March 25, 2004 - From the December, 2003 issue

Rep. Earl Blumenauer Extols Virtues Of Livable Communities To Mobility 21 Conference Attendees

The Mobility 21 Coalition, sponsored by the LA Area Chamber and the LACMTA, has been working to unite stakeholders in the LA region to speak with one voice to Sacramento and Washington regarding transportation funding needs. MIR is pleased to present this excerpt of Representative Earl Blumenauer's(D-Portland) keynote address at the Mobility 21 Conference, in which he expands upon the critical importance of Southern California's effort to coordinate its transportation planning efforts.


Earl Blumenauer

What you do here is not just important for the nation and for California. It's important for Oregon; we need you to succeed if our state is to survive. There is a process of ideas and people that migrate north whenever there are shockwaves here. Whether they are seismic or economic, we feel the repercussions in Oregon. And when you have an interest in civic ideas like "Three Strikes and You're Out", Term Limits ("Stop me before I vote again"), and Proposition 13, ultimately, we get a chance to enjoy the fruits of your labors. Although, there is a certain rough justice here, because, after all, we did give you the recall. That was Oregon's gift to California.

But I do think that you are involved here with some of the most important work that is being done anywhere in America on livable communities. You are not just big and diverse with a concentrated population (we don't say density anymore -- it's "concentrated"), even more so than New York or Chicago or certainly our community. You've got the raw materials here to be able to make anything happen. But I think perhaps the best prism for people who want to know what America will be dealing with in the future in terms of transportation, in terms of demographic changes, and in terms of the economy is to look at what is happening here and how you are preparing for it. Roger [Snoble] mentioned that I look at the world through the prism of livable communities issues. I think that's a good jumping-off point in terms of how government -- especially the federal government -- can be a better partner to help you achieve your objectives.

A livable community is not anti-road., In fact, because of the ways we have developed today's economy, it is important to have a functioning road system that is integrated into good land use planning, that is balanced, providing a range of choices. We're not talking about declaring a war on the automobile. But a balanced transportation system means that you don't surrender your community to the automobile. You need to be able to work with all the elements that you have to make your transportation system successful.

I appreciate the reference to what's going to happen to freight movement, particularly in the urban areas. This is a pinch point across America that is costing us economic vitality and frankly, people who care about the environment and livability have not paid enough attention to it. I think your focus on it here is an important contribution. The inclusion of air transportation is a fundamental building block of both a livable community and a global society. I've known from the interactions I've had with you that issues of equity, of environmental justice and affordable housing are not mere afterthoughts -- you're integrating them into your vision of the future and you are inviting people in to make sure that those interests are represented.

The repeated references to land use today warms my heart. I got started in this business in the Oregon legislature before almost anyone in this room was born, when we passed Senate Bill 100, the first comprehensive, state-wide land use planning process in the country. It's had its bumps, it's not perfect. There are things we can do differently and it's never been without controversy in our state. But it has made a tremendous difference in communities large and small in Oregon and it has positioned us to manage forces of change better than a little state in the upper left-hand corner of the country has any right to expect. And without that connection between land uses and the infrastructure, we wouldn't be having a gazillion people coming to Portland to look at rail and urban development every year, and frankly, we wouldn't have the luxury of having some of the debates we're having.

Last but not least, I know that you are looking at how you are going to seize other development opportunities. I noticed my friend David Abel here earlier and I know David is just obsessed with the notion that 200 new school facilities give you an opportunity to have tremendous community facilities; they provide unbelievable leverage.

There are problems today, though, that we need your help with to push back on the federal government. I encourage you not to give up on the federal government, as much as you are tempted to at times. But the federal government is the largest land lord, land owner and employer in our country; it's the entity that sets the rules and provides significant venture capital for transportation needs. We need your laser-like attention on ways to make sure that the federal government provides the inputs in the form that you want, that we don't lose the framework of the landmark ISTEA legislation from 1991. I think the greatest achievement of TEA-21 was to keep that basic framework intact. Despite a change in control from a Republican administration to a Democratic administration and from a Democratic Congress to a Republican Congress, we kept the basic flexibility and framework of ISTEA intact.

