Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Public hearing on "no dogs" house SP proposal is less than one week away, and still no word from the developer on any changes

Recently I wrote about the notice sent out in Salemtown about the rezoning request for the "no dogs" house on 6th Av. N. Since that time the association got to meet with the primary in the project, Clay Haynes, to ask questions and make comments. The request is to rezone to "SP" or "specific plan," which allows the community to have influence over the project.

The business meeting was generally productive. I expressed my concerns about stormwater run-off, which has been a problem between 5th and 6th where I live for as long as I've lived here.

I also followed up with the this email to Salemtown Neighbors president, Freddie O'Connell:

I do not have any reservations about the dwelling design and I am grateful that he is making every effort to preserve the 115-year-old structure. I agree with those who make preservation a priority for this development.

That said, I also understand that the building was originally built as a duplex and I do not have a problem with it being renovated as a "multi-family" dwelling. However, if the association has any concerns about density, I would support SNNA in limiting the plan accordingly.

My greatest concern is with stormwater run-off. Except for the 1898 structure and sidewalks, the entire property is currently greenspace. That greenspace soaks up rather than sheds rainfall. There is a slight berm at the back of the property that also retains and diverts stormwater.

The plan proposes to pave approximately half the greenspace and level the back so that cars can access parking at the alley rather than on the street in front. That is going to create a higher volume of stormwater not being retained on the property but rather flowing downhill, across the alley and into our yard ... (as well as a property next to ours). Parking 4-8 cars on an impervious surface will also send motor oils and other fluids into the alley and the adjoining yards during storms.

I would like to see the association ask Clay to develop a detailed stormwater retention strategy as part of his plan, using retainers (for instance, stone borders or walls on slopes), rain gardens (which filter toxins as well as retain water) and pervious concrete or permeable stones in the parking lot with spacing for water absorption in the underlying soil. Given that we are so close to the river, these elements would aid in keeping 4-8 times more pollutants out of the Cumberland via alley and street run-off.

I understand that Clay's proposal meets stormwater requirements, but specific plans are negotiable above and beyond the baselines Metro sets. Besides that, after living here for a decade, I have found that stormwater requirements have not always been sufficient to address run-off, pooling and flooding between 7th Av and 4th Av.

I appreciate the association's support on this quality of life issue and I hope that Clay will write limitations on paving materials into the specific plan. If he does so, I will not oppose it in the future either in community meetings or at public hearings, unless the association has other concerns that require my support in those venues.

At the meeting, the members seemed amenable to my concerns about run-off. So, I hope to see some restrictions written into the SP to protect our interests.

I cannot find the proposal or planning analysis on the proposal on the Metro website, yet, but the Planning Commission public hearing on this proposal is less than a week away: September 25, 4:00p, at the Sonny West Conference Center, 700 2nd Av. S. I am hoping to hear something before then, because I plan to be at the meeting to express my concerns.

UPDATE:  Planning department officials tell me that the planning staff analysis of this proposal will not be posted online until next Friday at noon. So, we will essentially have only a couple of days to look over what Metro Planning presents to the planning commission before the latter votes it up or down after Monday's public hearing. There has got to be a better way to inform neighbors affected by the plan on 6th Av. N. The developers have all of the knowledge way ahead of the public hearing and thus they enjoy a distinct advantage over neighborhoods.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Today is the one month anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown and none of Nashville's mayoral candidates have put forward policy ideas on police brutality and militarism in black communities

Photo credit: Al Jazeera America
One month ago today Michael Brown was shot dead by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer. It was an infamous event that ignited anger and concern around the nation. There were mass protests around the country, especially after militarized St. Louis County police cracked own on organized local demonstrations. Social media coverage blew up and forced city politicians hundreds of miles from St. Louis to deal with the fallout. The federal government is currently investigating how police handled the shooting and the social protests with the possibility that any militarized police force that has used military weaponry against protesters could be forced to return the grants.

