Nick's Council Connection August 3rd, 2015

uber.jpgCouncil Chambers, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613

A lot of council work must have been done while I was on RAGBRAI, this is a lighter agenda. Ah yes, it's summer time. Still good stuff... rental updates, a new health center and TIF, and a transportation discussion to finish us off.

-Committee of the Whole (6:25pm, ELECTRONIC AGENDA & PACKET)-

singlefamily.jpgStaff presents its monthly council update on the new rental code and enforcement efforts. The presentation can be found in the link above. The city continues rigorous code enforcement of property and nuisance ordinances, always a monthly warning to get my house and garage painted.

I wanted to remark on a recent concern in our latest phase of the rental shakedown. In an effort to acquire 'baseline information', the city is requesting that landlords provide information like legal lot description, zoning classifications, lot sizes, leases and tenant information, etc. for all single family and duplex rentals. The request comes in paper form with no apparent database integration (oh, the promise of GIS!). Stop and think how much information is being requested. We estimate there are 4000 rental properties in Cedar Falls, of which approximately 1,000 are of the single-family/duplex type. Why other rentals are exempt seems prejudicial to me. At 1,000, it will take no less than 30 minutes to gather the data and send it, or 500 hours of landlord time. This is after pondering why the information is being requested in the first place and if you could be committing perjury or violating tenant rights. Then the city must input it into a system. So time aside, why would the city request a private contract between two or more parties? Ordinarily, wouldn't this require a warrant? When tenants sign leases, do they know their names would also be submitted to a government register? It all seems too Orwellian to me, too many lines are being crossed. While our intentions might be good (to control over-occupancy), government must have limits, we aren't the NSA.

-Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, ELECTRONIC AGENDA & PACKET)-

Special Order of Business

E.5) Allen Occupational Health is working with a private developer to build a purpose-built facility. The clinic moves from one TIF area (Pinnacle Prairie) to its western sister, the Industrial Park, to build a larger, more accessible space with additional services. It's a nice facility and will be a valuable addition to the Industrial Park. 

Let's talk TIF. In this case, the land was already in private hands. Why Allen and the developer chose to forgo free land is a head scratcher, the site must be a choice location. However, the project still qualifies for tax rebates on its estimated $59,000 annual tax bill according to the following schedule. 

  1. Year 1, 75%, ~$44,250
  2. Year 2 60%, ~$35,400
  3. Year 3 45%, ~$26,550
  4. Year 4 30%, ~$17,700
  5. Year 5 15%, ~$ 8,850

To qualify, the project must exceed $1.5MM. It does (just as Martin Brother's expansion, also in this agenda). I always ask the question, would the project have happened without the rebate? I conclude, almost inevitably, it would. This is one of my criticisms of TIF, in too many cases, it is a corporate hand-out. Unfortunately, this is the way property is developed in enterprise zones across Iowa. There are many unintended consequences... it encourages growth (eh sprawl) in enterprise zones versus non-enterprise zones (i.e. any outside of industrial parks). The tax increment remains in the enterprise zone versus offsetting property taxes elsewhere. At least with our policy, all corporations are treated the same (I say this tongue in cheek). Anything from a mini-storage to a massive job-creating business would qualify. I am searching for better economic development levers than free land and tax rebates. No doubt, this is very much a state issue, but at minimum, we should be advocates for change. Cedar Falls is an awesome place to conduct all kinds of business, with built-in assets that match any city in the state. State policy has made free land and rebates an entitlement for any big business thinking about laying a brick.


- Nick's Briefs -

Cedar Falls Transportation


I have often written about this topic in posts like Preview of Things to Come (I give a resolution), The Bus and Beyond (a Transportation System built on utility, convenience and value) and Transportation Dilemma (Transportation in a mid-sized city). On May 15th, I invited a brainstorming session of key stakeholders (UNI, MET, INRCOG, Bike/Ped Task Force, Staff/Council) to discuss transportation planning and policy including comprehensive/integrated strategies to meet the broad needs of transportation user-types,demographics and socio-economic classes. From sidewalks to overpasses, from buses to car-sharing, we can create a safer, more efficient, cost effective, sustainable, comfortable and convenient transportation ecosystem. 
We gathered ideas about our infrastructure, operations and emerging trends in transportation. We had lofty goals like expanding bus service, bicycle routes, car-share (ZipCar or Uber) & bike-share (B-Cycle, Social Bikes), complete streets, etc. We realized to maximize the potential of our system, we need to give consideration to the whole and the parts. We need to align planning entities (CF, UNI, INRCOG, MET) and coordinate execution to improve transportation infrastructure and operations for all. 

A portion of our ideas are represented in the 'mind-map' below, a brainstorming tool.


 These are our near-term action items (with more to come):

  • Support public-private partnership study for bike share, (private effort)
  • Review signage (stop vs. yield on trails, share-the-road on arterials, wayfinding), (public/private)
  • Amend vehicle-for-hire ordinance to enable ride-sharing programs (Uber, Lyft), (CF)
  • Incorporate yearly INRCOG transportation planning meeting among planning entities, ( INRCOG)
  • Explore strategies to enable alternative transportation and align strategies to-from-within UNI and city (mass transit, bicycle, car-share (i.e. Zipcar), pedestrian), (UNI, CF, INRCOG)


There is a real desire to improve our transportation system, hopefully this is just the beginning.  


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