September 2006

From Sept. 18th’s Daily Tar Heel by kind permission of Mason Phillips.

Nice to see a shout-out to my series on the poor decision to go with the proprietary lock-in NextBus system over an open-standards system. An alternative standards-based system could’ve delivered Internet access along all 23 transit routes – an alternative providing excellent penetration of free communication services into the most under-served of our neighborhoods.

Smoozefest or snoozefest, either way this weekend’s (Sept. 24th-26th [correction]) trip to Madison by our local “usual suspects” appears to be more about building relationships at home than abroad.

Most of all, this trip is about building relationships. Not only will participants gain knowledge of what has worked and what has not worked in Madison, but a synergy will be created by our trip attendees working, traveling and discussing issues together.

This trip is not a place for any decisions to be made about our future, but rather a place to make connections and gather valuable information. Learning from the perspectives and ideas of other leaders in the community will help to ensure that our community grows and sustains itself.

LTE to CHN from Mariana Fiorentino,
Chair of the Trip Planning Committee and 2004’s Realtor of the Year


Maybe joyous, interesting and possibly rewarding (or not), I hope folks aren’t going expecting to later trade upon the stronger bonds Smoozefest is supposed to engender.

Even as national scenes of “Ney Money Go” spawned by Abramoff’s scandalous behavior continue, the lure of the private/public “business” junket cannot be diminished.

And “business”, local business, forms the continuous sub-text of this jaunt.

The purpose of the Intercity Visit and Leadership Conference is to convene leaders of the Chapel Hill and Carrboro community to learn from the experiences of another successful community and to build relationships among participants that will help us successfully address our community’s challenges and opportunities.


Alpha quality?

This is my first release of a “fly-by” created with Google’s mapping tool Google Earth [v4.0291.beta], drawing tool SketchUp and published concept plans to model new development in our community. In this case, modeling RAM Development’s 322 luxury condos visual impact.

The large McMansion-like teardown, unfortunately, is displacing Hillsborough Street’s affordable 111 unit Town House apartments. Town House has been a low cost haven for students for years.

Hillsborough425 aka “The Residences at the Grove” (again, what grove?) will be the largest development of its kind to bless (?) Chapel Hill. Given that and RAM Developments close relationship with Council in the ongoing $100M deconstruction of downtown, the Mayor’s brush-off of greater transparency is troubling.

How did I do it?




Using Google Earth:

  • 1) “Flew” to the general location of Hillsborough425.
  • 2) Added Hillsborough425: Current Town House Apt. layout [JPG] as an overlay, changed its opacity to %50, then stretched and rotated it until the roads and features matched up.
  • 3) Set the overlay to be drawing priority #1.
  • 4) Added Hillsborough425: Sept. 2006 Concept Plan [GIF] also as an overlay and adjusted it in a similar manner using both the underlying GoogleEarth features and the current layout overlay.
  • 5) Toggled off the Town House Apt. overlay leaving just the concept plan.
  • 6) Saved the result safely to disk.

Using Google Sketchup:

  • 1) Imported the current view from GoogleEarth (the Hillsborough425 concept plan overlaid on the current topography)
  • 2) Toggled Google->Terrain OFF
  • 3) Outlined the buildings using the flattened concept plan imported from Google Earth and tracing with the LINE tool.
  • 4) Using the Hillsborough425: Concept plan descriptions and other documents as references for each buildings height, used the PUSH/PULL tool to extrude a volume roughly the same height.
  • 5) Toggled Google->Terrain ON
  • 6) Using the SELECTION tool to select an element in one building, right clicked and selected all connected components. Once selected, used the MOVE tool to place the building roughly at grade.
  • 7) Exported the finished product to GoogleEarth.

Once exported to GoogleEarth, I finished by exporting my alpha-quality project as a KML suitable for GoogleEarth v4.0291.beta.

If I get some time this weekend (ha!), I’ll add in the existing two and four story apartments for scale.

Here’s the Sketchup files ( [1] and [2]) of the Hillsborough425 buildings, please feel free to build upon my initial effort.

My only request is you publish the results for the wider community.

No, Jim hasn’t been co-opted by another AstroTurf organization, he was responding to Mayor Kevin Foy’s remarks on the St. Thomas More Catholic Church expansion plans:

Councilman Jim Ward, in a point seconded by Mayor Kevin Foy, argued the issue went beyond Carmichael Street and driveways, to the overall impact of increased traffic on roads in the area. He said he’d like to see St. Thomas More challenge its parishioners to be “part of the solution” and look for ways to reduce vehicle traffic to the church property, which includes a school.

“My knee-jerk reaction to this is, how in the world can you expect to put more facilities and attract more people to this site?” Ward said.

