Groundbreaking on the Hillsborough Street revamp (phase 1) is in three weeks. There's an open house tomorrow, from 4 to 7 p.m., for folks to catch up on what's planned, when, the effect of construction on traffic, etcetera. It's in the Hillsborough Street Partnership's new headquarters, which is in the office space attached to the back of the Mini Mart strip mall -- across from the Bell Tower and a few doors east of Sadlack's. (Office address is 2 Maiden Lane). Drop in when you can. Bring fond memories ... or put them here, if you like.
The unanimous City Council vote today in favor of having a public competition to redesign Moore Square put me in mind of the last time city officials wanted to mess with Moore -- back in '01 -- and how that came to naught. A big issue then was that citizens weren't consulted before the Parks Department rolled out a redesign of its own, and a dreadful redesign at that. This time, the planning department's in charge, and it's all about citizens' input, with "an open call for design ideas," etcetera, etcetera. (See below for the city's press release.)
But a better process still begs the question, does Moore Square really need a redesign? Or just a clean-up and some fresh plantings? That's the first question the "competitors" should address, before anybody starts packing new stuff into one of the downtown's last open spaces.
And to the blogger at NewRaleigh who worried that the real idea here is to drive out the homeless so big-time development can come in, well, your worst fears have been realized: Someone is calling for a "world-class" public square, per the press release:
CITY COUNCIL APPROVES PUBLIC COMPETITION TO REDESIGN MOORE SQUARE
The City of Raleigh will have an open public competition to redesign Moore Square into a world-class public space. The City Council voted unanimously today to approve the project.
The announcement by Mayor Charles Meeker a week ago that he will seek a fifth two-year term in October shut down any possibility that the other seven seats on the City Council would be shuffled. No Philip Isley versus one of the Democrats for Meeker's job, in other words. Thus, it seems the at-large councilors, Russ Stephenson and Mary-Ann Baldwin, will run for re-election and face nominal or no opposition, as will most of the council's district representatives. Or that's how it looks with the election less than six months off.
The one exception so far is in District D (Southwest Raleigh), where Councilor Thomas Crowder is gearing up for a challenge from fellow architect Ted Van Dyk. Van Dyk's been testing the waters for a couple of months, telling neighborhood leaders that while he shares Crowder's views on most issues, he thinks Crowder is too confrontational and, therefore, ineffective. When I called him today, Van Dyk said he's just about finished "mulling," and though he's taken no formal steps yet -- no campaign committee, no treasurer -- "I'm pretty set in my own mind that there needs to be a voice for cooperation and consensus-building" coming from the district. About Crowder, he went on, "I think he's given good community service, and I'm equally convinced that it's time for a change in tone about the issues."
For his part, Crowder yesterday held a campaign kickoff at The Pit, the barbeque joint across from the Amtrak Station, and drew a crowd of more than 100 neighborhood leaders and activists. Downtown developer and restauranteur Greg Hatem, who hosted, hailed Crowder's vision and passion for making Raleigh a great city. Nina Szlosberg, the University Park leader who sits on both the TTA and DOT boards, spoke and called Crowder him a fierce advocate for strong planning who "does ruffle some feathers -- but that's what leadership is."
Meeker, though not issuing a formal endorsement, also spoke on Crowder's behalf. He said District D is "very fortunate" to have Crowder as its representative, putting him in the same company as such esteemed former councilors as Miriam Block, Jim Quinn, Ron Kischbaum and Mayor Clarence Lightner -- leaders who could see the big picture about Raleigh's future while also staying on top of the most minute neighborhood concerns. "There's no trash can or blade of grass too small," Meeker joked, to merit Crowder's close attention. It was a reference to Crowder's determined pursuit of folks in his district -- especially absentee landlords who rent to students at NCSU -- who fail to keep up their yards or remove their trash cans from the street.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that Ted Van Dyk is my neighbor in Cameron Park; my wife is among Thomas Crowder's contributors. Thomas and Ted are two very bright men and talented architects whose approach to the City Council couldn't be more different: The one is a fighter with a pro-neighborhoods bent who wants developers held to higher standards, the other is a conciliator who thinks Crowder is too tough on developers and who today cited this quote from Ben Franklin favorably: "Compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies."
[Update: By the way, for those who were on the receiving end of the robo-poll in District D last week asking whether they'd be more inclined to vote for a conciliator who gets along with all sides or a confrontational incumbent who's often on the losing end of 7-1 council votes, Van Dyk says he had nothing to do with it -- didn't ask for it or pay for it and doesn't know the results. His son got a call and hung up, he says. More on this angle next time.]
