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Three Years (Mostly) Smoke-Free in St. Louis City & County

Cat's Meow
Cat’s Meow in Soulard is an exempt bar for 2 more years

Three years ago today smoking bans took affect effect in St. Louis and St. Louis County, making all restaurants and most bars smoke-free. In both city & county, small bars were exempted. In the city, the exemption expires after five years.

Are the exempt businesses preparing for two years from today when they’ll be smoke-free as well? Hopefully they’ve used the last three years to build a patio, or plans are in the works for the next two years.

The opponents of the ban were correct, I’ve been annoyed by the number of smokers outside of some businesses. But I try to pass quickly or take a different route — much better than others having to inhale second-hand smoke indoors.

A year into the bans St. Louis magazine did a story on the impact, see Of Smoking Butts and Chapped Booties: Smoking Ban Delights Some Restaurateurs, Enrages Others. In short, some said business was better, others not so much.

I know I’m happy, I go out more often. I don’t spend time trying to decide where to find a smoke-free restaurant to meet friends for dinner. We still spend time debating location & menu though.  I’ve not seen any studies on the St. Louis market to see what impact, if any, the bans have had.

I’d like to see casinos become smoke-free, I had to go through the Lumiere Link a couple of months ago and it was awful passing by the casino area. I’m also tired of hotels having smoking and non-smoking rooms. The Chicago hotel I want to stay at next month only has a disabled room with roll-in shower in smoking. I’d rather not shower than try to sleep in a smoking room.

— Steve Patterson

 

Page Avenue Extension (Route 364) Opened Ten Years Ago Today

For years it was just a controversial highway proposal, but a decade ago phase one of the Page Ave. Extension (aka I- Route 364) opened, connecting the Westport area of St. Louis County to St. Charles County.  Years before the opening I participated in efforts to derail the project, including attempting to pursuede St. Louis County voters to reject a land swap allowing the road project to cut through Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park. Originally planned in 1969, construction began in 1997.

Looking west on I-364 Source: Google Streetview
Looking west on I-364
Source: Google Streetview

Before construction could begin a land swap had to take place to permit the selected route through the south edge of the park:

Opponents say the extension not only will destroy the park but also will add a fourth bridge to hasten the exodus of the middle class from St. Louis and aging St. Louis County suburbs to the greener pastures of St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties.

“If it goes through, it’s the turning point for the downslide of St. Louis County,” said state Rep. Joan Bray, D-University City, who helped a group called Taxpayers Against Page Freeway gather more than 40,000 signatures to put the referendum before voters.

Bray said the money slated for the project would be better spent to upgrade existing roads and to expand MetroLink. (source)

Voters, unfortunately, 60% approved the measure in November 1998. Highway advocates spent $800,000 vs $160,00 from the opposition (source).

Following the opening, St. Louis County experienced a population decline for the first time since St. Louis City left in 1876
Following the opening, St. Louis County experienced a population decline for the first time since St. Louis City left in 1876

Many factors are at play in the population decline of St. Louis County and increase in St. Charles County but I have no doubt I-Route 364 played a role.  Ground was broken on the third and final phase on May 22, 2013.

— Steve Patterson

 

Wellston’s 2002 Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative

In October I posted about the New Wellston Child Care Center Under Construction, Adjacent To MetroLink Station, and noted promotional materials referenced compliance with the Wellston Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative. I wanted to see this initiative to see how the new construction complies, if it all. After a few emails I received a copy of the initiative — it had to be scanned!   The initiative process started in 1998, the final document was from January 2002.

Click cover to view PDF on Scribd
Click cover to view PDF on Scribd

The goals detailed were:

  1. Raise the incomes of Wellston’s residents.
  2. Improve the system of education in Wellston.
  3. Improve the quality of Wellston’s neighborhoods.
  4. Establish a central destination place in Wellston.
  5. Improve access to employment, goods, and services for Wellston’s residents.
  6. Improve the health and well being of Wellston’s citizens.
  7. Enhance the image of Wellston and pride its citizens hold about their community.
  8. Stimulate local economic growth.
  9. Increase the social capital and improve the community capacity in Wellston.
  10. Revitalize the MLK Corridor.

It’s hard to know how well Wellston has done with many of the above, however, the early development child care center now under construction should pay future dividends with respect to education, and eventually incomes.

Diagram from page 17
Diagram from page 17

The report was prepared by The National Institute for Community Empowerment, Inc., which no longer seems to exist. I couldn’t find a website and their last phone number is not in service. A local contributor was the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance (RHCDA), rebranded this year as Rise. Area Resources for Community and Human Services (ARCHES‘) is still around as well.

I’ve been looking through the report for the last month, developing questions to ask about the progress that’s been made in the last dozen years.  The most obvious are measurable results toward the ten goals listed above. Do they consider a recent Family Dollar store and a gas station as having met #10, revitalizing the MLK corridor? Any positive gains in education? Given the Wellston School District shut down in 2010 and unaccredited Normandy School District struggles, I rather doubt there’s good news to report.

