January 14, 2008
Canyon at 100
not exactly. It was one hundred years ago, as of last Thursday,
that the Grand Canyon Monument was created, which was the precursor of
the national park. There were some stories and editorials in the
local paper, and I found a way to chime in on the topic. In
fact, what had happened is that the Daily Sun ran an article
about how the Verkamps were leaving the canyon, refusing to bid on the
property they had operated for more than a hundred years. Well,
surprise, surprise! I mentioned that possibility in a letter
back in August, which I put in my blog, Out
of Service. But the editor decided that I was being too
fanciful and he excised it from the published version! Well, we
went back and forth on that at the time, but he didn't relent in his
view. Well, now that has changed, and I thought it was an
opportunity to stick my nose back under that tent and he agreed to let
me write a "guest editorial" and run it in the Sunday paper,
opposite their own editorial about Grand Canyon:
Century of Control
by Dennis Foster
that the Verkamp family will no longer fight to retain their
102 year old business at Grand Canyon should be met with
dismay at how officials who run the Park Service discount and
denigrate productive and competitive entrepreneurial
activities that open up this magnificent destination to
travelers from all over the world.
last one hundred years, the environment at Grand Canyon has
steadily deteriorated. Not the physical environment, but
the human environment. New hotels are built miles from
the rim. Restaurants are located without views of the
canyon. Indeed, even the Canyon View Information Plaza
doesn’t actually have a canyon view. And, the number
of competitors catering to visitors has steadily decreased.
The Park Service doesn’t like to deal with multiple business
entities, so they encourage the monopolization of services
within the park.
history of the park has been filled with contentiousness
between entrepreneurs and the government. From Ralph
Cameron to W.W. Bass, from Pete Berry to Dan Hogan, and from
Emery Kolb to the Verkamps, the stories are legend.
Cameron operated the Bright Angel trail, Bass ran tourists out
to the rim where he had built a trail, Berry built the Grand
View Hotel and Hogan operated the Grand Canyon Trading Post a
couple of miles west of the South Rim Village. All are
gone. They have lost their property rights to the
government. Their historic contributions to the
development of Grand Canyon are not maintained, not sustained,
last weekend in 2007, I hiked down the Hermit Trail and camped
near the site of the old Hermit Camp, built by the Fred Harvey
Company to accommodate mule riders. I wondered how it
might have been if this place, once considered the “heart of
the Grand Canyon,” was still a vibrant and energetic place.
modern-day Mary Colter get Park Service permission to build
another Phantom Ranch? Another Hermit’s Rest?
Another Bright Angel Lodge? Another Desert View
Watchtower? Most certainly not. Bold, innovative,
human influences are forbidden! In the early 1960s, the
owners of the Grand Canyon Inn floated the idea of an eight
hundred room hotel that would flow over the side of the
canyon. The next time you are at Powell Monument, along
the West Rim Drive, look to the east and imagine how many
visitors would have been drawn to such spectacular
ironic that so many supporters of the park’s efforts to
detour, divert and discourage visitation embrace President
Roosevelt’s famous phrase to “leave it as it is,” but
fail to live up to his exhortation that “every American
should see” such an astounding natural wonder. I
believe that both can be accomplished.
The only innovation taking
place today is at the margin of Grand Canyon. The
development of Grand Canyon West, by the Hualapai Tribe, is
slowly taking shape. The completion of their
awe-inspiring Skywalk is just a taste of what is possible.
I expect that the enrichment of the Grand Canyon experience
will continue at GCW, while the Park Service continues to
smother the vitality out of the South Rim with their proposals
for a depressing mass transit system, and its antagonism
towards entrepreneurs like the Verkamps. Perhaps that
will take another hundred years.
The editor chose a slightly different title, "Grand
Canyon: A century of too much control." Well, that's
fine with me. I was glad to write about the issues here more
broadly and appreciate the soapbox. I'll get back to this issue
and fill out some of the arguments made from the other side.
