Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ohio Supreme Court ignores Kelo precedent: Revenue, development not public use: other stories

Ruling affects other domain cases
BY GREGORY KORTE ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER

The court ruled that "deteriorating" conditions can't be used as a justification for eminent domain.



Depending on how one looks at it, the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling on eminent domain Thursday came too late for Emma Dimasi - or just in time.

The Ohio First District Court of Appeals ruled this month that Cincinnati could take the home of the 80-year-old Clifton widow for the $4 million Dixmyth Avenue road-widening project. The city tore down the house last week.

While the decision came too late to save the home, it could be just in time to save the appeal.

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision, Dimasi's son and lawyer, Vincent A. Dimasi, asked the appeals court to reconsider.

The Supreme Court's decision criticized lower courts for "an artificial judicial deference" to states and cities, Dimasi said. That might give him another chance to make his argument that the city's action was driven by economic benefits - the $122 million expansion of Good Samaritan Hospital - rather than transportation improvements.

If the Dimasis prevail on appeal, it's unclear what they would win. They could theoretically get the land back - without the house but with a road. But since no Ohio court has ever had to "undo" an eminent-domain case, no one knows how that would work.

All over the state, lawyers for property owners are prepared to make similar arguments:

In Clifton Heights, the city of Cincinnati took 20 properties and small businesses to replace them with a new university-driven development plan. That case is now before the Ohio First District Court of Appeals, where lawyers for the property owners say Thursday's decision bolsters their case.

Specifically, the court ruled that "deteriorating" conditions can't be used as a justification for eminent domain.
"In this case, the city employee that did the review decided that anything less than 100 percent new was deteriorated - even down to a single piece of chipped paint," said Matthew W. Fellerhoff, the attorney for the owners.

In Cleveland, the port authority is using its eminent-domain powers to muscle out small-time developers in the Flats District along the Cuyahoga River in favor of a big-time developer who needs parking to build a $230 million shopping and housing complex.

"It seems like to me it's a very good decision," said Paul Shaia, one of the owners who operates a parking lot at the site. "... It's absurd. They want to take a public parking lot to give to a developer to make it a public parking lot."


House renews 1965 Voting Rights Act
By Andrea Stone, USA TODAY


Representatives from states singled out by the act because of past
discriminatory practices wanted changes.


WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act, overcoming an attempt by conservatives to ease restrictions they said are no longer necessary.

The 390-33 vote preserves for 25 years a law enacted at a time when Southern states employed tactics to suppress black voting and was designed to ensure no state deny people the right to vote based on their race or color.

The act was due to expire in 2007. The Senate is likely to vote on the measure this month. [Senate approved 98-0 July 22.]

Supporters said the law is needed because minorities can still be treated unfairly when legislatures change rules or redraw districts.

"I gave blood. Some of my colleagues gave their very lives," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., an activist in the Civil Rights Movement that led to the act's passage.

Lewis displayed photos of himself and others being beaten by state troopers in 1965 during a march from Selma to Alabama's capital of Montgomery in support of black voting rights. At the time, Alabama used intimidation to prevent blacks from voting.

"We must pass this act without any amendment, it is the right thing to do," he said to applause.

The law's renewal had attracted bipartisan support and the approval of President Bush. But representatives from states singled out by the act because of past discriminatory practices wanted changes.

Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., and a handful of conservatives proposed amendments to eliminate provisions requiring states like his to get federal approval before changing their voting procedures. They also proposed an end to multilingual ballots in certain states, saying it is unnecessary because proficiency in English is required for citizenship.

The South was being treated "as if nothing has changed in the last 41 years," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.

He said black Georgians today register to vote at higher percentages than whites and that elected black officials serve in the highest levels of state government.

"We have repented, and we have reformed, and as Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, 'I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,' " he said, invoking the name of the black Mississippi civil rights activist.

The measure has been renamed the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act to honor the civil rights activists.

House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., led supporters in blocking the amendments. Among those defeated was a proposal to limit the act's renewal period to 10 years and elimination of a provision that requires the Justice Department to monitor some local elections.

Just before the vote, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said the act should remain as is. She said that while voter poll taxes and literacy tests are now illegal, a federal judge as recently as Wednesday ruled that Georgia's law to require government-issued identification cards discriminated against minorities.

"Don't disrespect the civil rights movement," Waters said. "Show the world that America is sincere about democracy."

U.S. Constitution Wikipedia

Bill of Rights and background

Article I Sec 9

No bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.

Attainder

attainder n. The loss of all civil rights by a person sentenced for a serious crime.

In the context of the Constitution, a Bill of Attainder is meant to mean a bill that has an negative effect on a single person or group (for example, a fine or term of imprisonment). Originally, a Bill of Attainder sentenced an individual to death, though this detail is no longer required to have an enactment be ruled a Bill of Attainder.


ONARCHITECTURE- Nine lives: Talk continues on Mall towers
Published July 27, 2006 in issue 0530 of the HooK.
By DAVE MCNAIR DAVE@READTHEHOOK.COM

[...]While the zoning might not be new, the fact that these tall buildings might actually be built is. As Planning Commission member Bill Lucy pointed out, the build-out implications of these tall building projects are different than they were in 1972 or 1985. [...]


HOTSEAT- Sime time: Libertarian takes on Hanger
Published July 27, 2006 in issue 0530 of the HooK.
By LISA PROVENCE LISA@READTHEHOOK.COM

[...] More clues to his Libertarianism: "Eminent domain is important to me," he says. The 2005 Kelo v. City of New London Supreme Court decision allows states to enact eminent domain reform. "Only 11 states haven't, and Virginia is one of them," he grouses.

Some people think Libertarians favor no government, but Sime dispels that notion. He calls Libertarians the "party of principle," and then acknowledges, "It's easy to stick by your principle when you're not in office." He says the party needs to do a better job of offering solutions to problems. [...]


UVa to announce interim dean within week
By Aaron Kessler, Daily Progress staff writer, July 28, 2006
“It was Rick Turner himself, actually, that reminded us years ago that not one student from CHS [Charlottesville High School] was attending UVa,” Alvin Edwards said.

The University of Virginia will be ready to announce an interim successor to M. Rick Turner within a week, and possibly sooner, officials say.

Turner, 65, the former dean of African-American affairs at UVa, announced his retirement Wednesday, 13 days after signing a pretrial felony diversion agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office admitting to making false statements to investigators about a “known drug dealer.” UVa placed Turner on administrative leave the following day, July 14, which coincided with the agreement being filed in the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville. University spokeswoman Carol Wood said UVa officials are looking to quickly fill the post with a candidate who can “create some stability in the office,” particularly because the start of the academic year is approaching.

“The goal is to make sure that the students and staff are feeling comfortable,” Wood said.

Associate dean Sylvia Terry has been serving as “acting” dean in Turner’s sudden absence. But Wood said Patricia Lampkin, UVa vice president for student affairs, is preparing to name a full-time interim dean who can lead the office of African-American affairs, for what could be months, until a permanent replacement is named.

“That will give [Lampkin] time to consider the next step,” Wood said.

Turner will remain on administrative leave until his retirement takes effect Monday. He is also president of the Albemarle-Charlottesville chapter of the NAACP and will continue to serve at least until his term ends in September.

Alvin Edwards, chairman of the Charlottesville School Board, said he believes Terry is doing a good job keeping things running at UVa and that she could be a good candidate to fill the slot on an interim basis. Edwards, who said he has not spoken with UVa officials about the matter, noted that what’s most important is for the office to avoid losing its footing and to keep the students in mind.

“For me, when there is a low, a gap, you have to keep going,” Edwards said. “You cannot stop, because if you do you sink into despair. You have to keep the focus on the students. The focus needs to be the future.”

Edwards thinks the relationship between the university and the African-American community as a whole in Charlottesville has been “evolving and growing,” and that education needs to be paramount for things to move in a positive direction.

“It was Rick Turner himself, actually, that reminded us years ago that not one student from CHS [Charlottesville High School] was attending UVa,” Edwards said. “Hopefully we’ve improved that relationship since then.”

But Turner has also been a somewhat polarizing figure, known for his heated rhetoric when it came to matters of race. His outspoken nature at public meetings is almost legendary. And last year, the Charlottesville school system itself bore the brunt of his criticism, with Turner accusing opponents of embattled former superintendent Scottie Griffin of being racists.

“She’s being dragged through the mud because she’s black and female,” Turner said during his 2005 “State of African-American Affairs” speech.

Edwards, though, said he bears no ill will toward Turner.

“Whenever anybody is down, I always try to support them,” Edwards said. “I don’t add to what they are going through.”

Turner’s agreement with government prosecutors requires him to complete 12 months of probation and to testify truthfully in any future court hearings if called as a witness. In return, the federal attorneys will not bring charges against Turner for what they allege were his false statements about his “knowledge of the activities of a known drug dealer.”

Federal officials have so far declined to name the drug dealer in question.


City that winked at Prohibition bans foie gras, public smoking
Saturday, July 29, 2006

CHICAGO (AP) — If you're a cell phone using, goose liver eating, cigarette smoking, fast food loving person, Chicago might not be your kind of town.

