ChapelHill


The following letter does an excellent job summing up my reasons for delaying the July’s abbreviated community review process for the ciritical Estes Drive/MLK, Jr. intersection, the two congested transit corridors and the surrounding area which includes UNC’s Carolina North campus.

The current CH2020 proposal calls for us to plan in haste and repent in crisis.

This intersection is a bulls-eye for development activities and lies at the crossroads of competing goals: creating an appropriate gateway to UNC’s Carolina North, managing a critical transition point between Downtown and North Chapel Hill/Carrboro and East Franklin St., supporting the new transit framework for MLK, Jr. and acting as the template for the ring of development around Horace-Williams Airport.

In many ways, it is one of the most critical areas in Town and deserves a thorough, deliberative and broad-based community evaluation before moving forward.

The following letter asks Council to take the time to “get it right”.

June 23, 2012

Dear Mayor and Town Council,

We are residents of Estes Hills, Huntington-Somerset, Coker Hills, Coker Hills West, Mount Bolus and Coker Woods and would be affected if zoning changes are made to the Town’s land use map in our area.

The Estes Neighbors group strongly recommends that the CH2020 Plan expand the scope of the proposed Estes Corridor study to include all or most of the ‘MLK South future focus area’, and develop a robust, deliberative and broadly inclusive community outreach effort to build a consensus for managing development prudently within that focus area. Two hundred and eight of our neighbors have signed on to that vision.

By definition a small area plan needs to include a larger area than the small strip along Estes Drive. The Estes/MLK,Jr. intersection is a critical element of several overlapping concerns: a gateway to Carolina North, a current traffic bottleneck, and a key transition point between downtown and north Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

We recommended a focus area plan that covers Estes Drive Extension to Seawell School Road and MLK from Homestead south to Hillsborough Street, including Carolina North. Further, the focus effort must answer the following open questions:

(1) What land uses in this MLK South focus area are most compatible with the new Carolina North campus, the biggest change in our Town for decades?
(2) How will future development be effectively integrated with the Carolina North MLK transit plans to ensure continued mobility for residents, commuters, and transit access to Carolina North?
(3) How will the anticipated development affect our neighborhoods?

Summer is not the time for this critical planning effort. Many stakeholders are away on vacations, the Council is not in session, no clear process has been described, and not enough time will have passed for residents to have adequately digested the new CH2020 plan. Fall is a better time to start a robust, inclusive and sustained community process,
ensuring both strong participation and one resulting in broad community support. We anticipate several rounds of discussions and community evaluations of draft proposals extending into 2013.

Our recommendation: We request that the language making the Estes Corridor study a priority be removed. See p.45 of the Implementation Chapter in the June 25th DRAFT Comprehensive Plan.

Not only is this narrow strip of land an insufficient basis for planning, we also don’t know of any instance in the 2020 discussions where such a study emerges as a priority. We think it makes good sense to complete an integrated area plan for the MLK and Estes focus area before any changes are contemplated for Estes Drive.

In addition, we ask the Council that the final Comprehensive Plan contain a detailed process to develop area plans for all future focus areas, including:
(1) participation by citizens;
(2) adequate time to do the job;
(3) enough data to support assumptions and justifications; and finally
(4) how area plan recommendations will be turned into changes on the zoning map.

We ask that the area plan process be built in consultation with the affected neighborhoods, the University, property owners, businesses and interested residents. We envision something much more detailed and rigorous than the 15-501 south discussions, but shorter than the Glen Lennox process for all these areas. Development within each of these areas will impact not only the surrounding neighborhoods but all of Chapel Hill.

Thank you for considering these changes.

Sincerely,

David Ambaras, Mary Andersen, Stephen P. Berg, Kim and MaryEllen Biechele, Jill Blackburn, Watson Bowes M.D., Laurie Cousart, Rose Marie D’Silva, Glen H. Elder Jr, Verla Insko, Patty Krebs, Fred Lampe, Ross and Winsome Leadbetter, Emily Lees, Ronald C. and Sue Link, Julie McClintock, Sarah K. McIntee, John Morris, Priscilla Murphy, Nelson and Diane Price, Sandy Turbeville, Pat Lowry,Will Raymond, David Robinson, Steve Rogers, Gretchen Stroemer, Susan Swafford, Misako Toda, Alan Tom, Barrie Trinkle, and Cathy Walker

Last night I made a few remarks to Council before they codified a series of restrictions on the use of Peace and Justice Plaza Downtown by organized and disorganized activist.

We renamed the small patch of ground outside the Downtown post office to Peace and Justice Plaza to honor its central place in Chapel Hill’s progressive history. Before the Town acquired the property in the 70′s, its unique status as a slice of Federal land front-n-center in our community made it an invaluable refuge for local civil rights activist who wanted folks to see what others didn’t want to be seen – that even educated Chapel Hill bore the stain of racial inequality.

