Sunday, 22 March 2009

CDS Chronicles Part 4

The previous instalment of these CDS Chronicles took us through the Representative Assembly (RA) meeting of 28 September 2008, which included much discussion of Arria Perrault's proposal for a Monastery sim. Arria's proposal was to be the major subject of the next several RA meetings.

The RA meeting of 12 October 2008

The RA meeting of 12 October 2008 got off to a slow start, because LRA Justice Soothseeker was temporarily called away in real life to deal with a confrontation between his dogs and a skunk.

When Justice returned, discussion began on the first agenda item, which was Arria's proposal for a webmaster position with a stipend. This proposal had been discussed at the meeting of 28 September, and minor amendments had been proposed. The new discussion centered on the clause saying that the webmaster would "update the version of Content Management System as needed, after consultation with governmental users." Arria asked "who are the governmental users?" Were they only the members of governmental bodies, such as the RA, the executive and the New Guild, or did they include the stipended "civil servants," such as the Public Information Officers?

There was also some discussion of whether the RA should directly review and approve website operational issues such as choice of hosting provider, software or website design, or leave these to the discretion of the webmaster and those collaborating on the website? Flyingroc Chung observed that the proposal referred to "consultation" with government, rather than obtention of formal approval. The question was finally resolved by replacing the words "government users" with "heads of each branch of government." The amended proposal was unanimously approved. Jamie added that Alexicon Kurka had agreed to fill the position.

The next item was Arria's proposal for purchase of a "void" sim, to which the Monastery would be relocated. Arria referred to the latest version of her proposal set out on the CDS forum, which would place the new void sim between Alpine Meadow and Locus Amoenus, thereby filling the "hole" under the Alpine Meadow sim. Arria noted that the Monastery was an NGO, and that this project could be a model for other NGOs to develop, without CDS having to take a large financial risk. Justice Soothseeker asked whether the Monastery's status as NGO was really relevant, since other citizen groups could ask CDS to purchase a void sim, and then fully pay for it. Jamie noted that any group that was willing to pay could also propose to develop a new sim under the Private Development Act.

Gwyneth Llewelyn mentioned that land ownership by a chartered NGO would sidestep limitations on the quantities of CDS land that can be owned by individual citizens. Moon Adamant confirmed that that limit was 4096 m2 per sim and per avatar. But Jamie noted that there was no limit to group ownership of land, which already allowed widespread sidestepping of any theoretical ownership limits.

Jamie referred to his own forum post, which set out a way to implement Arria's proposal under the Private Development act. Jamie specified what he perceived to be three remaining points of disagreement between himself and Arria. First, instead of the Monastery being a seventh paid parcel, Arria wanted the six paid parcels to fund the void sim, with the Monastery being on public land, thus paying no rental. Second, Arria persisted in wanting the new sim to be implemented under the standard procedure, rather than under the Private Development Act. And third, while Arria agreed that the proposal must conform to the General Master Plan, she failed to explain how the sim's terrain and its parcel plan would be confirmed by the Guild and the relevant branches of government. Jamie observed that the deciding bodies usually see a map and a parcel spreadsheet before they commit to a sim purchase. However, the Private Development procedure shortcuts that by letting the developer terraform and landscape before any review.

Gwyneth and Moon, following Jamie's lead, asked Arria if she could reconcile her proposal with the Private Development Act. For example, according to that Act the Monastery NGO should pay 4 months of tier in advance. Arria replied that she would pay those 4 months in any case, and would continue paying if the six other plots failed to generate sufficient revenue. Why should she be required to pay tier in advance?

Gwyneth noted that the Private Development Act in fact provides two separate models. The first model allows the private developer to acquire the sim, while the second model allows the private developer to "donate sufficient money to the CDS estate owner to allow the CDS to acquire a sim." Gwyneth suggested that Arria seemed to want to follow the first model, but since only those who already own a full sim can buy a void sim, Arria's group would have to follow the second model. But Arria insisted that she wanted to follow the model of normal sim development (but with a void sim, and with an NGO as major occupant of public land), rather than private development. In exasperation Arria asked: "If people know so well how the law is, why don't they help me to make a good proposal?"

