Posts by Author: Rachel Dovey

Transit Union Says it will Refuse Special Accommodations for White Nationalists

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (Metro) is considering providing separate trains for participants of a white nationalist rally on August 12, the Washington Post reports. But the agency may be short-staffed that day; its largest transit union has implied that members won’t be showing up.

The “Unite the Right” rally is being organized by the white supremacist group behind the 2017 Charlottesville demonstration of the same name. Participants at that rally beat 20-year-old Deandre Harris and murdered counterprotester Heather Heyer. Speakers at this year’s event include neo-Nazi Patrick Little, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke and “pro-white” town manager Tom Kawczynski, according to documents released by the National Park Service and reported on by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Jack Evans, Metro board chair, has said that the separate trains would be supplied in an effort to prevent violence between rally participants and counter-protestors.

“We haven’t made any decisions about anything,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “We’re just trying to come up with potential solutions on how to keep everybody safe.”

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 president Jackie Jeter released the following statement, according to the region’s ABC News affiliate:

Local 689 is proud to provide transit to everyone for the many events we have in D.C. including the March of Life, the Women’s March and Black Lives Matters. We draw the line at giving special accommodation to hate groups and hate speech, especially considering that the courts granted Metro the ability to deny ads on buses and trains that are ‘issue-oriented,’ we find it hypocritical for Mr. Wiedefeld to make these unprecedented special accommodations for a hate group.

ATU Local 689 has also pointed out that more than 80 percent of its members are people of color, according to the station.

Metro enacted rules on what can (and can’t) be displayed on the sides of buses and inside trains in response to a string of anti-Muslim ads, as Next City has covered. Its policy against “issue-oriented ads” was challenged by the ACLU last year; the organization claimed Metro’s practice was overly broad and deeply selective.

 

Transit Union Says it will Refuse Special Accomodations for White Nationalists

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (Metro) is considering providing separate trains for participants of a white nationalist rally on August 12, the Washington Post reports. But the agency may be short-staffed that day; its largest transit union has implied that members won’t be showing up.

The “Unite the Right” rally is being organized by the white supremacist group behind the 2017 Charlottesville demonstration of the same name. Participants at that rally beat 20-year-old Deandre Harris and murdered counterprotester Heather Heyer. Speakers at this year’s event include neo-Nazi Patrick Little, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke and “pro-white” town manager Tom Kawczynski, according to documents released by the National Park Service and reported on by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Jack Evans, Metro board chair, has said that the separate trains would be supplied in an effort to prevent violence between rally participants and counter-protestors.

“We haven’t made any decisions about anything,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “We’re just trying to come up with potential solutions on how to keep everybody safe.”

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 president Jackie Jeter released the following statement, according to the region’s ABC News affiliate:

Local 689 is proud to provide transit to everyone for the many events we have in D.C. including the March of Life, the Women’s March and Black Lives Matters. We draw the line at giving special accommodation to hate groups and hate speech, especially considering that the courts granted Metro the ability to deny ads on buses and trains that are ‘issue-oriented,’ we find it hypocritical for Mr. Wiedefeld to make these unprecedented special accommodations for a hate group.

ATU Local 689 has also pointed out that more than 80 percent of its members are people of color, according to the station.

Metro enacted rules on what can (and can’t) be displayed on the sides of buses and inside trains in response to a string of anti-Muslim ads, as Next City has covered. Its policy against “issue-oriented ads” was challenged by the ACLU last year; the organization claimed Metro’s practice was overly broad and deeply selective.

 

Chicago Alderman Wants to Test Out Universal Basic Income

Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar. (Credit: Daniel X. O'Neil)

Chicago may be the next city to test universal basic income.

Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar recently proposed giving $500 a month to 1,000 Chicago families, no strings attached, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. His resolution has more than 30 co-sponsors and directs the mayor’s office to create a task force exploring a local universal basic income program, starting with the 1,000-family pilot.

Pawar fears that automation — particularly in the areas of hospitality, food services and transportation — could deepen the city’s existing fractures along the fault lines of geography, race and class, according to the Sun-Times.

“We are headed towards a perfect storm,” he said, according to the paper. “And I think that the best way to prevent that perfect storm is to start having a conversation and piloting innovative public policies so that people can start to see a different path.”

