This is so good, I’ll copy and paste it here.

It is from Ryan Morton, long-time contributor to city planning and politics, a letter sent to Mayor Engen concerning a proposed city ordinance that will ensure equal protection regardless of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, it is legal to fire a lesbian from her job, evict a gay man from his home, or refuse a transgender person service in a restaurant. An initial hearing on the anti-discrimination ordinance is currently scheduled April 12 in the City Council chambers.

Council Members and Mayor (and anyone else who ends up reading this):

I am queer, 31 year old male. I spent over a decade suffering from internalized homophobia because of overwhelming intolerance of homosexuality socially and in a religious context. After all those years of hating myself because of my sexuality, I finally came out to myself. Relief? Not exactly. I’ve spent nearly another decade recovering from low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety due to years of self-hatred and the homophobia from others. I am just one type of person your ordinance could protect, but my story is not unusual.

From birth, the ideas of sex, gender, and sexuality are pounded into people – regardless of whether any particular person fits the common, heterosexual model. So, most of us ‘queers’ first learn homophobia early on in life. At puberty, homophobia becomes internalized when youth don’t understand why they have same-sex urges. Coupled with social and religious ‘teachings,’ teenagers become prone to mental illness or worse barbaric ‘treatments’ to make them ‘not-gay.’ Gay teens are at some of the highest risks for suicide.

For others, their genital sex doesn’t seem to fit. I can’t imagine the confusion and struggle they go through growing up. I remember the story of Brandon Teena who was raped and killed by his friends – his friends – when they discovered he was female-to-male (FTM). I have been blessed to have several FTM friends in Missoula and have heard their stories of discrimination time and time again. What a wonderful group of people to bless the city of Missoula with their presence!

For intersexed children, their parents and doctors often sex the child at birth without any particular rhyme or reason. These people sometimes grow up discovering that their parents and doctors made the wrong choice and have to seek sex re-assignment.

Anyhow, if one is lucky enough to make it through school and enter the real world, they end up navigating relationships, careers, and, yes, decisions about bathrooms often in hiding not wanting to be recognized as different. This phenomenon is often referred to as ‘passing.’

Why do LGBTIQ people feel the need to ‘pass?’ The answer is simple: discrimination. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. God hates faggots.

One way to curb discrimination is through the ordinance you are considering. People have the right to have discriminatory thoughts, but acting them out in a way that hurts people is unacceptable. Please pass this ordinance and state definitively that it is NOT ok to discriminate on the grounds of sex, gender, sexuality, or any other unprotected class of citizens.

As far as the potty crusaders are concerned, if this ordinance fails because of some argument about heterosexual pedophiles who think cross-dressing will permit them bathroom entry, I’m going to be one nasty, screaming queen. As someone who has shared a restroom and locker room with many a cross-dresser, drag queen, and FTM, I have NO concern about bathroom entry. Trolling for young children in bathrooms and locker rooms is a nasty stereotype that is so intolerable, I can’t think of anything else to do but laugh at people who think that way. So many LGBTIQ people are loving, caring parents, teachers, public safety officers, and more who constantly look out for the GOOD of children – not to prey on them. Some of my best years were spent teaching children English as a Second Language around the world – never a thought to sexually prey upon them. There simply is no link between being LGBTIQ and being a pedophile. It’s completely nonsensical. Oh, and as a former Boy Scout – I could have really used a queer mentor at that time in my life. Really.

The discrimination is real. The fear surrounding the ordinance is simply smoke and mirrors – a perspective held in deeply rooted beliefs that society should only be structured around a heterosexual reality. Look through the smoke and mirrors and pass the ordinance to make a real difference in Missoula. I had planned to testify at the hearing, but may not be able to make it.

Hope you are well.

Ryan Morton

Clash of the Titans

I don’t remember folks paying much attention to Lou Ann Crowley’s decision to run for House District 94. That’s a shame, because I think this Democratic primary race will be quite telling as to the future of the party in Western Montana.

In the race to replace political consultant and potential poster boy for the revolving door of Montana politics, Dave McAlpin, Lou Ann is facing Ellie Hill. And the contrast couldn’t be greater.

