Sustainable redevelopment project struggles to get the green light

A sustainable redevelopment project lead by Jackie Green is struggling to get the green light. The rejection of the Clifton project is a decision for less affordable housing, for greater automobile dependency, for the destruction of farm, field, forest and floodplain, for a hotter city, for more flooding, etc..

The project adds 24 residential units and more commercial space. It sports indoor, safe, clean parking for 80 bicycles and is a half block from three TARC routes in one of Louisville’s most walkable neighborhoods. It saves the old USPO building while introducing car-free customers and employees for local businesses.

Courier Journal article regarding project:

Project website:
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Mayor Fischer’s Derby Party Bill: $109K. The Guest List? Secret

Source: WFPL, Jacob Ryan:     Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s special Kentucky Derby party guests had fresh cookies and bonded bourbon, braised lamb and cactus salad.

They stayed at the brand-new Omni Hotel and were chauffeured to the track, where they watched two days of races from the swank sixth floor Skye Terrace. A professional photographer captured the whole experience — photos paid for by taxpayers, but unlikely to ever be seen by the public.

Fischer’s invite-only Derby weekend extravaganza cost taxpayers about $109,000 this year, according to city records obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting through an open records request. But the mayor’s office keeps the guest list secret, and has consistently refused to provide any details about who his guests are or what they do.

City officials have spent a total of $390,000 on Fischer’s private Derby events since 2015, records show.

Government transparency experts criticize the lack of disclosure about who benefits from the spending of public money. And Fischer’s political opponents say the cost “seems excessive.”

But city officials say the investment is money well spent, and the privacy is necessary.

“Derby is a unique opportunity for us to show off our city to prospective businesses looking to locate or expand here,” said Jean Porter, the mayor’s spokeswoman.

This year’s two-day soiree cost nearly $17,000 more than last year’s event. Though hotel costs dropped about $13,600 after a move to the Omni, horse race ticket costs climbed about $16,000.

But it was still less than the city spent in 2016, when gifts for guests, a customized app and refreshments at the hotel and race track added up to more than $112,000.

City officials secured fewer sponsorships and reimbursements for this year’s affair, according to the records. While guests have occasionally reimbursed the city for track tickets in past years, no one did this year. But a pair of $10,000 sponsorships from law firm Skoll Keenan Ogden and Beam Suntory helped offset some costs, the records show.

Porter said guests’ names are kept secret because “this is the cultivation phase of development.”

“That phase almost always happens behind the scenes,” she said. “Disclosing their visit could tip off competitors, influence financing options or even affect a company’s stock if word slips it’s eyeing an expansion or investment in Louisville.”

But that justification for withholding guests’ names is “pretty thin,” especially since the guests know who else is in attendance, said John Wunderlich, the executive director of the Sunlight Foundation — a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for government transparency.

“There is only one set of people that get to understand who is working with the city, and the public gets left out,” he said. “That just seems inappropriate.”

Wunderlich said a private meeting between city officials and representatives from a single company wouldn’t necessarily need to be disclosed. But larger scale gatherings that span days and cost significant amounts of taxpayer funds are a different story.

“At some point it’s not a private negotiation that’s about just promoting the city,” he said.

The public has a right to know who the guests are — if they’re campaign contributors, if they have relationships with city officials, Wunderlich said.

Wunderlich said cities are beginning to face more scrutiny related to how they pursue private companies looking to expand or bring development. He pointed to Amazon’s recent effort to solicit bids from cities interested in hosting their coming expansion. That led to cities offering extraordinary pleas and deals to the company.

Aaron Sherb, director of legislative affairs for Common Cause, a national watchdog group, said government officials serve on the taxpayer’s dime and the public has a right to know who is trying to influence government — and what deals are ultimately made with those individuals and companies.

“Without knowing who is on the mayor’s list of attendees, we’re just left in the dark,” Sherb said.

Councilwoman Angela Leet, who is running against Fischer in the upcoming general election, said the Kentucky Derby is obviously an asset and an opportunity to attract business.

“But you have to be accountable to the taxpayers,” she said.

She said the costs associated with the events are “excessive” and the names of guests should eventually be made public. And she questioned whether the event is effective for business development. She said business leaders should be courted in more individualized settings.

“They want to be the center of attention,” she said.

City purchasing policy requires all purchases greater than $20,000 to be made via certain processes: competitive bidding, competitive negotiation, an approved contract or a non-competitive negotiation.

Porter, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said all the expenses were under the city’s small purchase threshold except the more than $72,000 for Churchill Downs tickets, which can only be bought through Churchill Downs.

But records show another purchase exceeded the $20,000 threshold: the guests’ Omni Hotel rooms cost nearly $30,000, the records show.

Porter said the Omni Hotel purchase “went through [Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau] bid process like any convention/meeting does.”

A spokesperson for the bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As costs rise for some elements of the annual Derby party — like tickets, parking passes and cookies — other costs stay flat.

“We negotiate the best price with as many local vendors as possible,” Porter said.

For instance, photographers have earned $950 — no more, no less — each year, since 2015, the records show. And chartered guest transportation to and from the racetrack has remained a steady $5,000 fee, each year — though this year included a $250 tip.

City officials have also nixed some accoutrements, which have led to fewer expenditures. In past years, city officials bought souvenir cups from Louisville Stoneware and footed the bill for drinks and food at the Galt House. This year, the city did neither.

In 2016, city officials spent $5,000 for an app designed by local tech company Interapt. The city reused it this year and paid $103 to update it.

