Trees Play a Key Role in a Sustainable Urban Future

Urban trees remove over 710,000 tons of air pollution per year in the U.S., which has a major impact on fighting respiratory illnesses like asthma. Trees also filter up to 80% of phosphorus out of stormwater before it pollutes waterways and drinking water. And tree canopy shade, along with evapotranspiration (the return of water vapor from trees and vegetation back to the atmosphere), can lower peak temperatures by 2°-9°F—a key tool in combating the heat island effect present in many cities, which disproportionately impacts lower-income neighborhoods and other vulnerable populations.

Powered by WPeMatico

Double the HQ2? What It Means if Amazon Splits Up Its Second Headquarters

Updated: 2018-11-05

Amazon has spent over a year trying to adopt the perfect second headquarters to complement its Seattle home base. Now, the desired HQ twins could look more like triplets: On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that, according to unidentified sources, Amazon plans to split HQ2 evenly across two of its 20 shortlisted locations, instead of choosing just one to host it. The winners of the shared trophy will likely be Long Island City, in Queens, NY; and Crystal City in Northern Virginia, two people briefed on the matter told the New York Times. The official announcement will come as early as later this week.

For the two chosen regions, this means the boon—and cost—of becoming an HQ2 could look different than initially projected. The 50,000 jobs Amazon promised to create will turn into 25,000, and the estimated $5 billion in investment might shrink to a neat $2.5 billion each. The strain on transportation and housing might sting less, and the population might stabilize sooner. Amazon will have more tech talent to choose from, and will likely firm up its influence on more than one coast. But, in the midst of a competitive bidding war—one in which regions have promised Amazon billions in tax incentives for the chance to lure it—will it also mean the company makes off with double the public money?

Not necessarily, says Greg LeRoy, the executive director of corporate research non-profit Good Jobs First. “Here’s the skinny,” he told me. “It may end up costing taxpayers somewhat more this way, but not twice as much.”

Many of the regions on Amazon’s 20-city-long shortlist have kept all or part of their proposals a secret—including favorites Northern Virginia and New York City; as well as Dallas, the third region that has been in “advanced talks” with the company, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.

But from the information publicly available, much of the big money offered by HQ2 contenders has come in the form of “variable costs.” Those are performance-based incentives: They’re tied to head count, wage levels, capital expenditures or some combination of those factors, says Leroy. “Therefore if they hire half as many people, they get half as much of the head count subsidy.”

Take personal income tax diversions, for example—something Leroy likes to call “paying taxes to the boss.” In 18 states that host nine of the contender cities, including Maryland and Illinois, local leaders can legally sign away the income tax revenue generated by Amazon employees back to Amazon. That’s part of what made Montgomery County, Maryland’s, promised $8.5 billion bid so large: The state’s top personal income tax rate is 5.75 percent, meaning Amazon could get back $4.9 billion from a workforce of 50,000 employees. If Amazon instead hires 25,000, that number looks more like $2.45 billion.

Chicago’s bid neared an estimated $2 billion, but $1.32 billion of it would have come from these income tax diversions; Denver, Indianapolis, and Atlanta all have similar measures that could be used to similar effect. By shrinking the workforce, Amazon is shrinking those individual subsidies. But the money they’ll get, especially if collected from multiple jurisdictions, is still far from small change.

Elsewhere, employees aren’t generating the revenue themselves, but tax breaks are still contingent on their existence: At least $1 billion of Newark’s more than $7 billion package comes from a freshly-signed payroll-tax exemption for companies that create 30,000 jobs, and invests $3 billion over the next 20 years. A pint-sized HQ2 might not meet that threshold.

Infrastructure improvements, meanwhile, can’t be divided as easily. “We can’t say we’re going to build you half a road,” said Leroy. If a city promises to build Amazon a bridge or a road or a transit stop, that would be harder to adjust for the given investment.

But, as the clock runs out on Amazon’s decision-making period—one that’s had cities tripping over each other to grovel at the feet of CEO Jeff Bezos, and that’s had ardent betters readjusting their odds every few months—the final two regions’ proposals still have time to morph.

In many of the places rumored to be finalists, local governments will still have to approve any offer to Amazon. Northern Virginia’s proposal was drafted by the Arlington Economic Development Office, without the approval (or knowledge) of the county board, says board president Katie Cristol. Before any funds are put on the table, that county board will have to vote. In Austin and Nashville, the city’s Chambers of Commerce drafted the proposal, without the city council’s oversight, meaning the council there will have to do the same.

These approval processes could be drawn out, especially if conducted under the scrutiny of activists and skeptical community members, shut out of the process from the beginning, who have long been breathing fire down their councils’ backs. But some legal changes could be approved too quickly for public input. If Virginia wanted to create a personal income tax diversion program for Amazon’s benefit—or if Amazon asks them to—it would only take a one-day special session of the state legislature to enact it for them, Leroy says. And, judging by Governor Ralph Northam’s recent comment to WTOP radio—“A lot of [Virginia government] resources are being expended right now, and I think for good reason”—the state might be easy to convince.

After it whittled down its list of HQ2 contenders from 237 to 20, Amazon promised it would make one final call by the end of 2018. Why did Amazon go all Solomon on us in what may be the final week?

News of the divide-and-conquer strategy broke shortly after Mike Grella, Amazon’s director of economic development public policy, lashed out at Crystal City’s leakers on Twitter this weekend: “Memo to the genius leaking info about Crystal City, VA as #HQ2 selection. You’re not doing Crystal City, VA any favors. And stop treating the NDA you signed like a used napkin.” (Grella did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Perhaps pitting regions against each other until the bitter end has been Amazon’s M.O. all along. Amazon has every reason to settle in the Northern Virginia neighborhood of Crystal City, as the Washington Post reported, or somewhere else in the Metro D.C. area: Bezos owns the largest property in Washington; Amazon has heavily invested in the federal lobbying industry, of which Washington’s the heart; and the company’s data farms pepper Loudoun County, in Northern Virginia. Maybe the two regions it’s chosen are simply D.C. and Northern Virginia, or Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, and the WSJ comment was a sleight of hand.

But the publicity blitz it’s galvanized—and the chokehold on city leaders it’s tightened—by continuing the war well into November might nonetheless be worth the wait. As Joe Cortwright at City Observatory wrote in January, there’s a reason to “keep the ‘game’ alive”:

If a single winner is announced, and its competitors are dismissed, then Amazon’s negotiating position becomes much weaker. A city may not be able to deliver everything that’s promised (especially over time), and local political demands for Amazon to provide compensating benefits to the community in exchange for its subsidies are likely to escalate. Having multiple winners will allow Amazon to continue to keep each of them honest.

