Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sour Grapes for Tuesday, December 25th

Dollars and Sense

As of Feb 1st the new Zoning Law of 2007 will go into effect and will affect just about everyone on Saipan in one way or another. You can read a copy online at or you can go to the library or the zoning office in the Joeten Dandan building to see the map and read the law. Everybody from a homeowner building or adding to his house, to commercial builders/developers, to subdividers, to existing business owners, to any interested investors and just about everyone else should familiarize themselves with this new set of regulations. You should become ‘reg savvy’ as Ed Peterson of Susupe suggests. (I liked that letter…’made me think’).

Some will view it as an additional bureaucratic obstacle to efficient development. Others will see it as a cure all that will change our infrastructure overnight. The truth lies somewhere in between. Small towns (like us) and big cities alike have used zoning to revitalize blighted areas, to stimulate additional new themed construction in now stabilized areas and to transform a hodgepodge of unrelated buildings into comfortable, clean and enticing spaces for tourists and residents alike.

Steve Tilley, the zoning board and the small staff of the zoning office have worked hard to generate a useful and hopefully usable set of regulations. Whether it gets off the ground and becomes a meaningful part of things Saipanese or not depends upon funding and staffing priorities. If the government can afford to staff and fund the department it will be off to a flying start. If not it will languish, forgotten regulation books moldering away, like the last set of zoning laws established in 1993.

There are three possible weak links: Enforcement (can and will the new codes be enforced – see staffing requirements and funding discussion above). Fairness: (can and will the new codes be administered fairly and impartially in all cases). Future Leadership: (unimportant details can turn into personal vendettas and it’s easy to lose sight of the overall zoning picture when all the myriad details are swirling around. Success through the years will hinge almost totally on the ability to find and hire the right leadership).

Good luck to all in this endeavor. Done right this could be vitally important to our efforts to produce a better tourist product and to make our island a better place to live. Done wrong it can be a nightmare.
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While eating something-on-a-stick at the Thursday Street Market I ran into Angelo Villagomez. As we sat and discussed how to save the world, the conversation came around to oldtown Garapan revitalization. Angelo espoused a couple of ideas that made a lot of sense to me and I will pass them on to you for your edification. (Notice how I deftly laid it off on Angelo in case you think the idea is wacky).

He believes that to make the place better, jobs, like government agencies, and other office type private job generating businesses need to move into the Garapan downtown area. Tourists would like to participate in a “real” local experience, not just a tourist sham experience put up for their benefit. Tourists want to meld into an already existing unique cultural enclave a la San Francisco…cable cars, rice-a-roni, wharf, Nob Hill, China Town etc. Tourists come to see the local ambiance in a location not to create it.

Also needed are people to move their residences into this area, real working folks, living there full time. Angelo has already moved in there for whatever nefarious reasons (kidding) and would like to see others do the same. Real residents walking the streets (no not street walkers), using the business facilities and adding foot traffic to a sometimes barren area will make it a pleasant and comfortable feeling place to go.

He has a good point on both counts if you ask me. So MVA, find yourselves a new or now empty building somewhere in Garapan and move on in.
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Merry Christmas

The 26 million dollar tax rebates issued to tax payers by the central government last week will certainly help stimulate the economy. Those dollars will begin spreading around the CNMI right away and will help not just the individuals who got the checks but will help spur on the economy generally as the bucks flow from place to place. Retail items will be bought, bills – some past due- will be paid, some hard earned entertainment may be enjoyed, vital financial help to family, neighbors, friends and the needy may be forthcoming for the first time in a while.

It was the right thing to do. Thank you for having the guts, and the smarts, to give it back to the people you ‘borrowed’ it from. Better late than never as the saying goes.
* * * *

It looks like the CNMI will join the other insular areas like Washington DC and Puerto Rico in submitting a design to the treasury for a commemorative quarter coin (25 cent piece). May I suggest a couple of indigenous CNMI citizens standing valiantly before a huge caricature Uncle Sam who wields a carrot in one hand and a big stick in the other? Or maybe Uncle Sam has a wad of US greenbacks in one hand and a whip in the other and sports a “Labor and Immigration” sweatshirt. Spice it up with military aircraft landing on Tinian in the background. Okay, last chance: a jack booted Uncle Sam stepping on a copy of the Covenant while snickering “self governance?” in a cartoon quotation balloon.

