Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What IS the "Salem Alternative" anyway?

You've probably heard that the Salem City Council voted unanimously to pour additional millions on the bonfire where over $7 millions have already been incinerated . . .  and yet, thanks to the complete news blackout on anything that citizens could actually use to understand this so-called slapdash smoke-and-mirrors job known as the "Salem Alternative," you may not understand what it is.

(Aside:  At work, I often deal with clients who were ripped off at used car shops.  When I show them how they got screwed by a fast-talking salesman who hid the true price, they invariably say something like "Yeah, I wondered why there was still paint drying on the sides if it hadn't been in any accidents."  The absolutely infallible hallmark of scam is a deal that can't be delayed, no sir! Gotta rush rush rush now now now, this deal is just too good to pass up, no time for looking around, if you don't sign right here right now, why I'll just have to sell this sweet little beauty to someone else!!)

At one level, what the Salem Alternative is, mainly, is marketing BS speak designed to get a route onto the transportation plan so that, later, when the eye-popping price tags comes out of hiding, the string-pullers trying to wire this deal up can say "Hey, it's too late to talk about other options, this is already in the plan.  The only question is who bends over for the beating."

But we need not be so compliant.  Because what "The Salem Alternative" is, also, is a way to understand the priorities of the contractors and consultants who are controlling what the ODOT (formerly known as and forever in spirit the Highway Department) and Willamette Valley Council of Government staff are allowed to produce.

So, from now on, as you go through life in Salem, be sure to notice all the ways in which you are being forced to pay for the things that formerly were birthrights in American cities:

Things like

  • Lighted streets
  • A bus system that wouldn't be a laughing stock in your average third-world country
  • Abundant library hours
  • Round-the-clock fire coverage
  • Sidewalks an elder could use without falling and breaking a hip
  • Parks and recreation programming
  • City pools.
  • Etc. etc.

And whenever you notice that Salem doesn't seem to be able to provide ANY of those things any more, you'll see that there's something seriously f'd up with the Salem Alternative way of doing things.  Indeed, pay close attention and after a while, you'll realize that Salem Alternative, in the big picture level, is this:

Cutting public services and raising taxes on the poor and middle class,  just so we can provide more for the politically wired-in contractors.

You can already see the Salem Alternative thinking at work, not just in the millions poured into the pockets of CH2M-Hill, but at McNary Airport, where we -- meaning the taxpayers -- have spent, I kid you not, millions of dollars to upgrade passenger facilities: for an airport with no scheduled airline service and about as much chance of getting any as we are to host the Winter Olympics. 

If we pay attention and notice what the council is doing, and name it, again and again and again, everyone will notice what the Salem Alternative is -- a way to funnel money from the poor and middle class into the pockets of the sprawl lobby contractors and the engineering/planning consultants.

We've got maybe two years to help people understand what the Salem Alternative is, and how much it hurts us.

Addendum: Just noticed that it was this very Bridgasaurus Boondogglus that gave me the impetus to start blogging, back in early 2008.  I couldn't believe that a city with as little traffic as Salem was proposing to blow hundreds of millions on a gigantic bridge to address a few minutes of congestion that would easily be fixed for $0 by having state government departments divided into thirds and staggering the start times by 20 minutes, so that one-third would start at 7:40, one-third at 8:00, and one-third at 8:20.  But, of course, that wouldn't line the pockets of any engineering contractors or Chamber of Commerce members, so that's out!

Here's what I observed when this began, having just moved to Salem from a city, also a state capital, that was absolutely destroyed by its run-amok highway department:

We must Oregon-ize to put the needs of people before the needs of cars. This requires that we live our environmental values -- that we LOVE (Live Our Values Environmentally) Salem -- by working to stop the Sprawl Machine. 

The Sprawl Machine is a ravenous beast that feeds on green space, close-in neighborhoods, and property taxes and that excretes monstrous, ugly road projects that pollute the air, increase mortality and morbidity, promote climate change, weaken families and neighborhoods, and help weaken the social fabric and civic participation.

The Sprawl Machine works by constantly luring its prey with promises that the problems created by cars can be addressed by doing more of the same -- building more lanes, more bridges, consuming ever more money. In other words, the Sprawl Machine promises that we can keep doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result this time.