Why did Council slide these changes altering a historical dynamic through, undermining the meaning of Peace & Justice, without reaching out to the community? Why the desperate speed?

It appears because the Town couldn’t figure out how to evict one remaining protester who by most descriptions was a homeless man using the Occupy movement as an excuse for staying. Rather than address that specific issue, Council chose to hastily adopt a potentially very chilling approach.

Until we see specific guidelines, drafted out of sight of the community – chiefly by the Town Manager – we will not know.

For at least 50 years, a small patch of ground outside Downtown’s Post Office has served as our Town commons. This historical precedent was set by local civil rights activists who sought to circumvent Town and State attempts to shutter the voices raised against racial inequality.

They sought refuge on that small piece of Federal land because efforts to evict would become – literally- a “Federal case”. Sadly, they expected Federal courts would be more sympathetic in supporting their Constitutional right to assemble, to speak, to petition and to ask for redress of grievances than our local community.

Over time, protection of those fundamental rights has shifted towards local governments. Chapel Hill citizens, some at great costs, have stood up and fought to maintain and expand key civic values including equality in their recognition of same-sex partners.

I was reminded of how unique our community is during a 2003 anti-war protest in Raleigh.
While his supporters got a front-row seat, protesters were herded into a chain link enclosure well away from President Bush’s cavalcade. Out of sight, out of mind. By then, the Federal courts had decided that a bureaucratically proscribed “designated free speech zone” was acceptable.

Tonight you are being asked to make what appears to be a few “minor” changes to Town ordinances. That is not the case.

The suggested changes allow the Manager to dictate what neatly fits into a particular idea of reasonable discourse. Times, locations and extent of exercise of Rights will be determined by the somewhat vague guidelines he as his staff deem necessary.

I’m disappointed that the recent occupation of the one place in our community reserved and cherished for free assembly didn’t serve as a lesson in how to preserve and even promote more civic discourse. Rather it seems to have served as a call to arms to cordon off what makes some folks uncomfortable.

In a free and democratic society we must err on the side of openness and access to the public commons. We must tolerate a process that can be a bit unsettling and untidy.

There are vanishingly few public spaces left for assembly of citizens. If not Peace & Justice, where?

During the Chapel Hill 2020 process Downtown has been touted as the place for the community to come to meet with many proposals for an enhanced public square.

Now is the time to ask – “How public?”

Please put off further amendments constraining our public commons until our community has fully weighed in.

I got into a bit of a discussion with Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt about a loaded equivalence described in the Town legal brief.

The memo describes a scenario where two groups at polar extremes want to occupy the plaza. The examples used: Nazis and Jewish community, KKK and NAACP members, Anarchist and peace officers.

Of course, the hatred expressed by the Nazi and KKK members against the Jewish and African-American communities is well-documented and exemplified by horrendous acts.

I learned a little about Anarchism in university 30+ years ago and have since endeavored to learn more after the recent Yate’s Motor occupation and police raid. From what I’ve read and learned from some of the local adherents, Anarchism is not a political movement but, rather, a political philosophy with many avenues of expression.

There is nothing intrinsic to that political philosophy requiring vilification, especially at the level suggested by using the KKK and Nazis, of the police.

It was inappropriate of staff, and surprising of the majority of Council, to endorse such an equivalence.

I did a recent WCHL 1360 commentary reiterating my reasons for voting NO this year for Orange County’s .25% sales tax bump.

Basically, it comes down to a lack of fairness and skewed spending priorities.

For some odd technical reason, my commentary isn’t posted on WCHL’s website. I have a copy here (MP3) for readers who have requested one.

This Nov. 8th, I will be voting NO on Orange County’s ¼ cent sales tax.

Promoters promise us increased jobs, better schools and possibly even a deferred property tax increase.

But we know that any positive impact on jobs or revenues from improved County economic zones will take time – it is a real stretch to claim near term benefits in this down economy.

Suggesting the quality of local education is at risk and linking the tax benefits to our popular schools is certainly a clever sales tactic. But lets be honest, the $600,000 going to the schools is a raindrop in a sea of spending.

On the other hand, if 2/3rds had been dedicated to restoring prenatal and dental care services – to back-filling State cuts in mental health, housing and hospice care – the impact of that $1.6M would have been tremendous. Not a drop but a bucket of help.

As a parent, I understand that the example you set is more important than the words you use – that do as I say and not as I do – is a sure path to undercutting trust.

It’s a lesson so many candidates and local officials seem to have forgotten.

