I was going to launch this last Citizen column of 2006 with a blast at the sort of stupidity that would allow you to hand a developer $75 million of public money for an enormous—and privately owned—parking deck at North Hills, while at the same time you can't find $40 million to buy the 306-acre Dorothea Dix tract from the state so it can remain in public hands for all time.
That's where your Raleigh City Council is at these days, or is almost at, if a fifth vote can be found for developers' welfare, which also goes by the name tax-increment financings (TIFs). James West, that means you.
Mayor Charles Meeker is properly alarmed about it, calling it a "dangerous" idea since, if Kane gets his subsidy, there are at least four other projects around Raleigh right now that are equally not-entitled to taxpayer handouts.
But hey, it's the holidays, and I'm not going there. In fact, I'll remember 2006 as the year Raleigh realized it could actually be a great city—we won the Stanley Cup, for goodness' sake! And Fayetteville Street is a smash! (And remember, people, it's only half-finished. Wait till the rest of it reopens; it'll be amazing. And then stay tuned for Blount Street.)
Why, we even had our sanitation workers go on strike, sort of. And instead of Raleigh rising up in knee-jerk anti-unionism, we actually got it—the workers were right!
I'll also remember 2006, however, as the year we realized we don't really know how a great city's supposed to act. We screwed up the Plensa Plaza thing. We approved a developer taking 50 feet off the top of Kidd's Hill. And once again, we saddled the taxpayers with the bill for growth when the City Council, despite Meeker's entreaties, declined to make developers pay serious impact fees.
And we wonder why we can't keep up with roads, parks and—in the county's case—schools?
It was the year former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, visiting Raleigh as part of the Dorothea Dix advisory team assembled by the Urban Land Institute, told us that he discerned, in our public-policymaking, an attitude of "It'll do."
We don't aim high enough, in other words.
Too often, given how the universities and state government are driving growth around here anyway, we don't aim at all.
Case in point: The TTA transit project collapsed, not because it was too ambitious, but because—since it was just a single line to start—everybody could fixate on where it wasn't going to go.
This was Step 1, folks, not the last train to Clarksville.
What it does is, it puts me in mind of a transit system that works, with a worldwide network that kicks into gear around this time every year ...
The Raleigh Night Before Christmas
'Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the Council,
Taliaferro, Kekas and two Republicans
Fought Hillsborough Street fixes to a standstill.
The stockings were hung
at Dix and Horseshoe Farm parks (and a lot of other parks Raleigh needs but can't afford to move ahead on)
In hopes that higher impact fees
Soon would be there.
The developers were nestled all snug in their satin-sheeted beds
While visions of TIFs
Danced in their heads.
They could hit up the taxpayers
for their parking decks and buildings.
The same ones the Council
Was already shilling.
While Mayor Meeker, with his convention center,
And Russell Allen, with his underground parking
Had just settled their brains
For a long winter of cost overruns harking.
When over by the railroad tracks
There arose such a clatter
Meeker sprang from the Council table
To see what was the matter (with Philip Isley).
The moon on the breast
of Nana's Chophouse and the Depot
Gave a luster of midday to Isley & Tommy Craven below,
Shouting, "Commuter rail? Never! Commuter rail? No!"
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a TTA train and what at first looked like reindeer
With a sharp-looking driver so lively and quick
I knew in a moment
It must be my good friend, Nina (Szlosberg, an environmentalist and TTA board member)
Rapid as a diesel locomotive her coursers they came
And she whistled and shouted
And called out how many fund-raisers
She'd held at her house for them—by name.
On Meeker, on Crowder, on Stephenson and Cowell.
And you other progressives, will you throw in the towel?
To the RBC Center! To Cary! And on to the malls!
We'll need rapid transit
If we're to dash away sprawl.
And Brad Miller in Congress, we hope you weren't fakin'
We elected the Democrats, now bring home the bacon.
As dry leaves before the planes at RDU fly,
To get across I-40 to the airport,
We'll need a rail in the sky.
And then in a twinkling I heard on the bricks
Greg Poole and Assad Meymandi raising money for Dix.
They spoke not a word, but went straight to their work
Filling the mental health trust fund
And proving that guy from ULI
(who said sell off half of Dix)
Was a jerk.
And then to their team,
Nina, Greg, Assad and Charles gave a holler
And away they all flew to Jones Street
With $40 million (dollars).
And I heard them exclaim,
'ere they bought Dix for posterity,
Merry Christmas to Raleigh
"It'll do" is now history.