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April 2016

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

Unable to get a slot at the downtown market, local farmers launch Durham Roots Market at Northgate



Prodigal Farm in Rougemont will sell goat cheese at the Durham Roots Market.

As a boy, John Monroe sold plants by the side of the road, not as punishment but for enjoyment. “There is nothing like people giving up their hard-earned cash to buy a plant,” he says.

Monroe now owns Architectural Trees in Bahama, where he raises and sells hundreds of species, including the Weeping European Hornbeam, Sawara Cypress, and Blue Spruce — plus blueberries.

He is one of seven local farmers who are pioneering the Durham Roots Market, an answer to the very successful, albeit increasingly crowded and competitive Durham Farmers Market in Central Park. And unlike that market, where only 6 percent of the farm vendors are from Durham County (not including restaurants such as Scratch bakery and Fullsteam Brewery, or the crafts), the Roots Market is restricted to only Durham farmers, including those new to agriculture.

The weekly Roots Market starts Saturday at 8 a.m. and runs until noon in the parking lot of the locally owned Northgate Mall, near the cinemas. There will be no food trucks or craft booths — only farm goods at 19 stalls. Culinary students from local high schools will cook with products provided by the vendors. There are also plans to team up with the Durham Public Schools' Hub Farm.

These fresh-food options are key in a neighborhood, which, with 4,000 to 5,000 apartments, still technically lies within a food desert. The nearest Kroger is about a mile and a half away, north of I-85. “We’re focusing on agriculture, on protein, produce, and plants,” says Monroe, who sold his wares at the Durham Farmers Market for 11 years before leaving in 2010. “It gives real meaning to the word ‘local,’ to keeping your money in Durham.”

The Roots Market is also part of the Farmland Protection Advisory Board’s goal to preserve agriculture and open space and to support farming in northern Durham County. In 2009, the County Commissioners passed the board’s Agriculture and Farmland Preservation Plan, which reported that 242 Durham farmers managed more than 26,000 acres, about half the amount farmed in 1990. Black farmers make up an even smaller portion of local agriculture producers — just 3 percent.

“We have to keep farming viable,” says Kat Spann, who with her partner, David Crabbe, owns Prodigal Farm in Rougemont. (She is also a past chairwoman of the farmland board.) Prodigal produces goat cheese, which is sold at the South Durham Market. However, this year Prodigal’s application to sell at the Durham Farmers Market was rejected.

The Durham Farmers Market also rejected Cindy Hamrick's application. She owns and operates Carolina Farmhouse Dairy, a small first-generation farm near Bahama that produces organic yogurt from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows. She will sell her yogurt at the Durham Roots Market. "I love the philosophy of the Durham Roots Market," says Hamrick, who also sells to the Carrboro Market. "I hope we can get more vendors to get the heartbeat going."

The Durham Farmers Market has strict rules about which farmers can get a coveted stall in Central Park. Farmers must produce their own goods on land within a 70-mile radius. The South Durham Market pools its vendors from with 50 miles.  Download Official Rules DFM 2016-2

And seniority plays a large role; there is a minimum number of weeks a farmer has to sell at the market to qualify for what would be known in the academic world as tenure. Once a farmer is in, and consistently adheres to the rules, then he or she can stay for years. The South Durham Market, says Spann, requires vendors to reapply every year.

In selecting its vendors, the Durham Farmers Market tries to ensure a wide variety of goods are sold, and to avoid redundancies (although at certain times of year, everyone has tomatoes). These rules, which are approved by the market's board of directors, can exclude small farmers who may sell only one crop — "the person who has just a field of sweet corn," says Will Wilson, who is on the farmland board. Many Durham farmers fall into this category; according to the 2009 farmland report, half of the county's farmers sold less than $2,500 in goods per year.

Durham Farmers Market Manager Jenny Elander acknowledges that as the market has grown quickly. And with the construction of the Liberty Apartments and other projects, nearby parking is tight and vendor space is tighter. "We’re full and we have trouble accepting everyone," Elander says. "We wish the Durham Roots Market all the best."

The Roots Market doesn't face the same space challenge — Northgate parking is ample — but finding the right mix of vendors is essential. "We don’t want a market with just lettuce and berries," says Kaylee Sciacca, Roots Market manager.

The economics of a farmers market are "delicate," Spann says. It needs an initial mass of vendors to attract customers. And customers want a lot of different vendors to choose from. However, if there are too many vendors (or too many selling the same item) the dollars are spread too thin. 

Farmers markets grow slowly, although Durham could finally be large enough to support three such ventures. Monroe, also a farmland board member, started selling at the Durham Farmers Market in 1999, its second year. He was one of six vendors, he says, before "it turned into the mega-experience." By contrast, the Roots Market is targeting people who want to buy their produce, eggs, and meat, and then get on with their day. "It's for the hunter not the stroller," Monroe says. "We're trying to be an old-fashioned market."

