Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What's on the Council Agenda for 10-4-2016: Gulch Pedestrian Bridge, making Google pay to defend One-Touch-Make-Ready, Diversity training and Sexual Harasement training for Metro Council

The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, October 4th  at 6:30 PM in the Council chamber at the Metro Courthouse. To watch the Council meeting, you can go to the courthouse and watch the meeting in person, or you can watch the broadcast live at Metro Nashville Network's Government TV on Nashville's Comcast Channel 3 and AT&T's U-verse 99 and it is streamed live at the Metro Nashville Network's livestream site. You can catch the meeting the next day on the Metro YouTube channel. If you will wait, I will watch it for you and post the video and point out the good parts so you can go to that point in the video and watch just those segments. Also, I will  tell you what I think about what happened.  Council meetings are really boring and I watch them so you don't have to.

If you are going to watch a council meeting, you really need the agenda and  the Council staff analysis or you won't have a clue about what is going on. Follow the highlighted link to view the agenda.  Here is my commentary and analysis of the agenda.

There are seven people up for confirmation to Boards and Commissions. These are people appointed by the mayor subject to approval by the Council. They will be approved as always.

There are 29 bills on Public Hearing. Most of them are zoning bills and I do not even attempt to understand every zoning bill.  Most zoning bills concern only a few nearby residents and are boring to everyone else.  Opposition to rezoning is almost always the same and comes down to (1) increased traffic, (2) increased water run-off, (3) overcrowded schools and strain on infrastructure, and  (4) a detrimental change to the character of the neighborhood. For those who are interested in zoning issues, this link is a good resource that tells you what is permitted in which zoning district.

I am only reporting on bills that I think will be particularly controversial or have general importance beyond one neighborhood.

BILL NO. BL2016-350  would curtail strip clubs by removing "adult entertainment" from two zoning classifications.  Nashville has almost destroyed all of the strip clubs and made it almost impossible for new clubs to open.  About 20 years ago, metro imposed a three-foot rule allowing patrons to be no closer than three feet to a nude dancer.  That pretty much destroyed strip clubs in Nashville.  The city also established a requirement that dancers be licensed. The city has continued their policy of discouraging strip clubs by restricting where they are permitted to only a few zoning district classifications.  This bill further restricts where strip clubs can locate.

BILL NO. BL2016-379  would curtail alternative financial services.  Currently a metro ordinance defines a financial institution and part of that definition is that it is open to the public within hours that do not exceed 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday.  In my view this is a really stupid law and overly restrictive.  If your local branch bank wanted to extend their Saturday hours to 3PM or stay open till 7PM on Friday, they would not be allowed to do so because their zoning does not permit those extended hours. This would change that definition by removing the restriction on operating hours and replace it with a definition that says they must be “a state or federally chartered bank, savings and loan association, or credit union, a mortgage company, or other financial institution whose services are insured by an agency of the United States government.” That is an improvement.  However, the reason we have these restrictions at all is to curtail alternative financial service companies, places such as pay day lenders and check cashing services.  These alternative financial services are often called "predatory."  They charge outrageous rates of interest, rates as high as 600%.  However, that is no worse than the late fee a bank charges for a bounced check if one were to calculate overdraft fees as interest.
Borrowing money from a pay day lender can be less inconvenient and less expensive than getting one's electricity cut off and paying a reconnect fee.  Unfortunately, this "predatory" financial services are needed by some people and are no more expensive than respectable financial institution in many cases.
My view is that people should be free to be stupid and as a society we should attempt to educate people so they do not need alternative financial services. Some people simply can't manage a checking account however and they need the alternative banking services. Their math skills and their discipline is not sufficient to do mainstream banking. These are services used by the poor.  A lot of these type businesses in a community creates a bad impression of the community and supposedly can impact property values.  The advocates of the poor and opponents of gentrification are not going to be found defending alternative financial institutions but these are services needed by the stupid poor and curtailing their presence helps in gentrification.

BILL NO. BL2016-409  on Old Charlotte Pk in Councilman Rosenberg's district down-zones a parcel from R-80 to AR2a. I am calling attention to this because it is a rare down zoning and because it is disapproved by the Planning Commission 7-0.  I know nothing more about the bill than that. Disapproved bills must receive a 2/3rds approval by the Council on third reading.
BILL NO. BL2016-411  rezones 23 acres from a zoning that permits duplexes to one that does not. This has been happening for many years. Allowing more areas to be zoned for less density seems counter to a goal of promoting affordable housing and mass transit.
BILL NO. BL2016-414  in Councilman Scott Davis's district is a bill disapproved 7-0 by the Planning Commission.

