Tuesday, December 5, 2017 Blog · News

Threats to credit ratings, bogus and real. Why Vancouver is delightful. Bad zoning makes bad communities. Young farmers on the rise. Dolphins love Beaufort! Goldfinch doesn’t love dolphins. Or public participation…

by Dana Beach

Folks,

Every year or so, a politician pronounces that something he supports must be done to protect the city or county’s credit rating.  Consider Charleston County Council, for example, where I-526 boosters have routinely justified building the interstate to Johns Island because our “bond rating would suffer” if they didn’t.  This was always hogwash and most people knew it.

But here’s a real threat to local government credit.  Bloomberg News reports that Moody’s, the bond rating agency, will evaluate whether cities and counties are taking steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Bloomberg: Moody’s warns cities to address climate risks or face downgrades

If they fail to invest adequately in projects that reduce climate risk, they will see borrowing costs rise and lenders disappear.

From the article:

Coastal communities from Maine to California have been put on notice from one of the top credit rating agencies: Start preparing for climate change or risk losing access to cheap credit.

In a report to its clients Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service Inc. explained how it incorporates climate change into its credit ratings for state and local bonds. If cities and states don’t deal with risks from surging seas or intense storms, they are at greater risk of default.

“What we want people to realize is: If you’re exposed, we know that. We’re going to ask questions about what you’re doing to mitigate that exposure,” Lenny Jones, a managing director at Moody’s, said in a phone interview. “That’s taken into your credit ratings.”

We will see whether those council members who defended our credit ratings with such exuberance will as enthusiastically promote the investments in flood and storm abatement measures necessary to preserve those same ratings, this time in the face of bona fide threats.  (I’m hopeful, but I’m not holding my breath.)

Speaking of municipal investments, a few weeks ago I wrote that cities around the country were dismantling urban interstates and replacing them with parks, sidewalks, bikeways, and other things not so threatening to human and non-human life.  One place that excels in accommodating people over machines and pollution is Vancouver, B.C.

When I visited about 10 years ago, residents were debating whether the crowded pedestrian lanes should be wider, because rollerbladers were bumping into bicyclists.  This is definitely a First World problem!

This article (and video) from Vox reports that 50 percent of all trips in Vancouver are either by bike, foot or transit and explains how that happened.

Vox: In Vancouver, 50% of trips are by foot, bike, or transit. This video shows how they did it.

From the article:

Progressive political leadership has made alternative transportation modes in Vancouver not just practical but better – “delightful,” as (Vancouver chief planner) Toderian says.

The downtown core, along with more and more outlying neighborhoods, is crisscrossed with physically separated bicycle lanes, making bicycling substantially safer and more pleasant.  Ten percent of all commutes are now done on bicycles, putting Vancouver far ahead of its North American peers. (Charleston is a fraction of a percent, because bike commuting is generally dangerous, and not remotely delightful.)

Vancouver’s success is the fruit of decades of careful planning and investment focused on getting people out of cars and off gridlocked highways.  (And, by the way, we spend so much time getting around, why shouldn’t it be delightful?!)

There is some good news!  Charleston, Beaufort, Georgetown and Myrtle Beach, have a leg up because of their traditional, connected, street networks.  Unlike say, Charlotte, it won’t take massive amounts of money to shift to modes of travel that are less polluting, safer, more efficient, and even delightful.

The biggest challenge is to fix a few bottlenecks (like the Ashley River Bridge) and not screw things up.  That said, we are working overtime to turn our pocketbooks and our communities over to the asphalt industry, (e.g. the extension of I-526 to Johns Island, I-73 to Conway, the extension of the Glenn McConnell Expressway…).

Another way to screw things up is to prohibit the very housing types that produce the least traffic congestion, consume vastly less land, and increase economic and racial diversity (a.k.a. apartments).  This article from the Washington Post reports that the “left,” once a strong advocate for conventional zoning and building restrictions, has now had a change of heart.

Washington Post: The left reconsiders zoning

From the article:

Many on the political left have begun to rethink restrictive zoning and point out the ways in which it makes housing more expensive for the poor and lower middle class, and deprives them of job opportunities. Historically, zoning has deep roots in progressive thought, and today it is most aggressively used in more liberal cities. But liberals are increasingly recognizing that this progressive institution has gone way too far.

