Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

A parable explaining how to think about budget shortfalls

Some years ago a group of pioneers arrived from various directions, and decided to settle some miles North of here. By chance, the group had a great variety of gifts. Some were teachers, some were builders, some farmers, and some healers. Consequently the children could all read, ate well, and slept in warm beds with beautiful woven blankets. The elders said, when the village was new, they must attend to the most important things first – having food and shelter enough for the winter. Being so industrious, they soon accomplished the basic needs of life, and turned to higher forms of employment such as tending to rows of flowers along the public promenade, and building a theater. For these pursuits, each family contributed according to a wonderful formula devised by the village economist. And as it happens in other villages, their society became gradually more complex and specialized, and most people turned to the more advanced trades such as acting, finance, and law. Late in his life, after working for years in his home, the village economist completed a study of the conditions of the time, emerged, walked into the common house, and heaved onto the great table two great volumes of his work. These were the two remaining options, he said. At that time neither the public officers nor their staff took notice, as they were in full time meetings concerning the village budget. It had been determined that there was a growing backlog of needs, and not nearly enough revenue to cover those needs. At each meeting, the villagers thought of more needs that they wished to have provided, and these were added to a great list. When it was finally decided to consult the economist’s work, he had already died, and his chart of annual economic indicators along with the rest of his life’s work was no longer legible because it had been buried in snow that came in through a hole in the rotting roof of the common house. All that was known about the two remaining options was that one option was to reduce public services, which was impossible because so many people were not working and depended on them. The other option was for each working family to contribute more, and that was also impossible because they were already working long hours at cross purposes, and didn’t have enough extra to give. With no other options, the villagers sat on old crates and watched each other die one by one, either by starvation or disease, while their houses rotted and the fields went to weeds. There was nothing else they could do: the economy had ruined their good fortune.

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Three simple steps to fix government with frameworks

Most legislation should be done as frameworks rather than specifics. Examples of framework legislation include the ADA, the NEPA, and the various -TEA transportation bills. In those cases, Congress sets forth goals and procedures, not specific allocations. In many cases, compliance is local, and can be court-reviewed.

Nearly everything complex – financial, environmental, health, and so on – can be developed into a framework. The framework has goals (health, climate stabilization, peace, etc) and allows for numerous alternatives to be proposed, a procedure for evaluating alternatives against the goals, and finally (in some cases) further legislative action to choose the alternatives to fund after the executive has done all the detail work.

The requirement to approach lawmaking as frameworks can be codified as law and should itself be open to court review. Several other aspects would need to be worked out to make it solid, such as elimination of riders.

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1. Executive power is too strong, and leads to abuses.

2. Government by nature is not creative. The legislative branch by nature lacks visionary coherence. This proposal works around that natural limitation, by preventing the consideration of an idea in isolation. It forces the question of “why” we want to do X, and what other ways are available to do it, and why would be choose one way vs. another way. That is the essence of creativity as it works in the private sector.

3. Making the last step (selection of an alternative) legislative ensures that the power remains distributed democratically.

4. Major public decisions should be determined by the legislative branch, not by “public participation” in the executive. The idea of “public involvement / participation” is anti-democratic in the sense that government should be by the people 100% through representation, not a thing that people can be partly involved with. When we beg only for participation, we’ve given up ownership and democracy is lost.

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Proposed long range transit planning bill

 

This draft bill would mandate a long range transit plan in a goal-oriented way, as laid out in www.abqtransp.org.

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Whereas

  • The threat of global climate changes requires a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector,
  • Higher transit ridership is generally correlated with lower greenhouse gas emissions,
  • Higher transit ridership is generally correlated with saving lives,
  • Higher transit ridership is consistent with the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Comprehensive Plan,
  • Some transit system concepts are more effective than others in their contribution to City goals,
  • Past City policies have led to a transit system with lower ridership than other cities of comparable size,
  • The local transportation system is largely controlled by the policies of the City of Albuquerque,
  • An opportunity exists for the City to advance its transit system to help meet City goals including climate change goals.

Therefore

The Albuquerque transit department shall develop a long range transit plan. The planning process shall have four stages.

The first stage shall be the development of goals. The department shall choose between two and eight goals from among those published by the Indicators Progress Commission, and must include among those the goal of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. Each of the goals shall be reducible to measurement or projection based on evidence. The City Council shall approve the statement of goals before proceeding to the second phase.

The second phase shall be the identification of alternatives. The department may develop alternatives internally, shall also accept alternatives from any City resident, and shall make known the opportunity to submit alternatives. The period of accepting alternatives shall be nine months. In order to be considered, alternatives must include the specific services offered, specific routes, fares, size and type of vehicles, operating hours, and any changes made to fixed infrastructure. The department may only reject alternatives based on incompleteness, but not for other reasons. In particular, the alternatives (1) need not be limited to buses, (2) need not be cost-constrained, (3) may include policies and expenses that are not normally defined as transit services, such as demand reduction or development strategies. The department shall summarize the submitted alternatives in a public City Council meeting before proceeding to the third phase.

The third phase shall be the projection of cost, revenue, ridership, and benefits of each of the alternatives. The costs shall be presented as an estimated range of capital costs plus thirty times the current-year annual operating cost. The revenue shall be presented as thirty times the annual revenue. The ridership shall be projected using a mode-split analysis that assumes current-year travel demand and current road conditions, and is based on end-to-end travel time and other disutilities of transportation. The benefits shall be stated as the numerical extent to which each of the alternatives meets each of the goals identified in the first phase. The projections may assume that the alternative system is fully built in the current year. The department shall present the projections in a public City Council meeting before proceeding to the fourth phase.

