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Local elected officials and social networking

Knowing what our elected officials are working on used to require attending monthly neighborhood meetings.  Not bad if you are free when the meetings are held and patient enough to sit through the entire meeting to hopefully get a clue what they are up to.  Not good if you care to know about more than a single ward.  How many meetings can one person reasonably attend per month just to be an informed citizen? Then add in the issue of just trying to know what meetings are held when, where and who will be there.  If you are parochial you only care about that which is within your ward — across the street doesn’t matter.  In St. Louis that means your 3.6% (1/28th) section of the city.  Many of us, however, take a broader view of issues and problems facing not just the city but the entire St. Louis region.  3.6% is not enough.

For a number of years now I’ve complained that too few of our elected officials blogged.  If you wanted to know what they were working on you had on track them down at a neighborhood meeting.  Even then you got the same old boring stuff, no real news about what they are working on.

With the rise of Twitter, the 140 character micro-blogging site, our elected officials can now easily reach those interested in knowing what they are working on.  Some of them have embraced Twitter as a way to easily communicate.

The following are elected officials from the City of St. Louis on Twitter:

The list above includes all ages, races & both genders.  It includes senior members and two elected earlier this year.  My apologies if I’ve left anyone off the list.  The use by those listed above varies.  Mayor Slay does not personally tweet. Others can go weeks between tweets.

The above is just for the City of St. Louis.  Our region includes hundreds of units of government.  St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley is also on Twitter.  But what about members of the St. Louis County Council?  Hundreds of mayors in the region? Heads of other counties in our 16-county region?  Newly elected State Senator Joe Keaveny is on Twitter.

I started this post a couple months ago.  Since then Twitter has added a lists feature.  So for this post I created a list with elected officials that represent part of the St. Louis region.  Right now the list has 20 persons from both sides of the river.  You can subscribe to the entire list or pick and chose.  If you know of others that should be on the list let me know.

With only 20 on this list this means that most of our elected officials are not on Twitter.  Many of you are probably not either.  Not everyone needs to follow every official.  What is important is that they are putting out ideas and asking for feedback.  The other day I sent feedback to Lt. Gov Peter Kinder.  I’ve sent a message or two to Senator Claire McCaskill as well as numerous local aldermen. With the local press following them as well you are likely to get better reporting.

If you go to your ward/neighborhood meetings keep doing so.    But I’m interested in the entire region.

UPDATE 11/13/09 7:50am: Just got word that Mayor Slay does do some personal tweeting – those with #fgs at the end. Good to know.

– Steve Patterson


Much of St. Louis region going (mostly) smoke-free by January 2011

November 3rd voters in St. Louis County approved a clean air bill covering their county (65% yes).  Prior to their vote the Board of Aldermen in the City of St. Louis passed a bill doing basically the same thing in the city, which is separate from St. County.

Both will go smoke-free on January 2, 2011. Contrary to reports, the citizen vote in the County is not triggering the city bill – in fact the County bill is delaying the effective date in the city by one day.  The city’s bill called for an effective date of January 1, 2011 unless the County ordinance began sooner.  From section 15 of the city’s bill:

This Ordinance shall be effective on such date that the Saint Louis County enacts Smoke Free Air legislation, or on January 1, 2011, whichever date is later.

Since the county effective date is 1/2/2011 it is one day later in the city.  The city’s language was poorly worded but the 2nd actually makes more sense anyway because you don’t want to try to change the policy on the night everyone is celebrating New Year’s.  I’d have made it effective on 12/31/2010 but such measures usually start at the start of a year, not the end.

The City’s law exempts small bars for five long years from the effective date.  So they will go smoke-free on January 2, 2016.  Here is the exemption language:

Bars in existence on the effective date of this ordinance in which only persons aged twenty one (21) years old or older are permitted to enter the premises, the square footage of the entire floor area of the level of the building on which the bar establishment is located is two thousand (2000) square feet or less. The square footage shall not include kitchen areas, storage areas and bathrooms. The bar shall prominently displays outside of the premises at each entrance and above the bar the following sign in lettering that is black bold Arial font at (ninety-eight) 98 point size: “WARNING : SMOKING ALLOWED HERE”. This exemption for bars shall expire five (5) years after the effective date of this ordinance.

A bar is defined in the ordinance as:

“Bar” means an establishment that is devoted to the serving of alcoholic beverages for consumption by guests on the premises and in which the serving of food is only incidental to the consumption of those beverages, including but not limited to, taverns, nightclubs, cocktail lounges, and cabarets.

