CityLedes:  There’s No Place Like Homeless

CityLedes is a weekly compilation of urban policy news happening across the country and globe. Our goal is to highlight areas of shared concern for policymakers, urbanists and anyone fascinated by cities. We are Mark Bergen, Harry Moroz and Dave Sparks.

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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.

The Lede: Hizzoner sparks some outrage with his Bloombergian comments on the city’s homeless shelters, while, on the other coast, money squeezes put many senior citizens on the streets. Retail to pick up in New Orleans, New York and Beantown. Casino chatter picks up in Springfield, Mass., Portland, Ore., and everywhere, Mich. A tax subsidy that works. A big city budget that does not. A mayoralty that works a little too well perhaps. Trash wars in L.A., school wars in Denver, police wars in Detroit. Construction booms falter in China and Vietnam. The City of Angels considers a big box ban, as European cities look toward a big box real estate developer. Throwing Presidential punches on transportation. Black in ‘Cisco: Six percent of the city population, seven times more likely to be arrested. North Miami will rise again. We neglect small cities at our peril.

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


Asked about a sharp rise in the number of homeless people in New York City’s shelter system, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg suggested Thursday that people were staying in shelters longer in part because the shelters were “much more pleasurable” than they used to be, making people less eager to leave.
“We have made our shelter system so much better that, unfortunately, when people are in it — or fortunately, depending on what your objective is — it is a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before,” he said.
“When we came into office, the shelter system was an abomination. People were driven around all night. The kids slept on benches. None of that happens again, so there’s less pressure on people to move out today.”
  • Charlotte’s housing market is improving. According to an audit, some D.C. tax officials could alter property assessment data without being detected.
About a quarter of San Francisco’s senior citizens, or 40,000 people, are considered poor because they live at or below 150 percent of the $860 federal poverty income level, which equals about $1,300 a month. That mirrors the national figure.
About 13,000 of these low-income elders in San Francisco get help from federal and local government housing programs, either living in subsidized units or using special low-income vouchers to meet the rent. And nearly half of low-income seniors get government-subsidized In Home Supportive Services to help with cleaning, bathing and the like.
But that still means there are thousands of San Francisco’s poor elderly getting by somehow on their own — and according to the city’s periodic homeless count, only about 500 of those are on the streets.

Economy and Development

The City and County of Denver, unlike many counties, has never opted out of revenue limits on property taxes imposed under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a process known as de-Brucing, a reference to Douglas Bruce, the author of TABOR.
In 2005, Denver voters approved removing TABOR revenue limits for 10 years on sales taxes but not property taxes. City officials say because of this Denver has forgone $800 million in property tax revenues since 1992.
This de-Brucing expires in 2014. Voters will be asked to permanently de-Bruce sales taxes as well as extend it to property taxes.
  • New York City’s unemployment rate is a lie. A race car design company will open in Williamsburg. Forget Florida: The elderly should move to Downtown Brooklyn. The Big Apple will spin off some its technology projects:
Scalded by scandal, cost overruns and embarrassments in some of its most ambitious computerization efforts, the Bloomberg administration has hit upon on a new remedy: outsourcing such projects to a new quasi-governmental entity that will operate free of the usual city procurement rules, salary limits and legislative oversight.
The new entity, its proponents argue, will provide a bureaucratically powerful, highly skilled, centralized overseer for the kind of technology projects that have bedeviled this administration for years, and that have raised questions about one of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s perceived strengths as a billionaire who made his money through technological innovation.
That is too bad. Smaller cities have idiosyncratic charms of their own-worthy of sustained attention and renewal. And, fortuitously, they have a distinctive and vital role to play in the work of the new century: smaller cities will be critical in the move to local agriculture and the development of renewable energy industries. These tasks will almost certainly require a dramatic rethinking of land-use policy, and smaller cities have assets that large cities lack. Their underused or vacant industrial space and surrounding tracts of farmland make them ideal sites for sustainable land-use policies, or “smart growth.”
Alarmed by plans for a Wal-Mart grocery store in Chinatown, a city planning committee Tuesday approved a temporary ban on large retail chain stores setting up shop in the downtown district.
In a 2-1 vote, members of the Los Angeles Planning and Land Use Management panel found that if the city doesn’t act, an infusion of big-box stores could endanger the unique cultural character of Chinatown. The viability of the historic neighborhood is at risk, said committee Chairman Ed Reyes.
  • The mayor of Springfield, Mass. is chatting with potential casino developers:
Sarno has scheduled private meetings with potential developers on Monday. The mayor is expected to have a key role in future casino negotiations, as the state’s new gambling law requires a host community agreement be reached with city officials and approved by voters before developers can apply for a license from the state gaming commission.
  • A vote on eight new Michigan casinos, in suburbs and cities, will stay on the ballot, says a state court. Cleveland companies line up for tax breaks. The Industrial Development Board of New Orleans approves plans for a 10-year payment in lieu of taxes for a proposed South Market District apartment and retail project. A board representing downtown Houston property owners acquires the power to hand out $37 million in taxpayer-funded incentives to developers who build homes in east downtown. More commerce and water transit for Plans for South Boston’s piers, more retail for the New York’s South Street Seaport. A citizen panel pans a proposal for a Portland-area casino.


