Thursday, April 30, 2009

Crime blogging

I have just added to my imaginary "to read" list Mark Kleiman's When Brute Force Fails. Just read a great review from Reihan Salam, (h/t Matthew Yglesias):
For the last 20 years, Kleiman has been struggling to find the right approach for breaking out of this destructive trap. His solutions, which he outlines in his brilliant forthcoming book When Brute Force Fails, involve paying careful attention to the balance between deterrence and straightforwardly punitive measures. It turns out that less punitive measures applied more swiftly and more reliably can be more effective than more punitive measures applied slowly and unreliably, the latter being a pretty good description of the status quo in most of our criminal justice system.
My only complaint with Salam's review (and it may be a problem with the book as well) is that it focuses within a "crime is in the city" paradigm. While certainly crime is an issue within the City of Atlanta, I really don't think things are much better in Lawrenceville or Marietta. The 'burbs are dealing with their own crime issues, and it isn't so easy anymore to just "move away" from it.

It turns out the Kleiman is also a blogger, and I'll be killing time after finals catching up on his crime blogging. Fair warning to my more conservative readers: Kleiman is rather liberal. I'm not terribly familiar with his writing, having just discovered him tonight. I pass this along on the premise that more information is usually a good thing, especially when it comes to public policy that touches this close to home.

ATAC rally recap

Sorry for the dearth of posting. Finals and such.... anyway, I have been meaning to post about the ATAC rally I went to on Monday (you can actually see me in one of the pictures). I didn't get to stay around for the whole thing, but I did get the chance to talk to a few of the organizers.

I was quite pleased by what I heard - previously I've been slightly critical of what I thought was the group's focus (ending officer furloughs and east side neighborhoods). After talking to the organizers a bit, I'm glad to be fairly wrong in my initial impression. They are much more focused on educating the population about how to take positive action in their own community. To that end, they are trying to turn their website into a repository of knowledge.

They are trying to put pressure on elected officials (which I wholeheartedly support), but they aren't trying to advocate for any specific policies at this point. I was quite impressed by the fact that the organizers realize our crime problem isn't as simple as "more cops". We talked at length about how so many different aspects of public policy touch on the issue (housing, education, etc.). Not that I'm anything like an expert - far from it, in fact.

The key will be keeping things going, and continuing to build a movement that can speak with authority to our elected officials. This sort of community organizing is exhaustive and pays nothing, so a lot of credit needs to go to the folks behind ATAC. Hopefully I'll be able to get more involved in the future.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Idiot alert: John Oxendine

I guess I should give John Oxendine credit for having some guts.  Because it is incredibly gutsy to suggest something as stupid as privatizing MARTA.  Even if you assume that privatizing MARTA would result in some organizational efficiencies, you still have the simple fact that no form of transit pays for itself.  We subsidize highways and oil companies, and bail out car companies and airline industries (which still keep going bankrupt).  When are we going to make roads pay for themselves?

Maybe he envisions something like a state takeover of MARTA, and then hiring a company to run it, like all the north Fulton cities did with their local governmental services.  Again, we have to assume that a private company could do the job cheaper and better - not an entirely unreasonable assumption, but if the car companies and airline industries are any indication, the American transportation industry isn't exactly a shining example of great private management.  

Even if a private company did the job cheaper, they still need to get paid - I would be surprised if the government saved any money at the end of the day.  This of course also assumes that the government keeps subsidizing MARTA with a sales tax, because otherwise the system doesn't make any money at all and how does the private management firm get paid?  Maybe the Ox thinks MARTA will turn a profit if they charged $5 for a ride.

I actually think this suggesting is quite insulting to numerous folks.  Listen, I think MARTA could do better in terms of board oversight, etc., but I don't think MARTA is in need of a wholesale overhaul like the DOT, the Fulton County Commission, or Grady Hospital's board is/was.  MARTA has been run by nationally recognized figures (Beverly Scott is the chief of the American Public Transporation Association, and we lost Nat Ford to San Fransisco because he did a pretty good job at MARTA).  Will a private firm magically find people who have better experience with transit mangement?  Does the fact that these folks managed quasi-government organizations inherently mean they are stupid and ineffective?  Again, it isn't like this is the Fulton County Comission, where a pack of trained seals could run a better meeting.