Ellie is somewhat of a political newcomer, but has garnered the support of the liberal rump of Missoula politics. This is not surprising given her longstanding commitment to the town’s poor and homeless, and her engagement with a raft of progressive issues. The blogosphere’s jhwygirl blogged about Ellie here and here. Ellie’s a lawyer from Idaho, a part-time business woman (although I don’t know what company she owns), and downtown resident in the Wilma.

Lou Ann, on the other hand, has a long history of local politics. Most of us know her from ten years on City Council, where she earned respect for her patience, genuine care for her constituents, and her fair-mindedness. Look around Missoula and there’s many a community organization (from MUD to the farmers market to Garden City Harvest to Kiwanis to Adventure Cycling to Hospice) that Lou Ann has been a driving part of. She’s more independent than most and while her Democratic credentials are solid, she was occasionally a swing-vote on Council. That Jon Wilkins would endorse her speaks volumes, perhaps reflecting Lou Ann’s ability to listen to and represent the concerns and problems of neighbors of many stripes.

Recently, Lou Ann was up against John Engen in the race for Mayor of Missoula. While John had political consultants, poll-testing, media campaigns, endorsement by the current Mayor and a sizable war-chest, Lou Ann campaigned the hard way – knocking on doors, attending community forums, and taking phone calls directly on her own cell phone. Lou Ann campaigned on the public having open lines of communication with city government. She lost.

Perhaps Lou Ann is running up against the same political machine that defeated her last time? I suspect she will run an honest, somewhat naive campaign – relying on the folks she has gotten to know over the 30 years she have lived and worked in Missoula. I like Lou Ann, much as I respect Ellie. But, I think the battle is not between these two impressive folks. It is, rather, a battle between an independent, grassroots campaign and a little-too-well-organized insider.

Cutting your nose to spite your face?

Calls,and kudos, for cutting the budget annoy the heck out of me. Rarely do government expenditures fall. Instead, a politically-well-calculated shift occurs – from salaries, wages, and benefits to grandiose plans and projects. The winners: the consultants, developers, and politicians who get to parse the wealth around. The losers: the government employess, the services they provide, and the taxpayers dependent on them.

Now, Missoula Mayor John Engen is getting in on the game. His State of the City address (Feb.2nd) has every department cutting, saving and reorganizing in order to match the declining revenues of city government. This is as a result of him asking for 6.5% reductions in budgets. But, 75% of the city budget is in salaries. So, that means you either fire staff or delay cost-of-living adjustments and watch some good people leave the area for better paying jobs. Either way, its bad.

How about the Mayor stop the hemorrhaging of money that is going into various civic projects? I know the out-of-town consultants and various planners will scream, but these are tough times and somethings got to give.

Let’s put some things on the chopping block:

A new Missoula County Fairgrounds.

We’ve spent over $60,000 on consultants (Crandall Arambula) to be told it will probably cost around $19 million.

The Front Street Parking Structure.

Kimley-Horn & Associates were the consultants here, and it looks like it will cost $8.2 million. I can’t seem to get a straight answer from the Missoula Parking Commission, the Missoula Downtown Association, or the city on who is going to pay the costs, but I’ll bet the taxpayers won’t be completely off the hook. After all, Crandall Arumbula got paid nearly half a million via a “public-private partnership” for the Downtown Master Plan that prescribes provision of more parking. I’m guessing that means the city is going to borrow millions to subsidize the downtown merchants.

The Missoula Events Center.

Don’t get me started on the problems with this one. jhwygirl does a nice job over here. Suffice to say that Hunden Strategic Partners got paid $50,000 for the first phase of their feasibility assessment. They’re asking for a similar amount for the second phase, when they’ll tell us how much it is going to cost and who should pay for it.

Oh and by the way, have you ever looked at who is behind the MEC? Yep, many of the same people behind the ball park, which took at least $2 million in city funding and still isn’t finished. How’s that working out for ya?

So, instead of cutting firefighters, parks & recreation, and police officers, Mr. Mayor, you should take a closer look at some the grandiose projects that all these consultants say is necessary for you to spend money researching and building. Heck, you could also borrow back the nearly $4 million that the Missoula Parking Commission has in the bank.

The Power of the Rich and Famous

Private property rights are big news in the courts these days.   Many will know of the landmark Supreme Court 2005 decision in Kelo v. New London. It started a backlash of legislative action across the country to stop the perceived excesses of government seizure of property.

