CityLedes is a weekly roundup of urban-related news happening across the country and globe, as compiled by Harry Moroz, Mark Bergen and David Sparks.
Developers can have a heart, and so can bankrupt cities. Retailers go urban and L.A. pot shops go down, but the Philadelphia Mayor’s soda tax idea won’t go away. Milwaukee makes no small water infrastructure plans. Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago teacher’s union agree about lengthening the school day, the first step in contract negotiations. San Francisco adopts a drama-free budget, but the drama grows in Oakland where pensions are becoming a problem, in Detroit where cuts to the ombudsman office might be illegal, and in Miami where the SEC is interested in a gussied-up budget. Jail conditions for youth offenders in Baltimore are deplorable. The rental market in Atlanta is hot. Heat is an urban killer. Milan suspends its congestion charge but creates a civil union registry. The royal family will have a more difficult time navigating Bangkok. The swearingest cities, a G train safari and MOCA’s decline.
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Economy and Development
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- Beneficent developers do exist:
It is hard to miss Mr. Walker’s brand of hospitality on Kirk Avenue. He owns nine of its storefronts, turning what was a forlorn block not long ago into a social destination. The music hall doubles as a microcinema and event space. There is Lucky, a restaurant run by a touring rock band that decided to stay put, and Freckles, a cafe and vintage shop with monthly craft nights, whose owner called Mr. Walker the town’s Jimmy Stewart, a favorite son and guiding light.But of course, political connections don’t hurt either and Gifford Miller, a former NYC Council speaker, is not afraid to use them:
The West Farms project, which is in the central Bronx and south of the Bronx Zoo, is the first for Signature. The company’s roughly five acres of land make up less than a third of the 16.8 acres rezoned last fall, the largest such rezoning the borough had seen in decades. Mr. Rivera said the new buildings, which he described as “quality affordable housing,” would represent an important change in the area.
- Retailers like Walmart and Target are going urban in an attempt to prevent the end of retail as we know it. Slate blogger Matt Yglesias predicts that better online ordering and delivery is the real urban retail trend of the future.
- Louisville attracts companies whose business is the elderly. NYC attracts business with same-sex marriage. A parade company may march into the abandoned Detroit Tigers stadium. The Seattle Planning Commission warns that the city’s new arena could threaten jobs. And a party in the city welcomes 1,500 new downtown workers. A port authority tax, for downtown development, moves to the November ballot in Cleveland. Where D.C. spends on economic development. Most metro Atlantans oppose video lottery, according to a poll.
- Miami puts the kibosh on the controversial Midtown Walmart zoning amendment. Brazilian visitors to Miami are expected to break records. The New Orleans City Council signs off on a financial incentives package for a planned Costco.
- San Bernardino, in the process of bankruptcy, must cut spending by a third. Even a bankrupt city has a heart. Unions aren’t to blame for the city’s troubles. Could emergency managers get troubled California cities back on track?
California has used such a mechanism for some troubled public agencies, such as schools and community college districts. It’s called receivership. A professional manager is appointed to make immediate decisions to restore fiscal solvency.
The state’s ability to impose receivership, however, does not extend to cities. If it did, it could save a Stockton or a San Bernardino from the lasting infamy of bankruptcy, not to mention astronomic legal fees ( $10 million in Vallejo) and the disastrous effect of years of legal wrangling that can paralyze a city’s day-to-day operations.
- Maybe California could help by releasing the redevelopment funds that cities say the state owes them.
- Oakland faces a pension crunch after years of making inadequate contributions. San Fran adopts a “drama-free” budget. Miami is in trouble with the SEC for gussying up its budget before a bond issuance. The Miami city manager is expected to announce plans to declare “financial urgency” and Moody’s considers downgrading the city’s credit rating.
- Hartford asks non-profits for payments in lieu of taxes. The Portland City Auditor concludes that the city’s finances have “lost ground due to growing debt.” Cuts hit the Detroit ombudsman office, perhaps in violation of city contracts otherwise.
- Scranton, Penn. will vote on a revised recovery plan that would increase taxes 33 percent. The judge hearing a case regarding a pay cut for city workers ordered the mayor and city council to attend the hearing.
