Monday, January 29, 2018

Governance in the City Different

Sent this to the New Mexican, for what its worth:

Being about to relocate to Santa Fe from Los Alamos this spring, here is my letter to the folks running for Mayor and Council in the City Different.

The Mayor and Councilors must run an efficient city government and ensure Santa Fe is an attractive and affordable place to build a business, visit, or settle down to live.

Keep the people's trust. There is renewed interest in the recent reallocation of funds from a city bond issue, diverting money from its intended purpose as capital towards park and recreation improvements to money used to float city operating expenses. Exigent circumstances aside, the public typically takes a dim view of a city administration that plays fast and loose with trust regarding dedicated public funds. Aside from the question of whether people should be held accountable, future bond elections are at risk if voters think city government cannot be trusted with our money when we vote to earmark IOUs for a specific purpose.

One candidate's supporter recently complained (in a New Mexican commentary) that a second candidate would build bike paths rather than fill potholes. My eyes rolled. A mayor with the proper vision for Santa Fe will both maintain current infrastructure and make sure Santa Fe is a city true to its vision of being multimodal, affordable for a diverse population, and both economically and environmentally sustainable. Bicycle and pedestrian friendly infrastructure is paramount to that vision and indeed are transportation, wellness, and economic resources. Further, individuals must spend a lot of money if they have to buy and maintain a car as the only way to do business in Santa Fe when a bicycle, shoe leather, or bus, with proper connectivity, would do just fine.

Don't champion divisive issues which are not necessary to run the city. The sugary drink tax, which ended up pitting north against south Santa Fe, is a good example. While the idea of supporting preschool education was noble and in New Mexico quite necessary, this proposal looked like the upscale progressives in the 1st and 2nd Districts were lecturing residents on how we should live. That was a dreadful mistake.  We need to gauge and build public consensus on big issues rather than beat people over the head with "Great Ideas."

Finally, true economic and environmental sustainability involves more than filling recycling bins, charging for shopping bags, or using hybrid cars. Sustainability favors urban compactness, as more people per developed acre lowers the individuals costs of maintaining, and the inevitable upgrading, of public infrastructure (sewers, water, power, etc) as new developments age and need to be maintained. That is something often brushed aside with starry eyed proposals such as Santolina in Albuquerque. Sprawl can eventually bankrupt a community. We need to infill rather than spread out. That includes housing for all of us rather than those who already have theirs. We need to attend to the science of development.

Lets get it right in Santa Fe. Lets sweat the details now rather than later.

Bio: Khal Spencer is a geoscientist and was a member of the Los Alamos County Transportation Board from 2003-2017. He contributed to bike plans and complete streets ordinances in Honolulu and Los Alamos, was a scientific advisor to the Ala Wai Canal Watershed, Water Quality Improvement Project in Honolulu, and a consultant to the Univ. of Hawaii Environmental Center while a faculty member in the Geology Dept of the Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Have We Had Enough Yet?

Our county council and legislative leaders want to make sure that if a nonprofit wins the new M&O contract to run LANL, it has to pay the same gross reciepts tax as a for-profit. Presumably, because Los Alamos County has gotten used to all that extra money to build splash pools, indoor ice rinks, and expand the golf course.

According to the LA Daily Post and Forbes Magazine, Los Alamos is sixth richest of the 3007 counties in America. So on that note, can someone please remind me why the taxpayers from those thousands of poorer counties, some of whom don't have a pot to piss in, should be dipping deeper into their wallets to fatten our well off lifestyle courtesy of an extra GRT imposed if a nonprofit wins the National Lab Lottery? Just asking...

Monday, January 1, 2018

Democrats Have to Learn to Win Elections Again

Upon reading former Sen. Jeff Bingaman's recent endorsement of Damon Martinez for Congress as published in the Daily Post, I was disappointed that the best that our former Senator could think of for compelling issues that a candidate for U.S. Congress would face were those I would consider regional, second tier, or those driven by identity politics. Maybe that's why we Democrats lost control of the White House, both houses of Congress, and something like over a thousand elected offices in this millenium. Not to mention all those judicial appointments that other party is making. Maybe we need a  lesson in The Vision Thing.

The vision thing means ideas that can win elections and pull back the political center. Here are some issues.

1. Pull back the center. As Dwight Eisenhower said, "The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters".  The two major parties, which are alienating moderates into becoming independents in droves and encouraging  forms of tribalism, must  stop playing only to their base and start playing ball with the center and the opposition again. While Dems may not be condemned to permanent coastal status in a red Flyover America (and a minority in Congress), polarization ensures that little will be done in Washington and that what little gets done might soon be undone.

Forswear polarizing issues in favor of consensus is a good start. Last year,  Jon Hendry, the President of the NM Federation of Labor, told a meeting of Santa Fe Democrats to, when possible, stay away from topics that drive moderate and conservative Democrats away from the party.  Gun control was one he explicitly called out. It is more important to win elections, win back the center, and fix the economy so that it works for most of us again instead of for the 1%. Many other problems (gun violence, drug abuse) will start to take care of themselves if people have hope again. One can find bipartisan ways to address gun violence and other issues without senselessly making hot buttons out of them. Let's find a way to stop making red electorates redder, blue electorates bluer, and instead get people talking to each other again.

