Council Meeting Date: November 17, 2014
Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613
I cover bi-weekly yard waste pick-up, the College Hill SSMID and Goal setting and the case for cannabis paradigm shift.
Committee of the Whole (6:15pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-
We review Cassie Luze's appointment to the Library Board of Trustees. With development experience and a load of civic engagement experience, Ms. Luze appears to be ideally suited for the Board.
Bi-weekly yard waste collection (summer schedule) is the main topic of the committee night. Note, we are not reviewing the fee-for-pick-up policy which replaced free, seasonal pick-up (free being a misnomer, there is no such thing as free). If you recall, we went to a bi-weekly pick-up versus weekly pickup for yard waste containers this season. Was this a good thing? Let's first consider the data. The price for pick-up has been $10/pickup for two years. Cost per collected ton went down, from $59.25/ton to 52.14/ton, or a 12% improvement. This isn't a shocker, it demonstrates the efficiencies gained from picking up more yard waste on each fixed route which stands to reason because the frequency is less. Conversely, revenues were down 20% which could be reasoned the same way - people are putting more material in the bins (albeit less frequently) or electing to dispose of differently. In total, cash flow (revenue less direct costs) was down 16.6%. Should we go back to weekly pick-up? Well, more questions need to be asked. The calculated costs were only direct costs - labor, fuel and tipping fees. The total burdened costs haven't been analyzed. By burdened costs I mean costs for equipment, maintenance, repair, employee benefits, supervision. We must also factor the 217 hours saved (or redeployed to other value-creating activity) from driving around less. My conclusion... the policy change isn't a 'slam dunk' based on the single 2014 data point, rather we need to continue it for another year and factor total cost of operations to determine if we should go back to weekly service. Since revenues were down, you could also argue we are saving the yard-waste generator money!
-Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-
G.1.d) This item is a petition request from the College Hill commercial area property owners representing a simple majority of assessed values to establish a Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID). They are petitioning 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. Many people, including downtown property owners, would attest to the positive impact that the downtown SSMID has had on people vibrancy, business attraction, increasing property valuations and rents. There are several more steps in this process, and all property owners will have an opportunity for input. The city's role is to evaluate the petition facts to determine if the voluntary levy should be imposed upon the property owners for the purposes outlined.
Goal Setting and Cannabis
City Council conducted its annual goal setting. The intention is good and necessary, but the process leaves much to be desired. I liken it to a dart game without the libations. In rapid succession, we cover the full gamut of initiatives ranging from simple ordinance changes to multi-million dollar quality of life projects. Council members take 4 sticky-dots and place them next to their favorite initiatives as presented on oversized post-it-notes. Many of the initiatives were presented for the first time just minutes before. We were like kids in a candy store - some know exactly what they want, others look to see what the others want, some don't place any dots. And this ladies and gentlemen, sets the new initiatives for the next year. This process would greatly benefit from some objective structure to sort through each initiative's impact such as financial, functional, social and urgency. I will cover the updated initiatives in my next post. But first, I want to talk about one that was overlooked.
I proposed we consider a non-enforcement policy of cannabis statutes in our city. While no city can make a law in conflict with State and Federal law, we can certainly establish local policy for the enforcement of laws. Our policing focus should always be on crimes of most critical concern - crimes against other people and property.I believe in personal choice (medical or recreational) as long as that choice doesn't infringe on the rights and liberties of another. Why does it matter if someone chooses to use cannabis for medicinal or recreational benefit? At what point did we rationalize criminal statutes as the only way to treat this perceived problem? What are the benefits and consequences of prohibition 2.0?
Many cities across the United States have realized the fault and folly of the 40-year, 1 trillion dollar drug war, especially its disproportionate impact on minority populations. While drug use among whites and minorities is nearly the same, minorities suffer the brunt of the law. In Iowa, a black person is 8x more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Based on my recent analysis of arrest data, a black person in Cedar Falls is only 2.5x more likely to be arrested on a drug charge (while the disparity is less than Iowa on a whole, being slightly less unjust is still nothing to celebrate). These arrests diminish educational opportunities, destroy families and limit career aspirations.
The nebulous Tri-County Drug Task Force is indicative of the problem. Outside of an occasional press release touting busts as good news, the task force is the most clandestine operation in the county (at least that I am aware). For four years, I have requested basic information (forfeiture revenue sources and uses, agency metrics, agency budgets, arrests/convictions outcomes, demographic data, basic FBI reporting metrics) only to be stonewalled or outright refused each time. This is information that City policy makers should know - we are a member of the organization, we fund officers, we are recipients of its civil asset forfeiture haul.
The war on drugs has cost more money, broken more families, contributed to more death, built more criminal enterprises than any benefit it purports to make. We need to treat drug abuse as a medical and mental condition, not a criminal act.
And let me be clear, this isn't an attack on the officers that serve in any policing capacity. They are doing their job and doing it well, especially considering the insurmountable odds in light of a war with no exit strategy. This is an attack on the political establishment that has prioritized population control and militarization over sensible prevention and treatment policies. Again, a crime is only a crime if you have harmed another person or person's property. What you do to your own body is your own business, so long you don't infringe on the business of others.
In Cedar Falls, we have political options to correct the injustice. We can take a very small step and create a non-enforcement policy that allows adults to treat medical conditions or to use in a manner of their choosing. Of course, all laws relating to intoxication and negligence still apply. I will continue to call for local reform when state and federal reform are so futile. Of course, I'd love to hear your view on the policy paradigm - for or against.
* Note: I do not use drugs except for occasional caffeine, alcohol and prescriptions (as directed by a physician). And like all things, I enjoy with responsible moderation.