Category Archives: Politics

City of Cleveland Plays it Fast and Loose with Transportation Money

The stated purpose, by project proponents, for Cleveland’s “Opportunity Corridor,” a $350 million highway project, is to spur development on 1,000 underused acres.

That amounts a development subsidy of $350,000 per acre. Is that a good deal for taxpayers? $350k per acre. I’m skeptical, seeing as how the current value of the land could not be any higher than $100k per acre.

The city of Cleveland’s attitude though is, “it’s not our money.” So I guess the fact that it’s your money and my money and not the city of Cleveland’s mean’s they don’t have a responsibility to see that it is invested wisely, and with the greatest possible benefit to the public? Is that what “it’s not our money” means? That’s certainly what it sounds like to me, an admission that the city is not investing public money very wisely because it is not “theirs.”

The city of Cleveland routinely uses state and federal tax dollars that are supposed to be for transportation as a gift for developers, and not very judiciously, as this example illustrates. For example, the city of Cleveland built an interchange for the residents of Battery Park using state money. This $35 million project, which added highway capacity to a project that was envisioned as a highway downgrading, amounts to more than $100,000 subsidy per unit for the condo complex. This is an abuse of the system.

The big losers here are Clevelanders, especially folks that rely on transit, who will not receive their fair share of transportation resources that have instead been lavished on developers.

My friend told me recently “page 1 of the one page playbook” in cities is “the solution to everything is to transfer wealth upward, so long as the city gets a cut.” Sounds about right to me.

-A.S.

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Cleveland's "Opportunity Corridor" Fiasco in Memes

Cleveland is preparing to build a $350 million highway through some of its poorest neighborhoods. anti diabetic pills This pet project of some of the region’s elites has been cynically named “the Opportunity Corridor.” Local writer Mansfield Frazier helpfully explains the “opportunity” part: it gives “white folks an opportunity to drive to the Cleveland Clinic without seeing any black folks.”

This project stinks. At more than $100 million per mile, it’s an extravagant highway project http://cialis7days-pharmacy.com/sumycin-price.php in pharmacy symbol a state that’s out of money. It’s going to result in the destruction of 90 homes and more than a dozen businesses (the vast majority owned by minorities). It’s pretty much right out of the 1960s valtrex “urban renewal” playbook — nevermind that highways have drained wealth out of Cleveland neighborhoods for decades.

This guduchi online project was born — as all admirable projects are — imitrex online by a group of businessmen from the Greater Cleveland Partnership, including Plain Dealer publisher Terry Eggars (whose skillful handling of the biaxin Plain Dealers buy mestinon online finances should leave us all reassured.)

This whole thing is so infuriating, sildenafil citrate side effects so unjust, so Cleveland, I had to give it the meme treatment.

You should make your own Opportunity Corridor meme. Here’s a blank photo of Terry Eggars. Here’s a link to Meme Maker.

Also tell NOACA to leave the Opportunity Corridor off the TRAC list.

A.S.

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A literary triumph – “Nothing But Blue Skies” by Edward McClelland

It is difficult to describe how truly outstanding the book entitled Nothing But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland is to read. As a nearly lifelong Rust Belt resident, I can attest to the fact that Edward McClelland’s newly released book simply nails our industrial heritage, decline, and hopeful potential squarely on the head. From nationally known politicians like Dennis Kucinich or Coleman Young to the everyday blue-collar laborer toiling in our mills and factories, Mr. McClelland personifies the Rust Belt like no other book I have ever read on the subject. As a Lansing native, he has personally witnessed the dramatic (and sometimes catastrophic) changes just in his lifetime. In Nothing But Blue Skies, Mr. McClelland takes the reader on a quasi-chronological step-by-step sequence of events that shook the Rust Belt down it its very core.

From Buffalo and the loss of its competitive edge with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway to Detroit’s dramatic fall from grace following the 1967 riot, to Cleveland’s multi-decade search for post-Cuyahoga River fire redemption, to Flint, Homestead, and other cities. Mr. McClelland whisks the reader through a series of events that spelled the disaster for America’s Industrial Heartland and gave rise to its current moniker of Rust Belt.

