled Blues Factory initiative. 

That would give city officials a face-saving way to end a bitter controversy that has divided the community and clear the way for Port Washington to reap the rewards of its fortunate proximity to its Lake Michigan freeway.

Consequences and truth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 19:12

Many Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump’s Muslim immigration ban, his executive orders reversing environmental protection measures and tariff threats that could start a trade war.

Many other Americans, especially those voters who elected Trump, are pleased by those executive actions. They see a president who is keeping his campaign promises, and they certainly approve.

The things Trump did in his first week in office are the consequences people are referring to when they repeat the well-worn phrase, “Elections have consequences.”

No matter how divided Americans are over the consequences, there should be agreement that partisans on either side of those issues have a right to their beliefs and perhaps even that the arguments they make to support them deserve grudging respect.

No such agreement or respect is warranted, however, for something else that was evident in the first days of the Trump presidency—that the president lies.

That is not meant to be a provocative statement. It is a documented fact, and no American, Trump supporter or not, should tolerate it.

The eradication of truth as an imperative of the presidency is not an acceptable consequence of an American election.

The first words the new president wrote on his famed Twitter account after his inauguration were whoppers, even though the subject was so puny it should have been beneath presidential notice. In defiance of subway ridership data and photographic evidence, Trump declared that his inauguration crowd was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration. When the National Park Service posted photos proving that claim wrong, Trump ordered the Park Service Twitter account shut down.

Other, more consequential, untruths followed, including his assertions that millions of people voted illegally in the presidential election and that the press invented his verbal attacks on the CIA and other intelligence services.

How can Trump’s White House staff and cabinet, members of Congress and the president’s devoted supporters across the country abide this? Since when is a president of the United States exempt from telling the truth? 

It goes without saying that truth telling is a fundamental standard of ethical behavior for everyone. Classic stories involving a cherry tree and a nickel told about America’s two greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, may be quaint and probably apocryphal, but they nonetheless express the revered belief that our presidents—especially our presidents—are expected to be paragons of honesty.

Some Americans see something darker than the diminishment of the moral standing of the presidency in the untruthfulness. After presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway used the loony yet chilling term “alternate facts” to describe the presidential falsehoods, so many people bought copies of the George Orwell novel “1984” that the book moved to the top of the Amazon bestseller list.

The new appeal of the book, which was published in 1949, derives from its parallels with “alternative facts,” particularly the campaign by Orwell’s ironically named Ministry of Truth to deny reality. The main character describes a government that attempts to persuade citizens to “reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.” The novel describes a world in which hate and fear of foreigners are drummed up by propaganda and boatloads of refugees die at sea.

Another book surging in popularity in the “alternative facts” aftermath is “The Origin of Totalitarianism,” written by Hannah Arendt in 1951. Writing about the rise of Hitler and Stalin, Arendt observed, “Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd.”  

Readers who find these visions relevant to these times are taking a very dark view of the Trump presidency. But even those who maintain a more optimistic outlook, including voters who chose Trump because they believed in his vision of America, would do well to follow the example of Winston Smith, the hero of “1984,” who vowed to defend “the obvious and true.”

Not an oxymoron: bipartisan gun control PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 January 2017 20:27

Ready for some good, positive, optimistic news about state government?

Here it is: Some members of the Wisconsin Legislature are going where no one from that institution has gone for years, into the terra incognita of bipartisan cooperation and gun control.

If that sounds too good to be true, it still might be—if the gun lobby instructs its devoted minions in the Legislature to block this small but promising step toward quelling gun violence. But a bill reacting to the plague of death and injury by gunshot in Milwaukee has a chance to survive, owing to the solid bipartisan sponsorship by Sens. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) and Reps. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) and David Bowen (D-Milwaukee).

The bill would make possessing a gun a felony for people who have three misdemeanor convictions in five years. Buying a gun with the intent of giving it to someone who can’t legally possess a firearm would also be a felony under the bill.

These measures are needed because crime in Milwaukee is caused not only by criminals but also by the boundless abundance and easy availability of guns that so often make bad deeds deadly.

The bill also seeks to limit access to guns by those not legally entitled to have them by making lying about being a straw buyer on forms required to be signed by purchasers a felony.

It’s no surprise that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn is a big supporter of the bill. His officers have to confront the butcher’s bill for this violence on an almost daily basis, not to mention facing the possibility of becoming victims themselves. The bill would make Milwaukee “safer by prohibiting career criminals who currently may legally carry a firearm from carrying on in the future,” the chief said.

Besides furnishing law enforcement with a tool with some potential for effectiveness in combating gun mayhem, passage of the bill could show the way for future efforts aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those likely to use them for crime.

The issue of guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens is settled. State laws permitting concealed-carry are virtually universal. Save for a federal statute limiting ownership of fully automatic guns, people who aren’t felons are allowed to own any kind of firearm they want, from sporting arms to the deadliest semiautomatic assault rifles and handguns with high-capacity magazines. In American history, the right to bear arms has never been more secure. Only the likes of the National Rifle Association, whose existence as a well-funded gun lobby depends on convincing gun owners they are in danger of having their firearms confiscated by the government, would say otherwise.

The focus, then, has to be on keeping some of the 300 million-plus guns in America out of the hands of those whose behavior shows they might use them to commit crimes, including convicted criminals and mentally disturbed people such as those responsible for recent mass shootings. 

That is what the public, including the gun-owning public, wants.

Polls of gun-owners have found that majorities want universal background checks for gun purchasers and tighter regulation of gun sellers, including those who sell guns off the books at gun shows. 

Given the public support for gun limits targeted at miscreants, the chances for passage of the bipartisan criminal gun-control bill should be good. That’s assuming the gun-rights zealots of the Legislature, like those who have pushed for legislation to allow guns in schools and airports, aren’t called to resist by the NRA.

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