Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Pause for the Cause

Home in Flint, MI; Photo courtesy of Flickr: sarrazak6881

With Alameda heating up over the proposed changes to Measure A, limiting housing density, for Alameda Point I saw a NY Times article about Flint, Michigan that caused me to pause and think about our discussion of the topic and to look at growth from another perspective.

The story details the anguish that the City of Flint is experiencing dealing with an housing meltdown, loss of thousands of jobs and huge budget shortfall. In an effort to save the City from all the elements pushing this once vibrant town into demise the City leaders are considering shrinking the town. The plan is to physically demolish whole block of homes to shrink the city into a more manageable size that will allow for its survival. The goal in leveling these neighborhoods is to head off homes becoming abandoned and after the county forecloses be forced to demolish them at a later date.

Flint has been hit hard by the recession and to continue to provide services to those who still live in the neighborhoods those pushing the plan believe the contraction into a few viable areas is the answer. The net result would be fewer city workers: firefighters and police officers. A smaller population would also mean fewer schools.

Genesee County, where Flint is located, has acquired through tax foreclosure about 900 houses in the city, in a variety of neighborhoods and must decide what should be saved.

Flint is not the only city to do this, Indianapolis and Little Rock, Ark., have recently set up land banks, and other cities are in the process of doing so to begin the process of going smaller.

The one quote that stood out in the article for me in this very depressing story was:
“If it’s going to look abandoned, let it be clean and green,” he said Dan Kildee, the Genesee County treasurer and chief spokesman for the movement to shrink Flint. “Create the new Flint forest — something people will choose to live near, rather than something that symbolizes failure.”

So what does all this have to do with us who live in Alameda?
Well as we talk about expanding the City, population and services on the Island we need to think about how the services to support all this will come into play.

As I see the battle over Public Safety contract gearing up, I ask how we will be able to support the need for even more Police and Fire and the pension obligations that go with every person the City hires. I am sure any growth will require more City Hall employees to handle the growth.

What is the true cost of the SunCal or SOCA plan?

Edmundo Delmundo in a post yesterday asked some good questions about the SOCA vision for the point. My view is that the “SOCA Plan” is lacking details. Anyone familiar with the point understands that the infrastructure will need to be replaced. Green Collar Industry and Sustainable Energy Research will require investment into building and the utilities that service the point. Expanded Solar Energy Generation, is a good goal for the City as a whole but remember Alameda Power & Telecom (a.k.a AMP) studied generation at the point, but that was met with opposition. The Education and Internships for our Youth Parks look like it was just thrown into the list. Open Space would be the only option that would require limited resources, just demolition, but I do not think that SOCA is suggesting the entire demolition of the point.

So what is the point of this long post, well we need to be thoughtful in the process. I do not see Alameda becoming Flint, but we could stress the current City service. The current housing market will not continue to stagnate, but the addition of over 4,000 units to the market will cause some effect to home values. If I new the answer to the effect I would be out promoting it, but at this time we should take a wait and see what the plans contain.

As Edmundo said (I paraphrase) in his post it will cost a whole lot if we dismiss the SunCal plan. I think that can be said for any idea that is positive making a positive contribution to the process.

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