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Scooter rental service eyes Eau Claire
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EAU CLAIRE — Carolyn Miller plans to create an electric scooter rental service in Eau Claire focused on serving the UW-Eau Claire campus and downtown.

The lifelong Eau Claire resident spoke Monday night to the City Council about her proposal to introduce small vehicle rentals to her hometown.

“Financially starting out with scooters is more feasible than doing bikes,” she said, explaining her business plan.

Miller’s comments were part of a public hearing on regulations the city is proposing for scooters (a similar bike rental ordinance was already approved a few years ago) as companies show interest in Eau Claire.

“We know from other cities’ experiences this can be a hot button issue for businesses and users alike,” assistant city attorney Jenessa Stromberger said.

Where scooters would be allowed to park before and after people rent them is a focus of a proposed ordinance that the council will vote on at its 4 p.m. meeting today.

To prevent scooters from becoming strewn along curbsides in front of businesses or throughout parks, the city is designating certain locations for parking them. Those spots in city parks and public parking lots, private property where the owners have granted permission or bike racks.

Scooters parked in spots where they are not allowed can be collected and disposed of by the city, according to the ordinance.

Strict parking requirements are in response to problems other cities have experienced with scooter rentals.

“I’ve visited cities where there are scooters allowed and I’ve seen them scattered in different places,” remarked Councilwoman Emily Berge.

The proposed ordinance requires that scooter companies that rent their vehicles in Eau Claire must have an office here to do repairs, provide customer service and have employees move scooters around so they don’t get concentrated in one location.

Companies will be allowed to deploy up to 300 scooters, but could apply to add 50 more if enough customer demand is evident.

Per state law, electric scooters would be allowed to operate on the city’s streets and recreational trails.

The maximum speed the scooters would be allowed to go is 15 mph, according to the proposed ordinance.

Scooter companies would be charged $250 to apply for a license to operate here and $150 annually to renew it. A one-time fee of $15 per scooter would also be charged.

The city also would charge $100 to $200 annually to lease parking spots for their scooters in various city parks and parking lots.

Leah Ness, deputy city engineer, said business groups from downtown and the West Grand Avenue area have sent letters of support in favor of the proposed regulations.

One Eau Claire resident spoke Monday night to offer words of caution about allowing motorized scooters in the city.

Ken Adler said his best friend was badly injured while using one on a business trip in Colorado. Adler warned that many others have been hurt while using scooters and said companies that rent them are not doing enough to make helmets available to riders.

Missing trees

Also at Monday night’s meeting, residents of Eau Claire’s Upper Westside Neighborhood aired grievances about trees that were slashed on a wooded lot well in advance of plans to build homes there.

“Everybody feels it was very unnecessary to cut down a lot of those trees,” homeowner Jamie Bricco said.

For 37 years she’s lived on First Street just north of the lot the city had long left undeveloped, which served as a wooded buffer area next to her house.

But recently mature trees were cut down, clearing the site for a set of townhomes that is slated for construction in 2022.

Developer Jason Grippentrog admitted that it is unconventional to clear a lot that far in advance of construction, but he said it was done with a cost savings in mind to make the homes more affordable when they are built.

Scott Allen, the city’s community development director, noted that among the trees removed were numerous elm and oak trees that were already dead or dying from diseases. He added that the developer is providing for additional landscaping in plans in response to neighbors’ complaints about the loss of the trees.

Shawn Putnick, a leader of the neighborhood association, noted the tree-clearing was done while the land sale is still pending, building plans are not final and the development is still in the process of rezoning the land.

“I don’t understand the rush to clear this property of all trees and brush before the sale and zoning has been completed,” she said.

Putnick contended that instead of the easy route of clear cutting, the developer could’ve picked mature trees to preserve. They would’ve provided shade for the new housing and made the new buildings appear to be more integrated into the surrounding neighborhood.

At this afternoon’s meeting, the City Council will vote on rezoning the 2300 block of First Street to allow the townhomes and adopt the general development plan for them.


Mitchell Bur of Eau Claire kayaks recently on Half Moon Lake in Eau Claire. Those considering similar activities today should know the weather is forecast to be less than ideal. AccuWeather is calling for a high of 41 degrees and a rain or snow shower in spots. No precipitation is expected the rest of the week, with highs ranging from 48 degrees Wednesday to 55 Friday and Saturday. For more weather information, see Page 10B. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.


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Eau Claire councilwoman resigns
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EAU CLAIRE — An Eau Claire city councilwoman is stepping down mid-term, attributing her resignation to a job change and service on a statewide group.

Mai Xiong, who was elected in April 2020, submitted her resignation letter on Friday to the city clerk’s office and stated it is effective immediately.

“Thank you so much for providing me this opportunity to serve and witness the amazingly inspiring work that goes into making our city a livable, lovable and fun city,” she said in the letter.

According to her letter and LinkedIn profile, Xiong left her previous job as development director for the local chapter of Special Olympics of Wisconsin. Her new job is as the community and economic development officer for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority for a service area covering 21 counties.

