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Gentrification, Property Taxes and Arson

June 14, 2006 Media, South City 36 Comments

In late April a large condo project under construction on South Grand was destroyed by fire, most likely the work of an arsonist (story on KSDK). Most of the reaction was the same. But, it was bound to be said by someone:

Condos on south grand destroyed by arsonist, asshole developers, hipsters and yuppies delayed in their quest to gentrify the area.
I caught this in the paper the other day. I don’t know much about the housing situation in the South Grand but I do know the area is becoming gentrified. It looks like someone got sick of all of the hipsters and empty nesters moving in to these $200,000-$300,000 condos and jacking up the property tax. Good for them.

The above is from a Charlie Decker at the St. Louis Indy Media Center (see post & comments). Where do I begin? I guess arson is as good of place as any. Arson is never justified! People’s property is damaged or destroyed (adjacent occupied homes caught on fire) and firefighter’s lives are placed at high risk. No way can the means justify the ends. I’m saddened that some in our society fail to see this and would instead say, “good for them.”

Gentrification is a really difficult issue. How is it defined and how is it applied? One dictionary said to “improve to middle-class taste.” Well, that can be a scary thought because most middle-class Americans like suburbia. I’ve argued before and I will say it again, we need to be continually mindful of affordable housing options throughout our city. But we must improve our housing stock and we must have a diverse population, including based on income. With this we will have change, some good and some bad.

St. Louis is an empty place. We’ve got roughly 350K people within our limits. Another 100K would fit pretty easy. Even a total of 600K would be feasible if we planned for such a density. Adding more residents will change the landscape. Retail stores will differ to meet the needs of the residents. Frankly, I don’t want to live in a poor neighborhood anymore than I do a wealthy neighborhood. I want to live in a highly mixed neighborhood with people from all backgrounds. To a degree I have that here with some low-income rentals adjacent to me and a neighbor a bit further down in the same block driving a new Mercedes that cost more than my house. This is good, we need people.

Property taxes, this is the biggest misconception. Yes, new construction and fancy rehabs increase the value of adjacent properties but the current situation places the tax burden on too few people. Increasing the number of taxable properties will spread the tax burden to more people. More people funding our local government can only help the situation.

Property taxes will rise if we don’t bring in more residents. The poor struggling to pay their property taxes will find that even if their home value remains level or drops the rate will need to rise, as allowed by state law, to cover the cost of governance. I’ll stick with more people sharing the costs as being better for everyone, including the poor.

Last night two additional projects under construction, both in Lafayette Square, burned (story). I seriously hope the above mentality is not responsible for such actions.

– Steve


Metro’s Chair Seeks to Correct the Media

Local rail advocacy group, Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT), sent the following out today:

In a letter to KMOX talkshow host Charlie Brennan, Hugh Scott, Chairman of the Metro Board of Commissioners, responded to inaccurate and unfairly critical comments made by Brennan on KMOX, and on KETC’s Donnybrook program. As a supporter of Metro and public transit in the St. Louis Region, we’re providing you with a copy of Chairman Scott’s letter to Mr. Brennan. These facts will help you respond to questions you might receive about Metro and its current MetroLink extension project.

Here is the letter to Charlie Brennan:

To: Charles Brennan

From: Hugh Scott

Date: 6/9/06

While I realize that your on-air comments on KMOX and Donnybrook need to be arranged in convenient sound bites, I have become increasingly bothered by your lack of knowledge on the subject situation.

When you say things like; “We all know Metro is a mess” and then back it up with comments about cuts in bus service and $28 million “in arrears” it shows that you have not really taken the time to look at what is actually happening at Metro. Likewise, your comment on the June 1 Donnybrook program that it is “dumb” that the new stations on the Cross County Extension do not have parking is simply wrong.

For your information, the actual facts are these:

1. The Cross County Extension is a year late and $150 million over budget due largely to poor and incomplete design work on the part of the engineering consortium hired to build the project. While it may be surprising that such large multi-national firms could do such shoddy work, the evidence speaks for itself. Obviously, we hope to recover a large amount of this overcost on behalf of the St. Louis taxpayers, in a lawsuit currently pending in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

2. Bus service has not been cut in the last four years. With the opening of the MetroLink extension, we will be eliminating bus routes where they duplicate the MetroLink expansion. Otherwise, bus service has in fact increased. I might add that ridership has increased significantly each of the past two years in spite of major fare increases.

