Friday, December 01, 2006

Spotlight on Transportation Issues

Notes for the 30 November Work Session of the Ogden City Council

By Curmudgeon

The meeting began at 5:15 P.M. with a presentation by Mr. Doug Hattery, Deputy Director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council. He had been invited specifically to discuss the pending revision of the WFRC long range transit study, and the three possible new transit route plans, two of which include a route between the Intermodal Hub in downtown Ogden and Weber State University as a designated transit corridor [meaning, Mr. Hattery explained, a corridor with sufficient potential as a transit route that a major investment of funds to improve it would be justified] and one of which does not. Mr. Hattery and Mr. Gregg Scott [also of the WFRC] both told the council that in their view, based on the feasibility studies that had been done by the WRFC, that the downtown to WSU corridor made “the most sense in terms of transit” and should remain in the new Long Range Transit Plan as a designated transit corridor. Mr. Hattery was asked specifically about Mayor Godfrey’s suggestion that if a gondola went in, privately funded, over the same route, transit funds would be “freed up” to be used on projects elsewhere in the County, such for example as a trolley line along Washington Ave. to Riverdale. And so it might be wise, in anticipation of the gondola, to remove the downtown Ogden to WSU corrider from the WFRC long range transit plan. Mr. Hattery replied that in his view, the Long Range Transit Plan should continue to list the downtown to WSU route as a priority transit corridor. If non-public funded gondola is built along that route, all well and good. But [in response to questions from several members], if no privately funded gondola is built, and if the downtown to WSU route is not included in the Long Range Transit Plan, then the city would have to wait some years, for the next revision of the plan [it is revised at four year intervals] before a street car or BRT [bus rapid transit] line over that route would be eligible for federal funds, since a project “must be in our long range transit plan to be eligible for federal funds.”

Don't miss the rest of Curmudgeon's article, which also discusses one of our favorite topics -- what else(?) -- GONDOLAS. Read Curmudgeon's full report here.

We thank gentle reader and regular contributor Curmudgeon for providing this detailed and top-flight narrative; and hereby open the floor for reader comments.

30 comments:

dian said...

Curmudgeon,

Great job! Thank you for attending and writing that report.

I am confused, however, on a couple of issues. I have heard several times that no federal money will be put toward a gondola because gondolas cannot be proven to be a viable means of mass transit.

If indeed this is the case, why then have we heard that the Mayor has put us in a position of either/or? As in either the gondola or the streetcar as a route to WSU?

Why don't we just go ahead and start the federal funding application process for a streetcar anyway? Whatever could be wrong with this, especially if the process takes a decade? That way, once TRAX is in and the federal funds are freed up, we'll be right where we need to be. I assume we could always withdraw from it if we felt we should, which does not seem likely.

Second question: What do streetcars do that buses can't do? (Just asking--I like streetcars, myself.) It seems to me that we could, (and from your report shall probably have to,) get along with buses for quite some time on that corridor. Perhaps we could install some sheltered stops along the routes--I would think that might increase ridership should we feel we need to do that because of congestion.

I was very happy to read these things:

The Council had declined Mayor Godfrey’s invitation to go along on his gondola tour to Telluride...Mr. Safsten said “I am not interested in a trip to gondolas until we actually get a proposal. If a proposal is much more delayed, a trip right now might not be particularly valuable.”

and:

Mrs. Jeske objected that “I don’t want to spend any more money on this until we have a proposal. Mrs. Van Hooser said “I agree.” There seemed to be general consensus on the point.

Thank heavens for that. Although this was a Work Session and not on the official record, perhaps these sentiments will find their way officially into the official record in the near future.

It's good to know where we are on this. Also, your comment that the Council is genuinely interested in dialogue with the community is something I agree with and have remarked upon from time to time. Even if one disagrees with their decisions sometimes, it cannot be denied that they are a dedicated and conscientious group of people.

Curmudgeon said...

On the what can trolleys do that busses cannot: Mr. Scott I believe pointed out that people seem to prefer rail transit. That more of them will ride that, if available, over a particular route than will ride buses over the same route.

