Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Metro Council hands Gulch businesses a new 700-foot luxury sidewalk at the price of over $25,000 per foot

Do you feel connected now, Nashville? You should, because the Metro Council authorized Mayor Karl Dean to spend $18,000,000 on a sidewalk ("The Gulch Pedestrian Bridge") under the pretense of "connecting Nashville." If you live in Madison or Antioch or West Nashville and you don't feel connected, well maybe ye place little faith in the words of 2015 mayoral candidate and at-Large CM Megan Barry, who defended her vote by saying that "connecting Nashville" is a "necessity." Dropping $18,000,000 on a sidewalk in a neighborhood that has sidewalks is now "a necessity."

Here is how CM Barry and everyone else voted last night with absolutely no debate for that much money to spend:

Last June during debate on an unrelated charter question, CM Ronnie Steine said:

We are as a body amongst the most responsive elected officials in the country, and that's one of the things that's special about Nashville .... this council is the great weather vane of this city. Every possible opinion in this county/city is reflected in this body at one time or another .... All positions and opinions are heard .... If you look at the quality of work in this council, it's high quality. We get hammered because we agree with the mayor sometimes .... When we agree with him on an issue .., we're not rubber stamps. We're all just reflective of what this community is working on.

Is a luxury sidewalk that connects the Gulch to downtown entertainment venues reflective of what Nashville-Davidson County is working on? Or do our communities advocate spreading the wealth equitably so that sidewalks in all communities benefit from the Metro tax base?

Keep in mind that the council approved the Gulch bridge plan only after Karl Dean committed to spending $17,000,000 in other neighborhoods on sidewalks. Not $17,000,000 per neighborhood, but spread out between competing neighborhoods. That is interesting math: for one 700 foot sidewalk, the Gulch gets $18,000,000. Everyone else gets to fight over and divvy up $17,000,000.

It seems to me that the Metro Council deserves all of the "hammering" it gets for rubber stamping the mayor because it does it dramatically more than "sometimes." Otherwise, please show me a vote against one of Karl Dean's major capital projects that either CM Steine or CM Barry has taken. With the controversy and contentiousness over the Gulch pedestrian bridge, with the blatant inequality of spending more on downtown infrastructure than in places that do not even have sidewalks, these council members had cover to vote independently, but still they chose to rubber stamp Hizzoner.

Make no mistake: they're Deanpendent.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Being a council progressive means shielding the corporate polluters

False reporting? New anti-litter ordinance won't prohibit that yellow roll of spam litter.

Less than 24 hours ago WSMV reporter Patrick McMurtry contacted me to get my views on a council ordinance to regulate the delivery of non-subscription materials to homes (like when the Tennessean throws their "free Wednesday edition", which is full of advertising circulars). He asked me to call him. I reminded Mr. McMurtry via Twitter that the ordinance to discourage the Tennessean from littering our neighborhoods was defeated in June.

I didn't blog about the ordinance in June because I was more concerned about the move to shrink the council. That is where I put all the writing energy that I had. Several years ago blogged at length about a similar ordinance that was designed to regulate the proliferation of news racks in neighborhoods, so readers can imagine my response to the latest news media hijinks.

Mr. McMurtry's request prompts me to return to the question of whether the Tennessean should be allowed to litter neighborhoods like Salemtown with paper that few people read let alone subscribe to. In June, the Metro Council voted 21-10 to kill the proposal that would have enforced our requests not to have the circulars thrown every Wednesday at our homes. Almost farcically, the council's bill would have placed stupid demands on people like you and me to stop the Tennessean litter: we would have to send our request to Gannett by certified letter and we would have to swear out an affidavit with Metro Codes that the Tennessean is violating the agreement. Who should have to do that?

In June, the Tennessean responded to the bill by making some "concessions" to the council. Those concessions included two phone numbers given to each council member providing a direct line to managers in the circulation department who would see that constituent opt-outs were being honored. Why should we need to lobby our council members to get the Tennessean to do the right thing? Again, it's adding extra steps that many people don't have time to take, especially with unresponsive council members.