Holding this costly single issue vote during an off-year election was a calculated divisive tactic to minimize the impact of our rural neighbors who have already demonstrated a distaste for further taxes.

As the Chapel Hill News noted, the County’s effort to get the message out appears to have gone over the line from legally allowed education into outright advocacy.

Both undercut our democratic principles.

This is why even if all the revenue raised from this sales tax went to human services, I would still vote NO this year.

Because, as we teach our kids, the ends do not justify the means.

To summarize:

Targeting revenues to human services should have been priority. If defeated, I will ask the Board of Commissioners to consider changing the mix of funds to 1/3 economic development and 2/3 critical human services.

The campaign to “sell” increase wasn’t conducted properly.

Scheduling referendum vote in off-year election instead of county-wide election amounts to “gaming” the democratic system. The County Commissioners were clearly “vote shopping”, recognizing that if they got the same level of support in the municipalities as 2010 and if rural voter turnout was 25% less than May’s primary – which is what the local Board of Elections predicted – they would get their way.

I’ve consistently supported access to the vote – super-precincts, same-day registration, early voting – and defended voter rights – fighting Voter ID Act, etc.

I’m not going tacitly support an attempt to disenfranchise our rural voters this year.

The “education” campaign has clearly over-stepped legal bounds and strayed into clear advocacy.

  • Improper school district endorsements: fliers sent home with students essentially endorsing referendum, website promotion.
  • Video ad which over-emphasized benefits of tax and downplayed negative impact of tax was certainly not even-handed.
  • Assistant County Manager suggesting only choice was either pass sales tax or suffer a $.02 bump in the property tax rate to fund plans (there are other options to finding funds).
  • BOCC members, who have every right to support the referendum personally, not distinguishing “official” from “personal” support – including comments during public meetings.

I spoke before the Commissioners this year about the advocacy vs. education issue when they were discussing a plan to try the referendum once again. They acknowledged the problems with last year’s “education” campaign – stumbling into advocacy (which is not allowed under NC law) and said they would do better this round. I suggested they invite a wide spectrum of folks who had both promoted and opposed the previous referendum to review County “education” materials and evaluate their balance. Unfortunately, the County not only didn’t try to do an initial “sniff” test of those materials but went way beyond the trespasses of last cycle.

In the end, each voter will have to decide if they are willing to support the “ends” despite the clearly inappropriate “means” to get there.

I’m not, which is why I will vote NO this year for the referendum.

By all accounts, yesterday’s Festifall was a resounding success. Carolina Blue skies, comfortable temperatures and a diverse program of activities beyond vendor-provided art brought folks out.

This is the second year I helped organize the event as a member of the Town’s Festifall planning committee. Starting Spring, the committee’s duties revolve around brainstorming activities and entertainments, providing logistical support to Parks and Recreation and working on the big day.

Last year, I arrived at 5:30am and left at 8:00pm. This year I only made it to 5:30pm. While quite fun, it can be a long day of lugging equipment, setting up venues, marking booth locations (my specialty), cycling around booths to help folks, and, essentially, being an adjunct gofer for regular staff.

My duties the last two years have been fairly broad but my main portfolio has been soliciting and managing the community group area – Willville as last year’s committee dubbed it.

Why Willville?

When I joined the committee in 2010, there was a serious discussion of removing the community element entirely from the event. Some art vendors had apparently complained about sharing a wall with peace protestors, environmentalist, mental health advocates and other “pedestrian” community groups. A few attendees complained that they didn’t come to Festifall to have broader community-oriented issues thrust upon them.

This was an art event, by god, and whatever might detract from sales should be eliminated!

Festifall, with the cancellation of Apple Chill, is the sole remaining Town-sponsored multipurpose event. Carrboro, who we often look to for community participation inspiration, routinely makes room for community organizations – often putting them front and center – at their events.

This is a community-sponsored event – an excellent opportunity to showcase Chapel Hill’s diverse community interests and creativity – why wouldn’t we want to be more like Carrboro in our emphasis?

In 2010, in a bit of a Pyrrhic victory, we maintained the community program at the cost of segregating the majority from the main thoroughfare. Like the displaced of Hoover’s 1920s, pushed back along the fence line, not quite out-of-sight, these groups access to Festifall’s visitors is greatly diminished.

I was a bit of a bear of the subject in 2010, to the point that the committee started to joke that the ghettoization was akin to creating a new Hooverville which they dubbed “Willville”.

That joke carried over this year as I continued to vigorously lobby on behalf of expanding the presence of our local community groups.

For all the good-natured joshing, I’m happy to be associated with “Willville”.

