Friday, May 19, 2006

'Special' special interests

If you’re a council watcher, or just someone who likes seeing the way the developers’ lobby jerks around elected officials, be sure to be watching the Monday night City Council meeting.

The council is scheduled to vote on a Transportation Action Plan, a document that’s been in the works 2 1/2 years. There have been four public hearings.

But April 24, when the council was supposed to vote, up popped the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, known by its froggy-sounding acronym REBIC. They had some concerns, they said. (Some history – REBIC has “concerns” about any city or county proposal that would cause developers to do things differently, such as build sidewalks or stop building in floodplains or save trees or even just build planting strips large enough for new street trees to grow in.)

Immediately Mayor Pat McCrory and council member John Lassiter – each of whom, like many local elected officials, gets substantial campaign donations from REBIC’s political action committee as well as from individual developers – moved to postpone the vote. And so the council postponed the vote. Because one special interest group wanted them to.

All special interests are equal, you see, but some are more equal than others. Michael Barnes, a newly elected council member from District 4 who’s lived in Charlotte only since 1998, was amazed. “I knew what the organization was, but I didn’t realize their political weight,” he told me Friday. “I had not dealt with them – meaning they hadn’t given me any money.”

He made his dismay clear at the meeting. The Observer’s Richard Rubin quoted him saying, “Other than wanting (to make) yourself seem politically popular with special-interest groups, there’s no good reason to delay this.”

REBIC had had plenty of time to make any objections known well in advance. So did you, assuming you’re a resident of Charlotte or own a business here.

But when you object to something, or want to propose something, you’re lucky if you can get a council member to take your phone call. REBIC doesn’t have that problem. The city department of transportation even holds a regular luncheon for REBIC and other developers, where REBIC leaders get not only a free lunch paid for by you, the taxpayers, but they are assured of the ear of the top CDOT leaders. I wrote about it two years ago.

Barnes is going to be fun to watch, as he learns even more about how things work around here. I hope he’ll continue to pipe up when he thinks special interests are being treated as if they’re a bit too special.


Anonymous said...

As I recall, a few adjacent neighborhoods had some concerns as well as the REBIC-istas. Hopefully enough members of the council will take a stand and vote for what's in the best interest of the city instead of as few vocal special interest groups. The time is long overdue to move this thing forward.

Frank Burns said...

Mary, your comments are right on target. The City Council has been caught in the act and there actions have now been exposed. We need more City Councilmen like Michael Barnes who are truly independent thinking and are not puppets for REBIC and the Uptown Development Corporation. Thank you Charlotte Observer for pointing out this cave in to REBIC. Let's see if Council comes back and waters down the requirements of the Transportation Action Plan. Please follow up on this to see what happens.

Stephanie said...

I believe City Council should adopt the TAP. From what I see, the plan lays out legitimate goals policies and funding levels to accommodate motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians as Charlotte continues to grow...even REBIC who are usually against everything should realize that mobility is key to people wanting to live here. REBIC never seems to have any solutions to Charlotte's growth challenges and seem to be against everything that would protect Charlotte's quality of life. I think people are tired of REBIC's negative attitude and realize that Charlotte needs to do what other cities are doing to protect their quality of life if we are to remain a great place to live.

Rick said...

Just to clarify some of Mary's unavoidable bias...

The council voted 8-2 to delay the vote. It wasn't some evil Republican conspiracy as Mary would imply by only mentioning McCrory and Lassiter. Last time I checked, the council was stacked with liberal Democrats. I guess it's OK for them to agree to delay the vote because Mary knows they'll vote the "right" way next time.

As for REBIC getting special treatment over individuals, I could just copy and paste my response to Mary's March 27 rant against REBIC. Mary has this pie-in-the-sky belief that individuals sitting on their couches should have the same clout as organized groups who actually make an effort.

The real problem is that the world is not fair - at least not to Mary.

Would it be fair if the developers had absolutely no say, just like individuals, even though they will ultimately be the ones who have to build by the new rules?

