Posts by Author: Rachel Dovey

Dallas Cash Bail System Must Change, Judge Rules

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

A federal judge has banned Dallas County from using a predetermined schedule to set bail, the Dallas Morning News reports.

U.S. District Judge David Godbey wrote Thursday that the policy of setting bail without regard for a defendant’s ability to pay violated those defendants’ constitutional rights, according to the paper. His order is temporary, but the ruling indicates that the groups that sued the county earlier in 2018 are likely to prevail in any future lawsuits.

Those groups include nonprofits and recent arrestees in custody at the Dallas County Jail, who allege that the sheriffs, county, and magistrate judges, among others, employ a system of “wealth-based detention by imposing and enforcing secured money bail without an inquiry into and findings concerning the arrestees’ ability to pay,” the ruling states.

According to the paper, Dallas County officials had pledged to reform the system after The Dallas Morning News ran an article on a woman jailed with a $150,000 bond for a $105 shoplifting charge. The nonprofits that filed the suit claim that despite that promise, not much has changed.

From the paper:

Under Godbey’s order, pretrial staff at the courthouse must verify an arrestee’s ability to pay bail and must explain the process to them, and deliver a completed affidavit to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office before a defendant’s probable cause hearing.

The affidavit will allow defendants to explain the maximum amount they could reasonably afford within 24 hours of the arrest, from any source, including family and friends. It will ask about income, debts and other expenses.

It won’t apply to defendants who are ineligible for pretrial release due to a hold by another agency, a pending mental health evaluation or pretrial detention orders that deem them too dangerous to be released.

The court order is similar to another in Houston, which Next City reported on earlier this year. In 2017, a federal judge ordered Harris County to stop keeping people arrested on misdemeanor charges in jail because they couldn’t pay bail.

“Harris County’s policy is to detain indigent misdemeanor defendants before trial, violating equal protection rights against wealth-based discrimination and violating due process protections against pretrial detention,” Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote in her ruling at the time.

However, a 2018 investigation by the Houston Chronicle found that the county’s bail reform efforts still had a long way to go. The paper alleged that the county’s pretrial system provided little supervision for the defendants most at risk of failing to appear in court.

“The result is a criminal justice system clogged with a growing number of failures to appear, months after a federal judge ordered the release of indigent defendants who can’t afford to post bail,” the Chronicle reported.

In California, too, bail reform efforts have been met with skepticism by some criminal justice advocates. As Next City covered earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 10 on August 28. The bill orders that county cash bail systems be replaced with a “risk assessment” tool. Going forward, counties will use computer algorithms to determine the likelihood that a person facing trial will flee before their court date or commit a crime if not held in jail.

Critics of the bill, however, worry about many of the racial and class-based biases that are baked in to so many police-based algorithms (more on that here). For example, a ProPublica study from 2016 found that software designed for pretrial risk assessment was often inaccurate and biased against African-Americans.

Still, cash bail at the county level is increasingly considered the low-hanging fruit of criminal justice reform.

“Money bail inherently discriminates against the poor and removes the decision about actual release from custody from the court to profit-motivated entities,” Penny Stinson, president of the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA), told Next City several years ago. “Most troubling is the lack of relationship between a defendant’s ability to post a monetary bond and their reliability to return to court or threat to community safety.”


Architect Robert Venturi Leaves a Complex, Contradictory Legacy

(Credit: Todd Sheridan)

Robert Venturi, the reluctant father of post-modern architecture and author of “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture,” died Tuesday at the age of 93.

The Architect’s Newspaper first reported his passing with a statement from Venturi’s family. The news has since launched tributes from the likes of the New York Times and the Guardian, as well as lower-brow mediums such as Twitter. Judging by his work — and egalitarian sensibilities — Venturi would have appreciated them all.

From PlanPhilly:

In [Venturi’s] passing, Philadelphia loses a native son whose work changed the course of architecture, and left an indelible imprint on his hometown – from the campuses of University of Pennsylvania and Drexel to residential architecture in Chestnut Hill and public spaces in Old City. His buildings and ideas live on, however, continuing to seriously challenge us with architecture that doesn’t take itself so seriously.

