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Breakfast links: Unfortunate discoveries


Photo by joelogon on Flickr.
When your landlord meets foreclosure: A City Paper employee moved in to a group home in Columbia Heights, then soon discovered that the landlord was facing foreclosure. Many stressful hijinks with the crazy landlord and help from DC's Office of the Tenant Advocate followed. (Housing Complex)

Culture of pilfering?: A Metro supervisor was fired for stealing 70 pieces of Metro-owned equipment. He was allowed to retire and Prince George's County will not press charges, because Metro "[created] an atmosphere where such behavior ... was part of an implicitly tolerated practice." (Examiner)

Near SE Whole Foods worth $8M?: Whole Foods is interested in building a store near the ballpark, but wants $8 million in tax breaks to do it, which would pay for more parking, elevators and a taller first floor. (Post)

Take a virtual bike tour of DC: A TRB attendee recorded a video tour of DC's bike infrastructure, complete with speeding cars passing too close, and Federal Protective Service cars blocking the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. (Dr. Gridlock)

Minimums inflate parking spaces: A new study in New York City found that fewer than 15% of large new developments built more than 4 more parking spaces than required, suggesting that parking minimums are pushing up number of spaces developers would otherwise build, and making housing more expensive. (Streetsblog NYC)

Glaeser v. planners?: Lydia DePillis struggles with Ed Glaeser's disdain for city planners. He wants them to have less control and ordinary citizens the most say over what is built near them, though he despises NIMBYism. Okay... (Housing Complex)

What's in Obama's 2012 transportation budget: The President's 2012 transportation budget increases both transit and highway funding, with transit getting slightly more; consolidates pots of money, renames the Highway Trust Fund, and more. Amtrak released its own budget request including plans to expand capacity on the NEC. (Streetsblog, The Transport Politic)

Unemployment down, oil imports up: The national unemployment rate has dropped to 9%, but the economy is struggling with a growing trade deficit, exacerbated by higher prices for the oil we must import from foreign countries. (WTOP)

And...: Metro's PIDs are having some major issues these days. (TBD On Foot) ... Mount Pleasant will get some pop-up urbanism in the form of a Temporium opening on Friday. (We Love DC) ... The proliferation of chain stores continues in Columbia Heights. (TBD)

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Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

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This won't surprise anyone, but I am not impressed with the parking minimum report.

1) It only covers Queens
2) Only looks at affordable housing project
3) statistically, what they found was useless (38 buildings, 18 followed code, 4 built more)
4) logically, finding that few buildings built more doesn't translate into more affordable housing
5)finally, even if you accept the numbers, does the marginal increase in affordable housing really result in a net benefit?

by charlie on Feb 15, 2011 9:13 am • linkreport

The story on the pilfering of property by Metro employees just doesn't surprise me. Metro simply does not have its house in order. Until it does, it's not entitled to any fare hikes.

Re: the Whole Foods tax abatement - Isn't the DC budget close to the debt cap? Can the city afford any more abatements - even on worthy projects?

by Fritz on Feb 15, 2011 9:16 am • linkreport

Prince George's also fosters an environment where running over pedestrians & bicyclists, breaking into homes, and machete attacks are tolerated... does that share the same opinion?

by Bossi on Feb 15, 2011 9:30 am • linkreport

Speaking of supermarkets. Did your DC Safeway recently implement a Zero Tolerance bag and receipt check at the door by "Quality Assurance" agents. My Safeway did, and I was told that it's a new policy in any store where a bag fee is charged. I call BS and I'd love to know if the Watergate, Palisades or Chevy Chase Safeways were doing the same thing.

by crin on Feb 15, 2011 9:31 am • linkreport

@Fritz

The better question is can the city afford not to? The request is for an abatement of $800k per year for 10 years. It's not like the city is giving away $800k because right now the area is just an empty parking lot and the city gains nothing. If a store can be built there, then the city at least gains sales tax revenues.

Personally, I have less of a problem with tax abatement incentives for grocery stores... they have high building costs, slim margins, and serve as a much-needed anchor for the surrounding community. However,

by Adam L on Feb 15, 2011 9:35 am • linkreport

Hit enter too soon...

However, I think the city made a serious mistake by making abatements just another part of doing business and handing them out with little-to-no actual analysis of the costs and benefits. If tax incentives are going to used, then the Council should make clear just exactly what situations qualify (such a grocery stores in under-served areas). If not, then we are going to continue with an endless string of requests from companies claiming hardships and development stalling until their tax demands are met.

by Adam L on Feb 15, 2011 9:41 am • linkreport

@Adam L: I totally agree. The Council has in the past given out tens - hundreds? - of millions of dollars in tax abatements with no logical consistency or much of any thought process.

