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Readers Opposed To Loop Trolley Bailout

October 16, 2019 Featured, Public Transit, St. Louis County, STL Region, Transportation Comments Off on Readers Opposed To Loop Trolley Bailout

I’m a huge fan of modern streetcars, like the line in Kansas City, but I’m indifferent to “heritage” trollies that use vintage or reproduction of early 20th century equipment. They’re great for nostalgia buffs, Instagram-worth photos, etc. Actual transportation?  Sorta, mostly for tourists.

Loop Trolley 001

Many comments I read online said the Loop Trolley was a bad idea from the start. Yes and no. Most of the established businesses in the Delmar Loop are further than a quarter-mile walk from the Delmar MetroLink (light rail) station — that’s the maximum distance most people are wiling to walk.  The #97 MetroBus runs on the Delmar portion of the Loop Trolley, but it only runs every 30 minutes. Plus, many in our region view the bus as poor people transit. And the bus doesn’t encourage millions in new dense infill construction the way expensive fixed-rail projects do.

New construction on a site long occupied by a gas station. Delmar & Skinker. The Loop Trolley’s power line is visible. August 2019.

So providing a rail system to get people the last mile to/from a transit station was actually a good idea. The problem was Joe Edwards, the Loop’s longtime advocate, insisted the vehicles be vintage trolley cars — not better modern streetcars. Modern low-floor streetcars are easy to board & exit — including for those of us using wheelchairs. Families pushing strollers also find modern low-floor streetcars to be very convenient. Vintage high-floor trolley vehicles, are the opposite.

Joe Edwards as Mr. Rogers, from Facebook. Original source unknown.

At one point a consultant on the project told me he was pushing to future-proof  the design so modern streetcars, known as trams elsewhere in the world, could eventually replace the vintage cars. Unfortunately, he didn’t prevail. Had the system been built for modern low-floor vehicles it would be straightforward to make the system actually serve local transit needs, with a future expansion east on Delmar. But no, we’ve got a system that’ll only work with vintage cars that Seattle no longer wanted.  Seattle does have a nice modern low-floor streetcar system.

Some project info from the Loop Trolley website:

Who owns and operates the trolley system? 
The Loop Trolley is owned by the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District (LTTDD) and will be operated by the Loop Trolley Company, a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

How much did this project cost to build?  
The construction budget for the Loop Trolley project is $51 million, or $17 million per track mile. This is on the low side in comparison to other recently constructed streetcar systems such as Cincinnati ($36.76M/track mile), Tucson ($28.26M/track mile), Kansas City ($25.35M//track mile) and Portland ($22.43M/track mile).

How is construction and operations funded:
The primary construction funding came via a $25 million FTA Urban Circulator grant. Funding also comes from other federal grants (CMAQ, STP), a TIF, New Market Tax Credits, St. Louis County Transportation Fund, Great Rivers Greenway, Washington University, and Loop Trolley Transportation Development District sales taxes and donations. A combination of fares, advertising and LTTDD sales taxes will fund operations.

Who supported the effort to restore trolley service in St. Louis?
In addition to the Federal Transit Administration and the Loop Trolley Company, other supporters include St. Louis County, Great Rivers Greenway, Washington University, the City of St. Louis, University City,  the Missouri History Museum, East-West Gateway Council of Governments, Citizens for Modern Transit, our congressional delegation, The Loop Special Business District, and many businesses, neighborhood groups and residents. 

Now the very non-profit says they need $700k to prevent becoming insolvent. The city already said no, now the St. Louis County Council doesn’t plan to take up the request. There was a time Joe Edwards could do no wrong, so he got his way on this. Too bad politicians, business executives, etc didn’t learn to say no to Edwards — at least have modern low-floor streetcars from the start or be able to add them later.

Here are the results from the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: St. Louis City & County should equally help the Loop Trolley Co. so it doesn’t become insolvent.

  • Strongly agree: 7 [11.86%]
  • Agree: 4 [6.78%]
  • Somewhat agree: 5 [8.47%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [1.69%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [5.08%]
  • Disagree: 11 [18.64%]
  • Strongly disagree: 28 [47.46%]

The Post-Dispatch Editorial Board agrees with the majority.

It was bad business from the beginning for the trolley’s promoters to have failed to foresee the low rider interest and economic challenges that led to the current crisis, and it’s bad business for the region’s leaders to keep throwing money at it. If this project is still as viable as its promoters claim it to be, let private sources cover these shortfalls. The taxpayers have done enough.

I’m torn.  I was hoping the trolley would spur new development in the city portion of the route, but this land may sit vacant for years to come.  Abandoning a project after tens of millions have been invested will have repercussions for decades to come. But I know money shouldn’t go to the non-profit that got us to this point.

