Friday, September 23

Mazel Tov Beth Aaron!

Congregation Beth Aaron, in Billings, has a new home. Over the past several years, they have been working toward building a new shul in the Western part of Billings. This weekend, the congregation is dedicating their new synagogue.

Mazel Tov!!

Is This Better than Spot Zoning?

While I was walking to work today, I passed by this house, on the intersection of 4th Avenue North and 7th Street, which was recently sold. In front of the house was a big "Apartment for Rent, contact XXXXXX Property Management" sign.

This house created a fair amount of controversy in Great Falls a bit more than a year ago. The former owners of the house had spent a great deal of money refurbishing it into a bed and breakfast, and wanted to sell it. Before they had purchased and refurbished the home, it was broken up into apartments and was an ugly slum. They converted it into a beautiful example of how gracious the lower North side can appear. Refurbishing that property had a positive effect on the much of the lower North side, and neighbors in the area commented on how it improved the area.

They had arranged a deal with a local law firm, which was going to use the house as its office. The sale required neighborhood approval and a "spot" zoning change, since it was not zoned for commercial use.

The neighborhood council, led by Mayoral candidate Dona Stebbins, nixed the idea. At the neighborhood council meeting when the issue was discussed, Stebbins railed against spot zoning as the antithesis of good city planning.

Because the zoning change was turned down, the sale fell through. The house was eventually sold a few months ago.

Now it looks like one of the more graceful residences in the area might again be broken down into apartments. Depending on how that is done, the building may again devolve into what it was.

I would like to know why this outcome is better than allowing the spot zoning change. I like and, quite frankly, support Dona's candidacy. However, I think she has to better explain why we should hold the line against allowing spot zoning changes.

Thursday, September 22

Where Will the New Courthouse by Built?

Today's Tribune announced that a new Federal courthouse will be built in Great Falls.

Where will it be built? I have heard quite a few rumors that it is slated for the land being developed near the fairgrounds on the West bank of the Missouri. If the courthouse is built there, it will gut the downtown development around Central Avenue that our city has been working toward for decades.

Such placement would be a mistake. The courthouse should be built downtown.

If land cannot be found between 2nd Ave South and 2nd Ave N, such a project could be placed on the lower South side near Central Avenue, in this area. Machinery Row has a number of empty buildings and brownfields that could accomodate a courthouse. Building the courthouse there would dovetail with the Central Avenue redevelopment and would help revitalize the lower South side.

Tuesday, September 20

'Conscience of the Holocaust' Dies at 96

Simon Wiesenthal passed away in his sleep last night.

Although I believe that the human race would still remember the Holocaust without Mr. Wiesenthal's contributions, I look upon his work as invaluable.

Yasher Koach, Mr. Wiesenthal. May the world never forget.

UPDATE: There is a very poignant editorial in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) here, honoring Wiesenthal's memory.

Tuesday, September 13

Did you See this?

AP has a story on a speech given a short time ago by the President.

Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government ... To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.

What a refreshing sentiment! Personally, I have been waiting for him to say this since this tragedy unfolded. Bravo, Mr. President.


Gov. Wilson Goes Beyond Blame to Provide Workable Solutions

Today's Wall Street Journal features an editorial by former California Governor Pete Wilson (registration required, non-free) that goes beyond finger pointing to provide workable solutions to the long term problems facing New Orleans.

Although it may be cathartic, it is ultimately unhelpful to spend our time pointing fingers. Yes, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was a failure by our government on all levels. For the past fifty years, local, state and federal resources should have been addressing infrastructure shortcomings in New Orleans. In the days preceeding the Hurricane, the mayor, governor and FEMA should have taken the city disaster plan off the shelf and implemented it.

After the Hurricane, the Mayor should have established immediate command and control. The Governor should have activated the National Guard. The President should have been immediately responsive. None of these things happened. We can either point fingers and say nyah-nyah, or we can roll up our shirtsleeves and try to do better next time.

I would rather work for the latter.

Go Vote Today

Municipal Primary Elections are today. For the first time in recent memory, we have a real race with lots of qualified candidates. Also for the first time in recent memory, some of the candidates running would change the way the city does business.

You can't complain unless you register your opinion, so go and


Monday, September 12

Good News Over at Park and Ponder

The Trib ran a story today about some good news, for a change, over at the Park and Ponder coffeehouse.

As you may recall, the cafe had been vandalized several times over the summer. Well, a number of good people stood up and helped out the Robertson's.

I still say, they are nice people and make very good food.

All this highlights the well-known and underreported fact that Great Falls has a lot of hooliganism during the summer months. I don't want to sound like a curmudgin, but there are too many kids without enough keeping them busy.

