If you went to the City of Sierra Madre website a few weeks back, and then looked at the information provided regarding that robust water rate hike being pushed there, you would have read about the $10 million dollar Federal grant we would get if only we could raise $8 million in matching money. At that time the source of that grant money was indicated on the site as being the "FEPA." Which was a rather clunky way of identifying the wondrous and famous Federal Environmental Protection Agency.
When I was out collecting autographs for the water rate protest that Fifth of July, I ran into Elaine Aguilar and Bruce Inman. Both were hanging out with a rusty water pipe at Memorial Park. They were using this pipe to try and convince passersby that it was reason enough to raise water rates nearly 40%, and spend $18 million dollars. It was a sad looking pipe, apparently very old, and it wasn't drawing in many folks. Most of the crowd excitement seemed to be centered around a nearby vendor booth selling rubber band and potato guns.
Elaine in particular seemed anxious to speak with me about the water rate issue, and began peppering me with all kinds of dubious information. It was then that I brought up that EPA grant money. I had recently spent a little time poking around some of the websites associated with that agency, and all of them spoke avidly about the importance of the high density infill development scheme known as "Smart Growth." A concept based on the idea that if you build lots of densely packed condos next to bus and rail stations, the citizens living there will magically give up their automobiles in order take inconvenient and slow public transportation instead. Thus saving the world from Global Warming.
It is a theory that many skeptics have yet to buy into. And as far as I'm concerned is just some greened up cock and bull story designed to gull credulous knuckleheads into allowing high density development into places that have traditionally resisted it. Such as Sierra Madre.
Elaine attempted to assure me that the $10 million in EPA money she had her eyes on came with absolutely no strings attached, and that lovable old Uncle Sugar was just going to give it to us to do whatever water things we wanted with it.
I told her I had some serious doubts about her claims, that bureaucrats in Washington DC always use our tax money as a tool to reinforce their policies, and in this particular case that policy would translate into new water infrastructure needed for some rather serious development here. After all, this sort of thing is written about all over the EPA websites, and in the most glowing of terms.
The conversation exhausted, I wandered off to gather more signatures, and Elaine went back to introducing people to the at-risk pipe. Within a week of that moment all references to the "FEPA" were scrubbed from the water rate information posted on the City of Sierra Madre website, and replaced with the less revealing wording, "a federal agency."
I received an email yesterday from one of my more regular correspondents. She is not from here, but sees similarities in what we are facing and things going on in her own community. She referenced two articles from a website called DC.Streetsblog.org, which is one of the more strident "Smart Growth" sites around these days. And wouldn't you know it, there was some very specific language on the topic of Federal money being spent for a "Smart Growth" initiative called the "Livable Communities Act." Check this out:
Livable Communities Act Clears Senate Committee - The Senate Banking Committee voted 12-10 yesterday in favor of the Livable Communities Act, legislation that would bolster the Obama administration's initiatives to link together transportation, housing, economic development, and environmental policy. The administration has been taking steps since last March to coordinate between the Department of Transportation, HUD, and the EPA. This bill, carried in the Senate by Connecticut's Chris Dodd, would formalize those partnerships and authorize more funding to work with.
Most of the action would flow through HUD. This year the agency is funding $150 million in grants supporting regional efforts to improve access to transit and promote walkable development. The Livable Communities Act promises to scale up that program significantly, creating a new office within HUD, called the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, that will distribute about $4 billion through competitive grants.
It seems as if there are now vast sums of money in Washington to push for this sort of thing. A conceptualization that is strikingly similar to what SCAG has been pushing for right here in the Southland. And while California's own SB 375 has pointed this state towards a belief in the world saving powers of condominiums and buses, the seemingly endless billions of dollars Washington is willing to throw into this pipedream would certainly dwarf those efforts.
So how exactly would this money be funneled into something like an $18 million dollar water infrastructure reconfiguration in a town of only 10 thousand or so souls? Read on.
How Will Obama's Sustainability Team Spend Its $150 M? A Preview - Before the U.S. DOT gave some early clues as to how the agency would craft its new transit funding rules, deputy housing and urban development (HUD) secretary Ron Sims answered another question that's been on the minds of transit and local-planning wonks: How will the Obama administration's three-agency partnership for sustainable communities spend its $150 million funding for this year?
Here is what senior officials are thinking, Sims told the U.S. Conference of Mayors:
- $100 million is set aside for grants to local communities that present innovative energy-efficiency plans.
- $40 million is set aside for grants to encourage enactment of local zoning and planning reform that makes mixed-use, transit oriented development more feasible.
- $10 million is set aside for research into "the link between transportation and the built environment," Sims said, with an eye to creating location-efficient mortgages that take mobility costs into account.
Now with such agencies as HUD and the EPA focusing so much of their precious fiscal resources on so-called "Livable Communities" style redevelopment, where are they going to find the odd $10 million in water money to give to Elaine and Bruce with "no strings attached?" And certainly everyone can understand that the first step to creating that kind of development in Sierra Madre would be fixing those darn pipes, right? Along with finding some new water sources up there in the hills to slake the thirst of all the new people moving in to live in those "Livable Communities" condos we'd be required to build in order to get grants like this?
Wouldn't that be a kind of reason for giving Sierra Madre a $10 million water infrastructure matching grant? As a necessary first step in making us a so-called Livable Community? As opposed to whatever it is they think we are now?
Of course, if we should somehow be allowed to see the paperwork the City has for that EPA grant, we'd know exactly how the Federal Government would wish the money be spent, and why. Because to me, given the current thinking in Washington, the notion that the EPA would give us $10 million with limited requirements on how it is to be used seems a little too good to be true. Yet somehow City Hall has not seen fit to include that kind of information with their other literature on water rate hikes, both past and potential. So I guess we just can't say for sure.
Perhaps it just isn't any of our business, and we should instead confine our interest to that water pipe. Maybe that is just a more "livable" thing to do.