Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fries with that?

I left the last Council meeting with a strange feeling. The discussion on the garage sale ordinance and garage sales in general made me think that I had wandered into a board meeting of McDonalds. It made me think they were trying to create the next happy meal.

There are a number of issues associated with garage sales. Parking, trash, outside storage, safety, etc.. The vast majority of these are already addressed by ordinances dealing with traffic, parking, public nuisances, signs, and the health code. Granted, these ordinances are often ineffective. They don't help with the problems created by garage sales. Of course, they also don't help with a rowdy super bowl party or family barbeque. They won't help when smoke easys start cropping up after the smoke ban goes into effect. They don't really help if you neighbor is just a slob, garage sales or not.

So why did I think happy meal? A happy meal is a standardized, commoditized, lowest common denominator set of products combined around fad based marketing. They're probably okay for an occasional meal when out shopping with the parents, but not close to balanced nutrition. It's a one size fits all solution that can pass for a meal targeted at kids and their parents.

The garage sale discussion seemed headed for a happy meal solution. A one size fits all solution to the fad issue of the day targeted against a specific group. The basic ordinances that address the real issues were talked about because they failed. On problem after problem, whether it was parking in alleys, outside storage of items, trash, etc. the refrain was that the current ordinances took too long or were ineffective. The gentle push was for a garage sale ordinance that limited the number and addressed again what the other ordinances already couldn't handle. We could easily end up with a happy meal of an ordinance. One that's not very nutritious, one size fits all, and driven mostly by the current fad issue.

Let's fix the problems with the current ordinances that don't work. I don't want to hear the council asking if we want fries with the next ordinance.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year's Message

The Standard-Times poll for New Year's day asks whether 2011 will be better or worse. Among the omens and portents, gold closed the year over $1,400 and silver cracked $30. Same time, Germany is making rude noises about bailing out of the Euro. Merkel is hanging on by the fingernails and the productive populace of Germany is disgusted with picking up the tab for the profligate Greeks and Irishmen not to mention the Spanish and Portugese whose cards are maxed out and their bartab is soon coming due.

San Angelo is actually in relatively good shape, but we cannot insulate ourselves from a world full of foolishness. Canned goods friends, canned goods and commodities, just in case. Even in good times I advise having at least 30 days of food/water stocked; pretend that for some reason you cannot leave your house for a month.

I am not "into" buying every harbinger of doom. Remember when first bird flu, then swine flu was going to mutate and result in a pandemic eclipsing the Spanish flu of WWI? Perhaps you recall the massive eruption of an unpronouncable volcano in Iceland, all of Europe trembled in fear of nuclear winter. Turned out the bigger, if less photogenic problem was honest Icelandic fishermen trying to become international bankers. Ponzi would be proud, Bernie Madoff would be embarrassed, and if I had that kind of money, I would "short" the Euro this year.

Another note; from the west coast, across the northern Plains states, to the American northeast and on to most of Europe, hundreds of thousands of air travelers spent the holiday week camped out in airport terminals. Algore will have to further increase his "carbon footprint" flying about in his private Gulfstream to remind us of the eminent demise of Western Civilization due to global warming. Again with an old saying "Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get". Hope you checked your antifreeze, Mon. morn is supposed to be 23 degrees.

Enough of the fun part, back to local matters. It looks as though we will continue with Harold Dominguez as City Manager. I wish Harold the best, would offer my congrats if he does get a better paying job, but my opinion, we are lucky to have him. God knows we've had worse.

Last year was an anomaly. Revenues were down, Council and staff waded deep into the weeds making up a $2 million+ shortfall without curtailing essential services. Angelo did better than a lot of Texas cities, BUT... Something I hope we don't see again is the shortcuts on the budget process.

A legacy of the Mayor Lown era, an item Conchoinfo is proud to have had our small part in, was Sec. 59A of City Charter. It insists that Capital Improvements shall be on the table "no later than 5 months before final date for submission of the budget". Moving that from practise to ordinance to Charter was a real accomplishment. In our past, in some cities to this day, when one reads "Capital Improvements" think "Earmarks". Tennis fans want lighted courts. Rodeo fans wants fairground improvements. As Yul Brynner said in "the King and I", etc. etc. and so forth. Typical year we have Cap Improv projects suggested that exceed the total city budget for about 5 years.

Obviously there has to be a winnowing process. Sec. 59A puts rule of law to the process. Hearings are held, public comment is taken, and the "wish list" is prioritized from "we need this NOW" to "maybe in a couple years" to "well maybe someday if we win the lottery" to fuggedabowtit.

Last year, this got not much better than a kiss and a smile as staff scrambled to make up the deficit without raising taxes. Hard times make for hard choices, I'm not saying we were poorly served, but this time around we have plenty of notice. Let's do it right this year.

I will once again suggest that Council consider setting aside one-eigth cent of our half cent sales tax to a "Street Maintenence" tax. The money could only be used for improvements of existing streets and by Texas Statute, has an automatic 4 year "sunset", voters will get to look at it after 4 years.

If we have this, something over $1 million/year comes out of general budget and money being fungible, could be used for anything the law allows the city to do. For instance, a park to replace Northside Rec.

Speaking of which, a terrible decision. I'm not 100% in favor of the current caliche pit, but before we closed Northside we should have at least budgeted, if not built, its replacement. Now Lakeview has one more reason to believe it is San Angelo's "red-headed stepchild". The only quadrent in town without a real city park.

In my last missive here, I spoke of buying 12 volt air compressors for myself and brother-in-law. Turns out both of us had ocassion to use them them and Stripes' little quarter-suckers were bereft of our pocket change. Also our smokes and beer purchases, lotto tickets and other incidentals, including the $200 or so a week I used to spend on diesel for the work truck.

Prediction time. Council, in my opinion wisely, chose to let the electorate have its way on the smoke ban, with exceptions agreed to by the winners. I opposed it, but I will live with it. By this time next year, Council will move to exempt bars. By then, we will be looking at real world, not pipedreams. The smokefree crowd will not have flooded the smoking bars with new business, especially the small beerjoints. Some bars will be hurting, some out of business, perhaps some moved out of city limits with resulting loss of revenue to the city. With that reality to support such action, Council will exempt bars along with pipe shops and bingo halls. Unfortunately, it will cost a few bar owners and their employees the investments and jobs, but hey; who ever told you life was fair?

All in all, I look to a good New Year. I'm trying not to let the TCU win/over influence that, but overall, San Angelo has the potential to be an island of stability in an unstable world. I am proud to have been born here, happy to live here. Shalom, peace, and a prosperous New Year to all. Keep on truckin' !