With that in mind, I have a few after-the-event suggestions for next year’s committee:

  • Mix community groups in with the rest of the crowd. We found room for sponsors, the local fire and police departments, a few Town programs – let’s make these groups first class citizens of the event.
  • If it’s deemed too much of a hurdle to integrate the groups into the broad milieu, at least let them setup on the curb instead of being pushed to the rear.
  • Reduce the fee for these groups. $100, $85 or even $65 can be a real obstacle to some organizations. $50, at the most, seems reasonable. Yes, that means revenue will be down as prime spaces which could rent for $100 (or more, given the nasty budget mess Chapel Hill has) but the event has been cash positive the last few years. A few lost bucks to support our community is a good trade-off
  • Remove logistical impediments which make setup and teardown more difficult for these groups than everyone else.

I have really enjoyed working with local residents, Town staff and community groups on this event. The committee, working with a very receptive events planning staff, has down an excellent job diversifying the event – showcasing Chapel Hill’s interest in dance, music and the culinary arts.

In a couple weeks, we’ll have a debrief of the day and work to build on our successes. If you attended the event and have suggestions, please leave a comment.

Kudos to all the great volunteers, the staff and committee of Festifall.

Semi-live blogging from tonight’s Sierra Club/Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce Town candidate forum.

[UPDATE:] Comments on candidate responses are mostly paraphrases. Comments in quotes are verbatim from candidates. Comments in parentheses or brackets are mine. I didn’t capture all comments or questions. The People’s Channel video taped the forum and should have it posted sometime soon.

Someone recently remarked to me “What strange bedfellows!” when we were talking about tonight’s forum sponsors. Ten years ago that might’ve been true but not today.

The Sierra Club leadership, as distinct from its membership, has been AWOL on many of the most pressing environmental issues of the last decade. Most troubling for an organization founded on justice, the element of social justice has been missing as they have fully endorsed projects like Greenbridge and West140 irrespective of those projects broader consequences.

The Chamber’s Director Aaron Nelson has worked hard to position the Chamber as the gatekeeper on sustainability. The “triple bottom line” that Aaron lauds continues to be heavily weighted towards development and developers irrespective of broader considerations. Teaming up with the Sierra Club helps create an additional appearance of green even if the facts belie it.

All the candidates sans mayoral Wolff in attendance. About 32 folks in the seats though only a hand full are not involved in the sponsoring organizations, the press or candidate groups.

Mark Shultz, Chapel Hill News editor, is running the show.

Opening 1 minute statements, a good chance to see if candidates can hit their marks. Jim Ward, who gave me hell a couple years ago about going 19 seconds long, dragged 28 seconds over. OK by me, I well understand how hard it is to compress a dozen years of service into 60 seconds.

A few themes so far – transparency raised by DeHart, experience and fiscal responsibility by Matt Cz., continuing the Town’s sustainability initiatives by Storrow and Schuler, Baker on balancing economic development and environmental progress.

Some “usual suspects” – Fred Black, Nancy Oates, Mark Peters, Lynne Kane, Bernadette Pelissier.

How do you balance economic development and the environment? What is the priority?

Tim Sookram, Mayoral candidate – focus on environment, not concentrate on LEEDs certification.

Moses Carey, former OC BOCC member just came in.

Jason Baker – Council candidate and committed “smart growth” supporter. Doesn’t think that environmental and economic issues are at odd – both values are important.

Donna Bell – Council candidate and incumbent (appointed) – thinks that posing the question misses the point – shouldn’t be in conflict.

Augustus Cho – Council candidate (CC) – also agrees that the two aren’t in conflict – he believes if “we cut a tree down, we can plant one somewhere else…”

Matt Czajkowski – CC – observes that over the last 4 years there’s been an evolution from either supporting the environment or supporting economic development to one which they are seen by the candidates as complementary…

Laney Dale – CC – “doesn’t want to see any trees cut down” though he does understand development must occur

Jon DeHart – CC – also doesn’t see the two as mutually exclusive – realized that when he was labeled “pro-business” last round and he had done a poor job of responding to that critique – that he has a more nuanced approach – thinks that rehabilitating the Planning process is key to making the two work well together…

Lee Storrow – CC – brings up the urban boundary – gives a quick definition – wants to build dense in Chapel Hill – transit key – thinks C.H. is headed towards Atlanta style density and we need to have transit to support that…

Jim Ward – CC and incumbent – “the question is so last century” , “it isn’t an either or” proposition – 10 years ago the team sponsoring this forum would’ve been shocking

Mark Kleinschmidt – Mayoral candidate and incumbent – thinks that every project needs to take both in consideration – need to measure results of development decisions [Why has he drug his feet and resisted every attempt to make measurabilty part of the process? Will he support making metrics a key aspect on the Comprehensive Plan rework?]