There are many reasons to reduce the conversion of rural land to subdivisions, strip malls and office parks.  Water quality, wildlife habitat and recreational space are a few.  Another is to grow food, a fairly basic necessity.

This next article from the Washington Post reports that the number of young farmers is increasing, a demographic phenomenon that is unknown in our time.

Washington Post: A growing number of young Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm

From the article:

For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census of Agriculture. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees — significantly higher than the general population.

The author reports that these educated tillers of the earth are also more likely to grow organically and to sell locally.  She cautions, however, that they still represent a much smaller influx than the outflux of farmers of the older variety.  But one thing is clear – if agriculture, local and otherwise, is to flourish – we need to do our part to make sure there is ample land available, uncompromised by urban sprawl.

Fortunately, despite the potential explosion of urban sprawl (which I reported on last week) in Hardeeville, bottlenose dolphins are still willing to visit and reside in Beaufort waters, according to this article from the Island Packet.

Island Packet: Dolphin lovers, rejoice! Why you’ll see more of them in the Lowcountry in December

The article explains that some dolphins stay here year-round.  (And why not?)  Additionally, the piece includes four delightful videos, including one from National Geographic of dolphins strand feeding (behavior that is unique to South Carolina and Georgia animals, perhaps because we have the best mud flats…) in the Waccamaw River.  From the article:

“South Carolina is a way point for migratory animals,” said McFee. “Usually around November or December you’re going to start seeing larger numbers of dolphins as those animals start moving south, and then again in March and April as they move back.”

That means that right now you have a better chance of seeing dolphins off the Lowcountry coast.

Not all dolphins migrate, though, according to McFee. A certain segment of the coastal dolphin population stays put year round, looking to eat fish that swim into warmer coastal waters from estuarine systems as those systems grow cooler.

One person who clearly hates dolphins is Georgetown senator Stephen Goldfinch.  This editorial from the Post and Courier reports on his support for offshore drilling in the state legislature.  Goldfinch reportedly doesn’t “believe” that seismic blasting is harmful to marine life.

Sadly for marine life, dolphins included, what Senator Goldfinch chooses to believe doesn’t change the facts – scores of studies have shown that these underwater cannons can disorient, deafen and kill marine life in the vicinity of the testing.

Post and Courier: Editorial board: Oil and S.C. waters just don’t mix

Fortunately, opponents outdid supporters at this hearing, both in numbers and logical coherence.  From the article:

Testifying before an ad hoc House committee on offshore drilling this week, Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet, argued for a statewide referendum to let voters decide whether offshore waters should be opened for exploration. He said he doesn’t believe seismic testing is harmful to marine life and, despite being “villainized” for his stance, believes “we need to know what we have” in terms of undersea oil and natural gas deposits.

Sen. Goldfinch’s arguments were ably countered by Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and City Councilman Mike Seekings, Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin, Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, Georgetown County Councilman John Thomas and Georgetown City Councilman Al Joseph, who spoke before the committee.

So, thank you to Messrs. Tecklenburg, Seekings, Goodwin, Keyserling, Lazarus, Thomas and Joseph for their leadership!

At least Senator Goldfinch is consistent.  He has roughly the same level of respect for the public’s role in environmental permitting that he does for dolphins.  This next article, from the Post and Courier, reports that he wants to eliminate the “automatic stay,” a legal “time out” that prohibits a state agency (let’s say the DOT, for example) from filling wetlands before citizens have a chance to bring their argument against the destruction to court.  Goldfinch calls the stay “legal bribery.”  (Hmmm…)

Post and Courier: Myrtle Beach area legislators focused on development issues in the new year

For the “other side of the story,” the Conservation League’s Lisa Turansky responds:

“We feel like it’s an important part of due process and citizens’ rights,” she said. “We don’t think of it as a delaying tactic, we think of it as an insurance policy for the things we value.”

Tell it, Lisa!  And with those words of wisdom, go forth and enjoy the week, and the dolphins, if you are lucky enough to see some!

Dana


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