consultants are sandburs

Monday, February 26, 2007

RAMSEY3 - Second Session - Get to the Point, PLEASE.

Two Ramsey3 sessions, the Green building concept, a zero carbon load design of buildings - interesting things to consider, but -- there are problems with the delivery.

We should presume that the turnout from the first two meetings was substantially overlapping, and it was not and will not be wholly new people at subsequent sessions.

Hence, the sales pitch, density = lower carbon load costs; the auto as the biggest factor to curb; is global warming real or a fiction; and denser = more walkable, healthier, more interesting, whatever the pitch; DON'T REPEAT IT ANOTHER TIME, SINCE TWICE ALREADY WAS ONE TIME TOO MANY.

The point is, with the orientation of a majority of the counsel, with the Met Council poised to "Lake Elmo" any community that does not knuckle under to quotoa requirements [for overall density per buildable non-wetland acre, presumably, let's flesh that out at the next session, city staff can get us details]we can start with a premise, good or bad, population growth, in Ramsey during the period covered in the 2008 comprehensive plan will be a given - with the parameters disclosed and not held secret, and with current staff not apparently headed by anyone wanting to play all cards himself, close to his vest, never really laying down the hand, etc. (Whether that was the past case is irrelevant, we say for now, staff is well-motivated and acting in full good faith, we trust Pat Trudgeon, and that, along with a Met Council quota requirement, are given facts.)

Then cutting to the chase, start the sessions with the question, where should concentrated density be, how concentrated, what burdens will it put on the rest of us trafficwise under differing alternatives, where should open greenspace be preserved and in what degree to keep the "feel" of an open-space community [and we know that unless owners are to be hosed, the green-space rights will have to be purchased for fair value, per the taking clause of the Constitution]; how can we lessen traffic and water impacts [do we need a new water tratment plant, what's the cost, must we turn to river water, etc.]; and, where the last session largely should have started, how can we do something smarter than the existing awful Pulte and DR Horton stuff now on the ground at Town Center; in using the remaining space there or permitting uses; and then, if there's any incremental capital costs to be absorbed or spread from wanting "green, environmentally friendly" buildings, who pays what share of how big a total increment should be reasonably forecast.

Stow the warm and fuzzies. We want to learn facts and then be able to judge wisely, and not be given the equivalent of being sold kitchen appliances or used Toyotas by appliance salesmen or used car lot tactics.

We are not there to dink away time that could be used elsewhere. Don't sell.

Don't waste time with the first seven slides in the canned presentation.

Move to the three or four powerpoint slides giving the essence; then go from that to REAL information beyond the fluff. Otherwise the concern is people in the audience might conclude there's nothing to it but fluff, and the attendance might accordingly drop off precipitously for the final sessions.

THINK, as the Watson family was fond of posting on signs around IBM facilities in the past.

If that last session had been more about the nuts-and-bolts of how the carbon load of heating and cooling can be reduced, with an incremental cost per square foot or other version of realistic costing mentioned; insulation, photovoltaics, solar water heaters on the roof, using heat pump technology with the thermal exchange being underground where there's a heat sink at stable temperature levels -- all of that costs something not a cost if it is not there [and likely a greater cost netted out against some other heating&cooling provision options], and if the nationwide or worldwide scale of usage is to change at any but the slowest of paces for these "better" technologies, there are questions of sustainability upon scaling up.

For Ramsey, scaling up will not overload any vendor-manufacturer capacity, but if there are parallel changes over the metro area, for instance, what capacity impacts are there, and how severe a concern should they be?

Yes, staff needs to be more focused on those question details than the citizens giving them their marching orders, but --- we cannot sanely order the marching without having a good sense of what the cost-benefit balance is for the alternative marching directions and speeds we might impose.

BOTTOM LINE: THINK. DON'T WASTE THE AUDIENCE'S TIME.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

We want the world and we want it now.

You have to be old to recall where that posting title line came from. Yet when the music's over, I want the world, via highspeed broadband wireless, in Ramsey, and I do want it now and with the lights turned up.

Join the 21st Century, Tom Gamec. And not just for the new plush palace in Clown Town, or for PACT school there; but for all of Ramsey, where I live and care about; and so young people can keep up with technology better, and old farts can be free of Qwest and Comcast and can instead partake of more fairly priced municipal broadband opportunities. Now.

St. Cloud went with Clearwire; a firm with a promising WiMax future; as shown here, here, here, here, here, and ruraly, here. That firm's issued a range of press releases.

