Thursday, May 12, 2005

How Could City Government Help the People?

Everyone has their own take on this, here is mine:

1. More beat cops on the street in crime-ridden areas.

2. Stop giving tax abatements to oligarchical businesses that pay minimum wagish salaries for part time, no benefits jobs from which the employees will be laid off before they ever retire. The “no benefits” constitutes a transfer of wealth from the taxpayer to the corporations. These employees perpetually remain among the working poor and burden the social service system despite their industry and hard work. The abatements also come out of my pocket as my house is reassessed every year to pay for new people with children moving into my district.

3. Lobby the state to means test parents who avail themselves of the Public School system. My Dad was a government mule at Kelly. On his meager salary he paid my tuition to Grace Bible School, San Antonio Military Academy and Keystone. Every day I drive past Churchill and see a parking lot full of $40,000 cars driven by teenagers. This amounts to a redistribution of wealth from the lower and middle-middle class to the wealthy. Why am I paying for the indoctrination and substandard education of the children of the elite, simply because they don’t care enough about their own offspring to sacrifice that extra condo in Aspen for the sake of tuition? The elite’s parents abdicate, I pay and Johnny can’t read. I could go on about this, but suffice to say that means testing would be a boon to private schools, would free up much needed resources in public schools, and be a general benefit to school children everywhere.

4. Reform Zoning laws to improve economic, ethnic and political justice in society. Subdivisions with houses from the $75s-$125s, $175s-$350s, $250s-$600s, $500-$3,000,000s, are the problem. Such developments segregate us by wealth, ethnicity and political interests. They undermine civic unity and create ghettos for the rich where the rest of the community is out of sight and out of mind. If we zone for real economic integration with a mansion, a 4-bdrm, a 2-bdrm, a duplex, and a 4-plex on every residential street, this would avoid concentrations of poverty and wealth. It would increase social access and upward mobility, both economic and social. The current model provides only an illusion of security as your precious gated communities are surrounded by apartments filled with folks who find the wall no obstacle to burglarizing your home or selling drugs to you unsupervised youth. It is only a barrier to coming to know you and learn to share your much-vaunted work ethic.

For those who say this is not what the buyers market wants, I cite you property values. If you try to buy a 2,000 sq. ft house on say Lullwood or Mistletoe between McCullough and San Pedro, you'll pay about $200,000 for a home that needs a new roof, new foundation, new paint, new fixtures, new electrical etc. That brings it up to about $350,000. This is in just such an economically integrated neighborhood as I’ve described. If the buyers market is willing to pay this much just to be in such a neighborhood without good schools why not build more development like this?

It is just such economically integrated neighborhoods that are the most contested in local elections reflecting their relative political diversity as well. If there were more such communities, this would lower the stakes in gerrymandering and reduces the incentive for the shenanigans that always emerge in the process.

5. Stop building freeways and spending millions rebuilding their intersections. This only serves to concentrate traffic flows, create gridlock, and the traffic jams that are the real source of big box revenue. Big boxes have extraordinary start up costs, roughly $3.5 million for an Olive Garden. They have to recoup these costs competitively with the stock market, not just the restaurant market. That means you have to sell a lot of spaghetti real fast. Your business model relies on building a $500,000 sign that will be viewed by about 2,000,000 drivers a day. Without these 2,000,000 car passes your model falls apart. Who subsidizes the huge expense of this model? The taxpayer, federal, state and local does. This is yet another transfer of wealth from the working and middle class to the corporate coffers. Maybe if we got back the two hours we spent in the car everyday we could supervise our latch key kids and cut down on STDs and teen pregnancies to boot.

6. Continue to improve local drainage. Make under-served areas that have been waiting for a century the first priority and move new developments to the end of the queue.

7. Stop spending money subsidizing the negative cash flow to the community that professional sports create. I like sports as much as the next guy. In particular I like fencing, shooting sports, equestrian events, Grand Prix automobile racing and motto cross. Imagine the outrage if I asked the citizens of San Antonio to provide $200,000,000 to subsidize my athletic interests. The horror, the horror!

8. Instead of trying to be a second rate Houston or Dallas, we should zig when they zag. This is the first rule of establishing a successful brand identity. These capitals of mammon are not going to play fair with San Antonio and we will never compete with them at their own game. We should play the culture card. If done right, this would leave them in the dust and be a boom to our local economy, for more on this check out some of my posts.

9. We should reform the charter to end term limits, but keep short terms of office. We should extend ethics reform to the lobbyists and make them report how much they receive and how they spend it. The City should deploy effective technology to make this information available and make sites like obsolete.

More on these themes to come.