Can a streetcar be the savior for a city?

Streetcars are increasingly seen as boons to local economies. And with a $130 million federal fund aimed at streetcar projects, some are expecting more systems to develop, according to this article. Others, though, still question the investment. St. Charles, MO has discussed in the past implementing a streetcar. Since the city has now sidelined the "trolley", is it time to discuss fixed rail streetcars again?

"[T]here's nothing streetcars can do that buses can't do better, faster, safer and for far less money, said CATO Institute senior fellow Randal O'Toole. 'Even though a single light-rail train can hold more passengers than a bus, a bus route can move more passengers per hour than any light-rail line.'

Portland's streetcar system attracts about 12,000 daily riders at an average ticket cost of $1.47. Its creators credit it with $3.5 billion in surrounding development, including shops, restaurants and 10,000 new housing units."

Story and Video on CNN


A Consignment of Tea December 16th, 1773

via Freemasons For Dummies by Chris Hodapp on 12/15/10

By 1770 British troops stationed in Boston were uniformly resented by the public, and the 29th and 64th Regiments were in for special scorn. Street fights were common, and the city was in an ugly mood. Yet, the records of the Freemsason-owned Green Dragon Tavern, ground-zero for the most notorious of Boston's rabble-rousers, show that they rented their meeting room to military lodges from both the hated 29th and 64th regiments of the British Army, and even cooperated with the Masonic troops when they applied to the Grand Lodge of Scotland for a charter. (The lodge purchased the tavern in 1764).

For years, the saying was that if you were in Boston's Green Dragon Tavern and ordered tea, you were a Tory. If you ordered coffee, you were a Patriot. This was a tough sacrifice, tougher than it sounds. The Colonists loved their tea, as syrupy sweet as they could make it, and it was hard to give it up for a mere political principle.

Boston's Green Dragon Tavern was a popular public house with the largest private meeting room in town, and many organizations connected with the early days of the revolution made use of its facilities. The North End Caucus, the Selectmen, the Long Room Club, the Loyal Nine, the Committees of Correspondence, and the Sons of Liberty were all groups engaged in various subversive activities in and around Boston. It was in this tavern that the Boston Tea Party was undoubtedly planned, and with plenty of men who shared membership in St. Andrew's Lodge.

In 1770, the Crown finally responded to the shrieking from British merchants who were losing their shirts from the trade boycott in the Colonies, and repealed all but the Tea Tax. Tea ranked fourth among all of Britain's exports to the Colonies, in spite of the fact that three fourths of the 1.2 million pounds per year of it Americans drank were illegally smuggled in from the Dutch. The tax on tea was a piddling one, but when Parliament had reluctantly repealed the rest of the taxes on the Colonies, King George III had insisted the tea tax remain, as proof that the Crown still had the right to tax its colonial citizens. Americans didn't happen to agree. Benjamin Franklin, in London to plead the case for the Colonies, made no headway.

On November 29th, 1773, the tea ship Dartmouth arrived in Boston. Attendees at a Town Meeting declared that they would never allow the tea to come ashore, but the Admiral of the British Navy announced he'd sink any ship loaded with tea that tried to leave the harbor without unloading it first. The Sons of Liberty sent guards to stand on the wharf to make sure the tea stayed on the ships. In response, the governor called out his Cadet Corps, and gave their colonel orders to keep peace at the wharf. Unfortunately for the governor and the Customs Office, the colonel of the Cadet Corps was St. Andrew's member John Hancock, so there probably wasn't a lot of peacekeeping to be in the offing. But the Sons of Liberty were in a bind, and the clock was ticking. The rules were that cargo had to be cleared by customs within twenty days, or it could be confiscated by the Crown revenue officers and distributed.

On the 15th of December, Grand Master of North America for the Moderns, John Rowe, and Grand Master of North America for the Ancients, Dr. Joseph Warren, met to discuss something other than a disagreement over Masonic rituals. Rowe owned one of the tea ships in the harbor, and Warren was a powerful ringleader in several Revolutionary organizations. Both men agreed that the Governor needed to act fast to avoid the potential danger to ships, cargo or people. Warren knew what was coming, even if Rowe did not.

On the last day of the Customs deadline, Brother John Hancock and Grand Master Rowe, along with the owner of the tea ship Dartmouth, met to convince the governor to step in and find some kind of compromise, but to no avail. The ships were not going to leave Boston Harbor without unloading the tea and paying the tax.