Gwyneth admitted that Arria's project could be seen as a regular, CDS-promoted sim, but with only 6 plots for sale in a void sim, and a Monastery on public land. Yet Gwyneth thought that the Monastery group wished to speed up the process by entering the land business themselves. Moon asked whether the Monastery was public or private? Arria replied that the Monastery had been private since its inception, but that she thought it should now become public, in light of its contribution to the CDS image and activities. To which Moon replied that if it becomes public, it must follow the public process.

Jamie tried to sum up the two main options: development under the Private Development Act, or under the standard procedure used for Alpine Meadow and Locus Amoenus. Arria's proposal would fit under Private Development, except for the four month advance, and the manner of submitting the parcels and rents for approval. Perhaps the requirement for the advance could be waived, since Arria proposed to fully rent the parcels, thereby reducing the financial risk, and perhaps the table of parcels and rents could be submitted prior to purchase, thereby permitting full review by CDS. The process would then be quite similar to that of the standard procedure, whereas the standard procedure would require more work for the Guild, and would therefore take longer to implement.

Justice suggested that Jamie as Chancellor should continue to refine the possibilities. Jamie therefore proposed to come back to a future RA meeting with details about Arria's map, showing parcel sizes, purchase prices and rental rates.

Gwyneth however suddenly suggested that this project should fall under the In-Theme Expansion Act (NL 8-2). (I found this surprising, because Gwyneth up to this point seemed to be pushing Arria to admit that her project fell under the Private Development Act. But rereading the above carefully I concluded that Gwyneth and Moon had in fact been steadily undermining the Private Development option.) Gwyneth immediately formulated her suggestion as a motion, which Pip Torok seconded.

Jamie, who had been championing a modified Private Development approach, predictably objected against taking a premature vote. "I wouldn't APPROVE before you have plans of the table," he said. And after a moment of reflection, he added wryly: "I see that if you use NL 8-2 it is the RA not the executive who decides."

Gwyneth replied that the proposal was only for the RA to approve the project on general terms. Then RA would decide on the preliminary configuration (such as a void sim south of Locus Amoenus), and would commission the NG to draft a plan to be presented to the Chancellor. The motion would thus only initiate what NL 8-2 calls the "Preparation Phase." And Arria was quite satisfied with Gwyneth's proposal, because she had all along insisted that she wanted to avoid the Private Development approach.

Jamie respectfully took his leave of "those who feel better able than himself to make such detailed legal analysis on the fly," cautioned against adopting motions with unexplored consequences, and concluded: "Please keep any approval CONTINGENT on a later approval from SOMEONE."

Justice then summed up the proposal as follows:

1) The RA supports the idea of acquiring a 5th sim, which would be a void sim next to AM.
2) The RA also supports the idea of the Monastery occupying public land on said void sim.
3) We want to see a map and detailed financials before final approval

The vote was called. Gwyneth, Pip, Arria and Justice voted "aye," and Bells Semyorka voted "nay." The motion carried, and the meeting was adjourned.

The RA meeting of 26 October 2008

The RA meeting of 26 October 2008 began with discussion of meeting times for future RA meetings, taking into account upcoming real-life events such as Halloween, the US presidential elections, and Thanksgiving.

The first substantial topic was continued discussion on the proposed new sim. This discussion seemed to some to be premature, in that New Guild had not yet taken up the question. Gwyneth reminded Arria that the In-Theme Expansion Act (NL 8-2) required the RA to approve the broad guidelines for a new sim, including:

1) the rough number of plots
2) the range of sizes of plots
3) price and affordability
4) single/double prim
5) rough balance between public, private and commercial land
6) any specific public builds e.g. the amphitheatre
7) any other infrastructure that can serve the interest of the community and territory.

Arria replied that she already had most of that information. Gwyneth observed that it would be nice to have it all as a document, or in a forum post. Arria said she planned to provide such a document, but was still working on it. Jamie noted that Arria had at each stage provided everything the others had asked for, but that the RA decision to apply NL 8-2 had added new requirements. The next step was Guild review of Arria's submittals.