My concern is that as most places goe smoke-free all the smokers are going to crowd into the small bars that permit smoking this exemption.  If that happens the non-smoking patrons of those places may shift to non-smoking bars to avoid the increase in smoke.  If this does happen that means these small bars will be increasingly dependent upon smokers. Instead of adjusting their business model to prepare for the coming smoke-free deadline they will be worse off than today.

Note that a new bar opened after January 2, 2011 it will be smoke-free regardless of the size.  Other exemptions include:

2. Not more than twenty percent (20%) of hotel and motel rooms rented to guests and designated as smoking rooms. All smoking rooms on the same floor must be contiguous and smoke from these rooms must not infiltrate into areas where smoking is prohibited under the provisions of this Ordinance. The status of rooms as smoking or nonsmoking may not be changed, except to add additional nonsmoking rooms.
3. Private clubs that have no employees, except when being used for a function to which the general public is invited; provided that smoke from such clubs does not infiltrate into areas
where smoking is prohibited under the provisions of this Ordinance. This exemption shall not apply to any organization that is established for the purpose of avoiding compliance with this Ordinance.
4. Outdoor areas of places of employment.
5. Tobacco retail stores as defined by this Ordinance.
6. Casino gaming areas as defined by this Ordinance.

I’m not overly bothered by these exemptions — except that last one.  Employees of casinos are not immune from the dangers of 2nd hand smoke.  Interestingly, the issue of casino workers exposed to smoke may get resolved in the courts.

Wynn Las Vegas is the second major resort operator to be hit with a lawsuit recently over secondhand smoke dangers. (Source)

One suit involved a pregnant casino employee.  A woman should not have to quit her job to protect her baby’s health (unless her job is something like a race car driver, stunt woman, etc).  Next steps will be to remove the casino exemption, pass similar measure in other Missouri Counties in the St. Louis area.  Ideally the state will finally pass a state-wide measure.

We’ve got a little more than 13 months until places must go smoke-free.  Hopefully some will make the transition sooner rather than waiting until the deadline. By going smoke-free before the deadline establishments can probably get some extra PR for doing so.  Along those lines, establishments that go smoke-free prior to the deadline may want to consider advertising that fact here.  Come January 3rd 2011 nearly every place will be smoke-free so by doing so early and advertising it they stand a better chance of not getting lost in the crowd of places.

On the other hand one restaurant owner told me before Tuesday he wanted to go smoke-free but wanted the law to require it.  He will continue as a smoking establishment until the deadline — he doesn’t want to offend his regulars.  He is glad it will become law so he is finally able to go smoke-free.  I can respect that.  I told him I’d visit him in 2011, but not before.

– Steve Patterson


Your favorite St. Louis brewery?

November 1, 2009 STL Region, Sunday Poll 18 Comments

For generations St. Louisans have been brewing and consuming beer.  From the biggest to the smallest, and everything in between, the number of breweries in the St. Louis area is impressive.

The poll this week asks your favorite local brewery.  I’m not asking which you consume the most, but which is your favorite.  They might be the same and they might not.

The list of breweries was taken from participants in the 2009 St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival (must be 21 to enter site):

I have tried about 5-6 of them but that means there is that many I haven’t tried.   In the event I omitted a local brewery from the poll I have enabled the “other” field so you can add in one not listed.  The breweries are presented alphabetically.

I see the corner bar/brewery as being part of an urban environment.  Applebee’s says they are a “Neighborhood Grill & Bar”  yet their neighborhood is often a suburban strip mall. Just not the same.

Most of these places are small brewers.  Others started small and expanded.  Most are in the City of St. Louis but there are exceptions.  Whenever I’m on Main Street in St. Charles I usually end up at Trailhead.  Going to Augusta used to be about wine for me but since I discovered Augusta Brewery I go for beer instead.

Brews from some of these brewers are available in other establishments/grocery store while others can only be obtained directly.  You may think it unfair to have A-B compete in the poll with small micro breweries.  Again, I’m asking for your favorite brewer.   I like A-B’s Amber Bach but that doesn’t make A-B my favorite brewer in town.

Fans of local beer can go to the stlhops.com forum where members post what beers pubs have in stock on certain days.  Technology and beer are a nice combination.  As I finish writing this post Halloween night I’m finishing off a local pumpkin ale.

