By Doug Hissom Special to Published Dec 17, 2008 at 4:35 PM

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Here is an urban battle you do not hear about too often -- especially in Milwaukee -- banning the sale of bottled water. Toronto last week announced a ban on the sale and distribution of bottled water on city premises. In return, the city promised to make tap water available in all city facilities.

Milwaukeeans, prompted in part by the memory of the cryptosporidium outbreak, have a large preference for water in the bottle instead of from the tap. The trend is mightier in Canada, where 17 municipalities from five provinces ban the bottle and 45 others are indicating interest, as well.

In the States, Seattle and San Francisco are the biggest cities to stop buying bottled water for buildings and events.

Ban backers say bottled water is wasteful and unnecessary and that steps are needed to ensure that new public buildings are built with "bubblers" and water taps. One study found people who drank bottled water daily could save $1,400 a year by tapping the tap.

A 2006 study estimated that Americans throw away more than 60 million plastic water bottles a day.

Twice the Effort Pays Off: Ald. Tony Zielinski got his way for the second time in his effort to prevent Bay View's AK Food Mart from getting a beer license.

In his first shot at opposing the license, Zielinski enlisted a small collection of block watch leaders and property owners that were not really from the neighborhood around the store, which is located at 2305 S. Howell Ave.

AK's owner Parshotam Singh, who has been in business at the corner roughly 18 years, received a license from the City's Licenses Committee Nov. 23, but Zielinski got enough support from his colleagues to have the license sent back to the committee at last month's Common Council meeting.

Zielinski on Monday had more ducks in a row, bringing in even more business owners and income-property owners from the immediate area at Lincoln and Howell to testify against the license. Opponents said that panhandlers and loiterers would be attracted to the area and were already there.

There were no reported police incidents at the store and Singh said Zielinski never mentioned a loitering issue.

Mike Maierle, with the Department of City Development, said he had his boss' permission to testify and noted that the Comprehensive Southeast Side plan calls for something other than a convenience store at the location.

Singh's attorney, Michael Maistelman, said the issue was more about gentrification of the neighborhood and that people against the license would like the public housing high-rise that's next to the store be closed, too. Most of Singh's support came from that building, which can house mentally ill, drug addicts and low-income people.

Some 40 people testified on behalf of Singh and in support the license.

Zielinski argued that the people opposing the license were more interested in improving the community than the friends who came to support the sale of beer.

Zielinski also said graffiti found on the building was a symbol that Singh doesn't care about the neighborhood and doesn't follow through on improving the building. He added that it's unsightly to have bars on the windows and doors of the store. He said the license would set the area back.

"Please don't do this to my district," he asked the committee.

Singh said he needed the license to stay in business.

The 2-1 committee vote against the license came after Ald. Jim Bohl changed his vote from the last committee action.

The full Council was scheduled to vote on the change Tuesday.

Streets, Not Freeways: Smarting from a report that says it would take about 36 years to fix City of Milwaukee streets that require immediate repairs, at least one alderman said the state should chip in more to help out.

The report states that 214 miles -- or about 20 percent of city streets -- are in "poor" condition and require "immediate replacement." The estimate was that it would take about $40 million a year to do the job.

President-elect Obama has asked states for a wish list of road projects that they want done. Gov. Doyle put I-94 at the top of his list. Ald. Bob Bauman would like the city to get a slice of the pie.

Doyle released 22 pages of potential Wisconsin infrastructure projects for federal funding consideration. Obama plans massive investments in improving the nation's infrastructure, even dwarfing 1950s projects that launched the federal highway system into the modern era.

"(Doyle) obviously didn't ask for input from anyone on the Common Council when he was drafting his list of projects," said Bauman, chair of the Common Council's Public Works Committee.

"We're on record clearly stating that local street repair needs should come first, and that we should not be expanding highway capacity in southeast Wisconsin until we fix our existing roads, streets and bridges."

A Faster Foreclosure Plan: With 25,000 home foreclosures projected to hit the state soon, state Sen. Lena Taylor is trying to put together a plan that would reduce the time it takes to foreclose and make the process easier for victims.

In the Mortgage Mediation Act, the Milwaukee Democrat proposes measures requiring the lender to give the debtor notice of the right to mediation within 20 days and defer foreclosure for 90 days.

"When performed successfully," Taylor, an attorney, said, "mediation has the ability to keep more people in their homes, lower our rates of foreclosures, and significantly reduce the courts time and workload involving these cases."

She said the Mortgage Mediation Act is modeled after the successful "Farmer-Lender Mediation Act" adopted by the Minnesota Legislature in 1986 to tackle the farm crisis, helping to save over 14,000 farms from foreclosure.

If a lender failed to act in good faith, the homeowner could request court-supervised mediation; in which case, the foreclosure could be held in abeyance for another 60 days. She predicts the foreclosure process could be shortened by 15 months.

Taylor said the legislation is a brain trust of numerous stakeholders in the community. 

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.