Thursday, March 29, 2007

League of Women Voters Smart Growth Forum

The Washington County League of Women Voters' last program of the year in the Smart Growth series will be held on Wednesday, April 11, 6:00 p.m. in the Walker Community Room of the Blair Library. Art Hobson, former physics professor at the University of Arkansas, will discuss global warming as it relates to local sustainability issues. Dr. Hobson will offer an insightful analysis of broad global warming concepts and provide suggestions on local action. We hope he will also address the outcome of the April 10th Impact Fee election and what it means for sustainable growth in Fayetteville. This program will begin at 6:00 p.m. in the Walker Community Room at the Blair Public Library.

The Free Lunch Club

The Chamber of Commerce front group, led by big developers and real estate agents, held a press conference at the Fayetteville Town Center yesterday. They whined about the proposed road impact fee to make them pay for reducing traffic congestion caused by the sprawl they are creating. One real estate guy even admitted that the proposed impact fees would not be enough to pay for the sprawl from which they profit or the congestion they cause. They had Pam Jones say it wasn't a fee, it is a bad tax that they didn't want to pay.

In the developers' and the Chambers' view, the only good taxes would the ones paid by average citizens who are not causing the problem. It is good, they think, that you are paying a sales tax on groceries to pay off $68 million in street bonds to fix the problems they caused in the past. It would be good, they think, if you paid a real estate transfer tax when you sell your existing home that causes no additional road impact. But, asking them to pay their fair share is a bad idea. They demand to build whatever they want and have you pay for providing the services--a free lunch for the developers.

A group of plain old citizens showed up at the developers' media event. They have the old fashioned idea that
it is the developers' sprawl that is creating strain on city infrastructure, a cost that should be covered by those who are causing the problem and generating the need for increased capacity. These average citizens don't have any money to run full page ads, but they do have a website with information.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nothing Else to Say

I was going to collect my thoughts and try to say something insightful about Stan Heath getting fired and Houston Nutt getting a big bonus from the UA, but my friends over at The Five-Forty said it all and very well.

The Purge

No one mentioned the tactics of Joseph Stalin in eliminating all opposition in the old Soviet Union, but Fayetteville citizens saw a small version of it at last night's City Council meeting. The Council voted 5-3 to reappoint Planning Commissioner Candy Clark, then Developer Dan vetoed the appointment. The mayor's complaint? Clark is an assertive woman who speaks her mind and sometimes disagrees with the recommendations of his paid staff. Developer Dan and paid staffer Gary Dumas read from prepared statements and refused to take questions about their purge. Neither claimed that Commissioner Clark was not qualified, dedicated, or always in attendance. They just wanted her gone because she didn't always roll over for Developer Dan's employees or business backers.

Mayor Coody was supported in the City Hall Putsch by Bobby Ferrell, Robert Rhodes, and Adella Gray. They voted against reappointing Clark, then voted against overriding Coody's veto. No surprise on the votes of Ward Three corporate apologists Ferrell and Rhodes. Some had hoped that Ward 1 Alderman Gray was not a Coody puppet, but she removed all doubt about that. Score one for the developers and for the bigots who don't want assertive women speaking their mind or being honest about their lifestyle.

NWA Times Editorial : Act 468

In a rare critique of Big Business and the politicians who support it without question, the Northwest Arkansas Times today has an editorial bemoaning the power and arrogance of SWEPCO.

"On Friday, House Bill 1367 by Rep. David Dunn, D-Forrest City, officially became Act 468. It’s a development that left us wondering whether these “ public” utilities really have customers’ best interests at heart — and why so many of our legislators chose to support such an odd little bill. What’s the big deal ? Long story short, in those relatively infrequent instances when the public has a serious problem with a project, state law in the past has in certain circumstances allowed for a public hearing before the PSC. With the passage of Dunn’s bill, the ability for the public to involve itself is seriously curtailed....Of course what we see as blocking the public’s best interests is something utilities like SWEPCO might refer to as streamlining."

