House bill calls for voter referendum on minimum wage

A new House bill would allow North Carolina residents to vote on raising the state's minimum wage, plus give local governments more leeway in setting their own.

House Bill 1046 would allow voters to decide in November whether to amend the North Carolina Constitution to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour, plus yearly cost of living adjustments. That's equivalent to about $18,000 a year in full-time wages. The federal poverty threshold for a single-person household is $12,331.  Download Poverty thresholds

In an apparent rebuke to House Bill 2, the legislation would also allow any public body to raise its minimum wage above the state's. One of the overlooked portions of HB2 is the prohibition against local governments to set a minimum wage that is greater than the one set by the state. That wage is the same as the federal amount, $7.25 an hour.

Nationwide, including in Durham, social justice advocates have been demanding the hourly wage be increased to $15, equivalent to $31,000 annually in full-time wages. Last month, California and New York became the first states to do just that, although not immediately; their respective governors signed bills into law that stagger the increases. California will raise its minimum from $10 to $15 by 2022; New York will reach that benchmark around the same time, although workers in New York City could earn the new minimum by 2018.

According to Raise the Minimum Wage, 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, have set their minimum wage above the federal level. Ten states currently adjust minimum wage increases each year: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon and Washington.  

The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2009.

The bill has several co-sponsors, including Graig Meyer, a Democrat representing parts of Durham and Orange counties. It will be introduced today when the House convenes at 3 p.m.

The sorry state of Durham's sidewalks; take the bike/ped survey

University 2

Chigger alert! What passes for a path on University Drive near the Rockwood Shopping Center
Photo by Lisa Sorg

Author's note: This story was corrected and clarified on May 24 via a separate post and within the text below. I regret the errors. — Lisa Sorg

For an experiment in terror, walk along Dearborn Drive east of Lakeview School. You might be headed for the Bragtown Community Library or one of the five bus stops along this busy, narrow road. There are no sidewalks or road shoulders, so you must tread on a dirt path just steps from the white line that separates you from the cars. This stretch of Dearborn Drive is listed as the No. 1 priority for sidewalks, according to the city’s 2011 ranking.  Download 2011_Durham_sidewalkranking

(This stretch has sidewalks on the south side of the street; east of Ruth Street to Club Boulevard, there are no sidewalks because that project did not score highly on the pedestrian plan.)

Yet pedestrians and bicyclists encounter these dangers on streets all over the city: South Alston Avenue, North Roxboro Street, University Drive, LaSalle Street. A lack of sidewalks and bike lanes makes what should be a simple trip to the grocery an enervating exercise.

To address the highest-priority bike/ped needs, the City is soliciting public input on its Comprehensive Bicycle Transportation Plan and Durham Walks Pedestrian Plan, developed in 2006. The website includes a survey, interesting data and maps. But the ground truth of the matter is even more, well, I wouldn’t call it interesting, as much as harrowing.

(Update: This sidewalk petition process described in the next two paragraphs is no longer in effect; you can petition the Council for a sidewalk, and if it's approved, it goes into a queue. No more jumping ahead in line.) Residents can petition the city for an “expedited” sidewalk in their neighborhood, a system that favors more affluent neighborhoods. To move ahead in the sidewalk queue — think of it as boarding a plane first class or paying extra to skip the lines at Disney World  — 50 percent of the property owners along the length of the project must sign the petition. Then all of the residents in the project area pay a $5-per-foot assessment for the sidewalk and another $20 for any new curb and gutter. 

This system also gives the upper hand to neighborhoods with more owner-occupied homes and fewer renters. Renters, who are generally lower-income, are more likely to use public transit and/or walk — and thus need sidewalks. If landlords don’t have to contend with crappy or absent sidewalks, then why would they sign a petition? And if they do have to pay the assessment, that cost would likely be passed on to the tenants.

(Sidewalks not in the DurhamWalks! Pedestrian Plan will be assessed at full cost of construction at the time of construction, while sidewalks on the DurhamWalks! Pedestrian Plan will be assessed at $35/LF once constructed. There has not yet been a discussion regarding whether this process will change as the plan update is adopted.)

A 2015 city-county resident satisfaction survey showed that 51 percent of 92 respondents — a small response rate — said they would pay higher taxes for new sidewalks. 

However, 37 percent of 479 respondents were very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with the condition of their sidewalks, while 48 percent were either satisfied or very satisfied, 3 percentage points below the national average.