Also, MARTA responded to the economic crisis by trimming staff, freezing pay, and cutting services.  I'm not sure how a private management firm would have been able to respond any differently - in fact, the private management contracts with the north Fulton cities have proven to be a problem now that tax revenues are down.  I can't decide if the GOP's hatred of MARTA is about not believing government can be effective, or if it is about something else.  An objective look at the organization, to me, suggests that it is run at about a "B" level.  It isn't fantastic, but it does a pretty good job given its level of funding and the sprawling nature of the city.  

Honestly, this idea is so stupid, no matter how I try and cut it, that Oxendine gets this year's first "Stupidest Idea of the Year" tag.  Frankly, the "privatize the airport" idea was probably deserving, and it made me too angry to even post about it.  

I think the base intention behind these sorts of privatization ideas is entirely malicious.  That knee-jerk reaction is probably a result of growing up in the city and having a certain level of built-in animosity toward the suburbs.  What I hear when someone suggests privatizing MARTA or the airport, I translate that into, "Fuck You."  Given the state legislature's treatment of MARTA this year, can you really blame me?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Movement on Inman Park Properties?

One of the more notorious land owners in Atlanta has one of his neglected properties up for sale.  The Clermont is for sale.  Gene Kansas is the selling agent - he seems to be getting all the deals with unpopular owners.  In this case, we are talking about Jeff Notrica and Inman Park Properties.  

Anyway, this is pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if this is an indication that his business model of, um, buying old buildings and and letting them rot is, well, not working out.  The guy owns a lot of vacant land in East Atlanta.  It isn't hard to find examples of the same business plan in other cities.  I've always wondered how exactly they were able to carry all that land - it apparently gets pretty tight at times.  

Some history: Notrica bought the Clermont in 2003 for $3.4 million.  He is asking $6.5 million for it today.  A year ago Inman Park Properties was looking for an investor.  I guess that didn't work out.  

Anyway, I don't have anything against Notrica or IPP, but this is the sort of story Terminal Station likes to keep an eye on.  I would love to see underutilized properties get fixed up, and I think it is quite sad what Notrica has let happen to his property in EAV.  If he were forced to sell his land to owners that would put any money at all into it, worse things could happen.  But I'm not going to celebrate someone going bankrupt or anything.

I don't have any personal feeling about the Clermont, for that matter.  There is plenty historic about it, and Ponce would certainly feel different without its influence.  Perhaps this is hypocritical given my stand against renovations at the Majestic?  Meh.  I went to the Majestic all the time - not so with the Clermont.  I'm pretty neutral, since I presume anyone who would buy it would not be interested in tearing it down.

*image courtesy of Tadson via flickr

Glenwood Park update

The AJC has a nice write-up of the Glenwood Park development that ties in nicely with a discussion a while back over at Decatur Metro.  One point that I've made about Glenwood Park is that the retail does not have very good visibility - a lot of it buried in the interior courtyard, and Bill Kennedy Way doesn't have much traffic.  The main road is Glenwood, and a lot of the land there was used for townhomes.  The development as a whole doesn't have much in the way of signage, either on Glenwood or from I-20.  The AJC article includes some quotes from tenants:
Residents’ biggest complaints are about empty commercial spaces. A gym, coffee shop, dry cleaner and some restaurants have lasted, but some, including a boutique, spa and pizza spot, have shut down. There’s room for about seven more tenants now.
But without a denser population, long-established businesses to draw a crowd or a main artery to increase visibility, it’s tough to stay in business.

“I definitely think there’s a large chunk of the nearby area that doesn’t know we exist,” said Cindy Shera, owner of The Shed at Glenwood, a fine dining spot. “It’s really a fantastic neighborhood as far as residents go. That, I would not trade. More visibility, I would love."
FWIW.  In our discussion over at Decatur Metro, a few commenters and I kind of came to the agreement that Glenwood and the neighborhood simply didn't have the demand or traffic count to support more retail than is currently built out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

One reason I'm not a big fan of protests

I got an email today from ATAC about a rally in Midtown next week, which I'm going to try and make. For a variety of reasons, I have not made it to previous events. A combination of class, previous commitments, and an ad hoc road trip to help a friend out have prevented my involvement. I have wanted to get involved, and I don't really have much excuse beyond having slightly selfish priorities and a deep aversion to protest politics.