The company now has the negotiating power of billions in incentives to ply other cities with—and extremely detailed analyses of the housing, transportation, labor, and economic dimensions of more than 200 regions at its disposal. Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader characterized Amazon-style tax incentive-wooers as “a corporate emperor on top of the mountain asking the vassals and the serfs to offer what they can,” when we spoke earlier this year. More generously, people like Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, have described the whole ploy as “genius.”

In October 2017, one Georgia city offered to rename itself in Amazon’s honor. By Monday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo had offered the same. These were, maybe, jokes, albeit unsettling ones. But after the final destination is chosen later this week, two major U.S. cities could find their and Amazon’s identities—and fates—more seriously linked.

Powered by WPeMatico

The Midterm Election Is a Referendum on the Social Safety Net

In run-up to Tuesday’s midterm election, U.S. voters have been hearing a lot about immigration, voting rights, and broken checks and balances. But health care is every bit as important to voters. While the Trump administration is closing its argument by drumming up nativist fears over the border, voters at the polls will be deciding the future of the social safety net.

If voters were not exactly aware how much social spending hinges on this election, that’s because conservative candidates have worked very hard to distract voters from their views (and votes) on the newly popular Affordable Care Act. With the politics of health care suddenly topsy-turvy, it’s worth looking at the benefits of social spending writ large.

Social safety net programs have a massive impact on the hardships experienced by low-income households, according to new research from the Urban Institute. Participation in three such programs—Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and public health care—reduced the number of hardships faced by vulnerable families with children by 48 percent between 1992 and 2011. The future of these programs swings on the midterm election.

Red-state ballot measures may be the clearest indication of how far the health-care debate has moved since the 2016 election. Voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah will choose on November 6 whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Tight governors’ races in states such as Maine, where the outgoing GOP governor has blocked the state from implementing its expansion of Medicaid, could smooth the way toward an even greater embrace of public health care. In Montana, a ballot measure would let the people decide whether to preserve the recently enacted expansion.

Food assistance is also in play in this election. The next Congress will turn to passing the stalled farm bill early next year. Democrats oppose work requirements that the White House and Republicans in Congress want to impose for recipients of food aid under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Whether Democrats gain the House or the Senate or neither, the 116th Congress will decide the fate of the social safety net. The GOP is intent on shredding it: Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Bloomberg that spending cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid will be necessary to rein in a $779 billion federal budget deficit, which has jumped 77 percent since 2015 as a result of the GOP’s tax cuts.

McConnell also told Bloomberg that it will actually be easier for Congress to pass cuts to these so-called entitlement programs under divided government (i.e., if Democrats win the House). Perhaps that’s because a divided Congress would allow Republicans to share the blame with Democrats for the deeply unpopular decisions that only GOP lawmakers support. In several of the reddest states, voters appear ready to expand health-care coverage by 400,000 people. “It’s no coincidence that all four states are deeply conservative, because it’s conservative Republican elected officials who have resisted the expansion most strenuously,” writes HuffPo’s Jeffrey Young.

If programs such as expanded Medicaid coverage are now popular, that may be because voters have seen evidence that they work.

The Urban Institute’s Signe-Mary McKernan and Caroline Ratcliffe and Penn State University’s John Iceland find that the U.S. government’s effort to improve family well-being lags behind that of other developed countries, particularly given how wealthy this country is. The researchers measured the benefit of the social safety net by measuring setbacks in federal surveys, from hunger to evictions to delayed medical care.

Participation in TANF, SNAP, and Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program—often some overlapping combination of these programs—helped low-income families avoid debilitating setbacks that can lead to homelessness or worse. Social safety net programs led to a 40 percent cut in instances of unmet medical or dental need, for example.

The flip side of this research: Social safety net programs are highly effective at helping families avoid hardships. Yet the highly partisan debates over reforming or curbing these programs—from Medicare and Medicaid to SNAP and TANF to Section 8—tend to focus on work requirements. Between 1992 and 2011, the percentage of families that reported experiencing hardships in America ranged from 43 percent to 51 percent—far too high for a country as prosperous as the U.S. is. Those figures would be higher still under the kind of cuts to SNAP, Medicaid, and Social Security that McConnell anticipates passing to offset growing deficits.

Voters are eager to have that conversation about expanding access to Medicaid—even in Idaho, where the health-care push has a legit chance of passing. The farm bill may be the first thing on the agenda for the next Congress, meaning the overall state of SNAP will be decided even as states navigate work requirements for food aid and health care. The safety net isn’t grabbing screaming headlines like a certain march of migrants toward the southern border, but the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Voters face a choice: Will we bolster the social safety net? Will we have any safety net at all? In a midterm election whose focus has fallen elsewhere, voters will choose to either protect these programs from marginalization, or boost the odds that they’ll be slated for elimination. On almost no other issue will Americans feel the consequences of this election so directly.

Powered by WPeMatico

ILSR’s Community Power Map Gets a Facelift

How do states help or hinder local progress toward renewable energy? ILSR’s Community Power Map illustrates the ways, with an interactive interface that received a refresh this week. The companion to the annual Community Power Scorecard, the map highlights state policies like community solar and community choice energy that enable local clean energy deployment. It also shows the impacts of those policies by listing where projects have been developed, where communities have made 100% renewable energy commitments, and where communities have taken charge of their energy systems.… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Mapping Where Americans Don’t Vote

The results of the 2018 midterm elections—and of Democrats’ efforts to retake the U.S. House of Representatives and stem Republican gains in the Senate—will all depend on turnout. Historically speaking, though, voting in midterm elections isn’t something that a majority of Americans do. In 2014, just a little more than one third of eligible voters cast ballots, the lowest share since 1942, according to the United States Elections Project.

Even in the last presidential election, just 56 percent of could-be voters showed up to the polls. In fact, in hundreds of counties around the U.S., the number of eligible individuals who did not vote far outweighed the number of ballots actually cast for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016. If those millions of no-shows had picked “nobody” on the ballot—the effective choice of their abstention—“nobody” would have won in a landslide.

That is the message of a striking map created by amateur cartographer Philip Kearney in April 2018, which was expanded upon by Jim Herries, an Esri cartographer, last week. Drawing on Census Bureau data and election results, “United States of Apathy” compares those no-show votes to the actual turnout for both presidential candidates in the 2016 election, and adds up the electoral votes that would have been produced. “Nobody” wins 445 electoral votes, a victory of several factors over Trump’s 21 and Clinton’s 72. (Again, that’s if they were actually running against a no-show candidate. In reality, Trump won the electoral college with 304 votes while Clinton lost it with 227, despite winning the popular vote.) In the updated version, Herries has added a series of interactive maps that detail where the pluralities of “apathetic” voters played to the advantage of both candidates, and by what margin, across the 50 states. Dive in here.

