May 282013
 

Statement regarding corporate entity Kentucky American Water’s proposed rate increases on Fayette Urban County citizens.

(Editor’s Note: Great job Jim!)

“Thanks for holding this hearing tonight.

 

  • You are right to scrutinize this request from Kentucky American Water for another rate increase.

 

  • You are right to make it convenient for people to comment by coming here.

 

  • And you are right to make this process more transparent.

 

I was a businessman for almost 40 years. So naturally, business is part of my DNA.

 

  • As a businessman, I’ve made good business decisions, and I’ve made bad business decisions.

 

I can tell you Kentucky American is making bad business decisions. Decisions that are bad for the citizens of Lexington .

 

  • The decision to build the plant in Owen County was a bad business decision. Industrial demand is what drives water consumption. Industrial demand and consumption are declining all over the country. Conservation is the key strategy.

 

When I was in business and made bad decisions, I had to pay for them.

 

  • Kentucky American is not paying for its bad decisions. It is asking the Public Service Commission to make Lexington citizens pay for them.

 

  • It is asking you to sanction their bad decisions.

 

  • Lexington citizens are getting pretty tired of this.  I sent out a notice to encourage people to come to this meeting and got back an earful.

 

Where have these bad business decisions led?

 

  • As customers we are all paying 71 percent more for water than six years ago after three rate increases … and now Kentucky American is asking you for another increase.

 

  • The reason for all these increases is the $164 million treatment plant that opened in 2010 … Kentucky American insisted on building the plant even though its customers are using less water … that’s a bad business decision.

 

  • This project was sold to the PSC as a regional solution. But no other cities bought in. So now, Kentucky American is buying small water plants and selling those customers its excess capacity from the Owenton plant and asking Lexington to help pay for that expansion, too. It’s happening right now in Owenton. Nicholasville and Paris may be next.

 

  • Lexington gets a triple whammy

 

o                   We are asked to pay higher and higher rates.

 

o                   We are asked to help pay for Kentucky American’s efforts to sell its excess capacity.

 

o                   And we are asked to pay for a Kentucky American decision that is already costing the city $3.2 million this year alone.

 

Ø                  Let’s delve a little deeper into this bad business decision.

 

Ø                  Kentucky American chose to stop billing for the city’s water, landfill and sanitary sewer fees. Irresponsible corporate decision making. And, more importantly, it is irresponsible and outrageous civic behavior.

 

Ø                  We were paying Kentucky American $1.5 million a year to do the billing for us.

 

Ø                  We project that decision will cost Lexington $3.2 million this year, including $2.1 million in lower collection of fees, $700,000 in annual increased billing expenses and $400,000 in implementation fees this first year.

 

Ø                  As we move forward, this irresponsible corporate decision could easily cost our taxpayers millions every year.

 

Ø                  Now Kentucky American wants their Lexington customers to make up for the money the company lost when it decided not to continue our billing … in other words, to pay for another bad business decision.

 

Ø                  Although I try to separate issues related to Kentucky American I can say this was the single-most anti-Lexington action I have seen in a corporate citizen of our City … and this corporate citizen promotes itself as operating in the public interest.

 

  • I am asking the Public Service Commission:

 

    • To say NO to this latest rate increase in its entirety.

 

    • To say NO to Kentucky American’s request to automatically pass along the cost of capital spending, chemicals and electricity without PSC approval.

 

    • And, most importantly, I am asking the PSC to step back, take a look at this company’s recent actions, and consider at what point we stop paying for all of Kentucky American’s bad decisions?

 

Thank you.”

 

Nov 072012
 

The city of Lexington ripped down these posters while choosing to leave nearby campaign posters standing.

By Ebony Nava

This past Thursday, November 1, at 12:00am, “36,897” sprang up all over Lexington: on flyers tacked to telephone poles, makeshift “tombstones” outside of houses, and large in-your-face banners. “36,897” is how many homeless people died in the U.S., alone and on the streets, in 2011.

The local “36,897” campaign is run by “The Face of Homelessness of Lexington” and backed by local group the Street Voice Council, which serves as a voice for Lexington’s approximately two thousand homeless residents. The campaign was created to bring awareness to the city of Lexington’s decision to close The Community Inn on Winchester Road due to a zoning dispute, even though freezing weather—which can, and will, prove fatal for Lexington homeless—is quickly approaching.