Jamie noted that Gywneth's point seemed to be that Arria should provide this information FIRST to the RA, and THEN to Guild. He suggested that Arria at least present a brief summary. So Arria rezzed a topo map of the new sim, and began explaining the layout. The six rental plots would be in a fishing village near the sea, at the same general elevation as Locus Amoenus. The new Monastery would be up the slope, at about the same elevation as the old Monastery on Alpine Meadows. A small cascade coming from under the monastery would feed a lake, which would in turn feed the river flowing into Locus Amoenus. There would be a total of seven plots, since Virtus would rent a small plot corresponding to the library of the Monastery.

Jamie questioned whether seaside rental plots would sell well, since CDS experience was that upland Alpine Meadows plots sold much better than lowland plots in Colonia Nova or Locus Amoenus. Rose worried that all of the proposed plans would overload the one OpenSpace (void) sim.

Arria then summarized the financial details. Each of the six rental plots would have an area of 512 m2, a prim count of 250, and would rent for 12 US$ per month. Virtus would pay 15 US$ per month for the library plot. The available prims would be allocated as follows: 40% to private land, 10% to NGO land (Virtus), and 50% to public land. The public infrastructure would include the lake (skating area in winter) and a ski slope.

Sonja Strom said that she liked the project, but it seemed to go against the Master Plan concept for this area. Arria replied that, as Symo Kurka had stated, the Master Plan is just a guideline. Justice cut the discussion short by saying that the time for this item was up, and that it was precisely the role of the impending New Guild review to determine how well the project fits with the Master Plan. The subject was tabled.

Next on the agenda was the Chancellor's report. Jamie began by announcing that Sonja had been appointed as Land Caretaker. He then noted that a small influx of new citizens had resulted from Oktoberfest and other recent events.

A major concern reported by Jamie was land sales and vacancies, which was not going well, although not catastrophic. He planned to bring proposed changes to the laws about land sales and rent payments, which could help improve the situation. He had posted about land and vacancies earlier that same day on the forum, but had not posted his other views, which he set out at the RA meeting. (This subject deserves a parenthetical note. In the referenced forum post, Jamie mentions that one proposal would be to shorten the number of months to evict non-payers, down from the current 3 month period. It seems that ThePrincess Parisi, determined to leave CDS, had set a very high sales prices on her properties, and at the same time stopped paying rent on them. This final conflict between ThePrincess and the rest of CDS fails to appear in the RA meeting minutes, because the Chancellor exercises discretion in treating personal issues, and avoids mentioning names in any forum posts. A while later ThePrincess departed from Second Life entirely.)

Jamie then noted that Alpine Meadows, which has an unusual hillside theme and small lots, sold fast, but that Locus Amoenus, which is flattish with a Roman theme, was selling poorly – though part of the reason could be poor economic conditions. He noted that due to the CDS Direct Land Sales Act anyone could see what is not sold. (Another parenthetic note: in his pre-meeting forum post about land , Jamie had written: "One can immediately see what land is for sale in CDS, because for the past year or so, we have used the "yellow map" direct sale system, and available land shows on the SL maps. Incidentally I believe that was a marketing mistake…" I tried to look up the Land Sales Act that Jamie refers to, but couldn't find it. I found an old post by Sudane Erato announcing the introduction of a new land management system. But when was it decided that plots for sale would show up as bright yellow splashes on the in-world map?)

Jamie noted that most of the recent sales were turnover in Neufreistadt: the Fachwerken and scenic places get bought fast. Arria asked whether the plots for sale in Colonia Nova (these seem to be the large plots put up for sale by ThePrincess) could be an opportunity to start the plan for economical development. But LRA Justice Soothseeker announced that he had to leave, so Jamie proposed to share his further thoughts about the new sim at the upcoming Guild meeting.

