See images from the St. Patrick Day's parade on Saturday, March 21, 2009. See additional photos at ... more
See 145 unedited images from the St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Raleigh on Saturday, March 21, 2009.
It will be a shame when the city of Raleigh finally switches over to tiered water rates and the City Council has to find something else to discuss incessantly.
On Tuesday, the council found itself, once again, wondering aloud why the transition to tiered rates can’t happen sooner.
You may recall that last month it was agreed that residential water customers in Raleigh and Garner would move to a three-tier rate structure on Dec. 1. The structure is designed to encourage conservation as the rates will rise according to consumption.
City Manager Russell Allen has told the City Council on numerous occasions that Raleigh can’t make the switch until it has new billing software in place.
But on Tuesday, Councilman Russ Stephenson asked for an independent investigation to see whether that truly is the case. Yes, an investigation to see whether the city’s own staff truly knows what it is talking about.
The independent inquiry was one of a laundry list of utility-related issues that Stephenson wants both the council and the city staff to take up immediately. Others include a drought surcharge, water audits of area businesses and new capacity fees on water hook-ups.
Allen admitted serious frustration at the fact that Stephenson wasn’t buying staff’s explanation for why the shift to tiered rates can’t happen until December. Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin said even she was frustrated by Stephenson’s request.
That caused Stephenson to play the garbage disposal card, telling anyone who would listen that the public utility staff giving them advice is the same staff that told the council it needed to ban garbage disposals. (We all know how that turned out, don’t we Neusie.)
Councilor Philip Isley eventually told his colleagues that they were exhuming a dead horse by raising the tiered rate issue, which led to a series of unfortunate horse puns.
So what’s really going on here?
Allen is recommending that the council raise water rates immediately by 17 percent to offset sluggish water sales. This unwelcome news has caused Stephenson to ask city staff why they haven’t made more progress on all the issues he’s been raising for months.
Stephenson essentially described the public utility department as being a black box that has been reticent about changing its ways. “None of us really knows what the reality is,” he said.
(Let's just hope Raleigh Public Utilities Director Dale Crisp wasn't involved in any credit default swaps.)
It was agreed on Tuesday that Stephenson’s issues would be discussed at the next council meeting on April 7. Some of Stephenson’s initiatives would encourage more conservation among Raleigh water customers, which could exasperate the revenue shortage that the department is currently experiencing. Other initiatives would create new revenue streams for the department, which could shift some of the burden away from residential rate payers.
The switch to tiered-rates has been talked about so much that it would be easy to mistakenly think of it as an elixir for all the city’s water woes. But the actual transition has the potential to introduce more instability into the department’s revenue model. The city’s consultant is designing the tiered rate structure to be revenue neutral, but the city won’t know if that’s truly the case until it puts it into practice.
In the meantime, the City Council is likely going to have to explain to customers who answered the call to conserve that their reward is an ahead-of-schedule rate hike.
Raleigh residents who participate in the city’s backdoor trash collection program may soon have to provide proof that they are unable to bring their refuse to the curb.
Concerned that the free program is being abused by some able-bodied customers, the city’s Solid Waste Services Department will recommend to the City Council on Tuesday that residents be required to fill out an application and provide a doctor’s note in order to participate.
City staff say the changes could save Raleigh $450,000 a year.
Raleigh currently picks up trash from 110,540 households across the city. About 4,100 households participate in Raleigh’s “need assistance” program, which allows disabled and elderly residents an alternative to having to drag their trash bins out to the curb.
The program is open to the disabled or residents over 65 years of age, and the city currently has no verification process for determining whether requests are legitimate.
Raleigh surveyed similar programs in other cities and found that the percentage of households participating in the Capital City is much higher than elsewhere. Charlotte, for example, has just 2,002 households participating in its program even though its trash department services 93,000 more households than Raleigh.
Tampa serves 83,000 households and only has 687 residents who participate in its program.
The four cities surveyed by Raleigh--Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte and Tampa--all have some verification process in place to prevent people from taking advantage of their need assistance programs.
The Solid Waste Services Department is recommending that Raleigh require potential participants in the program to fill out an application explaining why they need assistance. The application would also ask whether there is anyone else living at the residence who is able to bring the container to the curb.
Residents would also be required to submit a statement from a doctor verifying their inability to bring trash and recycling containers to the curb.
It costs the city about $905,000 a year to provide backdoor trash pickup to the 4,100 households in its need assistance program. If it cut that number in half it would save about $450,000 a year.