Know Your Farmer 

Durham Roots Market vendor list
Note that the list might change depending on the weather and availability

Architectural Trees
Green Button Farm
Bull City Farm
Horticultural Services of Durham/Orange
Prodigal Farm
Carolina Farmhouse Dairy
Dandies Farm


Moogfest and AOC funding, through a different lens

My colleague Lisa Sorg had an article earlier this week on Moogfest and the Art of Cool Festival (AOC) that's generated a lot of dialogue and discussion here in the comments, and elsewhere online.

Much of the discussion comes through a lens of equity -- around race, and around the (real or perceived) difference between a locally-generated festival, and one that's chosen to relocate to the Bull City.

Lenses have a lot of uses. In the real world, they can serve to make things clearer -- or to distort things, like a funhouse mirror -- or, like a magnifying glass to a sun, to concentrate attention on one white-hot corner until it burns.

To my mind, the view through an equity lens on the Moogfest/AOC debate is still a little foggy. After talking to parties on all sides of the issue, while I think the City could (and likely will) do more to support a wide range of events, I'm pretty convinced that this was never a process that expected or sought to create inequity. (And indeed, Moogfest's out-of-cycle request may have led to a level of data-driven scrutiny that will help AOC and other festivals.)

It is, though, a reminder of the importance of contextualizing public decisions broadly, to consider their impact on all stakeholders, most particularly at a time when change has so many in Durham on edge. 

Unfortunately, in our current Best Durham Tradition, sometimes the view through one lens doesn't always give us all the context needed.

Continue reading "Moogfest and AOC funding, through a different lens" »

A legal reminder to DEQ: Drafts are public record, even when they're unfavorable to SolarBees

A big hat tip to The News & Observer this morning for a story the Case of the Disappearing DEQ Report about SolarBees. 

The short version: DEQ posted online a report critical of the effectiveness of SolarBee project by the mandated April 1 deadline, but then the document was mysteriously removed from the department's website. It was a draft, the N&O quoted DEQ spokesperson Stephanie Hawco as saying, and shouldn't have been posted as a work-in-progress.

Yet even draft documents are public record, says media attorney Hugh Stevens, who is also the pro bono lawyer for the N.C. Newsroom Cooperative, of which BCR is a member. He posted on Facebook that "DEQ's claim that the report can be withdrawn and withheld because it was a work in progress doesn't hold water. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled more than 20 years ago that drafts of public records are themselves public records."

Here's the case law: News & Observer Pub. Co. v. Poole, 330 N.C. 465, 483-484 (1992).

(Coincidentally, at the end of the month, the DEQ is canceling contracts with nine lawyers and support staff within the Attorney General's office who advise the agency on legal matters. DEQ says AG Roy Cooper is politicizing the cases and refusing to represent the interests of the environment.)

A bit of background: 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.

SolarBees, essentially giant egg beaters, were placed in Jordan Lake a year ago to ostensibly prevent algae from growing by stirring the water. An abundance of algae usually means there are too many nutrients in the lake — nitrogen and phosphorus, often the result of runoff from development activities and farming. 

Environmental experts and scientists have long been skeptical about the effectiveness of SolarBees, saying on a body of water the size of Jordan, they would be inferior to curbing the source of the upstream pollution. However, complying with those regulations would be expensive, particularly for developers. Nonetheless, in 2013, the General Assembly voted to appropriate $2 million for SolarBees instead.  [It's on page 195 of the document.] The SolarBees were deployed in 2014. And no, according to the vanishing draft report, they're not improving the water quality. 

DEQ provided no timetable for when the "final" report will be finished.



Durham Board of Commissioners condemn HB2; sheriff still silent

Marine Corps veteran and mother, Michelle Doss approached the Durham Board of County Commissioners last night with a simple plea to state lawmakers: “Let me be who I am. Let me be a free person.”

Two years ago, Doss came out as a transwoman, and used a woman’s bathroom. Under House Bill 2, she has to use a man’s bathroom, because she is listed as male on her birth certificate. “The law puts me in jeopardy,” she said. “Transitioning is a very delicate process. I’m a law-abiding citizen.”

There is no explicit criminal penalty for using the “wrong” bathroom, which makes its passage all the more absurd, and further builds the argument that HB2 is cover for even more pernicious economic and legally discriminatory prohibitions.

Commissioner Wendy Jacobs said she opposes the bill not only because it marginalizes transgender peopled, but also on the grounds that it is a “smokescreen for a labor bill. It takes away rights of every person to take discrimination to court state.”