As for doing BRT first, rail later: that was brought up, but it was also pointed out that that inevitably costs more in the long run since you have to tear out at least some infrastructure you put in for say BRT [though not a great deal] to better accommodate rail. That the least expensive way to design and build was to design and build for the final system you intended to install right from the start. Though some cities have begun with bus or BRT and are now shifting to rail. "Phasing in" from BRT to rail can be done, but it is more expensive the WFRC representatives said.

conservative said...

The UTA has just spent $9 million on new buses and will be spending another $9 million after the first of the year so why don't we forget spending any money for streetcars when these buses are state of the art and will last a very long time.

We need a lot more items than streetcars.

We also need to pay off some debt.

TT said...

Streetcars and BRT are preferred to busses because they employ dedicated stops, travel on a graded driveway or rail, thus they are smoother and quieter. Busses must pull to the curb causing them to rock and sway and spew diesel as they accelerate. The reason BRT can be used as transition to Streetcar is that they use a similar overhead power cable and both require a continuously graded bed. Converting to Streetcar from BRT can be done by tearing up the relatively inexpensive concrete driveway used by BRT and replacing with rail. The engineering, grading and compaction has been done so the cost of the retrofit does not waste much. This staged approach allows ridership to develop before deploying the streetcar. BRT is interesting as a end solution anyway. The only characteristic they share with busses is that ride on rubber tires. Other than that they are potentially smoother and quieter than streetcar. Not as efficient though, as running on steel rail.

TT said...

Both Streetcar and BRT would be the anchor to a dedicated transit corridor and mixed use zone along the route. Not stopping at every corner encourages a little more walking between dedicated stops contributing the street scene. Creative and quaint solutions like bicycle taxis electric car cabs can fill the gap for the short connection in between dedicated stops. There is nothing to prevent a commitment to this corridor immediatly beginning the multi-use transition allowing developers and independent property owners to begin to convert to greater density and commercial. Signs and kiosks along the route can keep citizens updated on the progress.

This is such a beautiful and elegant thought. An East-West corridor/streetscene alive with restaurants and shops. The difference between this and 25th street for example, is that few people live in the vicinity of 25th st as well as 25th being, sort of, end (or beginning)of the line being adjacent to the downtown hub.

A transit zone running through midtown will be walking distance to the most densely populated central city. It will throttle up redevelopment all through that key area that needs the most attention. The 4 mile corridor will provide ample redevelopment opportunity keeping this activity focused, instead of haphazard along boulevards.

TT said...

Forgot to give Curmudgeon much credit for an excellent report.

Summarizer said...

It’s really nice that:

We have people in this community willing to take the time to give us all this incredibly useful information.

We have a City Council that is increasingly asserting its proper role as the policy making body for the city vis-à-vis the mayor, and who seem to be good folks besides.

The Council appears disinclined to expend any more city funds on Chris Peterson until he actually comes up with a proposal for what he wants to do.

It looks like some common things that can be said about gondolas are:

They tend to cost a lot more than estimates.

They tend not to live up to ridership projections.

They tend to be successful only when the rides are free. (Don’t most things “succeed” when free?)

They are considered as true public transportation only in severe slum environments (like what the mayor has called 23rd Street and the rest of his proposed route.)

Score another one for making information available! What a great service it is to us!

TT said...

Please, Mayor and CP, take note of the tremendous interest in a crosstown transit solution. It's about time to drop your ill-concieved town gondola idea and get behind the best plan. Note that the UTA and Federal backing requires a consensus in the target community. Again, Please stop the divisive egotistical insistence on your silly alternative.

Mr Peterson, Please take your greedy mind off of our premier foothill openspace. You are welcome in this community to live and to develop your mountain acreage in an appropriate and sensitive manner. Ogden could benefit from a small destination in Malan's basin. Please try us all again and this time try not to shove a 5-star foo-foo resort down our throats. You are correct in observing Mountain High and it's business model. Let's see what you can translate it into something for the youth of this community. Keep it simple...

