Transit Oriented Development is an innocent-sounding term that gets some critics of local government all wee-wee’d up. In a nutshell, it’s based on the belief that your Subaru is killing the planet, so we should all ride our bikes in the rain to a train that drops us at a station just a second soggy bike ride to the office.
Picture an unholy alliance of local government liberals and Federal bureaucrats, then take that to an even more frightening level by factoring in the classic liberal love of public transportation. These cash-burning forces converge at the one city in America that combines the worst excesses of local and Federal government: Washington, D.C.
In Richard Daley’s Chicago of the 50s, greed, corruption, and embezzling by local Democrats was widely accepted as business as usual, and that tradition continues in Illinois to this day. How widely accepted? A friend who was born in Chicago tells this story:
Last week, the weedy little town of Cotati attracted national attention, thanks to three of its police officers who were caught on video kicking in a citizen’s door and tasing one of the three residents. It has gone viral on YouTube, with over 250,000 hits.
A casual survey of Facebook comments to the story shows that 60% think it demonstrates pure fascism, 30% think the residents deserved to be tased, and another 10% are withholding judgment since the entire story isn’t clear. I’m pretty much in the latter camp because a lot of questions remain.
What is clear is the way Cotati city staff has paralyzed this little town economically for years. The city’s various shopping centers set a county record for vacancies, from 40% – 70%. Every year, city staff claims that attracting new business is a top priority. But the city imposes anti-business regulations that set new standards for hostility. Recently, a local deli owner wanted a permit to build a small patio outside his door. Months after he applied, a design review committee told him they would make an exception to their rule and allow him to plant three California poppies.
Any private sector employee who micro-managed this way would be promptly sacked. But in Cotati, anti-productivity is rewarded. Seven Cotati staffers have a combined salary/benefit package that totals $1,171,994. They are responsible for a city of 6,800 and City Hall is closed Fridays. City Manager Dianne Thompson receives $213,577 in salary and benefits, plus a leased Prius. To help her manage a total of 32 employees, including ten police officers and five dispatchers, she has a $237,000 Police Chief. She also has a $169,000 Finance Director, a $177,000 Public Works Director, a $138,000 Community Development Director, a $133,000 Assistant City Manager, and a $105,000 Deputy City Clerk. Not counting the police department, these five assistants supervise a total of 11 workers who actually drive trucks, fill potholes, and send out sewer bills.
Cotati’s most egregious mistake was spending well over a million dollars to create a Downtown Specific Plan that would, among other things, revitalize a blighted four-block stretch of downtown. To implement this pipe dream, it would cost $73 million, which they hoped would appear as Federal grants. While the city waited for Stimulus money that never came, they made it nearly impossible for any local business to build anything new in the area.
Oliver’s Market planned to build an $18 million retail complex on Old Redwood Highway that would have been a major improvement to the area. The city’s reaction? After Oliver’s spent nearly $4 million on land and plans, the city proposed to turn this five-lane street two-lane byway, with two roundabouts, only 600 feet apart. The owners walked away from their $18 million project, ensuring that this high-visibility location will be a weedlot for years.
Most recently, the city manager attempted to award a 15-year garbage contract to Redwood Empire Disposal, and excluded rival bidders from the process. Perhaps she was too busy managing all her managers to review multiple bids. At least one local company that was interested in bidding was snubbed, and has collected signatures for a ballot referendum that could cause a civic black eye. The signatures were verified by the Registrar of Voters, but the $105,000 Deputy City Clerk has just declared their petition is invalid because of a technicality.
All this leads to three questions: How indifferent can a city manager be to the citizens who pay her salary? How long will the city council rubberstamp her decisions? Most importantly, when will the voters notice?
The other day, I was donating a box of books to the Rohnert Park Library. Half of them were Lee Child/Jack Reacher novels, which any library is glad to see, and the other half were books by Dick Morris, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin. To my surprise, no alarms went off when these right-wing volumes crossed the threshold, and the walls remained standing as I left the building.
In the heartland, where the cost of living is assumed to be more reasonable than San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York, you might expect public sector compensation to be more reasonable, as well. But not in Joliet, IL.
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips are everywhere, mostly being used for good. Since they are only 1/8” long and cost 15 cents each, these tiny little receivers can be sewn into your shirt tail to guarantee your dry cleaner never loses another Facconable. They can be inserted into your cat, so you can learn exactly where Fluffy got flattened by an Escalade. In some circles, this is called closure.
If you think the Federal Government is acting more like a helicopter parent every day, I’m convinced that liberals in city and county governments do far more damage to our freedom than other politicians could dream of. Recently, the City of San Francisco made a clumsy attempt to outlaw Happy Meals because they have too many grams of fat for every Batman toy included, but they’re seriously considering a proposal to build a housing project for homeless alcoholics where the building manager will make beer runs for residents who are too drunk to stumble to the liquor store.