I'm already iffy about ATAC's seeming focus on officer furloughs - in fairness, having not been engaged with the group or attended any of the events, I can't speak to their tactics much. However, IIRC, the ATAC-related gathering after the Standard murder was going to be in protest of the officer furloughs until the Standard folks asked that it not be, and the email I received today included this line:
We chose this location not only because Midtown serves as an excellent example of community engagement and organization but also because, like many of Atlanta neighborhoods, they continue to feel the effects of a public safety system on furlough.
I, too, think the furloughs are a bad idea, but crime was up well before the furloughs and focusing on the number of officers on the street seems to be missing the bigger picture. I'm not sure what the "big picture" answers are, of course, but I am certain that public officials need to be pushed toward a more comprehensive solutions than "more officers".

I noted that I have a deep aversion to protest politics. One reason: the email also notes that Georgia Equality is part of the event, lobbying for hate crime legislation. Now, not that I have any problem with Georgia Equality, but this seems to me to be a bad idea. The reason for the rallies is an increase in crime, and to put pressure on the City of Atlanta to do more.

Shifting the focus of the event to a state-level piece of legislation with little chance of action under the present administration only minimizes the attention that the rest of the rally is supposed to be about. And while I may feel the urge to get out to rally about Atlanta's crime problems, I'm not going to go protest for hate crime legislation. Again, nothing against the legislation, but it just isn't my main priority and I'm pretty sure with the GOP in charge it is a waste of time.

If you aren't careful, you'll end up like lots of protest events, where people are bringing banners for any number of unrelated causes, and it becomes a mish-mash of interest group buzz words. It is pretty easy to see thing spiral into a protest about capital punishment, police profiling, etc. It isn't long before it is just another liberal protest thing.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fun with SketchUp

I mentioned the other day that I've been working on a lot of school projects.  Well, my project for Real Estate Project Planning and Development was due today, so now that I'm finished with it I thought I'd share a little bit with you guys.  Below is a little promo video I did for my team's development concept.  a piece of property on Ponce de Leon between West Peachtree and Spring Street.  

I did all the rendering work on SketchUp.  You can see from my past efforts that I've gotten a little better at it, although it is still all from a 'lay' perspective - I'm no architect.  Please forgive the quality of the voice-over, as well.  Anyway, enjoy!  I had a lot of fun making it, even though it is pretty basic in terms of architectural design.  No fancy shapes or anything, just straight-forward boxes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

That time of the semester

There are only a few weeks left of this semester, and I have quite a lot of work right now. So posting will be light, although I should have some neat graphics of a real estate project I am working on for class to post in the next day or so. There has been a lot of news lately that I wish I had time to tackle.

Another reason posting here has been a bit slow is that I've been posting a bit more to the Metblog lately. It has taken quite a while, but I think I'm beginning to find a bit of a voice for my posting over there. I'll let you judge how the writing is going, but I feel a lot more comfortable with what I'm writing about than when I first started.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Unintended consequences

The Atlanta Regional Commission is considering funding MARTA's budget shortfall this year:
A committee of the Atlanta Regional Commission on Thursday recommended that ARC divert up to $25 million in stimulus funds to MARTA to meet operating shortfalls. The money had been intended for long-needed metro Atlanta transportation projects.
One way to view this is the law of unintended consequences. GOP leadership representing the suburbs and exurbs refused to give MARTA basic operating freedom, thinking they were just screwing Atlanta, because, hey, who gives a flying fuck about Atlanta? Certainly not House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, who lives closer to Disney World anyway.

They probably weren't expecting the money to come from ARC funded projects affecting other parts of the metro region. The AJC article doesn't say which particular projects would otherwise get the money, but the ARC handles matters affecting the entire 10-county metro region, not just the city of Atlanta. I suppose they could try to scrap projects affecting only Fulton and DeKalb, but I hope they target projects in say, Paulding County. Near Dallas. If they have to cut stuff in DeKalb, I hope they go after anything specifically in Jill Chambers' district.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Disappointing, but indicative

The Equitable building downtown is in foreclosure. It will be auctioned on the Courthouse steps May 5:
The building’s owners, Equastone 100 Peachtree LLC, owes $52 million on the mortgage to Capmark Bank, a Utah lender. San Diego-based Equastone bought the building in May 2007 for $56.8 million.
I find this quite telling - the building was bought with only $4.8 million down, or a 91.5% LTV. I don't think the building was fully leased when it was bought, for that matter. A 91.5% LTV would make the break-even point pretty narrow for a property already struggling with slightly high vacancies.