The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board is skeptical of Pawar’s proposal. His plan “suffers from a number of flaws, the most obvious being: How would Chicago pay for it?” the board wrote in a Monday op-ed. “Chicago has huge unfunded pension obligations, a lousy bond rating and rising property taxes. This pilot program would cost at least $6 million a year. When asked on WTTW’s ‘Chicago Tonight’ where the money would come from, Pawar had no answer.”

As Next City has covered, however, universal basic income pilots aren’t necessarily publicly funded. In Stockton, where a similar program is being tested, the Economic Security Project and Goldhirsh Foundation are financing the city’s efforts. Pawar would like to see Chicago’s pilot funded by donations from wealthy supporters of the idea, the Sun-Times reports — but that’s no small endeavor.

“What they’re planning is quite substantial,” Saadia McConville, communications director at the Economic Security Project recently told the paper. “I can speak from experience in Stockton that it’s definitely not an easy task, but it is something that [donors] are interested in.”

Universal basic income has supporters from across the political spectrum, from the Movement for Black Lives to tech billionaires. Its skeptics point primarily to that latter group, questioning whether the policy would simply be a new way for corporations to keep up their tax-evading, workforce-shrinking ways.

As Douglas Rushkoff wrote in an LA Times op-ed last year: “Where is [universal basic income] supposed to come from, after all, if not the profits that Silicon Valley companies have made by cutting out human labor in the first place?”

But the idea has also been hailed as a way for cities to invest more directly in their citizens. Officials already dole out corporate subsidies by the millions, the argument goes — why not cut out the corporation and provide an income floor for residents’ basic necessities?

“What $500 a month is going to do is to get [pilot participants] over the hump: [help them] plan for emergencies, to have some money in the bank … put groceries in their refrigerator, food on the table, to pay for childcare, to repair [their] car,” Pawar said, according to the Sun-Times.

 

Massachusetts Gives Cities its Blessing to Tax Airbnb

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

In June, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed an ordinance regulating short-term rentals. Now, the Massachusetts state legislature appears to be following his lead.

Last week, House and Senate negotiators agreed to legislation that would allow cities to tax short-term units at a rate of up to 17.5 percent, WBUR reports. Taking a cue from New Orleans, Seattle and Nashville — where similar policies have been debated — legislators also allowed cities to tie their local taxes to affordable housing development, effectively blessing the creation of informal linkage fees.

Massachusetts would become the first U.S. state to maintain a central registry of units under the bill, to be overseen by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. The legislation extends the state’s current 5.7 percent hotel tax to most short-term rentals while giving municipalities the option of tacking on an additional 6 to 9 percent, depending on how many units the owner is renting out, according to CBS Boston.

“We felt strongly that having some funding go toward more affordable housing was a critical piece and were happy to have it in the bill,” Representative Aaron Michlewitz said, according to WBUR.

Airbnb criticized the initial bill as “onerous and overly burdensome,” WBUR reports. In a statement, Airbnb spokesperson Crystal Davis said last week: ”While we appreciate the Massachusetts Senate and House for their progress on home sharing policy and taxation, a public registry of our hosts sets a precedent that negatively impacts families who home share, and the state’s reputation as a business leader.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh commended the legislature, however.

In June, Walsh signed an ordinance banning the listing of “investor units” rented out by people who don’t live on or near a property, as Next City reported. All owners wanting to list properties on sites like Airbnb would need to register with the city and pay permit fees ranging from $25 to $200 under the ordinance.

Linking short-term rental taxes to affordable housing — which the state bill allows — was debated in Nashville earlier this year. While some short-term rental critics wanted to phase out the practice entirely, one council member proposed adding a fee on the units. That tax would benefit a local consortium of nonprofits and religious entities that build below-market-rate housing.

Last November, Seattle also passed legislation to tax short-term operators. The funds were intended for both affordable housing and the city’s Equitable Development Initiative, which combats displacement.

The new taxes proposed in the Massachusetts bill would take effect in January 2019 for all units booked after the first of the year.

 

Austin Presses Pause on Zoning Update, Citing Divisive and Poisoned Process

Austin, Texas (Photo by Stuart Seeger) 

California and Texas may not have a lot in common culturally or ideologically, but they do have at least one striking similarity where city planning is concerned: Nothing flares tempers like the word “density.”

Now, following the death of SB 827 in California, the land-use lightning rod has claimed another victim: Austin’s CodeNext, which is now, as the Austin American-Statesman so eloquently puts it, Code Nixed.

