Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- February 29-March 6, 2004

This page includes posts from February 29-March 6, 2004 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

March 6, 2004
How not to downzone

Itís not at all unusual for city officials to decide that prior administrations have failed to plan ahead properly for its citizensí needs.

Itís far more unusual for those city officials to attempt to make the state pay for those mistakes.

With any luck, the state will decline the honor.

Thatís the current situation involving the City of Rehoboth Beach, the State of Delaware, and the Cape Henlopen School District, which in Delaware is a special political subdivision of the state. 

Rehoboth Beach is booming. Real estate in town has been appreciating at greater than 20% per year, and the pressure to find new places to build homes near the ocean is enormous.

Thanks to the realty transfer tax, the cityís doing quite well financially during this burst of sales activity. Property taxes remain low, and the valuations remain skewed (the city hasnít done a reassessment since 1968).

In compliance with state law, Rehoboth is now updating its comprehensive plan. During that planning process, the city officially recognized what itís known for yearsóexcept for the ocean beaches that form its eastern boundary and a small park on its western border, Rehoboth failed to preserve any significant open space.

One large open tract remains, a 25-acre piece on the south edge of town that is currently zoned residential. The Cityís current plan is to downzone the acreage to a special new category. The downzoning would effectively prevent this land from being sold for housing.

The only problem is that this land is owned by the State and the School District. Itís where the two Rehoboth Elementary School buildings sit, and the property owners are not pleased.

The schoolís been there for decades, and the current buildings are old. Thanks to all the upscale gentrification taking place, hardly any students live in the town anymore (The local phrase is that Rehoboth is now mostly ďgay and grayĒ, and during the off-season itís easy to see the truth of that statement).

The Districtís long-range capital plan, on which I assisted as a citizen committee member, is to eventually replace these schools with new buildings. To accomplish that task, one option is to sell this property and use the profits to build the new elementary school on cheaper property that is also much closer to where the kids now live, west of the City. If the property is sold, 60% of the proceeds go to the State and 40% goes to the District.

The downzoning would effectively eliminate that option, and the District and the State have made their feelings known

[S]tate education officials and the Cape Henlopen School District object, saying such a move would reduce the site's estimated $30 million value. A developer now could build as many as 175 to 200 homes in an area where houses could sell for $500,000 each.

School Superintendent Andy Brandenberger said there are no plans to sell the complex and relocate the 650 students at the school.

But a new school might be needed by 2018 because Rehoboth Elementary and two other district schools will be about 100 years old by then. The sale of the land could one day help cover the costs, he said.

"We are the stewards of a public asset, and we must do all we can to preserve the value of that asset," Brandenberger said.

Some City officials recognize the problem, but still donít seem to realize the potential downside risk to trying to downzone land that the State itself owns:

City commissioner Richard Sargent said he is perplexed by the state's opposition to the zoning change, which has blocked approval of the city's comprehensive development plan.


Resident Mable Granke, a former member of the city's planning commission, said "it's pure nonsense" that state and school district officials are fighting the plan to preserve the land.

"I don't understand how the school board can look at that property and only consider it a financial interest," said Granke, who lives next to the school property. "This is all we have left to us. It's 25 precious acres that this town needs."

Rehoboth may actually need the property, but the City has also shown a decided reluctance to actually pay for the property. From a political perspective, some officials seem to forget that the State has ways to react to being downzoned that private property owners donít have available to them.

In my own conversations with the mayor and city manager on this subject, Iíve suggested that they find ways to set aside funds to pay the state and the district for the difference in value created by downzoning.

The City has the money and/or the legal means to obtain it. A reassessment that includes a limited buy-out fund for this purpose is one potential solution, for example. The fund proceeds could be invested until needed for the buy-out, when the District is ready to build the new schools and move off the property.

The State Planning Office is also developing another solution. It would permit the adaptive reuse of the parcel for housing, while retaining much of the current open space on the property.

Some City officials seem to recognize that thereís a political hierarchy among governments, and that Rehoboth Beach is not really on the top of the pile. It would be a big help if the rest of the City government realized that fact.

March 5, 2004
The Passion of the Christ

Last night we went with several friends to watch Gibsonís Passion of the Christ.

Iím still a bit stunned, nine hours after the event, but here are some random thoughts about it.