Five years ago, the city used crash data, bus stops and proximity to parks and schools to revise its sidewalk corridor ranking that listed Dearborn Drive between Old Oxford Road and Ruth Street at the top. But sidewalks are expensive. Also in 2011, the city released its unfunded sidewalk priority list, which showed it would cost $14 million to fund 24 new projects (including some curb and gutter) totaling just 16 miles. (These figures don’t include sidewalk maintenance.) 
Download 2011_Durham_unfundedsidewalk

The top five unfunded sidewalk projects; (all but the East Geer project is now either partially or fully funded)

  • North Roxboro Street from Pacific to Murray 
  • East Geer Street from Midland Terrace to Glenn School Road
  • South Alston Avenue between Cecil Street and Riddle Road
  • North Duke Street between Carver Street and Roxboro Road
  • Horton Road between Stadium Drive and Roxboro Road

Bicyclists have it no better. In 2006, there were 14 miles of striped bike lanes and 18 miles of greenway. Those numbers have increased with the construction of the I-40 bridge on the American Tobacco Trail. The city also added bike lanes on several roads, including West Main Street near Duke’s East Campus, and on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard as part of that thoroughfare’s road diet. (There was much gnashing of teeth about the potential negative effects of the diet on businesses along the boulevard. The restaurants, at least, usually seem packed. The traffic feels saner, as well.)

But the lack of connectivity between greenways and street-level bike routes still plagues the system, as does the car-first mentality in building or upgrading many of the roadways. In the same resident satisfaction survey, 43 percent of 479 respondents said they were dissatisfied with the condition of bike facilities. That compares with 28 percent who were either satisfied or very satisfied, a 10 point decrease from two years ago. 

According to the 2011 National Household Travel Survey, 40 percent of all trips taken by car are less than two miles. In Durham, the estimated total cost of physical inactivity equaled $194.1 million a year in expenditures for medical care, workers comp, and lost productivity.

In addition to the city’s online survey — paper copies are also available at Durham County Library branches — several public meetings and presentations will be scheduled this year. The process is expected to be complete in March 2017. Until then, bike and walk whenever you can; it’s one way to “normalize” being car-free. Just be careful.

The sun has set on Solar Bees: DEQ discontinues program

Today's headline out of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality read: "DEQ Secretary Makes Science-Based Decision to Discontinue SolarBee Project."

The operative word here is "science," being that science is not what guided the initial decision to install SolarBees in Jordan Lake — at the cost of $2 million.

After 21 months, DEQ data showed that SolarBees did not reduce the amount of algae in Jordan Lake, which environmental advocates long predicted. An abundance of algae is the result of too much nitrogen and phosphorus in a body of water. In turn, when the algae dies, it consumes oxygen, depriving other aquatic life of the element. That often results in fish kills and other die-offs. Because of the nutrient load, parts of Jordan Lake are on the federal impaired waters list.

Today's conclusions are the same ones that DEQ published online in early April, as Bull City Rising noted last month,  However, DEQ removed the report from its website, stating that it was only a draft — even though preliminary reports of public documents are also public records. 

Environmental groups have argued that because of the size of Jordan Lake, what amounted to stirring the water with egg beaters would not solve the algae and nutrient issues. Instead, stringent regulations on buffers and runoff from urban development and agriculture would be more effective at stemming the flow of nutrients into Jordan Lake.

And in theory, now that the SolarBees have failed, the General Assembly should implement the long-delayed Jordan Lake rules to do just that. However, the powerful real estate development interests oppose regulations that would curb their projects in the watershed.

Half of the city of Durham lies within the Jordan Lake watershed — and the lake itself extends into southern part of the county. Durham is subject to Jordan Lake rules which dictate the management of nutrient runoffs, buffers, etc. The sensitivity of the lake, parts of which have long been on the federal impairment list, is part of the reason why many Durhamites opposed the 751 South project. The lake provides drinking water to 300,000 people in the Triangle, primarily in southern Wake and northern Chatham counties, but also RTP.



You don't appreciate a good bus stop until it rains; GoDurham holds public meeting tonight

Bus stop 2

 Who is to congratulate for installing this bus stop book swap? Photo by Lisa Sorg

The city’s best bus stop is in front of the Durham Co-op on West Chapel Hill Street, on the No. 6 line that runs from downtown into Duke West Campus and all the way to Sparger Road. Enclosed in glass, the stop has a roof to protect riders from the rain. And it features a book swap. Akin to Little Free Libraries, bus stop book swaps can be found worldwide. What better way to pass the time on a bus than by reading? (Unless you’re like me, and books + buses = motion sickness.) 