Commemorative Quarters. It turned out to be the first stimulus for personal savings generated by the federal government in decades. The mint pumps out Billions (think Carl Sagan) of these quarters every year and the discerning American public actually hoards them believing they will be valuable collector items someday. Beach sand has a better chance of appreciation than a coin produced in huge volume does. Numismatists know better, but the ever-gullible public holds on to the zinc clad wonders as if their future retirement hinges on it. Okay, you got me…I’ve got a dozen rolls of uncirculated State CQ’s stashed in the old safety deposit box even as we speak.

One last thought: the government may have actually stumbled on a profitable business for a change(bad pun). If it costs 4 cents to make a quarter and you sell it discounted to 23 cents to member Federal Reserve banks and then it disappears from circulation requiring new ones to be minted to meet demand, a tidy profit ensues. As soon as they find out they are making money (sorry pun) they will probably start subsidizing an expensive process to turn it into a loss at the earliest opportunity…they wouldn’t want to spoil their record. (Hey, it could be worse, I could coin a phrase like last week).
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Quote of the week:
Doubt comes in at the window when inquiry is denied at the door. –Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893)


glend558 said...

Bruce, Thanks for the best wishes, I'll return the note and wish you and yours the very best too!
Don't forget the mini golf...

SteeleOnSaipan said...

Agreed on the zoning facts and revitalization ideas. Now what are the chances of enacting property taxes to start paying for public schools like most municipalities do?

Bruce A. Bateman said...


Randy: Slim to none. Remember that the legislators are also some of the largest landowners. (No jokes about Clyde Norita please). I have never even heard a serious discussion of that issue becoming a reality.

There is no doubt that an RE tax would codify land values at least annually.

There is also no doubt that, if the tax was stiff enough, commercial rates would begin to fluctuate at market value as would residential rates (residential seems to flow with the market more than commercial does now). Both of course would go up the equivelent of the taxes imposed but in the case of commercial rents might drop precipitiously based on avalability and demand. Properties could no longer be held vacant without incurring a tax penalty, so more would be rented out to pay the tax.

On the negative side. Why should childless property owners be forced to pay for the education of other people's children? I prefer a user fee/tax. 12 children? pay 12 times as much as a person with one. Kids out of school? Your fee drops to zero.

All the above is hot air in the wind. I don't see an RE tax on the horizon. How about you?

Brady Barrineau said...

Instead of greenbacks in one hand and a whip in the other, why not a kidney dialysis machine in one hand and FEMA checks in the other. It seems that you can turn any positive gesture into a negative, anti-US statement. You should change your name to Hateman.


KAP said...

No property tax is enshrined in the CNMI Constitution.

Who's going to sell voting in a new tax? So whether it's a good thing becomes...

Bruce A. Bateman said...

What about a welfare check in one hand and a nuke magnet in the other?

You are certainly one to talk about negativaty, Brady, as you bounce from site to site spewing your distaste for just about everything.

Meanwhile your gullability regarding things American is, to use your phrase, astonishing. You should change your name to Pollyanna.



My point exactly, Ken. Not a chance.

Jeff said...

Why should the suicidal have to pay for the military Bruce?

Bruce A. Bateman said...

They don't, Jeff. At least not for long. (:-))

Jeff said...

How about anarchists then?

Jeff said...

Should pacifists pay for the war with their tax money, or just the war supporters, which she cut that number from 35 percent to just the Bush family and the oil tycoons -- but I repeat myself?

Bruce A. Bateman said...

Sorry to respond late-- just got back on.

Good points, Jeff. My position would be to allow each taxpayer to list a percentage disbursement of their flat tax liability.

It would reduce the tax code to one side of one sheet of paper and would reduce the form 1040 to a post card.

It would work like this: every 4 years the voters decide what flat percentage of our income we will allow the government to take from us. Lets say that percentage the first time around is 10%. Everybody pays the same 10%. Every entity pays the same. No exceptions, no other rules.

Lets say your personal liability is $10,000, along with your check you send in your list of disbursements by percentage or by dollar amount. You say 5000 goes to education, 3 dollars to national defense, 1000 to save a tree, etc, etc etc. I do the same as does every other taxpaying entity.

At the end of the day a team of computers and accounts adds it all up. Welfare in Brooklyn gets $7.53,(don't spend it all in one place). This department gets x and that department gets y. That program gets z.

Cumulatively the amounts and their placement means we citizens vote for 'programs' with our wallets.

We might be amazed at just how much we could live without, government wise, if we're spending it ourselves.