CityLedes: Digging Deeper

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 race is on among Southeastern ports for a piece of increased big-ship traffic that the widening of the Panama Canal should bring. Miami would appear to have a head start. Remaking Federalism. NYC would be particularly vulnerable to a plunge over the fiscal cliff. What does America’s infrastructure-consciousness have in common with frogs? Mayor Gray calls Metro’s proposed bus-service cuts unjustified. A Philadelphia City Council committee moves forward with a controversial affordable housing plan. The discount on foreclosures narrows in Atlanta, and hiring drops in South Florida. The Seattle PD posts a user’s guide to pot. L.A. schools reinstates a full academic year and full pay. The geography of Chicago’s school poverty and lottery spending. Health San Francisco will cover gender reassignment for the uninsured. A pension battle heats up in L.A. The war on illegal immigration is taken out of local hands. Greeks de-urbanize. Asia’s megacities become more vulnerable to disaster.

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

Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Southeastern ports plan to dredge their harbors in order to fight for their piece of the Panama Canal expansion. Miami hopes to have an early advantage. The Miami City Commission delays a vote on a PortMiami tunnel dig bond issue in light of a surprise city budget surplus.

Our country reminds me of the old tale of a frog that allowed itself to be cooked to death after it was put in a pan of cold water that was very gradually heated to the boiling point. Although apparently there is no scientific basis for that tale — biologists say the frog would jump out — we do seem to act like that frog, as our infrastructure ever-so-gradually steadily decays around us.

Twenty-four percent of NJ Transit’s rail fleet was damaged during Hurricane Sandy after rail cars and locomotives were stored in two rail yards that forecasters predicted would flood, according to a report on Reuters.com.

The decision might cost the transit agency tens of millions of dollars to make the necessary repairs, which could take months, Reuters said.

  • Same goes for NYC’s bike-share equipment.
  • The Texas Transportation Commission selects a contractor to rebuild two freeways near downtown Dallas. Some South Dade residents are skeptical of proposed Miami-Dade toll road to lessen traffic:

Brick-Turin, who works at Gannett-Fleming and is a consultant on the project, also addressed concerns that putting a focus on roads meant for cars and trucks would take away from transit in the area, such as the Metrorail and other public transportation.

“This project that we are looking at is not going to replace the Busway and we are not going to intrude on the Metrorail,” Brick-Turin said.

Community activists in the Pinecrest area have been wary the study could result in an unsightly toll road that would bring more cars looking to avoid Florida’s Turnpike.

  • Despite a decade’s worth of repeated warnings and some procedure changes, the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority issued several large no-bid contracts that violated federal transit policy. An expert review has found that D.C. Metro’s revised ethics policy lacks specific sanctions for many violations. Meanwhile, the MWAA votes to raise fees on the Dulles Toll Road, and Mayor Gray says that Metro hasn’t justified planned bus service cuts.
  • The New Orleans Sewage and Water Board submits its plan for a large rate hike to the City Council. A state solicitation to companies as part of an effort to privatize three Crescent City Connection ferry routes draws no response.

Economy and Development

Why should Washington look outward? Looking outward is essential because deficit-constrained Washington can no longer do it all and because the real dynamism of the American economy resides out there in America’s metropolitan regions and needs to be aided and abetted.

New York City would fall harder and faster than the rest of the nation if Congress fails to avoid the fast-approaching fiscal cliff—that combination of federal tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 2.

The city has long suffered an imbalance in terms of the money its high earners send Washington in the form of taxes and the funds returned as federal services. New Yorkers get about 79 cents for every dollar sent to the capital. The one-two punch of spending cuts and tax hikes would make that imbalance even worse.

  • The Philadelphia City Council agreed to a 50-foot buffer for streams and rivers in its zoning code.
  • Everyone’s lining up behind the Golden State Warrior’s push for a waterfront San Francisco stadium.
  • Hiring in South Florida hits a snag. Exiting Portland Mayor Sam Adams wants to annex West Hayden Island before he leaves. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray unveils his economic development plan.
It used to be that families who relied on charity for food were concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods with entrenched poverty. Now the dependence has spread to numerous lower middle-class neighborhoods in the suburbs.

Housing

Residents of the Red Hook Houses say the city has abandoned them in the weeks since Hurricane Sandy flooded their complex, and now they’re forced to live in Third-World-like conditions, with no electricity, heat, or hot water.

The surge from Sandy knocked out the essentials to the city’s largest housing project, located on six blocks between Richards and Clinton streets, flooding the basements where its boilers and electrical rooms are located, and transforming apartments into confinements.