Brother Rowe's nephew John attended the Boston Town Meeting that night and wondered, to the amusement of the crowd, whether tea would mix properly in salt water. The Dartmouth's owner arrived at the meeting and reported the results of the day's meeting with the governor. Seven thousand Bostonians surrounded the Old South Meeting House to hear the news. At the same time, almost one hundred badly disguised Mohawk Indian imposters gathered at St. Andrew's member Johnathan Edes' print shop, waiting for Samuel Adams' signal to come from the Town Meeting.

At last, Adams stood and said, "This meeting can do nothing further to save the country." The word was passed to the street, and the "Indians" made for the harbor. Thousands of spectators made their way to the wharf and watched quietly as the raiders boarded three ships and sent 342 boxes of tea into the sea. The crews of the ships stayed below decks and did not put up a fight, and Governor Hutchinson's Cadet Corps moved away from the wharf. The British ships did nothing to stop the raid – a sixty-gun warship was within easy range – but its commanding officer, Admiral John Montague, watched the whole operation from his nearby home.

When the task was completed, the men shook their shoes out over the side of the ships to dump out any possible incriminating tea leaves. They then swept off the decks, and made each ship's first mate attest that only tea had been destroyed. As the weary "Indians" marched up the street, they passed the open window of Admiral Montague, who yelled down at them, "Well boys, you have had a fine, pleasant evening for your Indian caper, haven't you? But mind, you have got to pay the fiddler yet!"

Three months later, Parliament passed the Boston Port Bill, closing the harbor until somebody paid back the value of the destroyed tea, £9,659 and 6 shillings, just to be annoyingly precise about it, plus the lost duty on it. Not everyone was so pleased with the actions of the Sons of Liberty. In London, Ben Franklin recommended Boston pay for the cargo, but got little support. It is said he even offered to pay for it himself.

The original Green Dragon Tavern, known for many years as the Freemason Arms, was demolished in 1854. Boston's current current Green Dragon Tavern is at 11 Marshall Street in Boston's North End, despite its lofty historical claims, it is not the original.

(excerpted from Solomon's Builders: Freemasons, Founding Fathers and the Secrets of Washington DC)


Right to Work is a lesson in failure

Sen. Rob Mayer of Dexter, recently argued that Missouri could spur economic development by adopting a right-to-work law, as several low-wage Southern states have. What he doesn’t point out is the people who live in these same Southern states have the lowest standards of living in the country.

They have higher rates of poverty, fewer people with health insurance, higher infant mortality rates, lower education levels and higher job injury and mortality rates. The number of people without health insurance in right-to-work states is rising nearly 70 percent faster than in other states, 3.2 percent compared to 1.9 percent from 2000 to 2009.

Right to work laws lower wages for everyone. The average worker in a right to work state makes about $5,333 a year less than workers in other states ($35,500 compared with $30,167).[1] Weekly wages are $72 greater in free-bargaining states than in right to work states ($621 versus $549).[2] Working families in states without right to work laws have higher wages and benefit from healthier tax bases that improve their quality of life.

According to the federal census poverty data base [3] the  states with the highest percentage of people under the poverty line (2008 numbers) are:

(RTW)Texas: 15.8%
(RTW)Alabama: 15.9%
New Mexico: 17%
(RTW)Arkansas 17.3%
Kentucky: 17.3 %
West Virginia 17.4%
(RTW)Louisiana 17.6 %
(RTW)Mississippi: 20.8%

The US Average is 13.2% and Missouri is at 13.5%.

Federal law already protects workers who don’t want to join a union to get or keep their jobs. Supporters claim right to work laws protect employees from being forced to join unions. Don’t be fooled—federal law already does this, as well as protecting nonmembers from paying for union activities that violate their religious or political beliefs. This individual freedom argument is a sham.

Right to work endangers safety and health standards that protect workers on the job by weakening unions that help to ensure worker safety by fighting for tougher safety rules. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 51 percent higher in states with right to work, where unions can’t speak up on behalf of workers.[4]

Our country and the state of Missouri has a serious unemployment crisis and our state needs to create jobs. With 48 out of 50 states losing jobs, we should be working together to demand a responsible industrial policy that helps grow good jobs and rejects ill-advised trade deals that send our jobs overseas. Corporations are sitting on record profits rather than creating jobs and CEOs make record amounts compared to line-level workers.


[1] Average Annual Pay, 2001 from Bureau of Labor Statistics, State average annual pay for 2000 and 2001 and percent change in pay for all covered workers.

[2] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[3] US Census Poverty Database http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/saipe/national.cgi?year=2008&ascii=

[4] Workplace Fatalities from Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect. afl-cio. April 2002.