St. Louis Park went with WiFi, as shown here, here, and here. The St. Louis Park municipal website is well laid out and informative; and should be emulated by others.

It looks as if WiMax may have the better ultimate critical mass; or a grid with WiMax for more distant sites and WiFi sprinkling for denser mobile internet usage sites. An RFP and targeted vendor solicitations should yield solution alternatives, and the municipal pioneers already have ventured out, and Ramsey could tug on sleeves and learn a lot from them, in Minnesota and elsewhere.

My guess is the mobile computing user density of a university campus will never be reached in Ramsey; but don't sell our people short on wanting sensible progress - instead of smoke and mirrors and crabgrass. The Crabgrassers, if smart, would sign up and join up. It offers a product distinction useful in a market glutted with townhome metro-wide sameness.

And any new tower permitted in the City should only be allowed, conditioned upon City rights of co-use, for whatever municipal broadband the city ultimately offers. If all you like is to go into woods and slaughter deer when allowed , or to ride something motorized and shout, "Yahoo" and all, it's not your battle; but you can enjoy such things and still be a Boy Scout counselor or whatever and aim to upgrade the thinking and skills of the troop.

Who knows? Municipal utility service for broadband wireless may even, via voice over Internet, allow a home to be phone-wire free without having to be dependent on cell phones only or the hated cable company - another species of crabgrass, after all.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Is it the building, or the departure? Plus, one sobering thought.

Some random thoughts.

The recent few times I have been in City Hall it seemed as if staff is more cheerful since the New Year started. It could be due to one of several factors.

Let Ben decide that.

My read on things is there is a city-wide recognition that the housing market is in a trough.

Irrational exuberance from the past may have quelled a bit.

Thought about giving Met Council a plan that averages three units per non-wetland acre would still allow flexibility in how that plan is structured. Some mischief over premature and what I see as unwise sewer-water routing has been done, but its downside can presently be minimized and localized by sound thinking in what gets presented for Met Council approval as the Ramsey 2008 comprehensive plan. It will go through a staff that has been reconstituted, but solely by alteration at the top. And that alteration might prove to be enough to yield a far better and prompter plan than previously. We shall see. Ben will keep smiling.

The sobering thought: The last three Anoka County Union issues have had a legal notices section [aka county-wide home mortgage foreclosure notices] each of which was thicker than this Sunday's Strib "homes for sale" advertising section. Go figure.

I will credit those having more of a say in things than Ben or I have, with a more "cautious" attitude. Not an enlightened attitude, not all of them, but "cautious." Perhaps a sobered attitude is the term. A restrained attitude. The push for sewer-water northward that began even before the new January 2003 council was sworn in and seated, and that had a distinct flavor to it, looks to have resulted in market timing doing what a citizens' charter amendment effort could not.

The market may have taught restraint. Perhaps not. Ben is across from City Hall, watching, waiting, smiling - for now, perhaps forever, seeing how things unfold.

For now, Town Center sitting in a failed state, or in stasis, presents an opportunity to get it right, and this opportunity reaches even to officials who earlier critized as "negative thinking" those who urged caution and keeping a view of downside risk.

Town Center can stay as it is as long as nobody in the develooper camp comes forward with new money to risk. The weeds look better to me than Crabgrass.

Crabgrass should not be fertilized with Ben's cash, should it?

I like the RAMSEY3 people, and trust their judgment. While the first session began without mention of Met Council, and with praise of an ediface I find wasteful, Met Council must be factored into the equation and its absence from discussion the first session and the exuberance expressed over the new building did not dampen my belief in RAMSEY3 people being sound and well-motivated.

That "Met Council as 800 pound gorilla" factor will have to be faced, but the RAMSEY3 people are smart enough to know that. Things are especially encouraging now, with the department heads at City Hall now seeming (to me) to have more autonomy and freedom to do a good job than might have been the case in the recent past.

The planning department working enthusiastically with the RAMSEY3 citizens and listening to the 2-1/2 acre beliefs expressed at the Planning Commission meeting is promising. The entire council needs to follow suit. The mayor at a televised meeting expressed his recognition of the general attitude of the people taking time to speak on the 2-1/2 acre issue. If only worksessions were still televised. Or televising them wree to be reinstituted. Then we could see it all at home in our armchairs and without having to go to that offensively oppulent new building.