Anonymous said...

My observations over the years with government grant programs involving building projects is two fold.

First you need to get in line as fast as possible because its usually first come first served. If you get out of line and try to get back in, you’ll find yourself at the end of the line.

Second if you choose a different initial concept from what was proposed and blessed by the agencies in charge, such as another route concept, then you increase the chance that your modification will jeopardize your place in the line. The government can use this reconfigured route as an excuse to reduce the priority of your project relative to the priority of other projects in other communities. Thus the project takes longer to get funded.

sharon said...

Kudos, Mr. Curm!!
Excellent reporting.

Tell me about the mayor's suggestion that transit monies would be 'freed up' for the County if the gondola went in.

Is this a disengenuous proposal... As in, 'see, I'm really helping out all the County folks'???

Sounds like an interesting work session. I'm sorry I had to miss it.

Kudos to the Council for really looking after the folks. Appreciate Safsten's remarks about not wanting to tour a gondola site, and Dorrene's and Susan's concerns about not spending one more dime on this non-proposal.

YEA!!

I'm going to relax with a cup o' herb tea knowing we're in good hands.

other sider said...

Been reading about the "heavy" workload the Council has and how Dian thinks that the RDA should be comprised of non-council members. She needs to understadn the philosophy of the RDA, the Legislative intent in ensuring both bodies be made up of the same people, and why. The RDA has certain powers a City doesn't and vice-versa; but to understand the partnering of these two bodies, one has to be totally aware of what the other is doing, how it does it, and why it does it. Take the Budget and or CIP projects and there's a clue. Two hats should be worn by the individual, which is why the make-up of the RDA being Council members is State law.

Curmudgeon said...

Other:

Makes some sense as you explain it. I wonder, though, do all states do it this way or do some states have a different arrangement? For example, I can see why communication between an RDA board and the elected Council might be crucial [and there is always noise and loss of information when two different bodies communicate]. But I wonder if other states might have arranged for an RDA set up that includes some Council members and some independent members. I can, in theory, see some benefits to that arrangement as well. Just wondering then if there is a variety of RDA set ups or if all or most states do it as we do.

sharon said...

Oh good grief....just because this is STATE law, it doesn't necessarily follow that this is a good law.

Where are the checks and balances when both RDA/Council are the same people?

Some goofy 'laws' attempt to be ram rodded thru the Legislature every year. Some really bad ones get thru. An RDA/Council is a bad one.

What is the problem with those two SEPARATE entities 'communicating'? Aren't we brite enuf to figure out how to do that? Surely minutes of either meeting can be made available immediately to the other body? How about a 'joint' meeting for exchange of ideas, if necessary?

"If we can put a man on the moon......"surely we can figure out how to have two SEPARATE bodies speaking to one another. AND, the RDA Board members should be voted in!

I beleive Dian mentioned that they should have some skills/experience in this area. Amen, and Amen.

Hopefully we voters seek applicable attributes in the persons we elect to the Council.

other sider said...

Leave it to Sharon to make an issue out of this, just because it's State law. The reason it's State law is that the powers vewsted in each body compliment the other but are on mostly different wave lengths. Another example is "condemnation," wherein a city can, for the public good, condemn a property and extoll its use for the public good. An RDA can't.
An RDA, on the other hand, has the power of Tax Incriment and can declare certain projects, through blight and Brownfields, whereas a City does not have that capability.
Yet, the RDA absolutely has to know what various budget allocations are, where the money is coming from and going to, and the way that happens is through a total understadning and familiarity the Budget process, not a couple of meetings as Sharon thinks sufficient. That would lead to chaos and have people like her attempting to run the show. That would not be in anyone's best interest.
The ramifications of various political nuances far and exceed her understanding of why they were designed and why they are in play.

again said...

Probably speaking out of turn here, Curmudgeon, but my thoughts, after reviewing several state RDAs, is that most states adopt ordinances and regulations along similar lines to Utah. RDAs are "project builders," obtain Grants and TI, and basically help to eliminate true blight in cities and make various areas more enticing to development, both governmental and by the public investor. And, in order to do that right, the RDA has to have a firm knowledge of what and where the City is coming from.

