Posts by Author: Rachel Dovey

Activists Release Suggestions for Reforming Chicago Police Department

(Photo by Daniel Schwen)

Chicago police officers may soon be encouraged to avoid arresting people over minor offenses. That and other reforms are part of a proposal compiled by activist groups involved in ongoing litigation with the city, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The groups include the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and Black Lives Matter Chicago, who are trying to influence a consent decree before it’s submitted to a federal judge. According to the Tribune, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan are currently wrestling over the details of a court order that could eventually serve as a judicially enforceable mandate.

As Next City has covered, the troubled Chicago Police Department’s excessive use of force and lack of accountability (especially toward communities of color) was spotlighted in a DOJ report from January of 2017. The federal department originally stepped in to investigate after the brutal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald. In the ensuing document, the DOJ called for a judicially enforced agreement to hold the department to a number of reforms.

Emanuel originally agreed to let a judge enforce changes. But when the Trump Administration took over in late January, the mayor changed his mind and began calling for “monitors” to oversee local reforms, rather than a judge. After Madigan sued the city to force a consent decree last August, however, Emanuel agreed to negotiate and gave the activist groups a role in drafting and enforcing new policies.

Beyond avoiding arrests over minor offenses, the groups’ proposals encourage police to give warnings or divert offenders to “mediation or public health program(s),” rather than issuing citations or locking them up, according to the Tribune.

From the paper:

For a number of offenses, a supervisor would need to approve the arrest “unless not practicable under the circumstances.” Those crimes, described as “quality of life offenses” by the groups, range from gambling to prostitution to obstructing, resisting or assaulting a police officer.

The activist groups also want the department to be forced to enact a policy on foot pursuits, which have often led to shootings and other uses of force. The consent decree proposed by Emanuel and Madigan leaves room for the creation of a policy but does not mandate it.

The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police has said the consent decree is part of a “war on the police” and sought to intervene in the case, but its attempts haven’t yet been successful, according to the Tribune.


Carson’s HUD Wants to Continue Rolling Back Fair Housing Enforcement

(Photo by Another Believer)

Ben Carson has proposed new changes to an Obama-era fair housing rule he suspended in January, NPR reports.

The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule was issued in 2015. It tried to add teeth to the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and required municipalities receiving federal funds to more rigorously assess local segregation patterns — and come up with plans to correct them. Under Carson, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced at the start of 2018 that it would stop enforcing the rule until 2020, as Next City covered.

Now, Carson “wants the rule to focus more on reducing the regulatory burdens of local jurisdictions and on giving them more control, while encouraging actions that bolster housing choice and increase housing supply,” according to NPR.

The Obama-era rule “often dictated unworkable requirements,” Carson said in a statement, as reported by the station. He added that AFFH was “suffocating investment in some of our most distressed neighborhoods.”

The department’s announcement contains few details about how Carson plans to enforce the rule going forward, according to Slate. He’s framed the change as a free-market tool for beefing up overall housing production. But it’s no secret that he doesn’t like the Obama-era rule. He’s argued that it “amounts to an aggressive intrusion by the federal government into some of the most intimate decisions local citizens and communities make: about where to live, who lives next door and how to design their neighborhoods.”

In May, a group of housing advocates sued HUD for its January suspension. A complaint from the National Fair Housing Alliance, Texas Appleseed, and Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (Texas Housers) alleged that the suspension was unlawful because it was done without advanced notice or opportunity for public comment, Next City reported. It also accused the department of making the decision based on “sparse reasoning… [that] was arbitrary and capricious.”

Madison Sloan, the director of Disaster Recovery and Fair Housing with Texas Appleseed, hinted that the new tweaks were more of the same.

“This notice is part of HUD’s continuing attempt to gut the Fair Housing Act, allowing public money to fund discrimination and segregation in violation of the law,” Sloan said in a statement, as reported by NPR.


Los Angeles Taxi Drivers Discriminate Against Black Riders

(Credit: Boris Dzhingarov)

An equity audit of L.A.’s ride-hailing and taxi services suggests that black riders face more discrimination from medallion-carrying drivers than their Uber and Lyft counterparts.

Anne E. Brown, a researcher at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, conducted the audit, which she detailed in a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed. She hired UCLA students to take upwards of 1,700 rides in Ubers, Lyfts and taxis between two designated spots.