The new Wellston Early Childhood Center will open in the fall of 2014, not a moment too soon.

— Steve Patterson

 

Better Together St. Louis Raises My Suspicions

I’m generally in favor of reducing the number of government entities in the St. Louis region. The 2011 Where We Stand report (p88) sums up the numbers:

We rely on local government for a wide array of services including public education, health and safety, infrastructure, environmental protection and sanitation, public housing, and arts and cultural support.

• The St. Louis region continues to be ranked in the top three for overall number of governmental units, as well as for the ratio of governments to population.

Depending on perspective, the region’s local government structure can be seen as the 3rd most fragmented or the 3rd most accessible to its citizens and businesses.

• With 884 individual units of government,

St. Louis ranks 3rd only to Pittsburgh and Denver among our peer regions in ratio of local governments to citizens.

For the 35 peer regions, the average number of governmental units has decreased from 399 in 2002 to 379 in 2007.

• Of the 35 regions, 20 have fewer governmental units in 2007 than they had in 2002.

In the St. Louis region, the number of units of local government continues to increase.

• Less than half of local government units in the St. Louis region are general-purpose governments, such as counties, municipalities, and townships.

• In 2007, the St. Louis region had 9.8 municipalities per 100,000 population, up from 8.9 municipalities per 100,000 in 2002.

A majority of area local governments have been established for specific functions, including school districts, special taxing districts, or other special district governments.

• Almost all of these special district governments perform a single task, such as drainage and flood control, soil and water conservation, fire protection, water supply, or housing and community development.

• The St. Louis region’s ratio of school districts per population ranked 2nd in 2007 with 4.8 per 100,000 population; slightly lower than the 5.0 per 100,000 reported in 2002.

I’m of the belief that more units of government isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, just as fewer isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. I do know the St. Louis region

Herbert (Bert) Walker III, a cousin of George Herbert Walker Bush, speaking at the Better Together kickoff event. Emcees from KMOX, John Hancock and Michael Kelley
George Herbert (Bert) Walker III, a 1st cousin of former president George Herbert Walker Bush, speaking at the Better Together kickoff event. Emcees from KMOX, John Hancock and Michael Kelley, on the right

With this in mind you might think I’d be a cheerleader for the new Better Together Saint Louis effort.

Sponsored by the Missouri Council for a Better Economy, Better Together is a grassroots project born in response to growing public interest in addressing the fragmented nature of local government throughout St. Louis City and County, which dates back to 1876, when St. Louis City broke away from St. Louis County.

The resulting absence of a cohesive governmental structure left a void and many smaller governments formed to fill it. This is why the 1.3 million people who call St. Louis home are served by 116 local governments, which include St. Louis City and County, as well as 91 municipalities and 23 fire districts. The costs associated with funding all 116 governments (excluding airport and water service fees) has reached a staggering $2 billion per year. To-date, there has been no comprehensive single study that has looked across the City and County to determine whether the region could improve both service and cost by streamlining and eliminating redundancies and better serve the people of St. Louis.

Better Together is neither putting forth nor advocating for a specific plan to such end, but rather seeks to act as a facilitator, a resource for information and tools, and a catalyst to spark discussion. Accordingly, we will drive an inclusive, transparent process of developing and assembling valuable information other organizations can use to craft their own plans for what the future of the region should look like, as well as judge plans put forth by others.

I remain a skeptic for a variety of reasons:

  • As I explained earlier, the region is much larger and more complex than just St. Louis City & County.
  • The Missouri Council for a Better Economy was started by Rex Sinquefield, a billionaire seeking to alter tax policy in his favor.
  • “Sponsored by” and “grassroots” in the same sentence! Really, how exactly does that work? Sounds like this might be astroturfing.
  • Just collecting data for the community to decide what to do with it, but the name and MCBE clearly shows reunification as the intent.  Plus, data from the many school districts isn’t being collected because they don’t want to get “bogged down.”  If the mission is to collect data on how tax money is being spent it makes sense to look at it all — what’s the hurry?

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the above reasons I listed.

Region:

Forty-six percent of the region’s population isn’t the region. Granted, this 46% live in the city or county that carry the region’s name. Still, I think something well over 50% is required to discuss a topic as regional in nature. Better together is clearly focused on the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County only, not the region.

MCBE:

From their “About Us” as of 8:30am yesterday “The studies were funded by MCBE, whose sole donor until now has been Rex Sinquefield, a retired investment fund executive and philanthropist.” Oh but they told me he hasn’t given any money in a year. Rex is a fan of chess and I can see a strategy playing out of him giving enough money to fund MCBE for a couple of years  — that way it can be paid he’s the sole donor from the past, but not now. Question for MCBE, how many donors since the last donation from Rex?