Thanks to contributor Jim Zavist for the idea for this poll & post.  The poll is at the top of the right sidebar. If you chose to drink please do so responsibly.

– Steve Patterson


9-1-1 Systems in a Mobile Phone World

October 29, 2009 STL Region 1 Comment

Current 9-1-1 systems were developed decades ago before mobile phones became popular replacements for landlines. Each year an increasing number of households, like mine, do not have a land line.

From Wikipedia:

Dialing 9-1-1 from a mobile phone (Cellular/PCS) in the United States originally connected the call to the state police or highway patrol, instead of the local public safety answering point (PSAP). The caller had to describe an exact location so that the agency could transfer the call to the correct local emergency services. This was a regular problem, because the exact location of the cellular phone isn’t normally transmitted with the voice call, and with the exponential growth of cellular use, such calls were frequent occurrences.

In 2000, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an order requiring wireless carriers to determine and transmit the location of callers who dial 9-1-1. The FCC set up a phased program: Phase I transmitted the location of the receiving antenna for 9-1-1 calls, while Phase II transmitted the location of the calling telephone. The order set up certain accuracy requirements and other technical details, and milestones for completing the implementation of wireless location services. Subsequent to the FCC’s order, many wireless carriers requested waivers of the milestones, and the FCC granted many of them. By mid-2005, the process of Phase II implementation was generally underway, but limited by the complexity of the coordination required from wireless carriers, PSAPs, local telephone companies and other affected government agencies, and the limited funding available to local agencies which need to convert PSAP equipment to display location data (usually on computerized maps). Such rules do not apply in Canada.

FCC rules require that all new mobile phones will provide their latitude and longitude to emergency operators in the event of a 9-1-1 call. Carriers may choose whether to implement this via Global Positioning System (GPS) chips in each phone, or by means of triangulation between cell towers. Due to limitations in technology (of the mobile phone, cellular phone towers, and PSAP equipment), a mobile caller’s geographical information may not always be available to the local PSAP. Technologies are currently under development to remedy this situation and improve performance. Although there are now technological ways to obtain the geographical location of the caller, a 9-1-1 caller should try to be aware of the location of the incident about which he or she is calling.

I’ve read some cities are adding the ability to text the 9-1-1 center in case of emergency.  When I had my stroke on 2/1/2008 I could not get to my mobile phone.  But even if I had there is a chance I could not have clearly been able to verbally tell the operator my location.

To address my own concerns I recently bought a $3 app (reg $7) for my iPhone known as I am Safe.  Other phones to be added soon, I believe.


If I press the app on my phone I can cancel in 3 seconds.  If not canceled it rings the phone and begins recording audio.  It also sends text messages to five people I predetermined.  Those same five will receive an email with a link to a map of my GPS location (example below) as well as the ability to hear the audio.  In case I’m at home the email includes the front door code and contact info for my neighbor with a key to my place.  I feel better having this app.  And yes, my phone is always close to me now.

I have no connection with this company other than as a paying customer.

I’m told the City of St. Louis is looking at our 9-1-1 technology and how to improve it.  But our region is vast and is covered by numerous emergency systems (23 in St. Louis County),  all tied to land lines.

Used to be you kept a dime for the pay phone, then a quarter. Then both. Now a pay phone is a rare sight in the urban landscape.

Voters in St. Louis County have a chance on Tuesday to determine if part of our region will get newer technology:  Proposition E-911.

– Steve Patterson


I See Vibrant Urban Streets

Three years ago I did a post, Envisioning Smart Growth, that I want to make you aware of.   In that post I featured some impressive photoshop work done by a California firm, Urban Advantage:


My original post has two intermediate steps between the before and after.  The firm’s website has many more examples of using photoshop to create visuals to show how streets can be improved through narrowing streets, widening sidewalks, building up to the street and so on.

I often like to visit their site to see the latest projects they have done, helping their clients all over the country to visually show how proposed changes would help streets and places mature into a more urban/walkable form.  Of the many posts I’ve done over the last five years this simple post was one of my favorites.  I have thoughts of transformations like this going through my head for every corridor in the region.

My hope is we, as a city & region, will begin to think beyond what we have today and work toward what we can have tomorrow.  This requires coming together to create a collaborative vision and implementing the zoning to ensure that future efforts build toward the vision.  I invite you to look through the many examples on their site.  The photoshop work is the easy part, I also know that streets won’t transform themselves without a strong vision.

– Steve Patterson




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