Zoning lawsuit heads to Helena

With Missoula judges bowing out of the zoning lawsuit, the case heads to Helena.* Missoula City Attorney Jim Nugent said the suit will be before Judge Jeffrey Sherlock.

So, the judge who ruled on the lawsuit about funding public schools, a.k.a., the education judge?

Said Nugent: “He might be educating all of us.”

— Keila Szpaller

Letter to Republicans

Councilman Dave Strohmaier wasn’t able to attend the GOP’s candidate forum this week, but he sent them this letter.* It’s posted for your reading pleasure.

You can argue about whether the Ward 1 councilor is tackling things that need doing — like the cell phone ordinance, partly vetoed by the mayor — but I don’t think you can argue that he isn’t working.

Strohmaier is one busy ward rep. He’s taking on some practical matters, like a plan to make sure development near wild lands “fully takes into account wildfire risk.”

And he isn’t afraid to think big: ” … I believe that policy-makers need to set bold visions, even if they seem difficult. To that end, I will continue lobbying for the return of Amtrak service to Missoula, which we’ve been without for three decades. If successful, this will be a significant accomplishment for our citizenry and future generations of Missoulians.”

Candidate Ryan Morton is trying to oust him.

— Keila Szpaller

Roundabout opening and more

It’s official: 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, the roundabout at Higgins-Hill-Beckwith will open. This per Councilman Bob Jaffe’s committee report.*

Jaffe also writes that Councilors Dick Haines and John Hendrickson want builders to help decide how to measure building height in the new zoning book. From existing grade? From finished grade? Well, from Jaffe: “… this is a policy decision and that is what we are elected for. If these guys don’t think they are qualified to make these decisions I’m not sure why they are running for office again.”

Ouch. But how is it that one small piece of the book is so complicated it should be left up to experts — and the entire thing is so weighty it should be put on a ballot and left up to voters?

Cojones, please.

— Keila Szpaller

Zoning rewrite inches along

Councilman Bob Jaffe estimated the Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee is 5/6ths of the way through the zoning rewrite. He guessed it’d be before the full council on the first Monday of October.

It might make his day — maybe his whole summer — if things moved more quickly, but that doesn’t seem likely. Some forms of speed are illegal.

You’ve probably seen this one* already from New West on the lawsuit over the zoning rewrite — and this one on windmills.* You’ll be blown away.

— Keila Szpaller

It’s permanent and unanimous

When the Missoula Housing Authority board chose MHA deputy Lori Davidson as its executive director, it did so on an interim basis. That was two years ago, after director Peter Hance resigned following questions about the way he was managing the agency and running projects. Now, the most recent board packet notes Davidson has become the permanent pick.

“… (Board chairman) Jamie Hoffmann stated the Board unanimously wishes to retain Lori Davidson as the permanent executive director. He wants to negotiate and engage Davidson in a contract. (Board member John) Boyle and Hoffmann will meet with Davidson to discuss the terms of the contract and compensation.”

— Keila Szpaller

Initiative 2 Report Out

When Missoulians adopted Initiative 2 in 2006, they asked that marijuana offenses be the lowest priority for law enforcement in Missoula County.

But marijuana-related “incidents” are still climbing, according to this report* released by the Initiative 2 Community Oversight Committee.

The report counts 283 incidents countywide in 2006 — 302 in 2007 — and 360 in 2008. Officers record “incidents” when they encounter pot.

“While there has been a modest decrease in marijuana incidents reported by the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department and the University of Montana, frequency of marijuana incidents reported by the Missoula Police Department appears to have increased by 50 percent since 2007,” reads the report summary. “In short, the lowest priority recommendation issued to public officials by voters in 2006 continues to be mostly disregarded.

“The exception to this trend is reflected in the current policy of the Missoula County Attorney’s office,
which has not prosecuted adults whose only charge was misdemeanor possession of marijuana. However, the county attorney has stated that he reserves the option to reverse that policy and prosecute those individuals at any time.”

In the past, Police Chief Mark Muir attributed the apparent increase with a blitz on underage drinking and disorderly conduct. Basically, police were looking for booze, and found pot at the same time. Also, he has said most people who are caught with pot are being arrested on another charge.

— Keila Szpaller

Alderman poses as football player

At the end of Monday’s council meeting, Councilman Dave Strohmaier said he’d forgotten one mighty important thing. A hello to his mom, visiting from Oregon.

Strohmaier: “So hi, Mom.”

Councilman Ed Childers: “Hi, Dave’s mom.”