A mere five hours after it began, the awareness campaign was cut short when Lexington’s clean-up crew performed a smash-up job  of de-flyering the poles and destroying the “tombstones.” Local Lexington resident and activist for the homeless Jerry Moody stated, “Out of the twenty-five ‘Tombstones’ displayed, we could only salvage five. The rest were completely destroyed. The city even removed and destroyed the signs that were placed on private property.”

While Lexington Mayor Jim Gray was apologetic when approached by the Street Voice Council, as of this publication no remedy to the destruction of campaign materials has been agreed upon. Meanwhile, lawyers for the Street Voice Council are preparing to sue the city of Lexington for the destruction of private property and infringement of their right to free speech. While the city removed posters mentioning the 36,897 homeless people who died last year on the streets, the surrounding U.S. election posters and campaign propaganda all remained untouched.

Jul 042012
 

Requests better Cheapside representation for local print publications

Below is a public appeal revised from an initial June 25 private email sent to area papers, council reps and county Mayor. The author would like to apologize publicly for the part in the private email where he called the Mayor a pimp when “you marketed yourself well” could have sufficed. He promises to attempt to learn from the experience.

Dear Jim,

In the past two years since North of Center has had a presence at Cheapside Pavilion, the city has moved our distribution rack no less than four times. In each instance, these relocations have further removed NoC from the central “Pavilion” area that the city has spent money to redevelop. And my publication is not alone: Chevy Chaser, Ace and a number of other publications have also been relocated. Currently, we are so far removed from the Pavilion area—on the other side of the Courthouse on a portion of Upper that has little pedestrian traffic—that tourists and residents alike would have no idea from visiting the block that the city has a vibrant print culture. Even the bustling Saturday Farmer’s Market rarely extends out to where we’ve been put. And the results have been clear: since the latest move, our circulation in the area has dropped 50%. Continue reading »

May 022012
 

An update on the Nehemiah Action Assembly

NoC News

Over 1,500 people arrived at NorthEast Christian Church on the windy Monday evening of April 23 to call for the amelioration of several social justice issues in Lexington. On the docket: predatory payday lending, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF), and employment barriers for ex-offenders.

The large gathering was BUILD’s (Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct Action) yearly Nehemiah Action, which is the culmination of a year-long process that includes listening sessions on community problems, research on solutions and best practices, and engagement with those who hold the power to create systemic change in Lexington, i.e. public officials. Continue reading »

Apr 172012
 

Dear Jim,

I am sending a third follow-up to my April 9 letter that requested information regarding those who invested in the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment Task Force report. As a matter of open government, I asked—and your office agreed—to offer up the list of people who paid for the privately funded report, which by now has been used by both city and state leaders to determine whether the $300+ million Rupp project constitutes good public investment. Eight days and two follow-up emails later, I have yet to receive a response.

I am of course dismayed that my elected mayor is apparently blocking the release of information that will give constituents some basic information regarding a several hundred million dollar project that, if enacted, will largely be funded with our federal, state and local tax dollars. I am more disappointed, however, to realize that I am apparently a second-class Lexington citizen.

Consider, for example, the treatment your office has given Ben Self, another publicly engaged downtown citizen connected to a local first start-up media outlet. As you’ll recall, in March of 2011 when Ben and his on-again, off-again startup blog ProgressLex informed you and area citizens about a plagiarized economic development report submitted to the city by Angelou Economics, your office responded publicly and pointedly within 24 hours. In fact, not only did you respond to Ben and ProgressLex in this time-frame, but you also carried out to the letter his group’s demand that the city exact a return on its $75,000 stake in the $150,000 report.

As a publicly engaged downtown citizen–someone who like Self has committed a great amount of time, energy and household money to write about my city and region–one would expect I’d receive close to the same treatment by my progressive, downtown-loving mayor. One would expect, that is, that I’d be listened to. After all, I am asking much less of you than Ben and ProgressLex. Though I find the Rupp Task Force report fraudulent in all the same important ways as the Angelou Report, unlike Self I am not demanding a refund on services. Nor am I asking you to take a public stance on a project you seem stubbornly committed to. For the past several months, I have been requesting instead that you provide something much easier: the list of people who invested $350,000 in making the Rupp Task Force report a reality, along with the amount each individual invested in the project.

It’s hard not to infer a great divide in political representation. When Ben contacted you as a concerned resident, you responded swiftly and decisively. By now, after I have waited between 2 weeks and 12 months (take your pick) for you to make good on your promise to make the Rupp donor list public, I’ve learned my pecking order in this city: well behind citizen Ben Self and his media board at ProgressLex. It’s enough to discourage public civic involvement in my community. And it’s your fault.

