Archive for April, 2006

Gas tax

Posted by Nate in Bike Commuting, Politics.
Wednesday, April 12th, 2006 at 1:31 pm

[ Because I’ve started biking to work, I "get to" write this post. So there. ]

You heard it from the man, we’re "addicted to oil." A lot of people are suggesting a gas tax as a way to reduce our oil consumption – if it costs more, they reason, people will drive less, take public transportation, or buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle.

But will they? Gas prices here are up around 50 cents from a year ago, and while I can’t find any figures right now to back this up my hunch is that no one is changing their driving habits. Sure, some people are buying hybrids (if they can afford them), but most people (K and I) have just been sucking up the increase. How long can that go on? What kind of tax are we talking about to get people to actually drive less? Is $3/gal the magic threshold? Are people ok with paying this much for now because they think – like last year – it will fall back to a more "reasonable" level? And then what will people do once gas finally reaches that "too much" number? The public transportation in most cities simply will not cut it in the form it exists today. Am I really asking everyone to ride a bike every day?

No. Not yet, anyway… In the meantime I do think there should be some sort of new gas tax, but not without protections to make sure it’s not a regressive tax. At the minimum it should be offset by tax deductions for low to mid income earners. The rest of the revenue should be put into 1. new public transportation infrastucture (not just more roads for more cars), 2. campaigns for alternative transportation, and 3. increased tax breaks for purchases of super fuel-efficent vehicles. Those are all Good Things. Oh yeah, and we should also increase (by a lot) the mandatory fuel efficiency ratings for new vehicles – hopefully #3 will help with that.

So I’m stopping short (for now) of telling everyone to ride their bike all the time, but I think I’ll have enough "get to" points built up by next year if I bike through the winter. So there.

[ …The bike ride in today was wonderful: spring is everywhere, things are blooming, the temperature is fantastic, I arrive at work with my brain engaged and awake, I’m getting exercise and saving money. Awesome. ]

I heart rain gardens!

Posted by Karen in Landscaping.
Friday, April 7th, 2006 at 12:58 pm

You know how it is when you learn a new word that you don’t think you’ve ever heard before, and then suddenly you hear it allllll the time? Well that’s me and rain gardens right now. I recently learned about them at a session on using native plants in urban settings at the annual MN Shade Tree Short Course. And now it seems like I hear about them everywhere! The new edition of our neighborhood newspaper arrived the other day, and there was a front page article about rain gardens and green roofs. I had a meeting at the Minnetonka Public Works building yesterday and I parked my car and looked up to see that I had parked right in front of a rain garden, complete with information sign (it looked suspiciously similar to your average drainage ditch, but I bet in a couple of months it will kabloom with native wildfowers and grasses).

So having decided that we simply must have a rain garden of our own, I embarked on some research. To my delight, there was a lot of really great info out there, leading me to wonder how in the world a natural resources grad student such as myself could have made it this far without learning about this! The main benefit of a rain garden is that they filter stormwater runoff and reduce the amount of pollutants draining to lakes and streams, mitigating one of the main environmental problems in urban areas these days. But in addition to this, they help recharge groundwater, protect from flooding and drainage problems, provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects, and they just plain look and smell pretty! Rain garden, will you marry me?

In Karen’s perfect world, our whole yard would be one giant rain garden, but for practical purposes I think we’ll start small. Regular Duo Team readers may recall that our back yard has had some drainage issues in the past. Granted, that was an extreme rain event. But even with regular storms, there’s pooling and general swamp-like conditions, resulting in Nate and I having to sort of hopscotch and curse our way from the back door to the garage in the morning. Improvements on the half-buried path from door to garage are high on my list of spring/summer goals as well, but if we could channel the water to a cutie little rain garden it could significantly improve our quality of life at the ole DT headquarters.

It turns out that there is this great Minneapolis Blooms program, which started holding FREE rain garden workshops last year. They held 18 workshops and expected about 300 people, and ended up having over 500 people attend and another 400 on a waiting list! This year they were able to offer 38 workshops. As soon as I read about it I went to sign up, only to find out that they have been full for some time. I’m bummed I don’t get to go to one this year, but how great is it that there is so much interest? They also apparently have rain garden interns who you can hire to come to your house for an on-site consultation for a mere $20! sweeeeet.

