CityLedes: Something Ventured

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: Philly gets into venture capital and thinks hard creating about a land bank. Transportation officials meet to discuss the inattention of the federal government and swap notes about parking. Amtrak sets a Midwestern speed record. Living near foreclosures is expensive. Your likelihood of receiving CPR depends on where you live. Houston hospitals don’t carry no smokers. Money is flowing into Scranton. Baltimore protests the building of a youth correction facility. The mayor and City Council want to lawyer up against the city attorney in Los Angeles. Miami-Dade schools win the Broad Prize. A D.C. traffic camera grosses $11.6 million. As Hispanic education goes, so goes Texas. Leipzig is the new, hip, cheap, formerly East German city you should be talking about. Our news is Sandy-less. We hope you are safe and dry.

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Economy and Development
Transportation and Infrastructure
Housing
Energy, Environment, and Health
Education
Budget
Mayors and City Councils
Public Safety
Labor
Immigration
International
Culture and Other Curiosities

Economy and Development

Through the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., the city intends to invest up to $3 million in a new “Startup PHL Seed Fund,” which would be managed by an outside professional investment firm. That money would need to be matched by private investors at least dollar for dollar, according to a request for proposals that the city intends to issue.

In addition, the city Department of Commerce will sponsor a “call for ideas” that would enable individuals, nonprofit organizations, and others to apply for small amounts of grant funding to address impediments to entrepreneurship here.

But before and after the games, the fans who choose to follow the team from Hempstead Turnpike to Flatbush Avenue appear headed for a substantial change in routine, wrought by a largely suburban fan base and a new home engineered to promote public transportation and discourage driving.

Some Long Islanders say the team’s tenure at Nassau Coliseum, where the franchise has played since its inception in 1972, has left its fans uniquely tethered to car culture. During its run of four consecutive Stanley Cup championships in the 1980s, the team held victory parades on the turnpike. “We have no Broadway on Long Island,” one fan told The New York Times at the time.

The council voted 5-0 to introduce a resolution for the city to apply for and accept a $555,000 grant from the state Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, on behalf of Lace Building Affiliates LP, a firm that is planning a $51 million redevelopment of the 8.4-acre brownfield property on Mylert Avenue.

In the first phase of the project, LBA plans to install 35-unit affordable live/work projects in cooperation with ArtSpace, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization that works to preserve affordable space for artists and art organizations. The second phase of the project calls for the construction of commercial and retail space and apartments, according to a grant application prepared by the city’s Office of Economic and Community Development.

  • Is Austin doomed by its own success?  Where did land use regulations come from?

Transportation and Infrastructure

  • City transpo officials meet, lament that Washington doesn’t pay attention to their needs, and swap notes about parking. Philadelphia’s infrastructure needs are unmet.

  • The Charlotte City Council considers stepped-up oversight of pedicabs. The Miami-Dade Commission approves a plan for variable tolls on the Florida Turnpike. D.C. Metro approves expanded services and fees for Inauguration Day.

Housing

Despite the substantial improvements in the housing market recently, foreclosures and underwater mortgages continue to weigh down the economy. One of the most acute problems is that foreclosures don’t only harm the family that loses a home, but also drag down property values for entire neighborhoods, sinking more households underwater (meaning the house is worth less than the amount outstanding on its mortgage).

According to a new report from the Center for Responsible Lending, homeowners will lose nearly $2 trillion in property value due to living near foreclosed properties…

Under the bill sponsored by Sanchez and Councilmen Bill Green, Curtis Jones Jr. and Bobby Henon, the land bank would consist of a seven-member board appointed by the mayor and approved by Council that would be responsible for acquiring vacant lots and properties from public agencies. Three of the board members would be representatives of nonprofit housing and development organizations or civic associations in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods most impacted.

“It’s really an opportunity for us to put together a long-term redevelopment strategy,” said Sanchez. “It’s about putting [the properties] into productive use with someone paying taxes.”

Private owners of vacant properties owe $70 million in back taxes, the report says. Vacant land and properties often have been blamed for driving down the city’s property values and are hot spots for crime.

  • Pending sales for single-family homes and condos increase and foreclosures decrease in Miami. Atlanta foreclosure activity drops. Home values go down, property taxes go up in Portland. D.C.’s housing market is recovering more quickly than most, as new home construction reaches 2006 levels there.

Energy, Environment, and Health

Under the revised paid-sick-leave bill, business owners have more ways to provide the benefit to their employees, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, the bill’s chief sponsor, told The Insider.

“A menu of options is a really good way to do it,” she said.

One change says workers will be allowed to take time off in half-day increments (or less than half if their employers approve).

  • Billionaire John Paulson pledges $100 million to Central Park.
I find it’s very self-conscious design irritating (and already dating), and that its once raw industrial force has become unfortunately toy-like.
  • Clear Channel, faced with a court case the might have forced it to shut down lots of billboards in L.A., helped write an ordinance that will allow it to continue to operate them.
  • Charlotte’s Duke Energy postpones its rate increase request again. Houston hospitals are implementing a tobacco-free hiring policy:

A growing number of hospitals and health care institutions have adopted the policies to promote wellness, improve productivity and rein in rising health care costs, but critics say they discriminate and could lead to punitive actions against other personal habits and vices.

“We think this is an invasion of privacy and really overreaching,” said DottyGriffith, public education director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas. “At what point do you give up your rights and autonomy? Will they not employ those who ride motorcycles and drink alcohol?”

  • DeKalb County, GA bans smoking in parks.

Education

  • L.A. Unified desperately wants Race to the Top funds, but the teachers union is skeptical of the school district’s plan.