How to increase jobs?
(more…)

A last minute request of support for Orange County’s agricultural community. The PFAP program is working “to create a strong base to help launch and grow new food-businesses in the Piedmont, focusing on a 75 mile radius in all directions.” Orange County is home to a wide variety of farms producing specialty items for the local market.

Strengthening our local choice is critical to our community’s long term success. Please take a moment to review the program, their grant with an eye towards lending your support.

Letters of support needed by noon tomorrow! The Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center is collaborating with Piedmont Grown on a USDA/NCDA specialty crops grant . We could use a few more letters of support. The goal of the project is to increase knowledge and consumption of specialty crops by children and adults.

The project has four deliverables:

1) Monthly educational programs at PFAP,

2) Monthly outreach events across the 37-counties served by Piedmont Grown,

3) a public awareness campaign using mass media, and

4) a children’s activity and coloring book featuring easy to prepare recipes that use specialty crops.

Kindly send them to nranells@co.orange.nc.us by 2 pm on Friday May 20th to ensure they are included in the grant packet.

In forming the new Comprehensive Plan initiating committee, the Mayor studiously avoided recruiting members of the Sustainability Visioning Task Force who challenged the narrow approach foisted upon that effort by staff.

The concerns raised by those committee members (Sustainability Task Force: The Whole or The Sum of the Parts? ) are unlikely to be addressed by the currently constituted group.

Without those dissenting voices, the Comprehensive Plan Initiating Committee will most likely craft a process that is targeted towards a particular outcome rather than one that will illuminate and resolve the discrepancies and omissions in our current Comprehensive Plan discovered by that task force.

Those gaps have led to development outcomes which our community has found troubling.

December, 2008 the Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth held a forum on development density which highlighted some of the issues which have to be addressed in the new plan to meet the future needs of this community. It’s a long forum but worth reviewing to get a sense of the rising tide of negative community reaction to the current “rah rah growth at any cost” approach which has failed to yield the advertised results.



A couple excellent student driven articles on Northside appeared this week.

Carrboro Commons’ Megan Gassaway published this article which reviews the history of the Northside community through long time resident Ms. Keith Edwards eyes.

Too often local media focuses narrowly on the business of carving up the community rather than providing a broader context – injecting the human dimension into the story – which better informs the wider community on why folks living in Northside mourn its passing.

Courtesy ReeseNews

Reese News,UNC School of Journalism & Mass Communication’s Digital Newsroom, leverages the power of the multimedia ‘net to give voice to 10 community members’ concerns in their story The struggle for a neighborhood.

It’s no secret that Northside isn’t the neighborhood it used to be.

The change is visible in the increased diversity of its residents and the ten-story high-end condominiums that tower across from the traditionally working class neighborhood, where massive duplexes are replacing single-family homes. Change is also evident in  the growing tension and frustration of residents in a neighborhood plagued by the effects of gentrification.

The pressure for development is taking its toll on the historically black neighborhood, and the town is struggling to balance the need to grow with the needs of neighborhoods like Northside.

Since 2010, the town has been working with the Raleigh-based consultant KlingStubbins to develop a Downtown Framework and Action Plan, which could revise and redevelop parts of downtown Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas.

The downtown proposal could have significant effects on Northside. In its current draft, the framework suggests building new road connections and parking decks in areas where homes currently stand. It also underscores certain areas of Northside as prime for redevelopment.

Well done folks!

Want a bit of additional perspective on the development pressures facing Northside?

IndyWeek reporter (and former Daily Tar Heel editor) Joe Schwartz put together another excellent overview last June (2010): Greenbridge: A new chapter in a tense history .

Greenbridge, as reported by the Chapel Hill News, faces its first foreclosure hearing next Tuesday. This Sunday they promise a further exploration of not only Greenbridge’s problems but other Downtown developments putting pressure on Northside, Cameron Ave. and Pine Knolls neighborhoods.

Change is going to happen. The question is how the whole of our community can benefit from that change. Articles like these help create a broader perspective, one that has been missing so far, in the discussions over development policy Downtown.

It is critical that the nearby neighborhoods play a vital role in determining their own fates. Until their voices are heard and their neighborhoods are treated like living, breathing communities rather than convenient parcels of land for future development, our development policy is as broken as Greenbridge’s financing.

I haven’t been a big coffee drinker since my days on the engineering mezzanine at Northern Telecom (I never met a bunch of folks that could guzzle joe like Northern’s engineers).

The last decade, though, I easily go a month without drinking some form of coffee; a double bang cappuccino with extra foamy milk being my current favorite.

Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Hillsborough are blessed with an abundance of decent cafes serving the best in fair-trade brews. When it comes to choosing a place to get my occasional cupped lightning, the three key differentiators, at least for me, are price, quality and service.