Bus stops — their number, location, safety, and condition — are the topic of a GoDurham public meeting tonight from 6:30 to 8 p.m., at the Durham Transportation Center, 515 W. Pettigrew St. You can also comment online. 

The GoDurham system has 1,058 bus stops, the conditions of which vary widely. Some are forlorn outposts in grass on the side of highways; others are near the city center, and where, despite a large trash can, people still throw their losing lottery tickets on the ground. (I’m looking at you, Morehead Avenue.)  One, on Rigsbee Avenue near Durham Central Park, even has a solar-powered, real-time departure and arrival board.

Here are some bus stop statistics, provided by GoDurham:

  • 137 stops are sheltered
  • 37 additional stops have benches only
  • 705 bus stops are located on a sidewalk
  • 61 percent of all GoDurham boardings are at stops with shelters
  • An additional 3 percent of boardings are at stops with just benches
  • 84 percent of all GoDurham boardings are at stops located on a sidewalk

According to GoTriangle/GoDurham figures, a single shelter costs $8,000–$10,000, plus several thousand dollars in installation costs. Installing a single bus stop can cost as little as $500 if, for example, the City can include a concrete waiting pad as part of a larger sidewalk project. However, if the location is more complicated — along an N.C. Department of Transportation right-of-way, such as along Highway 54 or even Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, and on private property — the cost can exceed $25,000 even before construction.

GoDurham is proposing to the city to add 10 new bus stops a year, with 200 over the next decade. Some of the improvements will be made with money generated by the transit tax that voters approved in 2011. 

So now you know. You're ready for the meeting.

Durham, to cure our parking woes, it's time for a legit park-and-ride system

There should be a Twilight Zone episode in which a 30-something couple, having heard about how cool Durham is, arrives in the city after a three-day drive. Once they get here though, the two spend the rest of their lives driving the streets of downtown, looking for a parking space.

Downtown parking, or the lack thereof, dominated both the City Council and Board of Commissioners’ meetings yesterday. But the discussions underscored the fact that departments and agencies don’t seem to talk among themselves.

And, just like adding highway lanes doesn’t alleviate traffic, it became clear that more decks won’t necessarily solve the parking problem. Despite the extra sales tax revenue for transit and an improved bus service, Durham still needs if not an expanded, at least an imaginative mass transit system to solve the problem. That includes a park-and-ride service similar to that in Chapel Hill.

City Council tackled the issue of the proposed parking deck — possibly with roughly 30 units of affordable housing — on a city-owned surface lot at Morgan Street and Rigsbee Avenue. The rub is that last July, when the city’s transportation department issued a request for quotes (RFQ), it didn’t include affordable housing in the specs. So if the city were to reissue an RFQ with an affordable housing component, it would not occur until next January, said City Parking Division Manager Thomas Leathers.

Add in the estimated two years to build the garage, according to parking division estimates, and it could be 2018 or even 2019 before it’s finished.

Lew Myers, incoming president and CEO of Downtown Durham Inc., and Bill Kalkhof, board chairman of the Durham Convention Center Authority, both pleaded with Council to green light the garage. “Growth is in jeopardy because of parking crisis downtown,” Kalkhof said. “We’re out of parking.”

The parking shortage has been exacerbated by the water main replacement project and the One City Centre construction, which has closed part of Parrish Street. But even when the street parking is restored, there are more cars than places to put them.

Enter park-and-ride. GoDurham/GoTriangle has park-and-ride lots at Streets of Southpoint, Patterson Place, and the north deck of the American Tobacco Campus garage. However, these lots primarily serve commuters headed for Wake or Orange counties on GoTriangle buses, not locals working in Durham.

The key to a local park-and-ride commuter system is that the lots need to be close enough to the city center that buses can get there quickly. The No. 5, which serves the Streets at Southpoint takes 55 minutes to get downtown. That’s not a solution.

However, there are other underused surface lots that are a short jaunt to downtown: The Lakewood Shopping Center on Chapel Hill Road (No. 10), the now empty asphalt tundra of the former Walmart on Martin Luther King Boulevard (No. 7), Northgate Mall (No. 1), and Heritage Square, across from the Lofts at Southside (No. 5, No. 8).

Of course, these are privately owned parcels, and GoTriangle would have to lease the space and pass the costs onto the ridership. Chapel Hill charges $2 a day, $21 a month, or $250 annually. Compare that price to the city garages, where fees can exceed $50 a month. (When I worked at the INDY, a monthly pass for the Corcoran Street garage was about $60; I said thanks but no thanks.)