While surveys of no-show voters in 2016 indicate a lack of interest in the candidates or issues at hand, it may not be fair to pin the cause of America’s low turnout rates entirely to apathy. Some voters are disillusioned with what they see as the inefficacy of the political system; others may live far from polling places and lack transportation access; still more may prefer to prioritize their jobs or families. And voter suppression efforts—be they photo ID requirements, late registration penalties, last-minute poll closures or schedule changes, or voter roll purges—keep an untold number of Americans away from the ballots. So do problems that arise when people do show up to vote, including long lines and malfunctioning machines.

It’s also well established that certain demographics are far less likely to vote than others, and they track closely with class status. Jonathan Nagler, the director of New York University’s Politics Data Center, told the New York Times last month that more than 80 percent of college-educated Americans turn out to vote, compared with about 40 percent of Americans who do not hold high school degrees.

“There is a class skew that is fundamental and very worrying,” Alexander Keyssar, a Harvard historian and social policy expert, said in the same article. “Parts of society remain tuned out and don’t feel like active citizens. There is this sense of disengagement and powerlessness.”

In this year’s election, early signs do point to a surge in voter turnout for both parties. Democrats appear to have a narrow lead. Which party will ultimately benefit, though, will be an open question until Tuesday night—at least.

Powered by WPeMatico

The Strangest Form of White Flight

Less than two miles from the Vulcan Materials rock quarry, where the popular fight scenes from the movie Black Panther were filmed, and near Hawkins Middle School, where the cult-status Netflix series Stranger Things is filmed, sits the castle called Eagle’s Landing Country Club. It’s a facility of pure wealthcraft spread over acres of land, complete with a 27-hole golf course, that sits in a sentinel position in front of an even larger land mass of Georgian and Federal Colonial homes. If you’ve ever watched the reality TV show “T. I. and Tiny: Family Hustle,” you’ll recognize Tiny’s house in this tony neighborhood. In fact, this is where her husband T.I. was arrested for disorderly conduct earlier this year after a security guard at the country club’s front entrance didn’t recognize him and refused him admission.

The security is that tight in this gated country club community, which is neither visible nor clearly accessible from the major streets nearby. This is not Hollywood. This is Eagle’s Landing, a neighborhood in the city of Stockbridge, Georgia, about 20 miles from Atlanta, and it’s one of the few communities in the southern half of metro Atlanta that boasts incomes upwards of six figures, in volumes.   

(Atlanta Regional Commission)

Roughly half of Eagle’s Landing is spread out across seemingly disconnected patches of unincorporated land (meaning belonging to no city) in Henry County. As former Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stewart describes it, “It’s like if you took wet spaghetti and threw it on the wall.” Land logic would suggest that those areas should just be patched together and incorporated into Stockbridge’s borders. But instead Eagle’s Landing would rather just start its own city. The problem with this is that Eagle’s Landing proponents would like to form a city by using land, people, and properties that already belong to the city of Stockbridge.

This would be a completely unprecedented move in Georgia—taking chunks of one municipality to produce another municipality—and one that would help further calcify the steep levels of segregation seen across the region. This would be extreme even for metro Atlanta, where nearly a dozen other neighborhoods have formed new municipalities since 2005, in a trend referred to as the “cityhood movement.” But unlike Eagle’s Landing’s proposal, all of those new cities formed from unincorporated territories.

The Eagle’s Landing plan seeks to merge into its boundaries the primest real estate and wealthiest households from the city of Stockbridge, leaving behind a smaller, mostly African American population with fewer resources to pay for Stockbridge city services. The Eagle’s Landing city proposal will be voted on via ballot referendum on November 6, but Stockbridge residents who live outside the Eagle’s Landing footprint—the people who will be most hampered by the division—are not eligible to vote on it. Meanwhile, neither lawsuits nor letters from global finance agencies warning that the proposal could wreck economies across Georgia have been able to stop it.

And the reason for tearing Stockbridge apart to start this new city? It has something to do with cheesecake. Or at least cheesecake is what was emphasized in a conversation with Vicki Consiglio, the chair of the Committee for the City of Eagle’s Landing, held at the Eagle’s Landing Country Club.

“I serve on the Henry County zoning board,” said Consiglio, “and so I kept seeing all of these places like Bojangle’s, Waffle Houses, dollar stores, and all this going up in our county. And I was like, why can’t we get a Cheesecake Factory, or a P.F. Chang’s or a Houston’s? We have areas that have high incomes, so what’s the deal?”

Eagle’s Landing is a prestigious community that desires leisure, shopping, and dining amenities that reflect their gentry, said Consiglio. But she is convinced that won’t happen unless Stockbridge, or at least what she considers the less desirable parts of Stockbridge, are taken out of the picture. What exists both within and immediately around the country club already looks pretty posh; there is an Outback Steakhouse on the main commercial drag not far from it. But that Outback doesn’t rise to the level of the culinary opulence that Consiglio expects.

“We want it to be that and more,” says Consiglio. “We don’t want [Eagle’s Landing] to go down.”

She pulls out a map that shows the proposed Eagle’s Landing city footprint (the violet colored area in the map below) along the southeastern quadrant of Stockbridge (the mint-colored areas in the map below).

(City of Stockbridge)

“You saw what that looked like up here,” she said, pointing to the upper part of Stockbridge, where the Waffle Houses and Bojangle’s are—the part she wants to separate from. “We don’t want this,” she said, pointing to the mansion-filled area beyond the country club, “to look like that.”

The Cheesecake Factory

Stockbridge is the largest city in a county that is amongst the fastest-growing and diversifying in the state. In 2016, named it one of the top ten best cities in the nation for African Americans. Just before the mortgage crash, it was fourth in the U.S. in housing starts. Its location near Atlanta’s busy Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, cheaper housing stock for people priced out of the city of Atlanta, and Stockbridge’s growing reputation as “Hollywood South” all make it a location where more and more families are considering settling.

This kind of influx is typically seen as an omen for wealthier, whiter native residents of a receiving city, especially when they see the race of the city’s leadership changing. When Atlanta elected its first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, in 1973, with a new African-American political elite emerging around him, white Atlantans took flight to the suburbs, mostly to the north of the city. Last year, Stockbridge elected its first black mayor and its first all-black city council in the city’s near-100-year history, so consider its upper-crust residents triggered. But those who might be uncomfortable with that political shift are not escaping to whiter pastures anymore. Instead, they are engaging in the strangest form of white flight wherein rather than moving, they are standing their ground, and building new municipal borders around their mansions and fortresses.  