The 15-501 intersection, as Council member Cam Hill says is “quite galling”. More evaporating coverage at the web unfriendly HeraldSun.

The Fordham/15-501 corridor is going to get developed. We have an opportunity to use the St. Thomas More expansion as a kick-start to rethinking transit/transportation access patterns along one of our most highly traveled routes. The NC-DOT needs to jump in and do a bit more creative thinking (maybe even some circular thinking) instead of their usual add-and-expand schtick.

My guess is it’ll take the town’s leadership to get a decent result.

That’s the Daily Tar Heel’s Editorial Board.

The concept plan to tear down the 111-unit Town House Apartment complex and build 322 new nonrental luxury units called the Residences at Grove Park should be scrapped before any more money is wasted investigating the issue.

They share some common concerns: traffic and affordable housing.

Local transit activist Ellen Perry posted a heads up Car Free Day 09/22 on local ‘blog OrangePolitics.

On Friday, September 22, residents of Carrboro and Chapel Hill will for the third straight year join millions of others around the world in celebrating World Car Free Day, leaving their cars at home and using other means of transportation instead.

Residents of Orange County who formally pledge to go Car Free or at least Car Lite (reduced car use) for September 22 will be entered into a drawing for prizes that include Amtrak tickets to Washington, DC & New York, a new bicycle, gift certificates for Squid’s, Spanky’s or 411 West, and more. Anyone can pledge on-line at pledge forms that can be mailed will also be available in the Chapel Hill News and Chapel Hill Herald over the next three weeks.

Prizes will be drawn at a Car Free Day celebration to be held on the lawn of Weaver Street Market from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm on Friday, September 22. Celebrants will find information about public transportation, local biking and walking opportunities, and how to create communities that are less dependent on cars. The Village Project will show their designs and models for transit-oriented, walkable communities on the lawn, and Chapel Hill Transit will demonstrate how to load bikes and wheelchairs onto buses at the Fitch Lumber parking lot (309 North Greensboro St.).

The post spawned an interesting thread, including this comment by GeorgeC (George Cianciolo – former Chair of Chapel Hill’s Transportation Board, current member of UNC’s Carolina North LAC, the Planning Board, Design Commission and probably a few others 😉 ) on how to increase our transit resources:

Current contribution to CHT:

CH (taxes): $2,583,000 21%
UNC: 4,674,000 38%
Carrboro: 861,000 7%
sub-total: $8,118,000
add another $4,200,000 in federal & state monies, etc.
total: $12,318,000

CH’s contribution of $2,583,000 from taxes is 9.7% of what it collects in property taxes ($2,583,000 / 26,631,000). If we increased the transportation tax portion of property taxes by 10% we would increase the total property tax bill by 0.1 X 9.7% = 0.97%. Since CH taxes amount to roughly 1/3 of a citizen’s total tax bill (county taxes & school taxes comprising the other 2/3) this increase would amount to about a 1/3 of one-percent increase in CH property taxes. Thus, on a $3000 property tax bill the increase would amount to about $9.60.

Now, if all the transit partners increased their contributions by 10% as well, we would realize:

CH: $258,000
UNC: 467,000
Carrboro: 86,000
$811,000 new funds

This $811,000 would buy us an additional 14,000 hours of service. On existing routes we could add 4 hr/day for 12 routes for 6 days/week for 50 weeks. Or a number of different scenarios. But remember, you could only increase service on nights & weekends unless you spring for additional buses for use during the day when equipment is currently maxed out.

By the way, the town’s Transportation Board has two vacancies, application and more information on joining here.

Local Progress Energy nuke plant Shearon-Harris went unexpectedly offline (or in nuke industry jargon “had an unplanned outage”) this morning:

Progress Energy’s Shearon Harris nuclear plant shut down today at about 10 a.m., in the first unplanned outage this year.

The nuclear plant, about 25 miles southwest of Raleigh, turned itself off automatically when the plant’s generator stopped working. Plant personnel are trying to determine the cause of the malfunction.


Progress Energy continues to have legal, technical and regulatory problems with Shearon-Harris and other operations, including whistle-blowing by security guards, issues with their plan to build additional on-site capacity (reactors) and, of course, the wondrous new over-charging meter fiasco.

Incredible timing as tomorrow (Sept. 20th), NCWarn, our local safe-nuke activists, are holding a meeting on Shearon-Harris’ fire violations.

Community Briefing
Emergency Action on Fire
Violations at Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant   

Wednesday. Sept 20, 7 pm
Central Carolina Community College,
Multi-purpose Room, Hwy 64 West, Pittsboro

Click here for more information [PDF]

Plenty of kudzu, not much of a grove.

HeraldSun covers some of the issues with RAM Development’s strangely renamed condo-blivium project “The Residences at Grove Park”. I’ve already commented on Council’s need “to be as Caesar’s wife” in handling this project’s approvals in light of their existing relationship as co-developers with RAM on the $100 million downtown redevelopment project.