In this city that once winked at Prohibition, members of the City Council are cracking down on behaviors they deem unhealthy, dangerous or just plain annoying. They've taken aim at everything from noisy street musicians to captive elephants to fatty foods like fried chicken and french fries.

A proposal that would restrict fast-food chains from cooking with artery-clogging trans fat oils got a public airing this week, and in the last year alone aldermen have banned smoking in nearly all public places and the use of cell phones while driving. In April, Chicago became the first U.S. city to outlaw the sale of foie gras, a goose liver delicacy.

Critics, including the mayor, wonder if the City Council has suddenly deemed itself the behavior police.

"We have children getting killed by gang leaders and dope dealers," an angry Mayor Richard M. Daley said when the foie gras ordinance passed. "We have real issues here in this city. And we're dealing with foie gras? Let's get some priorities."

Aldermen say they are addressing real problems and protecting their constituents. And they dispute that the proposals are diverting their attention from major issues like a city budget crunch.

"We vote on literally hundreds if not thousands of ordinances in the City Council," said Alderman Joe Moore, who led the effort to ban foie gras after learning about what animal rights activists say is inhumane way geese are treated for their livers. "The fact that there may be greater wrongs to address doesn't mean we cannot also address what we might also view as lesser wrongs."

But some people think the proposals have allowed aldermen to avoid coming up with solutions to the city's bigger problems.

"How about worrying about the price of gas, taxes, helping homeless people?" asked Wayne Johnson, an insurance analyst, who was eating his own fried chicken lunch at a downtown food court recently.

Some wonder if the proposals have more to do with a changing city, one that is no longer the home of blue collar industries like the steel mills and stockyards, but rather of upscale enclaves and trendy businesses.

Whatever it is, more than a few people around the city want it to stop.
"I'm a big boy," said Kerry Dunaway as he munched on fried chicken downtown recently. "I can take care of myself."


Utilities Give Warming Skeptic Big Bucks
By SETH BORENSTEIN, The Associated Press, Thursday, July 27, 2006
"Last I heard, anybody can ask a scientific question," said Patrick Michaels.

WASHINGTON -- Coal-burning utilities are passing the hat for one of the few remaining scientists skeptical of the global warming harm caused by industries that burn fossil fuels.

Pat Michaels _ Virginia's state climatologist, a University of Virginia professor and senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute _ told Western business leaders last year that he was running out of money for his analyses of other scientists' global warming research. So last week, a Colorado utility organized a collection campaign to help him out, raising at least $150,000 in donations and pledges.

The Intermountain Rural Electric Association of Sedalia, Colo., gave Michaels $100,000 and started the fund-raising drive, said Stanley Lewandowski, IREA's general manager. He said one company planned to give $50,000 and a third plans to give Michaels money next year.

"We cannot allow the discussion to be monopolized by the alarmists," Lewandowski wrote in a July 17 letter to 50 other utilities. He also called on other electric cooperatives to launch a counterattack on "alarmist" scientists and specifically Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth."

Michaels and Lewandowski are open about the money and see no problem with it. Some top scientists and environmental advocates call it a clear conflict of interest. Others view it as the type of lobbying that goes along with many divisive issues.

"These people are just spitting into the wind," said John Holdren, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "The fact is that the drumbeat of science and people's perspectives are in line that the climate is changing."

Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington advocacy group, said: "This is a classic case of industry buying science to back up its anti-environmental agenda."

Donald Kennedy, an environmental scientist who is former president of Stanford University and current editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Science, said skeptics such as Michaels are lobbyists more than researchers.

"I don't think it's unethical any more than most lobbying is unethical," he said. He said donations to skeptics amounts to "trying to get a political message across."

Michaels is best known for his newspaper opinion columns and books, including "Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media." However, he also writes research articles published in scientific journals.

In 1998, Michaels blasted NASA scientist James Hansen, accusing the godfather of global warming science of being way off on his key 1988 prediction of warming over the next 10 years. But Hansen and other scientists said Michaels misrepresented the facts by cherry-picking the worst (and least likely) of three possible outcomes Hansen presented to Congress. The temperature rise that Hansen said was most likely to happen back then was actually slightly lower than what has occurred.

Michaels has been quoted by major newspapers more than 150 times in the past two years, according to a Lexis-Nexis database search. He and Lewandowski told The Associated Press that their side of global warming isn't getting out and that the donations resulted from a speech Michaels gave to the Western Business Roundtable last fall. Michaels said the money will help pay his staff.

Holdren, a Harvard environmental science and technology professor, said skeptics such as Michaels "have had attention all out of proportion to the merits of their arguments."

"Last I heard, anybody can ask a scientific question," said Michaels, who holds a Ph.D. in ecological climatology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "It is a very spirited discussion that requires technical response and expertise."

Other scientific fields, such as medicine, are more careful about potential conflicts of interests than the energy, environmental and chemical fields, where it doesn't raise much of an eyebrow, said Penn State University bioethicist Arthur Caplan.

Earlier this month, the Journal of the American Medical Association announced a crackdown on researchers who do not disclose drug company ties related to their research. Yet days later, the journal's editor said she had been misled because the authors of a new study had not revealed industry money they got that posed a conflict.

Three top climate scientists said they don't accept money from private groups. The same goes for the Web site realclimate.org, which has long criticized Michaels. "We don't get any money; we do this in our free time," said Realclimate.org contributor Stefan Rahmstorf, an ocean physics scientist at Potsdam University in Germany.

Lewandowski, who said he believes global warming is real just not as big a problem as scientists claim, acknowledged this is a special interest issue. He said the bigger concern is his 130,000 customers, who want to keep rates low, so coal-dependent utilities need to prevent any taxes or programs that penalize fossil fuel use. He said his effort is more aimed at stopping carbon dioxide emission taxes and limits from Congress, something he believes won't happen during the Bush administration.

On the net:
Pat Michaels' Cato Institute Web site
Intermountain Rural Electric Association

The Echo Effect

What's the bias of the global warming story? The assumption that government scientists, who accept no private funding, somehow present no conflict of interest. The university scientists provide worst-case predictions to scare people so government can raise taxes and fees, require more private spending to comply with new regulation, and from the new taxes fund more research on global warming to scare some more and more funding to the research. If your income source is not a conflict of interest, what is?

And then the critcism that Michaels' coverage in the press is way out of proportion to his viewpoint. If a story has balance, the reporter seeks out views on both sides. If a hundred people are on one side and one person on the other, the one person gets excessive coverage. The government scientists ask us to ignore the scientific method and trust them, since more of them are in agreement. And they don't want opposing ideas to echo out into public discourse. But at least they don't accept any private money.

What's wrong with the voting rights act? My first reaction was that it's a bill of attainder because it selectively applies to some states and not others, a double standard and unequal application of the law. But after some research, a bill of attainder seems to be a law that applies to everyone but the punishment is different for different groups. Bill of attainder is Unconstitutional. But unequal laws seem to be perfectly legal.

But now I see the act more like a probation order. Some states must get approval from the Justice Department before changing any voting rules. These states and jurisdictions have been on probation since 1965. It seems Congress has assumed the role of the courts. But the courts require due process and a guilty finding before imposing restrictions. Not only has Congress been able to impose laws selectively, but they also require the select goup to get for approval from an agency, arbitrary in its decisons and outside the court process. So the targeted states are discouraged from making positive changes because of an approval process that presumes guilt.

One last comment on the echo effect in the blogosphere. Isn't this the purpose of communication? Someone speaks to you and their words echo in your mind. Sometimes the words resonate or even reverberate. On the internet much duplication results when links are changed, so a click from your page no longer goes to the page that you're currently echoing. News from the Associated Press echoes in hundreds of newspapers and radios. That's a good thing.

The trick is how to get new original ideas to echo throughout the world. But criticizing the echo effect is like saying, this chair would be much nicer if it weren't designed for a person to sit comfortably.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

JADE continues pot prohibition war, Scottsville front

Multi-Million Dollar Drug Bust In Albemarle County

Reported by Shane Edinger, Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Members of the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force found 4,400 marijuana plants growing at a home near Scottsville. Virginia State Police say the pot has a street value of more than $4.8 million dollars.

Officials made the bust on Monday, working with state police and the Fluvanna County Sheriff's Department. Along with the pot plants, officers found a half-pound of processed marijuana and four guns.

Gary Peck was arrested at the scene. He faces several charges, including manufacturing marijuana with the intent to distribute.

"It's the largest bust that I'm aware of in Albemarle County, in at least the last 15 years," said Sergeant John Baker of the JADE Task Force.

Authorities say it appeared the growing operation had been going on for some time. Some of the pot plants were as high as nine feet tall.

Gary Peck is currently being held at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail. Detectives say the investigation is ongoing and more charges against Peck are pending.

Comment: The only question left unanswered is how much of the drug the officers took home with them. The difference between this and the 1920s alcohol prohibition is that pot is much less destructive and violent. During both wars, police found their jobs increasingly dangerous as they escalated the assault on otherwise law-abiding citizens. What would Thomas Jefferson do?

