Monday, May 11, 2009

The Committee Of No Economic or Community Development

Needless to say, I was more than disappointed to learn of the news that the so-called County Board Economic and Community Development Committee foolishly voted to recommend all but giving away the county grounds to a private developer.

In a nutshell, this committee has ignored its obligation to the community and ignored the promise that the board had made to preserve the county grounds, in order for it to sell this land at a very low rate to a private developer that claims ties to UWM, but really is not of UWM. Not only did they do this, but they did it in such a haphazard, sloppy way, that there are no guarantees that the developer will do what they are saying they would do.

Supervisor Toni Clark issued a press release proudly announcing this fiasco. In said release, she wrote:
“This is a great opportunity for our academic and medical institutions to generate world-class research,” said Supervisor Clark, Chairperson of the Committee. “The Milwaukee County community will be better served through this type of partnership than if a private developer had taken over this property.”
Except that even I, and the gentle reader, had already known that this was a private developer that was taking over the land. The Board also knew it. One of the friends of the Monarchs produced a letter from the UW Board of Regents openly stating that this developer group was not under the authority of the UW system.

Clark goes on to write:
The Committee approved a key amendment to the purchase agreement that calls for the creation of a replacement butterfly habitat. The butterfly landscaping plan will be developed by UWM, County Parks staff, Milwaukee Public Museum curatorial staff and the Friends of the Monarch Trail. “We had a spirited discussion with members of the public and representatives from UWM at today’s meeting, and I am pleased that we were able to come to an agreement that allows us to move forward while respecting the Monarch Trail,” Supervisor Clark added.
A landscaping plan? What does that even mean? A two foot by two foot plot of grass with a plastic butterfly yard decoration stuck in it? That is a meaningless term. I might have felt better if the language was for a conservation easement or a wildlife easement, which has a legal definition, and could be enforced.

And if that bit of legal laziness wasn't bad enough, the committee members were also informed that the agreement has already been broken. If the gentle reader will recall, I did a post yesterday with pictures of my young friend Izzy and her mom hugging a sycamore tree. I've been informed that there was an agreement that no work would be done within 200 feet of the area where this tree stands. It has now been reported to me, and to the board, that trees have been felled less than a 100 feet of this area. If they're breaking promises now, why would anyone believe that they will keep their word later?

But wait, there's more. This deal is really starting to have a weasel musk stink to it.

Remember, Scott Walker promised that he would not allow any development for this land, except for it to be a state forest. Obviously Walker broke this promise and has been pushing for this deal, originally with even cheaper rates for the private developer.

But if one looks at all of UWM's legal papers regarding this deal, there is a common name of Bruce T. Block. Mr. Block, by all I have heard, is a very capable and knowledgeable attorney that specializes in real estate deals. Mr. Block is also on the Board of Directors at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren law firm. This is the same law firm that has ties to the the pension scandal, and will be surely brought up in the Mercer lawsuit. This is also the same law firm that was the previous, and now, again, the current employer of Rick Graber, former head of the RPW and a big Walker supporter.

Now, I am not saying that this necessarily means any wrongdoing or other type of shenanigans have occurred or are occurring, but the connection is very interesting, in my humble opinion.

I have also heard that once the zoo interchange reconstruction is completed in a few years, land value in that area is going to triple. Since the committee didn't see fit to put concrete language that would lock UWM and its supposed land developer to do what they said they were going to do, what would keep them from flipping the property in a few years?

SIDE NOTE I: James Rowen has more on how goofy this whole thing is.

SIDE NOTE II: Showing their consistency in being inconsistent, the editorial board at the local paper notes that they think this is a good thing on their blog. Ironically, on the same day, they post a complaint that there is not not enough minorities in the suburban fire departments, totally ignoring the fact that the engineering school they are touting also has a dearth of minorities.

SIDE NOTE III: Kudos go out to Supervisors Lipscomb and West for voting no to this piece of garbage. Kudos also go out to Supervisor Weishan, who recognizing this was a bad deal, still tried to make the best of it by introducing a resolution that $2 million from the sale of this land go for tuition for women and minorities to attend the school of engineering, with a matching amount from UWM. Unfortunately, UWM is too greedy to agree and too many board members took the path of least resistance and made the lazy choice by voting it down.

So, where do we go from here?

Well, this isn't necessarily a done deal yet. It still has to go in front of the full board on May 21.

I will not lie to you, gentle reader. I do not know if there is enough supervisors on the board that still care enough about their community and their constituents to vote this thing down. Unfortunately, it appears that there are many supervisors that only see the dollar signs and are thinking of the major budgetary deficit that Walker has driven the county into. They would rather be lazy and take the easy way out by caving in to Walker and his cronies than to make some hard decisions, advocate for the county and offer up more reasonable solutions, like putting the new campus near Columbia Hospital or in the Park East corridor.

But what we can do is continue to call the supervisors. Continue to send the letters and the emails. And don't do this just for your supervisor, but try to contact all of them. (Well, maybe not Cesarz or Rice. They are too far in Walker's camp to make rational decisions. But you could try anyway.)

Tell them how priceless this land is, what it means to you and to the community as a whole. Tell them how essential this land is to not only the Monarchs, but for the other animals that live there or make it part of their migration. And how important it is to the people that go there to learn more about the world around them, or just to soak in and be refreshed by the beauty of the land.

Ask them to look at other, more attractive options, like the Park East area. That would be a win-win deal. It would give UWM a lot of ground near hospitals, near other schools, and near their own campus. It would meet all their needs. And it would allow something constructive to be done with the Park East area, which Walker's people have been unable to come up with on their own.

And if they still refuse to stand up and do their jobs, then demand that they put in language into the deal that will guarantee and force UWM and their private land developer buddies have to protect the Monarch Trail. Demand that they will build a school there, and keep it there, not just to build a resort hotel and a restaurant. Also demand that UWM must maintain the land and not just sell it in a few years for a massive profit. Tell them that the County and UWM should put forth tuition contributions so that there can be people in these programs that might not have otherwise have had the chance to go into these fields.

And then get your family and friends to do the same. If we all do this, they will have to hear us.


  1. You have so many unbelievably logical arguments in this post. How absolutely foolish and short-sighted a decision. I keep thinking of it in terms of: legacy open protected land- keep it that way; Columbia (I worked there for years, loved it, made my peace with the fact that it is closing and there is nothing I can do about it) is already buildings, some of which are historic and beautiful. Already built! Already nestled into the L-shaped UWM campus!!! I will post about this very soon myself...maybe tonight after the nurses' Lamplight Walk on the UWM campus. Walking always gets me to thinking logically. Maybe Walker should try it sometime.

  2. Holy long post Batman. 2 side notes…no 3 side notes…

    Capper that is a very long post. 1444 words long. Have you not been critical of others that have had long posts?

  3. Jeff N-

    I'm impressed that you took the time to count the words. Too bad you didn't take the time to address the issue - unless of course you are OK with Walker et al. ripping you off.

    As for being critical, I believe the comment was something about taking a long way to saying nothing. That wouldn't fit in this case, now would it?


    You don't know the half of it.