3. The $28 million “in arrears” comment seems to refer to the fact that Metro has announced that without a tax increase or more subsidy from the State of Missouri or from the federal government, we will have a deficit in fiscal year 2008. Currently, Metro is not running a deficit and in fact finished FY ’06 with a balanced budget. Last month Metro’s board approved a balanced budget for FY 07, as well.

4. Metro has built large park and ride lots and/or garages at two of the nine new stations on the Cross County Extension.(Lansdowne and Richmond Heights) Further, there will be other (non Metro provided) adjacent parking opportunities offered at the Sunnen, Galleria, and Clayton stations. Remember also that many of the new stations are also transfer points where MetroLink connects with MetroBus service. Likewise, the parking lot at the existing Forest Park-DeBaliviere station will be re-opened in time for the opening of the Cross County Extension. You can be sure that as with the present alignment, Metro will be offering a great deal of free parking.

5. The stations without parking are in very densely populated areas where it can be expected that riders will arrive and depart on foot or by bus. Specifically, the Forsyth station exists to serve downtown Clayton workers and nearby residents, the Big Bend station serves the western portion of Washington University, and the Skinker station serves the eastern part of Washington University. While it would have been nice to provide parking at these locations, “park and ride” makes the most sense when it is adjacent to major highways and thoroughfares. This has been provided for in the new extension.

6. Metro is not a mess – quite the opposite. Larry Salci and the current management team arrived mostly after the Cross County project had begun. They realized quickly that the engineering consortium was not doing a good job and they fired them. Since Metro has taken over engineering and supervision, the project has gone remarkably well. Two years ago, Metro promised that the Cross County Extension would be operating in October of 2006. Today, it appears that this deadline will be met easily. While I am admittedly biased, I believe the present management represents the solution to the problem and not the problem.

I realize that the situation at Metro is baffling and frustrating to many in the community. As you can see from the above, it is difficult to summarize succinctly all of the issues here. To date, the media has shown little interest in understanding the actual issues and in reporting on them. Instead, print and broadcast media seem to “feed off” each other’s misinformation to create stories. While this obviously arouses the ire of already frustrated taxpayers, it does little to help the situation.

Pleased be assured that the Metro staff and I will be happy to meet with you and discuss this situation in detail at any time.

Hugh Scott, III


Metro Board of Commissioners

Not to be argumentative (well, OK, just a bit), here are some thoughts:

Metro blames the “engineering consortium” that was hired for cost overruns and delays. Who hired them? Metro did. As Scott points out in #6 above, “Larry Salci and the current management team arrive mostly after the Cross County project had begun.” That is a convenient excuse but it sounds a bit like the school board, “Oh yeah, that was the guys before us.”

I still have to wonder about the size of Metro. Some have suggested they are now a lean machine while others tell me there is fat to be cut. As a citizen it is really hard to get a grasp around such entities. I was thinking we should send the Alverez & Marsal team over to Metro but they’d probably cut all the bus & MetroLink drivers but retain everyone else, collect millions and then leave town before we realized what happened.

Metro needs money just to stay afloat. Not money for expansion, just operations. It will come in the form of a tax increase. I’m not sure how we can get them to prove they are fiscally responsible but I’d like your suggestions. If they want more money I’d like to know how the current funding level is being spent. I know part of the need for additional funding will the be additional operation of 8 more miles as well as some deferred debt. They need to start a really good sucking up PR campaign. I’m not sure bitching about the media is the best way to start…

– Steve


Arch City Chronicle Misses Mark on McDonald’s & Recall

Most of you are probably familiar with the Arch City Chronicle — both the on again/off again print edition as well as the online blog. While the McDonald’s issue has been going on for several months now the print edition of the ACC has remained quiet on the issue until this past edition. Let’s take a look at their coverage from “The Inside Dirt” section:

The 15th ward recall might usurp the 4th district as the most fascinating political play this year. Jennifer Florida, who supported the stadium deal, fought charter reform, and made cozy in Slay’s camp; was unopposed last year for reelection. Now she’s the subject of a recall because a McDonald’s wants to move across the street?

Oh I get it, a clever way of saying the McDonald’s isn’t such a big deal relative to all her other wrong-doings. Perhaps. But this shows a complete lack of understanding about what motivates individuals: proximity to their home. Did the stadium deal or charter reform threaten resident’s homes with trash and noise from an adjacent drive-thru? No.