- Atlanta land bank officials erase more than $100,000 in taxes, penalties and interest on land owned by a non-profit co-founded by Martin Luther King’s widow and sister. Detroit Mayor Bing does not want to see Belle Isle, an island strip owned by the city, go to the state. A clash of ideas regarding a levy to protect Seattle libraries:
Supporters say the $123 million, seven-year levy would restore service hours, rebuild collections and maintain buildings neglected over the past four years of city budget cuts.Labor
Opponents say the day-to-day operations of libraries are so important that they should be prioritized in the city budget and funded ahead of less important programs.
- Mayor Michael Bloomberg challenges New York City’s living wage and prevailing wage laws:
The lawsuit seeks to overturn two recently passed measures — known as the “living wage” and “prevailing wage” laws — that would increase pay for janitors, security guards and other service workers at some companies that receive government subsidies or lease space to a city agency.
Bloomberg vetoed the bills; the Council overrode his vetoes. The bills were supported by unions and pro-labor groups, but the mayor argued that higher wage requirements would discourage companies from moving to New York or entering into contracts with the municipal government.
In the lawsuit, the Bloomberg administration said that only the state and federal governments had jurisdiction to set minimum wages, and that the Council unlawfully encroached on the mayor’s sole right to set the terms of real estate deals involving the city.
- Miami workers want a higher minimum wage.
- Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter wants to renegotiate a contract with firefighters who have been working without one since 2009. Vice President Biden, addressing a firefighters convention in Philadelphia, didn’t weigh in on the conflict, upsetting the president of the firefighters’ local:
“I’m disappointed the vice president didn’t say, ‘Yo, Mr. Mayor, honor our agreement,’” Gault said.
- The Minneapolis firefighter union chief claims the mayor’s cuts are putting firefighters at risk. No, not quite, says the assistant fire chief.
- Newark turns down a Mayor Cory Booker-supported plan to turn management of the city’s water over to a municipal authority. Fixing Miami-Dade’s water and sewage system will cost over $1 billion. Milwaukee’s H20 strategy:
At conferences held in Milwaukee last week and in Chicago on Wednesday to explore the potential for economic cooperation among Chicago, Milwaukee and Gary, Ind. — and to create the rudiments of a megacity capable of competing on a global scale – the economics of water dominated the discussion.
It was an idea born in Milwaukee more than five years ago when civic leaders discovered that a fluke of the area’s economic evolution had bestowed it with dozens of water-engineering companies. That was followed quickly by the creation of university research programs to study clean water technology and the emergence of a trade group called the Milwaukee Water Council. The city’s goal: become the world water hub.
- Extreme weather is bad for infrastructure:
Highways, Mr. Scullion noted, are designed for the local climate, taking into account things like temperature and rainfall. “When you get outside of those things, man, all bets are off.” As weather patterns shift, he said, “we could have some very dramatic failures of highway systems.”
- Environmental groups (not the Sierra Club) and Atlanta Hispanic leaders endorse the 1 percent transportation sales tax that goes to a vote on Tuesday:
Leaders explained that if the T-SPLOST passes in a July 31 referendum, it would benefit many Latinos in the region. Historically, most metro-area Hispanics have worked in construction, and many rely public transportation, the leaders said.
- Streetsblog talks to L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa:
“On bike lanes, they’re telling me I have to do a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act environmental review) process on bike lanes?” he asked rhetorically. “That’s why you can’t build anything here. Whenever you try to build something it’s World War XVI.”
- Oakland plans to raise the price of parking around Giants stadium. Software is to blame for the NYC bike-share delay, while Charlotte’s new program will be up and running on August 1. Offending cyclists must attend remedial biking courses in New York City. D.C. taxi upgrades may be delayed by appeals.
- Yglesias calls Amtrak’s high-speed rail plans insane. San Francisco is responsible for tunnel to bring high-speed rail downtown. The D.C. rail project to Dulles Airport needs better oversight, according to an audit. Portland TriMet gets $5 million. The new Metrorail Orange Line to the Miami International Airport opens. Miami-Dade gets $10 million from the feds to update its bus fleet. Megabus has a new stop in downtown Houston.