Beyond Philadelphia, the legacy of Venturi and his partner and wife Denise Scott Brown has been called a “radical punch” to architecture’s “solar plexus.” Writing for De Zeen, architect Charles Holland recently praised the duo’s book “Learning from Las Vegas” as a challenge for others in his profession to “take popular culture, popular taste and ordinary architecture seriously.”

“It was also a highly divisive book that many saw as uncritical and overly accommodating to the more extreme forms of capitalism,” Holland wrote. “It set the tone for Venturi’s status as a highly respected and hugely influential architect who was also a professional irritant and, somehow, an outsider. Given his love of difficult reconciliations and perverse contradictions, this status was entirely appropriate.”

From the Guardian:

Venturi is often referred to as the father of postmodernism, but he was so much more than that. As the historian Robert Miller wrote, it is “a charge comparable to calling Thomas Edison the father of disco”. Like Edison, Venturi shone a bright light into the often gloomy world of architectural discourse, illuminating a colourful spectrum of possibility, embracing the messy vitality of the “ugly ordinary”, and expanding the very idea of what architecture could be.

Scott Brown, whose legacy is less well-known due to the kind of industry sexism that Next City has covered at length, was often the force behind that love for the ordinary, both in the duo’s architecture and their broader urban and social mission.

From De Zeen:

Scott Brown’s input and influence on the practice has been immense. Ingrained industry sexism has undoubtedly downplayed her part, most evident in her exclusion from the Pritzker Prize, which was awarded to Venturi alone in 1991. But it was Scott Brown who introduced Las Vegas to the mix, and who brought an engagement with popular culture, sociology and urbanism. Her pioneering interest in advocacy planning and community engagement also gave a political and social dimension to the work.

Writers and architects have sent out tributes on social media.


Gubernatorial Hopeful Wants to Tax Massachusetts’ Private Colleges

Jay Gonzalez, winner of the Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial primary, speaks at a Massachusetts Democratic Party unity event in Boston, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

Massachusetts’ big-name private colleges, including Harvard, MIT and Boston University, could fund the state’s public schools under a contentious proposal by Democratic candidate for governor Jay Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said Wednesday that he hopes to impose a 1.6 percent tax on nonprofit college and university endowments over $1 billion, WBUR reports. Gonzalez’s campaign contends that the tax could generate an estimated $1 billion a year, with more than half coming from Harvard. The funds would be earmarked for transportation and public school initiatives.

“I think it’s fair to ask the wealthiest among us — including major institutions that have accumulated enormous wealth in part thanks to their exemption from taxation — to contribute to our greater community,” Gonzalez told reporters this week, according to the AP.

Higher education leaders don’t see it that way.

“We’re surprised, disappointed and thought it was a terrible idea,” Richard Doherty, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, said recently, WBUR reports. He said that endowments are used to fund things like financial aid and research and added that if funding is cut, those programs suffer.

Incumbent Republican Gov. Charlie Baker agreed that the plan was a bad idea, and compared it to a similar proposal made by President Donald Trump earlier this year.

Others, like Zac Bears of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, believe the tax would be even the balance between the elite schools and their public counterparts.

“UMass Amherst alone educates more Massachusetts residents than these nine large private colleges combined,” Bears told WBUR. “We need to invest in our public higher ed system, and these institutions have more than enough money to help us do it.”

Massachusetts isn’t the only region considering how to pump money into its higher education system this voting season. In Denver, residents will ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ a college scholarship tax. A previous version of the tax went before voters in 2015 — as Next City covered at the time — and was narrowly defeated. Its aim was similar to the tax Gonzalez is proposing, but on a citywide, rather than statewide scale.

“I think that if we’re successful, there will be a lot of interest across the country looking at this model,” Stephen Jordan, president of Metropolitan State University of Denver, told Next City at the time. “There are a lot of large communities like Denver out there, within states that are constrained to provide for higher ed institutions and where there’s a significant population of first-generation college students who are priced out of four-year colleges.”