Sen. Burr may be a Democratic target in 2010? No, he is a target -- a point BlueNC made on Sunday and continues to pound on. PPP's survey, out today, shows the Republican Burr trailing potential Democratic challenger Roy Cooper by 4 points. Comparisons to ex-Sen. Liddy Dole's shaky standing the year before she ran for re-election are inevitable but not wholly apt. Dole's campaign skills were -- let's be kind -- awful. Burr's are fair-to-middling. And Cooper's, notwithstanding that he's won three elections as attorney general, are unproven.
In the long-running battle to unlock some local funding for a regional transportation network, two big tumblers fell into place this morning in the House Finance committee. State Reps. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, and Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake, both co-chairs of the panel, voted in favor of House Bill 148, which includes the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit provision. Luebke and Weiss, progressive stalwarts, continue to dislike the regressive sales tax as a way to pay for anything, and dislike is putting it mildly. Luebke's yes vote was cast "reluctantly," he said. Weiss's, she said, "gives me heartburn." Still, their support for transit -- and some progressive changes around the bill's edges since it passed the House Transportation Committeee -- outweighed their opposition to paying for transit with a sales tax, they said.
With Luebke and Weiss on board, the Finance Committee voted 19-6 in favor of the bill, which could now be put to a final vote on the House floor -- sources say -- as early as next week. Five of the six opponents were Republicans. Which means the disparate Democratic factions (progressive, moderate, rural, urban) that comprise the House majority have coalesced, making House passage likely, to be followed by Senate passage and Gov. Perdue's signature. Then the fun really starts, because this bill merely authorizes the three Triangle counties to conduct referenda -- three of them, either together or separately -- on whether to actually have the 1/2-cent sales tax.
One of the progressive changes that Weiss, especially, worked hard to get is a provision "allowing" the companies in RTP to tax themselves for transit improvements. The original legislation that established RTP put a cap on the tenant companies' property tax rate. Now, they'll be allowed -- the tenants association, that is -- to draw up a transit plan and dun themselves up to a total of about $4 million a year to pay for it (by contracting with Triangle Transit). Among Weiss's and Luebke's objections to the sales-tax approach is that consumers pay it but corporations don't -- as Luebke said today, a 1/2-cent sales tax on consumers in the three Triangle counties will exact some $90 million from them, versus the $4 million or less that RTP's businesses will kick in, and little or nothing from Triange companies that are not in RTP.. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, who's championed the bill in the House, countered that while sales tax will be the front-end mechanism for transit financing, down the line -- when there's transit -- higher property taxes will come in from the businesses that locate along the corridors to take advantage of it. She didn't add, but might have, that state and federal funding should follow as well once the sales tax is in place.
The House panel passed the bill after rejecting an amendment offered by Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, which would've blocked state funding of a Triangle transit system unless and until all three counties -- not just one or two -- put the sales tax in place. The amendment was the brainchild of Durham Mayor Bill Bell, who last week warned against a "regional" plan that Wake County dominates with its sales-tax money while Durham and perhaps Orange, too, holds back over the regressive sales-tax issue. But Ross said Wake "shouldn't be penalized" for moving ahead just because Durham doesn't -- though she added, "it is our great" that the three counties will move ahead in concert.
The vote on the amendment was 5-18, with Hall and Luebke on the losing end. Both then joined the majority on the bill.
The other progressive change to the bill, hailed by Luebke, strengthened the language calling for affordable-housing to be included in developments near transit stops. According to Bill Rowe of the N.C. Justice Center, the bill now requires that local housing and transit plans be linked, rather than simply exist in separate places.
Earlier this year, Charles Meeker was giving off an "I'm out of here soon" vibe that indicated his current, fourth term as mayor would be his last. He certainly thought about it, telling friends that he'd like to concentrate more time on his law practice and be done with -- though Hizzoner's not a complainer -- the incessant demands of mayoral politics and public relations. (For which our city of nearly 400,000 folk pays the princely sum of $15K a year.)
But on Monday, Meeker will announce his decision about running again in October, and several excellent sources say he will run, for two reasons. One, he feels an obligation to stay with the job through the economic bad times, rather than throw the unpleasant task of trying to balance Raleigh's budget -- and raise taxes? (though Meeker's pretty much ruled that out for fiscal '10) -- to someone else. Second, he'd like to make a smooth handoff to a Democratic successor, but his party mates on the City Council either don't quite suit him (Thomas Crowder), have job commitments that preclude it (Russ Stephenson), wouldn't run (James West), and/or are in their first Council terms and still learning their way around City Hall (Nancy McFarlane, Mary-Ann Baldwin, Rodger Koopman).
