Monday, August 20, 2018

Let’s develop a shared vision for Livingston’s future


I was glad to see that the Aug. 10 edition of The Enterprise covered both of the community events I had attended that week: the Aug. 7 City Commission meeting and the Aug. 9 public lands film screening. These two events were well attended by Livingston locals who are passionate about preserving the best qualities of our special section of Montana.

When I left the public lands film screening, I felt a terrific sense of shared purpose among the audience members. Despite our different preferences for how to enjoy public lands, both the trail runners and the back country hunters seemed to agree on the importance of protecting this public resource. By contrast, I left the City Commission meeting feeling very discouraged by the sharp divide over how we might guide future development here in Livingston.

The main decision for Tuesday night was a proposed zoning change of land next to the Printing for Less headquarters. Even though that parcel is located at the far west edge of town, public comments were primarily focused on our town center. Everyone seemed to agree that we need to develop more housing in ways that won’t divert traffic from our existing businesses. But judging from the public comments and the conversation among the City Commissioners, there is no shared understanding about which strategies will best meet these goals.

I commend Commissioner Sandberg for pointing out that a “comprehensive growth policy” would be a useful guide for future development decisions. I believe that our best path forward is to develop a shared vision of how we want our community to expand in the years ahead. I hope The Enterprise will keep us informed of when and where these crucial conversations will be taking place.

Barb Oldershaw

Commission needs to slam on the brakes and start asking questions


Friday’s Enterprise had an article appropriately entitled “Crossroads.” In a story entitled “Growing Pains” a week earlier, one concerned citizen was quoted as saying, “If we don’t have a vision for Livingston, developers will.”

It was maybe even too optimistic. Apparently, bypassing the public, they already have. The “city manager/ engineer/ Bozeman developer” form of government which has been in effect for some time will present its plan, with the help of another “traffic study” grant, and prospective cost to us of $17.5 million, to the Livingston City Commission, at their meeting next Tuesday, Aug. 21 at 6:30 p.m. The simplified version is, turn Livingston into a suburb of Bozeman, cough up ever more money — and no public input from you.

The crossroads is serious. There are two things at stake not mentioned in the article: (1) Livingston’s economic future, pivoting on the question of whether we look more like Whitefish, or Belgrade, and (2) whether we now no longer even pretend the people have any say in government or their future. Will the current “city manager/ engineer/Bozeman developer” form of government, so obvious in the $17.5 million dollar bond to be railroaded through, be the future, or a government actually conducted according to the laws on the books?

The commission needs to slam on the brakes and start asking questions. Should you look at both issues, the need for the city commission to see the study and not act next Tuesday is imperative!

Who is really going to foot this whopping $17.5 million dollar bill? If you believe the experts as expressed in a talk on city tax by Joe Mionocozzi (search the first part of Urban3 on YouTube), you will see that our already strained downtown will bear the lion’s share of the burden, even though the buildings and businesses are recovering from reduced traffic and their new whopping increases for their portions of the latest sidewalks work. According to the two studies done on Livingston’s economy, Comprehensive Economic Development Study (CEDS), our source of income in our beautiful town is tourism and ranching, and cities like ours lose money on suburbs.

Lord help us for asking Livingston to be a strong, healthy, economic entity of its own, like Whitefish, and asked the “city manager/ engineer/ developer” form of government to factor in our dream for adequate incomes from our predominate city-wide revenue source — tourism.

Don’t let them bait and switch and say openness and transparency are “opposition.” There’s a reason growth plans are supposed to incorporate the people’s participation and input. Critically, that’s where we actually get to ask who will pay the bill and how much. Which even more importantly brings us back to question 2 above: who decides our future? Is it representative democracy, or is it a good old boys in the shadows getting rubber stamps on boondoggles? Hint: it’s supposed to be the already hard-pressed wage-earners, businesses, and fixed-income retirees already toiling at the wheel.

You can see the degree of competence in this born in the shadows “plan” in what it does with the eternally dragging new railroad crossing. The city, having bungled this task for well over a decade, now still insists yet again on throwing good money after bad.

Any shred of intelligence brought to this process would point out that the cost of an overpass coming out of Northern Lights Boulevard and hooking into a proposed arterial is the same as the planned flooding-vulnerable underpass that would eat a watershed and riparian spring. It could be bonded now, it would not be eco-destructive and it would have far less risk of years of still more delays in hostile lawsuits. The city breathes freer without back room cigar smoke.

Even if there are good elements in the proposal, it is for our citizens to decide and work with their representatives on rather than yet another “traffic study” that forces yet another complete boondoggle package down our throat without any true say from the people footing the bill. We could have learned this recently with the engineering study that nearly led to a potentially disastrous one-way downtown street routing, because the engineers claimed it would add thirty parking spots. But when the actual people and businesses got tired of eternally being sidelined by the city, they found a skilled, internationally recognized urban planner, and the door opened not only to keep a sane two-way plan, but actually add a potential 100 parking places to let customers arrive directly, instead of being forced to circle like starving vultures.

And it could have happened without all the heartache — had the people of Livingston actually been brought in to participate and appropriate protocol followed instead.

The opposite effect is mind-boggling. Who would seriously put an underpass into the watershed of a pristine spring, or propose potential eminent domain into property historically opposed to both annexation into the city and development? It is unconscionable. We not only can’t afford the suits, they are unnecessary — but they are inevitable if the commission does its traditional boondoggle rubber stamping on Tuesday.

Many elements proposed by the “city manager/ engineer/ Bozeman developer” form of government won’t even happen immediately, so what is lost with normal public education and discussion into the policy? No doubt Bozeman developers are chomping at the bit and just dying to spend our hardearned money — but if we are paying any part of this ride at all, let alone most of it, transparent, open, process-based government comes first.

If you can’t make the meeting, contact your commissioners. Back room packages are always bad for not only our civic but our economic health as well.

Patricia Grabow

Don’t spend any more money on an underpass study


Compliments to the Livingston City Commission and thanks to Nancy Adkins and Patricia Grabow for the nice words on downtown’s sidewalks and streets. I agree sidewalks were needed, they were in bad shape.

Now if we can get new lights so you can see people standing and crossing the streets, that’s most important now.

Yes, we also must see where our taxmoney goes and what work it supports. I do wish to thank Sarah Sandberg that more information is needed on the plans for the subdivision. Has the city enough water to supply the area or need to dig a new well or storage tanks and what about your solid waste where is it going? Can the present lines and system handle it, or does it need new ponds and where?

And if everything fails, build the overpass. Don’t spend any more money on underpass studies.

Joseph Gross