Racism, and geographic/spatial segregation to be specific, is not just about who a neighborhood includes. It has much to do with who it excludes, as well. Taking half of Stockbridge, as Eagle’s Landing plans, would not only leave Stockbridge with a less wealthy population, but also with a black population with weakened voting power. Right now, African Americans are just over 57 percent of the voting-age population in Stockbridge—a clear-cut majority. If Eagle’s Landing were to form, it would take a third of Stockbridge’s population along with it, including a nice chunk of Stockbridge’s black residents. In that scenario, African-American voting power would be reduced such that they wouldn’t constitute a majority of voters in either the new city of Eagle’s Landing nor the old city of Stockbridge. Meanwhile, the white voting-age public would see its voting power rise in both cities.

The Cheesecake Factory did consider coming to Stockbridge at one point1, but balked after an income study revealed that the average median income was too low to justify placing a restaurant there. Consiglio blames this on Stockbridge, where median household income is $54,769. So in 2016, Consiglio and her neighborhood colleagues, some of them former Stockbridge city officials, began meeting to figure out what they could do to land if not a Cheesecake Factory, then a Cheesecake Factory-esque restaurant, because the dining halls and pubs in the country club would no longer do.

(Atlanta Regional Commission)

“It came up to, you know, form a city because that’s the only way you’re going to do it,” said Consiglio. “And if this could happen, we’d have more control of our area, and we’d get to see what comes in here. We’d get to control zoning. We’d get to control code enforcement. Then we can hopefully hold the carrot out and say we want a Cheesecake Factory.”

She started a nonprofit called the Eagle’s Landing Educational Research Committee, or ELERC, and began drafting plans for a new city, but its members soon realized that they couldn’t handle a city comprised solely of their residential neighborhoods. Cities, like businesses, have operational expenses and must, by state law, provide certain services, like trash collection and parks management. Eagle’s Landing home property taxes would not be enough to pay for this, not even in the well-off households beyond the castle. For financial viability, they would need a strong commercial sector that could provide a reliable revenue stream from sales and business taxes. Fortunately for them, a large shopping district like this existed, and not far away from the country club. Unfortunately for them, this shopping district sits squarely within the borders of the city of Stockbridge.

Didn’t matter. ELERC drew the shopping district into its proposed Eagle’s Landing city boundaries anyway, along with a few other choice Stockbridge neighborhoods and properties. To reiterate, this has never been done before in Georgia—taking land from an already established city to create a new one. The only way new cities in Georgia had hitherto formed was through the incorporation of totally unincorporated land.

And it’s because of that fact that Stockbridge officials originally didn’t take ELERC’s proposal seriously—or, at least, they didn’t think state lawmakers would take it seriously. But in late March, the general assembly passed two bills, one allowing for the redrawing of Stockbridge’s city borders, against Stockbridge’s will, and to accommodate Eagle’s Landing; and, another that officially puts the question of whether Eagle’s Landing can become a city on a ballot referendum for November. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the bills in May, putting the Eagle’s Landing city proposal in motion.

“When we talked to the governor about this probably almost two months [before he signed the bills], I led off the conversation and Governor Deal was sitting just as close to me as you and I are sitting to one another right now,” said Stockbridge Mayor Anthony Ford, the city’s first black mayor, “I really honestly believed that he would [veto the bills] based on the conversation. And so I was quite surprised when he didn’t. Some people said I shouldn’t have been, but I have to admit, I was really surprised about that.”

Stockbridge Mayor Anthyony Ford (Brentin Mock) at an educational session telling constituents what could happen if Eagle’s Landing takes part of the city of Stockbridge.

What’s at stake now is whether Stockbridge could even continue to function if the Eagle’s Landing ballot is successful. The theoretical city of Eagle’s Landing is looking to claim nearly a third of Stockbridge’s population, and the assessed value of all the properties that Eagle’s Landing is looking to claim would amount to $379 million, more than half of Stockbridge’s total assessed property value. Collectively, this would decrease Stockbridge’s gross annual revenues by nearly half—from $9 million, which it currently brings in, to $4.8 million. Stockbridge relies on this revenue not only to keep the city running, but also to repay municipal bonds taken out to finance projects like constructing its city hall, built in 2005.

“Up to this point, the city has been fiscally sound and we have a healthy fund balance that allows us to get some projects done,” said Camilla Moore, the assistant city manager for Stockbridge. “What hurts us is that Stockbridge today is the largest city in Henry County, so therefore when you get to [tax revenue] formulas based on population, we’ve been the primary beneficiary of those. If we no longer have the population and the numbers to receive the largest share of those monies, then we get less money to do some of the things that we’re able to do now because of our population in the past.”  

Moore has been down this road before. She has been involved in the formation of several other cities around metro Atlanta, including Sandy Springs, the first of the cityhood movement, and South Fulton, one of the more recent cities to incorporate. In those cases, she supported the notion of cityhood, advocating for the idea that city start-ups give residents stronger say in land-use and economic development policies—a seductive prospect if you live in an unincorporated, ill-defined territory that’s constantly overlooked by county and state government. But today, Moore is testifying on how cityhood for Eagle’s Landing might not reap the benefits some people think it will. In fact, she addresses one of Consiglio’s primary concerns head on.

“I’ve heard them say, ‘I really want a white linen restaurant and fine dining,’ but for those of you who have been involved in development, you know imaginary lines don’t make businesses come,” said Moore. “It’s not the old baseball saying, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ because Stockbridge built Eagle’s Landing. This suburban community of Stockbridge has been called Eagle’s Landing for the last 20 years. So if the Cheesecake Factory was coming, they would have been here.”

‘It’s like a divorce…’

When players from both sides of the equation speak about this situation, they often use the term “deannexation” to describe the process of re-appointing land from Stockbridge to Eagle’s Landing. It’s rather anodyne terminology for referencing what could be called a taking, or a land grab unfolding in real time and with the state’s approval. The fact that it’s happening in a city as it grows more black and brown—the city where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s father was born—only makes it more suspect.

“I use the analogy that it’s like a divorce—you can’t walk out of most divorces and say I’m taking half of your money, I’m leaving you all the bills, and I’m going to take the two good kids, and you can have the two little shitburgers,” says former Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stuart, who opposes the Eagle’s Landing city proposal. “Why rip apart a beautiful community? Why not come together and try to make it better. But it’s because they [Eagle’s Landing proponents] want control.”