Meeker was unopposed in '07 and, in fact, hasn't faced a tough opponent since he ousted Republican Paul Coble in 2001. The rumor was around that Coble might run if Meeker didn't. More likely, the lone Republican Council member, Philip Isley, would've run -- he, too, has always said that his law practice and the demands of being mayor were a tough fit, but if Meeker stepped down, could Isley have resisted his party's importuning?
Meeker's "govern from the center" approach has irked some neighborhood activists and smart-growth types who'd like to see more progressive fire from the mayor on issues like affordable housing, transit planning and pushing developers for concessions to community needs instead of the other way around. But his squeaky-clean image and his willingness to listen to everyone -- patiently, and often at great length -- have made him hugely popular and virtually unbeatable. And let's face it, the growth issues that were so divisive just a year or two ago -- wouldn't we all like to be fighting about them now?
When last heard from (or about), the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit bill was breezing through the friendly confines of the House Transportation Committee, headed for the tougher terrain of the House Finance Committee. With the latter committee scheduled to take up the bill next Wednesday, April 15 (8:30 a.m. in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building), Durham Mayor Bill Bell yesterday tossed a little grenade into the debate. As reported by the Herald Sun, Bell told a meeting of the DCHC (the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro transportation planning organization) that the bill should be amended to require that all three Triangle counties be on board, as it were, before any state funds could be on transit in the Triangle.
Now why, one might ask, would long-time transit proponent (and Triangle Transit board member) Bell do that?
Richard Kahlenberg was in town last week for a conference Thursday at UNC-Chapel Hill and for presentations to civic groups in Raleigh the day before. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation in Washington and formerly a law professor at George Washington University, is one of the leading scholars in the country on school diversity policies, and he has a long-standing and well-developed expertise regarding Wake County's policy. Bottom lines, Kahlenberg says:
Two: As our '09 school board elections heat up, and opponents of Wake's policy raise doubts based on the relative test results in Wake and Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools, it's important to remember -- Kahlenberg says -- that Wake's high-school graduation rate is substantially better than C-Meck's rate. Which means, of course, that more students are dropping out in C-Meck and aren't being tested. The graduation rates at right are for the four-year "cohort" that entered high schools in the fall of 2003 and should've graduated in 2008. In Wake, that rate was 78.8 percent. In C-Meck, it was 66.6 percent. (The slide is Kahlenberg's, and is reproduced here with his permission.
There's more to what Kahlenberg said about Wake's policy and C-Meck's, and it wasn't all favorable to Wake. Below, I review his presentation in detail. But all things considered, he finds, Wake's not merely A national leader ... it's THE national leader among urban school districts.
Almost since the advent of the Raleigh-Wake schools merger in the mid-70s, the combined Wake County school system has followed a policy of managing student populations so as to achieve, first, racial balance, and later, "socio-economic" balance in all of its schools. That is, there should be no "high-poverty schools" in Wake ... and no "low-performing schools" either. The goal is that every school should have fewer than 40 percent of its students eligible for the federal program of "free or reduced lunch" -- meaning their family income is below $39,000 a year for a family of four -- and fewer than 25 percent of students performing below grade-level.
It's a goal, it should be said straight off, that the Wake school board has struggled for years to meet, and that in recent years has slipped farther away as the county's low-income population expanded. Over the last decade, the number of schools out of compliance with the 40 percent "F&R" goal has grown from seven to 51 (out of the current 156 schools). Five schools are currently between 60 and 70 percent F&R-eligible. During that time, the overall percentage of Wake's students who are F&R-eligible has increased from about 20 percent to 28.4 -- with much of that growth in a growing Hispanic population concentrated in the southern and eastern portions of the county.
Clearly, sticking close to the goal has suffered from the fact that Wake's population growth in recent decades has been anything but balanced. The explosion of Cary's, Apex's and, of late, Holly Springs's populations -- fueled by the success of RTP and the absence of any affordable-housing requirements -- has been largely of the upper-income kind. Not all upper-income, that is, but weighted that way. Meanwhile, historically black Southeast Raleigh remains predominately lower-income, and the growth in eastern Wake -- while ethnically diverse -- has also tilted to the lower-income side.
In short, the sprawl has been economically segregated: upscale folks to the west and northwest (North Raleigh), lower-income folks to the east, southeast and northeast.
Add to this the fact that western Wake grew faster (and earlier) than eastern Wake, its growth thus outpacing its supply of schools, and the problem becomes clear: To maintain balanced populations in all the schools, while keeping all the schools full (and filling up the new schools as they come on line), it was necessary to transport (bus) kids in a generally west-to-east direction.