I got an e-mail recently from Lee May’s office concerning the lack of rail service into South DeKalb. What was nice to see was his lack of enthusiasm for an additional penny to fund transportation improvements in the metro. Here are a few excerpts. Though he has not come out against it, it seems the tone of this e-mail suggests that we should take a long, hard critical look at what is being asked of us versus what we are getting in return.
First his argument against “Bus Centers”
It is also noted that one of the residents, though disappointed about the rail projects not being funded was quoted as saying “…I think it would have been much more beneficial than premium bus service because it’s already harder to provide an incentive to get people on a bus than it is with a rail line.” This has been one of the many reason for supporting funding for the I-20 East Rail project. Bus service, albeit, bus rapid transit service, is still buses —- which equates to still sitting in traffic.
The promise of rail decades ago
Proponents of the project list will say that DeKalb residents are getting $1.6 Billion from the total $6 Billion allocated for the region. On the surface this might sound like a great deal: for a mere additional one cent tax you get $1.6 Billion in roadway projects (minus the $700M for the Clifton Corridor project) — but no rail. You will receive Bike/Pedestrian improvements. But no Rail. And you will receive bus rapid transit — but again, no rail. Over thirty years ago, an agreement was made with the taxpayers of DeKalb and that agreement was in short, “pay the one percent sales tax and rail will be constructed throughout DeKalb.” Thus far no new rail projects in 20+ years have been constructed in Central and South DeKalb — Central and South DeKalb have been left alongside the road.
His question to residents
Review the list. Yes, there are roadway improvement projects in Central and South DeKalb but the crux of the issue is: does Central and South DeKalb continue to pay a one percent tax and not get rail?
Road improvement projects, in effect, are road widening projects and intersection improvements are to accommodate more traffic. South and Central DeKalb will have great roads that will continue to be clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic. South and Central DeKalb will not be in a position to get people out of their cars and on to rail for another 40 years
These seem like reasonable grievances to me. Buses must be complimented by other forms of transportation including light or heavy rail. Buses are at the mercy of traffic conditions like any other road vehicle. Unless the buses have an exclusive right of way that no other traffic can enter into, then it is not a solution. I don’t need to speak about the promise of rail. If rail (light or heavy) goes out into Cobb or Gwinnett, we are truly being shafted. And to me that what this penny boils down to. Are we getting our money’s worth?
See the full text here of the May’s mailer
Why am I not surprised by this? This was DOA and anyone with half a brain knew it. No one on that roundtable was interested in helping marginal folks in South DeKalb. Whats worse is that the member we had who was suppose to look out for our interest caved. CEO Ellis made a bold statement wanting to yank funding from the GA400/I285 area, but I bet he knew that was going nowhere and can hide behind the fact that he did offer up an alternative. It pisses me off that I have to live North of the Stone Mountain Freeway to get decent schools, decent roads, clean streets and transportation alternatives. We are a marginalized people who are being asked to give 1 cent of every dollar spent here to citizens in Cobb who don’t even want rail and have historically been downright hostile to it. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is just redistribution in the other direction. Take our tax dollars and spend them on projects that people don’t want just because they can. If they rely on my vote to help pass it, then we all we be stuck in 20th century transportation options.
I must commend Commissioner Larry Johnson. He has taken the rail for South DeKalb issue and brought it front and center. The AJC which tends to only report about crime, corruption and the horrible schools in South DeKalb has had no less than three stories in the last month or so that talks directly about the rail issue in South DeKalb.( here, here and here) I think this is a testament to the power that South DeKalb wields in the upcoming vote for a penny sales tax to cover various transportation projects around the metro. It is a common belief that without Atlanta, Fulton and Dekalb this thing is dead on arrival. If South DeKalb feels it is getting slighted in all of this, which would not be surprising, then you might see a backlash with few voters willing to pay an additional penny on top of the one we already pay. For many of us in South DeKalb, it is a slap in the face to ask us to pay another penny in sales tax only to see other areas get transportation options and we remain gridlocked with 20th century options. I have previously written in support of the 1 cent, mainly because it was my belief that transit options would come to South DeKalb. Now I have become a fence sitter. I still believe the penny will help push transportation options for hundreds of thousands of residents all over metro Atlanta, but what disturbs me is that of those hundreds of thousands, few will live near or south of I-20. I fear that my lack of political influence and lack of money will ultimately have me paying an extra cent for goods and services and that money will go straight to Cobb or Gwinnett or one of the other far flung areas that do not have any of my interests at heart.