Moving towards the east...

Good time at lodge tonight. We had a Past Masters meeting and had to have a short lodge meeting to conduct some business that could not wait. The installation of officers for the 2010-2011 Masonic year was this past Saturday. I am personally very excited because I will be sitting as Senior Deacon for the next year. Not only do I have my own duties to perform, it is also my time to really dig into the meat of studying in preparation to become an elected officer of the lodge. After this year, it will be a short couple of years until my turn in the east.


Let's have a good week out there...

Looks like great weather this week for those of us fortunate enough to live down here in the St. Charles locale. Yesterday was quite the hot and humid day! Wife wanted to take a trip down to Festival of Little Hills in old town. We were there quite early and the vendors were just opening up. Like most Festival of Little Hills in the past, storm came in during the festival (Friday afternoon) and dumped a bunch of water on the park. So by Sunday the humidity and mud was pretty bad.

Surprisingly, a lot of people were turning out as we wandered about the tents and vendors. About 20 minutes into our walk about, we were totally soaked from sweat. Managed to retreat after about an hour without buying anything. Not that there wasn't anything that I wanted to buy, but with the wife still unemployed we need to keep watching the money. Maybe next year she can buy stuff... if she gets a job.

My wife's mother took our daughter to the Cardinals game and they had a great time, especially with the Cards winning 9-0. She talked about it all evening. She was still so excited about it she ended up being very difficult when we told her it was time for bed.


New Urbanism

The hottest topic in urban design and planning is “new urbanism”. Creating a sustainable, pedestrian-friendly, people-centered community that isn’t totally dependent on automobiles is the core idea of new urbanism. The urban sprawl that has run rampant throughout the United States has made a lot of people question the appeal of the suburbs. There are claims that the rise of strip malls, big-box stores and the ever shrinking downtown areas have weakened community bonds and interactivity that used to happen downtown.

We have a "new urbanist" community here as well. New Town at St. Charles endeavors to push at some boundaries that suburbs, especially in St. Charles County, are able to accomplish. It is certainly not sustainable at this point, there aren't enough people living there yet. New Town does have a lot of potential. But the biggest problem is that the location of New Town, it is on the edge of the city of St. Charles. There isn't an infrastructure that closely ties it into the downtown of St. Charles or really within the structure of the city of St. Charles.

The other problem facing New Town is a completely indifferent City Council and Mayor. New Town seems to be the red-haired stepchild of the city of St. Charles. The residents pay their taxes and have actually been adding quite a bit to the moribund city coffers. But when it comes time for the city to maintain services, it seems that New Town and the residents seem to be left to themselves. At least that is the perception from out here in the cornfields.

And all of this does not mean that New Town is doomed to failure, just that it is as different form of New Urbanism. Many of the new urbanist communities are actually attempting to rebuild in an existing infrastructure.  As an example, Metropolis Magazine had an interesting article a few weeks ago highlighting two urban design projects – the State Center Complex in downtown Baltimore, MD and the Great River Park Project in St. Paul, MN. Both projects are governed by overarching ideas of new urbanism – hoping to increase pedestrian interaction in the city scape and promote urban environmentalism.

Redesigning City Centers, Rejuvenating Riverfronts


Have we forgotten what it means to be American?

Never forget what it is that makes America great especially as our cultural dialogue focuses and polarizes around race, religion and cultural identity. Remember, your duty to your country is constant. It's a fundamental duty to fight for equality - both for yourself and your fellow human.

Stand up for truth and justice. Stand up for America!


Feeling hoppy

The weather this morning was FANTASTIC! I just can say how much I've been enjoying getting up in the morning and the temps are under 70F. Woo-hoo!

This afternoon, my wife and I started harvesting the hops I've been growing in the backyard. We lost several of my plants when a neighbor took a trip through our yard into the side of another neighbor's garage.

We've been letting the trellis lay on the ground because it is bent so badly that it is not going to stand straight again and amazingly not all the plants were killed right off. We didn't get that many off it, but we were able to salvage a few.

Essentially, I cut off strands of vine and hops and my wife went through and was pulling the good hops out and throwing away the rest. We ended up with two large grocery bags full. Which isn't bad considering this is only their 2nd year. After we cut down the vines, we're going to have to re-consider how we're going to grow them next year. I'm obviously going to have to get a few more plants to replace the ones that were lost.

The weather looked like it was going to storm all late afternoon, so I worked at a good pace to get all the harvestable hops down before it rained. I don't think it did anything at all last night, rain-wise that is. I'm paying for it this evening, because my allergies are going full-tilt.