‘Uncomfortable Art Tours’ Question Colonialist Biases in London-Area Museum

Pieces from the Benin Bronzes collection, originally taken from what is now modern-day Nigeria and housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum. (Credit: Warofdreams)

As European museums face increased pressure to return African art — much of it taken during the so-called “Scramble for Africa” — one London-based curator is trying to tell a side of art history not documented in most school books.

Alice Procter’s “Uncomfortable Art Tours” at the Queen’s House, a maritime museum in Greenwich, explores the racist narratives and ideologies underpinning many objects displayed in Europe from the region’s colonial period, Al Jazeera reports.

From the news site:

On the Queen’s House tour, portraits, botanical records, curios and engravings commemorating various European expeditions are analysed and put into context, sometimes to the discomfort of some of her tour group, who are mainly young white women — like Procter herself….

Admiral Nelson’s lifelong opposition to the abolition movement, the English Crown’s financial involvement with slavery and the lack of evidence to support lurid tales of cannibalism all come as a bit of a shock.

“While museums continue to argue that they are neutral spaces, the fact is that they are not,” Procter told Al Jazeera. “There is always one side of the story that has been privileged over the other in these spaces, and we need to be more honest and open about that.”

Her tours come at a time when many European and American museums are reckoning (or refusing to reckon) with how they came to possess some of their most valuable pieces. From works that were mysteriously acquired during the Cambodian genocide to artifacts seized by British forces during military offensives in present-day Nigeria, the art presented in so-called “universal” museums is often the rightful property of countries that were colonized.

In recent years, according to the Guardian, many have called for the “repatriation” of antiquities to their countries of origin. But while some curators support a system of long-term loans — in which the country requesting the objects would gain access to them for a period, but would first have to recognize the museum as the legal owner — others believe that could set a bad legal precedent when it comes to looted art.

Long-term loans represent institutional Europe’s perceived “God-given right and obligation to supervise Africans and their activities, including what obviously is African property and resource,” former UN legal adviser Kwame Opoku wrote recently in the Modern Ghana journal, according to Al Jazeera.

As Next City has covered, whitewashing history is a problem in American museums as well — particularly when it comes to Native American art. And representation remains an issue as well. In 2015, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation found that only 16 percent of art museum leadership positions were held by people of color, even though 38 percent of Americans identify as black, Hispanic, Asian or multiracial. Several museums, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Oakland Museum of California are working to more closely align their exhibits with their surrounding communities.


Portland Leaders Endorse Bigger Buildings, Smaller Homes

(Photo by Steve Morgan)

As with officials in Toronto and Minneapolis, Portland planning commissioners appear poised to embrace gentle density.

In a series of straw votes last week, the planning commission endorsed a number of policy changes designed to cap the size of new single units, re-legalize structures that include more than one unit inside and allow buildings to get slightly bigger to include multiple units, Sightline reports.

The commission also recommended increasing the maximum number of allowable homes on a (previously single-family) lot to three or four.

The commission is an advisory body, so the changes still must go before the City Council. But its recommendations carry some weight, especially because the Portland City Council has been leaning pro-density in recent years, according to the website.

“The goal is to reduce demolitions of one small house for one big house, and incentivize things the public has an interest in having more of: homes, especially less expensive homes, especially ones that rehab old structures instead of demolishing them,” Sightline reports. The changes reflect a vision for the city “where more expensive detached homes and more affordable small plexes are all mixed together,” according to the website.

Minneapolis officials have been debating a similar long-range vision, As Next City has covered. Mayor Jacob Frey has voiced strong support for so-called “fourplexes” in single-family neighborhoods, with the goal of increasing density without massive new developments.

The concept is an example of gentle density — i.e., increased density from duplexes or garage apartments in areas zoned mostly for single-family homes. In Toronto, officials have also been eyeing the city’s network of alleys — or laneways — as a source of second units in neighborhoods that generally keep to one home per lot.