January 27, 2008
find that the talk of Michael Bloomberg running for president, as a
third party candidate, about as close as one can come to defining the
phrase, "smoke and mirrors." Although current polls
show some support, it is practically a certainty that if he were to
run, he'd be lucky to garner 3% of the nationwide vote. So it
goes with third party candidates, his money notwithstanding. The
closest analogy to a Bloomberg run might be Ross Perot's failed
efforts in 1992 and 1996, when Perot received a sizable chunk of the
popular vote, but no electoral college votes. But, I think the
analogy is flawed - Perot really was running for president, while
Bloomberg seems to be just posturing, and Perot had the cache of being
outside the political system, which Bloomberg does not. In the
1976 election, I spent time working for the McCarthy campaign.
He also showed remarkable polling strength in the months leading up to
the election, but fizzled on election day. I was attracted to
John Anderson's quixotic campaign in 1980, and that was a bust as
well. It is inevitable that third party candidates end up far
down in vote totals, even if they do influence the national outcome
(Perot in 1992 and Nader in 2000).
Well, having dissed such a Bloomberg
campaign, I do have a fascination with the political process, and have
come up with a strategy that, I believe, has a decent chance of
putting Bloomberg in the Oval Office. I surfed out to an interactive
electoral college map, and made some selections, as you can see
on this distribution of electoral college votes, neither party's
candidate will win. The key, in this scenario, is who takes
Pennsylvania. [In 2000, it turned on Florida, and in 2004, Ohio
was the deciding call.] Well, Bloomberg has many billions of
dollars to spend. What if he only ran in Pennsylvania?
And, if he won? Well, then the contest gets tossed to the House
of Representatives. Hmm... Things get
interesting. The House can follow partisan lines and elect
either of the two major candidates, and we can "suffer"
through four years of contentious and divided government. Maybe not
such a bad thing! Still, I imagine that Bloomberg could now
spend many billions more in a nationwide effort to apply pressure on
the Congress to select him as a "compromise"
candidate. And, if he convinces the Senate to select the
national popular vote winner as Vice President . . . Well, if he
is serious, it could work. He may want to try and snag another
couple of states away from the Dems and the GOP, like Ohio and
Michigan, to seal the deal.
January 29, 2008
have recently been accepted to sit on the editorial board of the local
newspaper, the Arizona Daily Sun.
Notwithstanding my many disputes with their editorial positions over
the years, I am always interested in participating to whatever extent
is possible. I once served as a public member in the 1990s, for
a three month stint, and, in 2005, participated in what they called
board." The current venue is interesting in that we
public members (there are seven of us) have the opportunity to opine
on the editorial subjects in our own column, which run in the Sunday
paper. Our main role is to provide discussion of our views on
subjects the editor has picked to write about. We help inform
his decision. While we are listed as members of the editorial
board, we don't necessarily have any control over the content.
So, being able to speak every week, in our own space, is an attractive
draw for me.
I let the first week go by without writing
any commentary on the topics we discussed. I had thought to do
something on the governor's proposal to make college tuition
free for students that maintained a B average from the ninth grade
through their graduation from high school. Lots to write about
here, but I just didn't have the time to do a suitable job. You
can read the Sun's editorial on this here.
In the second week there was a topic that I did have time to think
about. The paper's editorial
concerned some newly imposed penalties on middle school students that
were habitually late to class. I had no quarrel with the
editorial, but I thought it presented the opportunity to push the
focus here to the issue of charter schools (posted here):
by Dennis Foster
school officials count tardy students as absent, with the
ultimate consequence being a loss of class credit? Seems
stern, but as Tuesday’s editorial pointed out, most of us
would agree it should be a “mandatory lesson.”
there is another lesson here. When viewed against the
larger backdrop of other school-related issues – dress
codes, weapon and drug policies, off-campus rules,
transportation logistics, to name but a few – we are seeing
yet another “unexpected consequence” that has arisen from
the centralization of public education.