The City Council meets at 1 p.m. on Tuesday in the council chamber, 222 W. Hargett Street.
Author and land use strategist Christopher Leinberger said last night that although this was his first time in Raleigh, he was pleasantly surprised by the changes occurring in the city, and that Raleigh is well positioned to benefit from the ongoing shift to more urban and walkable neighborhoods.
Leinberger spoke at the Fletcher Opera Theater at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts as part of the Raleigh Planning Department’s “Designing a 21st Century City” lecture series.
Much of Leinberger’s talk focused on the history of city building going back 5,500 years. Leinberger said up until the middle of the 20th century cities were built to be dense and walkable. It was only after World War II that the United States embraced with gusto the drivable, suburban model. (Leinberger argued that the major tipping point was at the 1939-40 World’s Fair in New York, where General Motors sponsored an exhibit called “Futurama” that enthralled attendees with models of the vehicle-centric cities of the future.)
Leinberger said the migration to the suburbs was the largest social engineering effort in United States history, with massive subsidies given to build the infrastructure necessary to make suburbia a reality. A developer himself, Leinberger said the mixed-use projects he’s proposed in recent years have all been illegal under existing land-use rules that were designed to promote drivable, suburban developments.
Only in the mid-1990s, Leinberger said, did the pendulum begin to swing back towards more walkable and urban communities. Now there is a pent up demand for such communities, which is causing land and housing prices in those areas to rise significantly (think inside the Beltline here in Raleigh). Leinberger used Washington D.C. as the model 21st Century city, noting that it has a vibrant downtown and a growing number of urban centers on its outskirts that are accessible by public transit.
Among the most interesting aspects of Leinberger’s talk was the economic impact of the shift towards urban, walkable living. The average U.S. household spends 19 percent of its budget on transportation. If they live in a suburb that percentage rises to 25 percent, while in a walkable, urban community the figure is just 9 percent. “That’s a huge amount of money,” Leinberger noted. He argues that many--not all--suburban communities at the fringes of cities will become slums and that the current move to bail out homeowners is in some ways a bail out of sprawl.
So what can we here in Raleigh and the Triangle take away from all of Leinberger’s interesting insights? As he acknowledged, building urban, walkable communities is a lot harder and more complex than building suburbs. But there’s clearly a demand for such product, and getting more of it built will require changes in land-use rules so that they promote mixed-use development and allow for public transit. (Leinberger said he'd be surprised if 5 percent of Raleigh's housing stock was in walkable, urban areas.)
A lot will depend on how quickly Raleigh and the rest of the Triangle adjusts to the shifting pendulum. We are not Atlanta, but we are also not Washington D.C. or even Charlotte when it comes to embracing this shift.
Raleigh will hold a public hearing to discuss the latest draft of the city's Comprehensive Plan on Thursday, March 19 at 6:30 p.m. Residents can offer comments about the plan to both the City Council and the Raleigh Planning Commission. The hearing will be held inside the council chamber at the Avery C. Upchurch Government Complex, located at 222 W. Hargett St.
Raleigh release a 380-page draft of the Comp Plan in December. The plan, which outlines how city officials think Raleigh should grow over the next 20 years, is meant to be a road map to the future. The city held a series of public workshops in recent months to gather citizen comments.
The City Council is expected to approve a final version of the plan later this year. After the public hearing the plan heads to the Planning Commission for review.
The city of Raleigh’s Planning Department is bringing author and land use strategist Christopher Leinberger to town on Wednesday as part of the department’s “Designing a 21st Century City” lecture series.
Leinberger will talk about the emerging challenges facing suburban communities. The event is being held downtown at Fletcher Opera Theater at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. It's free and open to the public and is scheduled to run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Check in and registration begins at 6 p.m.
Leinberger has made a name for himself commenting on the future of suburbia, most notably in a March 2008 article titled "The Next Slum?" that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. Leinberger is currently a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute. He's also a founding partner of Arcadia Land Company, a New
Urbanism/transit-oriented development consulting firm.
There's been much discussion in recent months about whether the current economic meltdown will make many suburban communities no longer relevant. (The latest issue of the Atlantic has a story by Richard "Creative Class" Florida on which parts of the country will emerge as winners and losers once the economy recovers. Florida predicts the Triangle will be one of the winners.)
It should be interesting to see how Wednesday's audience responds to Leinberger. Many people in the Triangle love their suburban lifestyle, and it may be premature to proclaim the death of suburbia in this part of the country.