And it is not as simple as Editor Drebes (and Ald. Florida) make it out to be — just moving across the street. This shows Drebes has formed an opinion without looking into the issue of the financing behind the site (Federal funds used to acquire & raze old Sears) as well as the quality of life issues that would come from having a drive-thru on your side of a major street rather than the other. It should be noted the Drebes family lives just a block off Grand South Grand with all the various restaurants and shops and a decidedly different feel than the area in question. Location, location, location.

What’s surprising isn’t that it’s a bloody McDonald’s that’s moving the electorate. What’s funny is that the “recallers” apparently haven’t thought much about the future. First, it’s unlikely they’ll get the signatures. In order to so so, they’ll have to improve on their timid approach we witnessed in the park last weekend.

Oh, the discredit approach. Good one, Dave. Let’s observe a fraction of the first two hours of the recall effort and draw conclusions about the outcome of something which arguably takes a couple of months at best. I saw the folks collecting signatures in the park doing really well approaching people — perhaps too well. They were soon asked by Park Rangers to move toward the traffic circle where efforts proved more challenging.

Second, if they get the sigs, Florida has an open and thriving ward organization. Something progressives applaud. It has members. That is to say, she has a base to beat back a recall (Not to mention her $21,000 war-chest.)

Part of the ACC mission is to be, “challenging to the status quo.” Uh, is that going to start anytime soon? Sounds more like trumpeting the status quo to me. First we have the scare mongering technique to squash any potential rebellion by saying an incumbent has a whole ward organization and second a big pile of cash. What the ACC is really saying is this is St. Louis where ward politics reign supreme and money talks so even though we talk about challenging the status quo we really don’t mean it.

If blogger Steve Patterson couldn’t out-door-knock Kirner in his aldermanic race, it’s unlikely he can out-work the spunky Florida.

This sentence seems added later, just as a quick jab at me. It doesn’t really relate to the rest of the piece. Funny, a year ago Dave Drebes said it was the work of Lou Hamilton and the $14K+ that Kirner paid him that was why I was defeated in my race. Still, I managed to get more votes in the two precincts on my side of Grand with only two months from the date I entered the race to election day.

Florida is trying to paint me as the person behind the recall and the ACC doesn’t seem willing to examine that assumption. The truth is I don’t have the time to recall every alderman that makes bad development decisions — can you imagine the coordination required to run 28 recalls? Clearly I am a supporter of the recall and I am in communications with those that are but I have no intention of going door-to-door collecting signatures. It is their baby which may or may not succeed. My focus remains on the planning issues behind the McDonald’s issue on Grand.

Third, suppose they win a recall, the Democratic nominee would be chosen by the committeepersons — hardly the people that the recallers would consider a positive improvement from Florida. Greg Thomas is going to vote in favor of a civilian review board? “Not bloody likely.”

In other words, the alderperson whom you disagree with on moving a McDonald’s across the street will be better on 90% of your issues than the one that you get when you recall her.

Wow, more of that challenging to the status quo writing! The 15th ward has two committees. Florida’s committee though “thriving” apparently failed to have any candidates for committeeman or committeewoman. As such, the old guard committee would determine the Democratic nominee. The ACC is presuming committeeman Greg Thomas would nominate himself (certainly a possibility). I just adore the argument that we are better off with what we have because any replacement would be worse. Was that a jab at William Waterhouse in the 24th, the former committeeman that replaced recalled Tom Bauer?

The problem here is the ACC is promoting the idea that citizens should not be engaged in the process, that an incumbent with money cannot be beat so why even bother. This is not progressive thinking. This is what the status quo wants people to believe so they can go about their business and stay in office for 20+ years with seldom being challenged.

I’ve been disappointed the ACC hasn’t taken a closer look at the various issues of planning, zoning, aldermanic courtesy, funding sources, redevelopment plans and such all at work in this complex issue. You’d certainly think a paper with a mission to challenge the status quo would do so. But maybe not.

Ald. Florida is a regular advertiser in a paper that has struggled to stay afloat. Last year it got new investors but we don’t really know who they are. We do know advertisers include status quo PR folks Richard Callow & Lou Hamilton. Then we have Pyramid Construction, the developer behind all this. Not only are they big advertisers in the ACC they are also their landlord. Yes, the ACC leases office space from Pyramid.