In late August local congregational leaders in Nashville sponsored a standing-room-only town hall meeting in North Nashville marked by unease, consternation and qualified support for Nashville's police department, their double standard toward non-white communities and their own military arsenal gained through federal government grants. Police officers were prompted to account for the ways they have used military weaponry in service of the public.

That meeting was attended by the candidates who have announced their desire to take over the Mayor's Office next year. One would think that after Ferguson shook the country and after the shock waves were felt in Nashville that this all-white slate of candidates would be articulating some kind of policy options for checking militarized policing in Nashville. Maybe I have not looked in the right places, but I cannot tell that they have proposed any changes to the Nashville status quo. Maybe they believe the don't need the votes.

I searched local news feeds.

And I looked at their websites. This is what I found there as of today.

School reformer Jeremy Kane is otherwise a blank slate. He says nothing about his policy ideas on the issues, preferring "to hear" your ideas for Nashville on his website. He has an air-brushed PR video on the main page that basically retreads Karl Dean's three-headed campaign hellhound: education, law enforcement and economic development. He adds reformer jargon to public education like "collaboration," which is typically code for "privatization" (subsidizing private enterprise with Metro revenue that would otherwise be used for public programs).

I cannot find any evidence that candidate Kane has said a thing about policing Ferguson or the militarization of police forces. Does he believe that charter schools are the answer? He attended the August 21 town hall meeting on Jefferson Street, but his only response to that was to thank the organizers of the event on Twitter.

Megan Barry has gone farther than Jeremy Kane in giving some detail to policy questions on her website, but those details do not seem to be updated in the last month with all of the unpleasantness arising from the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson. In her public safety meditation, she vaguely refers to the justice system "treating everyone the same". She makes no specific reference to racial inequality when she fleshes out what she means by that. She says nothing about curbing the excesses of police militarism and brutality even as she touts her council votes in support of increasing the number of cops on the streets, which is only a good thing if cops are treating everyone even-handedly (as we heard at last month's town hall, they are not).

Candidate Barry offers no indication that she supports citizen advisory committees to watchdog the actions of police armored to the hilt with weapons of war. And I have already pointed out that she seemed to deny that the injustices of Ferguson are likely to happen in Nashville based on nothing but a metropolitan structure of government. As if individuals who work for Metro government cannot make bad decisions.

For his part, Charles Robert Bone has been quieter than the rest on the question of race, police brutality, and military toys for cops. Mr. Bone seems satisfied in his website comments with the direction Nashville has taken on public safety, and so I am growing to expect little illumination from him on how he would address policing problems that affect North Nashville more than other parts of the city.

So, we have three candidates for the county executive seat, none of whom have committed any public promises that they will order policies that protect communities from militarized police. A month after Michael Brown was shot dead (according to witnesses with his hands in the air), weeks after the protests shook our country and North Nashville held a town hall meeting, how can Jeremy Kane, Megan Barry, and Charles Bone remain unaccountably quiet on what they might do to forestall the repercussions of these troubling times? How can they vie for the most powerful seat in Nashville without any clear ideas for preventing Ferguson from happening in Davidson County?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Developer seeks community support for Specific Plan on historic structure in Salemtown

The "no dogs house" (1604 6th Ave N) is a well-known structure in Salemtown and over years there has been a regular buzz over what was going to happen to it once someone bought it for redevelopment. It is one of the oldest remaining homes in the neighborhood, but it fell into disrepair over the past few decades.

The following Metro Planning post card grabbed our attention over the weekend:

I was interested in learning more about what was going to happen to the old house, so I followed up with the planners, who replied that the developer plans to renovate (as in, "not demolish") the structure and build new additions to it. They sent me the preliminary specific plan:

Salemtown Neighbors neighborhood association has a business meeting tonight at 6:00 at the Morgan Park Community Center. Their agenda includes a discussion of the rezoning plan with the developer. Any time a "Specific Plan" is proposed by developers, they are required to get community feedback and incorporate it into the plan. The feedback can involve anything about the plan: density, size, design, infrastructure, stormwater impact, continuity, etc. The community meeting process with developers for SP is critical, so I expect meetings like the one tonight to be very important to those of us concerned about our quality of life.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Recap of last night's North Nashville town hall meeting on concerns about police after Ferguson

Last night I left my daughter's school orientation events early to attend the "town hall" meeting at Mount Zion Baptist Church on Jeff St. I arrived 30 minutes before it was supposed to start. That was a good thing because the pews of the sanctuary were nearly full by 7:15. They had an overflow crowd in their fellowship hall in the basement to watch a video feed.