"Our core issue today, however, is to point to the passage of House Bill 1367 with disappointment about its role in removing the voice of the public from a process. Area legislators who made sure to support House Bill 1367 include: Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville; Sen. Bill Pritchard, R-Springdale; Rep. Eric Harris, R-Springdale; and Rep. Mark Martin, R-Prairie Grove. Area legislators siding against House Bill 1367 include: Rep. Lindsley Smith, D-Fayetteville; Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale; and Rep. Jim House, D-Fayetteville. Fayetteville Rep. Marilyn Edwards, a Democrat, did not vote."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Truth, Consequences, and City Plan 2025

Developer Dan complained last week that his well-paid bureaucrats were down in the dumps because the Planning Commission or the City Council or someone kept changing policies about approving big real estate developments out on the edge of town. Now the truth comes out, it is City Planner Andrew Garner who is responsible for rejecting revisions and who recommended blocking approval of a big Jim Lindsey development of more that 1,200 housing units out at Wedington and Rupple Road that would go in without any road impact fees.

Lindsey’s lawyer told the Planning Commission that they should ignore the City Plan 2025 and just go ahead and approve the project anyway. Even with the support and vote of real estate agent and planning commissioner Sean Trumbo, the proposal got only three votes from the 9-member Planning Commission.

After being turned down, Jim Lindsey said he would appeal the denial to the City Council. He can probably count on support from Adella Gray, Brenda Thiel, Bobby Ferrell, and Robert Rhodes, since it does not affect their "better" neighborhoods, then Developer Dan will vote to break the tie in favor of developer Lindsey’s latest big project.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Should We Start an Office Pool?

We already know how many older homes were destroyed by the Fayetteville Central United Methodist Church as they bulldozed the neighborhood around the church and claimed the vacant lots as exempt from property taxes that support our local schools, public library, and city fire and police services. The only remaining question is how many of the stately oak trees will they cut and kill to make way for the unsightly concrete parking deck at the corner of Lafayette and Highland. Any guesses?

It Takes One to Know One, Dan

Fayetteville Mayor Developer Dan comes in for close scrutiny in a Northwest Arkansas Times opinion piece by columnist Fran Alexander. She looks at Mayor Coody's past actions in scuttling the considered recommendations of his own task force on preservation of Wilson Springs Park and springing a surprise that he wanted to sell it to a developer. She also details the way in which Developer Dan ignored citizen input and made secret changes to the Downtown Master Plan to reduce green space and increase building heights. She ties all this in to the way Developer Dan has flip-flopped on impact fees. He was for them before he was against them. Before he rolled over for the developers who are creating sprawl and want us average taxpaying citizens to pay for the impact caused by their profit-making schemes.

Alderman Thiel Wants Secret Government

Only citizens seem to care very much about open government records and meetings. Elected officials may give lip service to the Freedom of Information Act, but their actions reveal their real inclination for secret government that prevents voters from evaluating their deeds.

Ward 1 Alderman Brenda Thiel wants the Fayetteville City Council to meet in secret session to discuss appointments to the Planning Commission. Could it be so that the public doesn't get to see who is supporting Alderman Rhodes and the developers' plan to remove those commissioners who won't cave in to their demands? They have already approved the reappointment of a commercial real estate agent to the Planning Commission, but that is not enough for them.

City Attorney Kit Williams knows the reason for Alderman Thiel's proposal for secret meetings. He said "The reason for it is to make sure aldermen can speak very freely without any possible embarrassment." Embarrassment by what? Caving in to the developers' lobby? Firing dedicated Commissioners? Yes, that might be embarrassing. Rather than having the courage to do the right thing and be held accountable by the people who elected her, Alderman Thiel wants to do her shameful deeds in secret meetings. The voters who care about open government will remember that when she runs for re-election next year.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Chamber and Realtors Oppose Paying Fair Share

It is no big surprise that the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Realtors Association have joined forces to fight against road impact fees to pay for the sprawl they are creating. Developer Ben Israel doesn't want to pay for the services his developments will get from the city, and he makes that clear. Instead, Developer Dan, his building buddies, and financial backers want everyone else to subsidize their profits by paying higher sales taxes or real estate transfer taxes on existing homes. Of course they do. The only question is whether they can buy the special election on April 10th and spend enough on advertising to fool the average citizens. Probably so.

Cry Baby Bureaucrats?

According to Developer Dan, some of his high paid bureaucrats are whining about the policy positions of the elected City Council members. More than likely, Developer Dan is projecting his own frustration in not getting his way and having to engage the policy process with the City Council. Bureaucrats know that they are public employees paid to execute whatever policy is adopted by the City Council. It is the Mayor who is being a cry baby. He probably promised more than he could deliver to the developers, and now he is trying to attack elected Aldermen and blaming their proposed oversight for low morale.

