Thursday, October 8, 2009


Columbia's Alternative News Source
1)  THE TROUBLE:  With Local Newspapers
2)  FIRST CHANCE:  Nixes Heibel-March renovation
3)  COLUMBIA CITY COUNCIL:  Tackles massive housing bill
4)  A COLUMBIA LANDLORD:  Laments rising crime
5)  COUNCILMAN SKALA:  Downtown cameras bad idea
6)  THINK TRIB COMMENTS ARE ROUGH?  Check out Ashland! 
7)  READERS WRITE:  On Dawson Shoe Repair; Im murder; hate mail
THE TROUBLE:  With Local Newspapers
by Mike Martin for the Columbia Business Times

Anymore, it seems like newspapers—both local and national—are doing almost everything wrong. 
Rather than lower prices to encourage what economists call "quantity demanded," print publishers have raised prices—at 25 percent a whack—to absurd levels: $2 for a New York Times or Wall Street Journal at the newsstand and (gasp) $6.95 for a slender copy of Newsweek.   That's right:  Almost $7 for little more than a rehash of news that's been flying around free on the Internet for a week.  
Quirky pricing
Locally, prices have stayed reasonable. But newspapers in Columbia struggle with a number of weird quirks.  Take the three levels of pricing.  At Gerbes supermarket, you can buy any newspaper without paying sales tax.  The store picks up the tax, artificially lowering the paper's cost at the checkout stand.  A New York Times at Gerbes is $1.86 before tax.  A Columbia Daily Tribune, $0.43

Buy a Trib or a Times from a machine and you'll pay fifty cents or two bucks, no tax.  But buy a Trib or a Times from D&H Pharmacy—or other small retailers—and you pay $0.57 for the Trib or Missourian, $2.15 for the Times.
Confused yet?  Try showing up at D&H just after 7:30 a.m., when their entire stock of three New York Times newspapers has already sold out!  "We ask for more, but that's all we get," the clerk told me. And newspapers are struggling with declining sales.  Go figure.

Porch spam
The biggest quirk that plagues local papers remains the free newspaper problem.  Call it the world's worst case of spam. Call it heinously wasteful. Call it the most deliberately environmentally unfriendly thing anyone could do.  I've called it lots of things over the years, and still they come:  free copies of local newspapers, thrown in all weather, unordered and unwanted, onto your porch; in the street; on the sidewalk; in the gutter; on your lawn; and in two instances I reported, in large bundles on a vacant lot and a trash bin by lazy carriers who wanted to unload their entire day's stock in one shot.
"After probably a dozen requests to stop them over the past 5 years, I’m still picking up free newspapers," I wrote last month in an e-mail to the circulation gurus at one local press, trying again to stop the litter at my rental properties.
To emphasize, I got graphic:
"Door-to-door campaigning for various political candidates over the years (including myself), I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of houses that have these free newspapers stacked up—in boxes; on porches; and in wet, mildewing piles. Elderly and physically disabled people occupy many of these homes; they just aren’t able to pick up the papers and dispose of them, or don’t know whom to call to stop them."
Then I played the Green Card:
"A city building inspector once related to me how several times she’s had to pick up the papers as they float down gutters and pile up—in their environmentally unfriendly plastic wrappers— around drainage ports near her home."
Finally, the Smoking Ban Card:
"If the newspapers continue, I will publicly address the issue during the city council’s 5-minute public forums, and propose—just like smoking—banning the practice.  The waste here is extraordinary," I concluded, "and the trash it creates a real menace."
I cc'd the City Council, and received a few responses.  "I'm with you on this one, Mike," e-mailed one councilperson, whose name I don't dare expose for fear of editorial reprisals. "I contemplated many times driving by the newspaper office every week and throwing the papers back at them and asking about 100 neighbors to do the same."
"Bravo!" wrote another councilperson. "A long time ago, I wrote a satire about this local phenomenon."
I don't know whether it's satirical, ironic, farcical or tragic, but it's surely the slow demise of a once grand enterprise. Who knows where it will all end.  All I know is that even when it's free, the American newspaper just ain't what it used to be.
FIRST CHANCE:  Nixes Heibel-March Store renovation
COLUMBIA, 10/4/09 (Beat Byte) --  Citing skyrocketing cost estimates, the First Chance for Children (FCFC) board of directors voted Friday to scrap a long-anticipated project to renovate the Heibel-March Store, aka the Field Park building on the corner of Rangeline and Wilkes, a City of Columbia Notable Historic Property.  A long-time parks department push to demolish the building could now move forward. 
Facing cost estimates in excess of $300,000.00 to renovate the 2,300 square foot brick structure, a former drug store that has sat empty and deteriorating for over a decade, FCFC board president Tom Rose told the Columbia Heart Beat that, while his organization regretted their inability to pursue the project, "we are simply not in a position at this time to take on the loans and fundraising efforts it would require.  That doesn't mean we will never do it, but right now we're in a pretty good position financially that we can't afford to jeopardize." 
Exisiting in a no-man's land ever since the City of Columbia acquired the building from the Hinshaw family to construct next-door Field Park, the Heibel-March store has passed to and from several local non-profit groups, including the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association and Central Missouri Community Action. 
City Hall owns the land on which the building sits, so bank financing has proven difficult.  What's more, donors have privately balked at giving large sums to renovate a publicly-owned park building; in-fighting and mismanagement plagued the non-profit groups that had previously tackled the project; and a city Parks department plan to demolish the structure originally championed by then-city councilman Bob Hutton and Parks director Mike Hood perpetually stalled support from where it was most needed and appropriate:  City Hall.
Weary neighbors say they'd just like a hazardous eyesore removed.  "They shot it up last year, busted out the front door and boarded it up," said a Rangeline Street resident.  "I keep waiting for one of those brick walls to fall down on some kids.  They should just be done with it, before anyone gets hurt." 

