May 2007

I’m a registered Independent.

OK, OK. I know there is no such thing as an Independent designation, just unaffiliated.

Unaffiliated. Indecisive. Indifferent. Uncommitted. Uninvolved. Fence-sitter. Don’t care.

A truly perverse bit of political framing.

I hope my occasional contributions to the local debate (CitizenWill , OrangePolitics, SqueezeThePulp, the Daily Tar Heel, the Chapel Hill News) and my willingness to take principled, though sometimes unpopular, stands on local issues demonstrates a small measure of care and commitment.

For years I’ve worked to elect Democrats. Dropped a few bucks here and there for a few of their more worthwhile national candidates. Sat polls for the local Orange County party. Contributed oodles of time to their and other affiliated organizations’ efforts to Get Out The Vote (GOTV). No plans to stop those efforts anytime soon.

But I am no Democrat (I was once). And I am no Republican (never have, never will be).

Heck, don’t try to graph my position on the one dimensional line passing through the Democrats Right to Republicans…. I, like many other local folks, exist outside these parties calculus.

I don’t know why three folks chose this week, from the many other recent weeks of Democratic disappointment, to ask me how to switch their party affiliation.

Maybe it was the recent reversal on Iraq or just the steady dissipation of last November’s promise.

Why me? I’m certainly not trying to “recruit” Independents. Sure, I haven’t been reserved in expressing my dissatisfaction with our local Democrat US Representative. They each knew of my efforts to open the local political scene to Independents via non-partisan elections and other voting reforms.

And I’ve been quite open about my status.

When, during my 2005 run for Town Council, a few local political operators counseled quiet discretion – suggesting talk of my non-affiliation would lead to a loss of stalwart Dem votes – I countered that to do so would not only be against my own tenets but promulgate the ruinous myth that folks are only capable of selecting representatives that fall along a one-dimensional political axis.

They might’ve been right. I did lose.

There is safety in numbers. Yet change springs from the outliers. And in today’s United States, it isn’t too far from “united we stand, divided we fall” to “deru kugi wa utareru”.

If you would like to lose your affiliation, either Republican or Democrat, or register to vote under any flag, the procedure is easy:

  • Review the instructions here.

    If you wish to change your party affiliation, you must complete either a Voter Registration Application Form (downloaded from address above) or complete the reverse side of a Voter Registration Card that has been mailed to you and return to the Board of Elections. All changes must be either postmarked or received in the Board of Election’s office at least 25 days before the election.

  • Download the registration form here [PDF].
  • Emancipate yourself from either of the two currently recognized parties.

Scared? You don’t have to go totally “cold turkey”. You will still be able to play some of the old game, for instance voting in either party’s primary. Initially, in many ways both large and small, you’ll feel stuck on the sidelines – constrained to vote for choices you wouldn’t have made, for flavors as close as Pepsi to Coke.

At first you might feel a little light-headed drifting above our current political Flatland. Navigating the multi-dimensional political reality we all currently occupy, whether we appreciate it or not, without the constant tether of partisan loyalty is heady stuff. Don’t panic! After a while, the relief of free agency sets in.

Still, though shorn of your party’s old baggage, paralyzed by its intransigence no longer, you leave one burden for another.

Sorry. Independence doesn’t mean “indecisive”. It doesn’t mean “uncommitted” And it certainly doesn’t mean “don’t care”.

Yesterday’s Carolina North outreach, once again, was heavy on promises – the vast possibility of grey goo, the escalating energy efficiencies of blue sky projections – light on details.

As a NC taxpayer, I’ve been waiting for UNC to produce a real, updated business plan reflecting 2007’s economic realities. Hey, we’re plunking down billions at the Carolina North craps table – it would be nice to have a quantitative, verifiable analysis of the project’s risk-reward profile.

Chancellor Moeser, you owe us NC taxpayers a reality-based report on our expected rate of return for our vast collective investment.

And, please, not another self-serving 2004 Market Street Services economic impact analysis report [PDF], which, to be charitable, was a fluffy confection spun from dreams of an enduring legacy, chunks of ad hoc economic observations and community boosterism of the worst calibre.

Your Carolina North quarterback, Jack Evans, reset the economic expectations yesterday (May 29th). Your team, with barely two months left of your self-imposed deadline, will have to drive hard to produce a believable economic impact report.

To give a small bit of perspective on how far we’ve come, here is UNC’s May 25, 2005 PR trumpeting the benefits of Carolina North:

Study shows Carolina North will be catalyst for jobs, tax revenue

CHAPEL HILL – Carolina North, the proposed living and learning campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will generate 7,500 local jobs and about $48 million in annual tax revenues by 2020, according to an economic impact study released today. It also has the potential to position Carolina as a leading national center of research and public-private partnerships, according to Market Street Services of Atlanta, which conducted the study for the university.