Anyway, glad to hear that the St. Charles City Council has taken a step back on giving the mayor a huge pay-raise. Like I've mentioned previously, I do believe that the mayor position is deserving of a pay-raise for everything the office is now responsible for. However, giveing a 40% raise when the city is struggling isn't going to be a good move at this point.


Freedom of Choice

Came across a great blog posting today,  New Urbanism - Freedom of Choice. I agree with much of what the author has posted here. Specifically, "...problem with zoning laws in this country that have had the unintended consequence of leading us to suburban sprawl, a dependence on automobiles, and a loss of opportunities to interact with neighbors..." really nails the current state of affairs that we see around us.

And it doesn't help with a lot of people that think along the same lines start backbiting either. I've seen a lot of this disagreement coming up with the people that are anti-anything that isn't Downtown St. Louis. If you live beyond Highway 270 ring, according to them, you're racist and participating in white-flight. Hmmm. Nope. Sorry. You're absolutely wrong, for all the wrong reasons.

I grew up in St. Charles County. I lived in St. Louis city for nearly 20 years. For that 20 years, nothing much happened to make the schools any better. In fact, I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that the school situation is now worse than it was when we moved to the city.  Although we've moved to St. Charles, we opted to move into New Town at St. Charles, because we do like the environment and the school district we're in now (Orchard Farm). If you don't want to live here, don't denigrate me for my choice. I had a specific punchlist of items that needed to be met before we made the choice. Likewise you have a similar list for why you are living where you are at.

It is almost as silly as the people that want to complain about a show on television that they don't like. Stop broadcasting! Boycott! Mmm, how about changing the channel or not watching television? Grump grump grump.

Now I'm just going to take my beer out front to the porch and listen to the cicadas sing me a lullaby.


Long day

Going to be a short post tonight. Just spent a long day at the part-time job. The weather was feeling pretty good tonight as I left the building. It was a beautiful sunset.

I'm hoping the wife has better luck this next week in trying to find a job. Unemployment is going to be running out pretty soon and we've been doing alright to this point, but I'd really rather not have to work multiple jobs. I'm just soooo tired sometimes.


Ahoy, Pirates!

We took our daughter down to the St. Louis Science Center today, specifically for the Real Pirates exhibit. We had a great time. They don't allow pictures from inside the exhibit, so I don't have any pictures to post. The took the concept that many of the Titanic exhibits have taken and featured one specific pirate ship and the crew.

It was very educational and showed pirates of the Golden Age of piracy in a new light. Or at least in a new light for me. We ended up spending almost two hours going through the exhibit. Towards the end our six-year-old was just wanting to get through the end (she was somewhat bored). I was having her read all the signs and helping with word pronunciation. She was very happy to learn that there was a type of ship called a "Pink". Pink being her favorite color, of course.

Spectrum is playing at New Town at St Charles tonight. It will be a great show, if you have time to show up. I won't be there because my Mother-In-Law's birthday is today and the family will be gathering for dinner.


Friday "Holy Cow Hot" Night

Friday was just such a hot day that you couldn't fry eggs on the sidewalk, because they would evaporate before making it to the concrete. OK, maybe not quite that hot, but it really felt like it. They were saying the heat index could approach 120F, but I'm not sure if we made it or not.

Friday night we took in the last show of the Muny season, "Show Boat". And as my dear wife said, if we didn't like the show so much we would have stayed home. As it was, we made it through the show and it was fantastic. The singing and dancing was phenomenal as usual. And the big news was that Paul Blake announced that next year would be his last year of producing shows at the Muny. I had not realized he has been doing this for over 20 years.


It's going to be just peachy

It is going to be really hot by this afternoon, but that is not deterring my wife and daughter to head over to Eckert's today to go peach picking. My daughter starts school on Wednesday at the new Discovery Elementary School and this will (obviously) be the last summer break activity that they'll get to do together. I wish I was in a position to take off work and join them as I'm sure it is going to be lots of fun. I'm hoping my wife will at least take a lot of pictures.


Summer is ending

OK, the temperatures that we're supposed to see (Excessive Heat Warning through Thursday night) would seem to indicate that we're still in the depths of summer. However, over at Orchard Farm Elementary School they are having open house tonight and school starts on Wednesday. And my baby girl is starting first grade this year!

We attended the first PTO meeting of the year last week at the new Discovery School, which Orchard Farm was able to build in the southern end of the district due to passing a no-tax increase bond issue a few years back. The need for the additional space became quite apparent last year when they had 7 classes of Kindergarten. Holy Cow! That was a lot of kids. The elementary school on the main campus was utilizing all rooms available for teaching space.

