Tuesday, February 14, 2006

V-Day Round Up...

I only have time for a few quick hits today…

First, this is pathetic: 

The millions of dollars spent to move the weekend's record snowfall pushed several area government storm budgets into the red, but Sunday's snow had its benefits.


A weekend storm is wholly positive in terms of clearing it, but it's absolutely more expensive because it's all overtime," said State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck.

The state spent $8 million to $10 million on the storm, Buck said, enough to put Maryland's $21 million annual snow-clearing budget well into the red. Buck said the state had spent its full storm budget before this latest snow, largely on snowfalls in Western Maryland.

"We had 25 storms in Western Maryland, with 90 inches of snow," he said.

The fiscal story was similar for local governments, though elected officials are often less worried about the money than about public safety and not annoying voters in an election year.

…Governments often deliberately underfund storm accounts, knowing that surplus money can be added later if needed.

Howard County budgeted $500,000 for winter storms and was $200,000 in the hole before the latest storm hit. Weekend snow clearance will cost about $200,000 more, said James M. Irvin, the county's public works chief.
What is gained by intentionally underestimating the budgetary impact of snow removal? It is one thing to conservatively estimate the cost of this essential government function. But the fact that our plowing budget was already busted before this most recent storm hit is absurd. Before Saturday, we had two minor snowstorms that required almost no plowing. How can you run out of money dealing with those two minor inconveniences?

Look, I know there is still money available to pay the plow drivers - who, by the way, did an excellent job over the weekend - but why do we have to try and hide the real costs of snow removal in our budgets? It just seems silly and makes our government look stupid to boot.

Today’s second item comes to us from Howard County Blog #2 (henceforth, HCB2), where concerns over parking in Town Center were discussed recently.
Will they build enough parking garage spaces to replace the existing parking and handle the increase in cars resulting from the new buildings? The parking plan for the recently approved 22 story building raises grave concerns that enough parking will be built. The 22 story building will only have 1.5 parking spaces per residential unit and about have of these spaces will be tandem parking spaces where cars park behind each other blocking each other in.
Actually, the approved plan for the Plaza calls for 288 parking spaces, or 1.8 per residence, 40 more than HCB2 alludes to. I know it sounds like I’m nitpicking, but I have real concerns about such factual carelessness. Between ideologues, demagogues, developers, and a questionable Planning Department, we have enough misinformation running through our community. If HCB2 really wants to be a community resource on the Charrette and Town Center Master Plan, propagating inaccurate information for the sake of advocacy isn’t going to help. But, to each his own, I guess.

Back to the post…
If the county is approving parking plans like this one for the 22 story building it significantly undermines trust that they will make sure the rest of the plan will have enough parking. And even if they build enough garage spaces will the garages be paid parking? And if the parking around the mall is paid won’t people go shop at Arundel Mills instead? And if people shop at Arundel Mills instead what will that do to the economic vitality of downtown Columbia?

I’d like to propose that we forget about the Plaza entirely. The building, its plans, and its approval represent the final development in the old paradigm - the pre-Charrette Town Center. The Planning Board approved the plans for this monstrosity based on zoning that, in a few months, will be outdated and on an approval system that, hopefully in a few more months, will also fall by the wayside. It was unfortunate that the Plaza wasn’t a part of the Charrette and that it may not be aligned with some people’s vision for Columbia, but it’s done and we won’t ever have to deal with a situation like it again, meaning many of the fears over parking may be unfounded.

Even with a new plan and hopefully a new development process, citizens must remain engaged. We have to first ensure the new zoning requires an appropriate level of parking, and as the plan becomes reality, it’s also our job to ensure that the guidelines are followed, that there is sufficient parking. We don’t have to trust them; we only have to trust ourselves to keep an eye on this stuff.

As for fears over paid parking, that’s something that will never keep me awake at night. If we build a Town Center that people really want to come to, they’ll pay to park here (I should note that I think paid parking is many, many decades away, and even then, not likely, especially considering General Growth’s interest in keeping mall shoppers happy). And, regardless of the parking situation, I don’t think you can compare downtown Columbia with Arundel Mills in any reasonable sense; that is, I don’t think shoppers would really engage in that much substitution for one over the other.

Arundel Mills is lame and everyone knows it. Parking is always a nightmare, it’s more crowded than Kings Dominion, and the stores aren’t necessarily the types of establishments frequented by affluent Howard Countians. On top of all that, there is that farce of a restaurant Medieval Times.

The third item for today deals with how much I’ve grown to dislike The Sun over the last few hours. Here’s my message to the editors:
Dear Sun Editors,

I usually check your website during my lunch hour to catch up on what has happened since my morning perusal of your pages. However, not having learned my lesson yesterday, I clicked onto your site today and found that which annoyed me greatly only 24 hours ago - namely, the results of various, yet-to-be-aired Olympic events. You see, I watch sports mainly for the suspense and unpredictability of human competition, and the Olympics are no different, even though I cannot watch them “live.” Your glaring midday headlines, however, ruin the experience for me entirely. I would recommend that instead of publishing the results in 42-point font on your main page, you place a prominent link to the results with a “spoiler alert” displayed alongside. This way you could still convey the news for those who are impatient without destroying the once-every-four-years suspense that the rest of us enjoy.

Until you see fit to comply with my request, I will not speak favorably of your publication on my weblog.

Thank you,


The Baltimore Sun is not a very good newspaper.

(Just letting them know I’m serious.)


brekfest said...

its not just the Sun.....

I think i was wrong sunday night when i told you i heard the results to mens halfpipe on WTOP. I think it must have been NPR because monday morning they broadcast results to the womens half pipe which was to air on NBC that night.

msnbc.com also spoiled those halfpipe results for me.

Go there now, they'll tell you on the front page of their Olympics section how Jeremy Bloom faired in the moguls.

This is a widespread problem. Its really terrible. Results are all over the internet and radio - given without any warning. Even NBC is doing it!!

Hayduke said...

I know The Sun isn't the only one guilty of spoiling the fun for everyone, but since it's the only paper I read during lunch, it was an easy target.

And, no, I'm not letting them off the hook