Tag Archives: city council

Master Plans: Free Market or Social Engineering?

Hampton, VA – As the council meeting heated up, citizens’ questioned the Mayor’s involvement in the City’s acquisition of Harbor Square apartments. Constituents’ questioned her possibly receiving profits from the sale of this complex to the city. All this accomplished under the strict guidelines of a Comprehensive or Master Plan. With trends of local governments denying businesses, churches and private developers the opportunity to provide services, a good question is whether the city is practicing free market or social engineering?

Master Plans are the center of cities across the nation. City councils use them to steer their city’s vision stretching as far as 2030. They use them to justify keeping citizen’s and businesses in line but when does a plan become counterproductive? How can a constituency turn the direction of their city when unelected bureaucrats are making the decisions? When a plan made by a few is burdened by the whole.

In Hampton, The Richman Group, offered to invest $11 million to rehabilitate Harbor Square Apartments. In March, City Council “voted unanimously not to designate Harbor Square a housing revitalization area.” The reason for the vote was that “the proposal isn’t consistent with a downtown master plan that envisages a time when the apartments at Harbor Square will no longer exist, or the aspirations of some downtown business owners who made their views known.” The city is not trying to change the existing layout, they had changed the zoning to something other than what it is now. The crime ridden, dilapidated apartment complex would remain as is.

After denying the Richman Group the master plan’s revitalization revision, several months later the city voted 4-2 to acquire Harbor Square Apartments for $14.5 million. The plans are that the apartments are to be demolished in 2015. As noted, the Downtown Master Plan was developed with input from more than 300 people. Even though voting against the Richman Group, Councilman Tuck placed reservations in voting against the purchase on the heels of issuing a $38 million bond for the building of a new Courthouse.

While defending the Mayor, the city manager states, “The City decided to pursue the acquisition after hearing from many downtown community members that they did not want to see the property rehabilitated when such an offer was made in March of this year.” As the citizens at the council meeting do not like the city’s acquisition of Harbor Square Apartments, their issues are with the Mayor’s involvement.

While most focus on the Mayor’s personal gain, there are questions that stem much deeper. Who encompasses “the City” and why aren’t elected officials making these decisions? Who exactly does a person vote for, or against, if they feel that elected officials are leading their city in the wrong direction? Who exactly are these “downtown community members”? And most importantly, why are conclusions made outside city council meetings (i.e. discussions held with downtown community members)? The most important question is…how does a citizenry stop “the City” when they appear to be on a suicide mission in pursuit of utopia? Since the Mayor does not pursue…who does? This is about elected officials being accountable to their decisions according to the current circumstances, not holding them accountable to a plan developed by a non-elected bureaucrat.

According to a Case Study conducted by Diana Schor, “Hampton turns every crisis into an opportunity by tapping into its civic base. In 2010, the City had a 5% budget shortfall ($19 million), the worst budget crisis in the last couple of decades. To respond to it, the City has “reinvented itself”…” So, is this how “the City” is responding to this crisis? They move toward the same agenda only changing the players, or reinventing themselves. If there were a crisis last year, why would the city invest $52.5 million into infrastructure this year?

So, the Daily Press quoted a former Downtown Hampton Development Partnership director saying that this was a once in a lifetime chance to change the course of downtown. Is this the downtown community member that determine Harbor Square’s fate?

“The City” took this opportunity to deny a developer from providing a better life for our poor citizens…how is that wrong? So, the Richman Group was not looking for a change in reality which was an apartment complex, they were looking for a change in the plan. For the taxpayers of Hampton, there was a $25.5 million swing, along with the revenue lost in collecting property taxes as the city pursues its dream. But in the end, is this free market or social engineering?

City Council Attacks Taxicab Entrepreneurs

City councils across the nation are taking a page from the Federal Government in their ability to take over entire industries. Taxicab companies are fighting against their local bureaucrats for their very existence. In Hampton Roads, Virginia, it is no different. Just like when the Federal Government accused doctors of cutting off limbs for more money, apparently local governments feel taxicab drivers exhibit the same characteristics. They claim drivers take longer routes, overcharge customers, drive unsafe vehicles and provided selected services. These bureaucrats use crony capitalism to dismantle the taxicab industry. Now, the term public-private partnership is worn proudly.

In 2007, the City of Hampton, Virginia used tax money to hire the Tennessee Transportation and Logistics Foundation (TTLF) to conduct a Taxi study. The study states that restructuring “depends upon the actions of the existing or potential full service taxi companies.” It also states that things could deteriorate with the loss of Hampton’s only full service taxi company if it decides to relocate its equipment and capacity elsewhere. In addition, GPS technology to track cabs; vehicle age limits and 24/7 dispatching were requirements within the study and it acknowledged some businesses will not be able to comply and go out of business. So, the City of Hampton implements an ordinance that prohibits nearly all from doing business in Hampton Roads.

Someone gave this college professor (disguised as a company) the authority to implement an ordinance that puts people out of business. Our local governments are instilling draconian ordinances that cannot be refuted and greatly impacts the industry catering to limited number of companies.

The neighboring city of Newport News took a slightly different route by appointing a Transportation Panel to engage the issue. Two organizations represented were the airport and the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber who voiced concern about the customer service and impact that the taxicab industry has on tourism in Newport News. So, when researching the Chamber’s membership, the two active members under the taxicab category are the Yellow Cab of Hampton and Yellow Cab of Newport News, the largest companies in their respected locales.

If the Transportation Panel wishes to protest the taxicab customer service or tourism issues, the airport should not be involved. With body scanners, taxicabs are the least of their customer service problems. While the airport implemented a 10-year vehicle age limit on taxicabs, the average age of a Delta aircraft is 13.8 years and US Airways is 12.2 years. What age restriction is the airport going to require of these airlines? Oh, that’s right…. Crony Capitalism.

There are situations like this happening across the nation. Salt Lake City reduced the number of taxis 25 percent and the number of cab companies to two. They even restricted the number of taxis waiting at the airport. Just this week, San Francisco taxi drivers went on strike due to mandatory credit card machines. Now, where’s the outrage at our city government for pushing credit card machines.

In Miami-Dade they conduct audits and they have an auction for taxi medallions at a minimum bid of $100,000. They also require wheelchair accessible vehicles, security cameras, rear compartment swipe (credit cards) and dispatch systems. Of course, TTLF conducted a study in 2007. In Austin, they had a four-person team from the city conduct an audit to where they required more than one full-time Enforcement Officer to ensure compliance. Again, the implementation of these requirements was preceded by a TTLF taxi study.

City council members need to consider where you stand on this issue because if you vote to implement this, this will create another bureaucratic department and put businesses out of business. For a small business owner, buying a new taxi every so many years or demanding expensive oversight equipment is the equivalent to a major airline purchasing an aircraft. But this is a good test to see who is willing to make the vote…crony capitalism for the airlines, credit card companies & government control or entrepreneurism for their constituents?

To my fellow citizens, it is a time to see where your city council actually stands. If they vote for it, they are either ignorant on the subject or exercising crony capitalism. Either way, they may need to go. Either way, let their actions speak.