City Council’s Rules Committee moved forward with a controversial plan Tuesday that would allow the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) to take more than two dozen properties through eminent domain to build affordable housing in Point Breeze.

A month ago, that plan, sponsored by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson on behalf of the Nutter administration, included 43 properties, some of which private developers owned and planned to develop.

PRA had since reduced the number of properties it will condemn to 28, including 17 privately owned and 11 city-owned properties, after it found that owners have projects under way, applied for permits or are using the lots as side yards to their residences. Council could give the plan final approval in two weeks.

  • Foreclosures are becoming less of a steal in Atlanta. Two metro-Atlanta non-profits receive a $1 million Veterans Affairs grant to assist homeless veterans. New Orleans scam artists target the homeless.

Public Safety

  • Sheriff Mirkarimi, on probation for false imprisonment charges resulting from a domestic violence incident, responds to Mayor Lee’s demands:

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi will let his undersheriff handle any disciplinary actions involving subordinates accused of domestic violence, but he will not give up oversight of his department’s domestic violence prevention programs, he wrote in a letter to Mayor Ed Lee.
  • Violence in the Magnificent Mile, Emanuel says, is “not just about the Magnificent Mile.”

The Justice Department’s recent request, which a federal official called a routine obligation of the settlement agreement, was attached to an Oct. 29 letter obtained by The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request.

Citing the agreement, federal attorneys asked the city to produce a wide array of documents related to the reform efforts, including records and videos of the incidents in which officers used force.

  • New Orleans Mayor Landrieu offers up to $500,000 in grants for nonprofits to help rehabilitate felons.

Labor

But for too many working people that economic vitality isn’t translating into good jobs with living wages. The city is one of the poorest in the nation, with a poverty rate of 30.6 percent, according to 2010 US Census data. A 2011 study by the National Center for Children in Poverty found that 48 percent of children live below the poverty line—the third-worst child poverty rate in the country. According to SEIU Local 1, even though unemployment is on the decline in the city, poverty and racial segregation are on the rise.

That’s why the current negotiations for a new contract between Cincinnati janitors and cleaning contractors are worth paying attention to. The talks began back in September, but have received little media coverage due to the 2012 election. About 1,000 janitors and their families are directly affected by this contract, and low-wage workers throughout the city who are looking for better pay and benefits are affected indirectly.

  • Retail employees fight Black Friday Creep. Shoppers are already lining up in Tampa.

Education

  • Good teachers help L.A. students do better, but inexperienced teachers are more likely to be assigned to lower-performing math students. L.A. schools reinstates a full academic year and full pay after the passage of California’s Prop 30.

Just over half of San Francisco’s class of 2014 is on track to graduate, which means more than 1,900 high school juniors have just three more semesters to catch up on the credits or newly required college-prep coursework they need to get a diploma.

And that has district officials worried.

  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Morrison shakes up the CMS human resources and communications departments. Miami-Dade teachers will vote on a new contract.

[System developer Charlotte] Danielson’s system includes 22 indicators to use when observing teachers in the classroom, each scored on a four-point rating scale. The indicators include skills as varied as “creating an environment of respect and rapport” and “demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy” to “communicating with families” and “maintaining accurate records.”

Louisiana’s version includes only five indicators: setting instructional outcomes, managing classroom procedures, using questioning and discussion techniques, engaging students in learning, and using assessment in instruction.

  • A flurry of activity follows the announcement of D.C. School Chancellor Henderson’s plan to close 20 schools.

Energy, Environment, and Health

  • Health San Francisco will cover gender reassignment surgeries for uninsured residents:

The commentators at Fox News will love this one.

In 2001, San Francisco became the first city in the country to cover the cost of sex change surgeries for transgender city employees. In 2007, it became the first city in the country to provide health care for all uninsured residents through its Healthy San Francisco program.

Now, San Francisco is combining those firsts into yet another pioneering move by becoming the first city in the country to cover the cost of gender reassignment surgeries for its uninsured residents.

  • Los Angeles approves a very contentious trash collection plan:

After a raucous hearing, the council voted 11 to 3 in favor of a plan backed by environmentalists and organized labor that would carve the city into 11 new and exclusive hauling franchise areas for waste pickup from commercial properties and large apartment buildings.

Those customers are currently served by dozens of private companies, which vie for business in a market worth about $220 million a year. Proponents of the new system, including the city’s Sanitation Department, say an exclusive system will boost recycling, reduce truck traffic and improve working conditions in a hazardous industry.

