Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What's on the Council Agenda for Dec. 16? Bailing out the Neighborhood Resource Center, regulating pedal pubs and Uber and Lyft, and the Bridgestone Bribe. (update)

Council meeting are really boring if you don't know what the Council is voting on, with an agenda and council staff analysis the meetings are still boring but not quite as boring. Follow the highlighted links for you own copy.

There are ten appointments to boards and commission on the agenda for Council confirmation. Unfortunately, the council does not take its role of confirming appointments very seriously and appointees get a superficial review in a little get acquainted session in front of the Rules and Confirmation committee.  It is not really a hearing but a pleasant chat. Citizens serving on Boards and Commission serve without pay and they provide a valuable service to our city and should be honored for their willingness to serve.  On the other hand by automatically confirming whomever the mayor appoints the Council is missing an opportunity to influence public policy.

One of the appointments this time is to the Human Relations Commission. The Human Relation does nothing of importance and should better be called the Department to Advance Political Correctness. The few things they do that need to be done could be done by other departments or the private sector. One thing they do that I like is sponsor the Festival of Cultures.  I always enjoy that event, but I am sure a private concern would take it over and continue it if the city steps aside or the Parks Department could take on the responsibility.

One thing the Human Relations Commission does that galls me to no end is their sponsorship of the Youth Pavilion at the Gay Pride Festival. The city should not be providing the twink booth or normalizing perversion among young people.  I wish someone on the rules committee, or if not in committee from the Council floor, would ask Mr. Jeff H. Gibson, the appointee to the Human Relations Commission, if he supports the city's sponsorship of the Youth Pavilion at the Gay Pride Festival. If he does, then he should be voted against.

There are no bills or resolutions on public hearing.

There are 22 resolution, all on the consent agenda at this time. A bill is placed on consent if it is assumed to be non-controversial and stays on consent it passes the committee to which it was assigned unanimously. However, on the floor, any Councilman may ask to have a bill moved off of consent and considered separately or may ask to have himself recorded as abstaining or voting "no."
These are the resolutions of interest:

  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2014-1289 is the bill to offer incentives to Bridgestone to get them to stay in Nashville and expand. The way this really works is that it authorizes an economic and community development incentive grant to be made to the Industrial Development Board for the benefit of Bridgestone. It offers a grant of $500 per employee for the next seven years for all employees of Birdgestone above the 1100 who are already here.  Actually, if I were in the Council, I would vote for this but I would have to hold my nose and vote for it. I wish that was not the way business was done, but if we don't bribe them to stay, some other city will bribe them to relocate so we have to play the game. They will bring 1700 jobs to downtown and build a new 30-story tower in SoBro. They already have about 1100 employees in Nashville but the lease on their location near the airport is expiring and they were looking at relocating. The total metro incentive is about $50 million, mostly in a exemption on paying taxes for some years on the new building they will build downtown.  That is in a different bill. In addition to the Metro incentive the State is also offering an incentive. 
  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2014-1314 is a "refunding" of $151 million of bonds.  This is sort of like refinancing your home to get a lower interest rate.  It could save the city about $5.8 million. This is a good bill.
  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2014-1315  appropriates $9.3 million from the General Fund Reserve Fund (the 4% fund)  for the purchase of equipment and building repairs for various departments. The fund has over $37 million in it and this is a normal process. I hope Council is carefully monitoring the expenditures however to be sure they are justified.  Approving expenditures for departments is an opportunity for council to exert influence if a department has not been responsive to a Council member or has ignored the wishes of the Council.
  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2014-1316 approves $100,000 to the Neighborhood Resource Center.  This non-profit has fallen on hard times recently having lost their United Way funding and some other things. Some of the things the NRC does I do not disagree with but I think the city should use caution in bailing them out.  Their are many worthwhile non-profits that need funding. The NRC is essentially a political organization teaching political activism with leaders of the organization trained in the Saul Alinsky tradition. From time to time the NRC promotes a leftist agenda such as they did in 2011 when they hosted a  Contract for the American Dream workshop. You can learn more about this leftist project here. If I were in the Council, I would vote against this resolution.