There always seems to be an uptick in vandalism in June that goes away in September. The Police should plan for that and increase both their staffing and their patrols for the Summer.

Lewin Update

As I posted here, Great Falls City Commission candidate Stuart Lewin was briefly arrested at the Great Falls Farmer's Market on Saturday. His offense? He asked people to vote for him.

The Trib covered the arrest on the third page of the Montana section yesterday, but did not put the article on their website.

In any case, the Great Falls police are calling the incident a "detention" instead of an arrest. After parading him through the Farmer's Market in handcuffs and making him sit in a squad car parked nearby (the police station is next door, why didn't they take him inside?), they released him.

Now, I agree that the Farmer's Market is not a public event. It is put on by a private entity that leases the space from the city. For that reason, they probably have the right to make their own rules.

However, it is worth noting that the city has a vested interest in maintaining the Market, as it is an economic and PR boost to the town. As such, they do not charge the Market a lease rate that is close to market value; they charge only $300 per year.

Is it a public forum? While the Market is certainly a great forum for potatoes and carrots, I am unsure if it is a public square. What do you think?

Magnolia Mitzvah Project Totals for September 10

The Magnolia Mitzvah Project continues! This weekend, we raised $367.40.

All money was sent to the Union for Reform Judaism Hurricane Katrina Relief Disaster Fund.

Saturday, September 10

Stuart Lewin Arrested

I just heard that Stuart Lewin was arrested a few moments ago at the Farmer's Market. Apparently, he "asked someone to vote for him."

Ridiculous. If the city is taking steps like this, the entire city leadership needs to be run out on a rail.

Saturday, September 3

Thank You Great Falls

Just got back from the "Magnolia Mitzvah Project" fundraiser. We raised


at the Farmer's Market today. All of the money was sent a few moments ago to the Union for Reform Judaism Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Fund.

I am overwhelmed the generosity of the people in Great Falls!

I usually don't wear my hat as President of MAJCO (Montana Association of Jewish Communities) in this blog, but consider this a challenge from congregation Aitz Chaim to all of the other Jewish communities in the State; can you raise more?

Friday, September 2

City Water Park Plans similar to NY Park that Sickened Thousands

A quick break in the NOLA disaster coverage.

As I posted here, the city has big plans for its water recreation facilities. Specifically, they plan to build "splash parks."

The Tribune article talking about the parks noted that

An advantage to splash decks is that they don't require staffing. If the city decided to go with splash decks, another decision is whether to recycle the water or investigate the possibility of reusing it to irrigate the park or run it into the storm drain system.


As far as I can figure, these "splash parks" are very similar to a park in New York that was recently closed due to an infestation of a parasitic waterborne infection called cryptosporidiosis. Thousands were sickened.

The New York Times wrote about the situation here.

And this is what they want to use to replace the Water Tower and JayCee pools?

OK, back to posts on Katrina.

If They Knew What to Expect, why the Lack of Coordination?

Wired news has an interesting report on the efforts taken in past years to prepare for a major hurricane hitting NOLA.

The drills and computer models precisely predicted what would happen. This makes the bungled relief effort all the more inexcusable.

WWL-AM interview with NOLA Mayor Ray Nagin

Yesterday afternoon, WWL-AM radio interviewed NOLA Mayor Ray Nagin. He has a number of damning things to say about the level of assistance that New Orleans has received so far from the federal government.

The entire, uncensored, interview is available here. You will need a bittorrent client to download the mp3 file.

Today, Bush said that the relief effort thus far is "not acceptable." The buck stops at his desk.

Thursday, September 1

Aitz Chaim to Raise Money for Katrina Victims this Weekend

The devastation in the Gulf States continues to overwhelm me. Quite simply, it is time to show that we are a generous people and that you must give as much as you can to help the victims.

In recognition of the disaster, a number of blogs have announced today as "Blog for Relief Day." This blog is one of them.

You can find more information on the Blog for Relief Day here, or a list of charities here. Please help those that are now suffering.

Mike, over at The Last Best Place blog, has compiled a list of Jewish charities here. I am giving my money to the Union for Reform Judaism Disaster Relief Fund. Give to any worthwhile charity. However, be sure to check out the organization before you send money; unscrupulous individuals are taking advantage of the situation to bilk generous individuals.

Also, for those of you in the Great Falls area, individuals from Congregation Aitz Chaim, the Great Falls Hebrew Association, will be selling silk magnolias (the State flower of Louisiana and Mississippi) at the Farmer's Market near the Civic Center on Saturday, September 3. All proceeds will be sent to the URJs Disaster Relief Fund. Look for us next to the nice lady selling tie-dye shirts.

Please note that as this is an event on shabbos, the event is not sponsored by Congregation Aitz Chaim. It is an individual effort by a number of its congregants.