The results were troubling. She wrote:

Taxi service, while poor, was pretty much the same for white, Asian and Latino riders. It was only noticeably different — and noticeably worse — for black riders, providing robust evidence of discrimination. Taxi companies were 73 [percent] more likely to not pick up a black customer than a white customer, and one in four black riders never reached their destination. When they were picked up, black riders waited 52 [percent] longer than white riders.

Previous researchers have found that taxis avoid low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Because my study followed riders traveling between two identical locations, we can see that discrimination also occurs at the individual level, driven primarily by race.

Discrimination occurred when a driver or taxi dispatcher could infer a rider’s race — either when they saw a rider’s picture on an app, learned their name or approached them for pick-up. In several cases, Brown wrote, taxi drivers approached black riders, but then passed by without stopping. A few drivers also refused to transport black riders without receiving cash up front — which is illegal.

Lyft and Uber, on the other hand, generally delivered their riders to their destinations. Black riders did have about a 4 percent higher likelihood of having their trip canceled compared to white riders. But they almost always reached point B eventually, even if the first driver cancelled.

Brown’s findings were echoed in New York recently, when civil rights groups criticized the city for capping its ride-hailing services. Uber and Lyft were helpful services for black and Latino riders, who had more difficulty hailing cabs than their white counterparts, the advocates claimed. In response, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission announced plans to form an Office of Inclusion, according to the New York Times. The office will an develop anti-discrimination training program for drivers and encourage people to report the drivers who refuse to pick them up.

As Next City has covered, gender-based discrimination is a problem in the ride-hailing world as well. In New York, for example, women make up about 60 percent of taxi riders, but only 2 percent of drivers. Uber doesn’t have a stellar record of investigating and prosecuting sexual assault claims either, but several companies have looked to fix the problem with ride-hailing apps just for women.


South San Francisco Council Approves Linkage Fees

South San Francisco. (Credit: Moto "Club4AG" Miwa)

Count another win for linkage fees, this time in South San Francisco. Officials last week unanimously approved a measure that will fund below-market rate housing with fees from new retail construction, commercial spaces, and hotels, the San Mateo Daily Journal reports.

Per the council’s decision, developers will pay $5 per square foot for new hotel space, $2.50 for restaurant or retail space and $15 for the same amount of office, medical or research and development space. Officials predict that the fees will generate between $5 million and $15 million. The revenue has several potential endpoints — it could go toward new housing, preservation of existing units or the acquisition of new land for nonprofit developers.

Councilman Pradeep Gupta praised the fees as another tool for officials trying to offset skyrocketing housing costs.

“It won’t in my mind solve the problem, but it is a step in the right direction,” he said, according to the Daily Journal.

Officials in Los Angeles and Denver have embraced linkage fees recently, as Next City has covered. Policy-makers in Austin tried to follow suit but were blocked by the state. Cities are also starting to tax short-term rentals with an eye toward housing development, creating another kind of informal linkage.

Denver’s fees are significantly lower than the prices proposed in South San Francisco — no doubt reflecting the steep cost of land in the Bay Area. According to the Daily Journal, prices are competitive with nearby Redwood City, Foster City and Menlo Park.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, critics have begun questioning whether such market-based solutions can replace the death of fully public development. As federal and state resources have dried up, L.A. County has seen sharp declines in tax credit funding for new affordable homes. And while impact fees and similar policies are helpful, the city is facing severe shortages— which stand to be worsened by the amount of housing subject to private developers’ goodwill.


Inflation Is Cancelling out Wage Growth

(AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

The 2018 U.S. economy is “booming,” “strong,” and “firing on all cylinders,” if headlines are to be believed. But overall, inflation is erasing wage gains, according to numbers released by the Labor Department last week.

The cost of living was up 2.9 percent from July 2017 to July 2018 — and that inflation rate outpaced a 2.7 percent increase in wages over the same period, the Washington Post reports. The average U.S. “real wage,” i.e. a federal measure of pay that factors in inflation, is slightly lower than it was a year ago.

The Post reports:

Inflation hit a six-year high this summer, in part because of a jump in energy costs. The price of a gallon of gas has increased 50 cents in the past year, up to a national average of $2.87, according to AAA….

Consumers are also paying more for housing, health care and automobile insurance, the federal government reported Friday. Additional price increases could be coming as President Trump’s new tariffs boost the prices of cheap imported products on which U.S. consumers rely. And many economists warn that growth might have peaked for this expansion.