The bill also prohibits municipalities from setting their own minimum wage if it exceeds the state's. In addition, North Carolinians can no longer sue on grounds of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in state court; plaintiffs now have to take those cases to federal court, which is more expensive and protracted.

In a strongly worded resolution, the BOCC unanimously  “condemned” passage of HB2. “It sends a message of intolerance, hurts the economy, hampers economic development and negatively impacts the prosperity of our citizens,” the resolution read in part. “It has adverse impact on efforts to support a livable wage. It is inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX.”

The BOCC is sending a copy of the resolution to Gov. Pat McCrory and the House and Senate leadership.

“The passage of HB2 has clearly taken the state backward on human rights,” added Commissioner Ellen Reckhow. “I hope our citizens recognize that all of their elected officials are united in fighting to restore and protect rights of all of our citizens.”

Well, not all of the Durham’s elected officials:Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said last week that he had no comment on HB2, the only high-profile elected official in Durham to remain silent on the issue.

Durham Police Chief finalists: Where they stand on use of force, body cameras, and more

Note: The Durham News and Bull City Rising occasionally share content. This story combines two pieces that ran in
The Durham News about the police chief finalists when they appeared before the media and at a public forum.

Deputy Chief of Police Cerelyn Davis and Maj. Michael Smathers did not so much sit in their armchairs, as perch on them during a community meeting Wednesday night at City Hall. The two finalists for Durham police chief — Davis is from Atlanta, Smathers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg — faced more than 100 citizens, some of them the department’s most vocal critics.

These citizens had submitted nearly 70 questions about community policing, transparency, officer retention, traffic enforcement and use of force. And Wednesday’s meeting was Davis’ and Smathers’ last opportunity to win over Durham for the opportunity to lead and transform a department that has endured sharp citizen criticism for its conduct, high turnover and low morale.

“That there is a full house tonight speaks to your commitment to your city,” Smathers said.

The FADE Coalition, a social justice group, has long criticized the department’s use of force and conduct toward blacks and Latinos. Its members asked the candidates if they would consider curbing regulatory traffic stops – those dealing with expired tags, a broken tail light – as Greensboro Police Department recently did, in order to reduce racial disparities in those stops.

“In Atlanta we have consciously done this without a formal directive,” said Davis. “Petty stops are not important. What’s important is violent crime and property crime. We would stop for a seatbelt violation only if there were other safety hazards. I would be receptive to accepting these same principles.”

Smathers called these types of stops “not meaningful” and “detrimental to community relations.”

He added that ticketing for equipment violations can further burden low-income people who may struggle with the expenses of maintaining a car. The relations in those communities, Smathers said, “are fractured.”

Officer turnover

About 60 officers a year leave the Durham Police Department, some for other jurisdictions, others for other careers. That constant churn, Smathers said, costs not only tax dollars in training and recruitment, but “connections with the community when officers move on.”

In Charlotte, officers receive incentives to live in the city, such as take-home cars, career development and home loans. Flexibility has also been key, he said. “You give them the opportunity to move throughout the department.”

In Atlanta, officers are offered a signing bonus in return for a commitment of five years. The workplace culture is also important, Davis said.

“You make an environment where people are proud to come to work each day,” she said. Providing officers with career development helps them feel invested in the department, she said, as does ensuring they are in the best job for their skills and interests: “These are incentives that are important but don’t cost any money.”

Use of force

Over the past three years, one of the main concerns about the Durham Police Department has been its use of force, including officer-involved shootings.

Davis said her department adheres to the White House’s policy on 21st-century policing, which emphasizes de-escalation. Atlanta police officers are trained in conflict resolution, she said. “How to avoid physical contact and adversarial situations. We call it ‘verbal judo’ — a way of talking to accomplish a common goal. Bravado is not important in police work; common courtesy and respect are.”

Smathers echoed Davis’ remarks, noting that “the preservation of life” is the most important aspect of policing. He categorized an officer’s role is a “guardian” versus “a warrior.”

“We teach officers that it’s OK to allow a situation to defuse. We don’t always have to rush in and control,” said Smathers, who led his departments’ SWAT unit. “It takes a culture change. Officers have to make split-second decisions in high stress situations. It’s OK to stop, take a breath and move back.”

Of Durham’s 37 homicides in 2015, 10 were the result of domestic violence. Davis said Atlanta police officers are trained to “use common sense” in dealing with victims of both domestic violence and sexual assault. For example, “maybe a woman officer should interview a female rape victim,” Davis said. Atlanta also has a psychological unit to provide on-scene support of crime victims.

Smathers commanded the sexual assault unit in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. That department partners with trained medical personnel to provide emotional and physical support to victims, especially during the difficult time of evidence collection, but also afterward "We have an ongoing counseling and emotional support,” he said.

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