“Carolina North will expand Carolina’s multiple missions, boost innovation and redefine our engagement with the region, state and world,” said University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser. “The great news from this study is that Carolina, through Carolina North, can continue to be a catalyst for the economic transformation of our state.”

The Carolina North draft conceptual plan outlines concepts for mixed-use development at a 900-plus-acre tract of UNC-owned property one mile north of the main campus off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (formerly Airport Road). The draft plan proposes to develop only about 25 percent of that total site over the next 50 to 70 years. Carolina North would include classrooms, labs, housing, schools, community spaces, offices and limited commercial space in a campus-and-village setting.

Carolina North would attract private companies to Chapel Hill to partner with university faculty to transform faculty research into products and

services to improve quality of life. Public-private partnerships would allow the university mission to grow at a time when state and federal funding are no longer growing at previous rates.

The Market Street study will be presented at Thursday’s (May 26) meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees. The study includes analysis of the projected economic impacts at the end of the project’s second phase (15 years) and at full build-out (50 years).

Other study highlights include:

· In the first two phases alone (15 years), the gains in the local and state economies reflect similar numbers to a medium-sized firm building new headquarters in the area year after year.

· By the end of phase 2 (approximately 2020)

Tax Impact: About $48 million in tax revenue annually
$26 million in state income tax
$14.6 million in state sales tax
$2.8 million in local sales tax
$5 million in property tax

· Employment Impact:

7,500 full-time, ongoing jobs (non construction)
$433 million in annual salary and personal income
8,876 construction-related jobs
$353 million in salary and personal income (construction)

· Business Revenue:

$600 million in annual business revenue (non construction)
$979 million in business revenue (construction)

Plans for Carolina North are still in the conceptual design phase. Before the university can move forward to collaborate with the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro on the plans, it must resolve issues related to the university-owned Horace Williams Airport, which occupies part of the Carolina North tract.

The university announced in April 2002 that it would close Horace Williams Airport. In September 2002, the N.C. General Assembly passed legislation requiring the university to keep the airport open until January 2005. In July 2004, the legislature adopted language requiring the university to keep the airport open until an accessible replacement facility could be found for Medical Air, which serves the university’s Area Health Education Centers program.

The N.C. Senate recently passed a special provision that would allow the university to close the airport, provided that Medical Air operations have access to, or utilize, the Raleigh-Durham International Airport to serve the needs of patients, physicians and passengers associated with AHEC’s statewide programs.

The university’s Board of Trustees also will hear a report at its Thursday meeting about a consultants’ study to help the university identify an alternative site for an airport.


For a copy of the full economic impact study report, please go to:

Interviews with Market Street consultants can be arranged through News Services. In addition, for comment about the economic impact of Carolina North on the local community, reporters may call Aaron Nelson, executive director of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, at 919-967-7075.

I wonder if the Chamber’s Aaron Nelson, today, would give that report a passing grade?

Hard to believe given that today’s paucity of detail, the changing nature and scope presented yesterday and the rather obvious flaws ($5 million in property taxes? Really?) in Market Street’s Carolina North sales brochure.

If there was a theme to yesterday’s third community outreach on UNC’s Carolina North project it was “more of the same”. Same dearth of detail. Same soft sell of the economic benefits. Same back “peddling” (as in wheeling-n-dealing) on their functional commitments.

UNC Chancellor Moeser’s “quarterback”, Jack Evans, presented the major recalibration of Carolina North’s raison d’etre as a small side note during the revelation of the first increment of development.

According to Evans, the new plan projects that half the 2,550,000 million sq./ft. of development being done over the next 15 years will house extant initiatives already located on main campus, other UNC properties or rented facilities.

Prior to yesterday, Carolina North was touted as a catalyst for new jobs (“UNC-CH has plans for a state-of-the-art research campus that would bring as many as 20,000 new jobs to Chapel Hill over the next 50 years.” UNC seeks $25 million to start Carolina North N&O Nov. 16th, 2006).

Now, as far as employment, Carolina North has become a convenient place to site their currently dispersed workforce. Having said that, Evans cautioned that the balance between academic and economic development might change dramatically over time – tilting more towards academics as the necessity for moving folks off main campus increases.

In other words, Carolina North has morphed from Chancellor Moeser’s “catalyst for the economic transformation of our state” to what is really an overflow campus….

A video used to be embedded here but the service that it was hosted on has shut down.

Video of Evans and companies May 29th, 2007 3:30pm Carolina North presentation.