I was able to find some other workshops on Lawncare for Water Quality, offered by Friends of the Mississippi, which include rain gardens in the topics they cover, but have yet to find out if they too are already full. Even if they are, I feel like I have enough resources right now to sit down and bust out a plan. For one thing, my officemate has offered his assistance. He works at Kestrel Design Group, a private consulting firm that does ecological restorations and landscape architecture (and the ones who designed the green roof on the Phillips Eco Center, a seriously amazing green building on a former city brownfield, home of the Green Institute, and incidentally, only a few blocks from our house), and has some experience with rain gardens. I also have an arsenal of how-to guides from the internets, like this one and this one.

The main challenge will be, as usual, time. And the thorn in my side that is my research project. That’s right, it’s STILL not done, though it is crawling at a snail’s pace ever closer to the finish line. Some day very soon, I just know it…

PS – Holy links Batman! Can you handle it? I just gave you a reason to not work for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.

Minneapolis Observer

Posted by Nate in Neighborhood, Politics.
Thursday, April 6th, 2006 at 10:42 pm

The Twin Cities are blessed with several above-average news outlets, among whose number I am not going to count either the Pioneer Press or the Star Tribune. While they serve their purpose on some levels, they are utterly unattractive to me as news sources simply because they’re trying too hard to get readers. They, like almost all newspapers in recent years, are scrambling to adapt to the huge changes brought on by the web, and just Don’t. Get. It. It’s a desperate race for the last paying subscriber, and they’re all betting he only likes sensational non-news. (and a ton of ads)

So where’s a discriminating news junkie to turn? The internets, obviously. More specifically, the Minneapolis Observer. They’d been on my radar for a while, but lately have just been astounding in their coverage of local politics, theatre, issues, everything. I would say they’re "scooping" the big boys, but as I said above, the big boys aren’t even trying. So check out their about us page, start reading their stories, and if you like what you see – send them some love.

In our own local news, we just got 2" of rain dumped on us in just a few hours! Karen’s been talking about setting up a rain garden – watching the water pool in our lawn from roof runoff made me think maybe we should… If we can just make it doggie-proof.

“Democracy makes me tired…”

Posted by Nate in Landscaping, Politics.
Saturday, April 1st, 2006 at 5:36 pm

Whew. What a day – Karen and I went as delegates to the DFL SD62 convention, and man, are we tired. We went to our precinct caucus back on March 7th without a real clear understanding of the process, who we got to endorse, etc., and as you’ll know if you read this blog the last month has been über hectic for both of us: we were barely able to find the time to properly research the state senate candidates, let alone make a decision. We’d been tipped off early on to keep an eye out for Matt Gladue, but this Alex kid was running a really high-energy campaign, and what about Scott and Tina and … Who to endorse?

Finally last week we went to a house party for Matt hosted by one of our neighbors, just a few of us and him, and it was one of those incredibly awesome moments of really connecting with a candidate. He was articulate, passionate, intelligent, and listened to what we were asking and saying. His answers were honest and didn’t smack of being tailored to what he thought we wanted to hear – and he had concrete plans! He had experience! In short, it was the kind of meeting I wish I had been in two months earlier so I could have devoted more time and energy to the campaign: here was the candidate I had been looking for. We went home, contributed, and emailed Matt and his campaign manager to get involved. So today at the convention we were two of the people running around in Matt Gladue T-Shirts handing out stickers, polling our precinct, and most important/difficult of all – trying to convince the undecided delegates to vote for our boy.

I’ll spare you the blow by blow – you can read the link above for the rules on the convention endorsement procedure, but the end of the story is that Matt came in a very strong second place after 4 rounds of voting and out of 8 candidates – but he did it with such class, dignity, and eloquence that he raised the bar — even in losing — for the winner. I feel incredibly happy to have been a part of his campaign, even for a few short days.

Here’s a picture (blurry, sorry) of him on stage with the endorsement winner – Patricia Torres Ray. She immigrated to Minnesota from Columbia (I think) 19 years ago and will make an excellent state senator, so our district is still a winner.

In other politics, we got to hear 1 minute stump speeches from the 8 thousand people running for US Congress and US Senate in our district, as well as state Governor – and I have to say that Becky Lourey was a big, big hit. We started to do the whole process of sub-caucusing to help her get delegates at the state convention, but Karen and I had been fighting headaches all day and couldn’t deal – plus Bruno was about due to explode if he didn’t get his evening walk… So we had to leave. But it looked like she had good support, and hopefully she’ll get some good delegates from our district.

Finally, our bulbs are starting to come up!! Spring is coming, the days are getting longer, and there are still good people out there running for office…