Until now, as Erik Landfried, a member of Complete Streets, pointed out on Twitter, there’s not been demand for a local park-and-ride. (And the problem extends beyond downtown to other cultural destinations. The Museum of Life and Science, three miles north of downtown on Murray Avenue, has turned away as many as 300 visitors because of a lack of parking. Museum officials are asking the county to approve a bond referendum that would include $14 million for a new parking deck.)

Considering the central business district parking shortage and the pending shortfall on East Main Street when the county builds its new decks plus affordable housing, it’s an idea whose time has come.

Continue reading "Durham, to cure our parking woes, it's time for a legit park-and-ride system" »

Drinking water, light rail and pot: This is how state legislators are touching you in Durham today.

Before we get to the main event, House Bill 1005, aka the “Contamination Coverup Bill” as environmental advocates have christened it, state lawmakers have introduced several bills that could directly affect Durham.

First, House Bill 988 would repeal the light rail funding cap that limited spending to $500,000 per project. With additional state funding to buttress the federal and local dollars, the Durham-Orange Light Rail project could proceed with more financial confidence. 

When passed last year, the cap, which even staunch Wake County uber-conservative Rep. Paul Stam, opposes (think about that for a moment), seemed to be a mean-spirited, vengeful strike toward urban areas. And Durham-Orange isn’t the only jurisdiction to be hurt by the cap; the den of iniquity, Charlotte, which already has a light rail system, would have to curtail its expansion plans.

SB 784 and its companion, HB 946, which would repeal HB2, are working their way through the legislature. Local sponsors are Sen. Mike Woodard, and in the House, Reps. Graig Meyer, Paul Luebke and Mickey Michaux. (Update at 2:19 p.m.: The News & Observer is reporting that the Senate version of the bill has been sent to the legislative graveyard, the Ways and Means Committee, which never meets. It's known as the place where Senate bills go to die.)

And since we live in the City of Medicine, it’s notable that HB 983 would legalize and tax medical marijuana. Pot for that uses would have to be recommended by a doctor for terminal or chronically ill people. Those in hospice care could also use medicinal marijuana without risking arrest.

Tax rates are tiered, depending on the strength of the marijuana. The bill limits the amount you can possess to three ounces; more than that and you’re considered a dealer. 

And now, House Bill 1005 and its partner in crime, SB 779:

Essentially the legislation would prevent any local or state agency from advising North Carolina residents — both on private wells and public water systems — of contaminants in their drinking water, if the levels are below state or federal clean water standards. This law would affect not only 3 million households on private wells, but everyone on a public system, as well.

There are several problems with this legislation, the first, obviously being the residents’ right to know about any contaminants in their drinking water — from the agencies charged with protecting their health. (Private well testing can be expensive.) And in yet another example of government overreach, the bill hamstrings local public health agencies from informing residents.

Secondly, some chemicals and compounds are still being studied, and their health effects and maximum contaminant levels are unknown or haven’t been established yet. To wit, PCBs were once legal. So was DDT. And lead. And so on.

As Clean Water for North Carolina, headquartered in Durham, points out, Chromium-6 was found in wells near coal ash basins. While long recognized as a health hazard, CWFNC said in a press statement, Chromium-6 standards are now being reevaluated by the EPA because of new science on the element’s health effects.

This piece of legislation was birthed last year by the Duke Energy coal ash scandal. People living around coal ash basins learned their drinking water from private wells was tainted with elevated, but not maximum, levels of cobalt, hexavalent chromium-6 and other contaminants. The state sent advisory letters to those residents. This bill would make that illegal.

For a local example, the private wells of roughly 40 households in Rougemont had long been contaminated by effluent from old leaking underground storage tanks at defunct gas stations. Those contaminants did exceed maximum levels and would still require an advisory under the proposed law.

However, according to a 2012 memo from Assistant Durham County Manager Drew Cummings to the Board of County Commissioners, "there are also less well documented issues of metals in the groundwater in this area of Durham, issues which probably need further exploration but which would further support a municipal water supply of some sort for Rougemont."

Download Rougemont_Water_Line_Memo

If the level of metals in the groundwater existed, but did not exceed the legal maximum, then under the current bill, the state and county could not inform Rougemont residents of what's in the water.

The good news is that the Durham County Commissioners, with the help of grants and local/state/federal funding, connected these households to a public water system.



Durham CAN: "We stand on the threshold of total transformation of our police department."