JADE Goes Psycho

Blair Hawkins, The Witness Report, April 30, 2002

During the week of Valentine’s, the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force expressed its fanatical belief that any drug use is supporting terrorism. Law enforcement’s decision to elevate drug use to treason is an escalation of its war on America.

If you doubt that police think they’re at war, simply watch an officer approach your car during a routine traffic stop or a SWAT team serve a warrant.

Real estate community out of touch, ridicules concerns of the poor

Bwah-hah-hah
By Jim Duncan

The various ways people come to this blog make me laugh.
how to trick housing inspectors mold
how to cheat housing authority

Luckily, neither person found what they were looking for here. Both stayed for less than two seconds. Ah, the internet: the source for all those seedy questions.

This entry is filed under Blog, Off-topic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Bwah-hah-hah”
1
Blair says:
July 23rd, 2006 at 5:19 pm

How about searching for “Housing Authority cheats”? Your blog doesn’t come up. But a more balanced list does: how people cheat housing authorities and how housing authorities cheat people.

My blog doesn’t come up either. But I’ve never used “cheat” in connection to housing authorities. But I have used the words crime, felony, eminent domain, unconstitutional, ethnic/economic cleansing.

Housing Authority felony” returns an interesting list of hits.

It’s not unusual for real estate companies to move properties seized by housing authorities. Rumor has that Real Estate III Independent (Charlottesville) came into existence in 1972 to move seized properties. But that’s an unsubstantiated allegation so far. However, most of the oral history assertions I’ve had time or been allowed to investigate have turned out to have merit.

Region Ten: Just another criminal agency

ACLU joins fight for Region Ten info: Neighbors say Region Ten held illegal closed meeting

BY MEG MCEVOY, Cville Weekly
Issue #18.30 :: 07/24/2006 - 07/31/2006

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote a letter on Monday, July 17, to the Region Ten Community Services Board requesting they provide a list of things discussed at a closed meeting that took place on February 13. The meeting concerned The Mews at Little High project, a much-contested residential community for people with mental disabilities. The Little High Area Neighborhood Association (LHANA) asked the ACLU to join in on the fight for information — LHANA has long protested The Mews, saying that, since the land changed ownership before building began, the project requires a public hearing and new review by the Charlottesville Planning Commission.

Rebecca Glenberg, legal director for the ACLU in Richmond, says the organization was “troubled” by the apparent secrecy surrounding Region Ten’s meeting. “We’re always concerned about open government issues, and we have always advocated for the Freedom of Information Act to be interpreted as broadly as possible,” she says.

If Region Ten does not respond to the FOIA request, they could end up in court again. LHANA took Region Ten to court in June, requesting all documents related to The Mews project, which were eventually submitted. The ACLU says it would have to weigh whether to join LHANA in court if Region Ten doesn’t turn over information about the closed meeting.

Mark Haskins, president of LHANA, says, “[The ACLU] are not prone to just take up anything. They look for cases that represent important civil liberty issues.”

Caruso Brown, interim director of Region Ten, did not return calls by press time.

Cville Weekly covers urban renewal report of 7-17-06: Daily Progress takes another pass

Council thanks heaven for Noah Schwartz: Housing director praised for "righting the ship"

BY JAYSON WHITEHEAD, Cville Weekly
Issue #18.30 :: 07/24/2006 - 07/31/2006

In recent years, Charlottesville’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA)—charged with the oversight and maintenance of Section 8 and public housing—has been notoriously inept. Consequently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has classified the City for the last three years with troubled housing status.

To combat the embarrassing boondoggle, the City hired a new director for the CHRA, and on Monday night, July 17, he was ready to give a prognosis of his first year’s work to City Council. First, Councilor and CRHA Chair Kendra Hamilton had a few words. “We are relieved this is in the capable hands of Noah Schwartz, who is leading us out of the valley of the shadow of death,” she said. “We are very grateful for him.”

“No pressure,” Schwartz replied to scattered laughs. He then ran through an exhausting litany of stats (with a $5.6 million budget, the CRHA manages 376 units of public housing at 11 sites in the city, and also administers 300 Housing Choice Voucher rental units to approximately 2,000 individuals), accomplishments (“What I’m most proud of is our customer service,” Schwartz said) and challenges (HUD doesn’t finance the agency enough to meet public housing needs so it is $100,000 short of revenue every year). As he talked, slides of happy public housing residents flashed on a screen behind him.

“We have a lot more to do that we haven’t done,” concluded Schwartz, before ceding the floor to the council. New councilor Julian Taliaferro offered the first of many words of praise. “I’d like to commend you for the emphasis you’ve put on customer service,” he said. “People need to be treated with the utmost respect.”

“We understand where they’re coming from,” Schwartz explained.

“The first thing we have to do is get off the troubled status so we can get on firm footing,” Hamilton suggested.

“I just love how you say things,” Schwartz gushed, drawing guffaws.

New Councilor Dave Norris also congratulated Schwartz for his customer service before offering a broad compliment. “I commend you and your staff for righting the ship.”

Mayor David E. Brown recounted a brief anecdote of how he once ran a soccer program for low-income kids before summing up the council’s overall affection for the new director. “You really have our support.”


Self-described newspaper of record The Daily Progress decided not to mention the report even though a Progress reporter was present and reported on other aspects of the meeting. The Progress has a policy of not recording the history of the minority community in Charlottesville, as if it never happened. I have documented the policy as early as 2003.

For a more detailed, balanced report with historical perspective, check out:
"An inconvenient truth": Report from Housing Authority: Update on archives, HUD request


And this lovely gem:

"Blake Caravati moves on from City Council"
By Liz Geddes, staff writer for The Tribune, July 20, 2006

[...]

"Creative tension is what we have to have here," [Councilor 1998-2006] Caravati said. "Tension to the point where it is nearly uncomfortable creates progressive discourse."

Caravati also said that the city's high poverty rate (among the highest in the state) is one of the reasons why it is such a world-class city because we are dealing with these problems and have created many programs to help address the issue of poverty. "Equality and justice is relevant, and that is what we have to strive for," he said.

Blake Caravati plans to continue to remain active within the Charlottesville community and has said that in a few years he might run for city office again "but that, it's all about timing."


Comment: Wow! Charlottesville is world-class because of its high poverty rate and successful poverty programs. I guess that makes sense to somebody.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Gentrification

Gentrification happens when a neighborhood becomes attractive to a wealthier class of people than the group of people currently living in the area. Current residents get displaced as landlords jack up rents to milk the wealthier class and developers build with only the newer, wealthier class in mind.

Gentrification

Can freak bohemians avoid becoming pawns in the capitalist ethnic cleansing game?
For five years most of my neighbors have been different than myself. I am white and from a middle class family; my neighbors have been latino or black and often working class. I am one small piece of the gentrification puzzle, one of the group of people the real estate analyzers call "risk oblivious", willing to live in an area with little capital invested in it and high crime rates, eventually making the area palatable for other generally white people with higher incomes.

Gentrification happens when a neighborhood becomes attractive to a wealthier class of people than the group of people currently living in the area. Current residents get displaced as landlords jack up rents to milk the wealthier class and developers build with only the newer, wealthier class in mind. The newer, generally white residents, who have more political power, eventually grow intolerant of the old neighborhood culture, often a code word for the poorer, often non-white people who originally lived in the area.

While nobody should have to live in a neighborhood riddled with street drugs and crime, making a neighborhood 'safe' usually involves making it unsafe for certain classes of people, who are forced out to other low-rent neighborhoods, to shelters, or to prison. The version of 'safety' used by city government often involves cultural fascism: criminalizing 'loud music' and certain types of street congregating because they are supposedly associated with street drug trade. The key is figuring out how to protect mixed neighborhoods that are safe, fun, and sustaining for all kinds of people including the original residents.

Because our culture is based on race as well as class privilege, gentrification often goes down along race as well as class lines. It is hard to imagine stopping gentrification and displacement without a working analysis of race privilege. A race-based analysis of gentrification is not a clever way to make the racist assertion that white people make a neighborhood 'better' because they are white, thus implying that white people are better than people of color. That's bullshit. The same privilege grid that lets white shoplifters skip past security guards and tracks white kids into the 'smart' classes follows white people when they move into not-white neighborhoods. The lecherous relationship between the (mostly) white counterculture and the (mostly) white hipster culture means that, when poor white counterculture people move into a neighborhood where rent is low, developers and landlords see hipsters with more money looming in the background and thus see a reason to invest in the neighborhood and raise rents.

For white people, a race based analysis should not be confused with a white guilt complex. White guilt is a luxurious excuse to do nothing because you assume that white people are "the problem" and therefore incapable of engaging in their own positive social action around race issues. Although whites act in the context of a twisted system of race privileged, they can take initiative and responsibility for their own actions and they way they, too, get used as pawns within a racist system. It is irresponsible to sidestep an analysis of race privilege because your politics are centered on an anarchic or democratic ideal free of race and class divisions. Actively dealing with the complex, sick reality of both race and class privilege is hard but essential in revolutionary work.

