Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Salemtown Overlay bill to be deferred

This morning around 9:30 I received an email from the executive director of Metro's Historic Zoning Commission acknowledging my concerns about Erica Gilmore's conservation overlay bill and saying that the legislation may be deferred for a month for revisions based on neighbors' input.

This afternoon Salemtown Neighbors president Freddie O'Connell announced that both supporters and opponents of the overlay mutually agreed to accept the MHZC exec's offer to defer the overlay until April. O'Connell also said that the proposal will be more effectively aligned with the North Nashville Community Plan. He announced that Salemtown properties not conforming to the conservation overlay could qualify for an urban design overlay.

These four advancements--proper forums for community feedback, conformity to the 2010 community plan, an urban design overlay, and deferral of a flawed overlay bill--have all been advocated here at the blog. So, I'm declaring a victory for those of us who have been skeptical about the overlay for a year now. I feel like someone in Metro finally heard us and has slowed down the crazy train.

Oh, and the losers here are the 2012 SNNA executive committee who defied the community plan and launched this disputable, untransparent mess to begin with.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A letter I never imagined writing to the council: opposing the Salemtown overlay

While I have opposed the proposed overlay publicly at the blog for months, I have not been persuaded to communicate my oppostion to Metro Council until this weekend. Overlay opponents approached me and asked me to join them in sending letters to council members in advance of the third reading of the bill. I certainly had sufficient reasons to consult our elected officials before, but finding out that increasing numbers of neighbors outside of the association feel alientated and angry about the overlay process was enough to convince me to send CMs the following:
I am writing to encourage you to defer BL2013-370 instead of passing it on third reading. In my opinion the bill has created more division than consensus in Salemtown because the democratic process has been disregarded in the name of passing an overlay.

I am a former neighborhood association president and co-founder of Salemtown Neighbors. I generally and in principle support overlays, but not as an ends to justify the means employed in Salemtown to make the conservation overlay appear popular or inevitable. I hope that before you approve this overlay you will ask supporters for a copy of the 2012 survey conducted by last year's SNNA officers. I think you will see that it is more of a biased push poll than it is an information gathering tool.

I oppose the overlay not because I believe it is a bad idea, but because the process has been rushed and community meetings poorly communicated. The only community meeting that I am aware of CM Gilmore sponsoring on this question was held in January. I found out about it a couple of days in advance after someone dropped a flyer on my porch without making sure that I had received the information.

Now members of the community are stepping forward to say that they only recently found out about the overlay and that they oppose it. This weekend I signed a petition against the overlay that was started on Friday. I am told it now has 50 signatures. Today a former president who supports the overlay wrote to the SNNA elist, "the meetings next week re the overlay [including third reading] are not public meetings, so please don't plan to attend".

If the overlay enjoys the broad neighborhood popularity that supporters claim it does, then where is the harm in extending the discussion so that all who feel excluded from the debate can be given a chance to speak and influence the measure?

Please do Salemtown a favor and defer the conservation overlay proposal until we can come to a freely reached consensus on where to go next. I am willing to support an overlay, but only one that is carefully constructed and inclusive of the many voices in our community. BL2013-370 as it stands is neither.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Conflicting claims about the Salemtown Conservation Overlay

Consider the glaring contrast in comments from the March 5 public hearing on the Salemtown conservation overlay (published online at YouTube):

"[We went] door-to-door to every resident owner in the neighborhood and came up...with a 90% response rate. 85% of those were clear, 'Yes'. 93% was, 'Yes, and maybe but I'd like to know more about it' .... In going door-to-door I was particularly struck by how passionately the long-time neighbors feel about the neighborhood."

-- Molly McCluer (Salemtown resident since 2010)

"We were away most of this past year in Chicago, dealing with a relative who was dying of cancer. We had no knowledge of this whole overlay until about 2 weeks ago, when we were told about it; and, it's our belief that there are many neighbors in the neighborhood who have no knowledge of this, nor do they understand what it would mean .... We've spoken to our neighbors across the street. They're both opposed to it".