In the parking lot behind the Durham Police Department headquarters, is a memorial, a simple wire cross draped with a rosary and an overturned vase that once held flowers. It is one of several incarnations of an homage to 17-year-old Jesus Huerta. On Nov. 19, 2013, around 3 in the morning, Huerta, as forensics experts later ruled, shot himself in the back of a DPD police car in that lot after being picked up on a warrant for second-degree trespassing. 

The memorial reminds passersby of a turning point, not just for Huerta’s family, but for the already strained relationship between minority communities and Durham police. Over the next two years, more officer-related shootings and racial profiling reports — independently verified —increased tensions between communities of color and police. 

Now, after the resignation of embattled Chief Jose Lopez in December 2015, a new chief has been hired. City Manager Tom Bonfield announced that he has chosen Deputy Chief Cerelyn Davis of the Atlanta Police Department to lead Durham’s 500-plus sworn officers, plus support staff. She starts June 6.


“This is a historical moment,” said the Rev. Mark Anthony Middleton, senior pastor of Abundant Hope Church, at a press conference called by Durham Congregations and Neighborhoods. Not only is Davis the first African-American woman to serve as Durham police chief, Middleton said, but she has “the possibility to become a transformative figure. We stand on the threshold of total transformation of our police department.”

Durham CAN had called the press conference to unveil its vision for policing in Durham under Davis’ command. Some of its positions echo those of the FADE Coalition, which, among other changes, has asked for deprioritization of marijuana offenses and a more independent civilian oversight board. Beyond those recommendations, Durham CAN is calling for a complete overhaul.

“We’re not recommending tweaks or adjustments to policy,” Middleton said, “but the 250,000 citizens want to reimagine what’s policing in our city looks like.”

Durham CAN is asking for every officer to undergo crisis intervention training to prepare officers for their interactions with people with mental illness. DPD has been scrutinized for its handling of these situations, two of which resulted in men being shot and killed by police. In the late afternoon of September 2013, police shot and killed Derek Walker, suicidal and brandishing a gun, in CCB Plaza. Last September, 21-year-old La'vante Trevon Biggs, police reports say, was also suicidal, and armed and walking toward officers who shot and killed him on Angier Avenue.

One of the criticisms of DPD is that only about 42 percent of its officers live in Durham. This must change, said the Rev. Tim Condor of Emmanus Way Church. More than half of DPD officers “live geographically and emotionally out of the community they serve,” he said. And as a result, an “excessive militarization of police force results in the perception and the reality that the police become invading armies. We need to shift the police from an external force to a vital members of our community.”

All of the clergy, including Bishop Clarence Laney of Monument of Faith Church in Southeast-Central Durham, emphasized a “walk and talk approach” to community policing as an essential part of law enforcement. In a public forum earlier this month, Davis emphasized community policing as a way to build trust between police and communities.

But Durham CAN is calling for even more community input to policing. Laney said the group is calling for the creating of a task force that would have an advisory role to command staff. The task force would “make sure the police department and the community are in constant dialogue,” he said.

Latinos have issues with police specific to their ethnicity and documentation status. Those who are undocumented are afraid to report that they’ve been crime victims, making them targets. In addition, police checkpoints are often set up in Latino neighborhoods. For example, police stops have been implemented on Morehead Avenue and on Kent Street, near several Latino neighborhoods. 

“We have heard many distributing reports of targeting of Latinos at checkpoints, even at churches,” said the Rev. Chris VanHeight of Immaculate Conception Church. With one of the largest Latino congregations in the Triangle, the church is just three blocks west of DPD headquarters and less than a mile from several of the checkpoints. “People are afraid to go to church,” VanHeigh said. “We ask that you end these checkpoints and to work with us to build trust, not intimidation. In place of fear, trust; in place of intimidation, cooperation.”

Durham CAN did not take up the issue of body cameras. After more than a dozen drafts and concerns about civil liberties and transparency, the policy was shelved until the new chief was hired. However, Davis could be hamstrung in the crafting of a new policy. State lawmakers introduced a bill today, House Bill 972, which restricts the portions of camera footage that could become public record.

Nonetheless, Durham CAN plans to distribute its vision to all elected city officials, City Manager Bonfield and other appointed city officials, most likely the Civilian Police Review Board and the Human Relations Commission. 

The Rev. Susan Dunlap, who teaches at the Duke Divinity School and is a Presbyterian chaplain at Urban Ministries, called for “a cultural change that turns into reality.” Durham CAN hopes to meet with community leaders and elected and appointed officials about its proposal. “We look forward to their reaction to our vision for a peaceful community.”