The broader implications haven’t been fully examined or investigated by Georgia lawmakers. No one seems to know the endgame nor how catastrophic this form of cityhood could be. But some signs point to reckless. After Deal signed the bills, Moody’s Investor Services sent out a letter stating that the disintegration of Stockbridge to start up the city of Eagle’s Landing would constitute a “credit negative” not just for Stockbridge, but for all of the cities across Georgia.

This could happen, wrote Moody’s, because of the potential for a trend of new-cities-eating-old-cities to metastasize, which would affect the ability of all cities to honor outstanding debt obligations. The S&P Global Ratings followed up with a report that its institutional framework “profile could weaken for cities based on our views of weakened predictability and, potentially, system support should similar actions become more frequent without considerations for overall operations and liabilities.”

And those other municipalities are well aware of the potential mess that the Eagle’s Landing proposal can make if voters approve it. More than 100 cities in Georgia have passed resolutions denouncing such forms of citymaking, and earlier this year the Georgia Municipal Association adopted language in its 2019 legislative policy priorities document stating that while it supports new city incorporation, “portions of existing municipalities should not be de-annexed to create new municipalities.”

In August, Capital One Public Funding, LLC, a municipal bonding corporation that holds nearly $12 million of Stockbridge’s debt, sued state and county election officials to stop the Eagle’s Landing ballot, arguing that breaking up Stockbridge would be a violation of the contracts clauses found in both the U.S. and state constitutions. It is one of three lawsuits currently pending that hopes to stop the Eagle’s Landing proposal from becoming a reality.

Stockbridge City Hall, which is financed through municipal bonds currently held by Capital One Public Funding , LLC

On October 19, a federal judge denied an injunction in the Capital One case that would have at least delayed the ballot vote on Eagle’s Landing until the cases were decided on the merits. However, the judge ruled that if Eagle’s Landing won the ballot that it must pay a portion of whatever debts were created when it was a part of the city of Stockbridge.

Consiglio, meanwhile, has maintained that Eagle’s Landing would not be ponying up for any of Stockbridge’s debts, even though the new city would be taking half of the properties that Stockbridge used to secure the municipal bonds it currently holds. She is undeterred by the judge’s ruling, and disputes the judge’s interpretation of the relevant law.

“I’m still adamant about it,” says Consiglio. “I stand my ground and I will continue to stand my ground, even though this [language] is in [the judge’s order].”

A classic but tenuous pledge: No new taxes

If Eagle’s Landing were forced to take on some of Stockbridge’s debt, it would call into question one of Consiglio’s main selling points for Eagle’s Landing. She has pledged that the new city of Eagle’s Landing would impose no new taxes and specifically no property taxes on its residents.

But that claim is based on the assumption that Eagle’s Landing would be starting tabula rasa, with no other debts or expenses other than the regular costs for starting up a city. In fact, Eagle’s Landing’s lawyers said during oral arguments that the new city would be willing to impose property taxes on its residents if need be.

“It is ironic that the proponents of Eagle’s Landing actually advocated this position with the court when they had previously promised referendum voters that there would be no property tax in Eagle’s Landing,” said Chris Anulewicz, the attorney representing Stockbridge in the case. “Those proponents have already broken their biggest promise to the voters before the City of Eagle’s Landing referendum has even taken place.”

Yet, both of the Eagle’s Landing websites still emphasize that there will be no new taxes in the new city.

Consiglio refuses to back off from her, even if the movement’s lawyers may be telling courts something different. But asked if she was guaranteeing no new taxes when talking with potential Eagle’s Landing city residents, she couldn’t do it.

“I can’t use the word guarantee, but we do not want a property tax,” said Consiglio, emphasizing that their city charter states that they could impose one if need be. “I can’t guarantee anybody anything. I’m not the mayor and I’m not the council. All I can say is, as the organizer of the city of Eagle’s landing, I am pretty emphatic about there not being a tax and I will fight that to my dying grave.”

‘What’s wrong with wanting better?’

Stockbridge and Eagle’s Landing are already segregated, and it’s because of this condition that Eagle’s Landing was able to demarcate the choicest neighborhoods of Stockbridge for inclusion in its new city map. But there is no desire on Consiglio’s part to entertain the integration of the two, or even consider what benefits could come of that. The separation of the two is the point, and it’s not just so that the Eagle’s Landing gentry can better access a Cheesecake Factory. El-Mahdi Holly, who is running to represent House District 111 in the state legislature, says he picked up on this when he attended some of the early meetings that Consiglio’s group had with neighborhood residents, which he said started right after Donald Trump was elected.

“They would always preface their statements by talking about how Stockbridge residents themselves are keeping a filthy community, that they’re not cutting their lawns, that trash is everywhere, that these people just don’t care for the properties,” said Holly, who opposes Eagle’s Landing taking land from Stockbridge, even though he lives in the Eagle’s Landing “bubble.” Holly’s district once included much of Stockbridge, but the parts of the city where black, Latino, and lower-income families reside were cut out of it in a 2015 wave of redistricting. (Voting rights advocates are currently contesting this in court as an unlawful racial gerrymandering.)

“What that said to me is that these people have excluded themselves from the rest of the people in Henry County,” said Holly. “Because the people they were referring to in Stockbridge are the people who go to our churches, and that we shop with in grocery stores, that are kids go to the same schools with—these are our neighbors. It’s a ploy used to have people think of themselves as being better than others, and provided that you give them that justification, then you can pick their pockets.”  

(Brentin Mock)

Consiglio balks at any accusations of racism or bigotry. As far as she’s concerned, Stockbridge is a poorly run city, despite the fact that it was recently honored with an award for Excellence in Financing Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association. Even Consiglio admits that Stockbridge does have a deep well of financial resources. The city does have several million dollars stored up in a rainy day-type fund, to be used in an emergency, which Consiglio said could be used to pay off whatever debts it has should Eagle’s Landing takes what it wants. The irony is that Eagle’s Landing could be creating the emergency that would cause Stockbridge to have to break open that rainy-day piggybank. More than anything, Consiglio just wants to “control what comes in here and what it looks like” for Eagle’s Landing.

“What’s wrong with wanting better?” says Consiglio. “What’s wrong with being able to say I want to control what goes on around me? Stockbridge is going to be Stockbridge after all of this is over. They will be a sister city. We don’t hate Stockbridge. It’s an old city and they have a heritage. That’s awesome. Good for them. But this is not it. This is Eagle’s Landing. Not Stockbridge.”