But, it didn’t ‘t stop there. Continued legal judgments are re-writing the relationship between government and property owner. The Supreme Court is now hearing arguments in Stop the Beach Renourishment Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the New York Appeals Court has ruled in Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, and in In re Parminder Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corp. (The federal courts in these sorts of cases have shown much deference to the determinations of state courts.)

Each of these cases raises the issue of who gets to decide what happens to a piece of private property. Is it the landowner? Or the government who needs the property for some greater public use (typically for the construction of highways, power lines, and other public utilities)? Or, is it the rich and famous who can utilize government to achieve their private profit?

The Supreme Court case concerns the ability of the state to protect natural resources and promote public recreation. (Sound familiar, as in the Mitchell Slough case recently settled by the Montana Supreme Court? Yep.) In Florida, the state government restores and protects beaches from erosion by dumping lots of sand in the water. This creates new beach and the question before the SCOTUS is who owns that sand.

The first NY case concerns the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards Arena & Redevelopment Project and whether the city can seize private property for the development of a new stadium for the Nets basketball team. The question was whether the use of eminent domain by the city was correctly for public benefit. Like Kelo v. New London, appellates argued that economic development in blighted areas was beneficial to the public since it cleans up unsanitary and unsafe urban conditions as well as maximizing economic use of the land. But, who determines what is in the public’s best interest?

The second NY case concerns Columbia University’s wish to build a new $6.3 billion campus and have New York city seize privately-owned portions of the 17-acre swath of Manhattan’s upper west side. (Former-Missoulian Daniel Nairn has a brief discussion of this case at the excellent Discovering Urbanism blog).Here, the court ruled that the development was not a public use because Columbia is a private institution. Further, the “blighted” designation of the properties was made by a consultant for Columbia, further muddying the case that it was for public benefit.

While I think the Florida case is somewhat obvious (just because the state dumped some sand in the water doesn’t create more public land), the others each demonstrate the dangers of public-private partnerships. When you mix in private profit (typically through real-estate development) with improvement of the public condition, it is not clear for whom the government is most acting. While the taking of private property is allowed under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, it cannot be done without just compensation and must be done with a clear sense of it being done for public use.

It becomes very hard to argue with a business project that also includes some sort of educational, cultural, recreational, community, municipal, public service or other civic facility. Certainly, the small homeowner in the ‘blighted’ area is going to have a hard time incorporating this. But, if you call in your buddies on the Economic Development Corporation, those folks in the Downtown Association, and the friends in the Chamber of Commerce, then many a city council or commission is going to see things your way. As was seen in the case in NY, when you deal with $5 or 6 billion project, involving the Mayor, affordable housing advocates, and a pro-sports team (as is the case in New York), strong indeed is the political pressure on government decision making.

Think this couldn’t happen in Montana? Title 7, Chapter 15, Part 42 and 43 of the Montana Codes Annotated (M.C.A.) authorizes municipalities to “acquire by condemnation, as provided in Title 70, chapter 30, any interest in real property that it considers necessary for urban renewal“. The municipality has to make a finding that a blighted area exists that is “conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency, and crime, that substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the city or its environs, that retards the provision of housing accommodations, or that constitutes an economic or social liability or is detrimental or constitutes a menace to the public health, safety, welfare, and morals in its present condition and use“.

Well, such a declaration was, for example, made for the River Road neighborhood in Missoula. Guess who made that determination? The Missoula Redevelopment Agency. And, guess who’s on the board of MRA? Hal Fraser of First Security Bank; Dan Kemmis of the University of Montana; Nancy Moe, attorney; Rosalie Cates of Montana Community Development Corporation; and Karl Englund, attorney. Sounds like a bunch of Good Ol’ Boys & Girls to me.

And, yes, they’ve handed out public funds to benefit private development. I wonder if they’re friends with the Rich and Famous?

What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine too

I’m reminded every weekend that the Griz play at home – the University doesn’t provide nearly enough parking for all the Griz fans that drive to the game.

But, this last weekend something different happened to me as I parked on the streets in the University district. I found myself behind a vehicle that I recognized – from out on Kona Ranch Road. Yep, they’d driven in from their property (next to the river) where they post and enforce ‘No Parking’ signs. Somehow they feel that it is all right for them to park in front of someone else’s property when they clearly don’t think it is OK for someone else to park in front of theirs.