What surprises await this week? A new police chief? A new downtown plan? Plus, essential reading on the Carolina Theatre and housing

Pour another cup of coffee (or if you’re reading this in the afternoon, a stronger elixir), and kick back in your lawn chair, civically minded reader, there’s a big week ahead:

First, read today’s Durham News story about the new deal the city is striking with the financially strapped Carolina Theatre, giving up to $500,000 to keep it operating. In exchange, the city will receive weekly financial reports and other fiscal monitoring. What a great idea.

If you just got to town, late last year, theater executives announced that although they thought the city-owned facility was profitable, it was actually more than $625,000 in the hole, an oversight blamed on bad accounting. Several people from the nonprofit that runs the theater resigned, including the director Bob Nocek. And last May, even before the accounting debacle was made public, Director of Finance Sam Spatafore was fired for failing to follow a payment plan he’d set up with the N.C. Department of Revenue.

Some of the chronology hasn’t added up for me (no pun intended). Theater management knew in April 2015 that the books were a mess, yet the full extent of the financial hole wasn’t publicly revealed until December, just a few days before Christmas. 

Nonprofit Quarterly also covered the story, noting that “a number of cases lately of organizations that have been unaware that they were running large deficits over years. All the trappings of financial oversight are there, but none of the substance.”

Other than brushing up on your math, keep tuned in for Downtown Durham Inc.’s master plan update. DDI is supposed to release a draft of its 2015-16 Downtown Master Plan, which it updates every seven years. Two public meetings were held last summer, where residents chimed in about their priorities. There were several refrains that emerged from those meetings, two of them being affordability and grit.

The 2008-09 plan seems almost quaint now (and the 2000 version absolutely antiquated),  predating the completion of the Durham Performing Arts Center, the expansion of American Tobacco Campus, even the bus station. However, seven years ago, the plan did foreshadow the major construction projects, including the old SunTrust/now 21C Museum Hotel, the Jack Tar, the old Liggett & Myers factory, and Durham Central Park. 

What didn’t happen: Renaissance at Durham Centre. The 2008 plan forecast a “twin” tower to the glass fortress on Morgan Street that was to consisted of 200,000 square feet of condos or mixed-use. The economic crash scuttled those plans, although one could argue the new skyscraper is essentially Tower No. 2, just a few blocks away.

Kent Corner, site of the Durham Co-op and the center for Child & Family Health, turned a year old this month, and infill development, some of it private, some of it Habitat for Humanity homes, has begun in Lyon Park, particularly on Carroll Street. The future of several houses on Kent Street, and the historically minority neighborhood in general, are the topic of a community discussion Monday at 5 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Church, 810 W. Chapel Hill Street.

On Tuesday, Durham CAN unveils its vision for working with the new police chief — either Cerlyn Davis or Mike Smathers, another piece of big news that could be announced this week. Durham CAN is holding a press conference at 5:30 in front of DPD headquarters, 505 W. Chapel Hill St.; parking was available at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, across the street. 

A new and controversial $71 million Durham Police HQ will be constructed on East Main Street, and over the next five to 10 years years, that end of downtown will be the new Durham Central Park neighborhood as far as construction goes.

An integral part of that area is Oldham Towers/Liberty Street public housing projects owned by the Durham Housing Authority. On Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., DHA, 330 E. Main St., will hold a public hearing about a significant change to its five-year plan: The demolition of Oldham Towers and Liberty Street, which will be rebuilt and converted to privately managed but DHA-owned properties. 

This is known as the RAD program (Rental Assistance Demonstration), a push by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help housing authorities nationwide get out from under the escalating costs of maintaining their properties. 

While the financial burden is real, RAD can have serious consequences for residents. Hat tip to Brother Ray Eurquhart, who sent me this cautionary tale from 2014 that describes how privatization could curb residents’ civil rights remains pertinent. Yes, there are fair housing laws but myriad ways to game the system. (See today’s New York Times for how one town tried to use rezoning to keep out the poor and minorities.)

You can comment on the proposal through Tuesday, April 26.

And finally, the state legislature convenes tomorrow at 7 p.m. for the short session. How can we miss them when they won't go away?


Live blogging the City Council meeting, April 21

We'll live blog the highlights of today's City Council meeting. Mayor Bill Bell has an excused absence today; he's out on other business.

Download City Council Work Session Agenda - April 21 2016

1:03: Cora Cole-McFadden announces that a group of minority health care providers are not "coming our way" because of HB2.