Another Tennessean concession was that they would audit the distribution and opt-out lists to make sure that delivery people were only delivering to subscribers. The paper also promised to ride around with delivery people and clean up litter that had previously been left. As far as I'm concerned, those concessions never materialized. I can remember at least 6 deliveries of the "free edition" deposited on the sidewalk in front of my home since June, none of which were cleaned up by the Tennessean. All of the editions were kicked out into the street. Over time 2 were pulverized by auto traffic. The remaining editions were picked up out of the street by a volunteer last week before Germantown's Oktoberfest. Gannett/The Tennessean is not keeping their promises; the same promises 21 council members used as an excuse to defeat the ordinance.

And look at the list of progressives who voted against attempts to discourage litter in neighborhoods: Ronnie Steine, Lonell Matthews, Brady Banks, Scott Davis, Peter Westerholm, Anthony Davis, Burkley Allen, Erica Gilmore, Jason Holleman, and (last, but not least) Megan Barry. CM Barry spoke out against the ordinance, but she did not focus on the question of stopping litter in neighborhoods. Instead, she zeroed in on the bill sponsor whom she alleged was trying to force the Tennessean to write an article:

The conversation has led to some really good things that the Tennessean is doing. Having said that, I … think that this is an overreach and I am incredibly uncomfortable that we as a body would ever compel a newspaper to write a story. I heard a colleague of ours earlier tonight talk about the fact that he had actually lived some place at one point where the government could tell newspapers what to write and that was called “a dictatorship,” and I know that that’s not the intention of the sponsor here but tonight I am going to go ahead and say, “Let’s just put this to rest” and I’m going to vote against it.

On the heels of Ms. Barry's comments, CM Fabian Bedne rose to say that he was the one who related his experiences of living under a dictatorship, but he added that CM Barry's use of his own comments against this anti-litter ordinance was "missing the point." While he wholeheartedly disagreed with forcing a newspaper to write a story, he would vote for the ordinance to protect neighborhoods from "trash and litter". Phil Claiborne, the sponsor of the bill, added that he was not trying to force a newspaper story.

To CM Barry's clipped and obfuscating remarks that the Tennessean is doing "really good things," I would respond that the Tennessean has done absolutely nothing "really good" from where I sit in Salemtown. Again, folks, Megan Barry is a 2015 mayoral candidate who claims to be a progressive. How can a progressive stand with a big corporate polluter against the wishes of a community? We are getting a glimpse of what kind of mayor Megan Barry would be.

Before closing, I want to circle back around to WSMV's request for an interview. Patrick McMurtry told me that the ordinance "is back on the agenda." That is not exactly true. The ordinance on the agenda now would regulate any advertising materials except the Tennessean's. The bill's sponsor, Sheri Weiner, believes that controlling some advertising is better than none. And yet, the biggest litter nuisance at my house is the Tennessean. CM Weiner was absent from the June vote, but her bill is toothless on arrival and would actually give the Tennessean a monopoly on un-subscribed advertising litter. The council had its chance to regulate litter and they failed.

By the way, I never called the reporter back, I have better things to do with my time than waste it on a bill that would not make a dent in the Tennessean's misbehavior or on a reporter who does nothing to hold the 21 council members who voted no in June accountable for enabling the Tennessean's misbehavior. After seeing Patrick McMurtry's story, I have no regrets. My time was well spent doing something else.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Nashville Sounds act like they believe they are entitled to keep stakeholders (and neighbors) at arm's length

Nashville Scene sports reporter, J.R. Lind, has some insightful analysis on attempts to rebrand the local minor league baseball affiliate, Nashville Sounds. Of interest to those of us living in North Nashville are J.R.'s observations about how the entire recoloring and relogoing move continues to snub our neighborhoods:

Despite all the bloviating about the historical importance of he Sulphur Dell site, the Sounds have done very little to actually emphasize the history they are trying to co-opt. Most glaringly, the new stadium won't bear the name "Sulphur Dell" — naming rights' deals are a reality, I get it, but is it impossible to have called the new ballyard "First Tennessee Park at Sulphur Dell"? And now the team's color scheme will allude to a tourist strip more than a mile away rather than the neighborhood that's in the shadow of the stadium, the neighborhoods that are being directly affected (for good or ill) by the stadium?