  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2014-1319  authorizes the the purchase of property known as Kellytown, and the acceptance of  $400,000.00 from Friends of Kellytown. This property is 6.72 acres at the corner of  Hillsboro Rd and Old Hickory Blvd and was an Indian settlement from the 1400's and artifacts have been found on the property. The purchase price is $750,0000. The land will become a park.  I support this resolution. 
  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2014-1330 establishes what it takes for an owner of property to be able to claim a property right under the Vested Property Rights Act of 2014.  In the past a person might spend a lot of money on planing in preparation of developing his property in a way that was perfectly legal at the time, then the local government would rush in and change the zoning which would make the plan non-conforming to the new zoning and thus prohibit the planned development.  The Vested Property Rights Act of 2014 attempts to prohibit that. I can see that this could cut both ways. In anticipation that someday in the future a city or county might zone property a certain way, an owner could go out and file a bogus preliminary plan lifted from some template.  So, local government get to establish what it takes for a property owner to establish a vested property right in a plan. I don't know if this resolution establishes the right level of planning for one to have a vested interest in the property based on a plan or not. This resolution requires a final plan before one is vested in the plan.  That seems pretty restrictive.  I hope the development community and property rights advocates have carefully reviewed this resolution and has studied this issue. 
There are seven bills on First Reading but I usually don't pay much attention to them until Second Reading. First Reading is a formality that allows a bill to be considered and it is bad manners to vote against a bill of First reading unless it is really atrocious.

There are 21 bills on Second Reading, but none of them are of much interest. Most of them are obtaining or abandoning sewer or drainage easements.

There are 30 bills on Third Reading. Most of them are zoning bills that would only interest nearby neighbors. Here are the only ones of interest:
  • BILL NO. BL2014-925 would regulate pedicabs and pedal pubs. Pedicabs are the three wheeled non-motorized vehicles that travel in the 2nd Ave and lower Broad area. Pedal pubs are those traveling taverns powered by the customers, about eight on each side. These regulations would require a certain amount of insurance and certain safety requirements. I am OK with that. What I don't like is that Metro would allow them only after they prove a necessity for the vehicles. Metro can say "we have enough" and not allow new providers to get in the market. I don't think any business should have to show a need to enter the market. Requiring a certificate of necessity for new entrants into the market simply protects those already operating. Let whoever wants to try to make a go at it, have a shot. No one should be protected from failure or competition. What if one had to show a need before one could open a new restaurant? We would not have the great restaurant we have today, but we would have some really mediocre restaurants. There is no need to improve your service if you are protected from competition. There is probably never a "need" for a pedal pub. One pedal pub may succeed because of the type of beer they sale or the price of the beer or the bartender tells good jokes or the barmaid is cute and shows cleavage. Let them compete and let the market determine which ones survive. Also, the drivers of these vehicles must wear a uniform? Why? If I were in the Council, I would vote against this bill.
  • BILL NO. BL2014-947 clarifies procedures related to fees, in-lieu contributions and other assessments. What this does is clarify that those fees are not frozen at the time first assessed but can be updated from time to time. There is a technical necessity for this and it is no big deal. 
  • BILL NO. BL2014-952  regulates non-taxi livery services such as Uber and Lyft. I have used Uber and love it. It is fast, cheap, convenient, easy to use, and the vehicles are clean. Uber and Lyft have been operating in Nashville for about a year unregulated and this would regulate them. There has not been push-back from the industry against this bill so I assume it is something they can live with. The proposed regulation requires a certain levels of insurance and require the drivers to get an annual permit. I think minimum insurance requirements probably are reasonable and maybe some of the other proposed regulations. This bill would prohibit vehicles like Uber or Lyft from being hailed by the public the way taxis can be, but that is meaningless any way, since that is not they way they operate.  They are summoned by a phone app. When "Black Cars" made their appearance in Nashville, in an attempt to drive them out of business and protect the limo companies, the council passed a $45 minimum for a limo ride and made Black Cars operate under limo regulations. Last year  the Council removed the $45 minimum for a limo ride and they set a minimum at three times the flag drop for a taxi ride which would come to about $9. This bill abolishes the $9 minimum and says the MTLC can set a minimum subject to Council approval.  I do not think the city should be setting minimum prices for any service. A minimum fare does not protect consumers, but protects providers from competition and it stifles innovation. Since the Council could set a minimum with or without this bill, if I were in the Council, I would cautiously vote for this bill unless presented with a persuasive argument against it.
  • BILL NO. BL2014-953  is part of the Bridgestone deal and approves the 20-year tax abatement.

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