Tom Bonfield says there is a supplemental agenda item about a Requests for Proposals regarding the Morgan Street parking garage.

Now going through the consent items and then we'll hear public comments.

Durham Beyond Policing Campaign: I address you all today as a coalition of many organizations, who firmly oppose the building of the DPD headquarters. ... We're bringing up the way policing in Durham causes harm. Our campaign requires an active divestment from police and reinvestment [in low-income, minority people]. We are asking the City Council not to build the DPD HQ and to implement participatory budgeting like has been done in Greensboro.

The money for DPD HQ could go to youth centers, street maintenance, affordable housing. It's doubly offensive to build without buy-in from that neighborhood. It's violent to build a police station in an area where black people are over-policed. Don't build another monument to police that engages in racial bias.

By May 16, we demand that City Council stop construction plans on the building.

Cole-McFadden: What happens if we can't vote by May 16?

Coalition: We would like a response by then.

1:42: [We're waiting for a presentation about the Durham Workforce Development and the Compact Neighborhood Land Use plans. A DPD first crime report is on the agenda, but the details usually aren't publicized until the Monday night session.]

1:50: Kevin Dick, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development is presenting. [He leaves this position for Charlotte on April 30.]  Download 11062_EXHIBIT_DWDB_ANNUAL_REPORT_2016_P_387737_690332

Some facts from the report:

In 2014, 148,761 Durham residents are employed; 7,707 are unemployed; unemployment rate is 4.9 percent. there are an estimated 48,820 Durham residents — 17 percent — living below the poverty level.

Kevin Dick: A highlight for DPS is that our graduation rates are improving. This is integral how we deliver services. It impacts the number and profile of our youth programs: Durham Youth Work Internship Program and Yes program. With nonprofits and the library, we're connecting youth with our internship programs.

The job placement services for our NCWorks center: We formed an adult provider collaborative, government and nonprofit to discuss issues related to people who have multiple barriers to employment. Group meets monthly. Barriers include criminal backgrounds. One grant proposal would put an NCWorks Center in the county jail. Also we applied for a $1.4 million grant to serve people on work release programs and in halfway houses. These grants are competitive, but we're hopeful.

[More interesting data: NC Works referrals who were hired:]

EMC: 6 NC Works hires of 112
ACW Technology: 28 of 42
Save-a-Lot Food Stores: 20 of 20
CREE: 120 of 160
Durham Bulls: 58 of 95
Frontier Communications: 14 of 45

Cora Cole-McFadden to Kevin Dick: Your leaving will leave a void.

Steve Schewel: It's amazing you'd leave Durham for the Charlotte Hornets. We'll miss you. Thank you for all of your great work. I do have a few questions. The success of the former offender program. What limits the number of participants? 

KD: Former offender are considered a "hard to serve" group, multiple barriers to employment. Client to staffing ratios should not be more than 60:1, right now we're at 160 to 1.5. So it's a matter of money.

SS: How is traffic at the career centers? I've heard it's down.

KD: That's correct. Part of the reason is the unemployment rate has gone down. Another reason is that technology has improved. People can access services at home or the library. When you move to full employment, the people left are usually the hardest to serve. 

SS: With the staffing at the career centers, they are a great resource and we need as many people to use them as we can. How far along is the StepUp Ministries?

KD: They are operating and come to the board meetings. As they've ramped up, our referral process isn't as smooth as we like.

SS: How is the cooperation with Made in Durham? How is working for the people serving?

KD: Made in Durham is invaluable. Companies represented on the board are worksites last summer. Where they add value is in extending the message delivery to businesses, nonprofits that work with youth.

 CCM: How do we reach out to kids at my favorite school Lakeview alternative school for summer programs?

James Dixon: We don't target Lakeview specifically but all DPS schools. We went out to each community for application assistance programs to help students. We have received 780 applications. One young man was from Lakeview; I'm sure there are more.

It's 2:29 pm.


Continue reading "Live blogging the City Council meeting, April 21" »

Durham Rescue Mission wants no part of Golden Belt's local historic designation

Golden Belt (dragged)


It cost just $265 to build a three-room house on Morning Glory Avenue; for an extra $4, the carpenter would toss in a privy. That was in 1900, when the 20-acre mill village, then known as Morning Glory, housed the workers who made cloth and thread at the nearby Golden Belt factory.

Download Golden Belt

More than 115 years later, the Golden Belt neighborhood is one of the last areas near downtown that is relatively affordable for the middle-class. And with its tight street grid and modest former mill houses, the neighborhood feels distinct — character that residents want to preserve through a local historic designation.