Green space and wildlife habitat preservation, in large enough contiguous spaces to be effective, will be something to weigh in planning; beyond wetland preservation; and that quality of life factor likely will not be ignored or given too little care this planning go-round. Perhaps foundation money can be found to buy up conservation rights to existing land. Buy out such rights from the Boy Scouts on Highway 47, if necessary, if there's any inkling they and their advisory leadership would want to sell out to dense housing. Others have sold out exactly that way, and the Scouts land and other land north of it on Highway 47 might be preserved along with greenspace at the north end of Variolite [a street which most certainly should remain as it is, unextended northward].

There are places farmland can be kept farmland, to the benefit of all.

I am optimistic about the opportunities. I am pessimistic about some now still holding office having perhaps the notion, still, that the public is somehow the "enemy" to be hoodwinked, misled, and conquored; instead of the public being the key source of leadership ideas better than or as sound as ideas that come from insiders or the Crabgrass contingent (and/or their allies on council or staff).

On-council landowner representation leading to misjudgment is my main worry; because I believe that for those without meat in the fire there might be an upward sloping learning curve for the other evil of hubris and an unwillingness to lead except by playing shell games with the citizenry - with Ben.

The two new people on council so far appear promising of sober and wise leadership.

After running for office with the thought of wanting to fire an individual who ended up firing himself [aka resigning] my worry now is that a clone of the past could be installed where a new direction might be more proper. I notice that the resignation was accompanied by three of the seven council members from last year praising the past nine years more than I would have, but with four of that council, including the two lame ducks, not at all publicly quacking.

That was 4/7th of an encouraging picture, to me. Yet 3/7th appeared out of kilter, seeming to me to need repair or replacement. Ben and I shall wait and see.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Strib Wed. Feb. 14 - Ben Dover Gets a Strib Valentine

It is Valentine's Day, and Sarah Moran wrote a Strib article on Town Center.

On the failed Town Center.

Where some say Ramsey Crossings is not money down a new rat hole, but will be Nirvana. I await that unlikelihood. Kickstart the inertia, or whatever it was that one letter said, that one time ---






Ben, in the Cold across from City Hall awaits the Ramsey Crossings too. But he at least can keep up the smile.

NOTE: The Strib link is only good for a limited time before it becomes Strib Archive, and not freely available. Enjoy it while it lasts. Ben the Ramsey Taxpayer will.

RAMSEY CROSSINGS - WE SHOW THE CROSSINGS YOU WILL ENCOUNTER.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

One quick note about a prior post.

Here, there was a question raised about Met Council density expectations and/or "quotas."

Ms. Steffen has said to me a few years ago during the one phone conversation we had, that the Met Council is reactive to local leadership aims, not proactive in enforcing quotos or specific activity. My understanding is a general expectation of Met Council, last go round, was an aim or plan for a citywide average density of three housing units per acre; stated at the start.

What Met Council was said to require was never put on paper in black-and-white, and the link person then between the city and Met Council, James E. Norman, spoke to Met Council people then, without council members speaking directly to Met Council staff.

So there then was an information filter between those with jurisdiction for voting a plan, and those with oversight authority.

I most strongly urge the present council, this time around, to get from the very start a quota or any other litmus test rule the Met Council might have, and get it in writing this time; to avoid any sense of arm-wrestling with a ratchet.

Oral representations of intermediaries carrying messages back and forth present a possibility of error and miscommunication that is not needed or useful in so serious a matter as formulating a comprehensive plan.

If there are actual "black letter" Met Council criteria the city MUST meet, then get them set out, black letter, in writing. If the process is free of any such deal-definers or deal-killers, target densities or such, then get that committment in writing. But define the ground rules before the dog and pony shows, because the shows can only be of use if citizens know and restrain their thinking to within "ground rule" requirements, if any.

Indeed, make all Ramsey -vs.- Met Council dealings be in writing.

It is how misunderstanding and rancor can best be avoided.

I remember looking at Ramsey council minutes from several decades ago, where "correspondence" was cited and identified of record. And I said, "Wow, what a fine idea."

One can argue things are bigger now and what was feasible then is somehow infeasible now, but it sure looked wise to me when I saw it; and it made me wonder why it stopped and who killed the practice.

HIGHWAY ROBBERY



I cannot say whether it is a woodcut, lithograph or etching, but it's online, and a nice image we can thank the British for, to have as our's during the taxing season [and is there any other season].

My message to Metropolitan Council Growth Planners.