This year, customized magnetic name tags cost taxpayers more than $300, less than the city spent in previous years.

With rain in the forecast, city officials did make one unplanned expenditure. Someone took a last-minute trip to Dollar Tree to pick up dozens of umbrellas and plastic bags — a cost of $213, records show.

FischerOnStepsSource: WFPL, Jacob Ryan

Abandoned vehicles, Bardstown Rd, impound lot,…

Sunday’s Courier Journal, front page, above the fold: abandoned cars overflowing our streets and the impound lot….then on page 4: traffic changes to Bardstown Rd. The city’s proposals will not solve our motor vehicle problems. The solution is found in calming and reducing traffic while increasing public transit service.
The abandoned vehicle problem can be solved with a change of law allowing the city to quickly dispose of (crush or sell) abandoned vehicles. Perhaps vehicle owners should put up a “security deposit” forfeited by bad behavior. Those rotating “security deposits” could be escrowed with TARC to increase urban public transit.
The rush-hour problem will not be solved by the city’s proposal to eliminate the rush-hour lanes and retain on street parking on Bardstown Rd. The result will be a rush-hour nightmare for drivers and TARC users. The solution is to dedicate the outermost lanes as bus/fire/EMS/police lanes. The inner lanes will slow to a safe crawl. Drivers will then consider riding the buses they see flying past in the dedicated bus lanes. The buses should turn back toward town six miles from First and Main Streets, acknowledging that the exurbs are hopelessly car dependent. That reduction of route length will multiply TARC service where it is most needed. Bardstown Rd, and other roads given the same advantages, will become transit rich and pedestrian friendly. Build parking garages at Mid City and Oxmoor malls and watch the city recreate itself as a transportation and land use smart city.

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Carbon dioxide reaches another record level in Earth’s atmosphere

“Carbon dioxide — the gas scientists say is most responsible for global warming — peaked again at record levels last month, federal scientists announced Thursday.

Levels at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory averaged more than 410 parts per million in April and May, surging past yet another climate milestone.

The Scripps Institution for Oceanography, where scientists first started tracking the gas, found a similar increase.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases every year, and the rate of increase is accelerating.

“The emissions that we are causing today will still be in the atmosphere-ocean system thousands of years from now,” said Pieter Tans, a NOAA scientist. “Carbon dioxide levels are continuing to grow at an all-time record rate because emissions from coal, oil and natural gas are also at record high levels.”

“We are as a global society making an extremely long climate-change commitment,” Tans added.

The increase in gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide is fueling climate change and making “the planet more dangerous and inhospitable for future generations,” the World Meteorological Organization has said.

More: ‘Clear-sky’ flooding worsens across U.S. as sea levels rise, report says

More: Study: Hurricanes are slowing down as climate warms, increasing flood threats

More: May was warmest on record for USA, breaking mark set during Dust Bowl

When oil, gas and coal are burned for energy, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are released. These gases have caused the Earth’s temperature to rise over the past century to levels that cannot be explained by natural variations.

Carbon dioxide is called a greenhouse gas for its ability to trap solar radiation and keep it confined to the atmosphere.

It is invisible, odorless and colorless yet is responsible for 63% of the warming attributable to all greenhouse gases, according to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.”

Source: USA Today

Bypass Louisville and destroy nature

The state is researching a plan to build a new 50 mile interstate from I-65 in Bullitt County, passing through Spencer and Shelby Counties, and ending at I-71 in Oldham County, completely bypassing Louisville. A $2 million budget has already been allocated to look into the idea.
Instead of investing in urban public transit and regional passenger rail, the state and our city leadership (current and past): 1) wasted funds on two new Ohio River bridges, a tunnel, ramps, highway widenings and extensions, and 2) are currently blowing $91 million widening Gene Snyder.  Not having gained any perspective on future sustainable transportation, they now want a 50 mile Louisville-avoiding bypass.
The farms, fields, forests and floodplains destroyed by this proposal compound the denial of public transit services.
Jackie Green is on record opposing the bypass. LouisvilleByPass.PNG Source …

Media censorship – censorship OF or BY the media

Censorship OF the media, whether by government, by business interests, by influential individuals or by powerful groups, is universally condemned in open societies. Censorship BY the media, however, often goes unchallenged. Too often media censors elections by treating the election as a horse race, calling from the sidelines, giving odds. Media often censors in failing to take an in depth examination of issues and nuances. Much of media, with business interests of its own, censors when candidate positions run counter to advertiser concerns. Media censors when candidate campaigns are unconventional. Media censors when it sensationalizes. And media censors when it does not like the message, bristling at the truth spoken.

When media censors elections, elections descend to popularity contests, to tribal expressions (Dems vs Reps), to fundraising contests, to a resignation to a two party system, to photo-op contests, to a poverty of ideas, to fashion contests, to a narrowing of options (current and future),and to a violation of democracy.

Louisville’s future, the world’s future, is at stake in local elections. Let us hope that local media will cover well local elections.

Fischer’s courting (and buying) economic development

There is a better way to attract economic development from locals and out of towners. Fischer’s wine and dine approach, as outlined in the WFPL / Jacob Ryan report (  ), coupled with his ‘buy the investment’ approach (OMNI) sells short Louisville.

If we take measures to become the most sustainable city in the US, investment (local and out of town) will come. Sustainable cities are compact, dense, public transit rich, surface parking lot poor, pedestrian and bicycle friendly, powered by renewable energy, have adequate affordable housing, healthy neighborhoods, an educated public, clean air, clean waterways and are verdant, peaceful and just. This is the better way.