I'd love to hear a Council member dare to say they're looking into ALL tax abatements issued, determine which property owners/developers did not keep their promises, and revoke the remaining tax abatements. Now THAT would be fiscal leadership.

by Fritz on Feb 15, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

I agree, Adam. These ad hoc abatements are creating a two-tiered business tax system in DC: one rate for those who are well-connected to the Council and another rate for everybody else. It's neither fair nor good for business in the long run. Why bother hiring a lobbyist to get a tax break when you can just open up shop in Maryland or Virginia and get a similar tax rate as a matter of course?

by Eric Fidler on Feb 15, 2011 9:58 am • linkreport

Many of the tax rates are higher in Maryland and Virginia.

by David Alpert on Feb 15, 2011 10:01 am • linkreport

I'm not an economist, so perhaps this is somehow a bad idea or perhaps it already exists... but in lieu of tax abatements: what about low-interest loans? It'd seem that tax abatements never get that money back, even if the business ends up being quite profitable; whereas low interest loans could eventually recoup that funding. Or is that not enough of an enticement to businesses?

by Bossi on Feb 15, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

For those that want to see a larger snapshot of what the platform PID's are displaying, point your web browser to WTOP's Metro Arrivals page. The page is part of WTOP's upgraded web site and lists the stations in alphabetical order, one can set the setting at the page to display up to 100 arrivals at at a same time.

by Sand Box John on Feb 15, 2011 10:10 am • linkreport

The report said the State Attorney's Office for Prince George's County declined to prosecute because it wrote in a letter that Metro "may have served to create an atmosphere where such behavior, although not explicitly condoned or excused, was part of an implicitly tolerated practice."

Let's not forget that PG County's State's Attorney's office is also helping "create an atmosphere where such behavior, although not explicitly condoned or excused, [is] part of an implicitly tolerated practice."

Kind of sad to see PG County slowly, inexorably turning into DC circa 1990.

by oboe on Feb 15, 2011 10:45 am • linkreport

Bossi,

I'm no economist but look at it this way: A low-interest loan costs the city 2 ways. First, it ties up capital which could be used elsewhere and second, it costs the city money because they are realizing a lower rate of return on that capital than if it were used elsewhere.

The tax abatement doesn't cost the city anything up-front as it is amortized over time and as was pointed out by someone else, right now it's an empty lot or parking lot which is probably collecting less taxes than the WF would even with the tax abatements.

Whether the tax abatement is needed and the magnitude of that, I won't speculate on. Would WF build there anyway without the abatement? What is the proper amount to provide in an abatement? How would that be determined?

by Tax Man on Feb 15, 2011 11:04 am • linkreport

I missed my train yesterday because the sign outside the station said two minutes when the train was really arriving on at the station- I slowed down thinking I had some time, but when I made it to the platform the doors were closing on my train- not fun to wait for another outside of rush hour

by A on Feb 15, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

Mmm. The PID software could also use an update to predict departures from the terminals, and reflect the fact that the last trains of the night are *scheduled* to wait ~10-15 minutes at Metro Center and L'Enfant.

by andrew on Feb 15, 2011 11:32 am • linkreport

The report said the State Attorney's Office for Prince George's County declined to prosecute because it wrote in a letter that Metro "may have served to create an atmosphere where such behavior, although not explicitly condoned or excused, was part of an implicitly tolerated practice."

That's just nuts. How can they possibly reconcile that with their mission statement:

To seek justice for all through firm, fair and consistent prosecutions with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.
The State's Attorney's Office prosecutes anyone charged with committing a crime in Prince George's County. This includes crimes of violence, like murder, rape, robbery and assault, as well as nonviolent crimes against citizens and their properties. The State's Attorney's Office also investigates charges of police and public official misconduct and misuse of funds, and works to educate the community about crime prevention and the criminal justice system.

Also, if Metro was condoning or excusing such behavior, why did they fire him?

by jcm on Feb 15, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport

Gosh, if parking minimums are such a problem WHY IS WHOLE FOODS ASKING FOR 800,000 to get more parking?

by charlie on Feb 15, 2011 11:51 am • linkreport

Is there an Equal Protection argument that can be made against the tax abatements? Or is this just another case of some more equal than others? Why not tie the tax abatement to something like opening a sister store in more challenging area of the city?

I think some of the council members need to change their mindset from having a city that needed to bribe businesses to locate in to being city that people and businesses actually want to be in.

by shy on Feb 15, 2011 12:23 pm • linkreport

Is there an Equal Protection argument that can be made against the tax abatements?

Real question: is there a protected class here.