Is there a recall effort afoot?


If anyone is working on a recall petition, for any/all councilmembers, and it gets to the point of actually collecting signatures:

[1] Count me in. I will sign.

[2] I would want to publish the text of the petition here, for any readers who might care.

I have heard there is some dissatisfaction within the community. Perhaps not.

Rumors cannot be trusted until the petition is authored and signatures solicited.

A developing story? A rumor without substance? Time will tell.

I @&^! *%*#@!! well like to know who I am dealing with. Don't you?

Who is behind the Ramsey 3, website? We know the local people named there:

R3 Steering Committee


Ralph Brauer, Planning Commission
Joe McDilda, Environmental Policy Board
Sarah Strommen, Ramsey City Council
Will Thompsen, Town Center Task Force
Patrick Trudgeon, City of Ramsey


But the website wants us to register, and then we can say the "five things" we like about Ramsey.

Huh?

We are going to be forced by Metropolitan Council to a density quota, and a handful of things will be the subject of "historical preservation?"

Is that our "goal" for the 2008 comprehensive plan?

What about: I like it not being dense, being the farmland between Anoka and Elk River and do not want the town "Lake Elmoed" by the iron fist in the velvet glove aka "Metropolitan Council." We like things as they are and do not want to change, for outsiders, under outside pressure. Met Council, don't go away mad, just go away.

How's that, for numbers 1 through 5?

I like things as they are and I like being left alone w/o your quotas!


The prelude for that rant: I went to the first Ramsey3 presentation - it was generic, and "METROPOLITAN COUNCIL" was treated as the name we do not speak. It was a bit surreal that way. The 800 pound gorilla whose name we do not speak.

What I have heard, last comp plan exercise we had, the density quota kept getting ratcheted up, either by Met. Council or its messenger, I am not sure which.

The term I heard used, "It was like arm-wrestling with a ratchet."

If it is going to be more of the same, then forget the touchy-feely sessioning, and cut to the chase.

CITY OFFICIALS: START BY GETTING IN WRITING, WHAT, IF ANY DENSITY QUOTA, XXX UNITS PER ACRE, THE CITY MUST MEET TO HAVE A PLAN ACCEPTED. WITHOUT THAT IT IS A CONTEST IN FUTILITY AND PLEASING THE WHIMS OF A SOVEREIGN BENT ON RAISING THE ANTE TIME AND AGAIN. IT IS THEN FALSE AND FRUSTRATING. GET THE DENSITY QUOTA UP FRONT AND IN WRITING.

THEN HOLD THE "HOW DO WE DO IT" SESSIONS. HORSE FIRST, THEN CART.

Back to the opening question. I did first a whois for "ramsey3.org" then, by necessity, a whois for "thinkus.net". I got a mystery in return:

Domain Name:RAMSEY3.ORG
Created On:07-Aug-2006 18:01:50 UTC
Last Updated On:07-Oct-2006 03:47:42 UTC
Expiration Date:07-Aug-2009 18:01:50 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:Domain People Inc. (R30-LROR)
Status:CLIENT TRANSFER PROHIBITED
Registrant ID:DP-5105515
Registrant Name:m Rice
Registrant Organization:m Rice
Registrant Street1:Box 583612
Registrant Street2:NA
Registrant Street3:
Registrant City:Minneapolis
Registrant State/Province:MN
Registrant Postal Code:55458
Registrant Country:US
Registrant Phone:+1.6126550035
Registrant Phone Ext.:
Registrant FAX:
Registrant FAX Ext.:
Registrant Email:domainadmin@thinkus.net
Admin ID:DP-5105516
Admin Name:m Rice
Admin Organization:m Rice


Domain Name: thinkus.net
Registrar: AAAQ.COM
Whois Server: whois.aaaq.com
Referral URL: http://www.aaaq.com
Name Server: ns1.thinkus.net
Name Server: ns2.thinkus.net
Status: ACTIVE
Updated Date: 2006-10-15
Creation Date: 2004-07-30
Expiration Date: 2011-09-25
Registrant:
M Rice domaininfo@thinkus.net
Box 583612
Minneapolis, MN 55458
US
+1.612.655.0035 Fax:
Administrative Contact:
M Rice domaininfo@thinkus.net
Box 583612
Minneapolis, MN 55458
US
+1.612.655.0035 Fax:
Technical Contact:
DNS Administrator domaininfo@thinkus.net
Box 583612
Minneapolis, MN 55458

Who? Yo, who? "M Rice" Who?