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Last but not least, we need your attention on the reauthorization process. We have extended the transportation bill for five months. We missed the deadline, we've done it before; that's not a problem. But it is very, very important that you do not allow us to either punt or roll this up into a continuing resolution that's going to lie low until after the election, handicapping you from being able to go forward with important programs, and frankly taking the pressure off of us in Congress. We have a bipartisan coalition in the House that supports keeping the basic framework of ISTEA and setting the funding level at $375 billion, which will keep us moving forward. Other proposals from the administration and Congress would be tragically under-funded and would take away the flexibility and the comprehensive approach that has made this legislation so successful for the last eleven years now. There are even some who are thinking about tearing ISTEA apart, who are thinking that maybe it's time to cut a deal. I think that would be a tragic mistake. We have the broadest coalition we have ever had in support of a good transportation bill that is adequately funded, that doesn't leave anybody out. From chambers of commerce and the National Association of Realtors to the Sierra Club and the Garden Club, Humane USA, the Trust for Historic Preservation, and the gear-heads who are involved with bicycling -- we have an amazing coalition in place. But if people start to cut and run now, and settle for the suboptimal, it would be like fighting over table scraps. It would be like a family who tries to solve their economic difficulties by mugging the youngest children. This is not a solution. We can't afford for you to let up the pressure over the course of the next three and a half months. We need you to build a little heat so we can come back in the New Year and enact a decent bipartisan bill before we break for the Fourth of July recess. We need your help, and frankly you need -- for the things you are talking about here -- to apply the bipartisan, broad-based political pressure that you have in Congress. It's there, it's possible; America needs it. If we blink; if we mug our little brother and sister; if we take their piggy banks, cut our deal and run -- we'll not just be losing a year's progress with a continuing resolution and a lower funding level, but we'll shatter the historic coalition we've built. It's going to be harder to put that together again in the future. And we'll have lowered the bar. It's not just TEA-3 that will suffer; we're building TEA-4 and TEA-5 on what we accomplish. Many of you are well aware of this. We need you to put this message out; we need you to not take no for an answer. California is in a better position than most. Based on what is going on in Sacramento today, you have a very interesting, bipartisan congressional team. It's multi-talented and multi-faceted and nobody can afford to ignore you.

There is a lesson to be learned by where all the money is being spent these days. We're spending over a million dollars a minute on national defense. Two observations about that. First, the "US-Iraq Parity Act", which calls for spending at least as much rebuilding America as we do to rebuild Iraq, has got some merit to it. Second, we are spending more money on Theatre Missile Defense -- the so-called "Star Wars" -- for a theoretical threat that may occur three years from now, with a goofy system that may work ten years from now (but not many scientists and military experts think it will) -- we're spending more on Star Wars than we are on transit. What's going on here? Transit offers us a product that will enrich the community. It will improve the environment; it will improve productivity; it will create construction jobs and redevelopment opportunities and affordable housing for years to come. We've got an exciting coalition that includes professionals, the construction trades, some of the best and brightest who will stand to live in a better community and make more money if we invest in more transit. Why aren't we investing as much in transit and livable communities as we are in Star Wars? I would hate to think that it's because we don't know as much, that we are not working as hard. I think it's time to put our energy to work, to be serious about the politics, to be serious about the policies, to be serious about the message we're taking forth in the media.

And I don't think that we should fall short on the homeland security -- or what I call home town security -- implications of what we are doing here. I was in Washington, DC when the plane crashed into the Pentagon -- I saw the smoke, we watched in the office what was going on in New York. If it weren't for the Metro system, it would have been chaos in Washington DC and there would have been a lot of additional damage done, incidental to the plane crash. The same would have happened in New York City without the subway system. Think of what would have happened up and down the eastern seaboard without Amtrak. If there had just been roads and the non-existent air traffic, it would have been a traffic jam from Arlington to New Haven. A balanced transportation system adds value to the safety and security and efficiency of your community. You have as much of a claim on that national defense budget, that home town security, as anything that is being spent on airports, or Theatre Missile Defense, or any of the bizarre ways we are spending that money. And we ought not to be bashful about it.

Roger mentioned that we had a little conference we started in Portland a number ofyears ago to try to help our community create a vision for a balanced transportation system. It's called Rail~Volution, but it covers a whole range of transportation options. We've grown it from something like 300 people in a church -- actually Peter Calthorpe talked at the first one 12 years ago -- to a national conference that brings together people from 200 different communities around the country. We are excited about bringing that conference to Southern California next year. There is no better place to showcase what you are doing with your regional visioning process, with the balanced transportation system that you are looking at. We would like your help to make sure that that conference merges 1,000-1,500 activists from outside the basin with 500-1,000 of your closest friends here to deal with how we are going to roll this together: grassroots activists, professionals, the transit industry, development interests, unions, people who are part of the diverse cultural and ethnic mix of Southern California. I think this can be our best conference ever, but more important, it can be a resource for you to align those interests, to rev people up, and to make real progress on the important agenda you've got today.

I am excited about what you are doing. I am honored to be maybe an honorary, auxiliary, associate member of your Congressional delegation. I hope you will continue to visit me in Washington, DC when you come back east. I hope you will proceed with our task at hand, understanding how much the rest of the country is excited about the way you are looking at your region, how you are bringing together the complex mixture of ethnic, cultural and governmental units you've got here to be successful; successful for the new century. Thank you very much.

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