Part of this is also a primary election issue, where the two parties tend to race apart to satisfy that part of the base most likely to show up at the polls. We are thus stuck, in the general election, choosing between the two extremes chosen in the primary. Some major revamping of the primary system is needed, as is ending primary voter apathy, which leaves both party's primaries vulnerable to the torch and pitchfork crowds, who are more likely to show up.

2. Fix the economy so it works for most of us. As a former Democratic Party President's campaign strategist once said, "Its The Economy, Stupid".  As long as people are struggling with today's household crisis, other people's issues or the nation's future problems are irrelevant.  As some say, when one is up to one's ass in alligators, one forgets that the idea was to drain the swamp. Good, well paying middle class jobs have fled the US. Income inequality is staggering. The opioid epidemic is in part a result of over-prescription practices but I think in part an outgrowth of this economic malaise; being drugged, for increasing numbers of Americans, is better than dealing with reality.  MAGA gimme caps, drugs, or make work jobs are not substitutes for real job satisfaction, a middle class wage, and a belief that one's kid's future will be better than one's own past.

3. Manage our response to climate change: Climate change can bring on wars or massive dislocations as well as drought or flood.  This could cost billions---trillions---or who really knows, as detailed cost/benefit analyses of continued use of carbon energy vs. climate change are rarely discussed with the public. Nonetheless, the science is imperfect so we must be making decisions in the context of considerable uncertainties. While the extremes on right and left either deny human contributions to climate change are serious matters or act as though the sky is imminently falling, we have to hedge our bets against worst case outcomes as we continue to understand the complexities of the climate system. Some combination of regulation, engineering, and free enterprise will be needed. The way climate change will/may affect different parts of the nation is varied but in the Southwest, water availability and deforestation are major problems.

4. While the national debt looms, the GOP cuts taxes and both parties continue spend like proverbial drunken sailors. No one has figured out how to balance the budget or seriously reduce the debt as the glut of Baby Boomers like me reach retirement age and reach for the entitlement programs that, having paid into all our lives, we are definitely entitled to collect. Strong medicine and hard decisions lie ahead. The longer we kick the can down the road, the worse the outcome. Hence read #2.

5. Manage international relations more carefully as the nuclear button competes with cyberwarfare and fake news. The recent insult match between Pres. Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un reminds me of a game of chicken between two immature hot rodders. Only in this case, both have, or may soon have, the nuclear button. While deterrence has kept the peace among major powers since the end of WW II, my fear is that the cataclysms at Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become mere abstractions. Meanwhile, the plot thickens. Cyber-warfare is a growing threat and our elections are vulnerable to hacking and social media attacks from abroad. Congress must be part of a set of solutions.

6. Set the bar high for high school education that rewards excellence. An electorate cannot be expected to make good decisions when it lacks the ability to understand complex problems. Neither can a poorly educated work force be expected to be qualified for good jobs in a rapidly evolving, technologically driven economy. In states like NM where the high school graduation rate leaves almost one out of three behind and even those who get their sheepskin are helped along by social promotion, its not surprising we have problems with economic growth. Social media is not the problem with "fake news" as propaganda is as old as the Republic. The problem is that so many people cannot see through the fakery.

7. Build sustainable, economically viable communities.  The last half century has reveled in low density development. Increasingly in the years ahead, demands will come due to replace aging infrastructure in countless communities, i.e., sewer, water, etc. There are fewer people per acre in low density communities to pay the cost of uprooting and replacing miles of infrastructure. But we keep at it, e.g., the Santolina proposal down in the Duke City. The reality, as the planning organization Strong Towns has discussed, is that we will need a lot of money to even put a dent in future infrastructure requirements that we have embedded into our communities and New Mexico is no exception. Someone is going to have to teach the American people that sustainability isn't just about hybrid cars or recycling, but basic issues of urban and regional planning that do not burden the future with unsustainable development costs. Since Federal matching funds are ubiquitously part of the funding mix in state projects and pass-throughs, this is a Federal as well as a state and local problem.

8. Fix the immigration mess. It seems to me that both parties are playing to their bases and driving the discussion to polarized opposites. Meanwhile, DREAMERs are held hostage to irrational politics, their parent's decisions, and our inability to decide on immigration policy. This is a political problem, period. Find a bipartisan solution to the immigration mess.

9. Some issues are not best handled by Washington and by pushing stuff to the Federal level, we have more to fight about. For example, Sen. Bingaman's "sexual assault on campus" issue. While campus sexual assaults are a real problem, they are law enforcement and college environment problems best dealt with by legal minds familiar with both law enforcement and campus environments, working with reasonable campus administrations. Aside from assault, which is a crime, the current muddle of how to teach what is consensual between two adults and what is not in today's "hookup" environment is a more complex issue than one which can be handled by law enforcement or blunt-instrument bureaucrats.  Here is a neat way that UNM is doing it. Use brains, not sheer brawn.

Under the Obama administration's "dear colleague" letter, the Education Dept. merely created a firestorm of disagreement on what constitutes a Title IX issue and also created a growth industry in trial lawyers suing universities and colleges that were, under pressure from the Feds,  throwing due process under the bus in a stampede to show results and to maintain Title IX compliance and Federal funding.  If there ever was a rationale for small government and big citizens as put forth by conservatives, its what big government does when it lacks nuance and a modicum of critical thinking.

I think we Democrats have to practice our vision thing on more than the guys and gals looking back from the mirror. If not, there will soon not be enough opioids, not to mention blue seats, left to go around as our polarizing national malaise deepens.