Home » North City » Recent Articles:

Nothing Like a Recall To Bring Feelings To the Surface

The last few days, since the recall attempt of Jennifer Florida was announced, have been interesting. Many views exist on both Ald. Florida and the recall process in general. Similarly, many views exist on the main controversy leading up to the recall petition. I want to share some background information on recalls as well as my latest thoughts on McDonald’s, Florida, Pyramid and such.

First, the so-called recall madness.

In 2003 voters in the 21st Ward were successful in recalling Ald. Melinda Long. Long was elected in April 2001 after defeating incumbent Bennice Jones King in the March 2001 primary. Not even two years later, on March 4, 2003, she was recalled (results). In a four-way race in April 2003, King was reelected to office as an independent candidate (results). Long was one of the candidates that ran again.

In the 4th Ward Peggy Ryan was recalled in a very tight vote on March 8, 2005. Once again, the alderman that was recalled ran for the office. Three others also ran for the now vacant seat. O.L. Shelton garnered the most votes in the special election to replace Ryan on June 7, 2005 (results).

A few months later, on September 20, 2005, Ald. Tom Bauer was recalled (results). On December 13, 2005 William Waterhouse was elected to represent the 24th Ward in a three-way race which included the former Ald. Tom Bauer as an independent.

A recent recall attempt was waged against 22nd Ward Ald. Jeffrey Boyd but petitioners failed to have enough signatures after it was determined not all of the signatures were valid (dead folks can’t sign petitions).

So what does all this say? Are citizens recall crazy? Is it a system run amuck? I don’t think so. In the first two in the 21st Ward & 4th Ward it can be said the recalls were motivated by rival political factions rather than a particular development issue. In the 24th Ward it was several development related issues that got citizens mad enough to take action. In the case of the 24th Ward the development issues were unquestionably mostly at risk of affecting those within that ward although I would argue they had larger implications as well.

In the 15th Ward a different situation is occurring . We’ve got a banned use (drive-thru service) being railroaded through the system on a parcel two blocks from an extreme ward boundary. The bulk of the residents affected by the decision just happen to live in an adjacent ward boundary. And through some twisted logic, these people are not supposed to be able to have an impact on their own immediate surroundings simply because this arbitrary ward boundary was drawn on map.

I think an increase in recalls of late is a signal that citizens have a greater awareness of the dealings of aldermen and what is going on. More citizens are taking an interest in the future of the city and are participating at the grassroots level to bring about positive change. Most Aldermen, in my view, are responsive to citizens’ views only when it comes to fixing a sidewalk, adding yet another stop sign, or requesting a new dumpster — all things an administrative staff person with the city should be able to handle provided City Hall was well organized. When it comes to bigger development issues the Aldermen want to play architect, urban planner and contractor. They do not see citizens in the process but as obstacles to the deal. This is a fundamentally wrong approach to development and eventually repopulating our city.

A recall is, by nature, reactive. Therefore, those participating in a recall are branded as being reactionary. Well, the alternative is to be pro-active but I don’t think a pro-active approach to recalls would be wise. So, yes, recall petitioners are reactionary in the sense that they are seeing what they feel is something unjust and in reaction taking steps to correct the situation. If you agree the actions of an elected official is unwarranted and/or unethical yet do nothing is that being apathetic. Democracy is not served by those unwilling to participate.

Ward boundaries are also brought up as an issue. Are these imaginary lines really that sacred? If so we have our priorities mixed up. The boundaries serve as a way to know whom is your representative. It does not remove it from the rest of the city or region. Taxes are not collected on a ward basis. Wards are not independent entities in the way a municipality is. Furthermore, we change the boundaries every 10 years based on the U.S. Census. The parcel in question was part of the old 10th Ward with Grand as the dividing line to the 15th. But in 2002 the dividing line for the 15th got moved two blocks further East in this area. Two whole blocks. Less than three football fields. People in the 20th Ward will be able to see the proposed McDonald’s from their homes. Yet, by some people’s convoluted way of thinking they are not supposed to be able to have an opinion. However, a person living nearly a mile away on the opposite corner of the 15th ward is automatically assumed to have a say.

I live on a corner lot in the 25th Ward but the other three corners are all in the 9th Ward. Before I bought the building the residents worked to get it shut down due to drug dealing and major nuisance activity. Did anyone tell them not to complain because it was not their ward? I certainly hope not. Eventually the building was condemned for occupancy. After the bank foreclosed on the owner I was able to purchase and rehab the building. By rehabbing a boarded up former drug house I helped the area, not simply the 25th Ward portion of the area.