In Portland, planning officials see the smaller homes as a win not just for increased supply, but for sustainability as well.

“For all the talk about, ‘We can’t fit into this 2,500 square foot house,’ I kind of think, well, we did for most of human history, in houses half that size,” commissioner Eli Spevak said last week, according to Sightline. “I also think about the carbon issues. Oregon has studied this more than any state. The biggest carbon impact of new construction, over the lifespan of a house, is how big it is. Seventy, 80 percent of the carbon impact of a house is heating and cooling the space. … Attached housing is great for that also, and this code supports both those things: attached housing and small homes.”


City and State Officials Scramble in the Wake of Florence

Cars try to navigate a flooded road leading to Interstate 40 in Castle Hayne, N.C., after damage from Hurricane Florence cut off access to Wilmington, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Flooding from Hurricane Florence severed land route access to the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, Sunday and shrinking fuel supplies threatened the region’s water plant. State officials were working on reaching the city via ocean routes and in high-water vehicles, North Carolina Health News reports — and their efforts were echoed up and down the southeastern coast as cities braced for surges and flash floods from the so-called “storm of a lifetime.”

Wilmington city leaders also coordinated an airlifted delivery of food and water Sunday, although existing distribution centers needed to be relocated, because severe rainstorms had rendered them inaccessible, CBS News reports.

Although Woody White, chairman of the board of commissioners of New Hanover County, initially declared on Sunday, “There is no [land] access to Wilmington,” by late Monday James Trogdon, the state’s Department of Transportation Secretary, said one major access route has reopened to the city. It was closed to all but emergency crews.

In New Bern, North Carolina, meanwhile, city officials coordinated the rescue of 200 people trapped in their homes, according to CNN.

“WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” the city tweeted. “You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU.”

Officials later sent out thanks to the many organizations that made the rescue efforts possible.

The storm has dumped up to 30 inches of rain in some places and left 523,000 homes and businesses without power. At least 23 fatalities have been reported.

The mayor of Fayetteville, North Carolina, issued a dire warning this weekend urging residents to leave.

“If you are refusing to leave during this mandatory evacuation, you need to do things like notify your legal next of kin because the loss of life is very, very possible,” Mayor Mitch Colvin said Saturday, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

But certain people in mandatory evacuation zones have not been able to leave, the State reports.

Despite being located in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zone, the occupants of the Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston County, South Carolina will not be allowed to evacuate. The jail houses many inmates who have not been convicted — only charged — and are awaiting bond hearings, according to the State. In 2016, that detention center made headlines for housing a large number of undocumented immigrants as part of a partnership with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

North Carolina’s Attorney General has been investigating price gouging complaints as residents evacuate and shelter in place. On Sunday, the lawmaker told CBS News that his office had received about 500 complaints alleging excessive prices for hotels, gas and water.

Regulators were also attempting to monitor hog farms and coal ash dumps, which could contaminate stormwater flowing to nearby cities, the Associated Press reports. Around Wilmington, however, environmental inspections have been compromised due to flooded roads. The coal ash dumps pose a particular concern because they contain heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury.


Brooklyn Prosecutor Could Erase ‘Tens of Thousands’ of Low-Level Pot Convictions

(AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, file)

Following officials in San Francisco and Seattle, Brooklyn’s top prosecutor has announced a plan that could erase tens of thousands of low-level marijuana convictions, the Associated Press reports.

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said last week that he will invite people to ask the courts to dismiss pot possession misdemeanors or violations. He expects prosecutors to assent in the “great majority of a potential 20,000 cases just since 1990,” according to the AP.

Gonzalez’ office has stopped prosecuting most cases that involve procession of a small amount of pot, according to another AP story.

”It’s a little unfair to say we’re no longer prosecuting these cases, but to have these folks carry these convictions for the rest of their lives,” he told the news source.

