(This is a guest post from Michael Long, Burlington Resident and 10 year member of the Development Review Board)
Local politics is always fine-grained, but need not be piecemeal. For the upcoming Town Meeting Day election, there's a pattern -- in plain sight -- that the politicians making up the mosaic would rather we didn't see. Yes, the three contested City Council seats have something in common.
Genese Grill, Charles Simpson, and Charles Winkleman are candidates competing with two longtime counselors and one political novice for the three contested seats. Neighborhood power, truly affordable housing, green transportation, and a fair deal for the city from the universities are among their urgent and revitalizing themes.
Grill, Simpson, and Winkleman offer creative, energetic, independent, progressive representation – unlike the perennial incumbents, Knodell and Shannon, or the newcomer, Deane.
Knodell, Shannon, and Deane have been in lockstep touting the Republican development agenda of the Weinberger administration ever since Don Sinex came to town. Theirs has been the same agenda of eliminating regulation and offering tax breaks and subsidies to developers that our Republican governor in Montpelier has been trumpeting and that Republicans coast to coast would applaud.
This is an agenda that well serves UVM, the real estate sector, and the Burlington Business Association with which Knodell, Shannon, and Deane are respectively and closely associated. But it is decidedly not an agenda that equitably serves all the people of Burlington.
Let's be honest here – the University, the real estate sector, and the Burlington Business Association have plenty of influence in city politics all on their own. They hardly need councilors with such close ties to give them more influence still.
Some have questionably argued that the poor and disenfranchised among us are well served by multimillion dollar downtown development seeking private profit primarily and the public interest incidentally. But the poor and disenfranchised will be far better served – indeed, all of us will be far better served – by candidates like Grill, Simpson, and Winkleman. These candidates will put the public interest first and require that development be responsibly shaped by the public interest, not the special interests.
The mayor's unprecedented devotion to development has distorted his administration and warped the democratic process. Knodell, Shannon, and Deane have embraced the mayor's reckless devotion unreservedly.
For Knodell and Shannon, it's time at last to make way for real progress and new leadership that can do so much better.
Deane is a different case. Though new to elective politics, as the Chair of the Board of the Burlington Business Association, Deane is an old hand and a practiced lobbyist for business interests. His role as the Burlington Business Association Chair of the Board is a feather in his resume and certainly nothing to be ashamed of in itself, but it does make him an inappropriate candidate for city council. The neighborhood and the people of Burlington will be far better represented by Winkleman who is a people's advocate, not a business lobbyist.
Vote responsibly. Seize the opportunity on March 7 to put Genese Grill, Charles Simpson, and Charles Winkleman on the Burlington City Council where Burlington needs them and where they belong.
This week several Ward 2 and Ward 3 residents have spoken out in support of Genese's Campaign. We were humbled by Infinite Culcleasure's letter of support.
To paraphrase what MLK expressed generations ago, I am so disappointed with the moderate/liberal politics of today. I have reached the conclusion that poor and working class folks’ greatest stumbling block is not the KKK or Trump, but progressive, democrat, and republican politicians who prioritize the business community over the workers and residents on the ‘fringe’, who are more devoted to “order” than to justice.
At a time when we need to break from paternalistic politics I would be grateful to have Genese as a fresh set of eyes and ears on the city council representing the O.N.E., where the city’s most valuable assets are its people. When people refer to this “time of crisis” as a reason to “keep a steady hand at the helm”, they are the ones who lack vision.
Thank you Genese for running against the odds, and rising to the occasion with your neighbors to make a stand against the overreach of business and corporate interests in the development and defining of communities that are underwater with debt, heartache and mistrust.
Thank you for committing your precious days and nights competing for the opportunity to check and balance an administration that relies too heavily on executive sessions and closed meetings, that shouldn’t be the only game in town.
Thank you for having the heart to care about power sharing… thank you for bringing the noise of unheard voices and untapped wisdom, to counterbalance the noise of nearby war machines and know-it-all power brokers.
Thank you for breaking from the missionary style politics of our city, and daring to explore alternative models of governance that prioritize our most vulnerable neighbors. You’ve already served us well."
