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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hello, City of Salem! Walkable Neighborhoods Increases Home Values

Abandoned Gabled HouseYou can find old houses that were once beautiful throughout poorer sections of Salem, nearly always abutting high speed roads that have destroyed the homes along the streets that ferry the well-to-do to their neighborhoods across town. Image by McMorr via Flickr

And that increases property tax revenues. This isn't hard, people -- the value of homes are inversely proportional to the average speeds on the streets they front.

Most of what city officials do these days in the name of "planning" consists of figuring out ways to cater to the automobiles of people in well-off neighborhoods at the expense of people in less-well-off neighborhoods, imposing "mobility standards" that essentially offer up the neighborhoods of the poor and minority areas as high-speed sacrifice zones for the richer people to drive through (with monstrous "improvements" naturally slated for these areas, where the people are too poor to fight back).

Look at any decrepit section of a residential area where there are once-beautiful homes oddly close to the roads -- you will find that these were once grand homes but, when the road got wider, they became rentals and then meth dens and now sit as reproachful monuments to our "Auto Uber Alles" idea of city planning.

Shameful. And stupid.

UPDATE: Hat tip to RR for this:
"UGB expansions involve big stakes. Expansions can cost taxpayers hundreds of millions in new infrastructure and services, reduce quality of life, damage natural areas and increase global warming. But developers and land speculators can cash in on a sometimes 10-fold increase in land values." --- John Platt, Helvetia Winery

From Planning for Sprawl: Staff study betrays bias for unbridled development, by Alan Pittman Eugene Weekly.

Imagine Minto's Ag Acreage as the Super Farm-to-School Lunch Site

Fresh vegetables are common in a healthy diet.This is the kind of food kids need, and that kids love if they get to help grow it. Image via Wikipedia

There's widespread recognition that the school lunch program reflects the worst of our country's agricultural policies, which are firmly in control of Big Agribusiness and operate to the detriment of all eaters, especially the most vulnerable ones, children. Schools are used as a dumping ground for surplus goods more than as a place where children might learn healthy eating habits.

Lost in the rush to grab a tiny few stimulus dollars under an "emergency flood control" easement by locking away 200 acres of rich, prime farmland in Minto Brown Island Park is any effort to see the possibilities for addressing numerous social ills by keeping the land as agricultural land. Not least among these is the chance to convert that acreage into community gardens and even into a unique opportunity to promote better nutrition in schoolchildren by giving over as much acreage as needed to growing food for school breakfast/lunch programs year-round (especially in summer when many poor children suffer a huge drop in nutrition).

The ag land on Minto can become the centerpiece of a revitalized curriculum that teaches kids (and the adults who care for them) not only about the benefits of good food but also how to grow that food in a way that preserves and protects the environment, while building up kids' sense of themselves as people who have a purpose and who contribute to the wellbeing of their families. The loss of useful chores -- tending the kitchen gardens, caring for hens -- is one of the saddest things about childhood today, where children are trapped in an auto-dominated world that imprisons them in their cul-de-sacs with nothing useful to do. Sure, there's make work chores, but they don't build a sense of agency and responsibility the way meaningful contributions do.

UPDATE: A must-read book is available from the Salem Public Library and our local booksellers: "This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader" by Joan Dye Gussow. (Chelsea Green Press). This is outstanding, wily writing, with lots of tempting recipes, leading the reader gently, painlessly, but inexorably into thinking deeply about food and where it is grown and the costs of our obliviousness to those things. Blurb by Barbara Kingsolver, whom many consider a Goddess of Food Writing:
The most important book I've read in a long while. Full of hope, kindness, and arresting wisdom, it iwill serve as a valuable guide to anyone who wants to live more thoughtfully on the only planet that feeds us.
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Bad Precedent Rising: Still time to speak out

Copy of Survey that certifies the town of Beav...This is an old Oregon plat map. One of the very first and most important acts of government in North America has been platting land and defending those boundaries. Image by Beaverton Historical Society via Flickr

Sometimes it seems that there's simply no idea so bad that some body of elected officials won't embrace it heartily, despite its gross defects.

Take rewarding people who poach public park land, for instance. One of the first and oldest principles in law is that you cannot obtain title to government land by adverse possession. This reflects a deep and historically unbroken recognition that public land is a special form of public trust. That is, it's not just that the land is valuable, the way cash is valuable. It's more that public lands are irreplaceable, and public officials are simply trustees for that land for the rest of us, caretakers in other words; it is not theirs to give away to their friends, campaign contributors, or even sympathetic but careless homeowners who encroach on it.

The Marion County Commissioners appear determined to make the worst caricatures of politicians come to life as they, against all reason and advice, try to create a terrible precedent by giving away something that is not theirs to give, stealing it from the rest of us and violating their oaths of office to do so:
Problems arise when squatters claim public land. Squatting is like stealing because it is taking possession of something that doesn’t belong to you.

In spite of that basic truth, Marion County Commissioners are considering giving public land to property owners who have no claim to it.

The hearing on this case is called: PLA/FP/Greenway Case No. 09-017

And it is taking place Wednesday, August 19 (tomorrow), at 4PM, at the County Building; 555 Court Street, Main Floor.

Here’s the background:

Property owners bought property next to Spong’s Landing (a county park) and fenced off some of the park land.

In May 2008, Marion County Public Works wrote to the property owners ordering them to remove the sections of their fence that enclosed a part the park. The property owners appealed and asked the County to give them title to the enclosed park land.

This required a hearing where NO ONE testified in favor of yielding the park land. In spite of the public outcry, the commissioners voted to sell the land to the property owners for $5000.

Concerned citizens put up the money and filed an appeal with the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). LUBA agreed with the citizens and told the commissioners to find another solution.

Now the commissioners are simply redrawing the Spong’s Landing property line and giving the park land to the property owners.

Giving park land away like this is extremely unusual. There are no provisions for it in the Comprehensive Plan and the Marion County Parks Commission objects to it. It doesn’t serve the public interest, and it ignores the unanimous will of the people.

The Commissioners could have followed the rules and supported staff’s legal notice ordering the property owners to vacate the park land. Instead they have let the matter drag on for several months and consume thousands of dollars of public funds.

The Commissioners should stick to the rules.

Please attend or testify that the property line adjustment be DENIED.

Testifying is one way you can claim standing if there needs to be another appeal.

For more information contact: Aileen Kaye, 503-743-4567
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