There was a panel of African American community leaders and Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson. Those are the folks who did most of the speaking. Police commanders and other cops filled the choir loft while the candidates for mayor and other elected officials not on the program sat in audience at the front.

Meeting organizer, Bishop Joseph Walker, told the audience that the Mt. Zion meeting is the first time in the US that the protests over Michael Brown's death have moved out of the street and into a building for discussion with police and other leaders.

I sat next to a woman from South Nashville who told me that the event had been announced in church at Mt. Zion last Sunday. As far as I know, the mainstream news media did not announce it until Wednesday. What kind of crowds would have shown up if the announcement had gone out across the city over the weekend?

The predominantly white mainstream print and broadcast media looked like it was in full force, so you can probably read or listen to major details and talking points any place today. I'll stick with my own impressions here.

The first thing I have to say about the meeting was that it was a bona fide town hall complete with comments and questions from the audience. It was not a faux community meeting along the lines of the Mayor's bus rapid transit plan or a planning meeting where the only way you can have your questions answered is if you write them down on a permission slip. It was not a NashvilleNext "lounge" designed to lure hipsters and Millennials. It was unadorned, free-style, old-school town hall, which was fine with me. Democracy is messy business.

Beyond meeting logistics the takeaway for me is that Chief Steve Anderson was the main focus of the meeting. I was there until about 8:45 and Chief Anderson took the brunt of questions from the panelists and from the audience on what Metro cops would do if faced with the same events as they unfolded in Ferguson and on how Metro Police are working internally and with the community to prevent racism and brutality.

His department received praise, criticism, questions and notes of caution.

He handled himself serviceably. And I got the impression from audience and panelist responses that people were satisfied with his answers. Chief Anderson opened his comments with a list of mistakes he thought Ferguson police made, the most important one: failing to diffuse the situation two weeks ago when Mike Brown was shot dead (to be specific, he was shot six times, twice to the head) by a cop and kept in the street for hours afterward. The chief also said that not releasing shooting officer Darren Wilson's name immediately was a lapse. "Within the hour there should have been a statement," he told the audience. He described the way that the police handled the aftermath as appearing to be a conspiracy. He argued that they should have been more transparent from the beginning.

However, his ostensible list of mistakes did not include any mention of use of military equipment by police in protest situations. I was troubled by that.

In his comments on how the police would handle protests after police shootings, Chief Anderson told the audience that his department would meet with community leaders before the protests in order to cover organizing and coordination. He said something about "wanting to be with" peaceful protesters. He said that he would allow protesters to break "some of the law" by marching in the streets as long as community leaders understood that the police would maintain order at the end of the day.

Again he had the opportunity to address the use of military weapons on innocent protesters, but did not.

Finally, after a representative from Pacify Nashville read off a list of military weapons that Metro Police could use on the community, Chief Anderson spoke to the problem; but only after he read a list of the ways that military equipment had been used in the 2010 flood and in other emergency situations to help people in distress. It came across to me as dancing around the problem. The real issue here is that the weapons are designed for the battlefield. The possibility of using them against strikes and marches flips social protest to war. They were not designed for less grisly pursuits.

The police chief said that he would not use military equipment in the community "unless absolutely necessary." He only elaborated by saying that police would use it to protect property and life. Then again, the St. Louis County cops would probably argue that they only used it because it was absolutely necessary to protect Ferguson property and life last week as they were gassing residential areas from armored vehicles. The Pacify Nashville rep asked him point blank and the police chief seemed to be reserving the right to use them. Can you imagine a natural disaster where sound cannons like the ones used to drive away Ferguson protesters would be needed by the Metro Police? I cannot.

