The Story of MITS

From Brunswiki

This report is based on going through the records of council meetings of the present term, checking on factual matters with council officers and other officials and interviewing all councillors willing to cooperate. This is the first version of the report, and it is published to coincide with the beginning of the postal voting period of the 2020 council election. It is based on finite investigation and limited contributions from participants. Some of it is necessarily surmise. Some of it will be wrong. Publishing the first version should encourage more input.

Conclusions are tentative, facts subject to correction and enlargement. It is not the end of the story.

I mean to be objective about facts and objective about opinions but here and there, if you find something that is more opinion (about opinions or facts) than fact, please supply a contrary opinion and we can flag the point as debatable.

Summary

To begin with the conclusions, tentative as they are, the Moreland Integrated Transport Strategy (MITS) project stands out as a notable failure of the present council term. The result is wasted time and money and likely missed opportunities. MITS was misconceived in some ways but not fatally so and even now a satisfactory resolution might be possible though it may not be possible for this council or the next to grasp it. That is how it looks.

The evidence is that ALP councillors torpedoed MITS for their own purposes and Greens councillors bailed out as public opinion turned unfavourable. There is no particular conclusion to be drawn about independent councillors but the MITS was a collective project and a collective failure.

Cr Yildiz has said publicly and to me that the MITS project turned into a waste of money. Cr Sue Bolton, at my suggestion of the words, adopted the American expression "train wreck". Cr Kavanagh declined to be interviewed saying that he wanted to keep good relations with his colleagues. The Greens (Natalie Abboud and Mark Riley) on the contrary assert that MITS is still a good thing maybe even with parking reform taken out. When in the May 2020 council meeting the C187 amendment was abandoned (those were the words used) Cr Riley said he was delighted because the thing would be scheduled to resurface sometime into the next council term rather than be killed off altogether.

Key Facts

MITS is a report and a program split into the Parking Implementation (PIP, the bigger part) and what is left of MITS in a plan itself called MITS. C183 is an amendment to council laws that would implement PIP.

MITS excluding PIP is an overgrown glossy brochure concerning miscellaneous measures such as improving bike paths, pedestrian safety, and adjusted speed limits which could be done without being integrated into a larger picture (following Cr Bolton's observation that MITS is an omnibus project).

Key Players

  • Greens councillors Natalie Abboud, Mark Riley et al
  • Carlo Carli, former mayor and MP, influential ALP figure, man of action and ideas.
  • Lambros Tapinos, Annalivia Carli-Hannan, ALP councillors
  • John Kavanagh, independent councillor
  • Oscar Yildiz, independent councillor
  • Fair Parking Moreland, facebook operation
  • GTA Consultants, who wrote the various MITS plans
  • Moreland council staff who won't return phone calls, anonymous mostly, but it good to hear more from them.

Key Documents

Also,

Background

The council's documentation is highly recommended:

Background to Moreland Integrated Transport Strategy

Amendment C183: Moreland Parking Implementation Plan

Timeline

Timeline is extracted from council web pages.

  2010 to 2016          First stirrings resulting in a primeval MITS concept
  2016 to Dec 2017      *A new council resolves to rejuvenate MITS.
                        Consultancy commissioned, details lacking
  December 2017           Initial consultation period
  February - March 2018   Period of community engagement
  11 July 2018          *Draft MITS incl Parking Strategy presented at Council meeting
  16 July - 31 Aug 2018   Consultation on draft MITS incl Parking Strategy
  17 October 2018         Hearing of submissions
  13 March 2019         *MITS incl Parking Implementation Plan adopted by Council
  18 August 2019          Authorisation from the Minister to exhibit C183
  19 Sep - 11 Nov 2019    Public exhibition of Amendment C183
  11 December 2019      *Report to Council to consider submissions
  29 January 2020         Directions Hearing
  24 - 25 Feb 2020        Panel Hearing (Dept of Planning review)
  1 April 2020            Receive Panel report
  13 May 2020           *Council decision

Key Events (corresponding to highlighted items in the time line)

13 Mar 2019 council mtg  Adoption by council with signs of ALP renegade action
11 Dec 2019 meeting      Resistance to MITS is out in the open
                         Handball to Planning dept signalling Green evacuation
13 May 2020 meeting      Opposition to MITS solidifies. Evacuation completed.
                         Council washes its hands of the MITS project 

Key Ideas

Some of the key ideas come in opposing pairs.