Councilman John Hendrickson: “That’s what I was going to say.”

So, do you rake in as many warm hellos if you’re visiting from California? Well, maybe if you’re spending money here. Thanks to “Dave’s mom” — and other summer visitors — if they’re opening their wallets in support of the local economy.

— Keila Szpaller

Relieving oneself

During this week’s meeting on the “pedestrian interference” ordinance, Councilman Jon Wilkins went on at length about “disgusting” acts downtown. One of the most sad and unsavory examples is people urinating and defecating on themselves, others, sidewalks, and shops.

The ordinance, though, deals with mean behaviors, such as harassment, but not gross ones. So will the new rules really make Higgins Avenue and its street crowds a tad cleaner?

Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir said yes, and here’s how: “They shouldn’t be able to be lying around downtown,” Muir said. “They’ll still pee and poo their pants, but they’ll hopefully be lying on the lawn in the courthouse or in a park.”

One missing piece of the puzzle is still where people who are inebriated and have no home will go at night. The sidewalks would be off limits, and the parks already are. My neighbor found someone sleeping in his car earlier this summer, and the uninvited guest left a large mess on the seat.

Some folks say Missoula’s too generous, and if only places like the Poverello Center shut down, the street people would disappear and so would the problems that come along with them.

That’s not Muir’s position, but he said the city does offer help.

“If they’re of a mindset to live that lifestyle, this is one of the best places to live that lifestyle.”

He also said one thing police are supposed to do is help keep street folks safe. In that vein, he said he can’t agree with Councilwoman Pam Walzer that letting people sleep on sidewalks is a good idea. In the winter, they’re definitely not warm, and people get physically assaulted there, too.

“I think it’s a callous disregard on our part to even suggest that you’re safe sleeping on a sidewalk,” he said.

Back on the gross front, state law says it isn’t OK to relieve yourself in public intentionally, Muir said. If someone is intoxicated, though, he said you can’t charge them under that law.

— Keila Szpaller

And with respect to …

… the Clark Fork Terrace II lawsuit, city attorney Jim Nugent said he believes the decision will come in the next 30 to 60 days. In court on Tuesday, Judge Ed McLean said he didn’t expect more briefs in the case.

It was interesting to watch the lawyers quiz witnesses on the stand. City attorney Jim Nugent called Parks and Rec’s Jackie Corday, the Health Department’s Peter Nielsen, and OPG’s Tim Worley.

When questioning Corday, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Alan McCormick, suggested the city required easements because it wanted them — and not because the developer needed to offset some impact from the project.

Said Corday: “I am not going to let you put words in my mouth.”

At one point, Nugent tried to bring a draft of Corday’s recommendation letter into the argument. He said the letter changed after suggestions from WGM Group, and the draft would be telling. McCormick, though, said the new evidence wasn’t allowed. The judge agreed.

One of the most curious tidbits came out of McCormick’s line of questions to OPG’s Worley. The lawyer started off with inquiries that established the planner as a well-educated, experienced and meticulous reviewer of proposed subdivisions. Maybe even a perfectionist.

Then, McCormick pointed out the perfect omission, one that must not have been accidental given the fastidious tendencies of the planner. Or so he argued as he made the case the council wasn’t “mitigating” anything when it required the trail along the Clark Fork River. The city argued the subdivision would create some 750 car trips a day, and the trails helped alleviate that effect.

But after each requirement noted in the “Conditions of Approval,” the author cited related subdivision regulations. And after Condition No. 15**, on the river trail easement, the only citation listed is Article 3-6***, about easements. The author didn’t cite 3-2, the one that deals with transportation and non-motorized travel.

The implication? Certainly a thorough planner like Worley wouldn’t have overlooked such an omission. And that’s because it wasn’t missing at all — it never was part of the rationale. At least “with respect to”**** the lawyer’s argument.

At least at the public hearing*, one of many meetings on the project, that trail was discussed in terms of recreation and not transportation. (Another possible trail on the southern edge of the property was mentioned as a commuter route.) Councilors wanted to secure the northerly one on the river to keep the options for trails open in the future and not lament a “tragically missed opportunity.”

Wanna know who said it? ‘Bout to read the minutes? Consider yourself the supreme ruler of government geeks.

— Keila Szpaller

**This is a draft of the conditions. Some language was added to the final No. 15, but the citations are the same.

***Scroll (or search) for the correct article.

****”With respect to” is something Nugent said, like, a gajillion times in court. (Gajillion is a number invented by Mayor John Engen.)