But hey, let’s let bygones be bygones. A new spring is emerging, so I’ll give you a second chance. It took your administration less than 24 hours to respond to Self, both publicly and privately, and to make the strong political move of questioning the Angelou report. I’m not asking you to to do anything bold like that. I’ll be happy to receive a private email, with investors and amounts attached as a word or excel doc, by say, sundown Thursday ( April 19).

You don’t even need to send me warm regards, though of course I’m sure you do that for first class citizens. It is, after all, just a nice thing that mayors normally do for the right people, right Jim? To make the right citizens with the right viewpoints feel represented, spoken for, acknowledged.

Danny Mayer

Fayette Urban County resident

Apr 092012
 

Dear Jim,

On February 7, your assistant Susan Straub responded to my email request for the list of financial contributors for the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District Task Force study, along with amounts that each contributor donated. At the time, I was curious—and am still now—about who actually paid for the $350,000 study, and how much each contributor invested, so starting last January I began asking your office for that list of investors.

Mainly, my interest was rooted in good consumerism and rudimentary English 101 skills of authorship and credibility: I wanted to know who is funding the people who say that Rupp and its environs need large amounts of prioritized public capital. But with city and state budgets now in the news, this question has assumed an added journalistic urgency. It has re-entered the news cycle.

At the state level, the Rupp Task Force study was surely used by lawmakers last month in their deliberations over where to direct diminishing public funds. In an austere budget where most state run agencies can expect cuts of 8.4% for the upcoming fiscal calendar—a decision that the Governor himself has cautioned  will likely lead to delays in service, loss of federal funds, facility closures, unfilled positions, and possible layoffsthese leaders no doubt relied upon the Task Force’s privately funded work to determine that the Rupp project should receive $2.5 million in public state funds.

Here at the municipal level, the privately funded Rupp Report promises to play a large role in the city’s budget. The state funds now commit Lexington to $1.5 million in additional public money, which will come from the upcoming Fayette Urban County budget. As you formulate Lexington’s budget priorities and run up against a limited amount of city capital, the Task Force document helps prioritize Rupp’s needs over, for example, local agencies like the Explorium of Lexington, Big Brother Big Sister, Moveable Feast, Salvation Army, Baby Health and the Hope Center—which in your previous budget experienced cuts totaling $125,810 (or about 1/10 of the money destined for Rupp in this budget alone).

In her Feb 7 email to my query about the donor list, Straub responded, “You are correct about the list of people who contributed to the task force costs. It wasn’t quite ready for the final report, but we’re close. As discussed in an earlier e-mail, I will give you a list of the individuals, not of the amounts of their contributions. You will have it as soon as it’s complete and it should be soon.”

My apologies for the public format. I hate doing things this way. But after the third or fourth email, one gets tired of all the delays and begins to suspect that you really aren’t interested in circulating this information. When I received no response to my February 17 email follow-up, I resolved that the public might could compel a quicker response from you than Straub. After all, you do claim the mantel of progressive, constituent-friendly, mayor, right?

So I’ll ask again: can you send me the list of Rupp contributors and their specific monetary investments in the Rupp report? I—and who knows, maybe others, too—would like to know who paid for the study that, in this year’s budget cycle alone, has reaped $4 million of public monies–over a 10-1 return on private investment thus far for the under-writers of the Task Force report.

With March Madness over, it is time now to commence with the real world of budgets, and with the spring reality of what happens when some things get overwatered and others wither from want.  In this season of rebirth, it is high time to reveal the Rupp rain-makers.

Thanks for your prompt response to something promised over two two months ago,

Danny Mayer

Fayette Urban County citizen

Feb 082012
 

By David Shattuck

In 2005, people from throughout central Kentucky identified their top 5 likes and dislikes about the region.  “Traffic blew away the competition in the dislike category,” wrote the Herald-Leader in November 2006.  Lexington is by no means unique in this regard.  In the last 40 years, traffic has consistently outpaced forecasts.  In early 2006 the Texas Transportation Institute predicted that if things continue as they are, by 2013 “midsize regions such as Omaha will have traffic problems that larger areas like Cleveland now have, and larger areas such as Cleveland will experience traffic problems that very large areas like LA or New York have now.”  So to be safe, we should assume that Lexington’s traffic will soon look about like that in Nashville or Charlotte just a few years ago:  we will experience big city traffic congestion.