- A San Francisco park renovation is NIMBYed, by one vote:
The bathrooms will be renovated, paths will be repaved, tennis courts resurfaced and a new picnic area will have an overlook with killer city views. One quarter of the park has been demolished and is under construction. Everything looked ready for a spring ribbon-cutting. But it’s become a victim of the famously liberal policy of allowing appeals for every project. We’re the city that can’t say yes. Shannon Gallagher, an attorney who lives across the street from the park, is a perfect example. She filed a complaint with the San Francisco Board of Appeals on July 17 that has effectively halted construction and could increase the cost of the renovation by $10,000 a day. The City Charter allows for the appeal, and the earliest a hearing can be scheduled is Sept. 12.
- And a plan to allow low-income youth to ride the Muni for free is rejected, also by one vote.
- Is Atlanta’s apartment market overheating?
The surge is fueled by a growing segment of the population that seeks to live in denser developments closer to work and recreation. But the growth spurt is raising fears that a new housing bubble is forming that could leave behind a glut of vacant units and lower rental rates when it bursts.
Daniel Corp.’s Steve Baile is among those who have raised concerns. His firm has a high-rise under construction in Midtown and another one under development in Buckhead. But he questioned whether the apartment market’s strong fundamentals — rising rents and solid occupancy rates — could sour with overdevelopment.
- The rental market is tightening in the Twin Cities. Mortgage lending is still discriminatory. Foreclosures increased in half of U.S. metros in the first half of the year. Chicago will consider a proposal to use eminent domain to take over underwater mortgages.
- Leaders in Galveston, Texas abandon resistance to rebuilding public housing damaged by Hurricane Ike.
- NYC Mayor Bloomberg is heralded (and hated) for his healthy living initiatives. But why won’t he — or his potential successor — support paid sick days?
Advocates are, at the moment, pushing for a bill that would let a wide swathe of New York City workers take unscheduled time off to care for themselves or a loved one. Bloomberg is against it. So is the Speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn. It’s not that paid sick days aren’t a good idea, Quinn has said, it’s just she does not think “it would be wise to implement this policy, in this way, at this time.” On paper, at least, there’s a veto-proof majority in the city council backing the bill; more than three dozen councilmembers have put their names on it. But Quinn refuses to bring the paid sick days bill up for a vote.
- Philadelphia Mayor Nutter is still contemplating a soda tax. Bloomberg has people worried about a second prohibition.
- After L.A. required actors in adult films to wear condoms, Los Angeles County will allow voters to decide whether unincorporated areas will adopt a similar requirement. The city banned medical marijuana dispensaries, though it is unclear whether the ban can be enforced. The city has grand visions for a new downtown park:
“The quality of this park needs to be high enough to lure jaded Los Angelenos to come check it out,” said Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Park Excellence.
- Burying power lines is expensive. What the hot summer has wrought in Chicago. Heat waves are urban killers. The Indianapolis mayor comes to Washington to describe the struggles imposed on his city by the ongoing drought:
The city’s golf courses are struggling to stay in the black because of the unplanned expense of irrigation. Maintaining the city’s park and sports fields is also more expensive because of irrigation and the cost of replacing lost trees and landscaping.
While the water restrictions have cut the city’s water usage by one-third, recovering from the drought could take months, Ballard said.
- Portland’s nonprofit health providers find ways to finance expansions. D.C. gets an extra six months to fix the system of care for developmentally disabled residents.
- Baltimore city jails are deplorable places for youth offenders:
Attorneys with the Baltimore public defender’s office say the fight involving Tyrone — combined with the lack of medical care and an inattentive guard — illustrates troubling conditions at the facility. In another incident, during a three-day power outage in June, juveniles had to sleep on the floor, where some had defecated, youth advocates say; jail officials dispute the account.
- An unarmed man was shot in Anaheim last weekend, prompting violent protests. Tensions run deep in Anaheim:
Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a lawsuit against the city of Anaheim claiming that the current City Council election system, with each candidate running at large rather in a particular neighborhood, underrepresents Latinos, who make up a third of all voters in the city. One study cited by the A.C.L.U. found that the wealthier area of Anaheim Hills has more parks, libraries, fire stations and community centers than any other part of the city.
