Sunday, July 1, 2018

What's on the July 3rd Council agenda: Stopping the Fairgrounds giveaway, New regulations for Birds, dogs, hotels and land near the river.

By Rod Williams - The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, July 3, 2018 at 6:30 PM in the Council chamber at the Metro Courthouse. Here is a link to the Council agenda and the staff analysis for those who want to watch the Council meeting and follow along.  Below is a summary of what is on the agenda.

Elections and Confirmation: There are 10 mayoral appointments to Boards and Commission before the Council for confirmation. Usually, these are confirmed without controversy, discussion or dissension. 

Four of the appointees are to the Hospital Authority which overseas Metro General Hospital.  In my view, General Hospital needs to be closed as was proposed by former Mayor Barry for a short while before she ran into opposition and quickly backtracked. General Hospital is a money pit that is constantly needing more funding. In this years tight budget Metro General is getting subsidized $46 million up from, $11 million last year. It cannot fill its beds and there is no charter requirement or state law that requires Metro to maintain a public hospital. Low income people have choices and they are not choosing General. The only reason General is kept open, as far as I can tell, is that it is a source of pride in the Black community.  In addition to the long-term financial woes of the hospital, the hospital authority has proven dysfunctional and unprofessional. Several Board members have quit the board in disgust and the ten-member board is down to five members. Among the criticisms of the  Authority is that it gave a two year extension to the contract to the current Hospital CEO without having performance review or even a written contract, it gave the CEO a 10% raise and it has been revealed that the hospital secretly paid $150,000 in consulting fees to ex Councilman Jerry Maynard.  I hope the Council carefully screens the appointees to the General Authority and gets some hard-nosed business people on there who have experience sitting on boards.    
 
Public Hearing: There are two resolutions and 26 bill on public hearing. The resolutions are asking for a variance from the minimum distance requirements for obtaining a beer permit.  I do not even attempt to understand the pros and cons of every zoning bill and they generally bore me and are of interest to only the people in the immediate vicinity of the rezoning. At public hearings almost all opposition come down to (1) concern about traffic, (2) water runoff and potential for flooding, (3) overcrowding of local schools and impact on infrastructure, (4) detrimentally changing the character of the neighborhood. You will hear the same arguments over and over. I only call attention to bills that I think will have an impact beyond the immediate neighborhood or are bills that have already been to the Planning Commission and have been disapproved by the Planning Commission, or  for some other reason are of interest.

Bill BL2018-1182 is a bill disapproved by the Planning Commission. It would rezone from R10 to OL property located at 355 Bell Road. R-10 is a residential zoning; OL is a office zoning intended for moderate intensity office uses. This looks like a spot zoning. 
 Bill BL2018-1197  approves a waste processing facility at 4648 Ashland City Highway. All landfills or waste processing facilities have to be approved by the Council and they often generate neighborhood hostility. This facility would be an  anaerobic digestion facility which processes food waste.
Resolutions: There are 24 resolution on the agenda. Initially all resolutions are on the consent agenda. A resolution stays on the consent agenda if it passes unanimously the committees to which it is assigned. Resolutions which receive negative votes in committee are pulled off of consent. Also any councilman may have a resolution pulled off of consent. Those remaining on consent are lumped together and passed by a single vote. Resolutions on the consent agenda are usually not controversial and tend to be routine matters, such as accepting grants from the Federal or State Government, entering into inter-agency agreements over mundane things, appropriating money from the 4% fund, settling lawsuits, or approving signs overhanging the sidewalk. Unlike a bill which requires three votes of the Council to pass, a resolution only requires one vote of the Council. Here are the resolutions of interest:  
Resolution RS2018-1244  would require the city to fly the Metropolitan Government flags at half-staff for a period of one year in honor and memory of students killed as a result of gun violence and as a reminder of the urgency of gun violence solutions. This would not be one year from the date of any future shootings, but one year from the effective date of the passage of the ordinance. I don't like this resolution.  The flag should not be flying at half-staff all the time.  What if we had a local occurrence of something, such as death of a local dignitary that warranted a show of respect and honor?  If the flags were already at half staff, we could not use the flag to honor that person.

Resolution RS2018-1253 would extend the maturity date a bill that is coming due. It extends the duration of the water and sewer extendable commercial paper program. This would result in more fees and a higher interest rate. This seems like poor money management to me. It looks like Metro has been so mismanaged that we are like a family that is juggling bills and flipping credit card debts from one card to another to weather a crisis.  Maybe this is a wise thing to do at this time, I don't know, but it appears we keep kicking the debt down the road. 
Bills on First reading: There are 25 bills on first reading. First reading is a formality that gets bills on the agenda and they are not considered by committee until after they pass first reading. They are all lumped together and pass by a single vote except in rare circumstances. 