The bond issue is only going to go so far though. One of the things that is really hurting the Orchard Farm school district is all the TIFs that the St. Charles city council has given out in the last five years. The city council has really built up the Fountain Lakes Industrial Park, but money is not flowing into the school district because of the TIF.

And over in the St. Charles School District, they expected to receive a one-time, $1.2 million payment in lieu of taxes in 2008 from Cullinan Properties, the company building a mixed-use center at the site of the former Noah's Ark hotel. The district still has not received the payment, although it's in the budget for the 2010-11 year.

According to the Suburban Journals (http://is.gd/eadvu), there is going to be a meeting between the St Charles City Council and the Orchard Farm, St. Charles, and Francis Howell School Districts to "improve communication." The meeting is over in the St. Charles School District's administration center at 400 North Sixth Street at 6pm on Tuesday night.

I'm not sure if it is open to the public or not, but I would anticipate the discussions to be about as hot as the weather.


Crazy Busy Saturday

I am not a rich man by any means. In fact, I have to work a part-time job, in addition to my full-time job. And that is especially important since my wife has been unemployed since July  2009. Her employer at the time rolled up their operations here and moved to them to Ohio. Since my wife was just an administrative assistant, her job did not move. Not that we would have moved anyway.

She has been looking for work doing what she knows how to do, but has not been lucky enough to find an employer that wants her. She and hundreds of her "closest" friends are all looking for work doing the same thing. She found out last weekend that the last job that she interviewed for had over 200 applicants for one opening. At least she made it to the interview part.

Anyway, it is Sales Tax Free Weekend in Missouri this weekend. And my part-time job (and I thank God that it is only my part-time job) is at a retail store in St. Peters. Oh. My. God. It was crazy busy all day long. We finally really had a break about 30 minutes before the store closed last night.

Not that I'm really complaining, just not enough time to really get done everything we needed to get done yesterday. We're always stuck in two cycles of operation: not having enough work coming in and too much work coming in.

On my way to work this morning, I passed by Crossfit-TNT on New Town Blvd and the crowd of participants in the BackStoppers fund raiser was definitely building. The parking lot was pretty full and they were spilling over into the parking lot next door. Which is encouraging. I'm glad they're getting started early in the day, because that 5K run would be brutal if it later this afternoon.


A better morning?

The scene was horrible yesterday morning. The sight of two school buses carrying school band members to their fun day at Six Flags met with disaster, leaving two dead. I can't even think how horrible it would be to get that phone call from the school.

Here is a short list of articles around the net covering the accident:  St. Louis Post Dispatch; NPR; Chicago Tribune; USA Today; KMOV; CNN; Salon

And to add further injury, the bus that was dispatched to pick up accident victims has brake failure and also crashes. Fox2Now

If you are going to be in St. Charles this weekend, be sure to check out the Backstopper Fundraiser - Heroes For Heroes Challenge - Aug 8 @ 8am. The fundraiser will be held at 3683 New Town Boulevard(Crossfit-TNT gym) in St. Charles.


How much is enough?

Story posted today in the St. Louis Post Dispatch (http://is.gd/e4bI9)
about a bill sponsored by Councilman Richard Veit to give a big pay
raise to the mayor of the city of St. Charles, MO.

For those playing along, the position of mayor was a part-time
position until 2007 when the council agreed to get rid of the City
Administrator position and make the position of Mayor full-time. The
salary of Mayor was increased at time to $60,000.

I agree with Councilman Dave Beckering that the current salary is too
low for somebody managing 500 employees and a budget of $100 million.
However, with the current economic climate I really don't think this
is the time to give a major increase to anybody.

Under the current setting, the Mayor's salary will raise to $64,000 in
January 2011. Veit's bill will mandate a 2.5% annual increase over
three years which will take the salary over $91,000 by 2014.

With tax revenues staying relatively static and casino revenues
dropping, now is not the time to be talking about large salary
increases. Shouldn't the city be working getting more business into
the city and encouraging city businesses to expand? How do we get the
EDC to get business growing in St. Charles?

What do you think?


It's an Orange Day

With temperatures expected to pop over 100F with a heat index of 115F,
it is going to be a hot one in St. Charles today. The air quality for
today is "Orange". Which means that sensitive children and adults and
people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit
prolonged, moderate exertion outdoors. Looks like we might get a break
tonight though when a front moves through. The high for Thursday is
supposed to be just under 90F. Whew, almost parka weather there.