Meetings this week examine NC's budget cuts, the new green economy

Two meetings this week bring opportunities to review the down side, as well as the possible upside, of our evolving economy.

One, sponsored by the NC Justice Center, focuses on the cost to North Carolina residents of dramatic proposed state budget cuts. Juxtaposted against it: a chance to bring hundreds of conference-goers to town to learn about opportunities for green jobs nationally, a conference sponsored by Durham-based SJF Ventures and being held in the Bull City for the first time.

The NC Justice Center will be holding a town hall in Durham this Wednesday from 6:30-8:30pm in NCCU's Michaux School of Education. Durham legislative delegation members Rep. Larry Hall, Rep. Mickey Michaux, Rep. Paul Luebke, and state Sen. Floyd McKissick, Jr. have all signalled their intention to attend. The event is co-sponsored by NCCU's Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change.

From the NC Justice Center's description (website):

North Carolina's state government faces a historic budget shortfall- close to $5 billion or more than 20% of the total budget for 2009-2010 alone. It is critical that elected officials hear from folks in their communities about the importance of public programs and services so they can make budget decisions that support communities and families and do not undermine the state's economic recovery.

The institutions North Carolina families rely on -- education, health care, unemployment insurance, housing assistance, just to name a few -- are in jeopardy this year.

On a happier note, Durham is this year home to SJF's "Summit on the New Green Economy: How to Make it Work," a national conference expected to draw forty-three national-level speakers, including fifteen CEOs and NC state treasurer Janet Cowell.

The venture capital fund, which provides expansion-stage capital to companies with a focus on clean energy, technology-based services and consumer products, with a focus on firms that are "committed to impacting the world positively." SJF's held clean-tech CEO panels on Wall Street in the past, but now brings this conference to its Durham offices and their environs for the first time.

The conference will be held at the Durham Convention Center downtown. Keynote speakers will touch on successful strategies and markets for green-economy businesses, from entrepreneurship to investment to creating green jobs in communities. Find out more at SJF's website.

Taco doc, MOMart, historic home tour and more this Bull City weekend

It's tough not to kick off a wrap-up of the weekend fun to come without mentioning the fun happening right now at West End Wine Bar, which is celebrating its grand opening tonight with 25+ patrons, some (but not all) friends of the business in Chapel Hill, others just passersby who dropped by for a chance to check out the place in action.

The coffee and wine half of the space on the northern end has most of the action, with the tiny southern space through darkened doors giving access to liquors, beers, and a couple of video game machines.

But don't rest at checking out new establishments. It's an embarrassment of riches in Durham this weekend.

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Burt's Bees could move downtown to American Tobacco, pending incentives

Looks like the rumors were true: Personal care products maker and longtime Triangle corporate citizen Burt's Bees is on the verge of moving downtown, to American Tobacco, from their current perch on the Durham-Wake border at Keystone in the midst of RTP.

The H-S' Monica Chen has a very good and detailed look at the news, which first popped up in the public record late Monday, via the April 6 City Council agenda.

Chen reports that the Hill Building -- currently the home of mobile content provider Motricity, which is in the midst of moving to Washington state -- would be Burt's Bees new site. BCR understands that Burt's Bees could potentially lease the entirety of the building, only half of which was occupied by Motricity; the firm would start in the existing footprint and expand over time.

The Hill Building has been rumored to be under scrutiny for other relocating firms before; last fall, a deal to relocate from offices in Cary to downtown Durham -- in what was rumored to be a Hill Building play, though unconfirmed by the company -- fell through.

DDI's Bill Kalkhof tells the Herald-Sun that Burt's Bees, now a division of Clorox, has weighed expanding at its current site, or relocating to Wake County's Perimeter Park, which we believe is in Morrisville, if American Tobacco isn't an option.

Interim director of Durham's Office of Economic and Workforce Development Kevin Dick notes in his memo that the firm has applied to Durham for $183,750 in economic development incentives. (We presume that this has been the subject of the two recent City Council closed sessions on economic development.)

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Out and about this weekend

What to do now that the election is over? Wondering how to spend your weekend? There's quite a few things to do around the Bull City this weekend.