I am afraid that this sort of thing isn't really that surprising. Underwriting standards for commercial lending got pretty lax at the height of the boom - it wasn't just subprime residential mortgages. I've been working on a post illustrating this fact with a mini case study, I'll try and have that up by the end of the week. In any event, I wouldn't be surprised if we see more stories about commercial building foreclosures.

On a personal note, this news is disappointing because the Equitable is one of my favorite buildings downtown in terms of architecture. It is the building where I was first able to "get" modernism.

h/t: rustytanton via fb; photo courtesy mikehipp, on flickr

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I can get down with this

James is going on the war path over MARTA funding. He's already broken up with the Georgia GOP, and now he's pressing for a special session asking the legislature to deal with MARTA funding. I presume it is so MARTA doesn't stop service on Fridays, and so he can get to work.

Like James says, you can do your part to let the powers that be know we are pissed:
keep up the phone calls.

governor perdue - 404-656-1776
lieutenant governor cagle - 404-656-5030
speaker richardson - 404-don’t-waste-your-breath.
This will take you all of 30 seconds to make both phone calls. Do it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Not what I had in mind

When I previously expressed support for the governor's attempt to dismantle the DOT, I did so because I think there are some serious problems with the department:
  • The existing DOT has become too politicized, with projects getting picked by DOT board members looking out for the folks back home instead of for the state. Projects get funded if the DOT member behind them has clout, not if they are important
  • The DOT board doesn't really have any accountability, because the legislature elects them by congressional district. Legislators don't feel like the board listens to them, though, and DOT members can use project funding in a district as leverage.
  • The current system prevents anyone from showing the leadership on transportation infrastructure this state desperately needs. The DOT board looks out for itself, while the Legislature and the Governor blame the DOT when nothing gets done.
I liked Perdue's plan mostly because it placed responsibility for the state's transportation problems in the Governor's office. If the Gov., Lt. Gov., and Speaker are directly responsible for the board, then the voters can blame at least two statewide officials when things go wrong.

One of the down-sides to having a part-time legislature is the last minute deal-making that goes along with Sine Die:
The Legislature’s compromise keeps the current Transportation Board intact but adds a planning director that the governor appoints. It lets the Legislature choose new projects for 20 percent of the funding, but it has to choose them from a list provided by the governor. Under current spending practices, that would be nearly all new projects, leaving the Transportation Board to pick the repair and repaving projects — also from a list provided by the governor — and a few new ones.
So, the governor gets to put his own person in the DOT. That should go about as well as it did with Gena Evans. And, instead of having a reorganization that forced leaders to be responsible for what happened with transportation, we actually get a situation that is maybe even more political than before, with the Legislature choosing 20% of the projects. Jim Galloway reports that existing federal law may make these funds unavailable for metro area projects, too.

I guess the governor gets more sway in what happens, because he gets to pick the various lists that the DOT board and the legislature appropriates funds to. I would prefer to see this happen more like Perdue had it originally, with a board of appointed officials, in the open, and based on transparent criteria. I'm uncomfortable with it coming straight out of the Governor's office like this. The only real benefit is that at least with the legislature voting on the projects, these political decisions will be made a little more in the open, as opposed to at the DOT.

I'm quite disappointed with the plan. It doesn't really seem to solve any of the points I raised above. Even though it lets the Governor direct which projects the DOT and the Legislature can choose from, I'm afraid it may actually put too much power in the Governor's hand and introduce a new level of secrecy to the whole system. I don't think it is much of an improvement. I of course have a serious issue if the metro area gets cut out of the appropriations process, as well.

All told, I'd rather Perdue veto this bill and let the legislature come back next year for a re-do. Combined with the near criminal negligence concerning the MARTA operations cap bill, it almost makes you wish for a full-time legislature. Then I remember how inane these clowns are, and I'm glad they are out of town for a while. What I really want back are politicians like Tom Murphy and Zell Miller who at least knew how to govern.

Death spiral

The legislative session is finally over.  I think the biggest issue the legislature had to deal with aside from the budget was passing a transportation funding bill, which they failed to do.  No real surprise there, but it is still disappointing.  Worse, though, is that they didn't pass a bill allowing MARTA to spend more than 50% of its revenue on operations:
MARTA officials, who looked like they were at a wake after they heard the news, said drastic cuts to bus and train service were on the way. Veteran lobbyists called the move “irresponsible.”
This bothers me so much.  How does forcing drastic service cuts help MARTA?  This isn't tough love.  There is no lesson here for MARTA to learn - the only real criticism I've heard was pay raises that happened more than a year ago.  Someone made the point - how is MARTA supposed to hire quality management to improve operations without paying them more?  If the legislature wants MARTA to improve its management practices, they need to let them try and improve things.  