Jamie instead opened a broader discussion of expansion possibilities. The economic market for traditional rentals seemed uncertain, but Jamie identified three other alternatives for CDS expansion: 1) Arria's proposal, 2) another void or two for scenic and perhaps NGO use, and 3) potential joining with Al Andalus, another democratic community in Second Life. Concerning the third alternative, Jamie mused on the difficulty of arranging a successful merger, without CDS overwhelming Al Andalus like a colonizing conquistador. Patroklus Murakami expressed his astonishment at the announcement of this third possibility, asking: "As afar as I know, it's the first time this idea has been aired publically?"

Jamie shifted to the last, minor, item of his Chancellor's report. During the Okotoberfest he had expanded the main CDS information center in Neufreistadt by donating his own lot next door to it. He proposed that the RA at the next meeting could approve a swap, taking Jamie's plot for the information center, and giving him in exchange the underused "store for citizen's" on the other side of the Platz.

The Chancellor's report being finished, and the LRA Justice having departed, an informal discussion followed on the possible merger with Al Andalus. Jamie said that since CDS was a faction-based system, he expected to be talking to each faction about the Al Andalus question. Patroklus asked Jamie what approach he had had from Al Andalus. Jamie replied that there had only been informal chat, which had already revealed multiple possible conflicts of interest, since many CDS citizens also own land in Al Andalus.

Patroklus asked why, what was the logic of joining the two regions? Al Andalus was set up independently of CDS, and why was there suddenly talk of bringing them together? What had been discussed? (Parenthetical note: Al Andalus had been formed under the impulsion of CDS members Rose Springvale and Michel Manen. Rose continued to belong to both communities, while Michel in a huff had slammed the door on CDS and concentrated on Al Andalus. But in the fall of 2008 Michel quit the Al Andalus project - which may have been one new factor that allowed consideration of joining the two regions together.)

Jamie answered Patroklus by pointed to interests shared by the two regions : self governance, strong scenic themes, and general non-profit status. But there were also incompatibilities: the Al Andalus theme is very different from those of CDS, and the spirit there is much more communitarian and less fractious than in CDS.

Patroklus called for discussion about this idea on the forum. He saw the way the news was introduced as evidence of a lack of transparency in government. He noted: "It's clear that some have been talking about it for a while." Jamie's replied that he would not make any forum postings until there was something appropriate and conspicuous to announce, because Al Andalus members can read the CDS forums. The discussion degenerated into a heated personal confrontation between Patroklus and Jamie. Moon interrupted to say that she found the possible merger very interesting from an urbanism point of view: it would allow testing of Symo's General Master Plan notion of clusters. Gwyneth intervened to reassure Patroklus that Jamie's presentation was just an open announcement of prior discussions, rather than any kind of formal proposal.

The meeting ended with various event announcements by Rose Springvale (one of the two Public Information Officers). The first announcement concerned the deadline for the Fall Decorating Contest entry notes. (This seems to have a Halloween decorating contest, with winners announced here. Sometime later I stumbled upon macabre scenes of murder and mayhem in the Cloaca Maxima (main sewer) running beneath Colonia Nova – which seem to have been part of the Halloween "decorations".)

Rose's second announcement was that the CDS guided tour Owl was now working, as can be seen in a video by Gwyneth Llewelyn. (Note: the preceding link unfortunately reverts to Gwyneth's video about Damien Fate's Locus Pocus - you have to search for "Tour of the Confederation" in the list of videos at the right of the screen). The third announcement concerned Gwyneth's discussion series held in the Neufreistadt Kirche.

The meeting was adjourned.

Friday, 6 March 2009

CDS Chronicles Part 3

In Part 2 of these Chronicles I went a bit too fast, and jumped directly from the RA meeting of 7 September 2008 to the CDS Birthday and Oktoberfest, which began on 20 September. But there was an RA meeting on 14 September which I forgot to cover. So we must go back and pick it up.

The RA meeting of 14 September 2008 and the final Commerce Bill

The 14 September RA meeting was a short one. It began with a motion to approve the 9th term budget which had been proposed by Chancellor Jamie Palisades in the previous meeting. The budget was voted and passed unanimously, in the blink of an eye.

