CityLedes: Replacement Refs

CityLedes: Replacement Refs

CityLedes is a weekly roundup of urban-related news happening across the country and globe, as compiled by Mark Bergen, Harry Moroz and David Sparks.

The Lede: The nation’s poorest city is shedding its remaining 273 police officers, paving the way for a non-unionized county force. A slew of cities on are on the pension hunt. Disaster it may be, but Scranton still has a delightfully booming downtown. Housing is funny, Romney’s housing plan is embarrassing. Sequestration on transportation. Detroit sanitation workers go out on a strike limb, while suburban Chicago teachers may follow. NYC’s schools are packed, Oakland’s are under the federal eye. Tourists take on traffic in Hanoi. Radio takes on traffic in Lagos. Chicago and Berlin take on tech scenes. George is an urban woodsman.

Click to jump to a topic:
Public Safety
Economy and Development
Labor
Transportation and Infrastructure
Housing
Budget
Energy, Environment, and Health
Education
Mayors and City Councils
International
Culture and Other Curiosities

Public Safety

The reason, officials say, is that generous union contracts have made it financially impossible to keep enough officers on the street. So in November, Camden, which has already had substantial police layoffs, will begin terminating the remaining 273 officers and give control to a new county force. The move, officials say, will free up millions to hire a larger, nonunionized force of 400 officers to safeguard the city, which is also the nation’s poorest.

Hardly a political battle of the last several years has been fiercer than the one over the fate of public sector unions. But Camden’s decision to remake perhaps the most essential public service for a city riven by crime underscores how communities are taking previously unimaginable steps to get out from under union obligations that built up over generations.

  • Police in Tacoma, WA are watching a Facebook page that publicizes area snitches. Miami-Dade might require an online registry for dangerous dogs.

Economy and Development

  • Scranton’s government is an absolute mess, but somehow downtown development is proceeding apace:

“I don’t think we are anywhere near saturated,” Art Russo, a Scranton building contractor and real estate developer, said as he strolled through an apartment complex he is constructing in an industrial building at 829-831 Adams Ave. “We have nothing empty. We can’t build them fast enough. If I had 20 more apartments, they would have been rented.”

There have been eight apartment developments in existing downtown buildings in the last 2½ years, Mayor Chris Doherty said.

“Are we challenged financially? Absolutely,” he said. “Economic stuff, you can get through. The downtown is truly a neighborhood now. Nobody could talk about things like this three years ago.”

Today, many of these historic buildings, with about 15 million square feet of light manufacturing space in Brooklyn, are antiquated and struggling to stay relevant. Built at the turn of the last century, many of them lack basic amenities like central air-conditioning and automated elevators. As New York City bleeds manufacturing jobs to cheaper markets, persuading companies to stay is, at best, difficult.

But the city, which owns more than one-third of the space, and private developers are revamping these properties to appeal to a more nimble manufacturing tenant. And in doing so, the buildings are entering a new era that may ultimately benefit this working-class neighborhood.

  • Occupy San Francisco is over.
  • Hotel occupancy falls in Miami-Dade. Office occupancies and rents rise in Austin.

Labor

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department workers risked jail time and the loss of their job Monday evening as they ignored a federal court order to return to work and continued a strike outside the wastewater treatment plant in southwest Detroit.
  • The teacher strike in Chicago is resolved, but there may be a few to come in its suburbs.
  • The Portland longshoremen saga continues: Within a matter of hours, negotiators avoid a lockout, the union president is convicted of blocking a train, and the longshoremen walk off the job in protest. Portland unions endorse the $482 million bond measure for Portland Public Schools.

Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Transportation for America runs down the potential impact of sequestration on transportation programs:

The heaviest burden will fall on the “discretionary” transportation programs that fund many important projects in high demand that aren’t typical highway projects: TIGER grants, New Starts transit construction, and even Amtrak.

Most of a state’s typical highway department budget comes from what’s known as formula programs, which everyone thought was protected until just recently.

Many states probably breathed a sigh of relief when the announcement was made that the programs funded by trust funds — like the Highway Trust Fund that comes from gas taxes and funds the formula grants to states — would be exempt from the cuts.

The problem with that, and what everyone seemed to forget, is that even the highway trust-fund formula programs are now getting huge infusions from general funds each year, making them susceptible to cuts. MAP-21, as you might remember, was only able to maintain the same funding level of the last transportation bill by cobbling together other sources of general funds, because the declining gas tax doesn’t raise enough revenue to cover spending — a structural financing problem for transportation that MAP-21 did not solve.