Would you mandate an ordinance that says for every meeting with a lobbyist, govco has to give equal time to individuals?

Would you rather that govco met with nobody if they couldn't meet some fairness criteria?

Then they could just make a decision in a vacuum. I'm sure that would turn out well.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rick, REBIC has every right to have their voice heard, but so does every individual who wants to speak as well. I have as much disdain for and environmental group or neighborhood association that stymies progress just as I do with runaway developers who ramrod some very bad projects with grave disregard to the planning process. To say that a corporate lobbying group should have more say over the rest of the community is a very disturbing idea.

Anonymous said...

Newsom hates special interest groups and lobbies.

Oh, er, unless its Center City Partners, the Arts and Sciences Council, or the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

Newsom is so two dimensional. Growth she likes = good, growth she does not like = bad.

It should be up to neighborhoods via neighborhood associations what kind of sidewalks, streets, lamps, etc. they want.

Reduce regulation and push deign requirements to individual neoghborhood associations. But then again, that would reduce the POWER of urban planning types in city hall, and that is what it is really about.

Rick said...

2nd to last anon,

I said individuals - NOT THE REST OF THE COMMUNITY. Please don't twist my words.

It would be a whole different matter if fifty individuals showed up at the City Council meeting all saying the same thing and the Council immediately ignored their pleas and favored the group, but not surprisingly, Mary never has any examples of this. She only says the evil developers have too much say in things, and city counsel members won't return single individuals' phone calls.

My point is that a single individual can not reasonably expect to be taken as seriously as representatives of a group. In this case the group is REBIC - the evil developer lobby. In other cases it may be a neighborhood HOA wanting a historic district in Myers Park, or the Sierra Club, or even a church group. When these other groups get their way, I don't recollect seeing articles condemning them or the politicians that agree with them.

Also, by incorrectly saying "rest of the community" you imply the rest of the community disagrees with REBIC.

From the Richard Rubin article Mary linked:

"Representatives of the development industry have complained about several sections of the plan. One concern: a policy that the city would "ensure" that a certain percentage of new development occurs within "corridors" that generally surround transit lines or in "centers" such as uptown, SouthPark and Ballantyne.

As an individual member of the community, I think REBIC is correct. Government should not be "ensuring" that the market works a certain way just so their light rail plans fail less miserably. I've been blasted before on this forum for saying government will force people to live in certain areas to support light rail. This TAP plan attempts to do exactly that. It may not force me to live in a condo by a rail line, but it certainly reduces my options for living other places.

Anonymous said...

There's a good bit of very legitimate deabte about TAPS. Among the more important, that the city will ensure specific minimum percentages of development in specific corridors. Considering the claims that the taxpayers would not be called upon to subsidize artificial growth patterns, the proponents of the plan need to come up with some rational explanation of hwo they're going to ensure that without paying to make it happen.

Anonymous said...

Rick, you are right on the money.

Even if Charlotte 'ensured' that building took place in transit lines, the ensuing anti-competitive forces would just drive costs up.

Also, Charlotte is forever faced with the proximity to South Carolina, a state bent on low taxes and low government intervention, that provides an outlet for people working in Charlotte and wanting large houses on cheap land with low taxes.

Go visit some other states with population centers and you will find the same thing. They just did it 20 years ago. No average families live in Chicago anymore. They all commute 1-2 hours each way, and many companies have relocated out in the suburbs.

The Chicago suburbs now extend almost 90 miles in the west, south and southwest because people are constantly in search of quality of life, regardless of commute time.

But back to the topic...

Amazing how Newsom never applies rules and codes fairly or 'blindly'. Her version of the rules are 100% dependant on who wins and who loses in regard to what SHE thinks is a good idea.

That is not democracy and is truly un-American.

As I have said countless times, if you want to stop it, ms. Newsom, just get your checkbook out and buy up all the land in Charlotte and build as many parks, high rises, art museums, etc. as you like. Easy.