Spoiling Junior

At the Audubon Water, Birds and Conservation Summit on June 15th, participants heard about the Western Rivers Action Network and their efforts to address river health. Insightful presentations by panelists got people thinking. There will be a similar workshop in Las Cruces on June 29th.

It sure got me thinking. Junior water users - primarily municipalities and industries - are not supposed to have priority over senior water users - mostly tribes and farmers.  But no one wants to tell a city 'no.'  State water administrators bend over backwards to avoid it and appear to have assigned them a nearly unquestioned primacy over others. The agencies, engineers, hydrologists, lawyers, lobbyists and consultants who represent the 'juniors' are in the pilot's seat of the ship and no court adjudication is on the horizon.

Take Rio Rancho and Intel for example. They don't have all the water rights for the water they're using, but no one is telling them no, or slow. Take the oil and gas industry that consumes and permanently pollutes an un-tracked amount of fresh groundwater. No one is telling them no, or slow, or to collect data (or even follow the law.)  Just the farmers. They are hearing 'no' quite a bit these days.

Water data also seems framed to benefit junior users. The huge place in pie charts for agriculture often counts  flows in the river and riverside drains, ditches and acequias of the inner valley that support flora, wildlife habitat and, significantly, aquifer recharge from those waterways and farms. All that water is "agriculture." Naturally, the eye is drawn to that magnificently fat pie slice when the need to conserve comes up.


Data presenters also frequently make a distinction between "Economic Development" and "Agriculture." Like farmers are doing it for fun.  Industry and the land speculation arts real estate are considered real economic development that must have adequate water supplies.  To some, farming is a quaint relic of the 19th century. Like sunbonnets.

Where does birdwatching and New Mexico's huge outdoor economy fit in?  Well, if it can't join the Chamber it isn't economic development.


But Mostly, Chickenwire

Trees don't weep for the death of newspapers. Or beavers, for that matter.  We should read our print on hemp. But hey, we may also skip ahead to not reading at all, if you want to get all sad about it. 

It would completely revitalize our economy to retool American agriculture for hemp production.*  Maybe it scares Big Agriculture, but probably not. Maybe my tinfoil hat's talking, but if they can genetically modify and patent the weed seeds and corner markets for hemp products they're all for it.  I'd be a little surprised and disappointed if they're not doing that already. But first, you gotta #legalize.

And then, beavers. Easy to assume they are avenging slaughter of their ancestors for early 19th century top hat fashion. But they're just being beaver - murdering huge beautiful valley cottonwoods like they've always done.  On far edges of bosque places they girdle entire huge trunks in one night, inner bark for winter dinner. Cottonwoods bent by the last big valley floods a hundred years ago are doomed. Things that live in dead trees enjoy housing boom.

Painstakingly encircling the trunks with chickenwire stops their mighty teeth.  That, and maybe pepperspray.**  (On the tree bark, not the beaver himself.) 

Mr. Coyote has no doubt made a play for Mr. Bigtooth.  While contemplating a slingshot or airgun attack on this bold coyote (as an alternative to chasing him with a broom, which apparently just amuses him) I am paradoxically cheering him on in what I imagine to be his daily pursuit of that beaver, especially now that he has wiped out the neighborhood guinea fowl. I'm working on zen acceptance of his sandhill crane hunt.

 That's undoubtedly the answer to the beaver question as well.  Afterall, there are still many trees.  Especially from the viewpoint of the one holding a roll of chickenwire.


*It would revitalize our local economies and truly revolutionalize our culture to not just retool but also rescale agricultural production for hemp. But, alas, that's perhaps too bold a dream.

**There is such a thing a Comprehensive Beaver Management Planning but I have no comment on that.

Giving Sprawl a Pass

The El Paso Times story won't surpise some people but others will be moved just by the title (East El Paso Sprawl:  Boom Strains Services, City Coffers) as it represents admission of a problem that the building industry still flatly denies - the high cost of suburban growth to tax-funded systems like water, schools and police.

First, we don't have sprawl, Doug Schwartz, Southwest Land Development CEO

El paso book front cover

El Paso developer and chamber representatives repeat familiar homebuilder memes about growth paying for itself in sales tax and choice bits of flimsy about how the market is always right and the big picture is all net gain. But the story contains pesky specifics.

John Balliew, El Paso Water Utilities vice president of operations and technical services said "The company recovers less than a third of the full cost from developers" (...)  Now if the development is outside the service area, the recovery cost can be as low as 10 percent, said Felipe Lopez, a utility engineer who administers development agreements for new subdivisions. The rest is "passed along to all the other customers," Balliew said.

Tiny House Living Lesson 101

It's just stuff.

The last move was about a year ago and I've been downsizing ever since.  I'd rather be doing anything else - which is why it took so long.  Spring cleaning was a real reward because there was less to deal with. I jettisoned furniture, books, clothes and collectibles going from a 2400 to 750 square foot house. 

Honing an attitude about how material stuff really doesn't matter helps with downsizing.  I can't say I personally felt that way, but I'm sure it does help.   Just because you can't take it with you to heaven, or wherever, doesn't mean you can't cram it into the shed now.  It may just be stuff but it's your stuff.  George Carlin comes to mind: That's all your house is - a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. 