-- Diana Darby (Salemtown homeowner since 2005)

Over the weekend I signed a petition opposing the Salemtown overlay precisely because the process of collecting feedback about the proposal--which seems at odds with the latest North Nashville community plan--was neither transparent nor democratic. I have never seen either any hard data or explanation of methodology to support claims from overlay supporters of high positive response rates. In fact, I have already posted a copy of the survey Ms. McClure and her supporters wrote and circulated last April underscoring its flawed methodology. To my knowledge there was only one, poorly publicized community meeting (outside of scripted Salemtown Neighbors meetings) held by CM Erica Gilmore to discuss the measure.

However, I did notice that the petition I signed--which I am told was started Friday--had about 2 dozen people who had signed it as of Saturday. That kind of negative response rate seems at odds with the overconfident claims of supporters, as does the appearance of 4 overlay opponents and 2 overlay supporters (according to my unscientific count during the broadcast) 2 weeks ago at the public hearing.

Friday, March 15, 2013

North Nashville may be a payday lenders' paradise, but it is a food desert

From the Community Food Advocates' blog:

there are currently 103,100 food insecure households in Davidson County or approximately 16.8% of the population.This includes both rural and urban residents, the elderly and disabled, and about 29,100 children ....

Four Nashville neighborhoods: North Nashville, JC Napier/Southeast Nashville, East Nashville, and Edgehill/South Nashville, are still considered food deserts

The fact that 30,000 kids live with food insecurity is shameful in a civil society. I would maintain that hunger and want have more to do with poor student performance than teachers or curriculum. Word to the reformers: you cannot innovate privation.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Here's one I missed in 2011

Now that Google Reader is shutting down, I've been going back through the stacks of stuff I have not yet read, and I found this 2011 piece by education blogger Jim Horn on the start of "KIPPster" Karl Dean's budget commitments to the charter school corporation:

No leaky roofs in the Mayor's office.
After the Brown v Board of Education decision in 1954, Southern governors and mayors spent large sums of cash to fix up ramshackle black schools in an attempt to placate African-American communities and, thus, seek to avoid the white nightmare of court-ordered desegregation.  Now a half century later, Mayor Karl Dean of Nashville is doing something similar, but this time the effort not only serves segregationists but also the corporations in need of a compliant and positivized work force that is to include a few black and brown faces that can be counted upon to keep their mouths shut.

Mayor Dean has committed almost 10 percent of Nashville Metro’s 4-year school building budget for a new segregated KIPP, Inc. corporate charter school, which lays claim to the exemplary urban penal pedagogy model that has the backing of all the oligarchs of the Billionaire Boys’ Club, regardless of whether they keep Republican or Democratic politicians in their stables.

Meanwhile, Nashville's public schools that serve the poor and the brown use garbage cans to collect water from leaky roofs and cram their kids into overcrowded and damaged classrooms.  At Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet, a high-performing integrated public school, kids eat lunch in the hallways and do not have a functioning gym.

Never mind that KIPP has unlimited funds at its disposal and more on the way, thanks to bottom feeders like hedge funder, Whitney Tilson, who beats the Wall Street bushes daily for new philanthro-capitalists looking for big tax breaks and a sure-fire way to behaviorally neuter and culturally sterilize minority schoolchildren.  Meanwhile, KIPP, Inc. spares no expense to shuttle children around to Ivy League schools under the pretense that a significant percentage of these kids will someday actually attend college at Ivy League schools.

Now that we are about halfway through Hizzoner's commitment, how does Jim's criticism hold up? Is KIPP doing anything more than resegregating public education and raking in the bling via Mayor Dean's regressive education policies? And is Metro Nashville Public Schools really doing anything better than it was before Dean's infatuation with privatizing education began?

UPDATE:  I neglected to mention in this context that Karl Dean recently lent vigorous support to a state charter school authorizer that would effectively remove power to approve charter schools from Nashville and Memphis school boards (what's the legality of that narrow focus?). Hizzoner believes so fervently in privatization that he is willing to invite the state to wrest political control from the hands of local voters, putting it in the hands of a conservative, bureaucratic state board that does not have to be directly accountable to Nashvillians or Memphians.