Nothing But Blue Skies is a literary triumph that must be read by anyone who has an interest in history, sociology, economics, demographics, geography, politics, planning, environmental protection, and many other topics. Author Edward McClelland takes the best (and worst) of our post-World War II legacy and paints a tapestry of images that is very hard to put down. I guarantee that you will empathize with many of the everyday folks identified in his book, as they are exactly the same as you and I – Rust Belters.

– Rick Brown

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Filed under Book review, Brain Drain, Economic Development, Featured, Great Lakes, Headline, Labor, Politics, Race Relations, the environment, U.S. Auto Industry, Urban Planning, Urban Poverty

Gaming the Economic Development System

Once again, it appears that “build it and celebrate it” no matter the past sins (or future consequences) reigns supreme among economic developers. While hyping an announcement of more jobs and new construction in Greater Lansing, the fact that the insurance company in question challenged its property taxes using the “functionally obsolete building” scheme in 2010 was conveniently overlooked (see article in City Pulse).

Source: freep.com

If you are not familiar with the “functionally obsolete” tax game that is being employed most often by big box retailers, the claim that is made is their building is “functionally obsolete”  because it was specifically designed and built for their purpose and no other entity could possible adapt it. Needless to say, the whole argument is rather sketchy, but unfortunately, state tax tribunals have been swallowing it hook, line, and sinker. This argument might be plausible or reasonable if the structure was 20+ years old, but it is also being made for newly/recently constructed buildings. The story in the May 8, 2013 edition of City Pulse is an example of the same scheme being used for an office building. Exactly how hard is it to move cubicles, desks, and partitions?

The professional planning community needs to address this issue and fast. If a building is to become so dysfunctional (or functionally obsolete) so quickly, should it be approving for construction in the first place? And if it means the local property taxes are going to soon take a backhanded hit in the process, even more reason to deny the project unless the applicant certifies the building will be erected In an manner that is not dysfunctional (a.k.a. functionally obsolete).

Most special use (or conditional use) permit approvals require a community to determine whether the use “will not be detrimental to the economic welfare of neighboring properties or the surrounding community.” If the proposed building is to become “functionally obsolete” within ten years, no realistic or reasonable decision maker should approve its construction. Otherwise, all they are doing is losing badly at a zero sum game.

– Rick Brown

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Economic development soul-searching

The title of this post may be a bit controversial, but can also be sadly true. Far too often, it seems a blind eye is turned toward the sins of the past just to generate new economic investment. A perfect example is portrayed in the past week’s (April 17th edition) of City Pulse by an article entitled “A Tax Break Won’t Change This.” While tax breaks are being offered to GM for additional investment in Greater Lansing, a ginormous vacant parking lot blights the near south side of the city, not to mention additional deteriorated sites along Saginaw Highway on the west side of town. This case is not alone, as the Rust Belt is littered with leftovers of its industrial history – hence the nickname Rust Belt.  Is disregarding the fouled legacy of past sins what economic development is supposed to be all about? I certainly hope not.

Source: lansingcitypulse.com

Sadly, concerns about the past sins tend to get drowned out by the hype, hoopla, and hyperbole over new (or saved) jobs and investment. While those are important, they are NOT the only things that foster economic development and improve a community. Pleasant and safe neighborhoods, good schools, well-maintained infrastructure, quality public services, environmental stewardship, beautiful parks, inspired art, creative and new ideas, and many other community attributes also spur economic development. Vacant and blighted parking lots, abandoned industrial sites, polluted environment, underfunded schools and public services, and discarded communities are not the seeds necessary for sewing a healthy and vibrant economy. They are the seeds of our ultimate demise as a place where people want to live or work.