  • Miami-Dade County Public Schools wins the Broad Prize. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Morrison wants to undo the planned merger of two performing arts schools. Thirteen public schools in New Orleans are cleared to return to local control, if they choose. Only 31 percent if Houston Councilman Jerry Davis’ 200,000 constituents have a high school diploma. Educating Hispanics is crucial for Texas’ prosperity, according to a demographer.
  • D.C. agrees to pay charter-school facility costs that are currently paid for with federal funds. School enrollment increases in the District.

Budget

  • Money from borrowings is flowing into Scranton, Pa., making another cash crunch less likely.
  • New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu calls for cuts for 2013 in every city department (except the police) and the elimination of 11 mostly little-known boards and commissions.

Mayors and City Councils

  • Neither the L.A. City Council nor the mayor want to listen to the elected City Attorney any longer. The city’s top budget advisor has recommended cuts to 200 jobs, including 50 assistant city attorneys:

The office is being targeted because the attorneys’ labor group, the Los Angeles City Attorneys Assn., has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the city’s use of furloughs as a way to save money, he said.

If the city were to halt the furloughs and instead lay off attorneys to achieve the same savings, it would also avoid any potential costly settlement of the lawsuit, he said. A court-ordered mediation is set to begin in mid-November.

The political context of the election is being stirred by a former occupant of the office. Former Mayor Richard Riordan announced recently that he will work to qualify a ballot measure to overhaul the city’s pension system. The initiative, which would appear on the May ballot at the same time as the runoff in the mayoral contest, would eliminate pensions for future city employees, substituting a 401(k) plan and capping increases in benefits when the system is underfunded.

That measure poses such a direct threat to public employees that the city unions may be forced to direct their energies and money toward defeating it rather than campaigning for mayor.

  • The dispute between San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi continues.
  • Bloomberg doesn’t rule out using his super-PAC to back a candidate in the city’s mayoral election.

Minneapolis city attorneys believe a new state law intended to shine light on mysterious local government resignations doesn’t apply to many of the city’s top appointees, including a director who departed abruptly amid unknown allegations.

After only nine months as the city’s head of regulatory services, Gregory Stubbs resigned in August and took home a $70,000 settlement. A complaint was pending against him, but the city has refused to release it because they say he does not fit the legal definition of a “public official.”

  • Atlanta Mayor Reed battles a national website over forum speculations as to his dating life. Miami-Dade voters will likely approve Commission term limits and finance improvements to public schools.

Public Safety

  • The Baltimore City Council holds a protest vote against the construction of a juvenile detention facility in East Baltimore. Baltimore and Maryland officials pledge better oversight of security guards (aka “special police):

But city and state police, who have separate laws authorizing special police, do not provide or require training of the officers, do not monitor their actions and do not generally investigate complaints against them, The Baltimore Sun reported this weekend. Employers are responsible for oversight, and the state and city have no liability for their actions after granting them the authority to take police action.
  • A neighborhood in Newark opens a mini precinct for police.
  • King County, Wash. tries a new approach to keeping juveniles out of trouble. Charlotte police see progress on repeat offenders despite a crime rate increase. Houston’s murder rate drops 22 percent.
  • New Orleans’ LGBT community complains of police abuses. Protesters interrupt a Seattle police meeting on drones, the use of which has been okayed by the feds. A Miami-Dade judge rules that a law tying legal bills for defending death penalty defendants to annual budgets of state judges is unconstitutional. Portland’s mayor and police chief and the Oregon U.S. Attorney reach a settlement on police reforms.

Labor

Immigration

Nationwide, immigration authorities have seen a substantial increase in U visa applications. In the Bay Area, the Oakland Police Department has seen the number of visas for immigrant victims skyrocket.

In 2007, the Oakland department processed three applications. In 2011, it processed 502.

Immigration rights advocates applaud the help for victims, but law enforcement authorities say the main success of the program is in breaking down barriers between police and communities that often are hesitant to contact them.

International

As Bangalore’s population exploded with the success of its technology industry, the stresses in the waste system came close to a breaking point. Now, with Bangalore’s last landfill here in Mandur about to close permanently and the city running out of abandoned quarries to quietly divert a day’s load, the system may simply collapse.

“All that groundwater contamination is going to come to us; more than 300 of our lakes are already gone,” Dr. Goel said at a recent public meeting where he pleaded for help. “The problem is getting out of hand, and eventually it will swallow us up. We have to do something.”

The capital’s transport commission says officials will consider requiring vehicles with odd and even registration plate numbers to stay off roads alternately “at specific periods of time and in specific areas”.

A similar measure was enforced for two months during the 2008 Olympic Games to combat congestion and improve air quality.

Traffic dropped by 21 percent on major roads, and average speeds increased by about 27 percent within a month of the measure being introduced, transport authorities said.

  • The mayor of Buenos Aires vetoes the city’s slightly relaxed restrictions on abortion. The urban treasures of Medellin.

Leipzig languished for a long time. It was a city in the heart of eastern Germany, but barely on anyone’s radar. It called itself the “city of the peaceful revolution.” After all, this is where people first took to the streets in the weekly “Monday demonstrations” to protest the communist regime of former East Germany. That was back in 1989. But Leipzig didn’t experience its transformation until later. The change was heralded by the success of Neo Rauch and other painters of the New Leipzig School. Every two or three years, Leipzig then showed a sign of life to the outside world. The airport was expanded, and the city made a bid to host the Olympic Games.

In the meantime, a hint of euphoria has seized the city. According to city hall, the population grew by 9,000 last year. With 533,000 people now living in Leipzig, the city finally has as many inhabitants as it did before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. It has become a magnet for young, creative individuals.

Culture and Other Curiosities

Technically, these guys aren’t surfing.

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