The audience filled three-quarters of the seats, which at this beach resort at this time of year, on a Thursday evening no less, is a significant sign of popularity. In fact, I drive by the theater complex every day on the way home from work, and since Ash Wednesday thereís been a noticeable increase in the number of cars parked by the movie entrance. Somehow I donít think itís because theyíre also showing Dirty Dancing 2.

I donít come from a strong Bible-reading religious tradition, so I thought it would help if I read all four Passion sequences by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John before seeing the movie. I think reading them ahead of time may have altered the experience, because as I watched the movie I could readily detect that certain scenes had only appeared in one of the Gospels. Thereís more than enough evidence that Gibson blended the four narratives in producing this version, along with other traditional notions of what happened.

The movieís anti-Semitic element that's has been alleged by others just didnít seem to be there, from my perspective. As one friend said, he was more angered by the actions of the Roman soldiers. In any event, Iíve never really understood how the idea that the Jews killed Christ is supposed to fill me with righteous Christian rage. Stuart Buck previously noted the scene using Christís explanation in John 10-17-18, and he correctly identifies it as an effective counterpoint to the argument.

Thereís no escaping the violence portrayed in the movie. Even so, I was impressed with how much of it is suggested instead of directly displayed (although thereís plenty shown, to be sure). On the other hand, given todayís movie-making conventions, I donít know how Gibson could have sanitized the depiction of being scourged, beaten, forced to wear a crown of thorns, and crucified with nails. This is not a movie for the squeamish, and definitely not a suitable movie for most children.

In fact, no one under 30 years old appeared to be in the audience. Demographically speaking, this is a senior-oriented community during the off-season, and it was really noticeable last night. The fact that many people tend to drift away from religion in young adulthood and drift back as they age may also have something to do with the audience make-up I observed.

The individual performances were first-rate, and not just among the primary characters such as Jesus, Mary, Judas, Pilate, and Caiphas. I was equally impressed by the actorsí portrayal of Peter, Judas, and Simon Cyrene.

Some characterizations were frankly not what I expected, but very well-done interpretations. For example, Gibsonís version of Satan will be with me for some time. In addition, his re-creation of the Pietŗ was extremely moving. I saw the original sculpture about 40 years ago at the 1964 Worldís Fair, and the impact of seeing that statue as a 10-year-old stayed with me ever since.

The audience was completely still as the movie ended, and silently emptied the theater.

It seemed perfectly fitting.

March 3, 2004
Not-so-super Tuesday

John Ellis took a look at the numbers and noticed that the voter turnout in yesterdayís Super Tuesday primaries was anything but super: 

They're Really, Really Angry
They're just not voting. Once again, as measured against 1988, the turnout in state after state was sharply down. This was particularly true in California, New York, Connecticut and Georgia. The turnouts in New York and Connecticut were stunningly low. Not that the TV gasbags have any interest in something as mundane as actual vote.


The low vote totals tracked the Delaware experience a month ago, during its first-ever presidential primary. I thought the historic nature of the voting opportunity and the (then) crowded field might bring out the voters, but that didnít happen. Instead, a blistering total of 7% of all registered Delaware Democrats voted for Kerry, as noted in a prior post.

Not such a ringing endorsement, when you put it that way.

Considering how low the vote totals have been thus far, Democrat and Republican campaign staffers and the media folks who cover presidential politics for a living should try to remember one thing:

Just because you're standing inside a hothouse doesn't mean it's warm outside.


March 3, 2004
Recommended Reading

This is a column night, so in lieu of a longer post here are some recommended links.

Michael Totten and I donít always see eye-to-eye on policy issues, but we both agree on whatís the most important issue in deciding whom to support in the upcoming Presidential election. This post expresses that agreement very well:

I appreciate very much what [President Bush] has accomplished in the realm of foreign policy, as anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows. And there is simply no way I can vote for his opponent who has spent the past year whining about every good thing we are doing and have done in the Middle East. This is by far the most important task now and ahead of us.

Glenn Reynolds posted a long piece, filled with interesting reader email updates, on Bushís prospects for political support from those who agree with him on the War on Terror.

In addition, Reynolds linked to an essay Steven Den Beste wrote a while ago about the war, which Den Besteís been tweaking. As with most of his writings, this post is long, well-organized, and compelling.