  • Thesis: People who think they don't want a car could be badly mistaken. Council can compulsorily help them.
  • Antithesis: The workings of market will allocate parking resources more efficently than by command or regulation.
  • People have a customary right to park in their own street. If the change on offer is that they now have to pay something for that, and cop an occasional parking fine, they don't react favourably.
  • People not happy about out-of-towners using their street as an all-day car park without making any contribution.
  • Thesis: There is an oversupply of parking built in to the present stock of apartment buildings due to planning regulations.
  • Antithesis: The reason for congestion in Moreland is that planning requirements on built-in parking are waived too frequently.
  • Thesis: When a developer is let off building a car-parking spot $50,000 is deposited into his bank account inevitably if not immediately.
  • Antithesis: The cost of car-park construction becomes is inevitably born by the apartment-dweller.
  • Thesis: Anti-car crusaders want to promote congestion
  • Antithesis: Forced purchase of car-parking spots promotes car use.
  • Thesis: There was an idea to disallow any car-parking at all in new apartment blocks.
  • Antithesis: There never was.
  • There have been questions asked in public forums about the cost sunk into the MITS plans by consultants and council staff. My unanswered question to the council is whether the cost question has been answered.
  • Micro-economic treatment of parking rights and management (Donald Shoup, Carlo Carli, Moreland Council staff).
  • Mode Change. The concept that the council should anticipate, encourage, or force people to do without cars.

In connection with mode change, people sometimes talk about the carrot and the stick.

  • Thesis: carrot
  • Antithesis: stick
  • Thesis. Cars are bad from the environmental point of view.
  • Antithesis. People have a right to use cars and there are various good reasons for them to do so.
  • Thesis: Councillors are best to do what they think the locals want. Facebook is a good way to find out.
  • Antithesis: Politicians should lead

In the dialectic method I believe the next step after thesis, antithesis is synthesis. Just saying.

Community consultation

In the timeline the non-highlighted items between the main events are mostly periods given over to seemingly endless tedious community consultation. It is not clear if community consultation has ever produced a new idea. The council takes submissions in bulk, reading them only sufficiently to determine if they count as a vote for or against a particular option. A totally new idea would count as one vote for something and be automatically discarded as an idea with negligible community support. The council makes submissions available to the public but again no-one goes looking for new ideas there. For a case in point, refer to this link, where Carlo Carli introduced the micro-economic analysis to the public arena, even though it was dangerous idea to his side. Though that was a key idea in its own right, I believe it went unnoticed.

Chapter 1. Early Days, a revamped MITS

There are reports of MITS being a thing back in 2009 but for the present purposes it can be treated as a project of the present council term which began in 2016 or early 2017 . Cr Abboud remembers it being discussed in the very early days when the councillors were taking time out to get to know each other. There was easy agreement to do something about transport, though some might have been taking the idea lightly at that time.

In any case there was a 2018/19 update. This must have been discussed and the consultancy expenditure approved by council but details are hard to come by. The MITS report on the council website is the 2019 edition. The various editions are produced by a firm called GTA consultants but council staff are employed also in connection with MITS. Some council staff having come from GTA originally.

Cr Bolton points out that MITS was an omnibus project from the beginning, where various transport-related themes that had been in the works were to be combined into a grand design. Cr Yildiz says that at that time before things went wrong he supported MITS in its entirety. The impression in the early days of the council is one of optimism and ambition, not only among the councillors in nthe public eye but also the council staff, who we don't get to know so easily. The councillors though they were doing something good, even leading the way for others to follow.

Though these days it might seem that MITS is a stereotype Greens project there is no evidence that the Greens initiated it and they certainly don't claim it. Cr Bolton only says that the idea "probably" came from the Greens. One of the key objectives from the beginning has been "mode change". Even now those councillors most obstructive to MITS do not renounce the objective of mode change.

Chapter 2. March 2019, a cloud on the horizon

"I am probably going to abstain" -Lambros Tapinos

The 2019 version of MITS came to the March 2019 council for adoption after going through the usual community consultation process. As the vote to adopt came around Cr Tapinos had a surprise to spring; this moment may have been the beginning of the end. Cr Tapinos spoke as if he had been struggling with the difficult realisation that he and the council had been going in the wrong direction for some time and now it was time to turn back. He gave reasons best quoted verbatim because any fair summary is hard to accept as objective. I will attempt a two word summary: affected paranoia. Cr Tapinos depicted a scheme to promote chaotic traffic congestion so severe that it would force people to abandon cars. There can be no chance that he believed what we was saying as it would require complicity of at least the hoodwinking of his colleagues, the council officers and respectable consultants. Since council minutes are not Hansard it is best to go to the video of the meeting on the council website and start playing at the 1:17 time mark (also later the 2:44 time mark). Note the surprise registered on the faces of Crs Kavanagh and Martin as Cr Tapinos speaks the words.

However, on further investigation I heard an echo of this from Natalie Abboud. Natalie referred to expert witnesses, just as Lambros did, saying that congestion was a disincentive to car use. Since there is an overt commitment to reduce car use that all have signed up to, it is a short step to supposing there might be a plan to promote congestion. I hope and believe that this is a misunderstanding of what any sane adviser may have said.