Perhaps Metro (aka Bi-State Development) can take it all off their hands? Then your local monthly pass, 2-hour transfer, or Gateway Card will work for fare payment. Other than Metro, I don’t see a solution — not necessarily a good solution, but an effort to try something different to save face as a region.

— Steve Patterson

 

Michael O.D. Brown May 20, 1996 – August 9, 2014

August 9, 2019 Featured, Ferguson, History/Preservation Comments Off on Michael O.D. Brown May 20, 1996 – August 9, 2014

Five years ago the world learned where Ferguson Missouri was located because a young black man was unnecessarily killed by a white police officer. We’ve seen it happen over and over since.

Days later roses in the center of Canfield Drive ended at the spot where Brown’s body was left for four hours the afternoon Saturday August 9th, 2014
A section of the Canfield Drive sidewalk was replaced, along with a plaque. August 2016 photo.
9/7/16

The Urban League built a new facility on the site of the nearby burned out QT, there also included a plaque. August 2017 photos below.

ADA-compliant accessible route from public sidewalk to Urban League building set back behind parking.
Bench along route, before building
Plaque beneath bench

I have thoughts on proposed development in Ferguson & Dellwood, but I’ll share about those another day. Today I pause and think about Michael Brown and the too-long list of others who were unarmed but died in the hands of police. Hopefully in my lifetime I’ll witness the end of such discrimination.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Should Steve Stenger Get Leniency When Sentenced Friday?

August 4, 2019 Crime, Featured, Politics/Policy, St. Louis County, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Should Steve Stenger Get Leniency When Sentenced Friday?
Please vote below

Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger will be sentenced on Friday in a pay-to-play scheme. From April 30, 2019:

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, a target of a yearlong undercover federal investigation into political favors traded for campaign contributions, was indicted by a grand jury Thursday on charges of theft of honest services.

The indictment was unsealed Monday as Stenger resigned in a letter to County Counselor Peter Krane, writing that “it is in the best interest of our County and my family.” (Post-Dispatch)

By the end of that week Stenger entered a guilty plea, he’d just be re-elected to a second term in November.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry will sentence Stenger on Aug. 9 — federal guidelines call for three to nearly four years in federal prison, although Perry is free to ignore the guidelines and the memos. (St. Louis Public Radio)

In addition to resigning the office, Stenger has given up his law & accountant licenses. Today’s poll is to see how readers feel about sentencing.

Today’s poll will close at 8pm.

—Steve Patterson

 

Readers Split on Party-Corruption Connection

May 8, 2019 Featured, Politics/Policy, St. Louis County Comments Off on Readers Split on Party-Corruption Connection

Despite what some of you may think, neither major political party is immune from corruption. Elected officials from both can be drawn into corruption based on the amount of money involved. Common is a pay to play, also known as quid pro quo:

In the early 16th century, a quid pro quo was something obtained from an apothecary. That’s because when quid pro quo (New Latin for “something for something”) was first used in English, it referred to the process of substituting one medicine for another—whether intentionally (and sometimes fraudulently) or accidentally. The meaning of the phrase was quickly extended, however, and within several decades it was being used for more general equivalent exchanges. These days, it often occurs in legal contexts. (Merriam-Webster)

From Steve Stenger’s campaign website

Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger pleaded guilty Friday to three counts of public corruption for steering county contracts to campaign donors and faces prison time when he is sentenced in August. Based on the offense level calculated in his guilty plea under federal guidelines, Stenger could get around three to four years in prison. Judge Catherine Perry emphasized she’s not bound by those guidelines, and set Stenger’s sentencing for Aug. 9. He will also be required to pay restitution. Although the exact amount isn’t clear it could be several hundred thousand dollars. The maximum sentence is 20 years and a $250,000 fine on each count.

Perry accepted Stenger’s guilty plea on charges of bribery, mail fraud and theft of honest services. The 44-page indictment made public on Monday accused Stenger of steering county contracts to his campaign donors and political supporters. (St. Louis Public Radio)

This is behavior an accountant & attorney should know better than to engage in. From Stenger’s re-election campaign website:

Steve Stenger grew up in Affton, the youngest of four children. His father was a union telephone lineman with Southwestern Bell. A 1990 graduate of Bishop DuBourg High School, he briefly toured as a singer with two local bands, The Stand and The Painted Faces. He graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, became a certified public accountant, and attended law school at Saint Louis University.