Price, with the exception of 3-Cups , is roughly the same between the locally-owned and operated places I’m willing to go.

Quality varies but having grown up on road warrior jitter juice I’m willing to tolerate a broad spectrum of results. As long as the raw bean comes from socially just source, is not priced out-of-line with its ingestability, is reasonably hot and is prepared somewhat hygienically, down it goes.

Which leaves level of service.

Coffee, though I know some folks feel differently, is a discretionary purchase. While I sometimes need, like many of us, an energy boost, I’m not so dependent a draught of “rocket fuel” that I’m willing to forgo courtesy at the cash register.

When I belly up to the bar, I’m happy to get the most minimal of attention and courtesy – a short grunt of acknowledgement and a reasonably fast turn around is all I’m looking for.

I’m not willing to settle for near contempt.

As the local market for good coffee has grown, so, it appears has the spread of boorish baristas.

Look guys, I’m not going to apologize for not seeming hip enough, not slangily ordering the trendiest drink or not paying slavish attention to your choice of clothes/music/politics – I’m here for a simple drink delivered as professionally as possible.

Which is why I most often go to Timberlyne’s Cup o’Joe, Carrboro’s Looking Glass, Estes/Franklin’s Carribou Cafe and University Mall’s Southern Season’s Weathervane.

From all of these (plus Lex’s 3-Cups), I have reliably received top tier courteous service from clean and well-kept breweries at a price point that my family is comfortable paying.

There is a reason I don’t go to Driade, Open Eye or a handful of other highly touted caffeine distribution centers anymore.

When I’m shelling out 2+ bucks for cooked bean shards soaked in hot water, I don’t relish the risk of having even one brutish encounter.

When it happens, again and again, I always wonder why owner/operators are willing to put up with such behavior. Are they so disconnected from their business they don’t realize that its harder to acquire a new customer than cultivate and retain a loyal customer?

To be clear, in my experience even the worst of the bunch have employees that care, that deliver the level of quality and service I’m looking for.

But why play the odds, sometimes quite long, that a you will stumble on one of the happy few?

Maybe there is a natural evolution to coffee joints: care and attention slowly giving way to complacency and antagonism followed by a fall only buffered by new customers ignorance, cushioned only by previous credibility before a slide into inevitable failure.

Or maybe there is a cycle of birth and rebirth – even the worst returning from the ashes to the heights they once enjoyed.

Whatever the trajectory, I have no doubt that the rise and tolerance of the snobarista signals the end of the ride.

Quick update on last week’s post Easthom: Let’s Revisit Lake Jordan.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

After midnight last Monday the Council decided to revisit the issue which creates an opportunity for more nuanced analysis and broader community input. That opportunity hasn’t been scheduled as of yet.

Today is the final meeting in a several week series of outreach sessions seeking community input to help formulate a new Affordable Housing Strategy for Chapel Hill. Staff sought advice from a broad range of local residents – from current affordable housing residents to professionals managing a wide variety of community programs.

Council, after a bit of prodding and plans spinning awry, wisely recognized there are some structural problems with our current affordable housing approach. Beyond acknowledging the need to rebalance our selection of affordable housing options, Council, on the heels of Greenbridge’s financial difficulties, has finally started to understand some of the inherent risks with their current policy (issues they were made aware of prior to their approval of Greenbridge, East54 and West140 luxury condo projects).

BACKGROUND The Town Council has directed staff to develop an Affordable Housing Strategy. In order to develop a strategy that is inclusive and reflective of the community’s concerns, staff has been conducting focus group sessions with affordable housing stakeholders as well as groups who may not be traditionally associated with the topic.

PURPOSE The purpose of this meeting is to obtain feedback from the community about affordable housing in Chapel Hill. This focus group session is being held for anyone in the community who would like to offer their input about the topic of affordable housing. For more information about this effort, please visit to the following website: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=1657

I’ll be attending today’s meeting in order to get a sense of what lessons the Affordable Housing Technical Advisory committee has learned from our community over the last month.

I’ve had several folks ask me about my suggested and rejected changes to the recent Democratic Party resolution supporting the 1/4 cent sales tax increase (Orange County Dems: Thanks for the Consideration…).

This is a terrible year to raise any tax yet the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) decided 4/5/2011 (VIDEO [my comments at 48 minutes and 103 minutes]) to hold another referendum, at a cost of $105K to $125K ($85K election +$20-40K “education”), trying to succeed where they failed just 6 months ago.

I and others appeared before the BOCC arguing that 1) scheduling the vote this year amounted to “vote shopping” and didn’t serve their professed commitment to “small-d” democracy:

“I do understand that there’s a need for the revenues sooner rather than later,” said Chapel Hill resident Will Raymond. “The turnout is not representative of what the impact is for this tax. You’re looking at dis[en]franchising the rural voters. In terms of integrity of the process and confidence in the process, it feels a little bit like you’re doc[k ]shopping, you’re vote shopping. The reality is that the referendum did very well down in the municipal areas.”