CodeNext, as Next City covered last year, was an ambitious zoning overhaul that managed to make just about everyone mad.

“Neighborhood preservationists, like the Austin Neighborhoods Council, worry the new code will dramatically increase density in residential neighborhoods,” Jen Kinney wrote for Next City last June. “Urbanist groups like AURA think the plan doesn’t go far enough in addressing the city’s affordability crisis.”

And things apparently haven’t improved since then. Although he originally called on all parties concerned to “chill out,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler on Wednesday took to the City Council’s online message board to compose a 1,500-word post on why the zoning rewrite should be halted.

“The need to revise this land development code is greater than ever before,” he wrote. “Yet, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the CodeNext process, so divisive and poisoned, will not get us to a better place.”

The city has spent around $8 million paying a consultant and subcontractors to develop three drafts of rules and zoning maps, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The mayor is now calling for City Manager Spencer Cronk to lead the next round of rezoning efforts, but according to the paper, it’s unclear what form those might take.

“We need to assess where we are and task City Manager Cronk with evaluating all the good we have gotten from all the work done thus far, and then recommending a new process that builds on the lessons learned from what we’ve done, both good and bad,” Adler wrote.

As Kinney covered last year, Austin’s current code is complex and difficult to navigate, even for something as small as adding a porch on a single-family home. With an affordability crisis in the works and no strong public transportation backbone, the city is trying to move toward smart growth and multimodal transit. But urbanist groups worried that the plan miscategorized some areas, meaning they wouldn’t get the denser housing they needed.

For now, efforts will continue, however fruitlessly. A city spokeswoman told the Austin American-Statesman Wednesday that the city will continue work on CodeNext until ordered to stop.

 

Bay Area’s New Transit Station Reopens Parking Debate

(Credit: Flickr user miggslives)

It’s a classic indicator of success in California, a sign that when you built it they did indeed come (in cars). It’s the giant parking lot — whether football field-sized or rising in a multi-storied garage — and while it’s so often bestowed on retail centers, sports arenas and even churches, the question of whether it should accompany popular transit hubs is still a sticking point among many city planners.

In the East Bay city of Antioch, however, soaring ridership numbers may force consensus.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in May opened a new $525 million extension to the suburb. Already, it’s surpassing projections with 3,800 weekday commuters (BART initially estimated 2,800). It’s so popular, in fact, that the 1,006-slot parking lot serving the station is usually filled before 6 a.m.

“There likely would be even more riders, but there’s no room in the parking lot,” BART Board Director Joel Keller recently said according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The transit agency now plans to add 700 parking spaces on another lot it owns close to the station. But if the lots continue to be packed, and commuters’ parked cars continue to line neighborhood streets, BART may reopen what the Chronicle calls a “long-standing debate … over whether building more parking is the best way to promote the use of public transit.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to divert people off the roads and onto transit rather than have them continue driving to the urban core?” Keller said, according to the paper.

But BART’s multi-story parking garages have been criticized for their cost, and for eating up valuable land. In 2014, Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, who sits on the BART board, said he was “appalled” at the tens of millions of dollars “wasted” building commuter garages at certain urban stations, Streetsblog reported at the time. He did note, however, that at some “further out” stations, “an argument could be made for parking lots as a land-banking strategy until the appetite for transit village development matures and sustainable access options increase.”

As Next City has covered, transit ridership projections are a notoriously tricky business. Often, numbers will surge during an initial “free” period (particularly on streetcars) and then fall when a line starts charging fares. Some projects that have been especially successful use voter-approved tax dollars, rather than fare-boxes, for operations and maintenance.

That’s not the case on the Antioch extension, however, where the closest destination comes at a fee of $2. But as Bay Area News Group has noted, driving Highway 4 between Antioch and Bay Point (the route followed by the new BART extension) can take 6 times as long as riding the train due to standstill traffic.

“It’s going to a big help,” Nererda Mosqueda of Concord told the news service. “A huge help. I’m so tired of Highway 4 traffic.”

 

Federal Appeals Court Hands Limited Victory to Sanctuary Cities

A 2017 rally to support sanctuary policies in Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

A U.S. appeals court Wednesday handed a limited victory to sanctuary cities, ruling that President Donald Trump’s executive order threatening funding cuts to cities that limit their cooperation with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is unconstitutional.