The economic development community needs to do some serious soul-searching and start to stand up for enhancing “community” in more ways than the perceived and spouted panacea of jobs which is so narrowly focused and aspired to. Otherwise, they/we are nothing more than a bunch of glorified used-car salespeople, and we know how well they rate in the court of public opinion.

Rick Brown

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Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Editorial, Great Lakes, Headline, Politics, Real Estate, the environment, U.S. Auto Industry, Urban Planning

Would Professional City Managers Help Clean Up Rust Belt City Halls?

Recently, the City of Youngstown invested calan online in a $250,000, 251-page study to review how it currently operates and how it might improve its overall efficiency (or lack thereof) in a number of areas.

Yo city hall

In addition to a review of its current operations, the study’s additional deliverable was to provide recommendations for improvement in nearly every corner of government (while also providing new ideas for revenue attraction). Which it did.

And those recommendations are important because not only

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did the study’s findings paint an unflattering picture of Youngstown’s current method of operations, but they also fire a serious warning blow across its deck: make fundamental changes or you’ll be looking at a recurring annual deficit that would lead to a combined negative balance of $44.5 million in 5 years if no changes are made.

To put that in perspective, Youngstown’s average annual income over the past 5 years has been approximately $75 million. The projected average income for the next 5 years is $68 million annually with the average expenditure total to rise to $76 million annually, due primarily to inflation and workforce costs. To that end, and according to the study, Youngstown has the highest workforce total in Ohio lioresal among cities of comparable size. It also has the second highest amount of employees per 1,000 residents. And workforce accounts for 64% of the city’s total budget.

While the report should be taken with a grain of salt because adjustments are always made annually to account for projected deficits, it does give some insight into the increasingly trending fiscal challenge Youngstown will continue to face. And, of course, it isn’t healthcare alliance pharmacy discount card alone.

This pharmacy-7days-canadian.com month, news out of cash-strapped Detroit rippled through the Rust Belt when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder ordered a state-appointed emergency manager http://cialis7days-pharmacy.com/aggrenox-price.php to overtake city operations… a city which is looking at $14 billion in long-term debt and a current fiscal year deficit of $100 million.

And that news came on the heels of the sentencing of disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who was found http://cialis7days-pharmacy.com/viagra-super-active-price.php guilty of racketeering, extortion, bribery, and fraud for steering more than http://pharmacy-online-24hour.com/periactin-online.html $83 million worth of municipal contracts to a personal acquaintance in return for kickbacks.

While Detroit’s situation is an extreme one and Youngstown’s is slightly more palatable, the overarching point is that population and tax base continue to decrease and workforce costs, services needs, and deficits continue to mount in a number of older industrial communities–at least for the foreseeable future.

That being the case and given the understanding that there certainly are no silver bullets in the Rust Belt on any front, is it time for some communities to consider proactively and preemptively moving towards City Manager forms of government?

Perhaps erring on the side of (presumably) objective and experienced management is a better long-term leadership alternative than continuing to leave increasingly difficult decision making to singular elected individuals who–given the very nature and reality of politics in community–are subjected to myriad external forces and special interests regardless of the sincerity of their intentions.

The reality of this option may be flomax laughable in some cities–though for many, maybe it shouldn’t be. Regardless, it should at least be an option worth consideration by those who understand the bigger picture moving forward and are not burdened with conflict of self-interest.

Because in places like Detroit and Youngstown, the status quo approach to managing decline has been self-evident.

And like so many other aspects of urban revitalization that force us to radically rethink our approaches, perhaps the way we govern ourselves is something that should be included.

 

–Phil Kidd is the founder of Defend Youngstown as well as the Youngstown Nation Gift Shop & Information Center in downtown Youngstown. He also keeps a personal blog (In Defense) which buy nexium discusses local issues in the Youngstown area.

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Urban Problem Solving in Ohio is Devoid of Larger Political Context

The other day I was browsing through Twitter and I came across a tweet about Columbus Public Schools’ reorganization, or “reinvention”; I can’t remember the exact term they were using, but I’m sure it was snappier than that.