Why, it's almost like "Jefferson Street" bears some kind of connotation the Sounds don't want to be a part of, even though the long-shuttered R&B and jazz clubs along Jefferson were Nashville sounds too, even if they weren't the Nashville Sound.

It's as if the North Nashville neighborhoods that will spread out beyond the outfield walls of First Tennessee Park are something the Sounds are trying to ignore or are ashamed of. Instead, the Sounds want to further bury the history of the site and use the neon on Broadway (or its apparently-ubiquitous burnt orange) to market the team.

So who are they actually marketing to? Touristy bros and bachelorette parties for whom Lower Broad is the be-all and end-all of Nashville and suburbanites who are far more comfortable with exposing their families to Broadway with its puking twentysomethings at honky tonks than whatever they think happens in North Nashville.

I have argued through this rebranding process (starting with council approval of the ballpark and ground breaking) that I believe that we should be judging team ownership by their actions toward the community.

They lobbied council for a new park without ever dealing directly with neighbors in community meetings. Frank Ward, who is the most visible bigshot of the ownership team, referred to engaging the community as "politics", which he would not participate in (so, he hired a lobbyist to do his dirty work). And we should never forget the infamous history of mistreatment and neglect of predominantly African American, working class North Nashville, which carries over today in more subtle ways. The shameful handling of the community planning process by the Sounds and Metro government is a legacy of that history as far as I am concerned.

So, yes, Jefferson Street absolutely does have cultural connotations that the Sounds do not want to be a part of.

"If you're leaning toward not having us, just give us a heads up
so we don't lose out on something else." - Brewers GM Doug Melvin
Photo: Melvin (far right) at Sounds'
ballpark groundbreaking last January.
In other transactions, Sounds' owners treated their now former parent major league team shabbily as part of the rebrand process. The Milwaukee Brewers waited patiently over the span of a decade for the Sounds to come to an agreement with Metro on a ballpark deal. The Sounds gave no indication that they would flip affiliation to the Oakland Athletics, but abruptly did so last month. During the span of Brewers-Sound affiliation, Oakland had 1 more playoff appearance than the Brewers did. There has been grumbling in Sacramento, Oakland's previous affiliate about declining game attendance numbers. The Sacramento River Cats preferred to go with the San Francisco Giants (which should leave Nashvillians wondering, "If Oakland is such an attractive club, then, why, Sacramento, why?")

For his part, Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin, a man with a storied reputation for player development (which has been great for his minor league affiliates over the years), says that he offered the Sounds exhibition games and financial incentives to keep the affiliation going, but he was ignored by the Sounds' brain trust.

Parenthetically, the minor league team seems intent on hitching to the celebrity of Oakland GM Billy Beane, who was portrayed by Brad Pitt in 2011's critically-acclaimed and popular film, "Moneyball". Billy Beane also has an outstanding track record on player development. However, in 2014 Mr. Beane acted more like he was the GM for the New York Yankees, trading top-flight talent in the Oakland system, like Billy McKinney, Addison Russell, and Dan Straily away for rent-a-players and win-now major leaguers. Despite giving away the farm, Oakland did not win with those trades. In fact, their season-ending collapse was one of the most spectacular in the history of their division. Billy Beane may also have traded away Nashville's future success and he came away with not a single postseason win for his trouble.

But boosters of the flip to Oakland act like this means Nashville is going to see more of Brad Pitt around the city now. We're more likely to see some mediocre baseball first. We shall see if that will be enough for ticket holders.

In all of this I see the same pattern: the Nashville Sounds ignore stakeholders affected by their self-absorbed financial decisions. They seem to make insular decisions and only pull in the powerful people who can activate the plans. This does not bode well for neighborhoods near the ballpark like Salemtown.