Like many people in the mainly-white activist community I'm part of, I am not entirely sure how to deal with my implicit role in gentrification. More than mere
thorns in the side of people inclined to traditional lives, I do think freak bohemians can have social and political purpose and contribute valuably to the glittering diversity that is an integral part of urban life. White bohemians are placed in a sticky position between our politics and ideals, and the reality of our unwilling but crucial role in promoting gentrification. Because of this role, we may face hostility from a number of fronts, including displaced tenants, the new yuppies, and the old property owners who appreciate the rise in property values that comes with gentrification.

How can gentrification be successfully fought? What is the place of white bohemians and activists in the struggle? Understanding the relation of property to capital is key; in this era of gentrification, city governments are working more closely than ever with development corporations. The battle can be fought both on the bureaucratic front, exposing developer-government connections, and by taking direct action against corporate developers. Tangible improvements to the neighborhood can be made directly by people in the neighborhood, although these improvements usually themselves encourage gentrification. In all these actions, it is important for newly-transplanted activists to respect the work of activists already in the area.

Real estate, the root of evil

When a friend of mine was in prison in the 1970's, his history teacher said that the history of the world revolved around real estate. The root cause of gentrification is real estate, the relationship between property and capital. With the exception of tenant protections like rent control and subsidized "affordable housing", housing costs are arbitrated by the market. Landlords charge what they can based upon the demand for an area. Landlords are most excited when a lot of people with money want to live in an area. When people with money aren't interested in an area, landlords have little incentive to put money into their property, because they won't earn enough of a profit since nobody will pay high enough rent. Buildings deteriorate and are torched so landlords can collect insurance money. Lots lay fallow, buildings deteriorate, and social services slump.

Gentrification happens because of this relationship between property and capital, because the land owner can make a profit off the fact that somebody is living on their land. It is this profit-motive that keeps poor people moving at the whim of the wealthier folks. Displacement of poor and working class people is built into the very structure of capitalism.

Cities encourage gentrification because it will generate more tax revenues, which city governments increasingly depend on as the federal government moves away from supporting local governments. Thus cities have an incentive to encourage reinvestment in an area through zoning concessions, tax structures, and reducing protection for affordable housing.

One manifestation of government-developer incest is the insidious Tax Increment Financing (TIF) zone. Instituted in 1977 and operating in 44 states, TIFs center around freezing the portion of property tax dollars that go into social services at current levels for some designated period of time, up to 30 years. The extra money earned from inflation and rising property values is channeled towards reinvestment in the neighborhood via city subsidies for developers. For an area to be designated a TIF by the mayor and city council, it must be officially considered 'blighted'. The idea is that after all this city-supported development, the area will no longer be a haven for blight.

Neither will the area be a 'haven' for low-income people, who get their social services and then their homes taken away as rents and property taxes rise in response to the reinvestment. What's worse, the excess money can be moved between TIF zones that border each other, so low income residents in a newer TIF area may be paying to further develop an area already gentrified by an existing TIF. Because TIFs can last for so long, developers may continue to get subsidies long after the area resembles a Starbucks-laced American Dream.

Government encouragement of gentrification also takes the form of zoning concessions, reduced protection for affordable housing, and weaker rent control laws. For example, developer David Walentas tried for nearly 20 years to get permission to gentrify the DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) area of Brooklyn, NY, an industrial, non-residentially zoned area. Throughout the 80's and 90's city and state governments argued he lacked funding; if private market investors were not willing to fund him, why should they grant him the change in zoning necessary for him to redevelop the area residentially? But the state of New York did move their labor department into one of the buildings he purchased in the area, stabilizing his investment in the area enough to encourage several arts galleries to open. Finally in 1998, after a yuppified arts gallery community was set up, the city government broke down. They took the crucial step of rezoning the area, giving him full permission to develop luxury residential condos and an entertainment pier.

Organizations originally intended to support low-income housing, like the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), are increasingly used to funnel money towards developers. FHA support was crucial in the development of the Queens neighborhood Long Island City, a mixed area of factories, warehouses, and working class apartment buildings. Developers were unable to gain a foothold for most of the 80's; banks were unwilling to lend to smaller developers seeking projects in such a 'risky' area. In order to push the area towards more lucrative developments, a large corporation was formed in the mid 80's including such key government players as the New York Port Authority and the city's Economic Development Corporation.

As soon as neighborhood resistance to the corporation's luxury development project was organized, a NY state organization intended to build affordable housing joined the behemoth corporation; the state organization perversely had the power to squash local opposition to development proposals. The final straw in the fight against luxury development was mortgage insurance for the project issued by, surprise, the Federal Housing Authority! The FHA justified the development by saying they were supposed to support development "pioneers". By the end, these gentrification pioneers were supported by four government organizations including two intended to protect affordable housing. What the fuck?

The city cheats and lies

Real, tangible neighborhood improvements often originate not from corrupt government organizations but from within the neighborhood. People in a neighborhood often have specific ideas of what could make their neighborhood a better place to live- for example, where better lighting is needed, where traffic could be re-routed to make the roads safer, where gardens could be put in. People can do these things themselves even in the absence of city support, with immediate results. However, physical improvements are easily co-opted. For example, several south Berkeley neighborhoods, frustrated with cars speeding through their neighborhood streets, took initiative and created traffic-slowing detours with concrete barriers and planters at key intersections. Later, Berkeley cops used the same method to corral drug dealers in areas with lots of drug sales.

While homemade improvements can be immensely satisfying in the short term, the kicker is that once neighborhood improvements are made, the real estate is more valuable and so gentrification is likely to happen anyway. Yuppies love those quaint community gardens.

City-funded neighborhood improvement is usually not done with the community itself in mind. Rather it is a vehicle for social cleansing and social control. "Improvement" is often a justification for criminalizing whole populations of people. For example, Oakland has a whole set of laws regulating the way people congregate in the street. These laws are meant to control cruising and what the Oakland PD calls 'sideshows', and are only enforced in certain, predictably minority and poor areas of the city. You can, for instance, hang out in a parking lot after watching a movie in the posh College Avenue area, but not in the black/latino areas of East Oakland. Because of these cleansing laws, entire populations of people end up in prison, very convenient for the prison-industrial complex.

Blight control is another mechanism of control, allowing the city to decide who can live in an area through harassment by fines. Oakland is in the process of making it illegal to park a camper or RV on the street; RV owners must park their vehicles in a garage. Rich people can afford storage for campers; poor people often live in campers within city limits.

Safe, sustaining neighborhoods are an aspect of society everyone should enjoy. The way to prevent gentrification is definitely not to keep affordable neighborhoods crime-ridden and scary to both outsiders and the people that live there. And the way to prevent crime and drug abuse is not to criminalize the culture of youth of color and homeless people. A sensible strategy towards neighborhood improvement is to employ people who actually live in the area to do neighborhood cleanup and improvement. A number of these programs exist but are often in tenuous positions. For example Oakland has a youth program training and employing young people in street cleanup and environmental education. Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown is fixated on clean bus stops; the youth program offered to step in and clean up the stops, but Jerry Brown would rather cut the entire youth program in favor of a 24-hr city-wide bus stop clean up crew, a more expensive option without the benefits of youth employment. Where are Jerry Brown's priorities??

The future of property

White activists and freaks should take responsibility for their role in gentrification and should actively work against it. Gentrification, housing, displacement issues are not new; groups all over the political spectrum are already waging campaigns and newer activists should see what the scene is. Obviously it is good to get in touch with existing groups to make sure you don't step on their toes. The Autonomous Zone, an anarchist community center in Chicago, worked closely with the Brown Berets, a Latino activist group already active in the same area. When issues came up the two groups would contact each other, sometimes reserving different days for actions associated with a specific group.

Artists in the San Francisco Mission District were not quite so willing to work with housing and displacement activists. As live/work spaces first gained popularity among what was still the artist fringe, some artists thought city regulations were hindering their progress converting old warehouses into loft spaces. In their excitement they petitioned city hall for relaxed building code standards, less obligation to affordable housing, and zoning breaks. Against the recommendation of other artists working with housing groups, the artists refused to define "artist" in the code relaxation; essentially they wrote a blank check for corporate developers to build armies of loft space. The result is the San Francisco we see now, covered in boring bullshit post modern loft space. The politically unsavvy artists wrote their own eviction note.

Now is an excellent time for more militant activists to get involved in anti-gentrification campaigns. In the late 1980's, community direct action against developers helped temporarily dry up enthusiasm for gentrification. For example, numerous riots supporting the squatter community in New York City's Tompkins Square park brought international attention to the gentrification of the Lower East Side. However, as more militant organizations morphed into housing and tenant service organizations, developers encountered less opposition and charged full speed ahead. The time is particularly ripe for direct action in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the fall of the virtual E-conomy left many developers with unfinished projects. Once an area is cleared or tamed, it is ready for the newcomers whenever they will arrive; but it is also true that the exact course of history is now unclear. Diverse, community based organization and activism may affect the future of all the property for sale now in the Bay area.