And with that, Consiglio has to end the meeting and leave the country club. She’s off to a dinner meeting at Serafino’s Italian Restaurant in the nearby Villages at Eagle’s Landing. It’s an elegant dining place that serves a Salmon Felicia for $29.95, a “Million Dollar Cake” that costs $7.50, but you can get the “Regular Cheesecake” for $7.00. It’s no Cheesecake Factory, but it will have to do for now.  

  1. The Cheesecake Factory neither confirmed nor denied this. They sent a statement: “”Our restaurant development team is always on the lookout for premier sites to further grow The Cheesecake Factory brand presence, and all sites that fit our criteria for success will be seriously considered.”

Powered by WPeMatico

CityLab Daily: California Transit Agencies Resist a Gas Tax Repeal

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter here.


What We’re Following

Roll back: On Tuesday, California voters will revisit one of the most politically difficult decisions for the state’s politicians: raising the gas tax. Proposition 6 would roll back a fuel tax and vehicle fee increase from a bill passed in 2017—and make it much harder to raise those taxes in the future. The goal was to raise $54 billion over a decade to fund road repairs, highway improvements, and transit systems like the L.A. County Metro and BART. It established a rare source of sure funding for mobility infrastructure, but also became a lightning rod for the state’s anti-tax campaigners.

Proposition 6 faces long odds, but even if it flops, it has become a tool to galvanize GOP voters in a heavily Democratic state. Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, who has little chance of winning over Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom, has made it a focal point for his campaign. And all this might just be a prelude a 2020 fight over the state’s $100 billion high-speed rail project, which Cox says he’d cancel in lieu of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. CityLab’s Laura Bliss has the story: California’s Gas Tax Repeal Could Decide Transit’s Future

Andrew Small

More on CityLab

How Baby Boomers Are Thwarting Millennial Home Buyers

In Generation Priced Out, Randy Shaw examines how Boomers have blocked affordable housing in urban neighborhoods, leaving Millennial homebuyers in the lurch.

Mimi Kirk

Free Rides and Office Holidays: The Companies Making It Easier to Vote

Instead of voter suppression, these companies and transit agencies are engaged in voter support. They want to make access to the polls easier on Election Day.

Claire Tran

Running for Local Office When Everyone Is Obsessed With Washington

Democrats are finally investing in state-level elections. But the party’s turn toward national politics may be difficult to reverse.

Emma Green

The Social Responsibility of Wakanda’s Golden City

The designer behind Black Panther’s beloved city spent 10 months and 500 pages envisioning a futuristic urban space that puts people before technology.

Nicole Flatow

On Weaponizing Migration

Why do political leaders portray asylum seekers and refugees as an invading army? Because it’s very effective.

Tanvi Misra

Israel’s Divisive Plan For a Cable Car in Jerusalem

Architects, preservationists, and tour guides oppose the Israeli government’s scheme while Palestinian residents say they’ve been entirely marginalized in the process.

Miriam Berger

Duty Bound

The New York Times has a heartbreaking story about Brent Taylor, 39, the mayor of North Ogden, Utah, who was killed on Saturday in Afghanistan. In January, Taylor was called to duty as a major in the Utah National Guard for his fourth deployment. Just after winning re-election last year, Taylor handed over his municipal duties for his suburb of about 19,000 people north of Salt Lake City to his friend, Brent Chugg, as he served overseas. Here’s an excerpt that highlights his leadership at home:

Mr. Chugg said that as mayor, Major Taylor was dogged in pursuit of city improvements, building an amphitheater, a public works building and new roads. Other city officials, he said, had been satisfied with the status quo: “Not Mayor Taylor.”

A small memorial began to form on Sunday outside City Hall, below a soggy American flag lowered to half-staff. One woman, Deborah Eddy, 63, dropped off a bright yellow lily in a flowerpot. Another, Judy Viskoe, 36, stood by, gripping a black umbrella.

“I cried all day yesterday,” Ms. Viskoe said. “I don’t politically align with him. He’s a Republican. But I noticed in his running of this town that he treated everyone with respect, and he listened, and he didn’t bring his politics into the mix. He’s just unlike any other mayor I’ve ever experienced.”

What We’re Reading

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto leads his city through its darkest days (Washington Post)

How Seattle’s democracy vouchers fought big money in politics (Vox)

Technical difficulties may jeopardize food stamps at Farmers Markets (NPR)

Childhood obesity linked to air pollution from vehicles (The Guardian)

Amazon in advanced talks about putting HQ2 in Northern Virginia, those close to the process say (Washington Post)

Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to

Powered by WPeMatico

Extreme Weather Is Now an Election Issue

HOUSTON—It is one of the most desirable endorsements imaginable in this part of Texas ahead of the midterm elections: not the backing of a famous politician, actor, or musician, but the support of a fast-talking furniture salesman with a penchant for publicity stunts.

“I know of no Texan in Washington who took care of Houston better during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey than my friend John Culberson,” says Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale in a political advertisement filmed in one of his Houston-area stores for Culberson, a Republican incumbent facing a tough reelection battle in Texas’s 7th congressional district.

Stretching from near downtown Houston to the far western and northwestern suburbs, this traditionally Republican seat once held by George H.W. Bush, but that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, is one of the most-watched races nationally because of the strong chance that it flips on November 6. It also feels like a glimpse into a climate change-affected future, where politicians are expected to account for their actions or inaction in the face of more frequent and acute disasters.

Democratic candidate Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who is challenging incumbent John Culberson in Texas’s 7th congressional district, speaks at an event held by the Bayou Blue Democratic Club in Houston. (John L. Mone/AP)

Fourteen months on from the storm that devastated much of the region and inundated many homes in the district, hurricane prevention and recovery is front and center in the campaigns of Culberson and his Democratic rival, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

Hence the ad appearance by “Mattress Mack,” who was widely hailed after Harvey for turning his showrooms into shelters and raising money for victims. That makes him an especially valuable figure for the Culberson campaign, which is touting the nine-term incumbent’s record on securing federal disaster relief funds following Harvey—while Fletcher argues that the storm was so catastrophic because her opponent failed to deliver adequate flood prevention.

Recovery was the first topic when the pair faced off on a debate stage at the University of Houston on October 21. After Harvey and Irma, Culberson, a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, told the audience: “I immediately got the Florida and Texas delegations together in a bipartisan way and organized passage of the largest hurricane recovery package in the history of the United States.” This, the 62-year-old said, is “a good illustration that I’m the right person at the right time and the right place for Houston as the only appropriator from southeast Texas.”

Fletcher, a 43-year-old lawyer, responded: “It shouldn’t take a Hurricane Harvey to get our member of Congress to act and to work to build our flooding infrastructure. We have known that flooding is a problem since [Tropical Storm Allison in] 2001.”