The fourth phase shall be the selection of alternatives for further study and development. The department shall hold public meetings, then recommend one alternative, a combination of alternatives, or no action. The selection shall be based on a combination of the factors: (1) cost and benefits identified in the third phase, (2) risk, (3) public input. The recommendations, justification, and summary of public meetings shall be presented to City Council.

All work, alternatives, recommendations, and analysis shall be available to the public throughout the planning process. The requirement to provide transit service to within any minimum distance from any household is no longer in effect.

 

Whereas The threat of global climate changes requires a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, Higher transit ridership is generally correlated with lower greenhouse gas emissions, Higher transit ridership is generally correlated with saving lives, Higher transit ridership is consistent with the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Comprehensive Plan, Some transit system concepts are more effective than others in their contribution to City goals, Past City policies have led to a transit system with lower ridership than other cities of comparable size, The local transportation system is largely controlled by the policies of the City of Albuquerque, An opportunity exists for the City to advance its transit system to help meet City goals including climate change goals. Therefore The Albuquerque transit department shall develop a long range transit plan. The planning process shall have four stages. The first stage shall be the development of goals. The department shall choose between two and eight goals from among those published by the Indicators Progress Commission, and must include among those the goal of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. Each of the goals shall be reducible to measurement or projection based on evidence. The City Council shall approve the statement of goals before proceeding to the second phase. The second phase shall be the identification of alternatives. The department may develop alternatives internally, shall also accept alternatives from any City resident, and shall make known the opportunity to submit alternatives. The period of accepting alternatives shall be nine months. In order to be considered, alternatives must include the specific services offered, specific routes, fares, size and type of vehicles, operating hours, and any changes made to fixed infrastructure. The department may only reject alternatives based on incompleteness, but not for other reasons. In particular, the alternatives (1) need not be limited to buses, (2) need not be cost-constrained, (3) may include policies and expenses that are not normally defined as transit services, such as demand reduction or development strategies. The department shall summarize the submitted alternatives in a public City Council meeting before proceeding to the third phase. The third phase shall be the projection of cost, revenue, ridership, and benefits of each of the alternatives. The costs shall be presented as an estimated range of capital costs plus thirty times the current-year annual operating cost. The revenue shall be presented as thirty times the annual revenue. The ridership shall be projected using a mode-split analysis that assumes current-year travel demand and current road conditions, and is based on end-to-end travel time and other disutilities of transportation. The benefits shall be stated as the numerical extent to which each of the alternatives meets each of the goals identified in the first phase. The projections may assume that the alternative system is fully built in the current year. The department shall present the projections in a public City Council meeting before proceeding to the fourth phase. The fourth phase shall be the selection of alternatives for further study and development. The department shall hold public meetings, then recommend one alternative, a combination of alternatives, or no action. The selection shall be based on a combination of the factors: (1) cost and benefits identified in the third phase, (2) risk, (3) public input. The recommendations, justification, and summary of public meetings shall be presented to City Council. All work, alternatives, recommendations, and analysis shall be available to the public throughout the planning process. The requirement to provide transit service to within any minimum distance from any household is no longer in effect.

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Form Based Codes Proposal

Comments from Ian on Form Based Codes draft 9/12/07

Albuquerque form-based codes are here:
http://www.cabq.gov/council/completed-reports-and-studies/form-based-code

The following comments lay out an urban land use policy that is cheap, sensible, and constitutional. Read the rest of this entry »

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A democratic approach to regional transportation planning

This post is actually a 60 page report and its own web site… www.abqtransp.org.

The very short description of it is: I developed a planning framework that involves four steps: goal setting, alternatives, evaluation of the alternatives against the goals, and decision making. I spell out each step and explain how it can be done in a transparent democratic process. A companion report actually runs through the process using 3 sample regional transit plans, and shows the ridership modeling, cost modeling, and projections of goals for each.

There is also an on-line transit mode-split model with lots of links and explanations of how to estimate mode split.

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Depleted Uranium Fact Sheet

What is depleted uranium? Depleted uranium (DU) contains 99% U-238. It is the remainder after natural uranium has been processed to remove U-235, which is the material useful for nuclear reactor fuel and nuclear weapons. (It has been “depleted” of U-235.) DU is 60% as radioactive as natural uranium, with a half-life of 4.5 billion years.1

Read the rest of this entry »

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Bubble-up democracy: a proposal for a third branch of government

The proposal is to set up a metro area-wide bubble-up public leadership process using existing social structures such as neighborhood associations, with the eventual goal that the process is handed over to government, and that the planning documents written by the public through the process get legal status as official ruling documents. Please refer to the article “Good Government” for the theoretical vision towards which this proposal aims. Read the rest of this entry »

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Good government: jurisdictional simplifications

A good government can be identified by two words: “efficient democracy.” To this end, there are three main points in my program for correcting the government:

  • simplify jurisdictions, taxes, and other procedures
  • don’t institutionalize; retire programs and departments when their function is no longer needed
  • put the public in charge through a bubble-up grassroots leadership process, which builds an ethical vision of the vast majority Read the rest of this entry »
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How to make a nice urban form: noise and environmental zoning to replace use zoning

This paper presents a proposal for zoning that protects people and the environment without listing the allowed uses of properties.

Nice Urban Form (PDF)

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