One successful example of gentrification resistance is Boston's Dudley Street neighborhood. One of Boston's poorest neighborhoods, the community got fed up with neighborhood decline in and in the early 80's organized to improve their neighborhood. They managed to improve their neighborhood into an extremely pleasant place to live without gentrification, through community cohesion and involvement at every step of the process, and a vision that included social as well as economic improvements. The neighborhood organization, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, got funding from a local foundation but retained control of the spending. In an unprecedented victory they gained eminent domain over the many empty lots in the neighborhood. They launched an impressive affordable housing project where families earning as little as 15,000 a year can buy into co-ops or new homes. The neighborhood set up a shopping area but allowed only local business to move in, with no chain stores or check-cashing outlets allowed. Local business started a campaign to keep local money in the neighborhood.

Specifically, what can white punks, bohemians, and activists do to fight the gentrification of their neighborhoods? There is not one formula; here are some ideas.

*Look around and talk to people about neighborhood change and anti-displacement work already being done. Do oral history projects of the neighborhood.

*Expose development plans on the part of corporations and various branches of government. Snake your way into the 'public' meetings held by the inner workings of the government bureaucracy. Oppose corporate development scams with a range of tactics.

*Support the foundation of neighborhood associations like the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.

*Help fight individual evictions.

*Help with direct neighborhood improvement projects like kids projects, gardens, traffic slow-down devices (and do other things to fight the yuppies who want to leach off this good work).

Gentrification is essentially apartheid by race and class. There are always multiple cultures coexisting in one area; the question is which cultures are officially recognized, and what political power these recognized cultures have. As an area gentrifies, the range of activities and people considered acceptable in the area shrinks. Formerly vibrant urban areas become suburban monocultures were human creativity is replaced by packaged experiences OK'd by the market. Neighborhood gentrification mirrors global homogenization where culture and life are governed by an increasingly small number of rich, powerful organizations with no relevance to the immediate local. Imperialism stifles life; a Boston anti-gentrification activist shouts, "one longs for more bad taste, for more surprise, dirt and looseness, more anarchic, unself-conscious play."



Slingshot is a quarterly, independent, radical, newspaper published in the East Bay since 1988 by the Slingshot Collective. We also publish the annual Slingshot Organizer radical calendar planner. We are an all volunteer, non-profit, tax exempt project of the Long Haul.

Editorial decisions about Slingshot are made by the collective, but not all articles reflect the opinions of all collective members (i.e. we have no "party line.") We welcome debate, constructive criticism and discussion. Write to Slingshot or visit at: 3124 Shattuck AvenueBerkeley, CA 94705

Thursday, July 20, 2006

On the affordability of poverty

Super Blair weighs in on Barbara Ehrenreich's "Could You Afford to be Poor?"

Thanks for the article. Here's a few more things to consider.

I support pay-day cash advance banking alternatives. The choice is not between cashing a check free at a bank or paying a fee at a check cashing business. Many banks (in Cleveland, Ohio, for example) charge a fee to cash a check unless you have an account, even if the check is drawn on the bank where you attempt to cash it. The choice is between paying a fee to cash the check or not cashing the check.

Pay-day places don't give you the attitude that banks do. Check cashing centers are popping up everywhere because of market demand.

The choice is not between a high interest pay-day loan or a low-interest loan at a bank. The choice is between a high interest loan or no loan at all. That's why I didn't like VP candidate John Edwards' speech 2 years ago calling for shutting down check cashing centers while not calling for any banking reform.

Banks are not a safe place to keep your money. If you have any debt or unpaid medical bills or back taxes, your bank funds will be seized. So if you have a $10,000 medical bill and $500 in the bank to pay this month's rent, guess what? You just became homeless.

And don't get me started on impoverishment programs that masquerade as poverty assistance programs. I have been documenting the programs here in Charlottesville, Va. for 6 years now, and identifying the directors and officials making a tidy living perpetuating poverty while boasting about helping people.

Remember: poverty does not cause crime. Crime causes poverty. Rich people steal way more than poor people.

Just visit my blog for a systematic undressing the poverty pimps and their propaganda. My latest report is an update on a former urban renewal official who, last year, outlined his bold new "community land trust" idea for maintaining permanent disadvantage for low-income people.

Oh and did I mention: I'm still poor.

Check out Barbara's blog.

Land theft proponent invokes free speech defense for trespass conviction

Convicted trespasser Rich Collins appeared this afternoon on WINA's Charlottesville Right Now in the 4pm segment. During his campaign in 2005 for the Democratic nomination for the House of Delegates seat now held by David Toscano, Collins was arrested for campaigning on private property at Shoppers' World on U.S. 29 north. He plans to appeal the conviction to the Virginia and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the following 4:30 segment of Coy Barefoot's radio show, Sean McCord made the claim that property rights are a fiction. McCord said modern property rights result from Europeans coming to America and forcing Indians off the land, then entering into a written agreement with the government to protect the settlers from the Indians. According to McCord, nowadays people view property rights as a way to protect their land from the government.

McCord's blog: http://www.semitruth.com/ or http://www.semi-truth.com/
(The blog was down when this story was posted.)
[Here's the correct address: http://www.semitrue.com/blog/ ]




Rich Collins on the Kelo v. New London, CT, Supreme Court decision of June 23, 2005.

I am surprised to see so little support for the Supreme Court's decision in Kelo vs Connecticut. Everything seems so topsy-turvy ideologically and politically. Right wing property groups have liberals falling all over themselves to change the law because the Supreme Court majority upheld a use of eminent domain for a public use in a manner that upheld traditional precedent, left room for Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases where the public use could be a cover for private advantage, deferred to state and local government courts and legislatures to establish property policy, and conducted a thorough review of the particulars.

The publicity and interpretation of this decision in the press, such as the Daily Progress editorials and headlines, creates an impression of the Supreme Court somehow creating or enabling the arbitrary "seizure" of private homes for big corporate interests. People are surprised that I, as a skeptic about economic development, enthusiastically approve of the decision. But put the particulars aside, and consider the ramifications of a decision which upheld Kelo's claims.This would reverse existing precedent, amount to an enlargement of the role of the Supreme Court in state and local decisionmaking, and invite judicial review without any obvious principle.

Kelo is sound constitutional law, it is only a slight increment to settled property law, an appropriate division of property policy labor between the federal courts and state and local courts and legislatures. It will help to bring to the public a fuller discussion of constitutional law and federalism. At least I hope so. As it is, the current coverage provides a great public relations victory for the right wing property rights advocates,. This case and its attendant media attention can only be understood in the context of two decades of advocacy by the so-called property rights movement. This movement is closely allied with other right wing groups pushing their free market ideology.

As an urban and environmental planner I have a professional long-standing interest in how the courts balance the governments' rights to protect and enhance the public health, safety and welfare and the claim of a "right" to property. Most everyone knows that the property rights groups have been carrying out a well-financed, litigation and political strategy to limit the authority of government to regulate property. Eminent domain as in Kelo is only a target of opportunity in their quest to limit government regulation of property. These groups major goal has been to reverse the historical understandings on the so-called "takings" issue.

Let's be clear: the decision in Kelo will protect the property owner from transfers of property from one owner to another without a careful scrutiny of the public purpose and with assurances that the use is not a disguise for one property owner to benefit at the expense of another.. If one reads the decision it is very clear that this was no "seizure" but a carefully developed, arms length plan, to convert a depressed area into a mixed public and private development.

One of the most interesting things about the Kelo case is the tremendous publicity it has received for such a modest addition to existing constitutional law respecting the authority of state and local governments to define a "public purpose" on behalf of legitimate public purposes. A 1954 decision interpreted the 5th Amendment takings clause which reads "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation" to clearly include "public purpose". This case involved a compulsory sale of property to the D.C. government by an owner who claimed that his property although within a blighted area, was not itself, blighted. The difference between that situation and the Connecticut case is that there is no finding of "blight", and that the plan is not a federally funded urban renewal program, but a state and local development scheme designed to reduce unemployment and reinvigorate the economy of a clearly economically depressed community.

It would appear at first glance that it is the right wing property rights guys arguing against economic development as a public purpose. But.with some sense of the well-financed and organized efforts of property rights groups (ie development interests) in this country to weaken the authority of government to protect the environment and to limit development based on reasonable public plans, one draws another conclusion. The concentrated ownership of land in this country is not well appreciated, particularly when many of us possess a homestead, and little else. So as a political recruiting tool for pro-property rights supporters this case is a bonanza. And this bonanza is what motivated the litigation, not the homeowners. If the Kelo case been decided the other way, it would have encouraged Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist that their views of property rights would be advanced by Supreme Court edicts. Most of the property cases these same Justices and the litigators have supported have been aimed at suppress environmental and land regulations which are arising throughout the nation. A pro-Kelo decision would have represented a Supreme Court willing to go back to the 1930's in terms of its authority to oversee social and economic legislation and strike it down when it didn't match their economic prejudices or theories.. It would have reversed the understandings of 50 years of constitutional law. It would have given even more ill-informed media coverage to well-financed, right wing, think-tank and litigation units that sanctify markets and property rights as bulwarks against progressive change.

