There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Municipal Self Congratulation vs. Facts

Recently Des Moines, Iowa sent out an “informational” pamphlet to all the households in the city telling us how wonderful Des Moines is to live in, what a great job the city council is doing and how we should all quit bitching and fall down and worship our municipal benefactors. This was done at a cost of 93 cents per household for a total in the neighborhood of eighty thousand dollars. I’m not sure I would have been real happy with this expenditure even if the content were even close to accurate, but since I’m not, let’s take a look at how that 80K could have been better spent.

If I had more time and patience I would take each claim by the city fathers and cite an example to refute each one, but it will probably suffice to make a list.

1.have now lived here for 10 years. During that period of time there has not been a single day when the streets in the financial district, the heart of Des Moines’ tax base, has been free of barricades. Maybe we should fix streets before mailing pamphlets.

2.During the same 10 year period (in subsequent items, just assume that they are the result of 10 years observation) the entire storm drain system has been entirely inadequate. Water stands in the streets after even modest rainstorms. During heavy rains manhole covers are blown out of the streets and small geysers produce impassible conditions. In addition any precipitation at all causes a large segment of the city’s traffic lights to quit working. Is this a problem in an area where hardly a day passes in the spring and summer without a flood warning somewhere in the state? Think 80 grand might be a start toward alleviation?

3.The city loves to tout its river walk. One of the highlights of the river walk is a huge ugly complex of girders, mud and construction equipment that has been in this condition for at least 3 years and resembles nothing so much as an industrial dump site.

4.Downtown is supposed to be vital and thriving. The area is riddled with empty warehouses, department stores and condos.

5.The street department has absolutely no ability to plan ahead. The prime example of this is that in a two year period the street running in front of the State Capitol Building was entirely dug up three times for three separate projects. Could money have been saved by doing all three on a single time table?

6.The street department’s scheduling leaves a great deal to be desired in other areas as well. They certainly know how to start projects. They can put up barricades and tear up the streets – but then the projects are left alone while other streets are torn up and barricaded. Projects are scheduled for completion only after every street projected for work has been torn up and barricaded. Then years pass until the projects grind slowly to completion. In the meantime each spring, new barricades and torn up streets are added to the list whether the previous year’s work is done or not.

7.Streets are a problem in more ways than one. This is the only city of the many I have lived in that allows semis, construction equipment and other heavy machinery to drive on residential streets. Not only does this tear up the streets but trying to get around semis parked on narrow residential streets in order to get to your home is always a challenge.

8.I can remember driving through cities as early as the late 60s that had synchronized stop lights where it was possible to drive at a constant speed and avoid stopping. This is still news to our city fathers. Traffic lights go up with the settings they left the factory with. No synchronization not to mention the lack of different cycles for heavy traffic times and light traffic times. How much gas do you suppose is wasted sitting at red lights watching completely empty cross streets in industrial areas on Sundays and Holidays?

9.In the heart of the city, the financial district, where commuter traffic is heaviest, railroad lines actually run through the streets causing massive jams when trains run through during the rush hour. Progressive city Des Moines? This is strictly a cow town feature.

10.I have not seen a city police patrol car in the neighborhood I live in other than for emergency calls the aforementioned 10 years. Stop lights and stop signs are run, noise ordinances disregarded, residential streets used as drag strips, speed limits ignored and traffic ordinances of any kind pretty much ignored. There is no law in Dodge! Enforcement is nil. I don’t get it – and we really don’t have that many donut shops.

These are the most egregious faults. Like any city we have our urban blight. Empty stores can be found all over the city, some once inhabited by large retailers and now surrounded by weeds and debris. Areas where VIPs live and drive get plenty of attention while middle class neighborhoods get attention much later and low income housing is a black hole.

Things are unlikely to change because the city council is preoccupied with such matters as whether to rename a building that currently bears the name of a previous council member who is now a convicted felon for misappropriation of public funds. The populace has been cowed into an attitude of acceptance by complete disregard of their wishes by city hall. Publish all the pamphlets you want Des Moines Council. Those who live here know better.

Sorry this wasn't funnier. Living here is not funny either.