The Associated Press reports:

In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that the order exceeded the president’s authority. Congress alone controls spending under the U.S. Constitution, and presidents do not have the power to withhold funding it approves to pursue their policy goals, the court majority said.

“By its plain terms, the executive order directs the agencies of the executive branch to withhold funds appropriated by Congress in order to further the administration’s policy objective of punishing cities and counties that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies,” Chief Judge Sidney Thomas wrote, according to the AP.

But the judges also ruled that a lower-court judge should not have blocked enforcement of Trump Administration’s order nationwide. They limited the injunction to California and sent the case back to the lower court to to discuss further whether a wider ban could be justified.

Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, said the ruling was a win for “criminal aliens in California, who can continue to commit crimes knowing that the state’s leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country.”

Overall, the decision is a win for supporters of sanctuary policies — but the Trump Administration could still try and enforce his executive order against jurisdictions outside the western states covered by the 9th Circuit, David Levine, an expert on federal court procedure at the University of California, told the AP.

“If they wanted to go after Chicago, if they wanted to go after Denver or Philadelphia, they would not be bound by an injunction,” he said. “Those places would have to bring their own lawsuits and whatever happens, happens in those cases.”

As Next City has covered, a federal appeals court largely upheld a Texas ban on sanctuary cities, which prompted Austin officials to get creative. One city council resolution approved in June directed the city manager and Austin police to end discretionary arrests — i.e., unnecessary arrests that could be handled by issuing a citation. In Wisconsin, meanwhile, several anti-sanctuary measures have been signed, including an amendment to the Immigration and Naturalization Act giving power to the federal government to deputize local law enforcement officials to act as immigration agents. (That amendment, 287g, has been the target of massive labour-backed protests across the state).

And increasingly, behind calls to #AbolishICE, activists are making tangible policy proposals that are gaining traction among local reformers.

As Jen Kinney recently wrote for Next City:

In Philadelphia, the encampment outside City Hall is plastered with the slogan “End PARS,” a reference to the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System, the mechanism whereby the city shares arrest data in real time with ICE. In New York, the immigrant rights group Movimiento Cosecha organizes campaigns to pressure companies such as Amazon to end their connections with the agency. A group of researchers is training people around the country to find out if their politicians profit from family detention. And activists in cities such as Columbus, Ohio are pushing officials to make the city a true sanctuary in practice, not just in name only.

The movement can point to some wins. Contra Costa County, outside of San Francisco, announced they’re ending a contract that currently allows ICE to detain some immigrants in the county prison. Facilities in Springfield, Oregon; Williamson County, Texas; and Arlington, Virginia have done the same.

Four days after Kinney’s story, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the city was not renewing the data-sharing agreement with ICE.

In California, sanctuary advocates praised the appeals court decision Wednesday.

“When a president overreaches and tries to assert authority he doesn’t have under the Constitution, there needs to be a check on that power grab,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement according to the AP. “The courts did that today, which is exactly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.”

 

Chicago Gets One Ida B. Wells Monument, Soon to Get Another

Ida B. Wells (Mary Garrity, 1893)

A large swath of Chicago’s Congress Parkway has been renamed in honor of civil rights icon and journalist Ida B. Wells.

The change to Ida B. Wells Drive was lauded by supporters at City Hall, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

“My great-grandmother will now be remembered for the woman she was and the contributions she made to our country,” Michelle Duster, Wells’ great-granddaughter, said, according to the paper.

Alderwoman Sophia King — one of the sponsors of the measure — cited the “historical significance of what it means to have a street, not only named after a woman, but a person of color,” the paper reports.

As Next City has covered, efforts to change street names in honor of people of color and remove confederate monuments were often challenged by alt-right protestors and even white nationalists (in the case of Charlottesville, Virginia) last year. In May of 2017, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a rousing speech decrying many of those monuments as celebrating “a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that [the confederacy] actually stood for.”

But Chicago’s switch from “Congress” apparently caused very little stir.

“I think we would all argue that nobody is looking to protect the word Congress these days. Ida B. Wells is certainly more popular than the members of Congress,” Alderman Brendan Reilly said last week, according to the Sun-Times.

In Bronzeville, the historic Chicago neighborhood where Wells’ lived, a monument is also in the works. A fundraising committee led by Duster netted $40,000 in a campaign earlier this month, totaling $300,000 raised over the past decade, and hopes to erect a 12-foot tribute complete with quotes and biographical information, according to Book Club Chicago.