Grassroots:

Calling yourself grassroots doesn’t mean you’re actually a grassroots movement. The Better Together STL materials indicate it’s a project of MCBE, not a separate organization. I didn’t find any such organization listed with the Secretary of State. The website  does list a board which is comprised of the powerful & elite of local politics and business. Also on this “board” — Rex’s Chief of Staff. Those in attendance at the kickoff represent more of the same — nothing remotely grassroots about it.

Data:

Several issues here. The speakers all said they’re just collecting data so we know what we spend and where — sounds reasonable. But everywhere you look at Better Together and MCBE the final goal is clear — unification of some sorts. And schools are a big part of where our tax money is spent and school districts are governmental entities just like fire protection districts, we should look at education too if the goal is an honest self evaluation.

While I support reducing the number of units of government my goal isn’t to provide the same services for less money, as was stated several times. My goal would be to provide more services distributed more evenly for the same money.

Unfortunately, I see Better Together  & MCBE as a backdoor to Rex’s radical tax policies — no state income taxes, no city earnings taxes, higher property & sales taxes.  The wealthy’s fantasy to get out of paying their share, they can easily buy any services the community can’t afford to provide.   Some will claim this has bipartisan support, but our Democrats are often that in name only, they’re as fiscally conservative policy-wise as far-right Republicans.  I keep hoping a local version of Bernie Sanders will appear. I want to believe  this is an altruistic effort, but I’m not gullible.

I’d like to see an actual grassroots effort look at our region with an open mind — perhaps even concluding nothing should change with respect to the relationship between the city & county.

— Steve Patterson

 

Beyond Housing Development in Pagedale Ignores Pedestrians, ADA

In August 2010 a new Save-A-Lot grocery store opened in the St. Louis County municipality of Pagedale:

ST. LOUIS, August 5, 2010 – Save-A-Lot, a SUPERVALU (NYSE: SVU) company, one of the nation’s leading hard discount carefully selected assortment grocery chains, has extended its commitment to a local neighborhood in need of access to fresh produce, dairy and meats with the opening of the first new grocery retailer in the Pagedale community in 40 years. The store is a result of a partnership with Beyond Housing, one of the St. Louis region’s leading providers of housing and support services for low-income families and homeowners.

“We are thrilled to celebrate the opening of this new Save-A-Lot Food Store, which will serve thousands of families including hundreds in the Pagedale community,” says Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of Beyond Housing. “The opening of this store is another step toward our goal of providing families with access to necessities, such as groceries and bringing new jobs to the community.” (Save-A-Lot

Pagedale is a low-income municipality that has long been ignored by for-profit developers.

The Save-A-Lot in 2010, set back from Page
The Save-A-Lot in 2010, set back from Page
Looking from the front of the store out toward Page. Despite being very close there isn't a safe accessible route.
Looking from the front of the store out toward Page. Despite being very close there isn’t a safe accessible route.
An ADA-compliant route does exist, but few will go the extra distance required to use it.
An ADA-compliant route does exist, but few will go the extra distance required to use it. The slope might be too steep to be ADA-compliant.
The red line shows the accessible route from the bus stop to entry
The red line shows the accessible route from the bus stop to entry. Click image to view map
The customer circled in red was headed west on Page, he took the shortest route.
The customer circled in red was headed west on Page, he took the shortest route.
Looking west in 2010, the east end of the site was undeveloped
Looking west in 2010, the east end of the site was undeveloped
Looking into the site in 2010, future development site on the left and Save-A-Lot parking on the right
Looking into the site in 2010, future development site on the left and Save-A-Lot parking on the right
In this 2013 view you can now see the new development on the east end.
In this 2013 view you can now see the new development on the east end.

The new development includes a bank and senior apartments:

Mayor of Pagedale Mary Louise Carter looked on as Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of Beyond Housing, and Ron Barnes, Midwest BankCentre (MBC) chairman, recently unveiled the city’s first-ever full-service bank.

“This is a great day for the City of Pagedale,” Mayor Carter said. “This means convenience for our residents because they can now bank right in their own city at a financial institution with a long history of excellent service.” (St. Louis American)

Yes, a local bank branch can be very convenient.

Getting closer to the multi-story building
Getting closer to the multi-story building
Gee, how do we get to the bank or housing?
Gee, how do we get into the housing?
Or into the bank?
Or into the bank? Clearly the drive-up window is more important than pedestrians getting to the entry.
Senior housing as seen from Save-A-Lot's entry
Senior housing as seen from Save-A-Lot’s entry. Can grandma navigate this using a walker?

I applaud Beyond Housing for investing in Pagedale, adding needed retail, banking, & housing. But the common “drive everywhere, walk nowhere” viewpoint is expressed in the design. As a result, I’m disappointed.

Numerous buildings were razed allowing them a clean slate. Nobody on the design team asked how a senior got from their apartment to the 1) bus, or 2) grocery store.  Maybe they thought all low-income seniors have cars?

— Steve Patterson

 

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