But business interests and many of the city’s trash companies bitterly oppose the plan and have vowed to keep fighting it. They say the city can achieve the same recycling and environmental goals while maintaining a more competitive trash market that will keep rates lower. Some have also charged that the exclusive franchise system is primarily a gambit by labor groups and their council allies to make it easier to organize more refuse workers.

  • The whooping cough epidemic slows in Washington State. Dealing with undocumented patients costs Miami-Dade’s Jackson Health System $4.9 million per year.

Budget

  • The battle over a pension reform proposal, which would put new L.A. city workers in 401(k)-type retirement plans, is heating up. Most of the current mayoral candidates don’t like the plan, which was proposed by former Mayor Richard Riordan, who has agreed to debate its merits with the union leaders who despise it. The one mayoral candidate who likes the plan has the backing of a super PAC. City residents will also likely vote on a half-cent sales tax increase.

  • Scranton Mayor Doherty proposes a new budget with a 12 percent real-estate tax increase.
  • A plan to stave off the Detroit fiscal cliff:

The document describes in detail some of the major reforms the state expects Detroit to meet before the Treasury Department will release proceeds of a $137-million bond sale, money now held in escrow that Detroit needs to stay afloat.

The money is crucial to Detroit’s ability to weather the next few months amid its plans to shrink and restructure city government amid rapidly declining revenue and far slower reform than city or state officials hoped to see at this point — seven months into an agreement meant to force enormous change on the city through state oversight of its finances.

  • NOLA could boost its 2013 budget by $12 million, pending City Council approval, which is good news for the fire department, whose chief is clashing with the union over budgetary issues.

Mayors and City Councils

  • Local Democrats begin maneuvering for the at-large D.C. Council seat. Miami-Dade put off plans to draw new precincts ahead of Election Day, which likely contributed to long lines. New Orleans Mayor Landrieu promotes neighborhood engagement at a city-wide summit.

Immigration

  • The feds shift strategy on illegal immigration:

Federal officials are scaling back a program that enlists the aid of local police and sheriff’s offices to identify people who are in the country illegally, in favor of a national program that uses fingerprints collected by the FBI.

International

  • Madrid gives the go-ahead to remake Real Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium. Adelson has convinced Madrid to lower the taxes on his Eurovegas project from 45 percent to 10 percent.

Asia’s cities are becoming increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters as they struggle with poor planning, population explosions and climate change, the Asian Development Bank warned on Tuesday…

More than 152 million people in the Asia-Pacific are now vulnerable to natural disasters every year, up from 24 million in the 1980s, the study found.

Deaths from natural disasters across the region increased to more than 651,000 between 2000 and 2009, compared with fewer than 100,000 in the 1980s, it said.

  • New Delhi bans the manufacture, import, sale, storage, and use plastic bags, sheets, films, and tubs.
  • Urban poverty is spiking in Germany:
While the nationwide poverty rate rose slightly to 15.1 percent in 2011, up from 14.5 percent the year before, the increase was more than double that in big cities — 19.6 percent in 2011 compared to 18.1 percent in 2010. The findings, published last week by the Institute of Economic and Social Research, part of the Hans Böckler Foundation, were based on data from Germany’s 15 most-populous cities, in which about 14 million people live. The study defined poverty according to the scientifically accepted standard of 60 percent of the average net income, weighted to an individual’s or family’s needs — about €848 per month for a single person.
In fact, the Canadian financial and housing markets reveal marked similarities with their international peers. Canada’s banks needed, and received, a substantial ‘bailout’, while federal policies before and after the financial crisis resulted in the massive growth of mortgage securitization and record household indebtedness.

Culture and Other Curiosities

As I watched Manocchio’s case start to work its way through federal court in Providence, his prosecution seemed to me representative of the city’s recent transformation. For more than a decade now, Providence has made regular appearances on a smattering of “best city” lists. In its November 2010 issue, GQcalled it one of “the coolest small cities in America.” That same year, Providence was ranked the second-best American city for theater and performance art, after New York, and third-best for “neighborhood joints and cafes” in a Travel + Leisure  survey. In 2010, the magazine named it the tenth-best city in America for singles, making particular mention of Federal Hill. (Baby Shacks might have agreed.) In order to transform itself into an up-and-coming arts mecca and a good place to meet singles, Providence first had to shed its old reputation—of being a corrupt and dying city and a good place to meet mobsters. Small cities, which tend to dress up political and social insularity as local solidarity, are slow to change. That makes the extent of change in Providence all the more remarkable.

Tags: affordable housinginfrastructurepublic transportationchicagomayorsretailmitch landrieumap-21