First, the Durham Sierra Club is holding a hike around the Black Meadow Ridge site that's been at the center of a parkland controversy in recent months. The 2.5 mile roundtrip hike will also explore a couple of possible pathways by which the North-South Greenway could connect into West Point Park on the Eno. Boots are advisable due to a couple of stream crossings along the way. The two-and-a-half hour hike starts at 1pm today at the upper parking lot for West Point Park.

On Sunday, art fans will want to check out the 6th annual Watts-Hillandale neighborhood art walk, a truly local event that shows off some of Durham's home-grown talent:

This event is organized by artists living and working in our neighborhood. Your probably know many of them. You can stroll along the streets, enjoying the autumn day with friends and family, stopping here and there so see beautiful art and have delicious snacks. Look for the signs, and balloons, or pick up a map at any of the various locations to find this or that artist. Or stop at the house of some artist you don't know. You never know what you might find! Many of our neighbors do their holiday shopping during this fun, fall Sunday event.

The WHHNA Art Walk runs from noon until 6pm Sunday. See all the participating artists and a map of the walk at the WHHNA web site.

Finally, if you're a fan of the Scrap Exchange -- or if you just enjoy a little friendly competition at the poker table -- the non-profit is hosting its fifth-annual Charity Game Night this evening at their Foster St. location:

  • No-limit Texas Hold-em is the game of choice.
  • Beginner and veteran poker players welcome.
  • For every $20 donated to The Scrap Exchange, players will receive $200 in poker chips and a tax deductible receipt.
  • No need to pre-register but reserve your space by emailing Kelley at
  • The player at each table with the most chips at the break and end of the night will receive a prize.
  • Drinks and snacks provided.

Current prizes include gift certificates from: Carolina Rollergirls, Barnes & Noble, JJill, Drag Bingo, Phydeaux Dog Supplies, Frankie's, Consolidated Theaters, Galaxy Theater, Red Lobster, Nice Price Books, Sarla licensed massage therapist and more added daily.

Wachovia: Charlotte to fear the hornet's sting of banking crisis?

Try to imagine, if you will, how it would feel to see a news story like this one cross the wire services:

Posted at 9:19pm on July 24, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The trustees of Duke University announced today a breathtaking combination with Princeton University in the latest reverberation from the higher education market collapse.

The takeover, valued at $8.7 billion (U.S.), comes on the heels of last week's Johns Hopkins-University of Chicago merger.

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No shocker: Durhamites volunteer at top-shelf pace

It comes as little surprise to most folks in Durham that Bull City residents are willing to open their lives as well as their pocketbooks when it comes to volunteer activities. Personally, it was one of the things that most impressed me upon moving to Durham: seeing residents volunteering in such large numbers for their neighborhoods, their churches, human services organizations, non-profits of all shapes and sizes.

The depth and breadth of activities by which Durhamites give so freely of their time surprised me when I moved here; I couldn't think of another community where I'd lived where you would see such a commitment to community.

Well, a new survey is out from the Corporation for National & Community Service, tallying up the rates of volunteerism in communities large and small from throughout the U.S. And Durham (with Chapel Hill) placed very well in the rankings; between 2004 and 2007, 37.1% of Durhamites volunteered their time to some cause, for an average of almost 46 service hours per resident, per year.

It's amazing to think of the small army of extra hands that volunteer effort represents. According to WRAL's report on the subject, Durham ranked close behind Asheville, itself 12th in the nation among smaller cities in terms of volunteer activity.

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APS volunteer brings light to dogs in need of new homes

The national economic slowdown has had reverberations across wide number of domains, and pets are no exceptions. The horror stories in the press of late have ranged from tales of horses abandoned in the wake of rising feed prices, to food pantries striving to add pet foods to the mix for owners who can't afford it.

Pooch Durham's own Animal Protection Society of Durham, does a yeoman's job of trying to find homes for as many animals that make their way to its front door as possible. (Unlike Orange County's APS -- which maintains a bucolic facility in Mebane stocked with pets hand-picked from shelters in Orange and neighboring counties -- APS of Durham is co-located with the County's animal shelter on E. Club Blvd.) A job that's not easy in the best of times, and which gets even harder in the worst of times.