Those high costs — particularly for housing — have a ripple effect on city economies. From 2000 to the end of 2017, median rents had increased by 9 percent, but median renter household incomes had decreased by 11 percent, Angel Ross wrote in an op-ed for Next City last year. In 2017, nearly 50 million people nationwide lived in rent-burdened households, and those dollars often flowed away from local economies.

“The housing affordability crisis is not only taking a toll on renters, it’s also impacting municipal pocketbooks,” Ross wrote. “Research from the Urban Institute shows how renters’ economic and housing insecurity drains city budgets: In a typical year, one in four households experiences an income disruption due to job loss, health or a pay cut of 50 percent or more. And this has major cost implications for cities when it comes to homeless services, unpaid utilities and uncollected property taxes.”

According to the Post, most of the benefits of Trump’s strong economy have flowed to the top — to already high-paid workers, stock market investors and corporations. Relying on data from the Economic Policy Institute, the paper also reports that the bottom 10 percent of the workforce has seen modest gains in recent years, likely due to a number of minimum-wage increases passed by cities and states. But for workers in the middle, wages measured from 2009 to 2017 stayed flat or were slightly down.

Some good news: Key housing programs received several funding boosts under Congress’ last-minute budget bill passed in March. While the dollars still fall short of what’s needed, in many cases, increases to the Community Development Block Grant and Section 8 will at least help cities in assisting some of their rent-burdened residents.


Chicago DoBi Numbers Show Lock-To Wins, Equity Concerns

(Photo by Mike Licht)

Chicago’s dockless bike-share pilot, launched in May, seeks to correct some of the problems baked in to the controversial model. It features guidelines for geographic equity, for example, and favors companies with lock-to technology (a.k.a., bikes that can be easily secured to racks or poles) over companies with so-called “wheel-lock-only” bikes.

Ofo cited Chicago’s lock-to formula as one motivation for its withdrawal from the city (ultimately, though, the company was just fed up with the U.S. market). But according to the Chicago Reader, even without Ofo the pilot, centered on the city’s far south side, continues to roll along — and a look at its numbers contains some helpful hints for other cities looking to regulate private “DoBi” operators.

For one thing, they need to actually enforce their equity requirements. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Chicago Reader found out that LimeBike was leading its competitors in ridership numbers. The company may have had an edge because it offers electric bikes. But it also may be leading by disregarding certain requirements.

From the paper:

To promote geographic equity, the pilot’s rules require vendors to keep at least 15 percent of their fleets in each of the four service-area quadrants. When I checked out the apps last week, the Pace and Jump bikes were spread fairly evenly across the pilot zone, but almost all of the LimeBikes cycles were clustered within or near Beverly. This majority-white neighborhood is the most affluent community in the pilot zone, as well as the most bike friendly. As such, Beverly is low-hanging fruit for bike share, whose users tend to skew white and wealthier.

The city’s lock-to rules, however, appear to be effective. Maintenance reports obtained by the Reader suggested that vandalism had been rare. But many people the paper spoke with were also unfamiliar about how to use the bikes.

“They just put them out and don’t inform us about how they work,” one person said.

Beyond Chicago, dockless bike-share programs have seen mixed success in U.S. cities, as Next City has covered at length. While some regions have welcomed the start-ups for their upfront affordability, others have set up stringent regulations to limit their operation. Without such regulations, the start-ups “pose a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare,” one particularly wary Sacramento ordinance stated, adding that “derelict self-locking bicycles can become a major cause of blight in both residential and nonresidential neighborhoods.”

But the model has great potential for suburban regions, where cities and towns bleed together and biking between municipal boundaries makes sense. It’s also cheap enough to entice cities that have been slow to adopt any bike-share program.

“Bike-share will be a really powerful addition to the public transportation landscape in New Orleans,” Bike Easy Executive Director Dan Favre told Next City in 2016. “We’ve struggled to get bus service back to where it was before Katrina.”


EPA Opens Door for Asbestos Comeback

Photo of asbestos warning at Bauer Elementary School in Miamisburg, Ohio. (Credit: Ktorbeck)

Asbestos — that known carcinogen that manufacturing companies can’t seem to quit — has been linked with lung cancer and a host of other serious diseases according to the EPA.