  • The response to allowing bikes on rush hour trains befuddles BART:
“I’m not going to dispute that (the results) are mixed,” said Steve Beroldo, BART bike program manager. “It’s a little tricky to interpret, frankly.”
  • A new park-and-ride lot opens in east Charlotte, while the city’s capital spending plan is held up by a debate over including funds for a streetcar line. Homeless shelters close in the wake of the Metro Seattle bus-route shake-up:

In a news release, the group said the closing of the downtown free bus-ride bus zone was “a punishing blow to poor and homeless people.” The group said that beginning Monday, it will get $50,000 worth of bus tickets from Metro, about a fifth of what it says it needs for the rest of the year.

SHARE said that by closing the shelters during the warmer weather now, it could use its allocated bus tickets during the cold winter weather.

  • A new bus line connects west Broward and downtown Miami. Washington Nationals fans might find getting to playoff games challenging, even though Metro is extending service through the postseason.

Housing

The Romney housing plan comes in two parts: embarrassing, and more embarrassing.

The divergent trends in home prices in those two cities — and the 18 that fall somewhere between — are tied to the peculiarities of each metro area and show why for all the government efforts to get the housing market back on track, such as mortgage relief programs and low interest rates out of the Federal Reserve, any bounce back in the sector has been halting and uneven.

Housing is funny. In theory, it is a small piece of the economy. Residential investment has averaged less than 5 percent of economic activity over the past 60 years and is currently a minuscule 2.2 percent of gross domestic product.

Yet it has a strangely dominant role in fueling, or even creating, economic swings and has an even larger place in the American psyche. It is the most volatile portion of GDP, almost always swinging wildly and making economic highs higher and lows lower. It is a consumer good and a financial asset: People buy homes to live in but also expect them to be a store of value over time. The mortgage loans for which homes serve as collateral form part of the backbone of the financial system, as the world learned all too well starting in 2007.

  • The Seattle City Council is likely to approve legislation for a rental registration and inspection program.

Budget

Under the new plan, spouses of retired workers will no longer be eligible for city-funded healthcare. City employees will see their take-home pay reduced in years when their retirement fund takes a hit in the stock market. And workers who retire at the age of 55 after 30 years of city employment will receive pensions that are roughly one-third the amount provided to existing employees.

The changes will only apply to newly hired civilian workers and will not affect the retirement benefits of police officers, firefighters and employees at the Department of Water and Power. It will need a second vote within 30 days to go into effect. In the meantime, the council instructed city negotiators to meet with union leaders to try to find common ground and to avert a lawsuit.

Labor leaders contend that city officials lack the legal authority to impose pension changes without first going to the bargaining table with unions. Victor Gordo, an attorney with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, said a lawsuit may be unavoidable because council members have already cast one vote on the changes.

  • Miami will continue to face an annual battle if structural problems with the budget aren’t addressed, according to experts. Meanwhile, the Miami City Commission balances the budget and lowers the tax rate:

Commissioners did, however, voice concerns about a looming expense.

In January, Miami must make a $45 million payment on a loan it took to finance its share of the PortMiami tunnel dig. The quasi-independent Omni Community Redevelopment Agency is responsible for the expense and is working to secure private financing. But with just three months to go, time is running out, and the city could end up on the hook.

Energy, Environment, and Health

  • Investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigate the whooping cough epidemic. The D.C. Inspector General reports that Adult Protective Services is failing elderly and disabled adults. D.C. hospitals will lose millions of dollars in Medicare funding over the next year. Could Broward County’s experimental healthcare system for the poor become a model for the nation?:

Conservatives love the Medicaid reform program, pointing to an in-depth University of Florida study indicating that the experiment has lowered costs while not raising consumer complaints. The Legislature has already approved a slightly modified model of the reform to go statewide. At least one national think tank believes it should be a model for the entire country.

Liberals decry the effort as a way to build corporate profits at the expense of the poor. Howard Mallinger, a Sunrise retiree, thinks they’re right. He has two adult sons with mental health problems who are in a Medicaid health maintenance organization. The HMO frequently won’t provide their medications, or is slow to approve them, causing their health issues to spiral out of control, Mallinger says.

  • How a proposal to recycle debris from Hurricane Katrina was blocked. Houston-area family planning clinics are hit by budget cuts.

Education

[A]t least until 2017 federal officials will be keeping tabs on 38 Oakland schools as they work to reduce the disproportionate suspension of minority students, especially African American boys.

Almost 20 percent of the district’s African American males were suspended at least once last year, six times the rate of white boys.

In middle school, 1 out of every 3 black boys was suspended at least once.