In May, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said he would tell the NYPD to stop arresting people for smoking marijuana in public, Next City reported. His announcement came on the heels of a New York Times investigation that found that black and Hispanic people were arrested on marijuana charges in New York at much higher rates than white people, but marijuana use was consistent across races.

Gonzalez appears to be looking toward San Francisco, where District Attorney George Gascón said in February that his office would review and wipe out marijuana convictions dating back to 1975 en masse. And the City of Seattle in April filed a motion with the Seattle Municipal court that could remove marijuana convictions handed down between 1997 and 2010.

Both cities had a Colorado legal precedent to thank. In 2014, a Colorado appeals court ruled that certain pot-related criminal convictions could be overturned, and while the decision was limited but it helped pave the way for how states review past drug convictions, as Next City covered earlier this year.

Unlike Seattle, San Francisco or the state of Colorado, recreational marijuana isn’t legal in New York. But according to the AP, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has appointed a panel to draft legislation that could legalize it.


Wisconsinites Want Good Schools More than Lower Taxes

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Even in the state’s more conservative counties, Wisconsin residents want good schools more than they want tax cuts, Urban Milwaukee reports.

Voters are concerned that recent cuts have harmed public education according to a poll from Marquette University Law School.

From Urban Milwaukie:

When presented with a direct trade-off between increasing resource for schools and cutting taxes, a significant majority of Wisconsin voters said they favor spending more money on schools (61%) than reducing property taxes (32%).

Many Wisconsin voters said that schools were in worse shape now than they were a few years ago. Nearly half (47%) said that schools were in worse shape now than in recent years, and only 15% said that schools are in better shape now.

Those findings could have big policy implications for state lawmakers, according to the site — although those officials may or may not choose to listen. Prior to 2011, the state devoted $3.81 of every $10 in tax revenue to public schools. Starting in January of that year, however, lawmakers began to chip, then chop, away at that revenue. The combined cost of tax cuts since 2011 has “climbed each year, starting from a low of $57 million in 2012, and reaching $2.0 billion in 2019 in inflation-adjustment dollars,” according to the Wisconsin Budget Project. The combined total cost of the tax cuts adds up to $8.7 billion over the eight-year stretch.

As Next City has covered, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at a record low, and state lawmakers are worried that working-age population growth is only projected to be 0.2 percent — while the projected job growth rate is six percent. Officials want to import talent from nearby Chicago, but funding public schools could also go a long way toward closing the workforce gap in the future. (The Madison-based Terrace Town project is one innovative program preparing Wisconsin students for the state’s regional needs). A focus on equity — and decent public transportation — could also go a long way, since the unemployment rate is higher among communities of color in the state’s cities.

One thing is certain, lawmakers have no problem continuing to offer corporate tax breaks. Last year, Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn announced plans to build a $10 billion plant in Wisconsin, with $3 billion in incentives slated to come from the state.


Sacramento Homeless Deaths Up Dramatically in 2017

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In Sacramento, as in California, more homeless people are dying according to the California Health Report.

A total of 127 homeless people died in 2017, up from 71 in 2016, the paper reports, citing research from the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness. That’s a 75 percent increase, and is about “three times the average number of deaths of homeless people in the county between 2002 and 2013,” according to the paper.

There are several trends behind those figures — mainly that homelessness itself is up in recent years.

Between 2015 and 2017, the number of people experiencing homelessness at a single point in time increased by upwards of 1,000, Janna Haynes, communications officer for Sacramento County’s homeless initiatives told the paper.

“Incrementally, we’re probably looking at about the same percentage of homeless deaths,” she said. “But obviously it’s unacceptable and we’re very saddened by it.”

From the California Health Report:

Homeless people in Sacramento County are now five times more likely to die than people in the general population, the report stated. They’re also 23 times more likely to be murdered, and 17 times more likely to commit suicide, figures showed.

More than half of the homeless deaths in 2017 were the results of an accident, a third could be traced to drug or alcohol abuse, and more than 1 in 10 deaths occurred from either homicide or suicide. Violent deaths included shootings, blunt force injuries, stabbings and drownings.