RudiZink said...

"Probably speaking out of turn here, Curmudgeon, but my thoughts, after reviewing several state RDAs, is that most states adopt ordinances and regulations along similar lines to Utah."

Nobody speaks "out of turn" on Weber County Forum. This is a true non-politically-partisan forum, where everybody's opinion counts.

And you're right about other states, we think. The over-riding "beauty" of the concept of "populating" RDA boards with the same duly-elected folks who occupy city legislatures, satifies the essential requiremnt of our American representative democracy, i.e., that decision makers be popularly elected.

The only obvious defect of the current Emerald City RDA structure, from our viewpoint, is that Boss Godfrey has been appointed to the position of RDA Director.

Whereas this is merely a ceremonial position under Utah law, Boss Godfrey, in his usual pushy and tyrannical "way," has usurped this honorary position, and has been running this agency as if with full executive power, as if it were yet another plaything within his imperial realm.

A coupla little birdies told us recently that a majority of the board is wise to this problem now, and that the problem is now being "fixed."

Curmudgeon said...

Again:

Thanks for doing the spade work. RDAs and how they are structured are things about which I know very little.

Anonymous said...

The way the RDA is working in this city is shameful. What happened to free enterprise? Ogden leaders should have more faith in the marketplace to recognize market opportunities rather than trying to force situations. It's one thing for the city leaders to have a vision and then to assist an area within the city in its transition to that vision. Its a whole different thing when that vision is developed by or handed off to one developer rather than being developed by the city for the city and where several developers participate. Ogden City should control all major projects/visions in this city. Some current and proposed RDA projects in this city don't seem to have followed the city's original or intented purpose for RDA. Ogden must believe in free enterprize and not be tempted to abused and over used RDA.

When you really think about it the whole tax increment concept is really speculative as to the way it's being used by RDA. Most of these projects are funded through up front dollars that are made available to the project developer or there is a period of reduced taxes for the project.

It assumes that any increased taxes received over the existing tax level is what justifies the project. It gives zero credit to the city tax rolls for any inflationary increases over time in the existing property tax base, thus it is in itself additionally subsidizing the project. Additionally there doesn't seem to be any discount cash flow projections used when considering these tax increments, thus making the benefit in pursuing these projects look better than they may actually be. The city also doesn't point out that if the projects don't meet the future tax receipt increase projections then we as taxpayer must make up the difference while the developer and/or project itself has no real liability. Ogden City spends more of our tax dollars on business development projects than most other cities and must learn to be more frugal with our money.

Anonymous said...

This was the intended post not the one above,

The way the RDA is working in this city is shameful. What happened to free enterprise? Ogden leaders should have more faith in the marketplace to recognize market opportunities rather than trying to force situations. It's one thing for the city leaders to have a vision and then to assist an area within the city in its transition to that vision. Its a whole different thing when that vision is developed by or handed off to one developer rather than being developed by the city for the city and where several developers participate. Ogden City should control all major projects/visions in this city. Some current and proposed RDA projects in this city don't seem to have followed the city's original or intented purpose for RDA. Ogden must believe in free enterprize and not be tempted to abused and over used RDA.

When you really think about it the whole tax increment concept is really speculative as to the way it's being used by RDA. Most of these projects are funded through up front dollars that are made available to the project developer or there is a period of reduced taxes for the project.

It assumes that any increased taxes received over the existing tax level is what justifies the project. It gives zero credit to the city tax rolls for any inflationary increases over time in the existing property tax base, thus it is in itself additionally subsidizing the project. Additionally there doesn't seem to be any discount cash flow projections used when considering these tax increments, thus making the benefit in pursuing these projects look better than they may actually be. The city also doesn't point out that if the projects don't meet the future tax receipt increase projections then we as taxpayer must make up the difference while the developer and/or project itself has no real liability. Ogden City spends more of our tax dollars on business development projects than most other cities and must learn to be more frugal with our money.