COLUMBIA CITY COUNCIL:  Tackles massive housing bill
COLUMBIA, 10/4/09 (Beat Byte) --  A sweeping HUD-supported plan to address affordable and so-called "special needs" housing is on the public comment agenda for the Monday, October 5th meeting of the Columbia City Council.   Titled the Consolidated Housing and Community Development Plan, it identifies several groups as in special need, including ex-offenders; homeless youth; persons with disabilities; and (gulp) African-Americans.   
Laid out across 29 individual objectives, the nearly $3 million proposal promises a great deal more government involvement in the local housing market. 
Targeting 728 "units of affordable housing," including 103 new rental units for special needs groups; 100 tenant-assisted rentals; and 257 owner-occupied units, the plan includes a new Housing Trust Fund; an "affordable housing planner"; several new committees; and new "universal design standards" for low-income housing projects. 
Mapping out residential living space by race -- specifically  "African American" and "Asian" populations -- the plan recounts several interesting statistics.  Since 2000, housing stock has increased 24% while the population has only increased 17%.  It suggests Columbia will need 5,300 new housing units within the next 5 years. 
Most telling: homeownership in the black community trails the white community by nearly 2:1 --  27.6% of black households owned homes, versus 51.5% of white households
Though the plan is well-intentioned in several areas, including increasing homeownership rather than renting, three failings immediately present.  The plan does not encourage much private enterprise, instead directing funds at city departments and a new "not for profit organization that will develop, purchase, and manage affordable housing units in Columbia," a strategy that has historically paid low dividends and seen frequent failures.  
The plan also has a glaring omission:  It doesn't address the root of most neighborhood decay, crime. 
Finally, where African-Americans and race-relations are concerned, City Hall has a ham-handed record.  Basically, it's too many white folks telling too many black folks what's what.  That's a prescription for the same old problems, IMHO, and in this writer's opinion, it would be great if race and ethnicity were removed from the affordable housing equation, at least where supposedly color-blind government programs are concerned.   That's why I gulped at the beginning of this story, at the unusual notion that African Americans are some kind of "special needs" population that requires particular mention, Federally mandated or not. 
A COLUMBIA LANDLORD:  Laments rising crime
One of Columbia's largest rental property owners recently sent me this missive:


I own rental property in North Central Columbia.  I'm a "landlord."   That seems to have a negative connotation, but a lot of us work hard to provide a needed service and when things work against us...well...landlords never get much sympathy.