You can jump to a list, culled by the New York Times a few months ago, of the $4 million in military toys Metro Police has to play with. It is one thing to have an armored truck for use in authentic hostage situations; it is quite another to own a $600,000 "mine-resistant vehicle" and to reserve the right to use it to protect property during social protests. When was the last time Metro Police had to deal with mines?

In the end, I was left with the impression that we are just supposed to trust that the police won't viciously use the military weapons according to the purpose for which they were made. Is trusting the police good enough for the North Nashville community?

UPDATE: Pacify Nashville posted a video of the question they posed to Steve Anderson as well as his response. You will see that as Pacify Nashville read the list of military weapons in the question, gasps and shouts from the audience became louder. After Pacify Nashville asked Chief Anderson to define "strikes and riots" as situations that allow military weapons to be used, the audience applauded in response before the Chief's reply.

Clearly there is great concern in the community about weapons that allow police to scale up police brutality with military weapons. Military weapons do nothing to promote community policing and civil contact with neighborhoods. If there is a committee formed between the police and local citizens in the aftermath of Ferguson, it needs to come up with proper guidelines on the acquisition and use of military weapons by police departments. At some level, Metro Police will have to demilitarize if they want to earn the trust of the community.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Megan Barry should explain her claim that a consolidated government helps Metro Nashville avoid a Ferguson-like tragedy

In the only statement I have seen from mayoral candidate Megan Barry on the implications of the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO and the resulting protests and police crackdowns in St. Louis County, she tweeted the following with a link to an Atlantic article on city-county consolidation:

Good piece @CityLab on city/county gov't. Nashville isn't perfect - but consolidated gov't helps.

Helps what? Helps make sure that African-Americans in Nashville get more equitable opportunities? Helps make Nashville less racist? Helps to keep police from turning their powerful military-style weapons against nonviolent protesters and innocent neighborhoods?

Reading the Atlantic piece sheds little or no light on what Ms. Barry is driving at. It claims that consolidated government would "knock down some of the structural barriers that prevent black residents in St. Louis County from succeeding." How has the consolidation of Nashville and Davidson County knocked down structural barriers? Before April 1, 1963 (when Nashville's consolidation became official) one of the most dramatic revolutions in Nashville history occurred when Nashville desegregated. It was in no way facilitated by consolidated government.

Instead, the Nashville sit-ins emerged, lead by young African-Americans--trained in non-violent tactics--who challenged segregated lunch counters by sitting in "Whites Only" areas. They were beat up by violent white mobs and then arrested by the Nashville police. They resisted without returning the violence. They tactically refused bail. As more waves of demonstrators filled up the jails, other African-Americans engaged in a crippling boycott of Downtown businesses.

The climax of the sit-ins occurred after the home of African-American Alexander Looby, who lived in North Nashville, was dynamite-bombed. The next day a large number of Nashvillians marched to the courthouse, where they were greeted by Mayor Ben West, a moderate who had before that day had left questions of segregated lunch counters to storeowners. In a dramatic moment sit-in leader Diane Nash asked Mayor West if he thought segregation was wrong. Mayor West responded: " I appeal to all citizens to end discrimination, to have no bigotry, no bias, no hatred." Taylor Branch tells the rest:

"Do you mean that to include lunch counters?" asked Nash, pressing the issue. She was standing face to face with the mayor. Her bravado hushed the crowd into silence.

"Little lady," West replied trying to be genial, "I stopped segregation seven years ago at the airport when I first took office, and there has been no trouble since."

Nash bored in relentlessly, "Then, Mayor, do you recommend that lunch counters be desegregated?"

West, a moderate white politician skewered in public before an emotional crowd answered the crucial question with a single word, "Yes." This drew cheers.

A short time thereafter Nashville businesses began to desegregate.

