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City Council Meeting August 16

A new low in Council rhetoric
Move to change Ordinance to thwart Daniel Island residents
Marc Knapp

It was not an inspiring evening. It hit a low when the African American council members, Council member Lewis excepted, turned the grievance of Daniel Island residents in to a race issue. They were not to be persuaded by anything the residents said, or for that matter, by the African American minister who supported the residents. The minister spoke of the grievances she and other West Ashley residents had over a similar issue had with the City in relation to an "affordable housing" project.

The issue before council was related to an "affordable housing" project in the Town Center of Daniel Island. The City said that the Humanities Foundation had every right to put the development there. The residents said it did not. The Master Plan did not allow it. Besides, the Humanities Foundation and the City made no contact with the neighborhood association or residents to discuss the plan. As every speaker from Daniel Island asserted, they welcomed diversity and "affordable housing". They objected to the "secrecy" surrounding the planned development and that it was clustered. Residents knew that the City planned considerable "affordable housing" on the Island but thought it would be on scattered sites and indistinguishable from other housing.

Council moves to amend Master Plan
The actual issue before council last night was an amendment to the Master Plan for the development of Daniel Island. As the Mayor stated, the intention of the amendment was to thwart the residents in their opposition to the "affordable housing" project. He expected that whatever the outcome of the appeal by residents against an earlier decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals in favor of the City, they would take the matter to the courts. By coincidence, the Board of Zoning Appeals met last night and heard the appeal. It was denied. As we are unaware of any appeal to the Board succeeding, we were hardly surprised.

But the amendment to the Master Plan ordinance troubled some Council members. Council members George, Shirley and Fishburne voted against it. As Council member George said, there was something very wrong about Council amending the law to the City's favor when an issue such as that before Council arises. This had happened on a few occasions in the recent past and it was concerning.

Residents of Daniel Island are in favor of "affordable housing"
Council member Fishburne whose district includes Daniel Island was the first to speak on the issue. He noted that the residents were all in favor of "affordable housing" and would do much to support it. But they did not want it in a single and conspicuous cluster. And indeed, the development was in the wrong place, on a corner in the heart of Daniel Island. They were prepared to work with the City and the Humanities Foundation, and resented the way the 75 unit project had come about. The discussion became wider when Daniel Island residents came to the meeting after the conclusion of the Board and Zoning Appeals hearing. Speaker after speaker reiterated their support for "affordable housing". One even suggested that the Daniel Island Fund would be happy to make contributions to help those seeking "affordable housing". The fund receives its financing from a levy of 0.5% of all property sales on the island.

Opposed to cluster development
Other speakers noted the propensity for crime to be generated when there are clusters of "affordable housing" similar to that proposed. This was also supported by evidence gathered from Charleston police. Other speakers noted the likelihood of folk living in this development being stigmatized. It was a fact of life and could not be ignored, they would be known as those people living in the "affordable housing" project. This would not be a happy situation, particularly for the children of these folk.

Where is the public transport for these developments?
The black minister who spoke against the Daniel Island and West Ashley developments also feared the high incidence of crime in a clustered development. She also made the point that the development planned for the Sherwood Forest neighborhood was 0.6 miles from a bus route. As most of the people that were targeted to live in this development had low incomes and most likely did not have cars, wasn't the location strange?

The argument in relation to public transport was not even made by the Daniel Island residents. Presumably many of the low income folk targeted for this proposed development cannot afford cars. Yet there is no CARTA service at all to Daniel Island. How will they get about? Nor did the residents make much of the education issues. If they can't afford cars, they can hardly afford private schools. Daniel Island is not busting with public schools. Pupils of all grades are bused to Hanahan schools in Berkeley County.

City had no intention to include Town Center in Master Plan definition
Mayor Riley spoke a number of times on the "affordable housing" issue. He referred to the agreement that the City had with the developer of the Island and that 5% of all units to be built were to be "affordable housing" and that 20 acres were to be made available at a low cost for this housing. We understand that any "affordable housing" built under this agreement had to be completed within 10 years, ie very shortly. But according to the Mayor, the development planned by the Humanities Foundation was not part of this plan. Nobody from Daniel Island disputed any of this.

The Mayor said that in the original Master Plan, there was no intention on the part of the City to make the nature of "affordable housing" within the Town Center area identical to that relating to the rest of the development. This is the heart of the "legalise" that the opponents of the development are pinning their hopes on. It all relates to the placement of a seemingly innocent word "herein". We won't go into details but it seems that its original placement suggests that all development on the island should be in "scattered sites". The City and the Humanities Foundation argue otherwise.

Vitriolic speeches by some African American Council members
The amendment was supported by all the African American members of Council with Council Members Gallant and Waring, and to a lesser extent Council member Gilliard making very vitriolic speeches. In essence, they attempted to turn the matter into a race issue. People who opposed any "affordable housing" were racist is the simple conclusion that could be drawn from their remarks. Council member Gallant was back into his normal form with a long speech that took us along a path through the history of racism and the struggles of black folk but rarely traversed the territory relating to the specific issue. He even tried to argue with a member of the public who was speaking during Citizen's Participation, something not allowed by Council. He was brought up sharply by Council member Shirley who also later in the session commented on Council member Gilliard's preaching speech on the same subject.