Indeed, these days may already be upon us.  In 2002 the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for central Kentucky calculated the “travel rate index” for Lexington’s major roads at 2.81; this means it takes nearly three times as long as it should to travel these roads; by comparison, the average index for Los Angeles is 1.50!

State engineers report that traffic on New Circle between Russell Cave and Georgetown Road has tripled from 1964 to 2001; there is every reason to believe that traffic on Main, Vine, High and Maxwell Streets has experienced similar increases as well in the last three decades.  Over time, traffic always seems to get worse, never better (unless roads are expanded, such as the recent extension of Newtown).  According to the Brookings Institute, the U.S. will add 50% more houses, offices and shops over the next 25 years, which of course means even more traffic clogging our streets.

Yet a few developers, city planners, and Mayor Gray seem intent on making Lexington’s traffic problems worse.  Since 2001, they have insisted that converting Lexington’s downtown one-way streets to two-way traffic will help revitalize downtown.  As a Sacramento planner put it:  “Motorists who are forced to drive more slowly may notice businesses they might like to visit.”

The 2-Way Thesis

The zany notion that two-way traffic will help revitalize downtowns has its origins in a single paper presented in the early 1990s by Orlando archictect/planner Walter Kulash and his firm, Glatting Jackson.  Kulash’s premise is that two-way traffic will force cars to slow down, making streets more user friendly for pedestrians and businesses.  (In a future column I will dispel these myths).

That one way streets move traffic more efficiently is beyond dispute: seven lanes of a two-way street are needed to match the capacity of a four lane one way route.   So converting Main and Vine, or High and Maxwell, for instance, to two-way traffic could effectively cut traffic capacity—the ability to move cars through traffic—in half.  Kulash’s own analysis shows why conversion would necessitate unacceptable traffic delays in Lexington.  He reasons that “[m]ost downtowns have a well-developed street grid; this abundance of alternate routes is the inherent advantage that downtowns have over [suburbs], where all traffic is generally forced onto the one or two available arterials.”

Lexington is unlike “most downtowns” in this regard, for there is no “abundance of alternate routes” for getting from, say, the Masterston Station or Meadowthorpe area to UK or Chevy Chase. .  As Fred Pope wrote in Business Lexington in early 2006: “Lexington’s streets flow like the spokes on a wheel, outward from the hub of downtown.  It is a design made for congestion.” During a phone conversation on March 1, 2007, LFUCG’s Max Conyers stated that downtown Lexington lacked a grid system sufficient for a successful two-way conversion.  Businessman Howard Stovall confirmed this fact to Chevy Chaser Magazine last August. Stovall stated that “[i]f Lexington had an effective grid system so one could get across town without traveling Main and Vine, that would be one thing, but we don’t.”

Even in cities with an effective grid system, two-way conversion would cause significant congestion.  According to Kulash, “in most downtowns, the delay penalty will be small for the through traveler.  For instance, a decrease in average arterial travel speed of 5 miles per hour over a one-quarter mile segment of network yields an additional three minutes of travel time.”  Let’s apply this “delay penalty” to Lexington’s streets, with the caveat that I am a lawyer, not a traffic engineer.

Currently one can drive from one end of downtown to the other in three minutes or less, driving 25 miles per hour on Main and Vine, and stopping at no more than two traffic signals (such as Rose and Broadway) when the signals are working properly. During peak traffic hours, one could not expect to drive much faster than 10 miles per hour on a two-way Main or Vine, a reduction of 15 miles per hour.   Based on this assumption, it would take 18 minutes to get from one end of downtown to the other—an estimated half-mile—from Broadway to Midland, if Main and Vine were converted to two-way traffic.  And this doesn’t include the delay brought about by the inability to time traffic lights and by the absence of turn lanes such a conversion would necessitate.

We must not forget why one-way streets were created in the first place: to relieve traffic congestion.  Lexington drivers know traffic congestion; the average commute in this town exceeds 20 minutes.  Lionel Hawse noted in a letter to the Herald-Leader in November 2006:  “There was a reason for going to one-way streets 40 years ago.  On-street parking and left-turning traffic made driving in downtown exasperating.”  As Stovall wrote in Business Lexington in December 2006, the streets were made one-way because things were “a total mess,” with traffic gridlock “especially at the corner of Main and Rose.”