- Tampa, like many other cities, is taking no chances with protests and will enforce strict rules on protesters when the Republican Convention comes to town. St. Petersburg Mayor Foster balks at paying for convention security. Strip clubs will be open for business though.
- Mayor Bloomberg wants to talk about guns right now. After a district judge shot down portions of Chicago’s gun ban, the city is moving to rewrite it:
The new version would permanently bar anyone who has been convicted of a felony violent crime and impose a five-year ban on anyone convicted of a misdemeanor violent crime.
Prior to the final vote, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) used the Colorado movie massacre to appeal to the U.S. Congress to finally tackle the political hot potato that gun control has become.
“When is the United States Congress gonna figure out that local jurisdictions can do just so much?” Burke asked.
- Gun store sales surge in Atlanta and nationwide. Houston sees a spike in murders and robberies, while a HPD mental illness program gets a boost. Tracking Oregon’s sex offenders. Oregon’s successful 2006 meth law might catch on nationwide.
- A south Minneapolis anti-violence program, run by the city’s Somali and Native American communities, scores a $100,000 grant.
- Seattle and the feds agree to police reforms. Orlando appeals an appellate court ruling that red-light camera fines handed out before the state passed a law allowing the cameras were illegal. A likely D.C. mayoral candidate wants to revisit speed-camera fines. The New Orleans Police Department vows to change its possibly unconstitutional “field interview card” policy soon.
- New Haven’s resident identification card turns five:
That day, New Haven became the first municipality in the nation to offer identification cards to all residents regardless of immigration status. Since its inception, more than 10,000 cards have been issued, city officials said.
Recently, immigration advocates and city officials gathered in City Hall to reflect on what the Elm City resident card has done for the community and affirm their commitment to continuing and expanding the program.
The card allows holders to open bank accounts, feed parking meters, use city services, interact with police and serves as government identification.
- Mayor Emanuel and Chicago teachers come to an initial agreement about lengthening the school day:
Removing a major hurdle in the contentious contract talks with the teachers union, Chicago Public Schools has agreed to hire nearly 500 teachers so students can put in a longer school day without extending the workday for most teachers.
Both sides claimed victory, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel was able to keep his plan for a longer day intact and the union was able to add teachers while holding the line on how long they work
- Two Ohio city school districts stand accused of fudging attendance numbers to help their stats. Atlanta schools fight back against computer thieves. The Miami-Dade School Board approves a $14.8 million reorganization. More than 1,000 Miami-Dade children face eviction from child-care programs due to loss of subsidies. Local governments paid a higher share of public education costs than did state governments.
- Bloomberg endorses Scott Brown for Senate in Massachusetts. A Pakistani-born Texas mayor calls in advice from Musharraf. Newark Mayor Cory Booker considers running for governor or Senate. Embattled Trenton Mayor Tony Mack will, evidently, resume the mayoralty when he returns from vacation:
“We’re just steering the ship while the captain’s away,” Hutchinson said this afternoon.
- Marion Berry has better favorability ratings than D.C. Mayor Gray. The New Orleans City Council urges the Times-Picayune to remain a daily newspaper.
- Parking fine? Fine. “Mayors Parking Only.”
- The Chick Fil-A controversy moves to cities around the country. Boston Mayor Menino backed away from his initial threat to ban the chain. In Chicago, one alderman wants to block the opening of a second store in his ward. Grub Street isn’t so sure this is a good idea:
In fact, if anybody ought to be reluctant to give the city power to discriminate in the name of anti-discrimination, it’s gays. Urban machines have always used this kind of power to harass and ghettoize openly gay businesses, which remain confined to a few neighborhoods in the city even though one assumes that there are plenty of gays who shop and work in the Magnificent Mile, say. And not to imply anything about Alderman Moreno specifically, but everyone should be hesitant about the kind of “aldermanic privilege” over a business’s existence or not that has, traditionally in Chicago, been resolved with the passage of a paper bag full of twenties under a table at II Jack’s, or more genteely, with the purchase of insurance from a well-connected insurance agency. (Insert Chick Fil-A/wet-my-beak joke here.)