The next item was the so-often-tabled discussion of the Commerce Bill. Justice Soothsayer had posted a new Commercial Development Bill, which was significantly different from the previous ones, although it included elements taken from them. The new bill set aside a budget of L$25,000 for the Chancellor to hire an experienced business consultant to develop a promotional plan for CDS commercial activity, including services as well as retail business. The bill also provided that 15% of all commercial plots would be allocated by competition among citizens who filed for new business development. Citizens winning the competition would be able to lease a plot for six months at 50% of the tier rate without having to buy it, at the end of which they could buy it if they wished. The provisions in the previous bill providing for rent surcharges were repealed.

In the same thread Jamie had commented on Justice's new bill, and suggested some revisions. Justice said he could accept Jamie's version, except for his proposed section 2, where "substantial activity" was to be measured either in terms of (a) updates installed on site, or (b) demonstration of substantial volume of transactions, or (c) SL traffic count. Both Justice and Arria Perrault felt that this section, and the idea of measuring commercial activity at all, should simply be eliminated. To support this position, Justice cited a post by Soro Dagostino who had purchased a property in the commercial zone, but had decided to pull out when he learned that the rental price would rise if his lot was short on traffic.

Arria observed that point 5 already eliminated the rent surcharge. Flyingroc Chung asked if they could add a sunset clause to say that it would go into effect after "receipt of the above consultative report." Patroklus Murakami found the bill much improved by the new sections on promotion of business activity. He also noted that there was still the problem of lots in the commercial zone used by non-profits, which are hardly "commercial." Moon Adamant added that very few citizens surveyed in connection with preparation of the General Master Plan (GMP) found high commerce traffic to be a highly important goal. Arria brought up the possibility of opening some of the commercial space for rentals rather outright sale, such as for small local outlets for some of the larger Second Life shops. (CDS property owners are currently prohibited from sub-letting their property.)

Justice passed out a revised version of the bill, incorporating his deletion and adding a sunset clause. But Arria still wanted to add that some plots could be rented to non-citizens. Flyingroc noted that the bill did state that one had to be a citizen in order to participate in the competition. Flyingroc suggested that they could just give citizenship to the winner of the contest, but Patroklus asked what would happen after 6 months if they declined to buy the plot. Bells Semyorka wanted to know whether big designers would in fact want to rent space in CDS, and expressed the opinion that citizenship was not a prize to be won.

When the vote on Justice's revised version was called, it passed 5 to 0, with 2 RA members absent. Arria stated that she voted mainly because the new bill repealed the surcharge. The meeting was adjourned.

The RA meeting of 28 September 2008 and Arria's Monastery Sim Proposal

On 20 September the CDS Birthday and Oktoberfest began, as told in CDS Chronicles Part 2.

The RA meeting of 28 September began with the monthly Chancellor's report. Jamie first took up with appointments: Sonja Strom had agreed to serve as one the land caretakers.

Jamie next addressed land sales. Locus Amoenus plots were selling at a slow speed, which seemed a combined effect of real life economics (and the crash of October was yet to come!) and Linden Lab's odd land policies (the OpenSpaces boom was in full swing). Jamie concluded that any expansion plans should be grounded in positive cash flow projections. Arria again plugged her proposal to let people rent rather than buy CDS land. Jamie also suggested the formation of a volunteer citizen recruitment team to go out and evangelise for CDS, in search of new members.

Jamie's next item was land enforcement, current policy for which was described in a post in the section of the forum on Sim and City Planning. (Who can help me locate this land enforcement post of Jamie's?)

Jamie observed that the land groups and permission were in a mess, and mentioned that he was in the process of cleaning up certain SL groups pertinent to CDS. The groups, together with who is "estate manager" on each sim, control many matters, such as who can eject or freeze intruders, remedy bad prims or backup community builds. CDS still maintained permissions for many former citizens, like a company with high turnover that never bothered to change the door keys. A related issue was covenant enforcement. The level of complaints was low, maybe one sim each month, which allows Jamie to deal with both accuser and alleged violator direction and offline. The resolution of problems (without mentioning names) is posted to the forum section entitled Executive Branch Announcements.

