Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pothole Season Truly and Deeply Sucks

Pothole angling is a favorite summer pastime for the youth of Bend.

The City of Bend does many things badly, and road maintenance is one of the things it hardly does at all.

We're barely into the winter here in Bend, and the local streets and roads are in the worst shape I've ever seen them. Every heavily traveled arterial resembles a shell-pocked World War I battlefield. If you drive over one at any speed in excess of 10 miles per hour, you're probably going to have to make an appointment with your dentist for a couple of new crowns.

Things weren't always this bad. More than 25 years ago, when we first moved here, the streets were kept in pretty good repair. The city even plowed the snow off them -- at least the major ones.

So what went wrong? There's a one-word answer: GROWTH.

Back when Bend was a small town, the city's finances were pretty stable. It took in enough money in property taxes to perform basic municipal services. The potholes were patched, the snow was plowed, the schools stayed open, the water flowed through the water mains and the poop flowed through the sewers.

Then Bend took off in a frenzy of balls-out, hell-for-leather growth, expanding in all directions. Suddenly there were many more miles of streets and water mains and thousands more kids in the classrooms.

SDCs -- Systems Development Charges -- levied on developers are supposed to pay for the new infrastructure that growth requires. But they're set so low that they cover only a fraction of the costs. And they don't pay anything toward the maintenance of the roads, water mains and sewer lines once they're in place -- nor do they contribute anything toward the public school system.

The city got away with it for a few years by running what was essentially a Ponzi scheme, counting on new growth to generate the revenue needed to pay for present growth. But all Ponzi schemes collapse sooner or later, and when the real estate bubble popped, Bend's did.

Add to that the special problems created by Bend's embrace of sprawl -- development spread out over a wide area requires more miles of roads, sewers and water mains than more compact development -- and one can see why the city is now utterly and totally fucked. Municipal services of all kinds are worse in Bend now that it's an "affluent" city of 86,000 than they were in 1985, when it was a poor town of about 26,000.

If you're fortunate enough to live in a place that is NOT Bend and some local politician tries to sell you a line of bullshit about how growth will mean prosperity for your town, bring him to Bend, throw him into one of our potholes and shovel asphalt over him. You'll be doing both yourself and us a favor.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Out With the Old Suck, In With the New Suck

The last month of 2010 turned out to be considerably less sucky than I had anticipated. There actually were a few rather pleasant sunny (though bitterly cold) days scattered through it, including a whole four-day stretch from the 14th through the 17th. And the month ended with two brilliantly sunny, crisp days.

All that, however, could not prevent December from recording more suckiness than sunniness, with a total of 12 days of sun vs. 19 days of suck, for a suck-to-sun ratio of 60:40. Overall, the year had 205 days of sun and 160 days of suck, yielding a sun-to-suck ratio of roughly 56:44.

Which at first glance doesn't look too bad. Like other averages, however, this one can be misleading. The bulk of the sunny days --118 of them -- occurred in the five-month period from June through October. During the whole period of January through May, only 81 sunny days were logged.

June through October were the only months in which sunny days predominated over sucky ones. And the first three-quarters of June and the latter half of October were mainly sucktacular, so the predominantly sunny period was really only about four months long.

What have we learned from this year-long experiment? I believe the data point clearly to two conclusions:

1. The "300 days of sunshine a year" claim is (as originally hypothesized) pure bullshit. It's inflated by almost 50%.

2. If you want to enjoy sunshine, be in Bend between mid-June and mid-October and get the hell out of here for the eight other months of the year.

December Totals:

Days of Sun: 12
Days of Suck: 19

2010 Totals:

Days of Sun: 205
Days of Suck: 160