Anonymous said...

Try this one more time,

The way the RDA is working in this city is disappointing. What happened to free enterprise? Ogden leaders should have more faith in the marketplace to recognize market opportunities rather than trying to force situations. It is one thing for the city leaders to have a vision and then to assist an area within the city in its transition to that vision. It’s a whole different thing when that vision is developed by or handed off to one developer rather than being developed by the city for the city and where several developers participate. Ogden City should control all major visions in this city. Some of the current and proposed RDA projects in this city don't seem to have followed the city's original or intended purpose for the RDA. Ogden must believe in free enterprise and not be tempted to abused and over used RDA.

When you really think about it, the whole tax increment concept is really speculative as to the way it's being used by RDA. Most of these projects are funded through up front dollars that are made available to the project developer or there is a period of reduced taxes for the project.

It assumes that any increased taxes received over the existing tax level are what justify the project. It gives zero credit to the city tax rolls for any inflationary increases over time in the existing property tax base, thus it is in itself additionally subsidizing the project. Additionally there doesn't seem to be any discount cash flow projections used when considering these tax increments, thus making the benefit in pursuing these projects look better than they may actually be. The city also doesn't point out that if the projects don't meet the future tax receipt increase projections then we as taxpayer must make up the difference while the developer and/or project itself has no real liability.

We as a community can absorb a little amount of speculation within our city but it shouldn’t be a major portion of our budget dollars. City leaders shouldn’t be reducing services to its residents or withholding benefits to its employees by pointing to budget shortfalls when the leaders of Ogden City are spending significantly more of our tax dollars on business development projects than most other cities. Ogden’s 2007 budget shortfall could easily be eliminated by reducing the amount of money earmarked in the budget for business development (and still allow for a reasonable funding of business development). The Ogden City Administration must learn to reduce their willingness to subsidize developers and should use our tax dollars to provides services; in other words to be more in the business of running a city and to be less in the business of development business.

sharon said...

O.S.

No one said "a couple meetings", and No, I don't intend to 'run the show'.

You are prone to jump to incorrect conclusions. Is that your basic form of exercise? That, and running off at the mouth?

I maintain that the RDA/Council members should be SEPARATE AND DIFFERENT people.

They each can have access 'to budgets'....what IS your problem?

You just want to pick a fight, I think.

Take a cold shower. Oh,andhaveaniceday.

other sider said...

Me, running off at the mouth, Sharon....I don't want to pick a fight, but it's you who seems to criticize just about any and everything that comes down the City pike, whether you know what you're talking about or not.
Your quote about "goofy laws" and "minutes of either meetings" and "two seperate entities communicating" and a "joint meeting" about validates my premise. You should bone up on the "reasons" that these "goofy laws" were put into place, maybe, just maybe, give some credit to some of our lawmakers, and quit with the critical remarks when it's highly apparent you are out of your league in certain areas.
The RDA philosophy is debateable, to be sure, but the way it works is pretty much right on line, with reason and fact to back it up.
You have a nice day and relax a little. Local government and State government is something we occassionally have to put more trust in than what you think. If I'm wrong here, then why the constant and critical barrage about most anything the Administration and Legislature does, "goofy?"

RudiZink said...

Other Sider: "The RDA philosophy is debateable, to be sure, but the way it works is pretty much right on line, with reason and fact to back it up."

Oh really.

It seems to us that Sharon has pointed out a very important logical inconstency in Utah RDA law.

UTA RDA's are delegated extraordinary political powers, deal with huge amounts of money, and make decisions which greatly impact local economies. In cities like Ogden, they are the de facto biggest real estate development companies in town.

Yet Utah RDA law requires no special expertise or qualifications for RDA Board membership. Indeed, state law dictates that these governing boards be composed merely of common average citizens, i.e., city council members.

It seems to us that Sharon has raised an issue well worthy of debate. Yet your responses invariably boil down to shallow ad hominems.

Help us out here, Other Sider. Offer some true debate. Tell us why you don't believe that RDA boards, if they are to exist at all, should not be composed of individuals with expert qualifications.

sharon said...