Of course, this is common. Other than on Griz gameday, you’re not allowed to park in the University District. Nor are you welcome to park in the Grant Creek area if you want to hike up one of the nearby peaks on Forest Service land. And you can completely forget parking along the Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor during the summer since the adjacent landowners have severely limited the number of legal spaces. Even the Costco parking lot seems to be full more times than not and there’s nowhere else to legally park!

If we’re not allowed to park on public streets or roads in so many situations, shouldn’t the attractions be responsible for providing parking? Not only would the University have to build enough parking for all 20,000+ people that drive to Griz games, but MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks would have to buy up land near the Fishing Access Sites and the Forest Service would build some parking near the trailheads.

Of course, if you’re going to do that then we would expect downtown business to equally provide parking for their customers, too. Right? None of this relying upon street parking – if my guests aren’t allowed to park outside of my property, then why should their guests be allowed to park outside their property? Perhaps the East Front Street Parking Structure is for that purpose?

But, wait, apparently asking Macy’s to pay a percentage of the operating &/or maintenance costs could be a deal breaker! Instead, Missoula County Commissioners have unanimously approved designating Missoula County an Economic Recovery Zone to enable private entities, the County, City, and other local governments to access federally subsidized financing. Apparently, the county is going to borrow $8 million dollars and give it to the City to build the structure. And, at the same time the Missoula Downtown Association wants to raise the downtown parking fines. Yep, we’ll be paying four times over for the privilege to park on our downtown streets.

Which begs the question – why do we pay for and build parking for some people in some locations, but not others? Oh, I know: economic development! Sadly, that word is rapidly becoming code – for subsidizing my business at your expense.

Hoteliers want higher taxes

Last night at the Missoula City Council meeting, while we were all waiting for the vote on the zoning update, we were treated to a dog & pony show put on by one of Montana’s biggest economic interest groups. The mainly-government-funded Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), along with a number of hoteliers in town, trotted out their presentation for a Tourism Business Improvement District (Tourism BID). Some would call this a fee, others would say it is corporate welfare, while yet others would it a subsidy. Me? I name it a tax increase.

In a nutshell, every person who stays in a hotel within the City limits would be charged 75c per room per night. That money is then assessed on the Property Tax bill, collected by the City Treasurer, and handed over to the CVB to spend. How the Tourism BID monies are spent is then decided by a Board of 5-7 hoteliers who are appointed by the Mayor (although board members can only be hoteliers).

Unfortunately, this is not a local idea. Not only are we supposedly playing catch up to other tourism markets (Billings, Spokane, etc.), but CVB’s all around the country are pushing this approach. (In fact, the presentation given to City Council last night was based on a state-wide template: How to Lobby for a TBID.) It is sort of like an arms race – because the other guys are doing it, so must we. And according to State law, the local CVB must be the Tourism BID manager. So, it is no surprise that Barbara Neilan, Sage Grendahl, and an assortment of CVB board members (past and present) all urged council to support the idea! Beneficiaries of other Missoula BID’s, such as the Missoula Downtown Association, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, and the like, also came out in support of the model.

I’ve never quite understood why city council has to get involved. If it is such a good idea for development of the tourism industry, then I’m surprised that the tourism businesses don’t get together and form a Tourism Chamber of Commerce, levy a fee on themselves, and go right ahead and market away. Instead, the city has to get involved and force every hotel guest to cough up the dough.

So, what is the money going to be spent on? According to a Missoula CVB brochure, about a quarter of the money will be spent on adding new staff to the CVB with the majority of the rest going towards assorted marketing costs (branding, research, branding, web site optimization (!), and trade shows).

Listening in last night, however, it seems a major concern is the underwriting and sponsorship of events. Maybe they’re talking about events at the MEC (Missoula Events Center), but since that hasn’t yet been built, let alone approved and funded, I guess they can’t say that. Instead, it seemed to boil down to paying organizations to bring sporting events (mainly state high school championships) to Missoula. I wonder if they’ll also be giving money directly to the Women of Faith conference, the NRA regional gun-show, or a gathering, as well?