One lesson for struggling regions is: Don’t give up. A single top-notch research institution could invent ideas that transform an economy for generations. A critic could say: By definition, there are only a small number of star scientists to go around, so regional inequality is a given. While there is truth to that view in the short-run, it neglects the dynamism of innovation. In a supportive environment, stars reproduce through collaborations, training, and teaching. Moreover, economic growth generates demand, which both increases funding for R&D and makes its discoveries more valuable, leading to greater specialization and more stars. Meanwhile, high prices work as a countervailing force against regional inequality (e.g. high prices in San Jose and Boston have compelled tech companies to relocate to places like Portland, Boise, and Manchester-Nashua, New Hampshire).
  • New York City public school classrooms are packed.
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools add more students than was projected. The first report from Washington State’s new education school-accountability system is released.

Mayors and City Councils

City lawyers are not certain such IDs would be accepted at polling places, and the city intends to use its limited resources in other ways to help registered voters who need photo ID to cast ballots in November, said Brian Abernathy, chief of staff in the city managing director’s office.

“With limited resources, the city’s efforts should and will be focused on actions that we know will be successful and guarantee voters the right to vote,” Abernathy said in an e-mail to the PA Voter ID Coalition, an amalgam of more than 150 groups trying to help the public deal with new voter ID requirements approved by the legislature and Gov. Corbett in March.

The fate of the law is uncertain. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. was to begin hearing oral arguments Tuesday, after the Supreme Court directed him to determine whether any voters will be disenfranchised. A second day of proceedings, if necessary, will be Thursday. Simpson was told to rule by next Tuesday.

  • Handicapping the NYC mayoral race: who is getting out of the race?
  • Seattle Mayor McGinn has a good week. A new group is pushing for Seattle City Council members to be elected by district. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoes the repeal of a law that makes it illegal to sit or lie down on sidewalks. Atlanta Mayor Reed now supports the city’s new anti-panhandling bill.

International

Officials in Nigeria’s economic capital, with a population estimated around 15 million, spotty public transport and roads with potholes the size of small ponds, have decided such a limited service simply will not do.

They have launched a radio station devoted solely to traffic, taking calls from throughout the city from drivers as well as designated monitors, and then relaying those reports and suggestions to listeners.

The sign on the wall tells the story. “Important information. The government of Valencia owe this pharmacy for all the medicine we have dispensed to you in January, February, March, April and May”.

Dubbed the Factory, the building — where armed guards gazed from the top windows prior to 1989 — is the latest development in Berlin’s growing technology scene. When completed in the first quarter of 2013, the Factory will be part of a five-building campus that will be home to 6Wunderkinder, a start-up that creates the popular productivity app Wunderlist, nonprofit Mozilla, developer of the Firefox web browser, and social sound platform SoundCloud, among other upstart companies. The area will also include playgrounds to inspire creativity, including a gym and space for local techies and innovators to swap ideas and host hackathons. This being Berlin, it will also include its own art gallery and, of course, a beer garden…

The Factory is one of many tangible signs around Berlin — long a creative hotbed of fashion, music and design — that the technology scene is establishing itself quickly, fostering both start-ups and big-name players alike. “We’re at the very beginning of a new ecosystem,” says Simon Schaefer, a native Berliner and partner at angel and seed financing company JMES Investments, which spearheaded efforts together with Berlin property company s+p Real Estate to establish the Factory in June 2011. The Factory will provide start-ups with the opportunity to learn together as they grow and, in some cases, fail.

Culture and Other Curiosities

George looked exactly how I expected someone who went to Yale in the 50s to look. He wore a tie every day. Round tortoiseshell glasses perched on his aquiline nose. His voice fell somewhere on the spectrum between Franklin Roosevelt and George Plimpton. George, like many of the men in his family before him, was a Yalie; a fact he brought up on an almost hourly basis. He also often mentioned his partner, Douglas, who had passed away a decade before. One specific story revolved around George’s embarrassment when Douglas, a Dartmouth student, visited him at school for the first time. Assuming George was alluding to the difficulties of introducing a boyfriend to friends in Eisenhower-era New Haven, I made some remark about how hard that must have been for him.

“It was,” George responded. “He wore boots just like yours all the time.” He pointed at my L.L. Bean duck boots. “You wear those things if you’re going hiking in the woods. You don’t wear them to walk Bucky in the city,” he said, referring to the Pomeranian he paid me seven dollars an hour to walk.

  • You only live once, your neighbors only call the police 1,900 times.
  • New Orleans’ street culture kicks back over a new permit requirement for second-line parade vendors and artists.

Tags: economic developmentchicago

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