UPDATE: To reiterate, Williamson Co schools emphasize infrastructure over charter choices. Yet, Hizzoner believes that charter choices make Davidson more competitive.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

National Museum of African American Music abandons Jefferson Street

The intersection of Jefferson St and Rosa Parks Blvd is one of the most important intersections around Downtown Nashville, and it has been historically misused by developers and planners who treat it more as a transitional, pass-through crossroads oriented to cars and not people. As a result, the four corners of Jeff St and Rosa Parks now possess a gas-station, a drug store (parking lot in front), a predatory lender and a vacant lot. The lot had been slated to bring the intersection up with the construction of the National Museum of African American Music.

Now comes word from the Tennessean that the museum dedicated to African American culture is giving up on predominately African American North Nashville:

Organizers behind Nashville’s long-discussed National Museum of African-American Music are no longer committed to building a facility near Jefferson Street and are seeking Mayor Karl Dean’s assistance to find space in the tourist-concentrated part of downtown, ideally in the city’s old convention center ....

A museum near Jefferson Street would likely be inaccessible by foot for most tourists on Lower Broadway. Sharon Hurt, executive director of Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership, said though she previously hoped Jefferson Street would land the museum, she’s no longer sure it’s the ideal spot ....

Metro Councilman Jerry Maynard, a supporter of the museum project, called the old convention center “a fine place to have it,” adding that it would be a “boost for downtown and a boost for tourism.”

He downplayed the loss for Jefferson Street, which could benefit from the museum as the corridor undergoes a revitalization effort.

“We’ll find some other uses for that land,” Maynard said. “There’s endless possibilities of organizations or institutions that would like to be at the corner of Rosa Parks and Jefferson Street.”

Yeah, maybe they can find another payday lender, a new pawn shop, or a bail bonder to drop into that spot.

This is just another example of resources and planning efforts flowing away from North Nashville. Even the business leaders and CMs who view North Nashville as their territory are writing us off. Frankly, I believe that North Nashville leaders who are not seething at the tragic neglect driving this called audible likely have ulterior motives. The silence of "civic designers" who have drooled over the area for ballparks and charter schools is also sad. No one is standing up for North Nashville.

Maybe if the Mayor had put more effort into spreading rapid mass transit evenly around the city to places like Jeff St then inaccessibility to Broadway wouldn't be blamed for lack of commitment to seeing this 10 year project to its end where it most appropriately belongs: on Jefferson.

UPDATE: The homepage of NMAAM still has a banner mural of its concept located at the Jefferson St location. Notice the North Nashville view of Downtown on the horizon:

Might be a good idea to replace that one with a new one since they're fleeing Jeff St.

By the way, I put a post on their website questioning the decision and linking to this blogpost. I assumed when I put it up that it would be taken down immediately in order to protect their brand (and it was), but I was surprised to see several weeks of February status updates that I did not see earlier today. The most recent update that I saw earlier was late last year. Just to confirm that, here is what another reader posted in February:

This afternoon there are lots of 2013 updates.

Monday, March 11, 2013

When I read "Courtney Wheeler, top aide in the Mayor's 2 election campaigns, now heads the Office of Neighborhoods" I think ...

... "neighborhoods are nothing more than campaign stops and potential pools of human capital to help Karl Dean's acquire his next office".

Courtney Wheeler is a lawyer and political operative with no listed neighborhood-related experience that I could find. From her LinkedIn resume:

Special Assistant
Mayor Karl Dean
January 2013 – Present (3 months) Nashville
Voter Protection Coordinator
Obama for America
Nonprofit; 1001-5000 employees; Political Organization industry
January 2012 – November 2012 (11 months)
Campaign Manager
Karl Dean for Mayor Re-Elect
February 2011 – August 2011 (7 months)
Director of Special Projects
Democratic National Committee
Nonprofit; 201-500 employees; Political Organization industry
August 2010 – January 2011 (6 months)
Deputy Campaign Manager
Karl Dean for Mayor
January 2007 – July 2007 (7 months)
Political Director
Jim Davis for Governor
2005 – 2006 (1 year)
Political Director
Tennessee Democratic Party
Nonprofit; 1-10 employees; Political Organization industry
2004 – 2005 (1 year)
Delegate Tracker
John Kerry for President
Nonprofit; 1001-5000 employees; Political Organization industry
2004 – 2004 (less than a year)
Field Director TN and MD
John Kerry for President
Nonprofit; 1001-5000 employees; Political Organization industry
August 2003 – March 2004 (8 months)
Campaign Manager for Rep. Jim Hackworth and Rep. Dennis Ferguson
Tennessee Coordinated Campaign
July 2002 – November 2002 (5 months)

Yeah. I'd say the Office of Neighborhoods is probably going to be run like a high-stakes campaign war room for the next few years (generating spin control, mobilizing volunteers, serving as an early warning system for the candidate, etc) instead of coordinating effective delivery of Metro services to the neighborhoods. Otherwise, why not appoint someone who has had more experience with neighborhoods?