- City councilors in New Bedford, Mass. quietly increase their pay 44 percent.
- Mapping toilets in Mumbai. Rajkot, India launches auto-rickshaws. Formal businesses move out of Indian cities while informal businesses move in:
Going forward, there should be adequate provision of infrastructure for the informal sectors to develop. Indian cities should find ways to ensure that urban informal livelihood’s are integrated into urban plans, land allocation, and zoning regulations; that the urban informal workforce gain access to markets and to basic urban infrastructure services; and that organisations of informal workers are invited to participate in government procurement schemes and policy-making processes. The more that the Indian cities recognise this influx and design appropriate policies and investments to support it, the more effective the policy interventions will be.
- China considers criminalizing speeding. Sansha, on the disputed South China Sea island of Yongxing, elects its first mayor, and approves the creation of a military garrison. Beijing residents are enraged about a rainstorm that left the city flooded and 37 dead, but made due with self-made maps of the most flooded areas. The city’s sewer system is antiquated. Great photos of China’s railways (via Marginal Revolution). Redesigning Keelung Harbor, Taiwan.
- London shantytowns. Photos of sewers in London and New York. The Olympics are frustrating London commuters and have split Stratford in east London in two. They left Greece with a bunch of abandoned stadiums. Environmentalists oppose high-speed rail plans in the U.K.
- The Argentinean town Bialet Masse, facing budget difficulties, will use a lottery to pay municipal salaries. Trying to find the best pizza in Buenos Aires. A dispute with the electricity utility Edesur leaves some of Buenos Aires’s monuments in the dark.
- Traffic rules favoring Thailand’s royal family are eased in Bangkok. Milan suspends its congestion charge:
“In six months, Area C has cut city-centre traffic by 34%, reduced the number of accidents and enabled Milan residents to breathe less poison. It has had an undeniably positive impact on everyone’s quality of life. Today, we note with respect and also concern that the loss suffered by a private car park is at issue in a court of law and that this has halted a measure that benefits all Milan residents.”
- The Italian city approved civil unions:
“We have narrowed Europe’s civil rights spread”, said Milan’s mayor, Giuliano Pisapia, welcoming approval of the civic register for civil unions.
- A Belgian mayor is very unhappy that a newspaper published weather reports predicting bad summer weather. The predictions were reasonably accurate.
- Higher taxes lead Ryanair to suspend routes to Madrid and Barcelona. Opponents of Spain’s austerity measures plan a march for September 15th which they hope will be the largest since demonstrations against the Iraq War. Madrid doesn’t have money to keep its fountains running; approves new, more environmentally friendly taxi regulations, as taxi drivers gain concessions in a rewrite of industry regulations; and gives the go ahead to an expansion of Real Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium.
- Reviewing the Philadelphia museum that will hold the Barnes collection. Reviewing Soviet housing (favorably). MOCA’s decline might be a sign of our times:
For years now, people who ought to have known better have been trying to make the best of what amounts to a compromise position. The museum has not been redefined so much as it has been disassembled, its coherence shattered as curators, administrators, and trustees grapple with the insoluble problem of operating in that nowhereland between art and life. Everything becomes the justification for everything else. The presence in the museum of Koons and Murakami is justified by relating their work to a taste for popular culture that goes back to such rock solid modern classics as Manet and Picasso. But Koons and Murakami—to the extent that they’ve learned most of what they know from Kmart and comic books — are also used to ratify Manet and Picasso, to give works that some believe are in danger of appearing superannuated a little street cred.
- “Wally the Green Monster is safe.” East Orange, N.J. is NOT holding a Whitney Houston tribute. The not-so-hot spots in New York City. The Manhattan Paris Saint-Germain boys soccer team is “like the U.N.” First water bars, now yogurt bars. A G train safari through Brooklyn. A video about finding what you lost in a taxi.
- Whither Occupy Oakland? How Detroit was occupied, in 1812. The London Olympics actually takes place in London.