She added: “We’ve had chronic flooding during your entire tenure. So it’s not the right place and the right time after Harvey; the right place and the right time was before Harvey. We cannot simply react to disasters. We have to be proactive; we have to look ahead at what is coming, and we have to look to the future.”

Climate and environmental matters are a factor in races small and large across the country. In Florida, media attention on the problem of “red tide” algae is putting the state’s Republican governor and Senate candidate, Rick Scott, under the spotlight for his environmental record. In the state’s 26th congressional district, which encompasses the Everglades and the Keys, rising sea levels are such a core concern for voters that the Republican incumbent, Carlos Curbelo, has broken with his party’s general skepticism toward climate change by addressing the matter head-on and proposing a carbon tax.

In California’s 48th congressional district, in Orange County, an environmental advocacy group is assailing the Republican incumbent, Dana Rohrabacher, with an ad that mixes images of wildfires with a clip of him declaring, “Global warming is a fraud.” And in Howard County, Maryland, recent devastating flooding in the historic town of Ellicott City has become a major issue in the race for county executive.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, expects denial of climate science eventually to become an untenable position in the U.S. “The kind of head-in-the-sand attitude that many Republicans have taken is not sustainable in the long run,” he said. “In the future, climate change is going to be a swing issue where voters may use that as a key point to switch their votes.”

Today, however, the topic is delicate in Texas’s 7th district, where Fletcher is aiming to woo disaffected moderate Republicans. She has not made climate change a fundamental wedge issue even as she accuses Culberson of failing to defend the city from increasingly harsh weather. Though many who live along the Buffalo and Brays bayous endured terrible flooding, the district contains some of Houston’s most affluent neighborhoods, and substantial numbers of their residents work for oil and gas companies.

“Out of a hundred people who answer a knock on the door, maybe two of them will say something about climate change. And that’s among the Democrats,” said Bill Heins, a 57-year-old geoscientist who has been campaigning for Democratic candidates in the district.

Memories of Harvey’s horror have faded, Heins said, especially among those who stayed dry. “I’m struck when I go through neighborhoods that have obviously been really hit hard by the flood, and people open the door and I’m ready to talk about flooding, and they’re talking about something else.”

Rottinghaus said he thinks of it as still a marginal issue. “If you weren’t affected directly by Harvey, you probably don’t use it as a frame to evaluate incumbents in office, and I think it’s been long enough that many people have simply forgotten. The politics of daily life are swallowed up by a tremendous number of national and international events, and [that] has I think largely muted the effects of even something as massive and impactful as Harvey.”

When Harris County passed a $2.5 billion flood-control bond in August, the turnout was below 7 percent of registered voters. Still, with the 7th district race too close to call—a recent New York Times/Siena poll gave Culberson a single-point lead—even something that only a minority of voters care about could prove decisive.

“For Fletcher, the goal of picking up some voters who may be disgruntled over Harvey is worth the extra discussion,” Rottinghaus said. “I think, too, for Fletcher the general thrust of her criticism is that Culberson has not been there for voters. And what better way to illustrate that than to talk about it in the context of Harvey?”

Powered by WPeMatico

The 2010 Midterm Wave Rewrote America’s Political Geography. Will 2018 Do It Again?

The current political geography of the United States was forged eight years ago, when Republicans swept back from the political wilderness to seize control of the U.S. House of Representatives. This year, Democrats have the opportunity to disrupt the new normal once again if they succeed in sweeping a blue wave through the suburbs.

That new normal is Republican dominance in rural districts, and it didn’t exist before 2010, according to an analysis using CityLab’s Congressional Density Index, which categorizes districts by their makeup of urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods. CityLab’s past analysis has found that density is increasingly correlated with politics, and that the suburbs will be the swing districts in the November House election.

Looking back at the history of congressional results and density, we can see that while Republicans often won rural areas, especially in presidential elections, rural America was very much up for grabs politically. In 2008, Democrats actually won a majority of the districts CityLab classifies as “pure rural.”

On November 2, 2010, that ended. Republicans picked up seats just about everywhere during that midterm election, including six districts classified by CityLab as “sparse suburban”, six as “dense suburban” districts, and even a pure urban district (based around New York City’s Staten Island).

But the real landslide was in rural areas. This map shows the classification of every 2010 House district, with Democratic districts the GOP won in the 2010 elections outlined in red. Most of their pickups were in the country’s “pure rural” and “rural-suburban mix” districts:

Democratic districts the GOP won in the 2010 elections are outlined in red.

Overall, Republicans picked up 20 rural-suburban mix districts in 2010, and a stunning 31 pure rural districts. They would have won a majority even if they hadn’t picked up any predominantly suburban seats, simply on the basis of their overwhelming gains in rural areas.

Republicans in 2010 won more than half of all the Democrat-held districts with significant rural areas, taking Democrats from nearly half of these districts down to less than a quarter. Democrats have never really recovered—today they represent just around 15 percent of rural districts, and many of them have particular reasons beyond density (such as racial diversity) explaining Democratic strength.

The urban-rural divide has grown much wider

The 2010 election didn’t invent the urban-rural political divide. Long before that wave election, Democrats generally did best in cities and worse in less-dense areas, especially in presidential elections. But the divide was much smaller in the 2000s than it is today. Al Gore averaged 42 percent of the vote in pure rural districts and 75 percent in pure urban districts; 18 years later, Hillary Clinton averaged 33 percent in pure rural districts and 82 percent in pure urban ones.

At the congressional level, Democrats didn’t just fall off a cliff in rural areas. They’ve also become even stronger in the densest districts, giving them more votes for statewide and national elections but widening America’s political gulf between the cities and the country.

Democrats’ 2018 gains will mostly come in suburbs, not rural districts

Democrats are favorites to retake control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s election. But if they do so, they won’t do it by retaking all those rural districts they lost in 2010. Instead, they’ll be making gains in suburban districts.

As of now, FiveThirtyEight projects Democrats will have a net gain of just five of 149 predominantly rural Republican seats—versus 23 extra predominantly suburban seats.

The end result would be a Democratic House majority with a very suburban feel to it. Before 2010, when they controlled 256 seats in Congress, the Democratic caucus was about equally divided between rural, suburban, and urban members. The 2018 version, as projected right now, will likely be more than half suburban, and only 15 percent rural.

This isn’t surprising to many political demographers, who’ve seen growing Democratic strength in suburban districts for some time. In the 2004 congressional elections, Democratic candidates averaged just 43 percent of the vote in dense suburban districts. In 2016, they averaged 59 percent. That reflects suburbs growing denser and more diverse — both factors associated with support for Democrats.