  • L.A. is still grappling with budget problems:
On Tuesday, faced with the latest deficit forecasts, the City Council moved toward putting two tax increases on the March ballot and raising the retirement age for new employees, among other changes to the pension formula.
Budget officials said the proposals, if approved, would help protect the Police Department from cuts. But each action drew attacks — one from business leaders and the other from organized labor.
  • Furloughs will likely be necessary to balance the budget in Miami. Community colleges in California caught issuing costly capital appreciation bonds.
  • A new report says Chicago’s I-Trust is a gateway drug to water privatization:

Mayor Emanuel has said he opposes the sale of Chicago’s water system, but the infrastructure trust is set up specifically to foster public-private partnerships, which Food and Water Watch considers a form of privatization, Carroll said. In so-called P3s, public control over infrastructure is lost and ratepayers are on the hook for private financing costs, she said.


  • Two thirds of L.A. Unified students passed the California High School Exit Examination, a record.
She testified against the landmark Senate Bill 191 that laid the groundwork for statewide teacher evaluations, objecting to its vague definition of effectiveness and an overemphasis on testing. But since it passed, Dallman has worked with legislators and others on the state Council for Educator Effectiveness to fine-tune its details.
  • A New Orleans charter is accused of standardized test cheating. A Houston ISD initiative focuses on reading skills. Controversial Oakland private school now even more controversial. Despite a stern warning, Toledo continued to mark its “dropout” students at odds with the state’s protocol. A leadership shake-up is on the horizon in Indianapolis.
While the District pours billions into rebuilding a city system that has more classroom space than it needs, parents are increasingly opting for charter schools. If trends continue, charter enrollment will surpass the traditional public school population before the end of the decade.

Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Obama attacks Romney and Ryan on transportation:
Given that nearly 40 percent of radio listeners are in their cars at any given time, this radio ad is likely to hit people at the time they can most relate to the message. But they should note — and the president’s policies do reflect this – that the cure for morning rush hour on 395 isn’t just a faster-moving road for them to drive on.
After all, parts of Northern Virginia are leaders in congestion mitigation solutions that don’t involve mindless road widening schemes. The region is served by the second-busiest rail transit system in the country, and even suburban areas have built high-density development around transit stations. Arlington, Virginia was a pioneering host of Capital Bikeshare, with Alexandria now deciding they want in on the action.
Support for these types of innovative programs is the real difference between President Obama and the Romney/Ryan ticket.
  • Streetsblog takes a New York City mayoral candidates’ transit unfriendly posturing to task. Another mayoral candidate derides Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to privatize running the city’s parking meters. A ruling blocking the mayor’s livery cab plan throws a wrench in the city’s budget.
  • The public is outraged over aggressive booting tactics in Atlanta parking lots. Shuttle operators and other businesses are challenging Atlanta over ground transportation contracting at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, after an investigation and the resignation of the airport’s ground transportation manager. Progress in clearing up Seattle’s “Mercer Mess.” D.C. plans to reject a request for the city to provide additional Metro services to accommodate fans leaving extra-inning Nationals games. “Smart meters” are now a reality in some D.C. cabs. San Francisco still searching for that perfect parking price.
‘Some kind of nut’ and ‘unconventional’ are just two names he’s been called. But he laughs them off.


  • A looming labor contract deadline may quiet the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra this year. U.S. labor officials intensify their crackdown on longshoremen’s continued pursuit of disputed work at the Port of Portland.
  • Despite a judge’s orders, austerity measures in Detroit remain intact:
Detroit police officers received 10% less in their paychecks on Friday even though a Wayne County Circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order earlier this month to block city-imposed wage cuts.

Energy, Environment, and Health

For months, union-affiliated groups have argued that the current system of private trash haulers vying to collect waste from apartments, factories, hospitals and strip malls should give way to a franchise system that would divide the 468-square-mile city into 11 zones. The change would improve service and recycling, reduce the number of rubbish trucks crisscrossing the city, ensure predictable rates and support well-paying jobs, proponents claim.

Business leaders, apartment owners and smaller trash haulers warn that the initiative is a thinly disguised union organizing effort and only large companies with labor agreements would be able to compete for the franchises. They also say the change would mean higher rates, which would be passed on to renters and consumers, because of increased franchising costs.

  • L.A. Unified cafeterias switch from plastic foam to cardboard trays. Portland, Maine schools switch from styrofoam to plastic trays. Could free breakfast at school actually mean two breakfasts?
  • West Hollywood bans plastic bags (so does the Shaw’s in Barrington, Rhode Island).
  • The DEA wants medical marijuana shops away from schools in Washington State.
  • Plans for a cutting-edge Urban Farming and Food Center in New Orleans will be announced in a few weeks.