The factual situation exploited by the property rights groups in Kelo will arise again: it will play out when another elderly woman will become the symbol of over-reaching government when she will be unable to build a house on her lot near Lake Tahoe. She will claim that her property was "taken" just as Kelo's was "taken" All of the ecological planning, political skill, and ingenious compromise that has been committed to saving Lake Tahoe's truly unique qualities will be threatened. And the same lawyers with the same groups will be defending her, too. I hope and believe the Court will defer to the political and ecological expertise of California and Nevada in the emerging Lake Tahoe case. I support Kelo because it will strengthen the capacity of democratic planning legislation in future cases. Kelo is a victory for the environment, not for economic development.

Rich Collins
July 1, 2005
http://loper.org/~george/archives/2005/Jul/993.html
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Blair Hawkins' Rebuttal

This former chairman of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority in the '70s and 80s does not disclose how many properties were seized or sold on his watch.

He cannot mention any detail of his relevant past because he would instantly discredit himself. He relies on an uninformed electorate to accept his theories blindly. But he gets points for clearly identifying his position in the opening sentence. He gets more points for clearly stating his opposition to free market principles. The opposite of a free market is an economy where government has unlimited power and control, and owns everything-- the benevolent landlord view of government.

Collins uses rhetorical techniques similar to Snook. Supporters of public use eminent domain are radicals motivated only by self-aggrandizement and a desire to destroy the environment through individual private actions.

Collins points out that this case and the media attention can only be understood in the context of two decades of advocacy. He's right. The eminent domain bulldozer sputtered to a crawl toward the late 1970s. The opponents from back then, and now their children, have been watching to see how the blight elimination experiment turns out. The evidence shows that the only benefit is that politicians get promoted as their developer friends get rich. In light of the data now available and the numbers of people who have witnessed the program's myriad ill effects, supporters of forced redevelopment should expect a terrific fight.

Collins claims he wants to protect the environment. His support for continued urban renewal is a call for more environmental catastrophe. Would a parking lot be better for the environment than a few houses, lawns and trees? Would a hole in the ground for weekly festivals be better for the environment than houses and trees (ACAC on Garrett Street)? Would mountain top removal be better for the environment if it was for a good cause (site of Friendship Court public housing)? Would the environment be better if neighborhood streams were channeled into underground culverts instead of flowing freely in the open?

You can't support blight redevelopment and the environment at the same time. At least not with any credibility. If blight redevelopment is such a good idea, let's start a list of successful projects to counter-balance the failed efforts. While he does mention southwest Washington, D.C. in the 1954 Supreme Court that moved by increment away from individual rights, Collins doesn't dare claim this area is better off than 50 years ago.

I'm sure Collins and Snook are nice people. They have friends and family who love them. I believe they have genuinely helped people. They're pleasant and charming at parties and charismatic. So were the segregationists and the slave owners. But their unjust policies were not allowed to prevail forever.

Blair Hawkins
July 2, 2005
Excepts from "Charlottesville debates eminent domain", cvilleindymedia.org (defunct) July 2, 2005

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Will higher tax rate on land solve the blight problem?

The Da Vinci Tax Code
Lyle Solla-Yates, July 19, 2006

The book and recent film The Da Vinci Code spirals around the lost Western tradition of the sacred feminine, a concept that challenges many of the assumptions and practices of our culture. This article is about another lost Western tradition, the secret of conforming our way of life to the landscape, rather than the other way around. This concept is philosophically parallel to the sacred feminine. It is the secret of respecting the other side of the issue, seeing the land instead of the buildings. The secret has to do with how land is used, and how taxes shape its use and misuse.

Not so long ago in human history, there were no taxes. In the Middle Ages, feudal lords would require a task (tasque in middle French, the derivative of our word “tax”) to be done by their subjects in exchange for the use of the lord's land. But the land itself was not taxed, and peasants and merchants were free to use it as best they could.

There are many pictures of towns, villages, and landscapes from this period. A few things stand out. First, the absolute soul-stirring beauty of these towns and landscapes. There are places like this in Virginia, but fewer and fewer. Second, the way that buildings are clustered together, to better conserve heat and protect vital agricultural land, and simultaneously create urban squares and plazas that are full of activity and life, ripe with commerce and culture. Buckminster Fuller called this synergy. In a healthy landscape, the elements of the landscape - home, business, farm, forest – are greater than the sum of its parts. This is design for long-term sustainability. And it's delightful, completely satisfying.

But the secret has been lost, and modern buildings and roads are a plague on the landscape, and a curse on the cities. The real estate market has become warped and twisted by a taxation scheme designed to promote suburban sprawl and dying central cities. In some areas experiencing major growth, the central cities are reinvested in, raising housing costs and pricing out many residents. Under this system, growth creates more problems than it solves. The real estate market is sick, and there is a cure. Markets properly cared for give us what we want in the most efficient way possible. It's what they do. But when buildings are taxed, it sends the market a message: “Stop building in valuable areas, it isn't worth it. Buy up valuable land and sit on it: it's bound to go up and be a good investment. If you want to build, build out where land is cheap and the taxes are low. Wipe out the farmers and get rich. If you really want to build in the city, build skyscrapers: anything smaller won't be worth it.” This is not the message that most citizens want to send the market. And this isn't the message that many real estate developers and investors want to hear. But they follow it, and we see it across most of America and the world.

Not everywhere though, because some places don't tax buildings, or tax them less. Those places tax land higher, because as Will Rogers said, “They ain't making any more of the stuff.” When communities tax land high, they tell the market “Don't waste land, use it as well as you can. If you can't use it, sell it to someone who can.” And then you get an outpouring of creativity and ingenuity to create wonderful things to be enjoyed by everyone. This means better, less expensive housing for everyone, better places of work, shorter distances to travel, better places to shop. This means more jobs, a better economy, less pollution, healthier people who can walk and ride instead of drive, and a countryside where small farmers prosper instead of real estate speculators. It's a win-win-win.

When communities make the transition (usually phased in over ten years), three quarters of residents pay less taxes. This is because most people live on land that's being used well, so they benefit. However, places that aren't being used well, such as prime downtown real estate paved for parking, or prime agricultural land growing grass, become a tax liability. Those empty downtown lots become buildings that contribute to the health of the city, and that rural land lying fallow becomes active farms that contribute to the food security and aesthetics of the region.

Several communities across America and the world have demonstrated the success of the land tax. You may have heard of the startling recovery Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania made after the core of the city, its steel mills, closed down. The secret? They'd taxed land higher than buildings since 1913. The economic transition was challenging, but efficiently handled. Plenty of other rust belt towns, such as Flint and Detroit in Michigan, are still staggering from the changes.

Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, pursued the same strategy after it was declared the second most distressed city in the nation in 1981. Since 1982, when they began taxing land three times higher than buildings, Harrisburg made an astonishing economic recovery, attracting $1.2 billion in new investment while reducing the tax burden on 90% of property owners. Newburgh, New York, on the other hand, the only city listed as more distressed than Harrisburg in 1981, didn't fare so well. After years of attempted reforms and economic development schemes, it remains one of the poorest cities in America, another distressed city which tragically did not pursue the land tax. Neither did Lynchburg, Richmond, or Martinsville, or any of Virginia's first cities, to great loss.

The land tax can come to Virginia. Taxing land at a higher rate than buildings is legal in Roanoke city and Fairfax city. The state legislature can authorize it elsewhere, if the political will exists. Thriving urban centers, the return of family farms, and a beautiful, healthy landscape preserved for the future can happen here. That's the secret.

Comment:

I agree that land is more valuable than the buildings. But it doesn't explain how development occurred in the first half of the nation's history and blames business closings for decay of cities and parking lots replacing buildings. In most cities where lots have replaced buildings, the government seized, tore down, then put the "hot" lots up for sale. Of course investors are reluctant to buy stolen property and other investors fear govt theft of their land investments. In last year's eminent domain reform in Pa., the biggest transgressors (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia) were exempted for 7 more years from the prohibition of substituting eminent domain for due process (blight expansion policy). The way to revitalize cities is to restore rule of law and reassure business that earning less profit and paying less tax than the previous year will not result in seizure of their investment. Taxing properties at unequal rates will have undesired unintended consequences.

posted by Blair Hawkins , July19, 2006
healingcharlottesville@yahoo.com

Monday, July 17, 2006

"An inconvenient truth": Report from Housing Authority: Update on archives, HUD request

Charlottesville, Va. – Monday’s City Council meeting began with announcements and recognitions.

Retiring city planner Ronald L. Higgins of Neighborhood Development Services was recognized for his service to the community.

On February 22, 2005, Higgins proposed to Council that the city violate Virginia law by donating 3 “surplus city lots” to the Greater Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity (2 on Holmes Ave. and one of 5th Extd). Higgins acknowledged that the transfer was illegal, so he proposed that the Piedmont Housing Alliance act as the middle man.