More to come on the project….

Prolific local blogger Bora Coturnix reveals the back story to the recent CitizenWill post North Carolina Diktat: Thou Shalt Pledge Allegiance.

His son was the young student, armed with the courage of his convictions, who calmly asserted his Constitutional right to not be compelled to affirm that which he doesn’t believe.

North Carolina’s motto, roughly translated, is “Deeds, not words.”

Many of the worst scoundrels of recent history have falsely pledged to support and maintain our Constitution. False pledges of allegiance and broken oaths of fealty are part-n-parcel of their way of doing business. Their deeds, though, contradict their words.

Yet many continue to put faith in mere words. I’ll put my faith in demonstrable deeds (like, as Bora points out, Paul Leubke’s lone dissent).

As famed champion of free speech Supreme Justice Learned Hand notes “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”

In a week so far filled with false patriotic platitudes, it’s encouraging to see the spirit behind the words of our Constitution firmly lodged in the hearts of our youth.

Bora, please thank your son for “walking-the-walk” – putting deeds to words – in pursuit of a little liberty.

I’m stuck in a video culture. The immediacy of the message, the ability to project nuance, is quite alluring. Today’s low-cost of creation and dissemination has helped unleash citizen’s voices which otherwise would never be heard.

Yesterday, I featured Keith Olbermann’s Sept. 11th impassioned defense of dissent.

It was a strong, direct, thoughtful yet emotional argument from someone perched on the pinnacle of an old-style media distribution empire (in this case MSNBC).

Click to Play ZeFrank

Today, another thoughtful rumination on Sept. 11th from the incredible ZeFrank, exemplar of the new-style media empire. One guy, one camera – scripting, singing and shooting his simple nuanced message – casting it onto the vast ‘net wasteland to be picked up and celebrated on its merit alone.


Keith Olbermann, Sept. 11th, 2006 – on fire:

And anyone who claims that I and others like me are “soft”, or have “forgotten” the lessons of what happened here — is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante — and at worst, an idiot — whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

…in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight.

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices – to be found only in the minds of men.

“For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own — for the children, and the children yet unborn.”


It is a hollow affirmation that must be compelled.


I find it incredibly encouraging for our country when a young person, within a deeply authoritarian framework like our school system, shows the fortitude and courage to calmly assert their Constitutional rights. Moreso in our current national anti-dissent climate – a climate fostered by officials at the highest levels of our government.

A parent must be doing something right when their child has both the strength of their convictions to stand firm and the poise, even when emotionally assailed, to do so without rancor or upset.

As encouraging? Finding leaders within our local school system who recognize the importance of strengthening our country’s next generation’s ability to respectfully stand firm on principle and create an environment cultivating that courage.

NC G.S.115C‑47.29A (2005):

To Encourage the Display of the United States and North Carolina Flags, and to Encourage the Recitation of the Pledge or Oath of Allegiance. – Local boards of education are encouraged to adopt policies to (i) provide for the display of the United States and North Carolina flags in each classroom, (ii) provide the opportunity for students to recite the Pledge or Oath of Allegiance on a regular basis, and (iii) provide age‑appropriate instruction on the meaning and historical origins of the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance. These policies shall not compel any person to stand, salute the flag, or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. If flags are donated or are otherwise available, flags shall be displayed in each classroom.

NC G.S.115C-47.29A (2006) as ratified July 12th and approved July 19th, 2006:

To Encourage Require the Display of the United States and North Carolina Flags, and to EncourageRequire the Recitation of the Pledge or Oath of Allegiance. – Local boards of education are encouraged to shall adopt policies to (i) provide for require the display of the United States and North Carolina flags in each classroom, when available, (ii) provide the opportunity for students to recite the Pledge or Oath of Allegiance on a regular basis,require that recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance be scheduled on a daily basis, and (iii) provide age‑appropriate instruction on the meaning and historical origins of the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance. These policies shall not compel any person to stand, salute the flag, or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. If flags are donated or are otherwise available, flags shall be displayed in each classroom.

So, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is required but participation, in line with the Supreme Court’s reversal of previous precedent in 1943’s WEST VIRGINIA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION v. BARNETTE, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), cannot be compelled.

One hopes that distinction is clearly drawn among those reciters within our local school district who might be tempted, in a pique of conformist zeal, to force faux patriotism.

So let the naysayers and talking heads let fly, but the little secret that is secret no more is that the results of a carefully planned and deployed municipally owned system delivered free to the citizens as a public service is actually the most successful, beneficial and effective model in existence.

So says Jonathan Baltuch, who help found MRI, a consultancy specializing in planning economic development strategies for municipalities.