This bill wasn't even asking for state money!  Fuck, man.  This is how a transit system goes into a death spiral - they cut services to the point that the system ceases to operate.  I'm not sure what more MARTA could have done to impress on the Legislature how dire the situation is. I suspect this bill failing is typical Jill Chambers bullshit.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Mayoral race starts getting serious

Man, the mayoral race is a lot to keep with. Lisa Borders is in. Ceasar Mitchell is likely out. Kasim Reed is pulling double duty at the senate and on the campaign trail, negotiating transportation funds by day and dissing casinos by night. For me, the real interest in that last story is that Mary Norwood says that Police Chief Richard Pennington must go:
City Councilwoman Mary Norwood and Glenn Thomas, a former budget manager for the police department, said “no” when asked about keeping Pennington at a candidates’ forum, organized by Newsmakers Live at the Uptown Restaurant and Lounge in downtown Atlanta.

The two other candidates at the forum, state Sen. Kasim Reed (D-Atlanta) and attorney Jesse Spikes, said they would have an open process to determine who they would hire as chief.
I can't believe I agree with Mary Norwood, but I think step one for the APD is getting rid of Pennington. No need for a rant - just read up on my previous posts here.

On a slightly related note, I'll surprise myself further and say something nice about Kasim Reed. I said I was trying to keep an open mind.

I was talking with el hermano tonight about the constant abuse many Atlanta residents feel they take from the state government and from various counties. It does get old. Folks have been running against "those Atlanta libruls" for as long as I can remember, and I don't think it'll change any time soon. However, the city has at times had a much better relationship with the actual decision makers at the Capitol. Kasim Reed might be a chance to improve our relations with the GOP.

From what I remember, Kasim Reed has a very good working relationship with Sen. Eric Johnson and GOP leadership. He has successfully worked to pass a number bills important to the city, and has done so with the hystrionics typical of some legislators eyeing a city council position. Perhaps you noticed above that he was included in the Senate conference committee on the competing transportation tax bills?

If nothing else, I think Kasim Reed has been an excellent senator. I kind of wish he'd stay in the senate for this reason, but who would want to constantly be in the minority party getting kicked around all day? Hard to begrudge a man wanting to take his shot at a better gig.

So, if a better working relationship with the state is something you are interested in for the next mayor, Reed might be able to deliver. He's certainly in a better position to deliver on that than any of the other candidates, seeing as he's worked with a few of the major GOP candidates for Gov. and Lt. Gov.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

This is more like it

I have in the past complained about the choices for the Democratic gubernatorial race. It looks like the heavy-weights see an opening, however. First, Roy Barnes seems to be all but in the race, and now Thurbert Baker is jumping in. If Barnes does end up entering, the combination effectively kills DuBose Porter's chances, in my opinion. DuBose has been an ineffective leader in the state house, and I never thought he had a real shot, anyway.

My guess - Baker won't do well among the in-town liberal crowd, but will clean up in rural parts of the state and in majority black areas like DeKalb county. The in-town crowd always underestimates how conservative many black communities are, and thus the Democratic primary. I think Mark Taylor's margin in 2006 surprised some people, even if Cathy Cox imploded - he ran as a fairly moderate to conservative Democrat, and did pretty well.

Even if Barnes gets in, I think Baker has the best shot at the nomination. His race aside, he always struck me as pretty shrewd politically and seemed pretty content as AG. I don't think he'd make the move without some very strong polling. He has a gravitas most Georgia Dems lack (see: DuBose Porter), which will help. A lot of folks also forget he has a pretty serious legislative record, too. He (along with Mark Taylor) was a co-sponsor on much of Zell Miller's legislative agenda, including the HOPE scholarship and the Two-Strikes-and-You're-Out laws.

I am not sure how the Genarlow Wilson thing will affect Baker's chances, however. I know he has ticked off the liberal crowd by not really standing up for a lot of things, but the Genarlow Wilson incident had much broader support. Maybe he is hoping that Eric Johnson took most of the heat on that?

BTW, I'll be ticked if this is an April Fool's Joke, if for no other reason than I spent the time to write this post.