Back to the Nashville Scene piece that prompted this post: after J.R. Lind posted his analysis yesterday, Jason Franke, the Sounds' Vice President of Corporate Partnerships and Marketing tweeted snark at it:

Not only do Frank Ward and the Nashville Sounds act like they believe that they are entitled to do anything Metro Nashville powers-that-be and minor league rules will allow them to do, but they act like they believe they are entitled to unquestioning support from "partners," even in the news media, where a different set of ethics rule. Mr. Franke's response to the Nashville Scene was manipulative and arrogant.

There is not much the community can do to knock team insolence down a couple of notches (which it does indeed deserve), but we should brace ourselves for future dealings with the Nashville Sounds over quality-of-life issues that they generate in neighborhoods proximate to First Tennessee Park.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Now dumpsters are tiny houses, too.

Last summer I got into an email rumpus with a developer due to his lack of satisfaction with a blog post I wrote responding to a tabloid piece promoting his "tiny houses". To be clear, I did not label his builds "tiny houses". The fawning tabloid did. Rather than direct his anger at the reporter, he trained it on me for suggesting, and reasonably so, that developers ought to build a diverse stock of homes (beyond tiny ones) to attract all kinds of individuals, couples and families to neighborhoods.

He questioned my manhood, called me "delusional" and suggested that I require a lot more reading on the hot new trend of building small homes. The discussion ended with his last word.

Then I saw this article shared on the developer's Facebook page last July. It is on converting shipping containers into homes:

I can see young families with newborns and toddlers pining now for the confines of cargo containers.

But if we are truly going to be non-conformist in our bid for scaling our homes tinier, let's not stop with shipping containers. Let's do what this divorced Austin professor did and plan to live in dumpsters to prove the point. If the Millennial generation prefers tiny homes, there is no reason to believe they would reject domestic life in dumpsters. Right?

For me and mine, we will take the modestly-sized home in which we fit. We will also welcome developers to Salemtown who recognize that a commitment to diversity demands marketing a diverse housing stock. The idea of innovation ought not to be reduced to a fickle, headlong pursuit of what is hot. Tomorrow dumpsters may no longer be hot homes, but merely trash receptacles.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Nashville's most whipped, domesticated Metro Council ever

The Metro Council passed the Mayor's plan for an $18 million Gulch sidewalk on second reading tonight without a lick of the resistance they showed last winter when the proposal was expressed to them in other terms.

Besides the $2 million spending gap, there is little difference between plan 1 and plan 2. In plan 1, Mayor Karl Dean was going to give his friends in the downtown business class $16 million from everyone else's infrastructure funds to build the Gulch bridge. After council members pointed out that they need their sidewalk funds because they don't have enough sidewalks, Hizzoner came back with plan 2 a few weeks ago: $18 million collected from Gulch businesses would pay for the bridge, meaning that the money would sheltered from broad use (like to defray the cost of sidewalks in other neighborhoods). As I said before, it's a shell game played with tax money that belongs to all of us, not just to downtown businesses.

Either way, Karl Dean reserved his preferential option for the rich at the expense of the working classes who generate the wealth Davidson County enjoys.

He threw the challengers in the Metro Council some bones, trotting out his Finance Director to say that they had put more money for sidewalks elsewhere in the Mayor's budget. and would do so until the Mayor's last term is over.

His term is over a year from now. How many sidewalks can he build us in a year? And how many will not be built that could have been built in the past 8 years?

Mayor Dean bristled last April at suggestions that he might be a lame duck. Just to prove it he dangled a few sidewalks in front of this council that he should have built years ago, Naturally, they folded like a cheap suit. Maybe there was arm twisting. Who knows? I doubt it took much pain to get this project through this compliant council.

It was remarkable to watch tonight. Much like the passage of ballpark proposal a few months ago: moving quickly to minimize questions and to steamroll any attempts to even express "no" by recorded vote. Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, ever Karl Dean's catalyst, asked only for a voice vote, which does not register no votes.