If we are ever going to succeed in repopulating the city we must think beyond ward boundaries. We must create a strong city based on outstanding commercial arterials and a great network of neighborhood streets. This cannot be accomplished with a ward vs. ward mentality.

Furthermore, I believe we need to reevaluate our neighborhood boundaries. Major streets such as Grand are used as dividing lines. Look at the case of Cherokee Street between Jefferson & Gravois. Originally that street was the centerpiece of the neighborhood but since at least the days of former Mayor Vince Schoemehl Cherokee has been viewed as the edge of two neighborhoods rather than the commercial center. This is really a subject for an entire post, so I will stop here.

Some posters here and elsewhere seem to question the recall process altogether — that an official would have to do some sort of major criminal offense before a recall is warranted. Others seem to think it is OK to attempt to recall an official as long as it is warranted. The big question that is coming up, therefore, is whether or not this recall is warranted. It is no secret that I think the recall is just.

All officials have to make unpopular decisions, that is part of their jobs. No matter the decision someone will be unhappy. And no, we do not want them to make decisions based solely on if it would spark a recall attempt. But, if an official strays too far away from the wishes of their constituency then a recall is warranted. I do believe that is the case here.

The McDonald’s/Pyramid land swap has apparently been in the planning stages for some time but it came to the forefront in January when a building permit was applied for. Gravois Park residents, some of whom live in the 15th ward and some that do not, contend they were previously told by Jennifer Florida the McDonald’s would not be relocated to their neighborhood. Jennifer Florida outright lied to a group of people (including me) during a meeting in Dutchtown. What I wrote on February 15, 2006:

I sat next to Alderman Florida on Monday as the proposed McDonald’s at 3708 S. Grand was discussed before the Commercial District Committee of the Dutchtown South Community Corporation. She claimed to not have any graphics to show the group of the proposal, instead she showed site plans for the nearby Southside National Bank project. Yet, in her possession was a site plan for the McDonald’s project. When questioned on the subject she claimed the site plan she had was not the final plan. Digging a deeper hole she said a current site plan did not exist, that nothing had been submitted. We were puzzled at the idea of a public hearing on the zoning of a drive-thru could be held without a site plan. The truth is it can’t.

The site plan in her possession was the final plan submitted to the city in January. I finally obtained said plan through the Sunshine Law process but due to some delays on the part of the city I was not able to get a copy until after the hearing had been held. I believe she intentionally held back the plans for the project because she knew that neighborhood groups like Gravois Park and the adjacent Dutchtown would not be pleased with the standard formula McDonald’s.

I understand elected officials can’t make everyone happy. But, elected officials can operate in a manner in which everyone is informed, debate occurs and then a decision is reached. That wasn’t the case here. A decision was reached by Florida, she kept the information hidden as long as possible from the public, and then belittled anyone that dare speak out against the project. This is not conduct befitting an Alderwoman.

Early on she should have sensed where this was going. She could have asked Pyramid to withdraw the permit application to allow for public hearing to resolve disputes. That didn’t happen, they forged ahead without a chance for any real public input. Public input didn’t happen until the first conditional use hearing on the drive-thru held on February 19, 2006. This would be the hearing where the administrator entered into the record that they had letters of support from Mayor Slay, State Sen. Coleman and State Rep. Mike Daues. Again, through the Sunshine Law, I was able to see these letters did not mention McDonald’s at all. At the hearing nobody from the general public supported the McDonald’s but many from the neighborhood spoke out against it. Florida, however, called the McDonald’s a “linchpin” for future development and has suggested it will reduce crime. The hearing really didn’t matter, decisions had already been made. You see, Florida and her buddies at Pyramid & McDonald’s had no interest in public discussion. And since opposition began they’ve been even less interested.

Good politicians have the ability to step back and say, “You know, I thought this would be a benefit to the area but I can see many are not happy. We should get together and work on a master plan for this section of Grand to see what we can come up with.” This area has been in Florida’s ward for four years now. When I expressed to her that I was pleased to see the Lawrence Group would be doing some additional buildings in future phases of the South Side National Bank building she indicated she was insistent on them being two stories and up to the street. On one hand she comes across as getting urbanity and being able to push developers to do better. That Jennifer Florida I really like. It is the other Jennifer Florida, the one that yells at residents, “You can’t get everything you want” that I don’t care for.