Having said that, I want to relate a short saga.  I have been remodeling a building near Washington Avenue in the North Central Village area of the First Ward.  It has a new roof, new fascia, new soffit, new gutters, several new doors, new energy efficient thermopane windows, new insulation in both the attic and the exterior walls, new kitchen and bathroom cabinets, new furnaces, new a/c, new electrical wiring, new ceiling fans, new paint, new oak floor finishes, etc. 
I am obviously very proud of the work and investment in this great older apartment building in Central Columbia.  I am a proud owner and hope it serves many people who will call it their home for years to come.  It is beautiful, practical, well-located, energy efficient and easy on people's budgets.

We rented the first apartment to a young woman who was very happy with the apartment until she and another female friend were followed home one night by a group of young "thugs" who made them very nervous.  This happened less than a week after she moved in!  They feared for their personal safety.  She was scared and wanted to move out of the neighborhood immediately! 

We did absolutely NOTHING WRONG, but we suffer with another vacancy because of crime and the fear of crime.   A reasonable fear of crime or a reputation of crime is often enough to steer good people away from an area.

I will be honest and hope that it doesn't offend too many people.  There are streets and areas with bad reputations and it hurts all of us.  It is harder to lease to anybody in those areas.  And much harder to attract good renters. 

Sometimes you get lucky and find a good renter who doesn't know about the neighborhood's reputation or doesn't care or doesn't believe it's that bad.   But usually you are forced to lease to marginal tenants or have lots of vacancies.  I have chosen to have lots of vacancies, but it is a burden that I can't afford to carry much longer.
For example, on Quail Drive, 5 of my 6 units are vacant!  It's impossible to pay the bills when you are not getting any rental income. Just mention Quail and some people don't want to hear anything about the apartment.  You couldn't give an apartment on that street to some people.

What can be done?  It doesn't matter how much I fix up a building, they just won't live in "that" neighborhood.  It is very frustrating and a very real problem that needs to be dealt with.  It affects many, many people.  Not just me.  Normal people are afraid to walk home!  They are afraid of being robbed, insulted, assaulted or worse!   What can be done?

A concerned landlord
COUNCILMAN SKALA:  Downtown cameras bad idea
The recent attack on Adam Taylor was a terrible crime and I am glad that he has recovered from his injuries.  I am also very glad that the surveillance cameras in the parking garage helped the police identify and arrest the perpetrators.  I have always supported the use of surveillance cameras in city-owned parking garages.  Although they may not deter crime, as in Adam’s case, they can certainly help the police, after the fact. 
However, I do not support government sponsored and taxpayer financed downtown surveillance cameras placed in high visibility public areas such as our streets and sidewalks for three reasons:
1)  Existing comparative data do not demonstrate significant positive effects on crime deterrence or apprehension with continuous public surveillance in high visibility, high traffic areas, such as public streets and sidewalks. What does have a significant effect on both deterrence and apprehension is a significant police presence.
2) The data also suggest that the cost of general surveillance camera programs may be a waste of limited public safety resources, when compared to the value and flexibility of an increased police presence downtown.  That is one reason why, after two public hearings and a Scheduled Public Comment on the matter, the City Council voted against reconsideration of funding them. 
There is simply no effective substitute for well trained, dedicated and strategically deployed police officers.  I firmly believe that local public safety policies ought to be data driven and optimized with regard to both effectiveness and cost. Accordingly, surveillance cameras have long been used in city-owned high-risk properties such as parking facilities. 
Real police presence in the downtown area has also been significantly enhanced, consistent with the Columbia Police Department’s new data and resource driven policy of “geographic policing.” Concurrently, I would encourage the downtown merchants and property owners to make their own decisions with respect to the benefits and costs of private property surveillance.
3) There is no "probable cause” associated with continuous general public surveillance.   Without “probable cause” citizens do have a "right to privacy" conferred by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution against unreasonable searches and seizures, even in public areas. Nonetheless, I continue to support the use of city surveillance cameras in high-risk public areas such as city parking garages, where probable cause is likely to exist because of poor sight lines, limited public activity, etc.

