January 5, 2015 (Council Chambers, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613)
Happy New Year! It's a great week for a council meeting. In Committee we cover the following agenda items: (1) Farmer's Market Update; (2) CFU Solar Garden; (3) Zoning Ordinance Amendments for Parking; (4) Compost Expansion; and (5) Marijuana Policy Review. In the Council meeting, we approve the Capital Improvement Budget, the College Hill District SSMID among other things. As always, I encourage all forms of feedback.
- Committee of the Whole (5:00pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA & PACKET) -
(1) Farmer's Market Update - this item has no supporting documentation. I anticipate updates for expansion plans and policy changes to support continued growth of the market including new vendor inclusion.
(2) Solar Garden - this item relates to CFU's site exploration request for a 'community solar farm'. The price of solar capacity has decreased significantly and provides the inertia for the special project. CFU is identifying 3-5 acres of municipal property to put the solar farm, preferably in an accessible, visible location for learning, teaching and awareness. The investment demonstrates CFU's commitment to diversifying its energy production portfolio. Today, CFU has 148.3 MW (megawatts) of capacity owned directly or under shared ownership. Of that, 7.5 MW are derived from wind (about 5% of total capacity). I applaud the effort to study alternative energy options to diversify our generating capacity. In light of emission and energy security goals, solar has the promise to be a feasible, low-impact alternative to conventional forms. For the city's part, we can convert idle land into a low-impact, value-creating asset.
(3) Zoning Amendment related to Parking - I support reasonable modification of our parking ordinances, but I want to make certain we do not impose unnecessary burdens and excessive costs - owner occupied or otherwise. See my November 3rd post for my initial reaction to the proposed changes. While many of my concerns were addressed in the latest proposal, I take issue with parking requirements becoming a function of bedrooms and the broad hard-surfacing requirements. The new regulation will require 2 off-street parking spaces plus an additional space for each bedroom over 2. For multi-unit property, an additional 'visitor' space must be included for every two units. This requirement will create unnecessary off-street hard-surfacing or will condemn many current (or future) uses through regulation. Aside from the environmental concerns (excessive storm water run-off), the regulation will increase the cost of living throughout the city because homeowners and renters will need to absorb hundreds of thousands in expenses related to upgrading perfectly functional driveways. One need not look far in our city to realize the huge impact on neighborhoods, particularly on those that are less affluent and most affordable. A more reasonable approach would only require specific delineation of parking spaces to avoid the main issue of driveway and parking creep into green spaces. The policy should also account for on-street parking capacity to determine the resident carrying capacity in a particular area.
The images above are from my alley on the 1700 block of Clay Street. As a neighbor, I find both driveways palatable, yet the paved drive obviously consumes most of the back yard/green space with impermeable surface. Incidentally, it contributes more to alley erosion than the unpaved, delineated driveway (delineated by pavers). The cost of the pavement was probably on the order of $10,000 or more which would need to be passed onto the renter or absorbed by the homeowner. If I had my preference, I would vote for the delineated gravel drive over the sea of pavement. Drive any alley in the old part of Cedar Falls, you will find a balanced mix of paved versus unpaved drives. The future regulation would classify these as legal non-conforming making them subject to regulatory uncertainty.
(4) Compost Expansion - we explore an area and hours-of-service expansion of the compost center. This all seems sensible to provide better services, however, I will inquire further about the added operating costs to determine how we can make the operations more efficient.
(5) Marijuana policy - discussed below. Take the Decriminalization Survey anytime.
-Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA & PACKET)-
Special Order of Business
E.3&4) We hold a hearing and pass a resolution for the annual Capital Improvement Program (CIP). Capital improvements are asset investments in our city (operating expenses do not run through this budget mechanism). The FY16 budget amounts to $45.8 million. Of which, only $4 million is funded from general obligation (GO) bonds which have the most direct impact on property taxes. We continue to follow a disciplined replacement-only debt policy which keeps taxes low, a credit to past and current councils (and staff!) for fiscal discipline. FY16 expenditures are nearly 50% higher than last year, mainly a result of the University Avenue project (which is primarily funded through the state's jurisdictional transfer agreement, not GO debt).