That same EPA, however, may be on the verge of encouraging an asbestos comeback.

Fast Company reports:

On June 1, the EPA enacted a “SNUR” (short for Significant New Use Rule) allowing the manufacture of new asbestos-containing products to be petitioned and approved by the federal government on a case-by-case basis. Under an amendment to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that passed in 2016, during the Obama administration, asbestos also remains one of ten prioritized substances currently being evaluated by the EPA.

And the agency has taken the teeth out of its evaluation process. According to the news site, it will no longer consider “the effect or presence of substances in the air, ground, or water in its risk assessments—effectively turning a blind eye to improper disposal, contamination, emissions, and other long-term environmental and health risks associated with chemical products, including those derived from asbestos.”

“The Trump administration rewrote the rules to be dramatically less protective of human health,” Bill Walsh, board president of the Healthy Building Network, recently told Fast Company. The new rules, he added, give the EPA “discretion to do whatever it wants.”

The U.S. is one of the only developed nations that hasn’t completely banned asbestos, and legislators have a long history of prioritizing business interests associated with the material over public health. But as the Washington Post points out, President Donald Trump’s EPA is poised to tighten that allegiance. The president has voiced skepticism of the well-established link between asbestos and a host of illnesses, according to the Post. In his 1997 book “The Art of the Comeback,” he wrote that anti-asbestos efforts were “led by the mob.”

It’s hardly surprising, given his administration’s track record of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, pulling out of the Paris Agreement, rolling back vehicle emissions standards and blaming California’s record-breaking 2018 wildfires on California’s environmental laws. As the Architect’s Newspaper points out, it’s now up to local and state governments to counter the federal move.


NYC Puts The Brakes on Unbridled Ride-Sharing Expansion

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

New York City Council Wednesday pressed pause on new ride-hailing vehicle licenses — a move that will allow the city to study the booming industry.

The legislation makes New York the first major U.S. city to cap services like Uber and Lyft, the New York Times reports. The new regulations could easily set a precedent for other cities wanting to rein in hide-hailing operators, according to the Times.

“We are pausing the issuance of new licenses in an industry that has been allowed to proliferate without any appropriate check or regulation,” Corey Johnson, the City Council Speaker, said, according to the paper.

Uber, predictably, was none-too-pleased. The company said in a statement (as reported by the Times) that the move would “threaten one of the few reliable transportation options while doing nothing to fix the subways or ease congestion.”

But while it may not be beloved by the operators’ higher-ups, drivers stand to benefit. For one thing, officials on Wednesday also passed legislation that will allow them to set a minimum pay rate for drivers. Beyond that, fewer cars on city streets could mean less congestion and, thus, competition, as Uber driver Tidiane Samassa recently wrote in an op-ed for NY Daily News.

“There are too many Uber cars on the road, plain and simple,” he wrote. “Sometimes it now takes me over an hour driving around before I get a passenger, because all around me there are thousands of other for-hire cars also empty. All of us are competing for a smaller slice of the pie as Uber adds more cars to the streets each month with no limit.”

The new bills could help fix that, Streetsblog pointed out Wednesday.

Citywide, Uber and Lyft vehicles have no passenger 45 percent of the time they’re in service, according to [transportation analyst Bruce] Schaller’s analysis of trip data. To reduce that unoccupied time, the centerpiece of the City Council legislative package, Intro 144 (sponsored by Council Member Steve Levin), enables the TLC to establish “vehicle utilization standards” in specific parts of the city.

Schaller, an ex-DOT official, noted in a 2017 report that transportation network company ridership has doubled annually since 2013 in New York, as Next City reported last year. That growth increased driving in the city by about 600 million miles from 2013 to 2016.

The move is a “course correction,” according to Streetsblog that will be emulated by other U.S. cities being similarly strained. At least Uber can be glad the city hasn’t refused to renew its license altogether. Last year, Transport for London did just that, announcing that it didn’t find Uber London Limited “fit and proper to hold a private hire operator license.”

It’s also not as hard a cap as ride-sharing supporters imply — the freeze on ride-hailing vehicle licenses doesn’t apply to wheelchair accessible vehicles, Streetsblog also reported, speculating that the exception may “may serve as an incentive to make fleets accessible more than a hard constraint on growth.”


School Segregation is on the Rise in Boston

(Photo: Rick Berk)

Boston’s public schools are becoming resegregated, according to a new analysis from the Boston Globe.