Bills on Second Reading: Below are the ones of interest.
Substitute Bill BL2018-1157  establishes a 50 foot floodway buffer along the Cumberland River and prohibits variances. The floodway is the river channel and adjacent low lying areas that would be underwater in a 100 year flood. This bill would establish that no new construction could occur within an area that is within 50 feet of the floodway and in this buffer no existing building could be expanded.  

If a building site was on a 50 foot tall bluff but within 50 feet of the floodway, as I read this bill, one could not build on top of that bluff. Also as I read this bill, this would not allow "displacement" to justify a variance. 

Displacement means that if any capacity for the land to hold water is decreased on one part of a parcel, then more capacity must be added elsewhere. As an example, if a home is build on a lot and near the front of the property the lot is build up by adding so many cubic yards of dirt, then the same amount of earth would have to be removed elsewhere from that parcel. This neutralizes any impact the development would have on flooding. 

I understand what the sponsor is trying to do, but rather than a buffer 50 feet from the floodway, it appears a better approach would be elevation above the floodway.  In reality, a house within in a 50 foot floodway buffer but on a bluff may have less impact on the potential to contribute to flooding than a house ten miles away that is only a little higher in elevation than the floodway. Addressing elevation above the floodway seems to be a more rational approach than measuring distance from the flood way.  

Also, for years there has been talk and proposals of building a river-oriented development in Nashville with homes on canals with homesites having private boat docs.  I am sure such could be done without contributing to flooding but this bill would  preclude that possibility.

This bill is trying to address a real need.  The Storm Water Management Committee has been granting variances to build in flood prone areas simply based on hardship (link).  That needs to stop, but I think this is the wrong approach.
Bill BL2018-1189  would require Metro to make an even greater effort to make sure some Metro business goes to minority contractors when Metro has projects to put out for bid. The staff analysis says Metro legal has expressed concern that the bill may contain unconstitutional race and gender based preferences and is inconsistent with the current framework of the Procurement Non-Discrimination Program. Last meeting this was on Second Reading and deferred to this meeting.

Bill BL2018-1190   would give free parking at public parking meters in Davidson County for environmentally friendly vehicles and for vehicle owners that purchase carbon offsets. I oppose this. If we are going to give anyone free parking, I would prefer to give it to low-income people who were forced to spend money bringing their car into auto emission standards compliance rather than wealthier people who can afford an environmentally friendly car. Also, carbon offsets are a often a scam.

Bill BL2018-1200 would require that if hotels or roominghouses accept cash payment, they must also accept at least one other form of payment such as check or credit cards. I seldom carry cash and would find it inconvenient if I tried to do business with an entity that was cash-only, but why not let the market work this out?  Why must the government try to micromanage every aspect of commerce and our lives? This was on second last time and deferred to this meeting. 

Bill BL2018-1201  would tighten animal control regulations. Now, you are not supposed to leave your pooch out if the heat index will be above 95 degree. This lowers it to 85. Animal Control says to enforce this will take more people, space, and equipment and cost $472,617. $472,617 hear and $472,617 there and soon you are talking about real money. This was on the agenda last time and deferred to this meeting.

Substitute Bill BL2018-1202 proposed new rules for scooter prompted by the
arrival of Bird Scooter here in Nashville. It would require new fees including a fee of $35 per scooter.  This does a lot, but if Bird can live with it and is not fighting it, then I would assume it is an OK bill. Bird and similar scooter companies are in lots of other cities. I hope we are not over regulating them. Something like Bird can be an important part of making our city more mobile and can take cars off the road. Some cities have welcomed scooters and merchants have  installed scooter racks.


Bill BL2018-1203  also deals with scooters, in-line skates, and roller skates by removing the requirement for wrist guards, elbow pads, and kneepads and updating audio device references. It redefines the word "scooter" to mean non-motorized scooters, so this section would not apply to the electric Bird scooters.They would be regulated by the regulations contained in 1202 above.

Bill BL2018-1205 is an effort to stop the fairgrounds giveaway.  It wold ban the sale, lease, transfer or conveyance of property adjacent to the proposed Major League Soccer stadium to any third party for purposes of private development. I support this. We should not be giving away land to private developers and we ought to save the fairgrounds for an improved fairground facility not shrinking the site. 
Bills on Third Reading: There are 21 bills on third and final reading. None are very important or of interest. Most are zoning bills approved by the Planning Commission. Bill BL2018-1099  is a disapproved zoning bill in Scot Davis' district. It will take 27 votes to pass.

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 and you can watch it live on Roku. You can catch the meeting the next day (or the day after the next) on the Metro YouTube channel. If can stand the suspense and just wait, I will post the video on this blog the day after or the day after that and provide commentary.

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