No.

by charlie on Feb 15, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but all you tax abatement discussants are trying to say that we need simple, stable and transparent tax applied prospectively at a low rate on a broad base. Right?

by WRD on Feb 15, 2011 12:34 pm • linkreport

@charlie

It all depends on how much parking was already planned for the site. The way I read the article is that Whole Foods needs additional parking beyond the amount planned for the planned apartments above the store. That makes sense to me, especially for grocery stores where customers often buy many bags worth of goods all at once.

In addition, WF plans to get a substantial amount of traffic from the Capitol Hill neighborhood, but is not-so-conveniently separated by the freeway. Capitol Hillers could potentially take the Orange/Blue lines, transfer at L'Enfant and get off at Navy Yard station, but that just seems a bit ridiculous. As many people on this blog have said, good urban design aims to give as many people as many transit options as possible. I am sure many people will bike, walk, or take transit to the store, but others will certainly need to drive.

by Adam L on Feb 15, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

There isn't a great 'market' for building parking because developers and their tenants don't have great information from which to base their decisions.

Developers will build just as much parking as they need to ink tenants. Tenants will require some level of parking, but it's often not associated with any objective sort of analysis. In DC USA, Target was one of the driving forces behind all that parking that remains underutilized.

by Alex B. on Feb 15, 2011 12:57 pm • linkreport

What the hell is "Near SE"?

by beatbox on Feb 15, 2011 3:19 pm • linkreport

A common term for the area in the SE quadrant between the freeway and the river.

by David Alpert on Feb 15, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

@charlie:

You're absolutely correct with this. The District has a huge budget problem now. The Council shouldn't be providing $800,000 each year to provide more parking. This Whole Foods will be within a 10-15 minute walk of three metro stations. When the District has such a lager deficit, we shouldn't be subsidizing something that will undermine transit ridership.

by Ben on Feb 15, 2011 5:14 pm • linkreport

How close is the proposed Whole Fields to the new Safeway at 3rd & M SW?

by Turnip on Feb 15, 2011 7:35 pm • linkreport

@Turnip

It looks to be between 3/4 and 1 mile, depending on your walking route.

by Alex B. on Feb 15, 2011 8:05 pm • linkreport

Glaeser provides service to power, that's about it. He hates planning b/c it is a manifestation of public power (ordinary citizens and other rabble), and therefore a hindrance to private power. Not sure why anyone takes him seriously. Well, other than private developers.

That $27.4 billion Harvard Endowment didn't come from regular citizens, that's for sure.

by Peter Smith on Feb 16, 2011 4:23 am • linkreport

@Peter Smith--

Not sure where you're going with that, but I disagree. Glaeser's arguments are powerful and should be taken seriously. Perhaps he honestly believes central city planning isn't a good thing for ordinary citizens. Perhaps he thinks the planners and politicians are too vulnerable to regulatory capture. I know I sure do.

by WRD on Feb 16, 2011 7:17 am • linkreport

@Peter Smith--Not sure where you're going with that, but I disagree. Glaeser's arguments are powerful and should be taken seriously. Perhaps he honestly believes central city planning isn't a good thing for ordinary citizens. Perhaps he thinks the planners and politicians are too vulnerable to regulatory capture. I know I sure do.

i think there are folks who are at least somewhat effective in arguing against public participation in the political process -- I just don't think Glaeser is a very worthy adversary -- his arguments are lame, and worse -- dishonest and morally repugnant.

For instance, he suggests that Mumbai, at twice the population density of New York City, can stop its relentless sprawl, if only it would build up up up.

He suggests that cities need saving. Really? I rather thought they were doing just fine, comparatively.

He says that it's difficult to find hotel rooms in central Paris for less than $500 a night, when those of us who have stayed there, and/or can prove that we are sentient human beings, know that this claim is outlandish.

He thinks that in order to save the city, the city needs to be destroyed -- as in the time-tested and still-in-use-philosophy of the US military. The beauty of central Paris, you see, has to be destroyed with tall buildings in order that office drones, now currently housed at the sterile La Defense, can grab a 15-min lunch at an authentic cafe.

The list goes on and on. His arguments are clownish -- paeans to nostalgia, all the while denigrating 'nostalgia' and anything associated with historical preservation. He's openly contemptuous of public participation, and democracy in general. He twists and mutilates Jane Jacobs' arguments into things which are wholly unrecognizable, and then whips out some simplistic 'Supply & Demand' rhetoric when it suits his purposes, and when it doesn't fit a particular use case he wishes he could refer to -- if only he could get that square peg into that round hole -- well there's some other reason then -- that particular city is 'extraordinary' or 'exceptional' in some way, we're told.

Mr. Glaeser may have a bright future as spokesman for the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, but his views, contemptuous of public participation and democracy as they are, suggest that we should hold them in contempt, and view all of his writing with extreme skepticism.

So, yeah -- I guess we disagree. :)

by Peter Smith on Feb 16, 2011 9:59 am • linkreport

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