City regulations may restrain applications for "affordable housing"
Nobody mentioned it last night but it does seem relevant. The provision of "affordable housing" by the City over the last 5 years has not been impressive. (See our comments in the posting on Charlestonwatch on November 25, 2004) In our view, more initiatives have been attempted in this year than any time in the past and it may reflect the criticism that we and others have made of the Council. And if there is a strident critic of the Council, and in particular African American members, it has been The Chronicle, the local newspaper that targets the African American community. But we also add that although there may seem a large need for "affordable housing", the City has not been able to meet this need. This has not been a matter of supply. It is that the City has imposed conditions relating to the sale of "affordable housing" that have made it unattractive to many purchasers. We can't speak to the immediate present, but earlier this year there were affordable housing units that had been vacant for months that could not be sold. The inability of any purchaser to capture significant capital gains but having to bear all taxes and costs were cited by one "affordable housing" group as the reason for this disinterest. And by the way, a significant number of those who did buy were white.

Trash contract to save City $100,000
Oh, Daniel Island again. This time it is the trash service. The Island is part of the City of Charleston but is also located in Berkeley County. Geographically it is a long way from the heart of the City of Charleston and this is a problem in relation to trash services. It takes a long time for City trucks to get to the area and a longer time for them to travel to the dump site in Berkeley County. It all costs too much. Consequently, the City decided to retain (we choose the word carefully) a contractor to collect and dispose of trash.

Council member George noted that the deal was a very good one and that the $135.000 contract fee represented a cost of about $7.35 per pick up. This was in contrast to about $9.31 for Mount Pleasant and generally about $12 for residents of other cities in the County. But notwithstanding the fact that it was a good deal, shouldn't the contract be put out to bid? After all this was the rule for City procurement.

The Mayor said that it was OK to do it this way and as it was saving over $100,000 a year, why is anybody objecting? Steve Bedard, the CFO of the City, commented that the reason for the low price was that the contractor already had a contract with Berkeley County and that it could therefore price its work on a "marginal" basis. The cost would have been much higher if the contract with Berkeley were not in place. And the reason it was not put out to bid was because it was an extension of work by a contractor that had already made a successful bid for the same work in Berkeley County. Council member George said that the contract was with individual property owners and not with the Berkeley County. This was the difference. Council voted to grant the contract.

Developments on Bees Ferry Rod concerning. So let's form a committee!
Council member Shirley led the questioning to some changes in a development on Bees Ferry Road. The Planned Development, already approved, would give rise to 3925 housing units. What was sought was an amendment that would improve access to the development through Bees Ferry Road and Glenn McConnell Parkway but also slightly reduce the number of units.

Council member Shirley noted that despite the reduction in the number of units now planned for the Grand Oaks development, the total was still a hefty 3784. But we have development adjacent at Village Green and elsewhere, he said. All this adds up to near 10,000 units. Help. People in the area were already concerned about the scale and pace of development. What was in store for the future, even though the remaining 2784 units to be built on Grand Oaks would be stretched over 7 to 10 years?

Mayor Riley suggested that all would be well now that the sales tax was in place and the roads in the area would be improved. And besides, a committee had been created called the West Ashley Growth Committee to oversee problems that are developing.

Some body once said, that if you can't find a solution to a problem, create a committee to deal with it. We thought that it was really an issue that the City and its Planning staff should be addressing. But what do we know?

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WHAT I NEEDED TO KNOW…

To paraphrase a popular poster, "What I Needed to Know About City Government, I Learned by Attending a City Council Meeting." Here are 10 lessons I learned after attending the August 16, 2005 Charleston City Council meeting. One, when two people, one white and one black, make the exact same statements, the white one is rudely labeled "racist" and the black one is rudely ignored (I thought Charleston was the most polite city in the country). Two, a clergyman, who is an expert on government policy, informed me that HUD has a law which states anyone is entitled to live anywhere he chooses to live (I did not know I could do that). Three, black citizens can stand up and publicly insult white citizens, who are complete strangers, by calling them racists, bigots and other vitriolic words without any facts or evidence to justify such venomous "hate speech" (I thought that was prejudicial stereotyping). Four, a black city council member can provide moral instruction on "Christian" values to white citizens, while failing to comment on the mean-spirited, aforementioned behavior of black citizens (I feel blessed). Five, race baiting, faith baiting, and other incendiary rhetoric are considered problem-solving strategies (I had no idea). Six, City Council members can make personal attacks on the integrity of citizens when citizens ask questions during council deliberations (and they do not have to answer the questions!). Seven, city council discussions of important civic matters are opportunities for council members to share their life histories, provide amusing anecdotes, and give personal testimonials (and still not answer the questions!). Eight, only individuals who have served in the military, or who have relatives currently serving in the military, are in a position to tell the rest of us what our freedoms and rights are (I thought that was called martial law). Nine, when city government fails to meet its obligations as defined in its own "official" documents, it really does not have to do it (I feel much better knowing this). Ten, when our elected city officials do not honor their promises to their citizens, everyone loses; the citizens who trusted them, the citizens who looked to them for help to improve their lives and the city officials themselves (I learned this is the most important lesson of all). It has become apparent to me that our city officials have shown their true "colors" and as a result, have lost the respect and trust of the citizens they were elected to serve.
(PS--If you want to learn these lessons firsthand, obtain a copy of the meeting's transcript. It is public information.)

Franklin Medio

Posted by: Franklin Medio at August 25, 2005 03:33 PM

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