Our City Council members do not need permission from Developer Dan or his bureaucrats to propose new policies that they think will improve our community. That is why we elected them, and that is what we expect from them.

Scopes Coming to Rogers School District

Rogers dentist Donald Eckard and Constitutional Party activist Mark Moore are not pleased with the way high school biology textbooks discuss evolution. They want the Rogers School District to adopt books that present more arguments against the theory of evolution, and they appear to support using classroom materials from a group called Answers in Genesis that says it "upholds the authority of the Bible from the very first verse" and has a section on "Creation education." They were opposed in their proposal by the director of the National Center for Science Education and some pointy-headed professor from the University of Arkansas.

Rogers School Board President Joye Kelley said the recommendation likely will be voted on at the April 17 meeting. The 21 new science texts recommended for adoption next fall will be on display at the RSD administration building until then.

Mayor Coody Wants to Raise Your Taxes - Again

Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody has once again come out for raising taxes on citizens who are not responsible for the problem. Last year, he backed raising the sales tax to pay for his multi-million dollar cost overrun on the new sewer treatment plant. Now he wants to raise the real estate transfer tax on existing homes to pay for developer sprawl.

Developer Dan is against asking his developer buddies to pay a road impact fee to cover the cost of new streets caused by their speculation on the edge of town. He says that would be too much of a burden on developers, so he wants people who sell existing homes to pay higher taxes to relieve the big developers of paying their fair share.

Developer Dan says that impact fees will stifle growth of the city. That's pure BS. Bentonville has much higher impact fees than Fayetteville, and it is growing faster than Fayetteville. Developer Dan should quit lying about impact fees and just admit that he wants us to pay more in taxes to subsidize the profits of his developer buddies who are creating the problem.

Home Builders Oppose Affordable Housing

The Arkansas Home Builders Association testified against legislation that would have allowed local governments to use "inclusionary zoning" as a means to assure the availability of attainable housing in new subdivisions. At the request of the City of Fayetteville, a bill for affordable housing was introduced by Rep. Lindsley Smith and supported by Reps. Jim House and Jon Woods. It was also supported by the Arkansas Municipal League. The legislation was killed in the House Committee on City, County, and Local Affairs after Rep. Ray Kidd of Jonesboro said he didn't like it because it was a "Fayetteville-type bill" and Julie Mills, Vice President of the Arkansas Home Builders Association said that developers were against the idea of cities being able to zone for affordable housing because it could reduce profits for developers.

Senator SWEPCO -- Sue Madison Sells Us Out

For months now, the Fayetteville City Council, the Washington County Democratic Party, the neighborhood groups, supporters of historic preservation, and environmental groups have been asking the Arkansas Public Service Commission to hear the views of local citizens about SWEPCO's plans to install huge metal towers across Dickson Street, through a historic neighborhood, and in front of Old Main. SWEPCO arrogantly resisted being held accountable for their plan, but the City persisted and secured a hearing scheduled for April 5th.

SWEPCO decided to show its political muscle and had Representative David Dunn of Forrest City introduce a bill to exempt them from having to seek a Certificate of Need or Environmental Compatibility from the PSC. Even the Northwest Arkansas Times was outraged by this tactic. It passed the House with 70 votes. Republican Representatives Mark Martin, Eric Harris, Keven Anderson, and Horace Hardwick voted for it. Representatives Jim House, Lindsley Smith, and John Woods voted against it. Representative Marilyn Edwards did not vote.

All hope of killing the bill in the State Senate vanished when Senator Sue Madison ignored the will of local citizens and joined Republican Senators Bill Pritchard, David Bisbee, and Kim Hendren in supporting SWEPCO. The bill passed the Senate 33-1. That's how things are done in Arkansas.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Developer Double-Talkers

Did anyone catch the Northwest Arkansas Times last weekend blowing nonsense both ways? On Saturday they ran an article about how the Fayetteville Metropolitan Statistical Area was ranked No. 1 among Best Places where the cost of living is low and jobs are plentiful. Mayor Dan Coody and Fayetteville Economic Development guy Steve Rust gushed about how Fayetteville was doing everything right on quality of life issues. Then the very next day, Editor Greg Harton writes a convoluted column crying that Fayetteville is on the wrong track. He quotes Alderman Bobby Ferrell and Economic Development guy Steve Rust about how awful Fayetteville is for not letting businesses and developers do whatever they want and for caring too much about the quality of life. Go figure. Rust should get his story straight. Harton should read his own newspaper.