Visit here to see a full listing of 2010 House districts’ categorization under the CityLab Congressional Density Index, and also to see the the model’s methodology.

Powered by WPeMatico

California Transit Agencies Resist a Gas Tax Repeal

In the spring of 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s Democratic lawmakers pulled out the stops to do nearly the least popular thing for politicians to do: They raised the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon.

The increase didn’t just cover gasoline. Diesel fuel also got hit with an extra 20 cents per gallon, and annual vehicle registration fees got bumped from anywhere between $25 to $175, depending on the car’s value. To raise roughly $5 billion per year for statewide transportation infrastructure repairs and improvements, Senate Bill 1—which was packed with earmarks for communities in the rural Central Valley, which tend to get short shrift compared to urban regions when it comes to state transportation funding—gave California the second-highest gas tax nationwide, along with some of the priciest unleaded in the land.

But for how long? On Tuesday, California voters will revisit SB 1 with Proposition 6, which would roll back last year’s fuel tax and vehicle fee increases, in addition to requiring voter approval for such hikes in the future, even those approved by governors and legislators.

“This is not just about roads,” Carl DeMaio, the chairman of the Yes on Proposition 6 campaign, told Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio in September. “This is about cost of living. And a ‘yes’ vote on Prop 6 gives an immediate cost of living reprieve for working families who are barely making ends meet as it is.”

The effort has been about more than that, though. California’s conservative leadership hopes that the gas tax can galvanize GOP voters in this heavily Democratic state. That appears to be why Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox—who’s been given little chance of winning over Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom—has made the issue a focal point of his campaign. In tightly contested districts around San Diego, Orange County, and the San Joaquin Valley, where Democratic contenders are challenging Republican seats, that is a reason to watch how the ballot measure performs.

So far, early turnout by Republicans in some of those areas has been strong. But statewide, Proposition 6 is facing long odds. Supporters of the gas-tax rollback have been far outspent by its opponents, including outgoing Governor Jerry Brown, who has funneled tens of millions of dollars from campaign funds to defeat the initiative. (Brown also made a rare pre-election appearance—his only campaign cameo this year—at a Bay Area rally last week, specifically to slam the initiative.) Recent surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley indicate most voters plan to veto the proposal. By now, DeMaio has all but admitted defeat.

That is likely a positive sign for the future of transportation in California, on which Proposition 6 is something of a referendum. Though this proposition is called a “repeal,” that isn’t quite accurate, since the tax would return to its previous rate if this measure passed. But it would serve to eliminate a rare source of sure funding—some $54 billion over the next decade—for the state’s deteriorating mobility infrastructure. Since SB 1 passed, about two-thirds of its proceeds have gone to road repairs and highway improvements, and the rest to mass transit. Already, more than two dozen road maintenance and safety improvement projects for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians have been completed by the California Department of Transportation, while cities and counties have received hundreds of millions of dollars in matching funds for local projects. “Our pavement condition is deteriorating rapidly, and the $850,000 we got this year is not chump change to us,” one official from Turlock, a city in the upper Central Valley, told state legislators at a hearing on the repeal initiative in June.

While most of SB 1’s annual revenues go to highway and road repairs, about $750 million is set aside for public transportation. An additional $100 million per year pays for pedestrian improvements and cycling infrastructure, projects meant to nudge Californians out of automobiles when they need to get around. After all, Californians are as addicted to private cars as the next American, as Ned Resnikoff, a journalist and graduate student in public policy at UC Berkeley, explained in a New York Times op-ed last month. The state may lead the U.S. on scaling back carbon emissions, but transportation emissions are on the rise there as they are nationwide. More car-free trips would help California stay on track towards its climate goals.

An elevated section of the high-speed rail under construction in Fresno, California. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Transit agencies around the state have been accordingly vocal about what cutting these funds would mean for their work. L.A. County Metro is in line to receive funding through SB 1 for several significant construction efforts, including a train line that would help connect airport travelers to LAX, a transit line that cuts through the traffic-clogged Sepulveda Pass, and tons of freeway repair work. Metro predicts that these projects, many of which it hopes to complete by the 2028 Olympics, could be delayed by three to five years if the repeal is passed. Elsewhere, transit service would have to be eliminated: The Orange County Transportation Authority has said it would have to reduce bus service by 11 percent if the repeal passes, while up north in Monterey County, some 26 bus routes and para-transit lines could be threatened. In the Bay Area, BART would be particularly hard hit by a gas tax rollback, as it would increase the operating budget gap it is already facing to an estimated $500 million.

Without the extra tax revenues, how would the state pay for such projects, or indeed, fix the potholed highways that cost California drivers an estimated $843 annually in extra gas and vehicle repairs? Supporters of Proposition 6 have argued that state legislators have been squandering many of the proceeds from SB 1 in the first place, “diverting” the funds from roads to projects such as bike lanes and transportation job training. (A Politifact analysis in May 2017 rated a similar claim as “mostly false”—such uses are valid under the law.) Perhaps in part to address the question of where the rest of funding would come from, in late September, Proposition 6 supporters came up with another initiative, this one for 2020, that would cancel the state’s controversial $100 billion high-speed rail project and require that all gas tax proceeds be used for roads alone.

That effort is also probably unlikely to succeed, even if Proposition 6 flops, says Robert Cruickshank, a transportation policy consultant and rail advocate who authors the California High Speed Rail blog. The project—on which construction is underway in parts of the Central Valley—has been beset by cost increases, construction delays, engineering issues, and countless lawsuits. But previous attempts by citizen groups to cancel the “bullet train” via ballot measure have failed, and support today remains about as evenly divided today as it was in 2008, when California voters passed a $9.9 billion bond to kick off the plan. “People either love or hate it, but there is little back and forth,” said Cruickshank.

More important for the future of high-speed rail, he said, is whether California’s next governor champions it, as Brown has and as his Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, did. Newsom has wavered on his support for the beleaguered project, and could decide it’s not worth the political capital if he takes office in January. Cox has pledged to cancel it if he wins, and that he’ll “talk to Elon Musk” about drilling underground tunnels instead.

It’s very hard to see how construction costs would favor Musk’s Hyperloop over high-speed rail as a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles connector. But beyond that, what would nixing the country’s most ambitious rail project mean for California’s future? As the state’s population rises, particularly in its poorer and more polluted regions, demand for travel and room on the road is expected to grow. Fewer alternatives to highway travel options would likely mean more vehicles, more miles, and—even with electric vehicle adoption on the rise—more emissions off the road.

Powered by WPeMatico