After law school, Steve went to work as an attorney and CPA at the firm of Ernst & Young. He later started the law firm Klar, Izsak and Stenger. In 2014, voters elected Steve to serve as the eighth St. Louis County Executive. He previously represented the sixth district on the St. Louis County Council for two terms.

As County Executive, Steve has focused his first term on improving public safety and bringing new economic investment to all parts of St. Louis County. Steve and his wife, Ali, have a 4-year-old daughter, Madeline, and a 2-year-old son, Lincoln. (SteveStenger.com)

In St. Louis, city & county, the biggest challenge is often from your own party in the primary. The general election is just a formality. In the city every elected  official is a Democrat. In St. Louis County three of seven council seats are held by Republicans.  Cross the Missouri River into St. Charles County and every elected official is a Republican.

Corruption can take different forms:

There are several types of political corruption that occur in local government. Some are more common than others, and some are more prevalent to local governments than to larger segments of government. Local governments may be more susceptible to corruption because interactions between private individuals and officials happen at greater levels of intimacy and with more frequency at more decentralized levels. Forms of corruption pertaining to money like bribery, extortion, embezzlement, and graft are found in local government systems. Other forms of political corruption are nepotism and patronagesystems. One historical example was the Black Horse Cavalry a group of New York state legislators accused of blackmailing corporations.

  • Bribery is the offering of something which is most often money but can also be goods or services in order to gain an unfair advantage. Common advantages can be to sway a person’s opinion, action, or decision, reduce amounts fees collected, speed up a government grants, or change outcomes of legal processes.
  • Extortion is threatening or inflicting harm to a person, their reputation, or their property in order to unjustly obtain money, actions, services, or other goods from that person. Blackmail is a form of extortion.
  • Embezzlement is the illegal taking or appropriation of money or property that has been entrusted to a person but is actually owned by another. In political terms this is called graft which is when a political office holder unlawfully uses public funds for personal purposes.
  • Nepotism is the practice or inclination to favor a group or person who is a relative when giving promotions, jobs, raises, and other benefits to employees. This is often based on the concept of familism which is believing that a person must always respect and favor family in all situations including those pertaining to politics and business. This leads some political officials to give privileges and positions of authority to relatives based on relationships and regardless of their actual abilities.
  • Patronage systems consist of the granting favors, contracts, or appointments to positions by a local public office holder or candidate for a political office in return for political support. Many times patronage is used to gain support and votes in elections or in passing legislation. Patronage systems disregard the formal rules of a local government and use personal instead of formalized channels to gain an advantage. (Wikipedia)

Here’s the results of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: We have corruption in local governments because voters keep electing Democrats.

  • Strongly agree: 5 [18.52%]
  • Agree: 2 [7.41%]
  • Somewhat agree: 4 [14.81%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [3.7%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 1 [3.7%]
  • Disagree: 3 [11.11%]
  • Strongly disagree: 11 [40.74%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

Again, politicians from both parties have engaged in the above forms of corruption at some time or other.  Our region has a blue center ringed by red. From my perspective our city Democrats are too conservative.

I’m a firm believer that local politics should be non-partisan. Only 8 of the 30 most populous cities still have partisan elections (National League of Cities). Of course, this doesn’t root out corruption — it just removes the petty party finger-pointing that solves nothing.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Are Local Governments Corrupt Because We Often Elect Democrats?

May 5, 2019 Featured, St. Louis County, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Are Local Governments Corrupt Because We Often Elect Democrats?
Please vote below

Local politics was rocked last week. On Monday Steve Stenger, just re-elected to a 2nd term in November 2018, resigned as St  Louis County Executive.  I posted about it on Facebook, one of the first comments was:

”How many crooked democrats does it take to ruin a city? Hard to say since idiots keep reelecting them.”

On Friday Stenger pled guilty.

Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger pleaded guilty Friday to three counts of public corruption for steering county contracts to campaign donors andfaces prison time when he is sentenced in August.

Based on the offense level calculated in his guilty plea under federal guidelines, Stenger could get around three to four years in prison. Judge Catherine Perry emphasized she’s not bound by those guidelines, and set Stenger’s sentencing for Aug. 9. He will also be required to pay restitution. Although the exact amount isn’t clear it could be several hundred thousand dollars. The maximum sentence is 20 years and a $250,000 fine on each count.

Perry accepted Stenger’s guilty plea on charges of bribery, mail fraud and theft of honest services. The 44-page indictment made public on Monday accused Stenger of steering county contracts to his campaign donors and political supporters.

The week and comments I saw in various places helped me decide on the poll for today.

Today’s non-scientific poll will automatically close at 8pm tonight.  Results and my thoughts on the subject Wednesday morning.

— Steve Patterson

 

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