With all of that said, I must respectfully disagree with how some want to fund a rail line to South DeKalb. CEO Burrell Ellis, who sits on the roundtable that will decide the fate of rail in South DeKlab, wants to yank money from a GA 400 project. That idea won’t fly. GA 400 is a main artery between the wealthy and powerful North Fulton suburbs and the city of Atlanta. Polticians and business leaders who saturate that area will never allow that to happen. And a proposal by Lee May to strip some funding from the Clifton Corridor line is less likely to happen though it is more feasible than the GA 400 idea. I don’t like this idea because it would hurt residents throughout DeKalb. A third option floated by Decatur mayor and roundtable member Bill Floyd is to make the Clifton rail and South DeKalb rail one big project. This is less likely to happen given the price tag, but it has merits. If the Clifton segment is built to hook into the Avoondale station, and the blues line is extendided to Wesley Chapel, you would not have to travel all the way downtown to go to Sandy Springs or Dunwoody. That would make the Wesley Chapel idea much more attractive than one that only sends you to downtown.
So where does that leave South DeKalb? Well I think it leaves us in a sticky situation. If we vote for the tax without rail to South DeKalb it is highly likely that South DeKalb will be paying for improvements in transportation that will not directly improve our transit options. In fact we could be one of only a handful of geographic regions in the 10 county area to get little or no improvements for the 1 cent sales tax. On the other hand, I fear that if the referendum fails not only will we not get anything now or in the future, those areas that are clamoring for road inprovements and wider freeways will eventually get what they want through some other means. It’s the old classic damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The only win for South DeKalb would be a sales tax approved and a rail line.
On my trip home from work recently, I overheard a conversation that involved about five twenty-something’s. The conversation involved an EBT card(food stamps for those who don’t know) and the fact that the cardholder was having some issues using it recently. She was obviously upset, and she should have been. after all, from my perspective, she could not purchase food for herself nor anyone she was responsible for. But it was a statement she made later that upset me. She went on to say that she “earned’ her “stamps” and “how could they “screw her —- up”. the others around her, another young lady and three guys all lamented her situation and echoed her belief that she had earned her “stamps”. How could “they” do this to me. One guy even chimed in that he had recently experienced issues with his card. All of this sent my head a spinning. How does one “earn” an EBT card? I always thought “they” gave you an EBT card. After a few moments digesting what she had said, my thoughts turned to frustration. How dare she say she earned her card considering it was our tax dollars that provided the funds for the card. Then that thought went away quickly as I realized my frustration should be directed at the system that allows such attitudes to perpetuate themselves. I started to think about not what she said specifically, but what her statement meant for us as a society as a whole. What I gleaned from this group of young people was that they felt they were entitled to that card. They felt that just being alive entitled them to have that EBT card so they do not have to spend any money on a basic necessity. By the time I got to my stop, I had come to the same conclusion that many others before me had; we are producing a society of men and women, and by extension children, who feel they are entitled to things. Nothing has to be earned, but it should be given. It has become a popular notion that just being born entitles you to food, housing, insurance, and even a diploma. All at no cost to the individual. The prevailing belief among a large number of people is that you should not have to work to pay for food and shelter, and other necessities. When you work you should be able to use that money for leisure activities, or so it is believed. No need to study hard, because they are going to have to let me walk across that stage, because I was born and I have a right to walk across that stage whether I met the requirements to walk or not. Why should I take care of my children when the schools and the state can do it for me. By the time all my thoughts had finished swirling around in my head, I settled back and realized that what is wrong with South DeKalb and with our society in general is that we have become a nation that feels entitled to things as oppose to working for them. It is obvious from our schools to the streets to our prisons. Successful individuals do not feel entitled to anything. They work hard and reap the rewards of that hard work. It transcends social standing, economic status and racial identification. It is a learned behavior and until many of us unlearn that entitlement mentality we are surely never going to be successful at anything.
I am a big supporter of public transportation. When I was in my early teens growing up in Indiana, my mother bought me a pass for our local bus system. I was the only one of my friends who knew how to catch the bus. When we moved to Georgia, the first thing I did was buy a MARTA card. I learned more about this city riding transit than most locals knew who had lived here all their lives. When we bought our house several years ago, one of our desires was it be close to mass transit. It all was a matter of choices. Unfortunately in South DeKalb, public transportation choices will be limited to buses. No rail of any sort for those of us who have been supporting MARTA for decades. The roundtable, that is deciding what projects to include in next years tax referendum, scrapped any idea of a train system running into South DeKalb. Instead they chose to link Emory with the Lindbergh area, and extend MARTA up to Cumberland in Cobb county. I am in agreement with the roundtable that the Emory/Clifton corridor needs more than buses, but to extend rail to Cobb is really a slap in the face for us long time riders and supporters of MARTA. Cobb, along with Gwinnett, and Clayton, decide decades ago that they did not want public transportation. Only recently have they embraced the idea that some public transport is needed. Now Cobb residents get to enjoy the spoils of an already in place system that was paid for by Dekalb and Fulton residents. But what is even more distressing is that one of the two elected leader that repesents the county on this roundtable was rather dismissive of any sort of transit choices in South DeKalb. Here is what CEO Ellis had to say:
He should have added on to that “who will actually use it”. MARTA has done the needed studies to for rail service in parts of the I-20 corridor. They have shown that it is a viable project. They have done environmental impact studies, and have presented it to the public. The only thing that stood in the way was funding. Now that there is a possible funding plan, the rug is pulled out from under our feet. All of this is due to a lack of political resolve by the elected officials that represent us. This is just one of many times where our elected representatives have failed us. From quality of life issues to economic development, the county, our state reps and even our congressmen fail us at every turn. They do this because they know there will be few if any repercussions for their inaction. The rally for rail that Lee May held earlier this week was well intentioned, but a little too late. That should have been done earlier in the process to let the roundtable know exactly where we stood. Much of South DeKalb has been written off as ignorant and unworthy of proper representation. Until we hold our elected representatives to a higher standard, we will continue to get sub-standard representation.