Hizzoner does not even project due diligence in hiring qualified, experienced individuals for Metro posts. This one oozes naked cynicism and opportunism.

Westerholm advocates uneven, unequal growth

Retorting to those who have criticized the location of bus rapid transit along affluent West End without consideration of slower growth corridors like Charlotte, CM Peter Westerholm tears a page out of the Karl Dean playbook and pastes it in the Tennessean:

I agree that infrastructure like transit can be a great driver for new development, which is needed not only on Charlotte, but also on several major corridors leading into Nashville, including from the north and south.

Transit, however, is not just an economic development tool; it connects people to work, to housing, and to entertainment and recreation. Successful systems work when people already have a reason to ride. Cleveland’s BRT system worked so well precisely because “it connects downtown to major employers.” West End has the major employers, the restaurants, the hotels, the attractions, the parks that people want and need to access.

I knew all along that Hizzoner's West End BRT proposal was intended to serve the wealthy institutions along the western corridor like Vanderbilt, the hospitals, and the hotels/tourism industry. Nice to see a council "progressive" finally concede that there is little "mass" in the transit proposal, since it was never intended to serve the masses. It is a Darwinian transit policy bent to the least vulnerable in the Nashville caste system. It leaves North Nashville in the dust of Davidson County's economic disparities.

I guess we can see that Peter Westerholm will likely never be confused with a renegade left-wing populist on the Metro Council. Liberal elitism advocates a more conservative, trickle-down method of growth, which is exactly what Mr. Westerholm opines.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Brady Banks names his "best part of the county"

The most galling dimension of Brady Banks' continued presence on the Metro Council is that he never bothered to speak a word of remorse directly to the North Nashville community for soliciting prostitutes a year ago in MetroCenter, which is alarmingly close to where we live and send our 3rd grader to school. I'm sure that CM Banks would prefer that we all just forget about his little North Nashville peccadillo and go on acting like there was nothing exploitative to see in February 2012.

In his latest email to his constituents, CM Banks gushes that he lives in the "best part of the county", which could imply, given his interest in the local sex trade, that the seedier parts of Davidson are those like ours:

Date: Tue, Feb 26, 2013
Subject: UPDATE: Villages at Holt Road proposal and Southeast Community Plan Amendment ....

Dear neighbors,

....Councilman [Fabian] Bedne and I have had a number of conversations with the Planning Dept. staff and the applicant/developer about the proposed site development. Following the three community meetings where the applicant, Planning staff, and Councilman Bedne and I were able to hear your feedback and thoughts on the proposal, the applicant for this proposal has withdrawn both their request to amend the Southeast Community Plan and their proposed development for the site.
This means that, at the March 14th Planning Commission meeting, the applicant will formally withdraw their proposal for Villages at Holt Rd. and the proposed amendment to the Community Plan. Practically speaking, this means neither item will be considered at this time .... The applicant would have to refile and go through the process of developing a proposal, applying to the Planning Dept. for any future changes, and schedule more community meetings, if they wanted to try this proposal again ....
On a personal note, I want to thank all of you for participating in this process. The planning/zoning process can be a messy one for many council members and communities. I'm proud to say that my constituents and Councilmen Bedne's went through this process and participated in an open and honest way. I couldn't be happier with the way you shared your thoughts, concerns, and with the way you communicated them fairly on this matter. We truly live in the best part of the county, with the best people ....

Brady Banks
Metro Councilman, District 4

We're obviously not "the best people" here in North Nashville, else CM Banks would have been drawn to objectify women and set a bad example for progressives elsewhere in Davidson. I just wish he would have treated our part of the county the way he would like his own part of the county treated. Surely he grasps The Golden Rule. He is married to a minister.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Could not contain my laughter on this one

The Tennessean's local beat reporter, who rarely writes a discouraging word about Mayor Karl Dean, attended yesterday's Lipscomb University panel discussion on neighborhood associations and tweeted the fawning comments of Colby Sledge (one of Cass's former colleagues who has also been a paid partisan flack and lately a public relations pro working with government agencies).