Only a handful of CMs made their opinions clear, and one was mayoral candidate, Megan Barry. In unrelated events, Ms. Barry got in touch with her inner populist last month and declined to attend a campaign debate due to its posh price tag:

I was disappointed to learn yesterday that this forum will be a high-dollar fundraiser for the Nashville Business Coalition PAC instead of being an open forum with a diverse
audience. While I understand the need to cover costs of the event, I believe that Nashville needs to be an inclusive city where our community can join with business leaders to openly discuss the issues that matter to everyone.

Regretfully, I must decline to attend this event unless an effort is made to make the forum more accessible to the hard-working men and women who have helped to grow our economy and enabled our businesses to thrive.

I find it outstanding that CM Barry is finally standing up to the Nashville Business Coalition rather than appearing before them at beck-and-call as she did during her council campaigns. However, declining an appearance at a PAC's forum demands little risk. Candidates decline to appear at forums all the time. Where is the risk?

If Megan Barry truly intended to lay it on the line against Nashville's exclusive elites, she could have spoken against and voted against at least one of Mayor Karl Dean's big-ticket capital projects. But to the very end she refuses to do so. From the convention center to stormwater fee structure to Fairgrounds redevelopment, Megan Barry has persisted in her support of the wealthy over "hard-working men and women." (And the wording of her letter above is troubling: working people do not simply "help" someone else grow the economy. Their labor is the primary cause of the wealth that gives people like Karl Dean more power.) She did not depart from that path regarding the Gulch bridge.

So, how did Megan Barry justify an $18 million sidewalk this evening? By saying that "connecting Nashville" (Mayor Dean's slogan to generate public support for the bill) is a "necessity". Well, of course, connecting our communities is a necessity, but the Gulch bridge does not do that. It connects niche luxury hotels in the Gulch to tourist venues downtown with terraced seating and lots of plants. It is another tourist stop in a city of tourist stops. In places far from stylized downtown chic, parents have to walk their kids to and from school without sidewalks dangerously close to auto traffic. So, excuse me if I do not shed a tear over out-of-towners forced to cross the Gulch on Demonbreun Street's existing sidewalks. Excuse me if I do not buy bogus claims that a lone $18 million Gulch sidewalk helps Madison families. Megan Barry's insinuation that the Gulch bridge meets the pedestrian needs for more transit options across Nashville is false. To call it a piece of a larger "transportation policy" is not grounded in the reality of Nashville politics.

Her claims sound a lot like the Mayor's justification for building bus rapid transit only for west and east Nashville, while promising that neighborhoods north and south would one day--in some great, gettin' up morning--win their own BRT. And we believe that snake oil, don't we, North Nashville? Likewise, why should we ever believe that a new pedestrian bridge for the Gulch would serve anyone but the people who can afford to live and to lodge there?

As long as she rejects any resistance to Karl Dean's policies, Megan Barry's claims to aim for a more inclusive city will never materialize. She has tied her fortunes to his.

In the larger picture, CM Barry's vocal support for Karl Dean is symbolic of this docile Metro Council, which looks pathetic as a representative body at times. They do not act boldly. They do not take chances. They never ever lay it all on the line at the risk of great loss. So now we're going to get a token number of sidewalks that Mayor Dean should have built (and more) since day 1 of his first term.

Promising sidewalks to the council was the right thing to do years ago. Now it just looks cynical. And the council along with it. For the inconvenience, we are getting an $18 million bridge that most of us cannot enjoy unless we actually buy the con that downtown belongs to and benefits us "inclusively". Thus, the bridge is already built on a trickle-down lie.

UPDATE:  Megan Barry has been voted "Best Current Council Member" at the Nashville Scene. Maybe there is some pride in being the best member of one of the worst representative bodies Nashville has had.

Look, y'all. He is first and foremost "The Conventions and Visitors Mayor."

To call it "Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods" ("MOON") is inaccurate given what it promotes.