Not only did the referendum pass overwhelmingly in the cities last time, but turnout in the rural districts will likely be low, Raymond said. And, according to Orange County Board of Elections Director Tracy Reams, off-year general elections typically boast a lower turnout than presidential primaries—something to the tune of 25 percent compared to 40 percent, respectively.

“Doing it in November just doesn’t feel very democratic,” said James Barrett, Chapel Hill resident and member of Orange County Justice United, adding he supports the increase. “I think, as we see changes around the world, it’s important to make sure that everyone’s engaged in voting. We have a much greater opportunity to do that in May than we do in November.”

News of Orange, April 19, 2011

“Putting this on the municipal elections is a bad idea … the reality is [that] this did very well in municipal areas,” said Will Raymond, a Chapel Hill resident. “You’re vote shopping.”

N&O, 4/6/2011

and

2) that the County would be better served by altering the proposed allocation from 50% economic development/50% to education to 33% economic development/66% human services:

Will Raymond said that two-thirds of the tax should go for human services, where the real need is since Orange County is creeping toward an 18 percent poverty rate and the county has cut back on some of the services it provides to citizens who need the most help.

“The only way I’m going to support this is if I see a significant portion going to the human services deficit,” Raymond said.

Burlington Time News, April 19, 2011

By the way, that was doc, as in doctor, shopping and not “dock shopping” as reported.

If the County used 2/3rds of the anticipated revenue, $1.6+ million, for human services the impact on existing programs would be significant. Further, the County would finally have funding to address the emergency housing problem they long offloaded to the Interfaith Council (IFC).

Allocating $1.2+ million to bolster the multi-million dollar school budgets ,though, will not go as far. When you review last year’s proposed educational expenditures the contrast between priorities is stark – repaving running tracks versus bolstering our burdened community health service.

As of tonight (Tues. 4/19/2011), not only will the sales tax appear on the ballot (with a non-binding commitment to the proposed 50/50 split) but the BOCC has floated the idea of adding an additional 1/2 cent sales tax bump to fund regional transit initiatives (including light rail).

That’s an 3/4 cent increase from the current 7.75% to 8.50%.

That could drop to 8.25% if the requested extension of a “temporary” State sales tax hike, currently 1 cent, passes the Republican controlled legislature at Gov. Perdue’s suggest 3/4 cent rate . If that extension fails and both referendums succeed, the new Orange County rate would be lower than today – 7.5% – a possibility the BOCC might leverage to sell the bump to voters.

Last year the BOCC responded positively to a critique of the vagueness of their proposed economic development spending priorities by providing specific projects with fairly well established cost structures. One example – extending sewer and water service into 2 of the economic development zones. I expect them to develop a similar list of very targeted expenditures to fix creaking critical physical infrastructure at the schools.

That said, I don’t plan to support the tax because it further burdens folks during a worsening economic downturn, because scheduling it during an off-year election appears to be “gaming” the electoral process and because the allocation doesn’t address escalating demand for critical core services.

Of course, I remain open to the possibility that my mind could be changed by the BOCC’s new advocacy program.

Below is my revised resolution merged with the original:

(more…)

Tomorrow Council member Laurin Easthom is petitioning her colleagues to sharpen up their decision to allow Orange Water and Sewer (OWASA) tap Lake Jordan for less than dire and near catastrophic need.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

I attended the Jan. 27th OWASA Board meeting where the proposed loosening of the reins was first discussed and then approved [MINUTES].

In selling the need for the modification to his fellow board members, Gordon Merklein, the Chair of OWASA’s Board and UNC’s Executive Director Real Estate Development related a conversation he had with his colleague Carolyn Elfland, UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Services. He said that Carolyn expressed concern that UNC wouldn’t have access to that 5Mg/d allocation and desired an agreement that solidified UNC’s future ability, through OWASA, to get at Lake Jordan’s supplies.

That was a bit disconcerting as local policymakers had fairly consistently rejected tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than the most extreme of needs.

Not only have elected folks the last two decades worked hard to secure and protect the watersheds OWASA claimed were sufficient to supply our needs for the next 100 years but adopted land-use and building ordinances that conserve the resources we already have.

Of course, as I said at the time (Water,Water,Everywhere…), at the base of this discussion is a decision, which the community has supported, to live within our local footprint. Time after time the community has been in the forefront of protecting that valuable asset – most recently challenging the County’s siting of a trash transfer station in a critical watershed area and questioning OWASA’s proposed timbering operations.