Placing a drive-thru on the old Sears site is a very poor decision, one that will have effects on the area for a good 20-30 years until it can be razed. But how much damage will it have done to the perception of the commercial street and the adjacent residential uses? This is fundamental land use planning issues folks. This is not the addition of a stop sign or a replacing a dumpster or simple things an alderman can do without much long-term impact. Land use decisions for a major corridor used by thousands of citizens from many neighborhoods and wards is simply too critical to be left up to one person.

Then we have the issue of the redevelopment plan. Ald. Florida argued under oath the plan’s prohibition on drive-thru uses is only applicable when seeking tax incentives. So what does she do, she gets the LCRA to approve an amendment to the plan removing the prohibition on drive-thrus for only the parcel McDonald’s wants — a clear case of spot zoning. Next she introduces BB39 on the first day the Board of Aldermen are back in session to legally amend the ordinance to allow drive-thru uses on that parcel. Again, she argued just days earlier that the drive-thru prohibition is only applicable if you are not seeking tax incentives. Thus, it would appear they are setting the ground work to give McDonald’s some sort of financial incentive to move.

Many new readers are just joining in. This is a very complicated issue and I can see where those just now hearing of it may draw the conclusion that people rushed to recall her. The truth is Florida and major campaign contributor Pyramid are rushing this through the system without adequate public participation.

If you are interested in knowing the details check out my category called “McDonald’s on Grand.” The posts are in reverse order so you’ll need to start at the bottom and work your way up. Along the way you’ll begin to get a clear picture of the process and timeline as well as see supporting documents. If, after reading all this, you still don’t think the recall is warranted then we’ll have to simply agree to disagree. For me, if this is not grounds for a recall then I don’t what is.

– Steve


Old North House Tour & Bike Ride on May 13th

This coming Saturday, May 13, 2006, will be a busy one in Old North St. Louis.

Join us for the Old North St. Louis 2006 House and Community Tour. On May 13, ten of these homes, community gardens, and the old Municipal Bath House #6 will be open to the public from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Named one of the city’s “Best Places to Live” in the “up-and-coming” category by St. Louis Magazine and a “new Mecca for home renovators” by the Post-Dispatch, Old North St. Louis is a warm, diverse community full of neighborhood gardens, beautiful, historic buildings, and new, historically sensitive homes.
More Info

But why not get in a bike ride of the area before the house tour? Conveniently enough, such a ride is planned from 9:00 a.m to 11:00 a.m.

The St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation in conjunction with the Old North St. Louis House Tour is sponsoring an Old North Bicycle Tour. Ride leisurely as your tour guide leads you through largely forgotten and hidden architectural gems in Old North St. Louis. Nearly all of these beautiful homes, churches, schools and businesses were built in the 1800s in architectural styles not seen anywhere else in St. Louis. We will include brief stops at some of the more historically worthy buildings, providing the rider with a bit of history and appreciation of the area’s character. Tour participants should meet at the old Laclede Power Building parking lot at the Riverfront Trail’s south end at the corners of Lenor K. Sullivan and Biddle streets (map). A nominal fee for non- Bike Fed members will apply. Flyer

Having lived in Old North for a few years in the early 90s, and a frequent visitor since then, I can tell you this area has long been overlooked. But, that is quickly changing as people realize how close you can live to downtown and still have a yard. Remaining homes are getting rehabbed, new homes are being built and plans are underway to improve the commercial district near the famous Crown Candy Kitchen. The warehouse district along Broadway between Old North & the Mississippi is also receiving renewed attention.

Get to Old North on Saturday and witness the transformation that is taking place.

– Steve


AIA Holds Design Charrette in St. Louis’ The Ville Neighborhood

mlk charrette - 09.jpgSaturday’s design charrette in The Ville neighborhood was a tremendous success. The residents of the area are ready for change and, with a few exceptions, most understand the concepts of recreating a walkable neighborhood. The sheer number of residents participating in the all-day charrette organized by the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects was encouraging.

Fourth Ward Alderman O.L. Shelton called the event “historic” and I think he is right, it was a critical step in a long road to returning The Ville to its rightful place as a culturally rich and diverse neighborhood.