Nary a whisper last night of who is going to pay for the infrastructure necessitated by all these tourists in our town. If there’s a whole bunch more people driving around town, we’ll need to pave, repair, and plow our streets a bunch more. If all those tourists are downtown eating and drinking their hearts out, then I suppose we might need a few more police to keep an eye on them. And with all those wallets just bursting at the seams with money to spend in the oh-so-cute downtown boutiques, I suspect we’ll see more panhandlers that might then need accommodating for the night. Who is going to pay for all those city services, then? Us, of course.

And that’s the rub. Instead of this tax going into the general city coffers to be divided up as our elected officials see fit, you and I will have no say or influence in how the CVB spends the Tourism BID revenues. As one speaker mentioned last night, how do we know the CVB is the best qualified group to manage and disperse the funds? According to some hoteliers I’ve chatted with, there is no way they would support the Tourism BID if the city council, or even Missoula City, had any control over the Tourism BID funds. They point to what happened to the Statewide Tourism Bed Tax once the state legislature got a hold of it. (Err, instead of it all being spent on tourism advertising, it was also spent on the assets of the state – state parks, historic preservation, historical society, and the Lewis & Clark Bicentennary, etc.)

However, I can perfectly understand why some of the bigger hoteliers like the idea of a Tourism BID. It is a tax that someone else pays (the hotel guest), that someone else enforces (the city), and that they (the industry) gets to spend. Wouldn’t want to trust the voters or their elected officials to do what’s right, would we? I think we could call it taxation without representation.

Granny flats for all!

Ryan Morton, candidate for Ward 1, would have liked the recent Missoula zoning update to have included, “the option for ADUs in all districts“. If elected, Morton would, “probably bring [granny suites] back up and start addressing through performance standards the issues people are concerned about“.

Well, I am honored that Ryan reads and comments on this blog. And, since I am not all that enthused about ADUs, perhaps I can give Morton some pointers on these Accessory Dwelling Units, or ‘granny flats’.

While I suspect many people are worried about density, I don’t see it as the main issue. I think we can deal with density through the usual zoning tools – side setbacks, for instance, can ensure that separate houses don’t get packed too closely together. That makes sense, particularly if seen through the health and safety lens of allowing free flow of air, stopping fires from spreading too easily from house to house, and giving some semblance of quiet enjoyment of your property. If the City wants greater density (and hence affordable housing?), then perhaps we could encourage the granny suites to be built on top of existing, street-facing homes. In many of the new zones, I understand it will be possible to soon build three floors and a basement. Surely, that’s enough room for someone’s sweet grandma?

No, I think the issue with alley homes (a much fairer term than granny flats or mother-in-law suites, because in the vast majority of cases I suspect we will see renters living in these homes and not members of the soon-to-be-deceased family) is the alley. And alleys mean vehicles. Thus, alley homes means an intersection of homes and vehicles.

What are the problems with more vehicles coming and going along alleys? Firstly, and most obviously, alleys were not designed for that much traffic. In my neighborhood, there are any manner of compost bins, covered boats and trailers, cars in various states of repair, and building equipment that sits out in the alley. That’s where we can access our property and so it is the easiest place to unattach or dump our mobile possessions.

That creates a problem. If the best way for our trash collectors, our fire fighters, and the utility company technicians to access our properties is down the alleys, then we’re going to have to ensure the new alley homes don’t park their vehicles there as well. That means building parking on-site, accessible from the alley. With the design of many of the garages-to-be-converted-into-alley homes today, that could be a problem.

Then there’s all the extra traffic. A not uncommon feature of alley homes is that the only access is via the alley. I know that many of them are not supposed to do this and that there is supposed to be access from the street, but a sudden desire for privacy leads property owners to fence off the front house from the back. That means that not only must the fire brigade, police and ambulance access the alley house from the back, so too must the residents.

With all the extra cars zooming up and down the alley, will we need to make sure all the alleys are paved? Probably, if only to alleviate the dust and the noise from all the extra vehicles. In my neighborhood, the kids like to play in the alley – particularly since some of the backyard lawns go right up to the alley without a fence. We’ll need to do something about the speed with which the tenants drive up and down the alley, maybe traffic calming speed bumps. We’ll need to plow the alleys, which probably means narrower plows than the City currently owns. And we’ll probably need to put in a bevy of stop signs to encourage people to slow down as they reach the end of the alley and not run right into the pedestrians walking along the sidewalks.

Sound too expensive and not very effective? I think so. Alley homes just aren’t very safe.