The loose language of the adopted amendment puts that community-supported principle at risk.

Luckily Carrboro, a party to the agreement, stepped in and rejected the current proposal (Water, Water, Everywhere? Carrboro Holds The Line).

In light of their rejection and the continued concerns of local environmentalist, I applaud Laurin’s effort to put this decision back before her colleagues for closer inspection.

Council Member Laurin Easthom petitions the Council to place the Water and Sewer Management, Planning, and Boundary Agreement resolution (2011-02-28/R-5) recently passed by the Council back on the agenda for further Council discussion.

[UPDATE] Valerie said she was “appalled” not “ashamed”. Turns out so is the Chapel Hill News.

Tomorrow night Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt will petition his colleagues to appoint a representative to participate in discussions with the County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) on the future of the Interlocal Agreement on Solid Waste Management.

That agreement, coordinating waste management between each municipality and the County, needs to either evolve to meet the changes in our collective waste management plans or face dissolution.

For the good of our wider community, evolution is the better alternative.

Folks might recall that I asked Council several times over the last 6 years to fill the seat set aside on the SWAB for an elected representative from Chapel Hill – even offering to fill that position myself if appointed or elected to Council. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward took up that task, finally, less than a year ago.

Last year the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) agreed to ship our waste to Durham’s trash transfer station (which will subsequently ship it elsewhere). Even though this decision laid the groundwork for what I hope is a temporary solution to our garbage disposal needs, the time that decision bought hasn’t been used effectively by the SWAB to plan for the longer term.

There has been no real effort, to date, to find a local or regional solution that aligns more closely to our community’s fiscal and environmental policy objectives. Instead, the County contracted a new waste management consultancy that “discovered” three increased capacity options. Last week the County proposed extending the landfills life, again, irrespective of the commitments made to the Rogers Road community.

Commissioner Valerie Foushee, reviewing her inaction in tasking County staff to work the issue over the last 6 years, said she was “appalled” by the lack of progress – a sentiment echoed by all her colleagues.

Resisting expediency, taking that deceptively easy path of delaying the inevitable yet again, the BOCC finally took the bull by the horns and agreed to forge a solution themselves (Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?).

As the BOCC and County Manager noted, their partners in the Interlocal agreement have been MIA during the last few years, and though the County preferred a collaborative accommodation, they could no longer delay.

Tomorrow night, Mark moves Chapel Hill one-step closer to being part of the solution rather than the source of the problem:

This petition responds to a request from the Orange County Board of Commissioners for Towns to consider establishing a working group to address and resolve solid waste management issues. The Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) recommends that this working group be comprised of elected officials and senior staff, and that the process should begin as soon as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree and expect the Council to expeditiously move the process forward.

My first suggested action – take advantage of the provision built into the 1997 landfill extension agreement, as County Manager Frank Clifton highlighted last Tuesday, and start setting aside part of the tipping fees for eventual mitigation of landfill related problems.

Among the many other activities going on today was the Orange County Democratic Party all-precinct convention. Quite a turnout with many familiar faces.

Local heavyweights US Rep. David Price, former State House Speaker Joe Hackney and House colleague Verla Insko along with State Senator Ellie Kinnaird (who changed a tire on the way to the meeting) attended.

Price, just returned from the budget breakdown nonsense in Washington, gave a rousing call to arms pointing out that the Tea Party express was bearing down on the nation – and last night’s buffoonery was just the first in many salvos aimed squarely at middle America. Verla and Joe sketched out the dire legislative morass they face in the State house and related how the turnover in control of the House has actually brought the Democratic caucus closer.

There were 44 prepared petitions put before the convention – a long list to dispense with in less than the budgeted 4 hours. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who was running the proceedings, was able to work through a good chunk by getting collective assent upfront.

Though it has been a long time since I participated in a convention, I came prepared to offer an amendment to the petition calling for support of the Board of Commissioner’s [BOCC] recent plan to hold a Nov. 2011 referendum increasing our local sales tax 0.25%.

The BOCC has proposed splitting the anticipated $2.5M per year evenly between economic development and education. I asked the gathered folks to support a change in that allocation from 50/50 to 33% for economic development, which would adequately support the economic initiatives the BOCC has already laid out, and 66% to restore and support the many human service programs curtailed by the County these last 5 years.

My neighbor Tom Henkel seconded the call and an interesting discussion followed. Unfortunately, my suggested changes were completely shot down. It was great to get a strong dose of participatory democracy even if my effort was for naught. I appreciate the kind and thoughtful consideration the convention offered.

Afterwards, BOCC member Steve Yuhasz came over and graciously encouraged me to keep on pressing the BOCC to find money for human service programs. I told him I wasn’t going to give up.

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