I was unable to attend the first few hours of the charrette so I arrived after the seven teams had made their initial goals and had begun working on solutions. I spent the afternoon walking around observing the teams. One team had discussed my prior post advocating for a modern streetcar down MLK and they asked me to talk with them for a bit.

I want to reiterate: the charrette was a huge success. However, I want to offer my own critical thoughts on the charrette as well as the the main street, Martin Luther King Drive. The intent of the critical look is not to take away from the excellent work done over the weekend but to make sure the thought process stays on track.

Here we go…
… Continue Reading


Why Did Blairmont Associates Contribute to the 25th Ward?

So who is Blairmont you ask? Michael and Claire over at Ecology of Absence certainly know. They first commented on Blairmont as the owners of the historic but crumbling Clemmens Mansion in July 2005:

It’s distressing to know that Blairmont Associates LC is causing yet another annoyance to a rehabber; Blairmont owns many properties on the Near North Side of St. Louis and is notoriously hard to reach. No one can find out anything about Blairmont except that a man named Harry Noble supposedly owns the company — but even that isn’t verified. A search through the Missouri Secretary of State’s corporation registry reveals that the “CT Corporation System” registered the name “Blairmont Associates LC” on behalf of an anonymous party or parties.

Many of Blairmont’s properties seem to be vacant lots in Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and other neighborhoods, although the company recently purchased a vacant St. Louis Public Schools property at 2333 Benton.

Other people report needing to make agreements with Blairmont to repair shared utilities or utilities that run through Blairmonnt properties, and having difficulty finding a phone number.

Nice folks huh? Interestingly enough, it turns out Blairmont Associates gave $750 to the 25th Ward Democratic Club during the aldermanic race last year in which I was a candidate. You see, contributions directly to candidate campaigns were limited to $300 per election but contributions to ward committees don’t seem to have limits.

The really funny thing is the timing of the contribution — the day after the 25th Ward committee endorsed my opponent, the former committeewoman of 20 years, by a vote of 26-4. Wow, how convenient was that. Also the day after the committee vote they also received $1,800 from a Clayton law firm called Stone, Leyton, Gershman which has ties to Blairmont and other front companies buying up St. Louis. Add another $2,500 from Anheuser-Busch and you’ve got a nice sum of money to get around the $300 campaign contribution limit. 25th Ward reports show thousands of dollars were used for printing and phone calls during primary election above and beyond the over $13K+ spent by the Kirner campaign. Of course, it is perfectly legal. Just not necessarily above board.

I just can’t help but wonder why this mysterious Blairmont Associates, who is buying up North St. Louis under many various names, is so interested in the 25th Ward. Could it be they wanted to make sure someone didn’t get elected to the Board of Aldermen that wouldn’t look the other way when they decide to unveil whatever devious plot they have for North St. Louis? However, I seriously doubt these lawyers and investors even had a clue about our race. More than likely Kirner’s hired gun Lou Hamilton knew his client was weak & vulnerable and told the monied folks I would be trouble to them if elected. That kind of threat to their way of life got the money rolling in.

– Steve


Removing Highways to Restructure the St. Louis Region

Rather than spend hundreds of millions on rebuilding highway 40 (I-64 to the rest of the map reading world) we should just tear it out completely. Don’t look so confused, I’m totally serious. This is not a belated April fools joke.

Our highways in the middle of urban areas are relics to the cheap gas economy that is quickly coming to an end. In addition to removing highway 40, we should remove all the highways within our I-270/I-255 Loop: I-55, I-70, I-44, and I-170

I’ve not gone crazy nor have I been smoking anything.

And before you scroll down to the comments section to explain all the conventional wisdom reasons why this won’t work I ask that you hear me out first. I know we cannot just remove the highways and leave the balance of our political entities, zoning and other systems in place and expect this to make a lick of sense. Therefore, I have some basic assumptions & qualifications that would need to accompany the removal of any or all highways in our main urbanized area of the region. The likelihood of this coming together in our lifetime is slim but as the economy changes we will need to change and adapt to remain competitive with other regions.

Keep in mind that 60 years ago men took maps and drew lines where we’d wipe out entire neighborhoods for highways and housing projects. In hindsight, huge mistakes were made that disrupted lives and cost millions. Today we are still dealing with the aftermath of these poor decisions. So I’m taking a map and looking at ways we can undo damage previously done without inflicting new damage.
… Continue Reading