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HISTORY REPEATS: Group moves to rescind Blight Decree

Newly-formed Columbia PAC wants blight off the books 
 
COLUMBIA, 4/7/12  (Beat Byte) -- With an April 16 City Council vote looming to finalize a Blight Decree and Enhanced Enterprise Zone, members of CiViC (Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia) have started a major push to rescind the hurried legislation that reminds of two previously successful citizen efforts.  
 
CiViC is a Missouri Ethics Commission-registered political action committee (PAC). 

"We've started a ballot initiative signature drive to rescind the City of Columbia Blight/Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) resolution," explains a CiViC pamphlet.   "There are many opinions and concerns, but everyone seems to agree the Blight/EEZ resolution must be fully rescinded."

The Mid City Redevelopment Project of 1963 and Flat Branch Redevelopment Project of 1978-81 used blight decrees to establish Land Clearance Authorities for eminent domain around Columbia's downtown and Flat Branch areas.  To overcome stubborn city councils, citizens took both efforts directly to voters, who soundly defeated them

A third redevelopment push, the Douglass School Urban Renewal Project of 1956-66, targeted the black community near Douglass High School and the old Sharp End, where the Columbia Daily Tribune building now stands.   That effort successfully used blight and eminent domain against some 115 black-owned businesses and nearly 500 families. 

Resolution versus Ordinance

This time around, nearly 60% of Columbia was officially blighted to qualify for the EEZ, a Missouri tax abatement program.
 
Citizen concerns have included the negative impact blight may have on property values; the possibility of eminent domain abuse; the increasing burden tax abatement schemes are putting on local schools; and that such wide-reaching legislation should be treated as a City of Columbia ordinance, not a City Council resolution.
 
With several lawyers and one former Council member on board, CiViC says the Blight Decree/EEZ did not follow proper, City Charter-mandated procedures.  
 
Resolutions are often non-binding position statements passed with little public comment in a single meeting:  the City of Columbia "resolves" to declare April 1 "Cool Stuff Memorial Day," for instance, in honor of the now-closed downtown store.  

Ordinances, on the other hand, are laws, and follow a multi-step procedure that includes public hearings, various City Council readings, and a long consideration process.   Emails reveal that REDI, the Blight Decree's main proponent, repeatedly pushed to get it passed as a Resolution, by-passing public involvement. 

CiViC will be at the Columbia Public Library to take ballot initiative signatures from registered voters at these times and at other areas around town:

Monday April 9, (5-7pm)
Tuesday April 10, (5-7pm)
Wednesday April 11, (5-7pm)
Thursday April 12, (3-5pm)


*This writer is a member of CiViC.

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