The LDDA, the Master Plan, and the Traffic Study

In the summer of 2004 the Lexington Downtown Development Authority (“LDDA”) was formed.  LDDA raised $450,000 from local “stakeholders”, including Keeneland, banks, utilities, law firms, and James Gray Construction Co.  In December 2004, the Herald-Leader reported that this money would fund a study with the idea of developing a “Downtown Master Plan.”  The paper quoted developer Bill Lear as saying Lexington needed two-way traffic but that it wouldn’t happen unless part of a master plan.

The Master Plan was released in summer 2006.  The Plan’s 17 recommendations included the conversion of all downtown streets to two-way traffic as well as the creation of a “linear park” to run through the middle of Vine Street.  Of these 17 recommendations, Bill Lear told the Herald-Leader that street conversion was by far the most significant.

A traffic study was to have been completed as part of the Master Plan, but that didn’t happen.  Instead, a traffic study which cost taxpayers $100,000 was completed in spring 2007.  The Traffic Study is like an elephant in a room; it has received remarkably little public attention, most likely because its conclusions are at odds with developers’ and city planners’ wishes.

The study, conducted by Entran of Lexington, revealed five areas “that likely would become congestion ‘hot spots’ if streets were converted to two-way.” Not surprisingly, these “hot spots” are at precisely the same locations which led planners to make these streets one way in the first place.  Significantly, Maxwell Street, in its entirety, is one of these “hot spots”.  Conversion of Vine, moreover, is not feasible unless the Transit Center is relocated, a proposal that no one contemplated seriously until federal stimulus monies became available.

Furthermore, by making unrealistic assumptions, the study understates the true impact conversion would have on traffic congestion, since it makes assumptions that are unrealistic.  For instance, assuming Main and Vine are narrowed to 1 lane in each direction, with a center turn lane, the model says it will take an additional 10.4 minutes to travel from Broadway to Midland on Vine.  But to travel from Midland to Broadway on Main, under this scenario, would take only an additional 2 minutes, a time that would certainly surprise anyone who has ever traveled Main during peak hours.  And the devil is in the details; actual traffic impact cannot be determined until it is known how the Main/Vine pair will be configured at either end.

More important, the study makes assumptions concerning housing density and bike/bus use that border on wishful thinking.  For instance the study assumes that, by 2030, increased density and bus/bike use will lead to a 50% reduction in interzonal auto trips within the downtown core.  Yet a Department of Transportation study concluded that “doubling an urban area’s density would, at most, reduce the total number of car trips by 10% to 20%.  No U.S. urban area has managed to double its density or to reduce car travel by these magnitudes.”  In addition, even if bike use approached that of Portland, Oregon, which boasts the most bicycle commuters of any U.S. city, only one in ten of us would be riding a bike instead of driving a car to work.  And, of course, it is not likely that Lexington’s bike commuter rate could ever match Portland’s.

Dec 072011
 

By Danny Mayer

Last week, city leaders unveiled a fresh round of updates regarding plans for the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District, known politically as the Rupp Opportunity Zone. Leaders envision a public/private/public urban development project that will link the city, UK and the downtown private business community. The centerpiece of the Opportunity Zone is Rupp Arena, home of UK basketball, whose renovation costs the city hopes to leverage to spur further development of the 47 city-owned convention center acres that it sits upon. Continue reading »

Dec 072011
 

Creatives demand Commerce Lexington banner

By Northrupp Center

Last week, news emerged from the JP Morgan Chase Bank Plaza that Occupy Lexington is now the longest continuously running occupation in North America. Formally started on the night of September 29, the Lexington occupation was the third to organize and take up space. When it came time to publicly and collectively stand up, be counted and say, No more. Not in our name!, the order went like this: New York. Chicago. Lexington. The rest of the continent. Continue reading »

Oct 122011
 

By Danny Mayer

If you want to know how the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District Task Force will shake out, look no further than a Friday, April 1, 20011, Lexington Herald-Leader editorial entitled, “Not just another pretty venue.” The editorial lays out all the basic talking points used by virtually every leader and writer covering the topic. It begins with three paragraphs duly noting that, yes, Rupp is already a world-class facility that is the envy of the basketball world, and that, yes, neither the replacement nor the renovation of it should rank high on “Kentucky’s, Lexington’s or the University of Kentucky’s [list of] most pressing needs.”

After making the brief case for why it is utterly useless and irresponsible to do anything at all to Rupp, the editorial spends the final 15 paragraphs rolling out the city and university’s sales pitch to the public, their plan for doing what they’ve just told you they shouldn’t do. Their idea is that a shitty project for the city, state and university can be securitized into one giant super-shitty project that will magically turn profitable for all interested parties. Continue reading »