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City Council, October 10

Unanimous support for Lowline purchase, and pedestrian/bike bridge
CJAMís views on police force at odds with national accreditation agency
Marc Knapp

The most important items on last nightís agendas were the approvals of the Lowcountry Lowline (LL) property purchase and the application for a TIGER grant to help fund a pedestrian and bike bridge over the Ashley River. The items have already received a lot of media attention so we will only recapitulate.

The LL purchase has been in the works for some time. Norfolk Southern is the owner of a strip of land on the Peninsula running from north of Wolfe Street to Mount Pleasant Street. It was originally a railway track. The major part of the property, comprising nearly 11 acres, is to be bought by the Lowcountry Lowline non-profit for $5.1 million. In turn, the City will buy the property from the non-profit for $2.55 million. The City plans a park, and pedestrian and bike lanes through the property. The likely revitalization of the area and the neighborhood connectivity now possible, was applauded by Council members, the public and non-profits.

As well as the 11 acres, the City will buy two other properties from Norfolk Southern that abut the LL property. They are 0.71 acres off F Street for $678,000 and 1.85 acres on Mount Pleasant Street for $1.62 million. The properties, respectively, most likely will be utilized for affordable housing and a hub for CARTAís Bus Rapid Transit system now in the planning stage.

Predictably, there was no opposition to the purchases though some concern about the impact on values on nearby properties. Council members Lewis and Mitchell were concerned that property taxes could rise and to levels that residents could ill afford. But arguably, Council member Lewis was the happiest of all the Council members. The railway line had created a sort of dam wall and exacerbated flooding, particularly around Huger and King Streets. With the property purchases, the flooding issues could be addressed. I would add, ďat lastĒ. Together, Council member Lewis and I inspected the flooding about 15 years ago and despite the Council memberís pleas at Council, nothing ever was done. His smile was large last night when we reminisced.

The decision to move ahead with Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant application was no surprise. The City had requested support from the County. At the Countyís last Finance Committee meeting, it made a $3 million commitment to the City in support of the grant. The City was to construct a stand-alone bridge next to the existing bridges that link the Peninsula to West Ashley. The bridge is estimated to cost $17 -$18 million. The City will contribute $1.5 million (approved last night) and the bike advocacy group, Charleston Moves, $1.5 million (more a hope than a commitment). The City indicated that it will seek a grant of $12 million and that it needed a commitment of about a third of the $18 million cost to better support its application. TIGER grants are administered by the US Department of Transportation.

There was unanimous support for the grant application though Council member Gregorie wondered whether it would be better to put the money toward a new bridge that would allow higher traffic volumes as well as a pedestrian and bike lane. Staff indicated that such a bridge would cost about $50 million. There were also some issues as to how the proposed bridge would link into West Ashley and Lockwood Drive. We thought these issues were premature and we suspect so did many Council members.
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About ten or so representatives of the Charleston Area Justice Ministries (CJAM) spoke in Citizens Participation. Some of the faces were familiar from previous Council meetings. The message was the same - there is racial bias in the Cityís police force and that the City needs to retain a specialized and experienced firm to undertake an audit of the forceís activities. The hired contractor Novak Consulting and the retained subcontractor, RTI, just donít cut it in the view of the CJAMmers.

Viewers of this site know we do not share CJAMís views. And clearly, there are others that donít as well.

Last night a presentation was made by Justice John Kitteridge of the SC Supreme Court. It dealt with the reaccreditation of the City Police Force by the Commission for Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Justice Kitteridge said that there were some 20,000 law enforcement agencies in the US most of which sought accreditation but only about 5% met the standards and succeeded. The Cityís police force was in that 5% but not only was it was it within this select group, it was close to the top.

Here is an extract from CALEAís web site.

The purpose of CALEAís Accreditation Programs is to improve the delivery of public safety services, primarily by: maintaining a body of standards, developed by public safety practitioners, covering a wide range of up-to-date public safety initiatives; establishing and administering an accreditation process; and recognizing professional excellence.

The standards address six major law enforcement areas:
1. role, responsibilities, and relationships with other agencies;
2. organization, management, and administration;
3. personnel administration;
4. law enforcement operations, operational support, and traffic law enforcement;
5. detainee and court-related services; and
6. auxiliary and technical services.

Justice Ketteridge paid the Cityís force and its leadership many compliments. And although Chief Taylor is doing a fine job, we would have liked to see some reference to Chief Mullen who headed the force for a decade or more, leaving only a few months ago. And we hope the CAJMmers noted that Chief Taylor and other senior police officers who joined Justice Ketteridge on the podium were black. I spoke to the Chief at the end of the meeting. He said there was no "institutional" bias in the department. If there were, it would have come to light much sooner and would have been immediately stopped.
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The City also amended parking rules last night though there were changes made to its original proposal. Council member Seekings, Chair of the Traffic and Transportation Committee said the City was attempting to tighten rules relating to the issue of both residential and commercial parking permits. Existing regulations were being abused and restrictions needed to be tighter.

Council member Shahid was concerned that folk like he - professionals and small businesses - would be ineligible for commercial permits. This could be a heavy impediment. Council member Seekings indicated that he would be eligible for a permit but in future, the nature of the business would be shown on the permit making it easier to identify abuse.

The original amendment to the parking ordinance made it an offense to park by a broken parking meter. This was struck out of the ordinance passed last night.

Council was also told that the City was planning a major Transportation Plan update. The Public would have an opportunity for comment on October 25 and 26. We note that the opportunity will be on weekdays and at times when many are at work.

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