On March 7, 2005, Council approved 4-1 the unlawful transfer of public assets to the religious organization. On July 1, 2005, Habitat was exempted from state law along with the YMCA, YWCA and Salvation Army. On June 5, 2006, Councilor Blake Caravati explained that the city could not donate anything to Abundant Life Ministries because it’s not one of the 4 religious groups exempted from state law.

Tonight Councilor Kendra Hamilton announced that she would announce the Housing Task Force recommendations at the end of the meeting. I had to leave before the conclusion of the meeting.

July is parks and recreation month. City pools will have extended hours during the current heat wave.

Councilor Kevin Lynch announced that both downtown parking garages would continue to accept merchant validation for parking. Previously, The Daily Progress had misreported that the Water Street garage would no longer accept validation. The Water St. parking lot will no longer accept validation. Parking rates have just gone up again.

Then followed public comment, which featured 15 speakers.

Naomi Roberts questioned Council’s integrity by asking them to show documentation as to what happened to the car decal money that was promised to fund the hiring of 5 new police officers. Councilor Lynch has said as early as his 2004 campaign at the NAACP forum that the money went into police overtime instead. Roberts also wondered about the $7 million for the city’s new CityLink computer system. She asked rhetorically, “when is it going to stop?” (Rhetorically because Council doesn’t usually respond to the public.)

At least 6 speakers addressed the concrete “tongue” or “thumb” endangering traffic flow at Cherry Avenue, Willard Drive, and Cleveland Avenue.

Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association president John Stankowski said the thumb was installed in August 2005. He recommended removal of the hazard and installation of stop signs or stop lights.

Bob Archer, trustee and deacon at the Cherry Avenue Christian Church at this intersection, said he’s been following this issue all along and has been unable to get a response from city government.

Johnny Parks, elder at the church, said the traffic tongue has hurt parking for weddings and funeral services. He said Teague and Hill & Wood funeral homes have sent letters to the city regarding this issue. The church is also the voting location for the Jefferson Park Avenue precinct.

Joe Mooney is on the board of directors for the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association and lives 2 blocks from the notorious tongue. After asking Council to forgive him for what he was about to say, and reminding Council members that he has supported them in the past, he declared the thumb to be an “astonishing example of bumbling bureaucracy.”

Mooney said the minister looked out his window one day and saw the construction and that was the first time anyone knew about the street modification. He further said no one in city government knows who ordered or designed the tongue.

Rhonda Misca of the Church of the Incarnation and Peter Loach asked Council to disregard federal immigration law and take a stand on “fairness and justice” for the growing hispanic population.

Several people spoke in favor of adopting a global warming policy and a large crowd of environmental extremists were in attendance at the meeting.

John Kershank, a representative of the Sierra Club and member of the Center for Peace and Justice, wants to make Charlottesville a “cool city.” He said 240 American cities have agreed to follow the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. Congress rejected under President Bill Clinton. Kershank has a 3-point plan: green vehicles, energy efficiency, and renewable energy solutions.

Sue Chase of the Peace and Justice Center submitted a 1,330 signature petition urging Council to adopt the “U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.”

The final speaker was Peter Kleeman, locally active on many different issues. He said a recent Planning Commission meeting could not be held because the Pavilion has commandeered the public right-of-way leading to City Hall. He complained that The Pavilion was also using the Free Speech Wall as a “free storage area.” After reading the 66-page agreement between the city and the Coran Capshaw-owned Pavilion, Kleeman said neither activity is permitted.

Then followed the consent agenda, where Council passes a list of legislative acts in a single vote.

Then Council unanimously approved a $49,850 appropriation to the JAUNT Sunday Service and Department of Social Services Child Care Program because of state budget shortfalls.

Report from Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority

Noah Schwartz, executive director since July 25, 2005, former director of Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACCA) and native of Connecticut, delivered his report while a slideshow of public housing sites played on.

Schwartz said the Housing Authority is a “quasi-governmental agency” overseen by a 7-member board of directors appointed by Council.

The agency has a $5.6 million annual budget: $4 million from HUD and $1 million from rent. The agency has 23 staff members and 3 offices: administrative office in basement of City Hall, rental office at Crescent Halls elderly high-rise, and a third office at the southern end of South First Street.

Schwartz asserted that the agency serves 1,781 community members, 300 families, through its Section 8 rent subsidy program and its 376 public housing units. To qualify, a household must earn less than 80% of Charlottesville’s median income and then pay 30% of that for rent if accepted in the program.

He said the agency screens applicants for criminal history and eligibility is reviewed each year. Section 8 landlords must sign a contract and agree to inspections. If a tenant moves, the housing voucher follows the tenant.

Schwartz listed some of the challenges the agency is facing.

HUD has designated Charlottesville’s agency as “troubled status” for the past 3 years because of the Section 8 program, not the public housing aspect. Under this status, CRHA is not eligible to apply for HUD grants for crime prevention programs or after school program. If CRHA is “troubled” for a fourth year, more serious consequences result.

Schwartz reported that 19 of the 23 staff members were hired in the last 18 months, including a “director of housing services.” The agency “educates” workers as to why they’re here along with technical job training. Customer service has had trouble, mainly in “how they perceive us.”

There are budgeting issues, high vacancy rates, “high rent receivables,” and the HUD grant is insufficient. There are new maintenance plans and a new organizational structure.

Schwartz reported security issues: inadequate lighting because of vandalism, so much so that Virginia Dominion Power has stopped repairing them. Residents now have an electronic slot key for entry into their apartments and a separate slot key for the main entrance.

An energy audit was conducted last fall. In the past 6 months, staffing has improved dramatically. $35,000 has been budgeted for “staff training.” The agency has little institutional memory because of turnover, which has stabilized. The agency was notified 3 weeks ago to expect $43,000 cut from HUD in the ’07 budget (1% cut).

Capital needs include repair of elevators, 25 new water systems at Westhaven, speed bumps, and general decay of infrastructure.

Schwartz said, 2-3 years from now, public housing will look entirely different.

Newly elected Councilor Julian Taliaferro commended the director for his emphasis on customer service. How do we get off the “troubled” list. Schwartz responded that a September review by HUD will likely remove the agency from that status.

Councilor Kevin Lynch asked how the agency was dealing with the budget/funding issue. Schwartz that the agency needs to look at new revenue streams and the agency “needs a new business model.”

Newly elected Councilor Dave Norris, former chairman of the oversight commission for this troubled agency, commended Schwartz for “righting the ship.” Norris said the city will have to come to the table with funding.

Mayor David Brown thanked the urban renewal director. Brown testified that he has seen improvement while coaching soccer for public housing youth. He said trust in the Housing Authority is growing.

Councilor Kendra Hamilton said “redevelopment” will eventually create the needed revenue streams. In her Housing Authority report of January 18, 2005, calling for more urban renewal, Hamilton praised the former executive director Paul A. Chedda. Less than 6 months later, Hamilton criticized Chedda for actions she had praised earlier.

Chedda took office August 21, 2004, and on May 11, 2005, was fired by the board of directors. Chedda followed up with a lengthy letter to HUD documenting CRHA practices and malfeasance.

It’s unclear whether Schwartz will fall out of favor as quickly. Schwartz is the city’s fourth urban renewal director in 8 years.

Del Harvey resigned in May 2003 during Blair Hawkins’ single-issue campaign for the Republican nomination to oppose Delegate Mitch Van Yahres based on his (and Council’s) eminent domain crimes against the African-American community of Charlottesville.

Earl B. Pullen’s contract was not renewed in June 1998.

Then followed Mayor David Brown’s “Climate Protection Agreement.” The Council voted unanimously to support the ideas contained in the 12-point document. The resolution has no legal weight and expresses only Council’s opinion. However, resolutions often precede legislation in the process of incrementalism.

Despite the speakers earlier and large crowd of environmentalists, some with hand-held signs, no one explained how global warming and man-made warming are the same thing. No one explained how the ending of the current ice age is not normal, or how man caused the 9,800 years of warming prior to the industrial revolution and age of fossil fuels, or the billion year warm period prior to the present 3 million year cycle of ice ages. However, Al Gore's propaganda film "An Inconvenient Truth" was mentioned.

I left before the final 2 agenda items: giving away $25,000 to COMPASS Homeless Day Shelter and exempting the property on Franklin Street from zoning laws.

Update on archives, HUD request

In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request I filed July 26, 2005, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development responded in a letter dated November 9, 2005. Holly K. Salamido responded that HUD policy is to destroy whichever archives are the most historic at the time of scheduled archive reduction.

“The records you requested are at least 34 years old and have since been destroyed in accordance with standard records retention schedules,” wrote Salamido.

I made the request because, at the time of urban renewal, federal law required HUD to photograph and document properties whose destruction HUD was financing. The clearance for the Garrett Street area was initially funded by a $3 million HUD grant approved June 30, 1970.

The initial request to view the Charlottesville archives was made locally on March 25, 2004.

