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Poll: Readers not keen on open enrollment in public schools

A majority of readers in the poll last week were not keen on the idea of open enrollment for Missouri schools (Post: State Senator pushing legislation for open enrollment in Missouri’s public schools).

Q: MO State Senator Jane Cunningham wants “open enrollment” for Missouri’s public schools. For St. Louis this would be

  1. a bad idea: 41 [41%]
  2. a good idea 35 [35%]
  3. unsure 16 [16%]
  4. a neutral idea: 6 [6%]
  5. Other answer… 3 [3%] 1) Didnt this fail with deseg?  2) Something worth exploring.  3) A good idea IF school funding was only from the state. But its not.

The last “other” response may have hit on the key — the source of funding.  But many see open enrollment as removing students from the St. Louis Public Schools.  Parents chimed in via the comments:

  • Wouldn’t such a thing help attract suburban families to city living, since their children could attend schools in the county?
  • Having open enrollment will not get the right parents involved in their children’s education.
  • The city is totally unsustainable without schools that middle class, educated people will send their kids to.
  • Any changes should only include a regionally unified district not the ability to pick and chose districts.
  • I doubt I am long for the city for the schooling reason.
  • Children are not to be used for “social experiments”.
  • My children attend a racially & economically balanced school with high academic achievement, and I live in the only neighborhood in the St. Louis area that offers the walkable, urbane lifestyle I want to have. I believe by virtue of this choice, my children will have a better understanding of the realities of the world than they would if I lived in a typical suburb.

I think the last comment is one of the best on the schools issue.  Middle-class white kids need to learn from an early age how to interact with non-white kids and those from different economic classes.  Their future is one where they will be a minority.  Those who grow up in diverse neighborhoods and attend diverse schools will be better prepared for the future.  I don’t know that open enrollment is the best solution but I know our region needs to have some serious discussions about how better educate all our children.

– Steve Patterson


Transit-oriented development finally coming to St. Louis?

St. Louis’ original light rail line, MetroLink, opened in 1993.  I was a young man back then (26).  I was so excited about the future of the city I had called home for only 3 years at that point.

The total system has been expanded several times since then but my hope of new construction clustering around the growing number of stations never appeared.  Some existing buildings around some stations were renovated but for the most part stations are surrounded by Park-n-Ride lots.

One such lot is in an older dense area, adjacent to the Forest Park Station (above, map).  Developer McCormack Baron Salazar wants to develop the surface parking lot into retail, housing and commuter parking.  Last week I attended a meeting hosted by McCormack Baron to introduce the concept to the area residents.

Richard Baron led the meeting.  McCormack Baron Associate Project Manager Cady Scott, a Saint Louis University urban planning graduate, is working on the project and was there to answer questions as was local architect Andy Trivers.

There are no fancy architectural drawings to show because this project is at the very beginning stages.  What I do know is they want street-level retail facing DeBaliviere (approximately 10,000sf), one and two-bedroom apartments above (approx 80 units) and parking for residents and commuters.  Parking was, as you might expect, one of the areas with lots of questions from those at the meeting.  Also not surprising was the opposite viewpoints raised.  Some favored little to zero commuter parking while others wanted more than the current 100+ spaces.  Scott & Baron also indicated resident parking would be segregated from commuter/retail parking.  They seek to have less than one space per unit.  All of the units would have universal design and they expect a number of residents to be car-free.  They are planning for two WeCars (car sharing from Enterprise).

Richard Baron referenced their 6 North project throughout the meeting (my 2005 review here).


Located near Saint Louis University at Laclede & Sarah (map), 6 North features retail and office space facing the street and universal design living units.  The units are rented at both market and subsidized affordable rates. Residents include the disabled and able-bodied.  To use this same model next to a transit station is ideal.

But some neighbors thought it best to wait for the market to rebound to support all market rate for-sale housing.  I disagree.  Besides the fact the site has been vacant for half a century, the disabled need more housing options near transit.  Those receiving housing subsidies are not deadbeat welfare parents with tons of kids.  They might be staff at nearby Washington University or a school teacher.  They must pay rent, just less than the market.  The 6 North project has a waiting list of people seeking a unit.

Now is the best time to develop this site.  It provides housing oriented to transit, needed for those who don’t/can’t drive, and desired by many that can drive but would rather take public transit.

– Steve Patterson


Not in service

We’ve all seen “Not in Service” displayed on local transit buses.  Local PBS station KETC went to Metro’s garage on DeBaliviere at Delmar (aerial image) to show us what happens to the buses when they return to the garage:


Keeping transit on the street and rails is certainly a lot of work.  For voters in St. Louis County, please keep this in mind as you go to the polls on April 6, 2010.  Without funding the region’s mass transit will say “not in service” 24/7.

– Steve Patterson


Readers on earnings taxes

January 13, 2010 STL Region, Taxes 15 Comments
Excess baggage needing to be processed.