The ACC is not about challenging the status quo but simply another voice for the status quo (besides the St. Louis Business Journal that Dave Drebes also writes for).

UPDATE 5/31/06 @ 5pm – At the suggestion of Thomas Crone, Dave Drebes and I are meeting tomorrow morning to “hash out” our perspectives in a civil face-to-face meeting.

– Steve


Charles Jaco on Ballpark Village

May 24, 2006 Downtown, Media 10 Comments

Fox 2 News reporter Charles Jaco will be doing a piece on Ballpark Village during their 6pm news tonight. I was asked to give my urban perspective on the project. At issue is the developer seeking a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) for the project and the city saying no.

On a side note, the cameraman was a neighbor of mine back in the early 90’s when I lived on Sullivan in Old North St. Louis. It was nice to reminisce at bit.

[UPDATE 5/24/06 @ 5pm – I got a call a bit ago letting me know that due to some developing stories his time for this piece was cut — and so was I. It happens, I’ll live. In fact, he said the story may get bumped altogether for tonight’s 6pm broadcast.]

– Steve


Patterson & Florida Duke it out in St. Louis Magazine

If you haven’t seen the June 2006 of St. Louis Magazine be sure to find a copy. They did a short piece on the McDonald’s issue going through various issues with a point-counterpoint format with quotes from myself and Ald. Jennifer Florida. In “Round Five: The Opponent” here is what Ald. Jennifer Florida has to say about me:

“He’s a minister of disinformation. A zealot, the take-no-prisoners no compromise type.”

I consulted the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for the term ‘disinformation’ and here is what I found.

Function: noun
: false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth

If I am a “minister of disinformation” I’m doing a lousy job. All those Sunshine Law requests for documents and audio recordings does not look good on the resume of a MoD. Then, to top if off, actually publishing the letters, statements and actual audio to allow people to review the facts themselves. Not to mention publishing a well-read website with my name appearing prominently, not exactly covert. What was I thinking?

Ald. Florida, on the other hand, seems to be making an outstanding run for MoD. For example, deliberately telling Gravois Park they’d not be getting the McDonald’s in their neighborhood while working behind the scenes to do just that. That my friends is disinformation done right (well, wrong… you get the point).

Now ‘zealot’ is a different issue. Typically you see the word religious as a preface and we mostly acknowledge zealot as a derogatory term. I’m quite certain Ald. Florida did not intend to offer a compliment by labeling me a zealot.

Again, from Merriam-Webster:


2 : a zealous person; especially : a fanatical partisan


: filled with or characterized by zeal (zealous missionaries)


: eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something :


: characterized by warmth of feeling typically expressed in eager zealous support or activity. synonym: see impassioned.


implies warmth and intensity without violence and suggests fluent verbal expression (an impassioned plea for justice)

You know, I kinda like the progression above. Perhaps zealot isn’t so bad? An urban zealot, arden urbanist, or impassioned urbanist. What I am about is pretty clear in over 600 postings on this site. Few, if any, agree with me 100% — that is to be expected from thinking individuals. But I have to ask what is it that Ald, Florida is about? What is she impassioned about?

But I am supposedly the “take-no-prisonors no compromise type” of zealot. So my pursuit of this issue is an indication of being excessively ardent. I suppose if I were in Ald. Florida’s awkward position I might agree. From day one people have said the McDonald’s should not be relocated and she has continually said that is not an option — that it will indeed happen and she is just trying to make the best deal. If anyone in all of this is excessive in their position it would be Ald. Florida. She is refusing to even entertain the notion of looking at rebuilding the McDonald’s on its current site. Through many postings here I have continued to illustrate various viewpoints, explain the logic behind them and show viable alternates. To a degree I think Ald. Florida could be willing to seek a compromise but politically she doesn’t want to appear weak. She may well be getting bad advise from higher ups that view her as expendable — better for her to take the fall than themselves.

I do want to end with one more quote from St. Louis Magazine (you’ll need to get a copy to read the rest). From Ald. Jennifer Florida as quoted in St. Louis Magazine:

“This strip has been commercial for 30 years, and, looking at it, it’s all messed up anyway.”

Finally something out of the mouth of Jennifer Florida that I can think is her genuine feeling, “it’s all messed up anyway.”

– Steve