OK, before folks freak out, I have gotten to know the staff at the Orange County Board of Elections fairly well over the last 5 years. They’re friendly, professional and have always gone the extra mile to clarify issues/fix problems. I’m fairly sure they had no hand in the selection of this, ummmm, very white image to welcome all of Orange County’s voters to their site.

Orange County has recently spiffed up their website, making it more difficult to navigate by some folks estimation (besides making it more difficult to find contact info, having used the old site extensively for general research, I concur).

I’m sure the pictured family are fine upstanding citizens raring to vote. I’m also pretty sure I could find local analogues (maybe even doppelgangers) living right around the corner. Still, for a department interested in encouraging the greatest participation, the drama implicit in the image is rather interesting.

Four years ago I suggested we use the scheduled upgrade of our traffic system to fiber to upgrade Chapel Hill’s own communication infrastructure. May 21st, Council is prepared to approve funds. $500,000 to be exact, to move ahead with that tandem upgrade.

For a very modest cost, less, I believe, than what Council has set aside, our local government will free itself from Time-Warner’s monthly bills, increase capacity to the point of deploying new services – video conferencing, for instance – and provide a key economic incentive for information-based business.

Monday’s resolution spells out some of the initial benefits of the upgrade:

At the Town’s request, the State has approved funding in the 2007-2013 Transportation Improvement Program for rehabilitation and expansion of the Chapel Hill traffic signal system. The proposed upgrade project includes the following key elements:

  • Fiber optic communication cable
  • Closed-circuit television (CCTV) equipment at selected locations in the Town
  • New system detectors
  • Pedestrian countdown displays at locations with existing pedestrian signals
  • Replacement/upgrade of existing cabinets and controllers
  • New/revised signal phasing at selected locations
  • Emergency vehicle preemption at selected locations
  • Bicycle activated loops at selected locations
  • Transit priority on selected corridors (if desired by the Town)

The agreement also includes planning, design, and installation of additional fiber optic cable and associated hardware for Town information technology purposes. 

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) equipment at selected locations in the Town? That could be pretty creepy.

During my tenure on the Town’s Technology Board, I and others suggested the Town draft specific privacy policies covering the deployment of surveillance technology. Whether it is tracking a citizen’s Internet usage at the local library or video-taping their stroll down Franklin St., the Town must provide clear, unambiguous directives for the use and dissemination of this information.

I’ve sent our manager an email requesting more information on the CCTV usage. Even if it’s only for monitoring traffic patterns, I believe we need to establish clear, measurable guidelines for the capture and stock-piling of this information.

Ran into Bob Avery, the Town’s IT Director, on Franklin St. today. Turns out he’s surveying Downtown with an eye towards deploying a small pilot program of free Internet hot spots in the near future. The pilot would use Clearwire as the high-speed wireless backhaul. The only resources needed are power and location.

I cautioned Bob not to limit his planning to publicly owned infrastructure like the old Townhall. Over the last four years I’ve spoken with more than a few Downtown business and building owners willing to provide a small chunk of space and the minimal juice for access point deployments. BrianR and I have explored using solar-powered, weather-hardened rigs, strategically meshed to cover a wide area. If the Town used this environmentally sound and quite economical approach, the only remaining requirement is a decent position to throw signal.

Speaking of signal, whatever free access is deployed Downtown should stay off the already saturated channels 1, 6 and 11.

Knowing the free access topology of Downtown like the back of my hand, I encouraged him to consider West End, with a current lack of free Wifi access points (beyond UNC’s) and high density of public gathering spots (restaurants, bars,sidewalk cafes, coffee joints, bookstores), for the initial pilot.

That’s a few of my suggestions for equipment, deployment strategy and location, what are yours?

From the May 7th Chapel Hill Town Council agenda:

We estimate the following budget is needed to continue carrying out the implementation of the Lot 5 project in accordance with the Town’s responsibilities under the Development Agreement through June 30, 2008:

Environmental Remediation: $240,000
Construction Management Services: $150,000
Professional Services: $65,000
Peer Review Honorarium: $5,000

TOTAL: $460,000

Note how last months quote of $232,000 for environmental remediation has climbed to $240,000. Also, as I expected but not as reported by Council (until now), the anticipated additional cost of construction management ($150,000), legal and geologic services (really part of the remediation) and a reward to Dean Malecha.

I asked Council to publish a breakout of these costs several times this year. I’ve also asked for a concise listing of what we’ve spent on Stainback (the development consultant) and other services getting to this point.

Still no response.

Some on Council are getting better and better at stonewalling and running out the clock to get their way. Clever strategy if you see governance as a game. Terrible policy if you believe in an educated and informed public.