More dubious statements from Cr Tapinos was some implication again about not allowing car parking spots to be built, and whereas it seems there may be an oversupply of car-parks in apartments but the councillor maintained that congestion is due to too much waiving of the requirements to build car-parks. While Cr Tapinos still subscribes to mode change he won't agree to C183 because it is anti-car. Mode change and anti-car are two ways of saying the same thing.

The contention from Cr Abboud has been that the council was in consensus until that moment. Here is video evidence in support as surprise registers on some of the councillors' faces. Having supposedly come to see through the masquerade, and that as if in very recent time, Cr Tapinos says "I am probably going to abstain".

All others votes to adopt and the MITS project proceeded.

Chapter 3. December 2019 Opposition and preparations for retreat

After adoption of the plan by the council the parking implementation component of MITS passed through the hands of the state planning department resulting in proposed amemdment C183 to the Moreland planning scheme. As such it was open to submissions from interested parties. It came back to the council to consider the weight of submissions in their Dec 2019 meeting.

I (the author of this report) know, from inside the ALP branches, that ALP people (and Carlo Carli is the brains of the local ALP) connected the ideas of agitating against C183 with their project to get the ALP contingent on the council up from two.

Carlo made a thoughtful, little-noticed submission, against the C183 amendment which could be found on the council website, and he wrote a similar piece for this site (link) The piece was highly contestable but such is the level of discussion about these matters that no-one (except me) took it on. Carlo introduced micro-economic considerations and he used Merri Health as a sort of measuring stick to gauge the effects of the C183 amendment.

Simultaneously, councillors became well aware of a facebook campaign or campaigns against C183. The Greens were on the receiving end. Cr Abboud has said the campaign had its unpleasant elements.

If there was one facebook operation it was FairParkingMoreland (FPM). BRN gives FPM credit in derailing C183 (but I can't find the reference for this).

I expect that FPM is something that ALP people set up. One piece of circumstantial evidence is that a person called "Shirley" Jackson appears in the role of a spokesman for FPM. Jackson is an ALP candidate in the south ward.

We know that facebook is not necessarily a friend of democracy. It can be a way of spreading misinformation and concealing the source. As a council candidate I filled in a questionnaire sent by FPM and I asked them in return a few questions of my own. They say they are a collection of community groups. Which community groups? No answer.

With the effect of opposition from the ALP and wherever else the council was splitting ALP vs Greens. The ALP councillor Carli-Hannan had joined with Cr Tapinos in opposition and independents Cr Yildiz and Cr Irfani had been swayed by community opposition, with Cr Yildiz specifically being impressed by the efforts of FPM. These councillors proposed to dump C183 at that point. On the other side, council staff had confidently appraised the submissions from the public and with Cr Kavanagh holding form there was a majority to proceed.

There was nevertheless unexpectedly a recommendation from staff to get a planning panel to review the submissions as well. The recommendation was accepted by the council meeting without debate. You can't get any explanation from the minutes as to what people were thinking. It is as if the council lost confidence in itself to do its job.

Chapter 4. May 2020

"Moreland Council’s latest Waterloo" - Brunswick Residents Network, June 2020 edition

It is not a sub-editing error that chapter 4 is presented like a footnote to chapter 3.

Read the BRN account (scan for C183)

By the time of the May 2020 meeting the panel had reported. The report was not unfavourable but there was a wishy-washy finding that more modelling might have been done. On that foundation the panel recommended "abandoning" the C183 amendment and the council proceeded to abandon it. Again the minutes do not report any debate except for the following nicety.

There were two ways to dump C183. One way was more brutal than the other. The same four councillors proposed to kill it as they had in the December meeting. This motion was defeated. The remaining five got together to "abandon" it in a different way so that it would come up again in the lifetime of the next council term. It looked like a fighting retreat, in the sense that they had abandoned their objective but were not to be overrun in retreat. They curtailed debate on their motion and forced it through without explanation.

To me, it looks like the council had abandoned C183 already by the December meeting.

BRN said the council met its Waterloo. The minutes give a different impression, because they reveal no signs of resistance from the council. You can't compare it to a battle.


Acknowledgements

I have attempted to contact most or all councillors (though recently excluding Cr Tapinos).

Thanks to Natalie Abboud for speaking to me for the Greens point of view. The other Green councillors have been hard to get hold of. Thanks to Cr Yildiz for explaining his views and to Cr Kavanagh for explaining why he did not wish to assist. There has not been much help from ALP councillors. In the case of Cr Tapinos, I believe it is more appropriate to have the discussion in public. Acknowledgements of the help of some council officers but not others. Council has good resources for those with the time to delve into the public decision-making process, including video recordings of meetings, agendas and minutes over the entire council term.