“As I mentioned, 2020 being a transitional year, it has allowed me to embark on a new career and accept an honorable job opportunity that will continue to advocate for and support equitable, affordable housing creations in the Northwestern Wisconsin Region,” Xiong said in her letter.

She also mentioned Gov. Tony Evers appointing her in January to his Equity and Inclusion Council. Just last month Xiong was named vice chairwoman of that group.

“With great excitement, I share these successes and new responsibilities; it is also with a heavy heart and great sadness that I must share with you my decision to resign from my post as your council member in order to continue to serve our community in the most impactful way that I can,” Xiong wrote to fellow council members.

Council President Terry Weld released Xiong’s resignation letter to the public on Monday, and he highlighted her accomplishments during the past year.

Last month Xiong had authored a resolution condemning violence against Asian-Americans and had also been instrumental in the city’s statement last year in responding to the death of George Floyd. She also served on the Eau Claire Housing Authority and the city’s Housing Opportunities Commission.

“The Eau Claire City Council members, city staff, and the community thank Ms. Xiong for her dedication and commitment to the ongoing growth, development and engagement of the City of Eau Claire and its residents,” Weld wrote.

A newcomer to local politics, Xiong received 10,500 votes in the April 2020 election, besting the 5,568 votes cast for competitor Dale Poynter.

That was a special election for two years remaining in a term first won by former Councilman Laura Benjamin in April 2019. Benjamin resigned in fall 2019.

The seat and four other at-large spots on the council are up for election in April 2022. The council will decide whether it will appoint a new member to fill the vacancy let by Xiong prior to the election.


Politics
White House issuing reports on states' infrastructure needs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden White House is amplifying the push for its $2.3 trillion infrastructure package with the release of state-by-state breakdowns that show the dire shape of roads, bridges, the power grid and housing affordability.

The figures in the state summaries paint a decidedly bleak outlook for the world’s largest economy after years of repairs being deferred and delayed. They suggest that too much infrastructure is unsafe for vehicles at any speed, while highlighting the costs of extreme weather events that have become more frequent with climate change as well as dead spots for broadband and a dearth of child care options.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon with Republican and Democratic lawmakers and can use the state summaries to show that his plan would help meet the needs of their constituents.

Drawn from an array of private and public data, the reports show there are 7,300 miles of highway in Michigan alone that are in poor condition. Damaged streets in North Carolina impose an average yearly cost of $500 on motorists. Iowa has 4,571 bridges in need of repair. There is a roughly 4-in-10 chance that a public transit vehicle in Indiana might be ready for the scrap yard. Pennsylvania’s schools are short $1.4 billion for maintenance and upgrades.

Most states received a letter grade on their infrastructure. West Virginia earned a D. So did Biden’s home state of Delaware. Of the states rated, the highest grade went to Georgia and Utah, which each notched a C-plus. The lowest grade, D-minus, went to the territory of Puerto Rico.

The administration is banking that the data will confirm the everyday experiences of Americans as they bump over potholes, get trapped in traffic jams and wait for buses that almost never correspond to published schedules. There is already a receptive audience to the sales pitch, and the strategy is that public support can overcome any congressional misgivings.

“We don’t have a lot of work to do to persuade the American people that U.S. infrastructure needs major improvement,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Fox News Channel’s “Fox News Sunday” ahead of the reports’ release. “The American people already know it.”

Republican lawmakers have been quick to reject the infrastructure proposal from Biden. They say just a fraction of the spending goes to traditional infrastructure, as $400 billion would expand Medicaid support for caregivers and substantial portions would fund electric vehicle charging stations and address the racial injustice of highways that were built in ways that destroyed Black neighborhoods.

The reports give some data to back up their argument that more money should be spent on roads and bridges. Biden’s plan would modernize 20,000 miles worth of roadways, but California by itself has 14,220 miles of highway in poor condition.

Republican lawmakers also object to funding the package by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% and increasing the global minimum tax, among other tax changes including stepped-up IRS enforcement being proposed by the Biden administration.

“This is a massive social welfare spending program combined with a massive tax increase on small-business job creators,” Sen Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “I can’t think of a worse thing to do.”

Yet the state-by-state reports make clear that many of the people Wicker represents could benefit from the package, an aspect of the Biden effort to engender the backing of voters across party lines.

Wicker was among four Republicans on the White House guest list for Biden’s Monday meeting, along with Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Reps. Garret Graves of Louisiana and Don Young of Alaska. Democrats on the list were Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Alex Padilla of California and Reps. Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey and David Price of North Carolina.

Mississippi needs $4.8 billion for drinking water and $289 million for schools. Nearly a quarter of households lack an internet subscription, and a similar percentage lives in areas without broadband. Mississippians who use public transportation have to devote an extra 87.7% of their time to commuting.

Mississippi’s infrastructure received a grade of D-plus.

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Online:

White House’s state-by-state infrastructure reports: Fact sheets by state.


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