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Friday, March 14, 2008

Driven to Distraction

City debates electronic signs

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Why stop with cell phones, texting, DVDs, CDs, the radio, fast food, traffic, construction, snowbanks and pedestrians? Add electronic billboards to the list of drivers’ distractions. On March 18, the city’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee will debate—yet again—regulations for electronic billboards in residential neighborhoods. If passed, “automatic changeable message signs” would be allowed every 1,000 feet and could change every eight seconds, or about seven times a minute. Right now they’re only allowed on federal highways, but a test sign has been up at Oakland and North avenues without much fuss.

Outgoing Alderman Mike D’Amato has been pushing for this ordinance locally, and Clear Channel Communications has been advocating for it nationally. But push-back has come from Aldermen Mike Murphy and Bob Bauman, who are concerned about safety and light pollution coming from these TV-type signs.

Although the Federal Highway Administration is going to launch a twoyear study this summer, the ordinance would allow for these signs before their effect is totally known. The ordinance would allow the city’s Department of Public Works to order signs to be turned off if they interfere with traffic signals or controls, create a “confusing or dominating background” or otherwise obstruct a driver’s line of sight.

Unite!: Environmental advocates and big labor are teaming up to call for Wisconsin to act on climate change legislation. A statement was released last week by Dan Kohler, director of Wisconsin Environment, and Jon Geenen, international vice president of United Steelworkers, pushing for clean energy incentives that are included in the Wisconsin Safe Climate Act. Kohler and Geenen note that climate change affects Wisconsin’s agriculture, shipping, trade, tourism and recreation. They also note that investing in green technologies could create more than 35,000 new jobs here.

“Wisconsin is uniquely positioned to address global warming by harnessing clean, homegrown renewable energy from the wind and the sun and from our farms,” they wrote. For the full statement, go to www.wisconsinenvironment.org.

Green Opportunities: Here’s one more reason why Wisconsin should develop a cutting-edge “green” economy—our old industries are deserting us and our old image doesn’t reflect us anymore. This week’s announcement that the United States Bowling Congress is moving its longtime headquarters from Greendale, Wis., to Texas only proves that the city and state must work harder to develop a 21st-century economy and image that don’t rely on bowling, beer and brats. (The Bronze Fonz fans may disagree.) The governor’s call to re-brand the state is a step in the right direction.

Virtual School Compromise: A tentative compromise over publicly funded virtual schools has been worked out over the past week, and it just may stick. According to the deal, the schools can remain open and receive state funding, but enrollment is permanently capped at 5,250 students. Siblings of current students aren’t affected by the cap. The Legislative Audit Bureau is being asked to study virtual schools and the individual schools are being governed by new accountability measures.

The legislation is necessary because an appeals court ruled this winter that homebased virtual schools aren’t public charter schools since parents are the main educators, while licensed teachers have very little contact with students.

McBride Continues Irrational Crusade: Former reporter and right-wing radio host Jessica McBride, never known for her deep sensitivity—she was one of the few hardhearted souls who mocked Parkinson’s-afflicted Michael J. Fox—is continuing her irrational crusade against illegal immigrants. But this time she’s using her UW- Milwaukee students as her trusty assistants.

McBride has been bashing immigrants for years now, knowing that she can inflame both sides of the political spectrum with her over-the-top attacks. First she used her blog. Then she was going to research illegal immigrants in the corrections system for the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Just after she announced her project, her husband, former Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher, started quoting stats on the very same topic during his failed campaign for state attorney general. Cory Liebmann, then blogging independently, pointed out the coincidence, and McBride dropped her project. Bucher lost in the primary to J.B. Van Hollen.

But the crusading McBride hasn’t given up on her misguided dream of demonizing immigrants—she’s just using her students at a public, state-funded university to advance her agenda. This past week, Frontpage Milwaukee, an online student publication, published an investigative piece on illegal immigrants in the corrections system. The paper’s faculty supervisor is—you guessed it—Jessica McBride.

Slight Drop in Crime: The Milwaukee Police Department released preliminary crime numbers for 2007 and found that there’s been a slight dip in total violent crime (about 0.8%) and an even larger drop in robberies and motor vehicle theft. New MPD Chief Edward Flynn credits that to an increased number of traffic stops, which has snared “repeat offenders who used stolen cars to commit robberies.”

Water Compact Stalled: It doesn’t look like the state Assembly and Senate will agree on the final version of the Great Lakes Water Compact during this session. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, passed a strong version last week on a 26-6 vote. But the state Assembly has an entirely different agenda, and state Rep. Scott Gunderson (R- Waterford), the chair of the Natural Resources Committee, has attempted to blow up the compact by working bilaterally with Ohio. That would force the remaining six Great Lakes states to go back to the drawing board and start over again.

There is pressure to move forward with a compact that limits removing water from the Great Lakes, since water is seen as a precious resource all over the country. But Republicans in the Assembly may be digging in their heels because it’s their last chance to cause chaos. It looks like Democrats will turn out in force in the November elections, and they have a strong chance of taking over the Assembly. And once Democrats control both houses of the Legislature—and the governor’s office—they’ll pass the original version of the compact and move on to other important matters.

St. Patrick’s Bash: If your name is Patrick, Patricia or even Fitzpatrick, you can attend Discovery World’s St. Patrick’s Weekend bash for free. (If it’s your middle name, you only pay half-price. Everyone else gets a $2 discount on the regular admission.) The March 15-16 celebration includes free samples of green beer and root beer; classes on the fine art of brewing stout beer or red ale; a scavenger hunt; Irish music and movies; a green-colored indoor Lake Michigan; historian John Gurda’s talk on the Irish in Milwaukee; and a lot of activities for kids.

Plus, you can share a slice of Discovery World Chairman of the Board Michael Cudahy’s birthday cake. Check the Web site for details, reservations and schedule: www.discoveryworld.org.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com.

Photo submitted by Katurah McNichols

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