Written by Mike Martin
CiViC seeks accountable government, and an abiding recognition that everyone counts
COLUMBIA, 2/18/12 (Op-Ed) -- A new citizens group has formed to oppose the Columbia City Council's unanimous February 6 blight decree and instead, support the investment every citizen in Columbia makes.
With an inaugural meeting planned for Wednesday, February 22, 7 pm at Parkade Center on the Business Loop, CiViC -- Citizens Invested and Involved in Columbia -- seeks coalition through allied interests that may diverge on particulars, but agree on the big picture.
From private business people to personal financiers; public servants to dedicated volunteers; the mightiest titan to the tiniest child: Every person, CiViC members say, counts. The city-wide blight decree, they believe, ignores this big-picture fact of community life.
Some don't like the blight decree because they believe it opens the door for eminent domain (this author is one of them).
But some don't have a problem with the eminent domain issue. Instead, they don't like the pall blight casts on the real estate market. How will it affect title insurance? What about lending and home values?
Others worry about the hit to our public schools from all the property tax breaks the blight declaration invites. As a one-sized fits all palette of goodies, a blight decree can accomodate an Enterprise Zone; TIFs; Chapter 100 bonds; eminent domain; urban renewal; and so on, with tax subsidies attached. We can't keep giving big tax breaks to some; raising taxes on everyone else; and debt-financing through bonds to keep infrastructure functioning.
Others don't have a problem with any of these issues.
Instead, they don't like the Council declaration because it seems like a Big Lie: A blight decree across a non-blighted city to stimulate economic growth and encourage people to relocate and do business here, after all we've done over the years to promote parks, trails, schools, and other amenities.
A 6-part declaration that condemns Columbia's moral values, infrastructure, economy, and 150 years of hard, often heartbreaking work to make and remake an American town, most recently all that expense restoring dozens of buildings downtown.
And what about how the new blighted "Enterprise Zone" goes around the most blighted part of town: Stan Kroenke's old Osco lot on the corner of Providence and Broadway? Magnify the map on page 4 and follow the hatched blue line. According to the city's new blight map, Kroenke's Osco lot isn't blighted.
None of it makes a darn bit of sense, CiViC says. On the one hand, we're supposed to be fabulous, terrific Tiger Town! On the other, we're being cast in the Blightmare on Elm Street.
CiViC members recognize they won't agree on many things. But they do have a vision of a city for everyone -- 99 percenters, 1 percenters, all 100%.
As such, they have an opportunity for innovation in community relations hereabouts, where decades-old differences, preconceptions, and misconceptions might be set aside and a new road ahead mapped out.
Politics is built on misconceptions and Columbia is no exception. People who support sound planning are not tree hugging commies; all businesses are not bad -- in fact, most are local heroes; all liberals are not opposed to sound economic thinking, and all conservatives are not the Grinches that Stole America.
The Chamber of Commerce has plenty of fine, ethical members, rich, poor, and middle income; Smart Growth is filled with smart people; Realtors want a great community with parks, bike paths, and quality housing; and preserving the environment preserves a future for families and free enterprise.
City Hall and local government have many fine public servants, people who want the best for this community and work hard every day to achieve it.
But powerful special interests use misconceptions to divide, conquer, and escape accountability -- something Citizens must demand from their leaders, who all too frequently answer to a chosen few. The vast majority, the people who make the economy and the community hum with vitality, John and Jane Q. Public are too often shunted aside.
The February 6th Blight Decree is the most recent in a growing chain of unfortunate local examples, as the roar of Garagezilla well reminds. Ward Redistricting didn't become Ward Gerrymandering because people woke up and got involved.
Now it seems, The People are wide awake, and as Mayor Robert McDavid, M.D. wisely reminds, "You never want to get in the way of an engaged citizenry."
Editorial disclosure: The author has been actively involved in consulting, planning, and helping the group and will donate to their cause. CiViC is presently exploring Missouri Ethics Commission filings and related housekeeping matters.
"BLIGHTED AREA": The Columbia City Council's new definition for our fine city
"Blighted area": An area which, by reason of the predominance of defective or inadequate street layout, insanitary or unsafe conditions, deterioration of site improvements, improper subdivision or obsolete platting, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors, retards the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability or a menace to the public health, safety, morals or welfare in its present condition and use.
Except for Stan Kroenke's old Osco lot, that is! ;)