David Rodeback's Blog

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Assorted Thoughts: Voter Turnout, A Vote on 900 West, and the Nextel Ad Jason Chaffetz Seems To Be Channeling

Come to think of it, the real firefighters I know are polite enough to remove their helmets indoors, unless they're working a fire.

Voting and Turnout

Today I voted later than usual, about 9:10 a.m. Once again, the electronic voting experience was quick and painless.

I was the third voter to appear from my precinct in the 130 minutes the polls had been open. I saw the other two names in the ledger; they are Republican precinct officers. At this rate, at least turnout will be more than a dozen from among the hundreds of registered voters in my precinct.

Admittedly, it's a state Republican primary, so not everyone can vote. And there's only one race on the ballot, for the relatively uninteresting post of State Treasurer. And I myself might not have voted, had my research last evening not left me with a clear preference for that office, Richard Ellis. On the other hand, we're not talking about merely low turnout; this is embarrassingly low turnout.

That said, I'm not convinced that high turnout deserves to be the holy grail of American politics. Part of me thinks that the higher the turnout, the more people vote who really haven't bothered to learn what they're doing. Apparently, a large part of Burt Prelutsky agrees. Do you find him undemocratic?

Sorry, Folks, This Plan for 900 West Makes Sense

A few weeks ago I blogged about a new proposal for the Carson properties on 900 West and recalled the drama we witnessed in connection with a 2006 proposal for the same properties. At that point, I had not studied the new plan, and I was mostly curious whether the personal and ecclesiastical bullying which characterized the Carson approach to the earlier controversy had recurred. So far, I have heard nothing to suggest that it has. There are only a few scattered reports that a certain local church leader's relationship with some of his flock is still strained by the earlier abuses.

The two Carson items -- a zoning change and a related amendment of American Fork's general plan -- are on tonight's City Council agenda again, and this time a vote is likely. By now I have studied the site plan itself -- I have a copy on my desk at this moment -- and can report some impressions.

The hot-button issue two years ago was the effect on the adjacent residential neighborhood of making the entire property commercial. Two specific issues that were repeated again and again were fears that 500 North and/or 600 North might be extended to 900 West, causing traffic problems in the neighborhood; and that the existing residences shouldn't be devalued by putting commercial development next to them. The new plan resolves both of these concerns.

The new plan would connect 500 North and 600 North with each other, making a bit of a loop called 780 West, but would not connect either street with 900 West. The effect on traffic in the residential neighborhood would be minimal.

A row of single-family homes is planned west of the existing residences; these new homes would face west. They themselves would be buffered from the commercial development -- working from east to west -- by a row of trees, the street, a tree-lined pedestrian trail, and a wall. West of this buffer, the commercial development would consist of three buildings which are intended to be attractive to professional offices and small retailers.

Another concern is traffic on 900 West, which already far exceeds the road's present design. Rejecting this proposal will do nothing to resolve this, and there is already so much traffic that it seems impractical to build more residences facing 900 West. The plan includes measures to mitigate some of the traffic issues, so it may actually improve the traffic situation slightly.

Some members of the City Council have promised to protect the existing residential neighborhood. I don't get a vote -- I also don't control a vote -- and it's not my neighborhood, but the current plan seems to me to protect the current neighborhood as much as reasonably possible. It answers the neighbors' major objections to the earlier plan, and it is the sort of compromise some Council members suggested two years ago, to which the Carson team then was vehemently, even rudely opposed.

Looking ahead, I see no guarantee that the next City Council will be so determined to protect neighborhoods. A future Council might be quite happy to approve a less acceptable plan if the current Council rejects this one.

Given that the bullying doesn't seem to have recurred, that the neighbors' major objections have been accommodated, and that the American Fork Planning Commission unanimously recommends approval, I think it's time for the neighborhood and its defenders to decide that approval of the 2008 plan seals their 2006 victory. Then they can turn their attention to ensuring that the development is actually built according to the essentials of the plan.

Is Jason Chaffetz the Nextel Candidate?

The first time I saw a certain ad for Nextel Direct Connect, I thought it was cute. Sometime in the next dozen viewings, I decided to dislike it. Subsequent viewings have reinforced this.

Its title is "What If Firefighters Ran the World?" (watch it on YouTube). It is an effective illustration of a common attitude about politics and government that is so shallow and naive that I would call it stupid if that word were accepted for general use in my family.

(Disclaimer: I know some firefighters. I respect them. They are not stupid. The ones in this ad must be actors.)

There's a bunch of firefighters gathered in some sort of legislative chamber, with one firefighter in front, standing at a podium and wielding a gavel. They all communicate by cell phone, using Nextel Direct Connect, which is the point of the ad but not of my comments. It is not entirely clear to me why they would communicate by cell phone when they're all in the same room, but I'm willing to overlook that.

Here are some representative excerpts:

Chair: How 'bout the budget?
All: Balance it!
. . .
Chair: Anyone want better roads?
All: We do!
. . .
Chair (thumbing through a thick piece of legislation): A lot of paper to tell us we need clean water. Need clean water, guys?
All: Aye!
Chair: This is the easiest job I've ever had. We're outa here. (Pounds the gavel.)

I've seen good legislators at work enough at the local, state, and national levels to appreciate that:

  • Zeal is a poor substitute for careful study and common sense;
  • Simple slogans are a dangerous alternative to a reasonable respect for complexity, competing interests, and unintended consequences; and
  • The legislator -- and probably also the voter -- who thinks that every political issue is easily reduced to a black-and-white moral choice is ineffective and easily manipulated.

I've already been tempted to respond to Jason Chaffetz's radio ad by asking, "Does that come with tights and a cape?" (A good  West Wing line.) So it's not hard for me to imagine Jason Chaffetz and his bullet points morphing into a Nextel-style ad:

Narrator: What about the borders?
Chaffetz: I'll protect them myself!
Narrator: What about the illegals?
Chaffetz: Put 'em on buses!
Narrator: Who will drive the buses?
Chaffetz: I will!
Narrator: What about the budget?
Chaffetz: I'll balance it!
Huddled, Disheveled, Despairing Masses: Oh, who can save us by sending "a strong message" to Washington?
Chaffetz: I can!
Narrator: Who is faster than a speeding bullet?
Chaffetz: I am!
Narrator: Who can leap tall government buildings in a single bound?
Chaffetz: I can!

I don't get to vote in that race, because it's not my district. (It's not Chaffetz's district, either.) But when I vote in my own district in November, I'll be looking for a competent representative. I don't need a superhero.

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