Those numbers are especially alarming considering the city’s response to figures from the previous year. After witnessing a dramatic increase in deaths in 2016, city leaders vowed to increase access to warming stations and housing for the chronically homeless, as Next City reported at the time.

But housing takes time, and Sacramento’s swell in homelessness mimics a similar swell statewide.

The “most recent homeless count report in 2017 found California led the nation in both the percentage of people who are homeless, and the increase in homeless people over 2016, a rise of almost 14 percent,” according to the Health Report. And while not all counties — and neither federal, nor state agencies — track data on homeless deaths, the rise in numbers statewide does appear to be increasing the death rate as well.

A lack of affordable housing is a main contributor to the problem, as Next City has also covered.

“I think a lot of people find themselves unable to pay their rent or pay their mortgage,” Haynes told the paper. “I think that it’s a problem people are seeing everywhere as the housing market gets better.”


The Uber Rich Are Stashing Cash in Boston Luxury Real Estate, Report Says

(Photo by Nelson48)

A large percentage of Boston’s luxury condos are going to LLCs and trusts rather than owner-occupants according to a new study, which claims that the city’s high-end building boom isn’t doing much to address the local housing shortage.

Researchers from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) examined property records for roughly 1,800 condos in 12 newer luxury buildings throughout the city, the Boston Globe reports. The condos generally sell for over $3 million apiece.

They found that over 35 percent of the units were owned by LLCs or trusts that obscured the real owners and beneficiaries. What’s more, 64 percent of the owners didn’t claim the residential exemption offered by the city, which may indicate that Boston isn’t their primary residence.

“I wouldn’t even call these buildings a housing market,” study author Chuck Collins recently told the Globe. “It’s just another asset class for a segment of investors looking for an alternative to the stock market. It’s not a home. It’s a wealth-storage unit.”

And some of the city’s new luxury buildings stand out as textbook examples of the problem, according to IPS. The 51 units above the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, for example, sold for an average of $6.5 million each. Nearly 60 percent are owned by trusts, LLCs, and shell corporations, and fewer than 18 percent of those “owners” claim a residential exemption.

Thousands more seven-figure condos are under construction, but the average Boston resident earns $59,000 a year, according to the report. The luxury units, therefore, function as a potent symbol of the inequalities plaguing the city.

From the report:

Boston’s luxury boom figures to accelerate Boston’s already troubling disparities of income, wealth and opportunity.

Suffolk County, the jurisdiction where Boston resides, rates as the most unequal county in Massachusetts, our nation’s sixth most unequal state in terms of the gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and everyone else. And Boston’s racial wealth divide will only worsen if current trends continue. One marker of those trends: In 2015, not one single home mortgage loan was issued for African-American and Latino families in the Seaport District and the Fenway, two Boston neighborhoods with thousands of new luxury housing units.

According to the Globe, luxury developers and managers contested a number of the report’s findings. Many high-end developers throughout the city cap investor sales at 20 or 25 percent of a building, Sue Hawkes, managing director of Collaborative Cos. (which markets luxury properties) told the paper. And there are other reasons that buyers “might use shell companies to make their purchases: privacy, for one, or to hold the property in trust for tax or liability reasons,” the Globe reports.

“You don’t want a building with a bunch of dark windows,” Hawkes told the paper. “That doesn’t benefit anybody.”

Still, the specter of those dark buildings is pushing officials to craft policy incentivizing owner-occupants from London to Vancouver, as Next City has covered. London mayor Sadiq Khan has been working on hiking up taxes on high-end homes that are left unoccupied most of the time. In Portland and Los Angeles officials are crafting legislation that ties luxury development with funds for subsidized housing. And in Vancouver, a new tax on thousands of so-called “empty homes” has raised around $30 million for affordable housing programs, according to the Globe.

“We have these glaring wealth gaps in our city, and we’re adding thousands of units for uber-rich people,” Collins told the paper. “The question becomes, who is Boston for?”


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