 

New York City Takes Aim at Racism and Maternal Mortality

SUNY Downstate Medical Center. (Photo by Jim Henderson)

In New York City, black mothers are 12 times more likely than white mothers to die from childbirth-related causes. Nationally their risk is still sky-high — about four times that of white women (one of the reasons the U.S. has such a high maternal mortality rate compared to other developed nations) — but New York’s even steeper disparity stood out in an investigative series from NPR and ProPublica last year.

In response, city officials announced a $12.8 million initiative last week to reduce maternal deaths and complications among women of color, particularly black women.

“We are losing far too many mothers — especially women of color — to pregnancy-related complications,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a release. “That is unacceptable.”

Funding will go towards four pilot initiatives based at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. They include:

  • Engaging health care providers in implicit bias training
  • Supporting hospitals to enhance data tracking and analysis of severe maternal mortality and maternal morbidity events
  • Enhancing maternal care at facilities of NYC Health + Hospitals (the city’s public health system)
  • Expanding public education

Overall, the city’s goal is a complete elimination of the black-white racial disparity in deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth. Officials have also stated that they plan to cut the number of complications in half within five years.

“We recognize these are ambitious goals, but they are not unrealistic,” Dr. Herminia Palacio, New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, told ProPublica recently. “It’s an explicit recognition of the urgency of this issue and puts the goal posts in front of us.”

As NPR and ProPublica reported, New York’s racial disparity in maternal outcomes is among the largest in U.S. — and it’s growing.

From ProPublica:

Regardless of their education, obesity or poverty level, black mothers in New York City are at a higher risk of harm than their white counterparts. Black mothers with a college education fare worse than women of all other races who dropped out of high school. Black women of normal weight have higher rates of harm than obese women of all other races. And black women who reside in the wealthiest neighborhoods have worse outcomes than white, Asian and Hispanic mothers in the poorest ones.

“If you are a poor black woman, you don’t have access to quality OBGYN care, and if you are a wealthy black women, like Serena Williams, you get providers who don’t listen to you when you say you can’t breathe,” Patricia Loftman, a member of the American College of Nurse Midwives Board of Directors, told ProPublica recently. “The components of this initiative are very aggressive and laudable to the extent that they are forcing hospital departments to talk about implicit bias.”

 

Los Angeles Architects Suggest Designs for Better Shelters

A rendering from EPT Design and DLR. 

The first shelter in a $20-million project to address Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis opens in August — and it’s had what the LA Times calls “a rocky start.” The collection of trailers situated between busy streets and a freeway is anything but inviting, and to compensate for its lackluster surroundings, designers added a $700,000 interior deck, pushing the shelter beyond its budget.

A group of architects working pro bono wants the city to get the next shelter right (15 total are planned). Three teams, recruited by the Urban Land Institute, have released designs to help the project overcome its two greatest obstacles, the Times reports. First, there’s “the reputed aversion homeless people have for the dreary conditions in shelters.” Second, the “almost inevitable community opposition that shelter proposals encounter.”

From the paper:

All three teams came up with similar ideas to blend personal and public space, [Clare De Briere, chairwoman of the Urban Land Institute’s Los Angeles District] said.

The plans all have courtyards that invite community interaction, with semi-secluded areas where residents can engage one another, and more private living spaces inside the tents.

“It was a really interesting way to look at the organization of that space and really making these newly housed people feel that they are a part of the community they are in,” De Briere told the paper, “as opposed to this big foreign tent that’s been blocked off and segregated from the community.”

A rendering from RELM/JFAK Architects. 

As Next City has covered, designers and landscape architects are increasingly turning their attention to cities’ thorniest problems, from inmate recidivism and prison conditions to transitional housing.

Of course, not everyone is designing for good. Hostile design — walls covered in spikes, benches sliced down the middle so no-one can recline, boulders dumped beneath overpasses — is also being used by city governments to deter “loitering,” a.k.a. being destitute in public.

“These designs [legitimize] the point of view that homeless people are the enemy,” British artist Stuart Semple told the Art Newspaper earlier this year. “Instead they need support, often with addiction or mental health.”

The Los Angeles teams were comprised of architecture firms DLR Group, Studio One Eleven and JFAK Architects and landscape architecture firms EPT Design, RELM and SWA. See their designs here and here.

 



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