“Acting CRHA director since last April and assistant city manager, Rochelle Small-Toney said the office has received more requests recently to view the archives, prinicpally from Uva students. She also said they have had a problem with shrinking archives” (Charlottesville Independent Media (cvilleindymedia.org)(defunct), March 30, 2004).

Below are 18 photographs of properties seized by the city of Charlottesville through its Redevelopment and Housing Authority in the early 1970s as part of its ongoing urban renewal program.

Assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney allowed me to photograph these 8 prints in August 2005 and the 10 unidentified properties in June 2005.

In response to a follow-up on June 20, 2006, Small-Toney said she would check to see if the archives were scanned and ready to publish. Archive preservation was the original reason given two years ago to deny my request to view the archives.



509 Ware Street, seized Nov 9 1971 from Laura Dowell


509 Ware Street


522 Ware Street


522 Ware Street, basement


521 Ware Street, seized from Annie Moses

516 Ware Street


412 Ware Street


520 Ware Street

Below are 10 unidentified properties seized for urban renewal. Small-Toney allowed me to photograph these prints in June 2005. They were first published on June 22, 2005, in Charlottesville Independent Media. Joanne Gunter accompanied me and served as a witness.


Photo 1


Photo 2


Photo 3


Photo 4


Photo 5


Photo 6


Photo 7


Photo 8


Photo 9


Photo 10


Vinegar Hill 1960 (Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at UVa.)

Charlottesville Assistant City Manager Elected to State Position: Gary O’Connell Also Appointed to State Board of Directors of VLGMA

CHARLOTTESVILLE – The City announced today that Charlottesville Assistant City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney was elected as Vice President of the Virginia Local Government Management Association (VLGMA). The VLGMA is run by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. The primary goal of the association is to strengthen the quality of local government through professional management. The association seeks to promote professional management in a variety of ways including training, networking, and resource sharing.
[…]

Sunday, July 16, 2006

White guilt inspires ‘I Have a Dream’ Foundation of Charlottesville: Goal for at-risk students is college, not safety or justice

“Living down here, and living in Garrett with some children who aren’t so nice, I had to be late for work so I could watch him get to the bus stop so he wouldn’t get beaten,” Charlotte Stinnie recalled. “Finally … we got security guards to watch the kids get on the bus.”


Turning around pupils' lives

By Sarah Barry, Daily Progress staff writer, July 16, 2006

First of two parts.

Dashaun Blakey was a skinny, gap-toothed first-grader when he first became a Dreamer. Already tall for his age, the 6-year-old wanted to be a basketball player. Then he wanted a scooter and a bike - in that order.

Although his dreams seemed simple, Dashaun’s mother remembers having to work hard to protect her son from the violence he saw growing up in public housing.

“Living down here, and living in Garrett with some children who aren’t so nice, I had to be late for work so I could watch him get to the bus stop so he wouldn’t get beaten,” Charlotte Stinnie recalled. “Finally … we got security guards to watch the kids get on the bus.”

Having been raised in Friendship Court - formerly Garrett Square - Dashaun was becoming angry and confused, with peers telling him that he had to fight, while his mother told him he shouldn’t.

“He didn’t know what to do,” Stinnie said. “I think he had so much frustration from trying to behave because of where he was at, because of where he grew up.”

For the last six years, the I Have a Dream Foundation of Charlottesville has worked with Stinnie and other parents to ensure that 64 city students have every opportunity to go to college and make their dreams come true. Since 2000, the program has provided tutoring, counseling, summer and after-school programs, and it will offer funding and help with scholarships for in-state college tuition for any of the participants with the grades and desire to go.

“We started out six years ago with the idea that we would provide for these great kids a system of cultural, academic and social enrichment programs,” said Chris Poe, a financial adviser who co-founded the program with Jeff Gaffney, the chairman of Real Estate III Independent. After consulting with local school officials and several community-based organizations, the two men selected the entire class of first-graders at Clark Elementary.

Helping the neediest

Clark was seen as the school with greatest need, where 74 percent of students qualified for the free or reduced-price lunch program. “It was unbelievable that we were the No. 1 city in the U.S. and yet had an elementary school with almost an 80 percent poverty rate,” Poe said.

The two men hired a project coordinator to support the students in and after school. Erica Lloyd, who has been the coordinator since 2002, helps the students with their homework and projects, monitors their performance in class and provides a listening ear.

“There are times when I go into class just to kind of support their behavior and their performance,” Lloyd said. “That’s the guts of the I Have a Dream project - the long-term relationship with the kids.”

For Dashaun and fewer than half a dozen other students, Lloyd has held a study hall where the students could come to her office and work on their assignments.

Dashaun said his grades improved after he started meeting with Lloyd - “a lot better.” Earlier in the semester, Dashaun was getting Ds in two of his six classes. But after starting regular study halls, his grades improved so that Dashaun passed with all As, Bs and Cs.

The program, Lloyd said, has not turned each Dreamer into a straight-A student. In 2003, when the Dreamers at Clark took their Standards of Learning tests, the third-graders had a 45 percent passing rate on the English portion. The state average was 71 percent. On the math portion, 49 percent of Clark third-graders passed, while the state average was 83 percent.

These scores weren’t any worse than the previous or subsequent years, but they weren’t any better, either. “Generally, we’re on pace with the Charlottes-ville student body as a whole,” Lloyd said. “We have kids in the highest honors classes and then we have kids that are struggling through the lowest. The majority are in the middle. But it’s the kids who are in the middle, who are sitting on the fence that we really feel I Have a Dream can push over the edge to being successful.”

One reason Stinnie believes the program has been particularly beneficial to Dashaun is the consistency it has provided him. “They started with Dashaun at such a young age,” she said. “He doesn’t have to worry about meeting a different person each year.”

A personal touch

Todd Brown, who taught Dashaun’s English class at Walker Upper Elementary, said just in this last school year, he watched Dashaun’s schoolwork steadily improve. “Before, it was difficult to get him to sit through a 10- or 15-minute reading period,” Brown said. Now, Dashaun can not only read through the 25-minute period, but occasionally didn’t want to put his book down when it was over.

“He’s matured at an amazing rate,” Brown said. Dashaun has become a tall, quiet rising seventh-grader. “He used to get in trouble in school and he used to have difficulties, but he’s overcome all that and come a long way.”

Stinnie said her son is also helping out more at home. “Two years ago, I couldn’t even get him to pick up a cloth to wash one cup,” she said. Now, Dashaun cleans his room without being asked and lends a hand with his younger siblings. “He’s been doing nothing but getting better and better; he’s actually growing up the way I’d want him to grow up,” Stinnie said.

She believes a large part of the improvement is because of Erica Lloyd - “I love Erica Lloyd,” she said - but she also believes that Dashaun’s relationship with the co-founders has been important.

Already proud accomplishments

When the Dreamers were younger, Gaffney organized a soccer camp each summer that Dashaun used to play in. Now, Gaffney and Poe play a weekly basketball game with some of the boys.

“I am a 41-year-old man, and when I’m out there playing against Dashaun, I am trying my hardest and I am not getting past him all the time,” Gaffney said. “He’s become a leader, he is the alpha male. To have seen him evolve into that leadership role, that’s when I think we’re doing something here.”

Dashaun’s athletic prowess and emerging self-confidence also have made him more of a role model at home, Stinnie said.

“The whole backyard will be full of kids and they look up to Dashaun,” she said. “He deserves it, though. … He had to go through a whole lot to get where he is now.”
Dashaun still dreams about becoming a basketball player, but he also thinks about becoming a lawyer. “I just want to help people,” he said.

He also wants to go to the University of Virginia, in part so he can stay close to home. “I want to visit my mom a lot,” he said.

Gaffney is excited that some of the students are even thinking about college and career plans. “The college thing is still light years away even though it’s really just around the corner,” he said. He knows it will take massive fundraising and a great deal of academic and social support to get the students through high school and into college. “But for sixth-graders, it’s a victory for us that they are even talking about it.”

Analysis by the new media

Bias reveals itself not in the actual coverage, but in the omission of related truths.

"Having been raised in Friendship Court - formerly Garrett Square - Dashaun was becoming angry and confused..."

The rock star Prince changed his name to "the artist formerly known as Prince," but not to "the artist formerly Prince." Friendship Court and Garrett Square are different names for the same, identical housing project, which opened in 1979.

Garrett Square was named after Alexander Garrett, first bursar of UVA and present at Monticello when Thomas Jefferson died. His Oak Hill farm began to be developed in the 1860s. Charlottesville's first public school opened in 1870 on Garrett Street. Because of the controversy and illegality of urban renewal, people usually speak as if housing projects were built on open space.

A more truthful statement might be: Friendship Court, formerly a neighborhood developed beginning in the 1860s, seized under eminent domain following a 1967 city referendum, and razed in phases during the 1970s. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that new houses near blighted houses could be seized for private use. On June 23, 2005, the same court ruled that economic development justifies eminent domain for private use.

In 1789 the United States ratified the U.S. Constitution, which allows only due process to seize property for private use. In recent years, courts have ruled that public use and private use have the same legal meaning.