Mayor Pro Tem Strom essentially tabled my recent petition asking for the financial analysis of the remediation effort. Why? I assume to avoid what we both know – this projects costs are going nowhere but up.

Whatever analysis the Town has done on remediation or consultancy costs should be published immediately. The Council owes the citizenry a public airing of that work prior to approving this years budget and possible tax increase.

How enthusiastic would folks be about a boondoggle of a project that’s added significantly to their tax burden? Not much, I imagine. But if that’s going to be the case, Council, no matter the electoral consequences, our citizens deserve an honest appraisal.

Here are the details:

Environmental Remediation: The Town recently commissioned a Phase II Environmental Assessment for the Lot 5 site. Based on the report by Environmental Consulting Services dated April 2, 2007, we estimate the cost to the Town for environmental remediation is about $240,000. Under the terms of the Development Agreement, the Town would pay for the marginal cost of removal of contaminated soil; that is, those costs related to environmental remediation above and beyond Ram Development Company’s normal construction cost of hauling soil off-site.

Construction Management Services: In accordance with the Manager’s recommendation to Council on February 12, 2007, the Town would contract for services related to design review and construction management of the parking deck and public plaza to be constructed on Lot 5. We would potentially hire someone in the fourth quarter of 2006-07 to undertake detailed plan review. Work would continue through initiation of construction, estimated to occur in summer, 2008, and completion of construction, estimated to occur in 2010. We estimate a budget of $150,000 would be needed for these services.

Professional Services: We estimate a budget of $65,000 is needed for additional professional services, including environmental testing and legal services.

Additional environmental testing is related to the Town’s environmental remediation responsibilities in the Development Agreement. In addition to the Phase II environmental assessment, we would expect to engage a geologist during excavation to monitor soils. The requested budget would give flexibility to undertake additional tests or studies. We estimate additional funds will be needed for legal services related to negotiation and implementation of the Development Agreement through June 2007, and for additional limited services in FY 2007-2008.

Peer Review Honorarium: We propose an honorarium of $5,000 for Dean Marvin Malecha’s work related to the peer review of Ram’s proposed designs. The Town’s original letter of agreement with Dean Malecha contemplated such an arrangement (please see Attachment 1). To date, the Dean has led nine peer review sessions with Ram Development Company. Written reports accompany his pro bono work. We anticipate he will conduct one additional session later in the project design process. The honorarium would go into a scholarship fund at the NC State School of Design.

Via Council member Mark Kleinschmidt’s ‘blog, it appears we’re well on the way to Chapel Hill getting a carrot to entice developers to adhere to better environmental standards.

The new law :

Sec. 5.19. Ordinances permitting density bonuses and other land‑use development incentives for development projects agreeing to meet energy conservation carbon reduction standards.

For the purpose of reducing the amount of energy consumption by new development, and thereby promoting the public health, safety, and welfare, the Town of Chapel Hill may grant a density bonus, make adjustments to otherwise applicable development requirements, or provide other incentives to a developer within the Town and its extraterritorial planning jurisdiction if the developer agrees to construct new development or reconstruct existing development in a manner that the Town determines, based on generally recognized standards established for such purposes, makes a significant contribution to the reduction of energy consumption.

When Council first proposed this quid pro quo type approach I was excited.

Sure, smart developers would already be pursuing state-of-the-art strategies to lessen energy consumption. Savvy business folks recognize that reducing the energy footprint of a building is now a key market differentiator – that many environmentally-sound design practices actually are inexpensive. Nothing like building a premium into ones property with no negligible impact on the bottom line.

For those developers not quite as sold on the economic and ecological benefits, Chapel Hill would have this new carrot.

My excitement, though, has been tempered by recent history. With poor Council leadership, this law could allow for greater abuses in land management. Look how Strom and company forced through a new planning zone – TC-3 – allowing more than double the density and %33 more height in the Downtown area. They used Greenbridge, a development adhering to the highest environmental standards, as cover for their sleight-of-hand approval of a new policy that, I believe, many in Chapel Hill would not agree with.

In the hands of the “rah rah” growth crowd,this energy miser ordinance could be used as a bludgeon to hammer our Town into rough conformity with their “density at any cost” vision.

To protect against abuse, it is key that a mechanism be created to adopt the highest objective standards for measuring energy reductions and to design in future flexibility for adopting other “best in class” metrics to keep our local ordinance “evergreen”.

Further, there should be NO in lieu provision (something which has been greatly abused in the affordable housing arena). A developer either adheres to these objective standards to get their “carrot” of increased density or not get a variance.

Without these additional provisions, we’re facing the great possibility of more poor public policy “greenwashed” and cloaked in the rhetoric of environmental remediation.