Nearly 60 percent of the city’s schools are “intensely segregated,” meaning students of color occupy at least 90 percent of the seats, the Globe reports. That’s a sharp uptick — 20 years ago, 42 percent of the city’s schools fit that definition. Meanwhile, more schools are becoming majority-white as well.

Those shifting demographics are “largely the consequence of steps taken by city and school officials to allow more students to attend schools in their neighborhoods as they did prior to court-ordered busing,” according to the paper.

The schools that are becoming majority white, for example, are appearing in the same neighborhoods that had them prior to court-ordered segregation. And dramatic gaps exist in both performance and opportunities between majority-white schools and those labeled intensely segregated.

Laura Perille, interim superintendent of the Boston schools, pointed out that school demographics generally reflect the city’s segregated housing patterns.

“A lot of these schools are affirmatively chosen by families and students by the fact they are close to home,” she said, according to the paper. “From our perspective at the BPS, we educate all the children who come to us and celebrate their extraordinary diversity however that breaks down.”

Boston — like just about every U.S. city — had segregation baked into today’s real estate patterns, as Next City has covered. But according to the Globe, the city overhauled its school assignment system five years ago — and achieving racial balance wasn’t part of the equation. (Perille served on an advisory committee that helped with that overhaul.) What’s more, Mayor Marty Walsh also halted an effort to increase diversity at the city’s exam schools amid public backlash in 2016.

And although more local and state policymakers are exploring ways to desegregate their schools, federal mandates can easily stymie their efforts. One example: Two provisions tucked into a federal appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year. Those provisions would continue barring federal funds from going toward transportation for the purpose of school integration, as Next City has covered.

In other words, Boston’s geography is only one factor in the schools’ increasing segregation.

“This is devastating,” City Council President Andrea Campbell said of the findings, according to the Globe. “Not only does there need to be a sense of urgency to address this, but there also has to be a willingness to try new things. From where I sit, it’s important for every student and family who chooses to enter the system to have a spot at a quality school, but that is not currently happening in Boston.”


Bird Drops More Scooters on the Sly

A woman riding a Bird dockless electric scooter on a San Francisco crosswalk. (Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Bird has struck again — this time in Charleston.

The Post and Courier reports:

The scooters arrived with little warning — no hype, no preview, no city approval. When day broke on the weekend, they were just there.

Several dozen of them, actually, scattered across the Charleston peninsula and West Ashley. They were parked around The Citadel, they were parked on sidewalks on the Westside, and they were parked around Avondale.

Last month, the Santa Monica-based scooter company left fleets on the sidewalks of three New England cities without any notice, and it’s pulled similar stunts in St. Paul and Salt Lake City. Its strategy appears to be a two-wheeled version of Uber’s notorious “ask forgiveness, not permission.” (Bird was, after all, founded by a former Uber executive). By just showing up, the company forces a faster kick-off of the regulation process.

But according to the Charleston City Paper, this drop happened in less of a legal gray area. Bird apparently began operating without a business license even after the city told the company that would be illegal.

“Bird Rides, Inc. applied for a business license in Charleston sometime last week, but the application process was not completed after city officials determined that the business plan violated city rules,” the City Paper reports.

A letter from city attorney Steve Ruemelin to Bird says the city will consider it a violation each time a scooter is rented and “each day a scooter remains in the city,” according to the City Paper.

Bird’s statement suggested the company will comply.

“After testing a pilot program over the weekend, Bird has agreed to remove its scooters from Charleston,” the company said, according to the City paper. “We look forward to working with city officials on a framework that would allow our reliable transportation option to be available, and we are hopeful that we will be back on the streets soon to help the people of Charleston more easily move around their city.”

In May, Nashville regulators also chased Bird out of town — and reception has been mixed in San Francisco and Denver as well, as Next City has reported.

Despite its fly-by-night drop-offs, the company has also tried to play nice with city governments, vowing to pick up its scooters and share data with public entities. Earlier this month, it announced that it would begin directing revenue into a dedicated fund to create and improve transit infrastructure in the cities where it operates. The initiative would set aside $1 per day per scooter to build and maintain protected bike lanes.

After removing the scooters from Charleston by Monday, Bird’s scooters showed up in a neighboring city by Tuesday, according to WCSC Live 5 News.


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