of grouping together some seven hundred middle school students
for the purpose of education sounds like a textbook example of
a disaster waiting to happen. It is easy to imagine that
so many resources will have to be spent on controlling these
students that education becomes merely a fortuitous by-product.
centralized, monopolistic model is slowly being eclipsed by
the model presented by charter schools. Charters still
face many challenges, but their small student populations
alone yield enormous positive benefits in the educational
process. As long as parents continue to care about their
children’s education, even opposition from the entrenched
education establishment is unlikely to be successful at
preventing the continued growth of these new schools.
let’s applaud the efforts that keep students attending class
on time. But, let’s not lose sight of the flaws
inherent in this system and look forward to a future where the
city landscape is dotted with small neighborhood schools that
are vibrant learning centers.
February 4, 2008
Right to Park
have penned a second
mini-editorial for the local paper, as part of my role as a temporary
public member of the board. The topic was about installing
parking meters in downtown Flagstaff. Apparently, there were
meters downtown in the past, although I don't have any memory of it -
maybe it was during some years in the late 1980s when I wasn't
here. It has received a good deal of attention in the letters
section of the paper, with many arguing that charging for parking will
push them out of shopping downtown. That is probably unlikely in
the extreme, and many places do provide parking. Still, it was a
good opportunity to think outside the box and to use this forum to
extol the virtues of markets:
not auction off rights to parking?
by Dennis Foster
downtown merchants want metered street parking to deter
workers from using up spaces all day. Some nearby
residents want residential permits to deter the spillover of
these all-day parkers into their neighborhoods.
face of congestion, leaving this resource unpriced is an
inefficient solution. Despite that, private markets find
solutions, and do so in a variety of ways. Many
businesses build their own parking. [Take a look at
downtown Flagstaff on Google Earth.] If there are no
onerous governmental barriers, we should also see the building
of parking lots and/or garages. The market also responds
in more subtle ways – the development of malls for instance.
Malls usually provide sufficient parking, illumination for
night time patrons, and, in some cases, an indoor venue that
helps shoppers more easily visit multiple locations. In
fact, malls are an excellent example of sustainable practices
in resource use.
there is congestion downtown, there should be ways to promote
more efficient use of on-street parking. While parking
meters are one solution, let’s go one step better by
auctioning off the property rights to this parking.
Then, business owners could prohibit parking outright, or
restrict it (“customers only”) or charge for it, with
meters. Even residents could buy parking rights in front
of their houses. These rights may not be unlimited –
they could last just a few years, and only apply during
business hours. We are likely to be best served in this
process by looking for market-type solutions to promote
technology is getting really interesting. The idea that you
can use a credit card, or some stored value card makes it more
convenient. The proposal for downtown parking isn't even to have
meters, per se, but rather a kiosk for each block where you have to go
and buy a permit, and, I guess, put it in your window.
Still, it is a typical one-size-fits-all government solution.
The idea of an auction (or, perhaps, just a chance to bid for spots in
front of one's business/home) for resource allocation is a favorite in
the economics literature, although enforcement costs can sometimes be
insurmountable. But, these days, that doesn't seem likely to be
a problem. If residents
and business owners "owned" the parking spots, they can do
the monitoring of their use, making city enforcement
The image, to
the right, I got from Google Earth. You can see a sharper image
at GoogleMaps, although I can't figure out how to rotate the
picture. This is the heart of downtown Flagstaff, and you can
note that there is a great deal of off-street parking. Part of
the "problem" may be that it is hard to legally allow
private property owners the option of renting out their spaces on an
ad hoc basis (i.e., because of absurd liability issues). That is
a good example of government failure. The resources could be
better used, but they aren't.
In my researching some of the issues involving parking meters, I found
that old meters are for sale in Des
Moines, for $15, and in Seattle,
for $15-$20. In Redwood, CA, the meter prices are altered
throughout the day to insure that about 15% of the spaces are empty,
that being deemed the efficient outcome. While this may be
considered efficient, I wouldn't necessarily call it "free