“It’s our hope that local designation will guide further development, small-scale in form and character in the future development,” Jennifer Martin Mitchell of MdM, the city’s consultants for the project, told the Historic Preservation Commission at a special meeting Wednesday morning.

The HPC recommended the designation and its boundaries at a meeting Wednesday morning, although with concerns about criteria that could guide future development.

While residents at the meeting overwhelmingly supported the designation, a major property owner in the neighborhood, the Durham Rescue Mission, wants to secede from the proposed historic district. The mission owns 13 properties in the neighborhood, including five historically contributing structures and several vacant lots in the 1200 block of Worth Street and Morning Glory Avenue.

 “We want to be sliced out somehow,” Rob Tart, the rescue mission’s chief operating officer, told the HPC. “We don’t want to be part of it. It’s onerous. It doesn’t help us accomplish our goals of serving homeless people. This will not help what we’re trying to do. We don’t think it’s profitable or helpful.”

However, what the rescue mission is trying to do is unclear. Tart acknowledged the nonprofit, which has been in the neighborhood since 1974, has no concrete vision for its properties, only to say it doesn’t include single-family homes. He also said he had not read the design criteria, only that he had been “briefed on it.”  

“But we have no desire to build what you want us to,” Tart told the HPC. “You’ll leave those lots empty. Nothing will happen on those properties, because we’re not going anywhere.”

Since the mission is a nonprofit, it does not pay property taxes. It has assets worth $23 million, according to its 2014 federal tax statements. The mission CEO, Ernie Mills, earns nearly $150,000 annually. Tart is paid $110,000 per year.  Download 2014_DurhamRescueMission

Vacant lots provide an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of a historic neighborhood, said Cynthia de Miranda of MdM. “They can help reestablish street patterns. They can enhance what has been lost.”

Lisa Miller, a senior planner and urban designer for the city, told Tart that multi-family housing could be built in the historic district, as long as it’s “not a big block of apartments of monolithic faces to the streets.” For example, after several design iterations, the Greystone apartment complex in historic Morehead Hill was ultimately approved by the HPC. 

“This isn’t hamstringing or forcing someone to build single-family homes,” Miller said. “There is a lot of leeway but you do have to hold on to basic elements of building placement and design.”

Without a local historic designation and its associated design criteria, the Golden Belt neighborhood could be very much in jeopardy. The widening of Alston Avenue — construction is scheduled to begin in August — threatens to divide the eastern and western portions of the neighborhood. 

“We see this local designation to give the neighborhood some leverage to be the walkable, integrated, inclusive community we want it to be,” said Mel Norton, who lives on Wall Street. As part of Durham Congregations and Neighborhoods, she has conducted extensive research on gentrification in the city. “I’m afraid we’ll see what’s happening in Cleveland-Holloway happening here” — teardowns replaced by “bigger non-descriptive homes that don’t relate to the neighborhood.”

And with the its proximity to downtown, former Golden Belt resident John Martin said, the neighborhood “is still very fragile. “If you don’t do this, you’ll start seeing gentrification in a bad way, people tearing down mill houses that can be protected and preserved.”

Construction and renovation projects by the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity and Scientific Properties, which purchased the old factories and several blighted homes, have kept prices modest, often under $150,000. But the asking price for a new house on Worth Street is $295,000.

“There are already high development pressures that will increase over time,” said Ben Filippo, executive director of Preservation Durham

Maintaining connectivity on the east and west sides of Alston Avenue is “essential” he added, and that tax breaks for preservation could help achieve that goal.

“If we can’t include those residences — the working class housing-stock that Durham was built on — if we don’t provide incentives to protect that,” Filippo said, “we are doing a major disservice to our residents.”

The issue will go to the planning commission in June, and ultimately to City Council.

Timeline of Golden Belt neighborhood

1900: Julian Carr begins construction of the cotton mill and bag factory, plus the first phase of the village 

1906-1930: Golden Belt expands to six factories, including hosiery and cigarette cartons

1910-1920: Mill village expands to accommodate additional workers.

1985:  The 39-acre Golden Belt Historic District listed on National Register of Historic Places

1996:  The district boundary increased to add a building at the southeast corner of East Main  and North Elm streets. The building has since been demolished but the parcel remains in the district. 

2008: Period of significance is extended from 1935 to 1958

2010:  Petition is circulated to also designate the National Historic District a local historic district.

2015:  Creation of local district initiated with public meetings and initial research by MdM   Historical Consultants