On the subject of land management, Arria suggested that the rental fees are poorly indicated in the covenant in the "About Land" window. Jamie admitted that the law that permits resetting of the fees creates a certain vagueness, and suggested that Sudane should be consulted on this question.

Jamie then addressed events, starting with the ongoing Oktoberfest, which was half-over. Rose mentioned that she was taking down the parade floats the same day, and encouraged everyone who'd not seen them to do so. The next event mentioned was Burning Life, where CDS had an unofficial camp.

The next item on the agenda was the carry-over of the discussion on Claude Desmoulin's Flag Bill. There had been discussion of modifying the CDS flag by adding a new star each time a sim was added, but Claude suggested stopping at three stars, to represent the three branches of CDS government (representative, philosophic, and executive). The flag issue seemed to require further reflection, so the discussion moved on to the next agenda item, which Arria's webmaster proposal.

Arria's proposal outlined the webmaster's tasks, including: to own the domain name on behalf of CDS, to be contractor for the hosting, to update the Content Management System (CMS), to implement the design template and to manage the users (accounts and permissions). Rubaiyat Shatner added that the webmaster should also be responsible for making regular backups of the portal (and the old websites that it replaces). Justice asked Arria and Jamie to post a draft bill on the forum for discussion, and the matter was tabled.

Discussion then began on Arria's other proposal, which was to move the Monastery to a void sim (or more exactly, to an OpenSpace sim). The Monastery, situated on the Alpine Meadows sim, was managed by an NGO called Virtus. Arria wanted to move it to a void sim, and to surround it with 6 small plots with cottages and a few prims, which would be rented out to owners who would share the Monastery for their personal projects. Since a void sim could only be bought by the owner of a regular sim, Arria wanted CDS to buy the void sim for the Monastery project, which would thus remain within CDS.

Jamie replied that there seemed to be within the CDS legal framework four ways of adding new sims, as he had set out unofficially in a forum post on how sim expansion decisions work in CDS.

Jamie's four ways of adding sims were:

1) The traditional sim expansion process, used for Colonia Nova and Alpine Meadow, under which open contests were held for the design of a new "theme".

2) The In-Theme Expansion Act, which allows the New Guild to pilot the development of a new sim on an existing theme, under the CDS Master Plan. This process was used for Locus Amoenus, which extended the roman theme of Colonia Nova.

3) Private Expansion under Beathan Vale's Private Development Bill. In the first two expansion methods CDS takes the entire financial risk and the New Guild controls the design. Under Beathan's proposal a private party submits a plan to the Chancellor and takes the financial risk of developing a sim which federates with CDS.

4) Any other way the RA decides.

Jamie suggested that Arria's project was an instance of Beathan's Private Development route, since her group would be bringing their own sim to CDS. However, it was private development with a twist, since to buy a void you must own a sim already, which Arria's group did not, and CDS would have to support the risk of the new sim failing to pay. Under Beathan's bill, the CDS was never to take the title of the sim, which would remain with the developers.

Gwyneth observed that if CDS owned the Monastery from the beginning, it would logically rent it to Arria's group, in the sense of giving a deed. Only there would be no public announcement of available plots. Rubaiyat agreed that the problem could probably be solved by making some sort of sub-letting contract. Jamie replied that in this case Beathan's bill failed to apply, since no independent developer was taking the risk. Jamie added that the project would in any case require coordination with the Guild and approval by the RA, which makes it more like traditional CDS sim expansion.

There seemed to be general agreement that Arria's proposal would present less risk that the traditional CDS sim expansion, because the cost for both acquisition and tier were much lower for a void sim. But there was a question of whether the land rents from the 6 tenants would be split between Virtus and CDS. Arria replied that there were two possibilities: (1) Monastery tenants would pay directly to CDS and become citizens, or (2) Virtus pays as a group and rents to tenants who remain non-citizens. Cindy Ecksol observed that this would pose the problem of how members of the Monastery group would relate to CDS.

Gwyneth preferred the first solution, in which all members of the Monastery group were CDS citizens, and Cindy agreed. Justice noted that they were out of time, and that an in-world soccer game was waiting, so the meeting was adjourned.