For someone like me, who has followed and documented the short but happy neighborhood attention span of Mayor Dean, Sledge's Lipscomb panel comment is over-the-top. At his very first summit with a lecture-hall full of neighborhood leaders, Hizzoner emphasized economic development as one of the primary means for dealing with neighborhood interests (cops and schools being the only others). The Mayor made no bold moves as his predecessor, Bill Purcell, had on infrastructure, smart development, or quality of life. The Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods rarely made the same splash it did under Purcell. When it did, it was drawing the ire of neighborhood leaders for giving their personal information over to the marketers of spam. Then when the 2007 election cycle hit, Karl Dean was suddenly remaking himself into "the neighborhoods Mayor", even though he had been more focused on helping big business with subsidies, tax breaks, and the largest capital project in Nashville history, which was devoted to the tourism industry.

Colby Sledge replaced Keith Moorman--who was trotted out to the Metro Council in 2010 to lend a neighborhoody rubber stamp to Hizzoner's plan to sell all but 5% of the non-flood-risk fairgrounds holdings to private developers (who have lots of bling to donate to election campaigns)--as leader of South Nashville Action People. Then came "Neighbors for Progress", a group that shot for 2,000 petition signatures to flip the fairgrounds the Mayor's way, but only got 500, and then showed themselves to be funded not primarily by neighborhoods, but influential Democrats and a 527 organization. With Sledge as its spokesperson, NFP flip-flopped on the fairgrounds question from relocating the flea market to razing the racetrack to trying to capture what council mandated as a broad community plan process. Then without skipping a beat, NFP endorsed Sarah Lodge Tally in a council district far away from the fairgrounds in what looked like a bid to give the Mayor a pocket vote 100% of the time.

Such a sliding scale of scruples should give those of us who are concerned about neighborhood issues pause.  The "emphasis on neighborhoods" Colby Sledge stresses suggests to me whatever will win for an up-and-coming red-state Democrat like Karl Dean. Consequently, neighborhoods seem simply a means to the end of greater influence and more donations with a head-fake of populism. We're in for another lean 4 years if the next Mayor treats neighborhoods as cynically and opportunistically as Karl Dean has.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Mind still not changed

Over the past few days I have met dozens of really nice people from the television soap-opera series "Nashville".

About a week ago we gave permission to "Music City Productions, Inc. 'Nashville - The First Season'" to occupy, stage, and film a short scene (maybe 30 seconds?) in an upcoming episode (16) at our home in Salemtown. I can confess that we were a bit nervous having people in and out and having one of our walls altered to fit the scene. However, I encountered people from most of the segments of the production -- location, construction, design, lighting, sound, make-up, director, producers, actors, etc -- and I found them to be gracious and easy to host.

As I told their location manager (who followed up after everyone was gone to make sure that we were completely satisfied), we were so pleased with how the experience turned out that we would welcome them back if they needed to re-shoot something anytime. And I would recommend them to any fellow Nashvillians who were considering sharing their homes as sets. The production company even responded favorably when I asked them to make a $500 donation to the Salemtown neighborhood association as an expression of good will for the disruption of closing the street to film.

Even for an introverted homebody like me there actually were fun experiences across the past few days. Listening to construction people talk about working on other film projects (like the upcoming bio on Jackie Robinson, "42"). Observing designers at their craft. Sitting next to Callie Khouri, wrapped in awe, while she studied the action on a video monitor. Listening to Michael Waxman describe how New York City is different than when he grew up there and how his daughter stops for kolaches on her way back to his Austin ranch from college. Hearing Chip Esten (a.k.a., "Deacon") laugh at our 8-year-old's notes tacked to a kitchen cabinet as he ate breakfast over our stove. Watching another actor, who plays Deacon's romantic-interest-of-the-moment, romping around our backyard with our dog between takes. It seemed all surreal, but entertaining without the show.