What naysayers? Those critical of St. Cloud, Florida’s deployment of a municipally-sponsored, tax-supported but externally managed citywide high-speed Internet service. After just 6 months, with %77 uptake this public service project is well on its way to providing %100 of the St. Cloud community with ubiquitous Internet access. Amazing for a community lacking Chapel Hill’s built-in audience of academic, entrepreneurial and professional communication consumers.

…championed by former Mayor Glenn Sangiovanni, [the service] was viewed from day one as an economic development project. Through the process it flourished with the realization that this one project benefited many different stake holders.

The City saw the opportunity to enhance public services and dramatically reduce the cost of delivery. The digital divide gap would be drawn much closer, creating universal opportunities for the community, small businesses would benefit from improved connectivity and reduced cost, educational institutions would be able to enhance learning and visitors would have more opportunities and choices.

Not to mention providing unique services, like ambulance telemetry, enhanced first responder support, filing in-field inspection reports or a better real-time passenger information system instead of Chapel Hill’s expensive and flawed NextBus deployment.

I’ve held up St. Cloud as a model (“Wifi for a few dollars less…”) for what we could do in Chapel Hill. That is if we had the leadership and foresight to forge ahead.

Last year, unlike most other Council candidates who wanted to reactively deploy our additional police resources downtown in a show of force that was more “feel-good” than strategic, I called for enhancing our forces expertise in “gang management”.

For the last few years, gangs, mostly from outside our community, have been involved in some of the worst incidents our force has faced. While it’s speculated that the recent Avalon shooting might be gang related, we know for sure that the shootings during this years After Chill (after Apple Chill) were associated with gang activity. Developing expertise now would be both tactical and strategic.

Well, earlier this year we put the extra-forces downtown sans gang management support. Troubling.

The good news is that as of today “the Chapel Hill police will focus on developing gang expertise among certain officers.”

Chapel Hill’s Capt. Chris Blue says that while we don’t have an epidemic, just, to-date, a presence, the force will take steps to pro-actively address the gang issue. I met Capt. Blue during this Spring’s WCHL Downtown discussion (where I once again brought up the gang issue) and was impressed by his desire to “work the issue”.

More from today’s N&O.

Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour; a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides.

Time makes more converts than reason.

As a long and violent abuse of power, is generally the Means of calling the right of it in question (and in Matters too which might never have been thought of, had not the Sufferers been aggravated into the inquiry) and as the King of [America] hath undertaken in his OWN RIGHT, to support the [Congress] in what he calls THEIRS, and as the good people of this country are grievously oppressed by the combination, they have an undoubted privilege to inquire into the pretensions of both, and equally to reject the usurpation of either.

Thomas Paine (abridged) – Common Sense, Philadelphia, February 14, 1776, 3rd edition

Five long years of depredations to both our Constitutional freedoms and to our Nation’s good standing, one may hope that Time makes more converts than reason, for reason alone has not yet won the day.

Practicing “moral mischief”, the President’s men, steeped in treachery, subscribing to ” professional belief to things they do not believe”, have “corrupted and prostituted the chastity” of our nation’s mind and prepared our country for the commission of heinous crimes antithetical to its founding spirit.

Leading up to this anniversary, confounding all good sense and common reason, our mad-ministration continued to lie about their call to war, to justify cruel and unusual punishments, to undercut or abolish acts under which they might eventually be punished, to pervert the course of justice – all in an effort to tighten their grip on their dissipating power.

Today, a day we should honor the sacrifice of our citizens by celebrating the highest ideals of democracy, our President shamelessly wrapped himself in an ash stained flag – and feebly tried to resurrect his waning fortunes by justifying his race towards tyranny in pursuit of the noblest of causes – freedom for all.

Yet, returning true to form, our modern-day Janus once again condemned those that rightfully question the accelerating mischief, misery and death he and his ruling party have caused. Forgetting a previous President’s admonition that those who question power are indispensible, “for they determine whether we use power or power uses us.”

His and his cronies’ calumny should not, must not, stand.

Yet, in the last five years, as the 4th estate floundered and the electorate wavered, so many slights – large and small – have gone without due reckoning. Weariness melds with a sadness borne of watching our hard-earned freedoms and worldwide goodwill slip so easily beyond our nation’s grasp.

Fortunately, the deepest and darkest of shadows serve to concentrate our attention on the merest flickers of light

Yes, what my generation earned too lightly, we’ve esteemed too little. But now we’re blessed with a clear distinction and sharp contrast between two futures: a declining fascist state of Amerika or “a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.”

Remembering that “those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must…undergo the fatigue of supporting it”, to honor this day, I’ll continue to try to be Paine’s man that “smiles in trouble”, “gathers strength from distress” and “grows brave by reflection”.

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