As the record indicates, I have voted accordingly.
Karl Skala
Columbia Third Ward City Councilman
COLUMBIA, 10/4/09 (Beat Byte) --  "Quite frankly, I think this message board has become a DISGRACE...Look at what it's turned into!  Take your gossip and conspiracy theories about things like cheerleading, vandals, prom dresses, and local football somewhere else."
" was ridiculous that it was taken to this level on the message board."
" might remember that this is a messageboard, not a gossip-board."
Sound like Columbia?  Think again!  These comments hail from our neighbor to the south, Ashland, and the Boone County Journal's "Guestbook Message board." 
Censorship, incivility, nasty verbal assaults on nice folks.  Complaints like these have swirled around online comments at the Columbia Tribune and Missourian newspaper websites for over a year.   But things are just as rough -- if not rougher -- in that tiny town of 1,500.  
One reader even took Journal editor Bruce Wallace to task. 
"Bruce:  I read the Journal every week.  I look forward to receiving it, but there has been one very common pattern:  mistakes. Hardly a week goes by that one is not found.  Often it is in your own articles, and most should be found by using spell check. This week you reported that the former Hartsburg residents were killed in Oklahoma.  In fact, they were shot in Jeff City and the suspect was caught in Oklahoma.  I know in your business you get pressed for time but I find it very distracting that these mistakes are constantly being made. I will continue to be a subscriber but would suggest it be revised more closely."
READERS WRITE:  Letters to the Blogitor
Mike:  Thanks for the bit on Dawson Shoe Repair and Bob Wood.   I, too, have found the service provided to be considerably below reasonable in price and the proprietor to be more than helpful and friendly.
I don't own any $400 loafers, but I do have fairly expensive backpacking boots.  A few years ago - when I was young and spry - and prior to taking a "Walk in the Woods" on the Appalachian Trail, I took my well-worn Merrell Wilderness hiking boots in to Dawson to be re-soled since the original Vibram sole was slick.  I was a bit concerned about leakage from the new soles as my walk was in the very-wet springtime, but Bob assured me that my feet wouldn't get wet unless I crossed a stream that was over the top of the hiking boots.
Sure enough, no leakage and now, about 5 years and many hiking miles later, the boots look as good as new or at least the soles do.   All of this for $10.00!
-- Ken Midkiff, Columbia
How do we find the mayoral poll in order to vote in it?  Thanks for the great column.
-- Vince Winn, Columbia  
[The new mayoral poll is at]
Regarding the Im murder back in 2005, I seem to remember in the first reports that Im went to have the muffler on his car worked on at a muffler shop at some point in that day. Have I missed hearing this information in the revamp of the investigation? The hooded sweatshirt, mask and shoes would seem to be the attire of someone working in a muffler shop.
-- Interested Amateur Sleuth
Mr. Martin:  I subscribe to your blog and appreciate your coverage of local events.  Thanks. 
-- Steve Spellman, CISP
Asst. Vice President and Relationship Manager
Central Trust and Investment Company
Mike:  Thanks for posting the info on the 10/5/09 Eminent Domain meeting.  I would have missed out on this opportunity if I had not read about it in Columbia Heart Beat/Beat Bytes.  It’s great to have you on-point.  I appreciate what you do. 
-- Kelly Veach, Shelter Insurance, Columbia 
Mike:  Regardless of what your detractors might write, I think you are doing great work with the BEAT BYTE newsletter.  I look forward to your missives and, if they arrive at a time when I am not able to read them, I mark them so they do not get lost in the weekly shuffle.  Your candid assessment of how things work in our fair town of Columbia are refreshing and insightful.  Keep up the good work!
-- Sandra Weisman, Columbia                                            

Mike Martin
Blogitor in Chief
The Columbia Heart Beat

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