F.2.t) This item is a follow-up to the November 17 petition request from the College Hill commercial area property owners to establish a Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID). They successfully petitioned for a tax of $2.75 per $1,000 of assessed value to support district improvement and promotion, very similar to the SSMID that partially funds the Community Main Street in downtown Cedar Falls. On December 17th, the Planning & Zoning Commission approved the Evaluative Report. In this step, City Council sets a public hearing date on February 2nd for the formal establishment of the district. In essence, this is a voluntary tax to support continued development and promotion of the Hill commercial area.
F.4) Based on a citizen request, we will increase the South Main Street speed limit from Orchard Drive to University Avenue to 30 miles per hour.
Righting Immoral, un-American Policy
I applaud council's decision to explore the local impacts of national and state policies that make criminals of vast swaths of Americans. On Monday night, we will hear a presentation from the Cedar Valley Citizens for Undoing Racism group. Simply put, if you are non-white, you are magnitudes more likely to to be arrested and convicted for a marijuana crime. According to the ACLU, a black person in Black Hawk county is 4x more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Racial disparity is a symptom of the broader problem, drug policy itself. Legislatures, Congresses and Presidents are all to blame. Continue to peal this onion, you will be brought to tears by the fallacy, cost, destruction and ineptness of the policy.
Reasonable people agree that the our current war on drugs is an unmitigated failure. It is unjust. It is expensive. It funds organized crime. It denies medical, industrial and recreational benefits. It is the ultimate expression of political paternalism. So how did we arrive at this point? And how can we begin to remedy the unintended consequences?
In the past, social justice reform took many forms... civil disobedience, protest, revolt. But it most certainly never comes from political leadership. Politics is more about maintaining the status quo than serving the people. Politicians will not act until it pays a political dividend by either appeasing their base or to 'win' votes. More principled politicians would listen and sponsor a decriminalization or legalization bill, but hold your breath, risk certain death.
You would assume a larger movement would come of it, but legislation changes require powerful, monied interests. This is the battle of free market principles and individual rights, and principles and rights are rarely uttered in the halls of legislative bodies. Yet, it doesn't take an economics degree to measure the annual return on our $50 billion war on drugs 'investment'. You would think small government advocates would favor a more enlightened approach for societal control. You would think free marketers would recognize the tremendous medicinal and industrial benefits of cannabis. You would think public health and education advocates would appreciate the tax revenue. You would think civil liberty reformers would advocate for policy changes to respect individual choice while minimizing disproportionate impacts on minority populations. With a few exceptions, nearly every marijuana liberalization initiative has come at the ballot box - in Howard Zinn's words, this is a people's movement. In Iowa, we have no such tools. So that leaves us at the mercy of our legislature and local officials (to the extent they have latitude on the issue).
City Council has the ability to define policing policy. We can modify local policy by resolution or ordinance. One thing is certain, our police serve at the will of the people of Cedar Falls, not Congress, not the legislature. When national and state policy is inherently immoral, when it violates basic tenants of freedom and responsibility, then it is incumbent upon our council to act within our legal means. Whether it be a resolution condemning the current policy and establishing policing priorities or an ordinance that decriminalizes a certain act, we need to neutralize implicit state-sponsored racism and restore civil liberties at every opportunity.
Preferably, we would establish local ordinance decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. While the ordinance wouldn't change drug policy (it would still be illegal to possess marijuana), it changes the hammer of enforcement. Rather than making it a criminal act to possess minor amounts of marijuana, it would be treated as a municipal infraction. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, anti-drug zealot legislators in Iowa preempted Home Rule authority establishing a law which prevents local control of the matter. Short of an ordinance, we can establish a council resolution directing staff and police to prioritize policing efforts that have real victims, property and body crimes.
As you might imagine, I have taken a few calls on the issue. Remarkably, nearly all have been positive. From elementary teachers to nursing home residents, the support crosses multiple generations and socio-economic classes. I have spoken to people in chronic pain, I have had honest conversations with teenagers too. We are talking about something that most people wouldn't dare speak of publicly. Interestingly, since marijuana entered the national conversation, marijuana use among teenagers has decreased! We should do more talking! I have been called a few names and people have made false insinuations on my personal choices, but thick skin and a reasonably healthy lifestyle both serve as a good defense. Thank you to all who have expressed support and open minds.
Cedar Falls has a unique opportunity to lead Iowa on the greatest civil rights and liberties issue of the new century. It won't be long before the the politicians pick up the cause to right the wrongs of this four decade policy failure.
Your voice is important. I am conducting an online survey to gauge community support. I invite you to take the survey:
Have a great day!