Consolidation was still 3 years away. What helped Nashville in 1960 was not unifying city and county governments. What helped Nashville was a disciplined protest movement with a clear strategy, practiced tactics and a willingness to suffer for their cause. What helped Nashville was an economic boycott that brought business leaders to their knees and forced them to see change as progress. What helped Nashville was a mayor who when cornered saw the wisdom of embracing the people's cause, which was also the just cause (even if he continued later to equivocate as moderates do). What would a Mayor Barry be willing to do to help take such a step?

What also helped Nashville was a national context: a movement that would leverage federal laws making segregation illegal. But before Nashville became the first US city to consolidate, it became the first southern city to desegregate. The disciplined non-violent action against segregation at lunch counters and movie theaters continued up through the year of consolidation until the next year with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (making desegregation the law of the land). So, how can Ms. Barry claim, without explanation, that "consolidated gov't helps" keep us from becoming St. Louis County, where racism still seems to have a free hand?

Frankly, the Atlantic piece she calls "good" seems to be using the publicity of the Michael Brown slaying and the situation in Ferguson to draw the frenetic traffic of the last 10 days to arguments that the author deeply holds without real connections to breaking news. As a result I do not find the article compelling. It provides practically no comparative evidence for judging whether events in Ferguson are more likely to happen because of unconsolidated St. Louis instead of consolidated Indianapolis. It makes the bizarre claim that poor people in Ferguson are more prone to predatory lending. As if they are not in cities with consolidated government, like Nashville?

The number of payday lenders has exploded in Nashville as have the campaign donations those lenders give to council members, mayoral candidates, and people running for the General Assembly. If our consolidated government "helps," as Megan Barry claims, how do so many predatory lending outlets charge poor Nashvillians such sky-high interest rates while lining the pockets of powerful politicians? Davidson County no more makes consumer protection from predatory lending a priority than St. Louis County seems to. Is Ms. Barry indicating that she might use consolidated government to regulate the lenders? That would be a breath of fresh air after Karl Dean, who once crowed: "The less regulation of business we do, the better."

I do not have any objections to the concept of consolidated government. It does a lot of good things for Nashvillians. I would not want the separation that plagues St. Louis.

By the same token, I believe that candidates for the Mayor's Office should formulate clear ideas on how they would govern in a crisis like the one in Missouri without reaching for rationalizations just to make us feel better that we are not like them. Ferguson is preying on the minds of many Nashville voters. We should expect clear answers from candidates; not convoluted references to consolidation designed to make our city seem sheltered against prejudice and military-like crackdowns.

Consolidation did not save Nashville from segregation. Why would it shelter us from resegregation?

UPDATE: The Mt. Zion Baptist Church Facebook page announces:

a town hall meeting to discuss the recent Ferguson, Missouri, riots and launch Nashville Unites, an initiative with the following objectives: 1) foster dialogue between police and citizens; 2) propose a community liaison program between precincts and their communities; 3) develop youth leadership; 4) highlight Mt. Zion’s mentoring program for adult men; and 5) commit to follow-through on all initiatives so as to build trust and ensure a more peaceful city that is a national model for collaboration

I am hearing that Megan Barry as well as other candidates for office have signed on to participate. I appreciate that they have put their "ice bucket challenges" on hold long enough to respond to pressing matters that concern the actual responsibilities of a mayor. Maybe we will get some substantive answers from her on what if anything consolidation has to do with stopping police brutality in underrepresented communities. The mayoral candidates are coming to North Nashville.

UPDATE: According to a commenter below, Ben West's historic encounter with Diane Nash happened somewhat differently than the way Taylor Branch reported. The Nashville Mayor was said to be speaking out of school on his role in integrating the airport:

On the steps of the courthouse with Diane Nash and Mayor West that day was Rev. C.T. Vivian. When West proclaimed to have integrated the lunch counters at the airport, it was Rev. Vivian who reminded the mayor that it was President Kennedy who had integrated the airport as this was federal property. West tried to take credit for something that he had not done as to appear that he had been supportive of the cause. After Vivian called him on it, and Nash put the question to him again, the mayor searched his heart and agreed with Miss Nash. (Heard Rev. Vivian tell this account himself).

Go to the comment section to read the rest of her or his thoughts.