March 2, 2004
A stinging sensation

One fine afternoon in June 2002, Orlando Martinez drove his tractor trailer east on Interstate 44 in Phelps County, Missouri. As he approached the Sugar Tree Road exit on a remote stretch of that highway, Martinez noticed two signs facing the eastbound traffic, helpfully printed in English and Spanish:

Drug Enforcement Checkpoint Ahead, One-Fourth Mile

Drug Dogs in Use

Martinez quickly took the exit ramp. He rolled his rig through the stop sign, and turned left. He drove across the interstate on the overpass, and turned left again to use the on-ramp heading west.

Unfortunately for him, however, representatives of the county sheriffís department observed Martinez during the entire maneuver. Two of them pulled the trucker over for the traffic violation.

When the officers interviewed Martinez, they noticed his hands shaking uncontrollably. The nervous driver quickly agreed to a search of his trailer. A drug-sniffing dog eventually alerted to a hefty pile of Bolivian marching powderó17 kilograms, in fact.

The arrest soon followed.

Thatís when things became interesting.

On appeal, Martinez suggested to the Eighth Circuit that his situation was no different from a recent sting operation decision from the 8th Circuit that the very same Sugar Tree Road exit and the Phelps County Sheriffís Department. In that case the court ruled that the sting operation violated the Fourth Amendment.

In the prior prosecution, however, the sheriffís deputies were under orders to stop everyone who took the exit ramp. There was no particularized basis for searching every vehicle under those conditions, and that fact proved fatal to the prosecution.

Nonetheless, the Phelps County Sheriffís Department showed it could learn from its prior mistakes. When they ran the sting that caught Martinez, the deputies were limited to going after the drivers who violated traffic laws.

That one change in procedure kept their case alive:

There is no dispute that Martinez committed a traffic violation by failing to stop at the stop sign. As a result, the officers had probable cause to stop Martinez. The fact that the officers may have believed Martinez was carrying illegal drugs does not invalidate an otherwise valid stop [citation omitted]Ö. Furthermore, the officersí use of the deceptive signs does not make the stop illegal, as it is well established that officers may use deception to uncover criminal behavior [citation omitted].

Since the traffic stop was perfectly legal, the subsequent interview and drug discovery was also legal.

Martinez now has 151 months to think about a basic legal principle--if you violate one law, you really canít complain if they find out you were violating another one at the same time.

This kind of sting operation seems to be more and more popular, at least in the quieter segments of the Interstate Highway system in the Midwest. See this prior post, for example, concerning a similarly successful bit of fakery for a good cause in Muskogee County, Oklahoma.

March 1, 2004
Cookware Color Commentary

In an AP story today, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco reacted to the Social Security Administrationís new orders to its staff to refuse to use any San Francisco-issued marriage licenses to help establish identity for name-changing and other routine tasks.

The SSA's order is largely symbolic. As noted in the same piece, folks can use other identification for the same purposes, such as driverís licenses. Nonetheless, SSA wonít use post-February 12 marriage certificates issued in ďThe CityĒ until the courts determine the legal effect of the mayorís outspoken refusal to follow California's marriage laws.

Itís possible that the new mayor is thuddingly clueless, but I doubt it.

I think itís more likely that heís fully capable of seeing in others what he already showed himself to be, and that heís simply rising to the bait:

Mayor Gavin Newsom accused President Bush of political showmanship and discrimination because of the Social Security Administration's decision to not accept any marriage licenses from San Francisco - gay or straight - until the same-sex issue is resolved.Ö

Newsom called the move "political and retaliatory."

Well, duh.

Did the mayor really think that there might not be any consequences flowing from his decision to ignore state law in favor of his own concept of right and wrong?

Did the mayor really think that the means by which an issue finds its way to the courthouse is irrelevant?

Did the mayor really think that the Bush Administration would do nothing about the ancillary Federal reaction to the mayorís own bit of political showmanship?


Some pot.

Some kettle.

March 1, 2004
Leaping toward spring

Yesterday was Leap Day, and around here the weather decided to act more spring-like, rather than maintain its real, dead-of-winter character.

I took advantage of the warm, sunny day to play a round of golf, something I hadn't been able to do for a long while.

I made sure to keep my expectations about how I would play as low as possible.

I can now report that for most of the entire 18 holes, I met those expectations completely.


Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2004