That’s right folks. DeKalb, since it has grown slower than its exurban counterparts to the north will more than likely lose two of its state representatives to some far flung semi-rural backwater in the north Georgia mountains. That from the lips of district 90 representative Howard Mosby who was in attendance at the redistricting meeting held by Kathie Gannon in Gresham Park this week. Though he did not call it a rural backwater, Mosby’s speculation sort of mirrors what I posted last week about congressional redistricting in DeKalb. Power in the state house and Congress is leapfrogging the southern parts of the metro in favor of the far northern counties. From a political standpoint it means a smaller voice in the legislature. From an economic standpoint, it could mean fewer dollars for things like roads and transit. No details came forward as to which representatives would lose their seat, but Mosby did say that during redistricting, recently voted in members have an advantage. But that’s not all. Our school districts will go from nine to seven thanks to recently passed legislation. That means two members could be drawn out or forced to run against another incumbent. Again those recently elected have an advantage over those who have not faced a re-election since 2010. Those of you who wanted Cunningham or Copelin-Woods gone may have to wait for another election cycle. And finally, our esteemed board of commissioners will have their districts redrawn. District 5, Lee Mays dominion, is the largest district by size and population, so it will have to be cut down to help districts three and four become more balanced in terms of population. No one will be drawn out of the commission districts, though several are up for re-election.
As I was writing the above, the AJC posted what could be the first version of new congressional districts in Georgia. From what I can tell, DeKalb county will have three reps instead of four. It looks like David Scott in the 13th had the few thousand people in extreme South DeKalb taken away and put into John Lewis’ 5th district. As I was told by a politician recently, the 4th did slide further east taking in all of Rockdale, and some of Newton. From this map I cannot tell for sure if the 6th dipped further down into DeKalb, but it does look as though most of north DeKalb and North Atlanta are now in the 6th district. If this map holds, it looks like all three Democrats in Atlanta Metro are safe. I do wonder though if stretching the 4th all the way to Newton wouldn’t make the 4th a little more conservative, and give Hank Johnson a challenge for his seat. Of the three metro area Democrats, Hanks seat may be the least safe. Here is a copy of the map.
When I started reading this article, my thoughts wandered to the extended stay motels that dot the central part of South DeKalb. I can count at least twelve that I know of, so I am sure there are a dozen more I overlooked. I never really liked extended stays because they seem to be a magnet for crime no matter where they are. If you have ever driven south on Candler between I-20 and 285, you can see that many of the problems of prostitution, open drug deals, and general mayhem can be traced in part back to the extended stays in that corridor. After reading the above article, I realized that these places do serve a purpose for a small number of folks who have found traditional housing to be a challenge. I was really struck by one woman who described a situation where she found it nearly impossible to get an apartment through standard means.:
She recently found work as a shift manager at a Checkers fast-food restaurant. Harris runs the register, supervises four employees and opens or closes the restaurant depending on the schedule for $10 per hour.
That doesn’t leave much for savings, which is critical if Harris wants to move into her own place. Her application at a local apartment complex was recently denied after her credit report turned up an old unsettled bill. She was especially frustrated that she lost $20 on the application fee.
Other places have told her that her criminal record disqualifies her from consideration. Another complex accepted her application but wanted first and last month’s rent, which totaled $1,050.
Harris was forced to keep looking.
This woman has had some obvious challenges, and extended stay is her last option before living on the streets. And when there are children involved it makes it that much more distressing.
I would like to see DeKalb crack down on extended stays, but not to the point of pushing them out of business. Property owners should be held accountable for criminal activities that occur on their property. If there are code violations, the owners should be made to bring their property up to code or face stiff fines. And the police should put more resources into cleaning out problematic motels. If I, a normal citizen can see criminal activity from my car without having to stop and look for it, I have to believe the cops and the motel owners see it as well.