So, here is the email I sent, and I await and will publish a reply:

Date: Sun 11 Feb 2007 10:58:42 AM EST
From: eric
To: domaininfo@thinkus.net

Subject: Who are you?

M Rice

Who are you?

You are via a "whois" identified as the instigating person behind the internet entities, ramsey3.org and thinkus.net

Those sites are slow and hardly user friendly. Thinkus.net is particularly circumspect, suggesting an intentional frame of mind that way - of NOT identifying who is behind what.

Possibly you are an administerial person, taking marching orders from someone else. If so, who?

You operate out of a PO Box.

You are trying to influence/manipulate the future of the city I live in.

Come out of the shadows and identify yourself and cohorts, and your cause of interest in the future of Ramsey, please. And explain why you are not more up front in your presence and activity.

Otherwise I must presume yours is a counterproductive interest.

I shall be posting this email on the internet, publicly calling you out:

http://zaetsch.blogspot.com/

I like to know who I am dealing with, and many, many others feel that way also. Name the wizard(s) behind your curtain?

Metropolitan Council?

I shall post your reply, if any.

Thank you.

Eric Zaetsch

I do not like BS in the package. Do you?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

There were autos in the parking ramp ...





Mid-day, on the last Coborn's trip, I drove home along the tracks, heading east, and since the bus service downtown had started, there was occupation on the ground floor of the parking ramp.

In the recent extreme cold, I expect commuters huddle in the ramp stairwell and head to the bus as and when it arrives. Standing in the windy open kiosk seems a stupid alternative, and I give people more credit than that.

How much ramp use per dollar spent, that's a separate question. It is like the question of how many will ride NorthStar vs. what it will cost. And is putting money short-term into Highway 10 upgrades a better answer for more people than NorthStar now?

But the ramp is getting some use. I expect upper floors are not used and a count, vehicles per day vs. total spaces might be interesting, averaged over a five-day work week. At nine bucks a round trip, it's a pop for the express bus. And if you do not work downtown, need to drive during the day, or have a job where you might stay beyond rush hour - then what's it worth to you? Zilch.

Having a 21st century transit system is a goal that probably involves one-piece-at-a-time thinking, but then showing the overall plan and cost upfront is only fair. NorthStar --- the waste by those running it is a worry; how funds magically are "Pawlentyied" out at critical times, etc., cause one to pay attention to the Anoka County Watchdog. Yet the ultimate answer seems to be to move into the modern era - and install a metro-wide transit grid. Short of that you feed the nation's auto-mania, which when you look at it is silly. And environmentally unfriendly.

But until there's an efficient grid involving suburb-to-suburb links, it is a piecemeal answer for a few, paid for by the many, and perhaps movement is too slow rather than too fast.

The Watchdog and I differ on the ultimate view. On public transit as well as a host of other views. You can starkly see the difference between me believing Paul Wellstone was too middle of the road for my liking, and the Watchdog's links of interest and his Jan. 31, 2007 homepage items. But we are 100% together on the waste and inefficiency and smoke and mirrors being unimpressive and counterproductive - whatever ultimate view you hold. The Watchdog has done an impressive job trying to ferret out truth and hold feet to the fire on fiscal waste.

Yo - Yantos, are you there? Do you hear? Will you mop up? Please? And, Yantos, your panel of henchmen, will they be fiscally protective or wasteful as past criticism suggests?

Next time I will try to remember to bring the digital camera, to post a contrasting ramp photo to the vacant ones from this autumn, at the top of this post. It is good to see some use made of the thing, but cost effectiveness clearly is to be demonstrated.

Was the ramp a waste, as and when it was built? The question probably is moot. It is built, it is getting some use, and the bigger threat is seeing more money dumped into trying to push on a string - trying to make the flagging Town Center site move by feeding it massive amounts of taxed cash. That would be a mistake. Sunk cost of the ramp is history, so I wish it well. But be prudent and cognizant of downside risk and possibilities of failure. If there's a "Plan B" for that entire thing, I have not seen it. A down-sized image, an exit-strategy for a "Plan A" failure, as currently seems the case. What's "Plan B" is a most valid question, with the 2008 Comprehensive Plan on the serving platter.

If the only Plan B is "Throw more public subsidy into it," we are in for a long, cold winter.

So, how's Ben doing there across Sunwood from the city palace, with the sub-zero cold? Still smiling for now, I bet.