Bingo!! Rudi.

OS....guess you missed the parts wherein I have kudos and thanks to those who have done GOOD things in our town...including the Council.

other sider said...

Absolutely the RDA should consist of qualified individuals....that is not the debate, if there is one. The premise was whether or not the Council should wear 2 hats, that of being a Council member and that of being an RDA Board member. My thoughts, and these are merely my thoughts, is that, due to State law and the factors discussed previously, the Council members, AT THIS TIME, seem to be more qualified in City affairs and the way a City works, runs, and serves the people, than a group of ad hominem selected from god knows where. To date, it is the City Council, that august body that is aware of how things are running in the City (at least they should be) that can spread this knowledge over to the RDA Board and HOPEFULLY make the right decisions when it comes time for the RDA to act.

Is the council full of "experts" and such, or are they elected via a popularity contest. Our City is in their hands, they were elected, for whatever reason, by the people, and they have my support, just as they have my support in serving as the RDA Board. At least they have an "insiders" look and knowledge about the ordinances (they vote on them, ferhellsakes), the regulations, the rules (the Rocks and Shoals of the City Government, so to speak), so there you go.

To be an RDA Board Memember requires a vast knowledge of the intraccies of how a City runs, and who better, at this time, than the Council?

And Sharon, I haven't seen many kudos regarding the CC except for a few "battery" comments about Councilmember Jeske. Seems like you always have a better way to do things, but that is your right and I respect that right to express yourself, even though your thoughts aren't cast in bronze or in orbit. Go over your posts and you'll see what I mean, from this arugument to most everything you write about....mostly negative and you seem to suggest you have a better way and that if followed, our city would be much better off.

I'm wondering if you know how a bonding issue works and how it all comes together, yet you would have something to say about it if one of your "groupies" made a critical comment.

But again, that is your right. You might try running for office this next year to see how your thoughts and ideas play within the public.

sharon said...

sigh....my last post about the Council in their workshop meeting as reported by Curmudgeon gave my appreciation to Safsten, Van Hooser, Jeske...and the Council.

But that is neither here nor there...I don't know why you consider me such a burr under your saddle...but get off and walk for awhile....give your horse a rest.

I don't intend to run for any public office...do you? Have you?

Every citizen has a right to express his/her opinion. Don't look now, but YOU do quite a lot.

I'll see how Dorothy's lawsuit comes out regarding the RDA. Looking forward to your comments about that.

Anonymous said...

Probably be tossed out of court as quickly as her last one was....

Anonymous said...

Here's what happened the last time Dorothy Littrell filed a lawsuit:

Ogden, UT
Fighting the world's largest retailer is an unenviable task. But a core group of concerned citizens in Ogden, Utah, led by 76-year-old retiree Dorothy Littrell, did just that--and won. In an act of both legal significance and brash defiance, Dorothy even purchased a parcel of property in the middle of Wal-Mart's proposed development, after the company's plans were revealed. Together with filing a pro se lawsuit, the group staged rallies, using materials provided by the Castle Coalition, wrote letters to the editor and exerted a vast amount of political pressure through the media and state legislature. In early 2005, a little over a year after the big-box was announced, the group's activism ultimately culminated in an eminent domain reform bill that was signed by the governor, effectively stopping the development and saving a neighborhood. Yet another victory against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Success Stories - Castle Coalition

Look out Ogden RDA.

sharon said...

other...
I've been mulling over your vituperative posts toward me. At first I thot you might be bobby g., but the style was off.

You appear to have some 'otherside' knowledge of the inner workings of the Council.

Because of your 'moniker', I'm thinking I DO know you. Does 'othersider' refer to what some have called a 'betrayal' of the voters' trust in you? Hmmmm?

You know OS....I'm pretty sure I know you. And if I'm correct, I asked people to vote for you! Oy vey, the things we do out of ignorance.

But why the vitriolic posts, eh?

curious said...

What happened to 'othersider'? Did he get scared away?

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