Sunday, October 16, 2011

END GAME? Ward reapportionment, giant garages, land banks, and central city redevelopment

A terrible trio working to force redevelopment on central Columbia 
 
COLUMBIA, 10/16/11  (Op-Ed) --  More and more, it looks like the City of Columbia will soon face an "end game" that looks like significant central city "redevelopment" following an updated but familiar playbook.  More than 40 years old, the playbook combines taxpayer-funded incentives, blight declarations, eminent domain, and local government muscle on behalf of powerful special interests who smell a buck they can make at someone else's expense. 
 
Look closely, and you can already see the pieces on the chess board -- and how they resemble the pieces from years past.  Under present-day Missouri law, TIFs, blight, and eminent domain are a terrible trio in forced redevelopment. 
 
Sticks and carrots
 
Start with the leadership.   Then, it was the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) advocating "urban renewal."   Now, it's an alphabet soup of organizations, from the DLC to the CID, advocating "downtown redevelopment."  Urban renewal vs. downtown redevelopment?  My, how history repeats. 
 
Next, look at the carrots -- the incentives.   Back in the sixties and seventies, the Federal government supplied urban renewal grants.   Today, the incentives are so-called "Tax Increment Financing," or TIFs. 
 
The sticks, however, are no different today:  blight and eminent domain.  Decades ago, City Hall and a few "upstanding" leaders declared blight on hundreds of acres around downtown, and used eminent domain to shoo out Black-owned businesses and shutter some white-owned slums.  Paying less than 50 cents on the dollar, this rogue team of "civic leaders" then took the whole kit and caboodle, chopped it up, and sold it on the cheap to a bunch of rich white guys and public housing projects that only put lipstick on the ills of segregation. 
 
Today, the law of TIFs in Missouri includes the same sticks, starting in Chapter 99 of the Revised Missouri Statutes (RSMo).   
 
To get a TIF, the "redevelopment" land must fall into one of three categories, blight included.   Under the RSMo sections devoted to redevelopment, the TIF law then gives municipalities and Land Clearance Authorities the right to condemn property via eminent domain
 
The redevelopment corridor
 
Finally, take the redevelopment that's already happening.    In one corner of the redevelopment corridor, folks like Les Wagner and Boone County Family Resources are stockpiling some of Columbia's most valuable central city land with tax dollars; taking it off the property tax roles and -- neighbors suspect -- banking it, not for the agency's clients, but for future redevelopment. 
 
In other corners, giant parking garages rise that won't have any customers unless the downtown post office; public housing; and acres of flat surface parking are redeveloped into skyrise office and living space. 
 
The major landowners around these garages -- Boone County; the City of Columbia; Waters, Odle, Wisconsin tugboat millionaire Ray Eckstein; and a few other prominent families have either lined up behind projects like Garagezilla or -- in Eckstein's case -- seem to be waiting for a bail out of some sort.  He owns the increasingly-decrepit post office building -- got the land from the LCRA in the sixties.   
 
Who makes out?

Finally, the presumptive beneficiaries:  In both cases, well-healed landowners and City Hall.   As a partnership, those groups are pushing so-called Ward gerrymandering plans far more likely to seat a City Council that would vote 5-2 or 6-1 for various central city redevelopment schemes. 
 
Would high-rise offices and living space along Ash and Walnut Streets be good for downtown?   Sure -- but not like this.  Not with the economic and political distortions all the sticks and carrots create.   If we thought two rounds of Land Clearance were bad a few decades ago, we ain't seen nothin' yet.

3 comments:

  1. Shouldn't that be "well-heeled"? (as in wearing expensive shoes)

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  2. I would like to know why they don't "develop" that big chunk of commercial real estate where Osco's used to be? Talk about blight! Any thoughts?

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  3. Thank you, Mike, for your perseverance in exposing the political realities driving the passage of politically gerrymandered ward redistricting.

    Take away the political noise and red herring arguments led by the very-partisan Republican operative, Rob Monsees, acting as a representative of the Dixiecrat/Republican Chamber of Commerce and Central Missouri Development Council-types, and one is left with the laughably easy-to-prove job of exposing the political goals of the handful of proponents of Trial D (& Trial A).

    1. To maximize the probability of a majority of pro-development, pro-business council decisions for the foreseeable future.
    2. To qualitatively change Columbia's political culture from non-partisan and issue-outcome-oriented to a wholly partisan, winner-take-all agenda.
    3. To marginalize dissenting ideas by restructuring local governance process to limit opportunities to pursue compromise and fundamentally alter the ethos and culture of the local political "marketplace of ideas".

    It is unfortunate for the majority of us, and helpful to those with this agenda, that the debate about this issue has focused on specific seated council persons and the tenor and shenanigans of the political season that put them in office. Dudley and Kespohl, like ALL political actors, are passing bit players on a permanent political stage.

    The Dixiecrat/Republican agenda isn't about who's in office today. It's about the issue you describe above, it's about widening Broadway to 4-lanes, and it's about implementing development policies that maximize the opportunity for unfettered and unregulated growth.

    But most importantly, it's about shutting up people who disagree with them. It's about implementing a political structure and cultural that renders impotent those pursuing a quality of life and quality of community that values anything even slightly different than what provides maximum profit to the Dixiecrat/Republican cronies pushing Trial D.

    The Dixiecrat/Republican cronies pushing Trial D fully understand that over time people will give up on trying to affect a political system structured to exclude them. This is why it's so incredibly important to them to minimize the potential for effectiveness of the most politically active precincts in Columbia. They don’t just want to control council votes, they want to control the entirety of the conservation about what options for public policy even exist.

    Should anyone doubt this analysis, all they need to do is take a quick glance at Mr. Monsees self-posted resume on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/rob-monsees/4/364/70b.

    It's been pointed out that Mr. Monsees was Deputy Chief of Staff for Matt Blunt. It's been less well-publicized that the entirety of Mr. Monsees career preceding his role as the Blunt campaign’s Director of Operations and Blunt administration appointment was as a political operative for a Who's Who list of Missouri Republicans including Peter Kinder, Kenny Hulshof, and Senator Kit Bond.

    It requires a remarkable and myopic act of suspension of disbelief to pretend that Mr. Monsees’ Trials D and A are anything less than a political gerrymander for the purpose of handing our local economy over to the Kochian free marketeers and Columbia's political culture over to the Missouri Republican party.

    To maintain the potential for the majority of Columbians to participate openly and meaningfully in the local democratic process, it is imperative that Trials D and A are defeated.

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