There are 10 resolutions on the consent agenda. Resolutions on "consent" are passed by a single vote of the council instead of being voted on individually. If a resolution has any negative votes in committee it is taken off of consent.  Also any council member may ask to have an item taken off of consent or to have his abstention or dissenting vote recorded.  None of  the resolutions appear controversial or of much interest.

Bills on First Reading. There are 23 bills on First Reading but I usually don't review bills on First Reading. First reading is a formality that gets bills on the agenda. They are not evaluated by committee until they are on Second Reading. All bills on First Reading are lumped together and pass by a single vote.

Bills on Second Reading. These are 14 bills on Second reading and these are the one's of interest.
BILL NO. BL2016-336  says that if a local company is competing with a company that is not local for a metro contract and the local company submits a Matching Low Bid with the company that is not local, that preference be given to the local company. The staff analysis says that, "Historically, the Tennessee Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals have strongly disfavored local bidder preferences, citing the negative impact such preferences can have on competitive market forces," and that this bill may violate the Metro Charter and State law. This was on Second Reading last council meeting and deferred to this meeting.
BILL NO. BL2016-416  by Councilmen Mendes and Cooper would require that any Metro department or agency that must submit regular reports to the Metro Council should post those reports on their website and keep them posted for up to six months. There are 14 reports that must regularly be submitted to Council.  This should be easy and cost nothing to accomplish.  I support this move to make government more transparent and accessible to the public.
BILL NO. BL2016-417  would prohibit one from putting a "for sale" on their vehicle parked on residential property.  I wonder how often this occurs and if this is really a problem.
BILL NO. BL2016-418 would require Google to bear the cost of defending Metro in the lawsuit brought by Bell South against Nashville over the One-Touch-Make-Ready bill the Council passed last Council meeting.  The staff analysis says that while their is no know prohibition against requiring a third party to reimburse the city for the cost of a lawsuit, there is no known legal precedent for requiring it.  For background on OTMR and the controversy surrounding this issue see "BILL NO. BL2016-418" at this link.  I would oppose this bill.  The city should bear the cost of defending itself in court.   
BILL NO. BL2016-419  would require Council members to receive diversity training.  This is more useless unnecessary political correctness. Last Council meeting the Council passed a bill on Second Reading requiring the Council to receive Sexual Harassment training. Maybe this and that requirement could be combined and both included in some orientation. While they are at it they could throw in some sensitivity training and have a group hug-in.
BILL NO. BL2016-421  is a part of the effort to build the pedestrian bridge across the
gulch. This bill would acquire the parcel of land known as the Clement Land Port and sell it to Cummings Station and it would permit metro to acquire a piece of land owned by Cummings Station. This parcel would be the eastern end of the bridge.  The gulch pedestrian bridge is already approved and funded.  A couple of years ago this project was stopped by Council when council refused to approve a land acquisition ordinance necessary to facilitate the construction of the bridge. At that time the Council rebelled against the deal in frustration that so much money was being spend downtown and neighborhoods were being ignored. The project was funded then and is still funded. The means of funding was changed so that the bridge is paid for out of revenue generated from downtown development.
I support the pedestrian bridge.  Certainly we could build a more utilitarian bridge for less or not build the bridge at all, but I believe this will be an important connection to tie the gulch to downtown.  Also, I support the bridge as a beautification and an arts project.  It will be one more thing to make Nashville a place tourist want to visit and a city where people want to live. Cities should not be just utilitarian but beautiful, pleasant places to live.  
The argument against if of course is that the residents of the gulch are wealthy people, that tax increment financing means the gulch development does little to support the city coffers so the wealthy residents of the Gulch are not contributing their fair share to the city, and that neighborhood streets need sidewalks and $16 million dollars would build a lot of sidewalks.  The bridge of course is also being funded by Tax Increment Financing. That really is slight of hand however, and is like taking money our of your right pocket rather than your left pocket. If not funding this project then downtown development wound start putting money into city coffers earlier. There are valid arguments against it but I come down on the side in favor of it. 
Pause should be given to reflect on the wasteful pork spending that funded the Clement's Land Port, the "Clement" being Bob Clement when he was congressman for this district.  In 1996, he acquired $3.6 million dollars in federal funding for the project which was envisioned as the central transportation hub for the city. It never happened. It was a waste of money. For one thing the Demombruen Street bridge was determined to be in need of replacement and could not support the volume of heavy traffic that would use it if the land port was the central bus terminus.  Then the bridge had to be closed and reconstructed which took some time to complete.  Anyway, the Clement Land Port never became much more than a bus stop. I wish the city would install a historic marker on the site explaining the wasteful pork spending and mismanagement. 
 Bills on Third Reading. 
BILL NO. BL2016-385  requires members of the  Metropolitan Council and other Davidson County elected officials and members of Boards and Commission to receive Sexual Harassment training. Ridiculous political correctness and unnecessary in my view.

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