Last week I posted about an effort to eliminate local earnings taxes (The question of earnings taxes). The discussion in the comments was deep, diverse and divided.  This post introduced the reader’s poll for the week.  First the results and then I’ll share my thoughts.

Q: Should Missouri take away the authority of St. Louis to collect individual earnings taxes?

  1. No, too critical to the St. Louis’ budget to eliminate 94 [42%]
  2. Yes, phase out over a 10 year period 39 [17%]
  3. Yes, where there is a will there is a way 27 [12%]
  4. Yes, new taxes would make up the difference 18 [ 8%]
  5. No, just keep the earnings taxes in Missouri 14 [6%]
  6. Yes, St. Louis should cut city services to deal with loss of revenue 10 [4%]
  7. Unsure 8 [4%]
  8. Other answer… 8 [4%]
  9. Yes, if they give us back control of our police dept. 5 [2%]

The “other” answers given were:

  • With specific authority for the replacement revenue source(s).
  • phase in a $100 K cap.
  • Stop giving tax abatement to $800K houses on the Hill
  • No. In fact, expand it to cover all of Missouri!
  • Phase out over a three year period
  • Jane Jacobs prefers cities tax themselves, not divert the money to rural places.
  • implement an earnings tax in St. Louis County
  • find alternative funding source first

In my 19 years in St. Louis the 1% never once bothered me.  But as the poll and comments show, the views on the issue are wide-ranging. These different views are the significance of the topic.  More than half the 223 respondents favored a change.

Slay said he’s opposed to any statewide ballot proposals that would do away with the 1 percent tax, even with a 10-year phaseout period, unless the matter is left up to voters in the city of St. Louis.“If it allowed the voters of the city to decide the matter, and if voters subsequently decided they wanted to replace the tax with something else, and if it gave us a decade to come up with a solution, I would support it,” Slay wrote in a lengthy entry today on his blog.

He also made clear that he opposes one tax alternative — a land tax — that has been floated by wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield, who is behind the various initiative-petition options that have been approved for circulation by the secretary of state’s office. The aim of Sinquefield and his allies is to collect enough signatures to get at least one of the proposals on this year’s November ballot. [St. Louis Beacon, Slay says regional changes necessary before city earnings tax could be ditched]

Eliminating the city’s right to collect the tax without any other changes would certainly be a recipe for disaster.  Revenue, city services, population and jobs, would decline.  But doing nothing continues to set the City of St. Louis apart from the rest of the region. So what do we do?

As I see it we have several courses of action:

  1. Change nothing, keep everything as is.
  2. Begin phasing out the earnings tax and deal with the consequences (other taxes, reduced services)
  3. Or restructure the City of St. Louis top to bottom

#1 above is the likely route favored by St. Louis natives as it doesn’t involve change.  The anti-tax types would go for #2.  My preference is #3. a complete restructure.

What does a restructure look like? In my view we’d look at every policy, procedure, and position in every aspect of city government.  We’d toss out everything and start anew.  We might bring in some of the old but only after exploring all choices and determining the old way is the best way based on current conditions.  Given this approach, we might emerge with an earnings tax.  It might be be reduced for non-residents.  It might be expanded throughout much of the region (huge task).  We need to get rid of the city’s excess baggage.

Why such a radical restructuring? As we can see from the nearly 20 audits conducted by Missouri Auditor after a petition by the Green Party, all sections of government have oversight issues:

I don’t for a minute believe then men that governed the city 50-60 years ago made decisions that we should be expected to keep around long after they have passed. Ongoing evaluation and change to adjust to new circumstances is logical.  We don’t do that, unfortunately.  Instead various interests pick away one issue at a time.

The word “Mayor” is etched in stone above the door to room 200 in City Hall so I’d keep the office of mayor, besides every city has a mayor.  I don’t recall if Board of Aldermen or other offices are also etched in stone.  Even if they are, we are still be free to change how our government is structured, including the names of elective offices.

So no, I don’t want to pluck out one tax and call it a day.  I want to get a fresh start for the 21st century.

– Steve Patterson


Better restaurant choices in the center of the region

January 7, 2010 STL Region 6 Comments


There are good restaurants throughout the region, on both sides of the Mississippi River.  To generalize, the core of the region has eclectic locally-owned restaurants and the further out you go the more you encounter generic chain after generic chain.  There are exceptions, of course.  I’ve been to great locally owned restaurants in suburban strip malls and I’ve been to chains in the core.  Chains can be company owned as well as a locally-owned franchise.

I regularly use the website Urbanspoon.com to find new restaurants, track my favorites and read reviews by others. The other day I started looking at the list of restaurants by area – city neighborhood vs. areas further out.  Sure enough, my suspicions were correct. But why?

Part could be many formula chains prefer stand alone buildings typical of suburbia. Conversely, the local restaurateur may only be able to afford rent on an older building.

Are urban types more prone to try new cuisines compared to counterparts in suburbia?  Do the restaurants fit the clientele?  Are foodies drawn to the core? I’d say the answers are all yes.

– Steve Patterson