The hard-working volunteer staff at Durham's APS does their best to find homes for the companions in their facility. Now, one volunteer, Eunice Chang, is taking the effort to the blogosphere with her new web site, Bull City Dogs.

Chang's providing some great photos of dogs in need of new homes and will also cover general pooch-related topics from time to time.

Keep in mind that if you're looking for a cat or dog, you can see all the pets available through APS and many through Independent Animal Rescue as well at the APS web site.

Drought forum: Good facts, good questions -- good God, enough pols?

Though I went in with a small bit of skepticism about the forum, I was really pleased to see a positive, thoughtful debate at Wednesday night's Wise Women for Growth discussion on this year's drought situation. Kudos to the folks in this self-described "very ad hoc" group of women looking at infill, downtown and greenfield development for bringing three interesting perspectives together.

They didn't attract a huge crowd -- about 35 folks by my count -- but dear Lord, they attracted more politicians to one room than you'd see in a North Carolina Optometrist convention back in the Jim Black days. Heck, if you wanted to really make this year's County Commission race a competition-free experience, you'd have wished an asteroid would have struck the Durham County Library last night: incumbents Becky "Keep Her-On" Heron and Ellen Reckhow were there, along with challengers Brenda Howerton, Don Moffitt and Josh Parker.

Add to that State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., Durham City-County Planning honcho Steve Medlin, and indefatigable City Councilman Mike Woodard, and it was a scene of real political interest last night.

Our takeaway from the forum confirmed much of what we've learned in other recent discussions of the state's water crisis:

  • Jordan Lake is a multiple-decade solution to water needs, even with growth. That said, it's a normative choice whether we want to take advantage of it as a community to leverage everyday growth, or simply for emergencies.
  • Some (like Carrboro's Mayor Chilton) would argue that Jordan Lake should only be open to development if communities cut back on detached single family homes and move in support of density.
  • Drought is not a rare occurence in North Carolina -- it's inescapable in our geological history. Change on the demand as well as supply side is needed to minimize the future impact of such events.
  • Government retains a big role to play, from education to incentivizing low-flow fixtures and appliances, to regional planning efforts, to rules on development.

Syd Miller from the Triangle J Council of Government shared some interesting data, notably a graph showing, by date, the total amount of rainfall in the previous 12 months measured as a percentage of the typical 43" annual Triangle precipitation. On Sept. 3, 2000, the Triangle sat at 140% of normal one-year rainfall; that figure plunged to 66% on June 25, 2002; then, back up to 140% after tropical storms. "We went from the driest year on record in North Carolina to the wettest year on record here," Miller said.

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Durham lowers drought restrictions, just in time for Wed. water forum

Not surprisingly, the City today announced a loosening of the mandatory water restrictions that have been in place since fall in response to drought conditions -- conditions that have lessened given the last month's rains, a series of downpours that have brought Durham's reservoir levels from a low of 11% capacity in December to full-capacity again now.

To the credit of City leaders, the announcement from Patrick Baker did not return the Bull City to a restriction-free environment, something you could sense being requested in many recent Herald-Sun op-eds. After all, the theory goes, if the reservoirs are full and we can't store any more water, why not just go back to a no-restriction world?

More realistically, though, Baker notes that "there's a new normal for the City," given the fact that stream flows have still been uneven and the higher-usage months are pending with the onset of summer. And, after all, there's still an excellent chance the dry weather will persist this summer, too.

The solution? Durham's moved back to Stage III restrictions, which again allow outdoor watering from the public supply, from 5-8 am or 5-8 pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Restaurant water is still supposed to be by-request-only, while home car washing is still restricted. Local bloggers should also note that "athletic turf is eligible for special consideration" given the special watering needed "to ensure player safety." (We'll call this the, er, East Campus LAX field rule, no?)

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Drought watch

I've got a more complete discussion of what this might mean over at my place, but I wanted to point out that Lake Michie is now just about full, at a level of 340.7 feet out of 341 feet max. There's more rain in the forecast for Friday. Let's hope that we're using the pipeline to move some of that water over to the Little River reservoir, where there's still excess capacity, so that we can capture as much of Friday's rains as possible.

- Barry