It got me thinking. Because when I was last living in Columbus, and that was about six years ago now, they were doing the same thing. I’m pretty sure if we had a time machine and we could travel to the future of Columbus, one, six, 12 years down the line, they’d be at it again. Columbus Public Schools would be in the middle of some reinvention scheme.

It is, afterall, an urban school district in Ohio–whipping boy for the broader community. I have lived in almost every major city in Ohio and it’s the same in all of them. The urban school district is somewhere in the range between terrible and pretty bad. And all the major power brokers and thought leaders in town love to fret about it, how it will drag the whole region down (which is true!).

The problem with the way the urban schools problem is always framed, in my opinion, is that the problem is internal to the school district. Test scores are lousy. Graduation rates are concerning. The problem is that the district isn’t performing. And so they jigger with the number of schools–close some, merge some, reorganize some. They switch the leadership. Blaming the incompetence of the school board is a favorite activity of concerned suburbanites.

But nothing really changes. No Ohio urban school district is really bucking the trend, although, to be fair, Columbus and Toledo do perform somewhat better than Cleveland or Youngstown. Nevertheless, if there is a magic formula for an outstanding Ohio urban school district, none of them have yet discovered it. The search continues in perpetuity.

The problem is, of course, bigger than the individual organization of the school district. It is political and sociological. In a lot of ways, it’s purposeful. We have decided it’s okay to have failing urban school districts in Ohio. And these biannual campaigns help appease our larger societal guilt from a safe distance.

Schools in Ohio are funded by property taxes within political jurisdictions called “school districts,” which roughly correspond to different cities and towns, again demarcated by political boundaries. The result has been that the “haves” migrate to cities and school districts with expensive houses and effectively form exclusive public school systems that are well funded and all of their students, or the vast majority at least, come from the demographic groups that tend to do well in standardized tests. In Ohio, that leaves urban school districts with the leftovers.

Since the schools receive most of their money from property taxes, well off school districts have lots of resources and less well off school districts never have enough. The Ohio Supreme Court found this to be a violation of young people’s constitutional rights. But it has never been remedied.

In the four years I’ve lived here, Cleveland has been embarking on its second reinvention campaign, and I’m fully supportive. I voted for the 9+ mill tax levy because I think it’s important to our region. Also, I have an added interest because I live in Cleveland, right next to a public school. Heck, someday I might have kids and consider sending them there.

So I support and applaud Mayor Frank Jackson and schools’ CEO Eric Gordon.

But because the problem is a systemic one, and not an internal one, I’m not expecting a radical change–an improvement would be enough.

Anyway, it seems like so many of our problems in Ohio are of this nature. They are the result of poorly conceived and now entrenched political or policy frameworks. And nobody has the guts to attack the root causes of the problem–which are political in nature–and demand real, meaningful reforms. Because while these issues create all sorts of economic and social problems, there’s always a handful of “winners” and challenging their interests is seen as wholly outside of the realm of possibility.

So urban leaders play nice. We have these regular high-pitched campaigns to reform the schools or tackle vacancy or rebuild urban neighborhoods and the strategies are completely divorced of larger context. We have a neighborhood approach to urban vacancy–although the problem is very clearly caused by the larger regional forces of the housing market, combined with suburban and regional decision making.

These strategies and always ostensibly aimed at helping poor urbanites, the perennial political losers in Ohio, but I can’t help see them as another sort of reinforcement of the existing conditions. Because truly solving them would mean actually challenging the political structures that produce them–challenging power. And we’re just not willing to do that. What these campaigns actually accomplish is making large-scale failure palatable for a more few years.

Cleveland schools will host a dozen reinvention campaigns before they are through, I predict, each time offering earnest promises of true reform. But true reform can only come from the outside and that’s something the people of Ohio are clearly not prepared to accept, no matter how high the price of ignoring it is.

So the failure of Ohio’s urban school districts is okay, whatever the regional leaders say. We’ve all decided to accept that.

-A.S.

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