– Infinite Culcleasure, Rose Street
Amazing, unprecedented turnout at the Ward 2 and 3 NPA candidates' debate last night. Standing room only crowds, so many questions the 30 minute debate was drawn out to an hour and a half! It is time to further empower the residents of this city, who are the real experts about their neighborhoods and lives instead of making business-as-usual excuses and fatalistic compromises at their expense. Power to the People!
On Thursday night, Ibnar A. Stratibus installed the first in a series of giant open books in front of Nunyuns on the corner of North Champlain and North Street. Over the next 5 weeks there will be eleven more, each illuminated by a different local artist, on lawns and green strips across the Central District. If you have a lawn at a busy intersection and would like to have one of these volumes there until the March 7th election, please let us know!
We believe in the power of beauty, artistic collaboration, and in welcoming all residents into the democratic process! Join us!
The City has hired a consultant to analyze how well our inclusionary zoning requirements have been working over the last 25 years, and basically concluded that the requirement for a new development to include 15% of units that are called affordable, but are not, is an obstacle to growth. The consultants suggest giving developers more in order to get the so-called affordable units, reducing the threshold for number of units that would require Inclusionary zoning at all, raising the percentage of income at which a resident would qualify for an IZ unit from 65% to a range between 50 and 80%, and reducing the payment "in lieu" which a developer would pay if he or she did not provide the pittance of non-affordable "affordable units". The Community Development Neighborhood Revitalization committee, chaired for now by Selene Colburn (on her way to the State House in March), is accepting public comments on the report, which you can find here: https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/CityCouncil/CEDONeighborhoodRevitalizationCommittee
Please send your comments to the committee here: firstname.lastname@example.org and tell the City that we will not accept treacherous compromises on a regulation that is already far too weak. We want real solutions to affordable housing, not policies that enable developers to price us out of our city!
Here are my comments for the public record:
The conclusions of the IZ report were based on data from 1990 to 2015, and are based on a presumption that the 25 years of IZ requirements have inhibited growth in Burlington. The report aims to provide ideas about how the inhibition of IZ can be lessened so that we can encourage more development in the city. The goal of this new development is said to be to provide more affordable housing and to create economic integration and the assumption is that if we follow their suggestions, we will "move the needle" toward better fulfillment of these goals.
There are two basic problems with this analysis.
The first and most glaring is that we know from the last year and from the planned units for 2017/18 that our current IZ requirements DO NOT INHIBIT GROWTH in the city. To say that the committee can simply factor in the new growth and use the basic premises of the report is highly illogical. The report is based on a fallacy. Our IZ requirements are not inhibiting growth in the city now. Cambrian Rise, Eagles Landing, Fletcher Place, the S.D. Ireland complex, Bright Street, Winooski Avenue, and more on the way. We are in a building boom.
The second problem is that enabling more development in lower-income areas actually raises the median rent in these areas--does not lower it. Since the average rent in lower-income areas is actually lower than the inclusionary zoning rates in some areas, the introduction of a new building with 15% of units that are slightly more expensive than the average and 85% of units that are way more expensive than the average is not "economic integration". It is displacement, pure and simple. We are moving wealthier people into poorer neighborhoods and pretending we are doing it for the sake of the poor and underprivileged. It is criminal and must be stopped.
Instead of bending over backwards to get more development that makes rents higher in the city, instead of lowering the threshold of units that require IZ, instead of lowering the in lieu payment costs, instead of changing the median rate of income eligibility from 65% to 50-80%, we should be working to discourage building that prices out lower income residents, we should be providing tax breaks for property owners to renovate without raising rents, we should be raising minimum wage (which we are doing, I hope), and considering rent control and other more radical options.
While the bonding and levy concept tried over the last 7 years in Seattle and suggested in the report may be a good path, it is astonishing that the consultants would suggests something and then not be able to tell us whether this project had achieved the expected results. We all know that Seattle is highly gentrified, and it was mentioned last night that they have a serious homelessness problem. Do we really want to be following in their footsteps?
In conclusion, in contrast to the glowing reviews I heard last night about this report, I urge you to go back to the drawing board, in communication with local experts (no more expensive outside consultants, please!), to write a report based on current vacancy rates and current building rates. This report, I repeat, is based on 2 glaringly false premises and cannot, under those circumstances, be considered reliable. It cannot simply be tweaked or amended. It is fundamentally flawed and following its conclusions would destroy our city.