Public Safety

Although African Americans constitute 6 percent of San Francisco’s population, they are about seven times more likely to be arrested than whites, who represent 41.8 percent of the city’s population, according to an analysis of recently released statistics from the California Department of Justice.

Its police chief is now officially the highest paid in the country. And it tries out Operation Ceasefire again.

  • Dallas police are changing how they respond to 911 calls after officers didn’t force their way into a home of a caller, who was found dead there two days later. A timeline of the Dept. of Justice’s investigation into the Seattle P.D., as a federal judge approves a settlement between the city and the feds for reform. Conviction rates rise in New Orleans. The 20-mph speed limit debuts in Portland. The debate over brain scan lie-detector tests is highlighted in a Maryland murder trial.
  • Detroit keeps up its broken windows tactic:
An ordinance passed July 31 by the Detroit City Council will make begging inside the city’s restaurants and near ATMs, gas stations and drive-through windows a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail. When it becomes effective, as early as next month, the city will join communities including Royal Oak, Birmingham and Ann Arbor with similar ordinances.
  • Boston’s ban on pitbulls is no more.
  • A shockingly violent week in Chicago strains ties at the top, with the mayor walking back his police chief’s comments that city cops are “treading water”:
It was yet another indication that a July that was one of Chicago’s least deadly in decades has given way to a bloody August that undermines McCarthy’s claims that his anti-violence strategy of disbanding specialized units in favor of putting more officers on beat patrol in neighborhood districts is taking hold.
On Monday, Emanuel noted that most of the weekend violence was concentrated in the city’s Gresham police district, where there has been a “spike in gang-on-gang violence.”


  • ICE agents sue over the deportation deferral program:
On a telephone news conference Thursday, Chris Crane, president of the ICE Agents and Officers Union and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said that by looking the other way in cases involving young illegal immigrants, officers are prohibited from carrying out their duties lawfully.

Mayors and City Councils

  • L.A. rejects a recommendation to shorten the fundraising period for city elections. An old hand declines to get in the city’s mayoral race:
Los Angeles political veteran Zev Yaroslavsky’s decision to forgo next year’s race for mayor leaves a field dominated by City Hall insiders and heightened anxieties among some civic leaders about whether the remaining contenders will aggressively confront the city’s continuing financial crisis.
Yaroslavsky, an L.A. County supervisor from the Westside known for his mastery of budgets and blunt speaking style, announced Thursday that he would leave the campaign to a “new generation of leaders” — dashing the hopes of those who looked to him for a candid conversation about the city’s budget predicament and a different vision for dealing with it.
With Yaroslavsky out, three city elected officials — City Controller Wendy Greuel and council members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry — lead the pack in the run-up to next March’s election. All are Democrats who have courted L.A.‘s powerful public employee unions and recently have come under fire from critics who say they haven’t done enough to reduce steadily growing employee costs.
  • Newark Mayor Cory Booker may be considering a gubernatorial run. (He downplayed this a bit, but admitted to a penchant for mani-pedis.)
  • Some North Miamians want to secede from the city due to recent mayoral scandals.


The London neighborhood dubbed “Strand East” is something of a flagship project for IKEA’s property division. While there are similar projects in Poland, Latvia and Romania, the Swedish company now wants to buy up vacant lots in several western European cities and build entire districts from scratch — including the one in the northern Germany city-state of Hamburg.

The Hamburger Abendblatt reports that LandProp is looking for a plot of at least five hectares — or the size of eight soccer fields — in the city center or near the airport. Harald Müller, a business development manager at IKEA, told the local paper that the company wants to build an entirely new city district. Given the size of the envisioned area, however, the claim sounds a bit exaggerated. Hamburg’s recently built Hafencity district, by way of comparison, takes up about 157 hectares.

It is now clear that the north of England, in particular, is not going to get political institutions in the foreseeable future to counter the effect of the London mayoralty, following the collapse back in May of efforts to create a college of powerful big city mayors. So the gap between London and the rest – both political and therefore economic — will grow.

So if a levelling-up of raw political power is not possible, then perhaps a levelling down is needed? This is not green-eyed provincial inferiority — good luck to London — but successive governments have set out to narrow the economic and opportunity gap between the capital and the rest of the country only to see the problem get worse.

  • Conservative backbenchers balk at rail fare increases. There is no war on cars in the U.K., either:
The IPPR says that under Labour, which was accused of waging war on motorists, the cost of driving rose by 32.5 per cent, while the price of rail travel went up 66.2 per cent and bus fares by 76.1 per cent.
Since taking office George Osborne’s has introduced concessions to motorists which will cost the taxpayer £14 billion over five years, the report says.
The IPPR says the top priority should be to bring down bus fares, while more money should be spent on walking and cycling facilities with greater investment in public transport projects.

Culture and Other Curiosities

  • Does a professional class of neighborhood revitalizers make city art “that is boring and tiring”?

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Tags: chicagohomelessnessbarack obamabudgetsmichael bloombergretailrahm emanuelweathercasinos2012 presidential election

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