The urge to purge is much weaker than the desire to acquire.  Thinking of it as pulling weeds in the garden to give remaining plants more strength helps with the item thinning.  I can't say I personally thought of it that way, but I'm sure it does help.  I gripped tightly to huge chunky antique furniture and piles of dishware that I knew wouldn't fit in my tiny house and paid to move it twice before giving it away. 

 Property is theft. Nobody “owns” anything. When you die, it all stays here. (101 Greatest George Carlin Quotes.)

One Trick Pony is Really a Cow

(Albuquerque Mayor) Berry says the $2 million would be used for small capital projects to sweeten the pot or eliminate hurdles to a new business, such as extending a pipeline.

  56b17e76-4ec3-45b3-baf2-244bd1dbdc2bAh yes, the worthy pipe extension.  A Journal editorial thus pays homage to construction as economic development.  Extension of a new water line to the middle of nowhere will sweeten the pot.  And create a tasty treat for the one that owns the pot.  Well, here's another saying:  Put the pipe down.
As I've said before pipes and roads are primarily about land speculation not economic development.  Even if the builders wish it so, every new or expanded business does not need a new building.  That one trick pony is a cow that can jump

Twenty-Five Years in One Survey Comment

My former profession, city planning, has a professional organization that purports to represent the field.  When I retired I let my membership lapse and have since been subject to a barrage of renewal notices. Finally I got an email survey that asked why I hadn't renewed. 

Most of it was innocuous - ratings of programs and publications and typical tedium. Multiple choices among  dull dumb answers.  Then, at the end at last, space to write comments.  Speaking for all of us, I figured, I'd let the silly suits behind the survey know what I really thought. 

After completing the survey I read other respondents' comments.  I grew flushed and pink - like I'd just tweeted on the size of a legislator's ass or hat.

The vast majority of fallen former members wrote of onerous dues and continuing education requirements.  They complained about the stupidity of the survey questions, invoicing errors, lousy coffee at the national conference and how that membership pin put a big hole in my blouse.

I wrote this:

I've retired and don't intend to work in the planning profession again until hell freezes over or this corporate hegemony abates.  Whichever comes first.  It was a great ride.  Loved the politics - a real scream, especially the last few years.  Our profession has been, and will continue to be, dominated by the building industry.  And by the private property obsessed, greed fueled, endless growth paradigm that has screwed this country.

This sentiment was expressed by another.

You have ignored the recession and what it means to our profession. 

Nuevo Rancho Viejo

The Rancho Viejo development, totalling about 12,500 acres south of Santa Fe, has been sold.  (Santa Fe New Mexican) Like other big real estate deals, ownership is thoroughly obscured by corporate identity, in this case,  Univest-Rancho Viejo LLC - whoever the hell that is.*  They purchased the "community" from Ariz.-based SunCor Development Co for an undisclosed amount.  The book value was placed at $400 million at one time.  

Referring to a "community" as being bought and sold has a company town ring to it and this gets clarified in the article.

The development has some 1,200 homes as well as parks, playing fields and a central plaza. There are three separate homeowner associations that own all of development's open spaces, recreational areas and six-plus miles of trails. These areas are not included in the transaction.

"We hope some of the past plans as presented to us now will be completed by the new owner," said Bruno Keller, president of the North Homeowners Association.

And no worries there, right?  Right?


*This could be anyone for all hapless homeowners know.  (Could it be SAAAtan?) The New Mexican story states the company includes a group of original owners - whoever the hell that is.

Behind Growth - Dead Regulations

Housing regulations, more than those that bind standard businesses, explain the Sunbelt’s population growth.

 That's the conclusion of economist Edward L. Glaeser in the NYTimes Economix.  He uses census information to frame his idea that land use regulations impact housing supply and a cheap housing supply is the measure of a triumphant city - the title of his book.  The construction industry must adore this guy.   Here's the money paragraph:

A rich body of research shows that regulation, which is intense in the Northeast and California but lax in the Sunbelt, explains why housing is supplied so readily down South. The future shape of America is being driven not by quality of life or economic success but by the obscure rules regulating local land use.


The rules are so obscure he can't name them.  Except for passing reference to the absence of zoning in Houston, the specific regulations constraining urban triumphalism remain consistently mysterious straight through his links. 

I'm no Paul Krugman, but this jumps the shark for urban theory.  It doesn't make sense even if you completely ignore the role of finance, speculative money, public bonds and subsidies for utility and water system expansions and road projects.

If New York and Massachusetts want to stop losing congressional seats, then they must revisit the rules that make it so difficult to build. High prices show that the demand would be there if the supply is unleashed.

Unleash the hounds on the planner!

La Lumenhaus

The role of housing in the economic crisis is hard to dispute.  Interesting theories differ about the reason and degree.  But housing prices are still ridiculously high and there is insufficient demand to absorb what's been built already.  So encouraging more through efforts to stimulate building, including lame attempts to do so by cutting impact fees, it just plain nuts.

Would it matter if we were building differently?  Would this change if we were building something like this? (from the NYTimes) Lumenhaus_img-custom1

So that's great, but there are hundreds of acres of McMansions empty or unfinished right now in the United States that are serving no purpose, being a financial drain on the banks, contractors, trades, and county economies where they exist. So creating a new model is a worthwhile exercise, but what we need is an approach to these pre-existing structures that are being under-utilized, to make them multi-family, or solarized and gray-water system updated, to re-make the box instead of working so hard to think outside of it.  (portion of a reader comment by Laura in Portland.)