As fun as the ride was, it did not change my opinion that Metro government should not subsidize the network TV series. My opposition to giving the production company public money by no means indicates a lack of support for Nashville's film industry. I would like to see many more films and series made here, employing lots of people. However, Nashville the municipality still has budget obligations to the needs of its citizens first, and until the Mayor can fully fund those obligations, production companies should have to make it on their own (and they seem to me to have the resources to do so).

After our positive experience of the past week, I wish I could support subsidizing a TV series. I might have been so inclined if we had a Mayor who consistently put spending for the benefit of the masses ahead of special treatment for the few. I hardly believe that the dozens of hard-working, but considerate folks we met were undeserving of the support.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

District 19 council member listed among others on developer's "secret tapes"

Over the weekend the Tennessean reported that "secret tapes" exist that contain 40 hours of conversations between a May Town Center developer and over a dozen council members regarding his team's plan to build a sprawling "second downtown" on Bells Bend. Noteworthy is the mention of District 19 CM Erica Gilmore:
By early 2010 — when the first recording was captured — May Town leaders had turned their attention from the Metro Planning Commission, where the development had stalled in a 5-5 vote, to the 40-member council, where the project needed 27 votes for approval because of the planning commission setback.

Ultimately, the council in March 2010 voted to defer the May Town project indefinitely.

According to May’s recent filing, plaintiffs secretly recorded conversations with council members Megan Barry, Phil Claiborne, Tim Garrett, Erica Gilmore, Jason Holleman, Edith Langster, Lonnell Matthews Jr., Jerry Maynard, Bruce Stanley, Ronnie Steine, Charlie Tygard, and then-council members Michael Craddock, Randy Foster and Jim Hodge. It also cites “others.”

The parties discussed the project, speculated about votes and offered their impressions of Jack May, Mayor Karl Dean, Tony Giarratana and others, according to the brief.

The Metro Planning Commission refused in a close vote to approve the proposal, which put the burden on Metro Council to approve it only with a super-majority. The proposal was eventually withdrawn, so we do not have recorded votes of these CMs.

However, some of these council members made their opinions clear during the planning public hearing process. Here is an excerpt of the May 2009 public hearing minutes:

Councilmember [Mike] Jameson first explained that he was asked by Councilmember Barry and Councilmember Cole to include their names as part of the record as expressing their opposition to the proposed May Town Center. They were unable to attend the meeting....

Councilmember Holleman acknowledged Councilmember Matthews support for the May Town Center, however, expressed his concerns with respect to the May Town Center development affecting the entire region as opposed to only Council District 1. His district is in the pathway of connecting this development to the rest of the city and he expressed his concerns regarding its impact on District 24. He explained the work that he and his constituents have completed on the West Nashville Community Plan update and spoke of how the May Town Center would impact their transportation network and infrastructure. He also explained that he and his constituents have not had the chance to review the Traffic Impact Study recently released from RPM and would like for the Commission to allow them an opportunity to review the study and provide their comments regarding the study at the next Public Hearing scheduled for June 25, 2009. Councilmember Holleman then pointed out some of the highlights included the Traffic Impact Study and how they would directly affect his district. He requested that the Commission deny the zone change request until he and his community can further digest any impacts on their district.

Councilmember Craddock expressed his support for the May Town Center development as the project is a good quality development; and that the proposal would lessen the burden on the Nashville’s taxpayers. He spoke on the issue of spiraling property taxes and the need to seek good quality development to further enhance the City of Nashville. Councilmember Craddock then acknowledged the importance of not allowing a development of this size to adversely affect surrounding districts and to need to find the best way to implement the project for the betterment of all living in Nashville.

Councilmember Matthews .... stated that over the year, he has obtained the necessary information in which he could now support the proposed May Town Center development and explained all of the positive attributes that could be derived from the development. Attributes such as increased jobs for the area, and additional opportunities for corporate relocations to the City of Nashville .... He stated he would assist the bill as it makes it way through the approval process at Council .... As Councilmember Matthews closed, he explained all of the conversations he has with all involved parties and expressed his support for the May Town Center.

I attended that public hearing, and I do not recall seeing CM Gilmore. I am curious about what her views on the May Town Center proposal are on those "secret tapes". I am also wondering, as a constituent, whether I have a right to know what my CM says to developers about voting intentions on significant projects.