Jason Baker: Correcting the record on the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project

This guest post, written by Jason Baker, originally appeared at OrangePolitics.org. We're reprinting it here with permission. It's a full-throated response to the Indy Week's cover story last week on the Durham-Orange light rail project. 

As always with guest posts, the opinions expressed here are those of the original author -- but heartily seconded by your editor here. -KSD

The June 29, 2016, “Off the Rails” INDY Week piece by David Hudnall, which discusses the Durham-Orange light rail transit project (DOLRT) is a poorly researched opinion piece that does a tremendous disservice to INDY Week readers, residents of Durham and Chapel Hill, and—most importantly—current public transit riders in Durham and Orange counties who stand to benefit greatly from a significantly enhanced bus and rail transit network with DOLRT at its core.

Hudnall’s piece mistakes anecdotes for data, ignores significant differences between Wake County and Durham-Chapel Hill, ignores the ways in which current low-income residents travel today—and what that tells us about the usefulness of DOLRT—and, finally, skips reasonable fact-checking of anti-rail project critics’ claims with publicly available documents, including past INDY Week stories on DOLRT.

In an effort to correct many of the misrepresentations of facts, and errors made by Hudnall, below are excerpts from his piece with added context, data, and information so that readers can get an accurate understanding of DOLRT, the benefits it will provide for our community, and why light rail will meet the needs of Durham and Orange Counties and move us forward.

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Why I was disappointed by the Jillian Johnson Facebook tempest, and why it really matters

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 4.25.51 PMUnless you've been trapped in Faraday cage these past couple of weeks, unable to discern the blue-light glow of your latest smartphone Twitter alerts, you've certainly heard about Jillian Johnson's famous Facebook fracas.

The first-term City Councilwoman was apparently taken aback at the reaction that her post about police and the military being the "most dangerous people with guns," as the N&O's Virginia Bridges notes in today's very good summary of the matter:

However, Johnson’s outspoken, activist style drew backlash last week after she posted a statement on Facebook as members of the U.S. House of Representatives unsuccessfully called for measures to curb gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists following the Orlando shooting in the Pulse nightclub.

“I am all about keeping guns away from dangerous people,” she wrote, “but I feel like more of us should be pointing out that the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers, and that the no-fly list and FBI anti-terror efforts are seriously corrupted by entrapment, racial profiling and Islamophobia.”

Johnson posted a clarification Wednesday morning, saying “state-sanctioned violence causes more harm” than non-state sanctioned violence.

Every action has an opposite and likely unequal reaction, and the comments -- circulated from her personal Facebook page to an audience far wider than she expected -- led to a predictable reaction from those in and related to the law enforcement community, some of whom called for her resignation.

And, of course, the comments section of sites like the N&O's web site were as banal as one would expect, with predictably-racist diatribes involving returning to Africa, or criticism of black men and fathers.

And, just as predictably, came the full-throated defense of Johnson's comments from the most progressive in Durham's progressive community, many of whom seem to be members of the activist community that Johnson has long participated in, organized and championed.

All of which has made for, I am sorry to say, a terribly unenlightening and unenlightened debate. It is possible, indeed far more important, to disagree with her comments without the jingoism and call to proverbial arms we have seen in the initial pushback.

But the progressive defense of Johnson's comments is also, to these ears, tone-deaf and unable to be supported by the facts on the ground -- as we note beyond the jump, the CDC's statistics find that homicide is, by a factor of 50x, a more likely cause of death for young black males than police action.

In a sense, this very debate is emblematic of the poor coin of the current political discourse's realm. 


Because the concept that police officers are among the "most dangerous" people with guns, while touching emotionally raw wounds in the shadows of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and so many others, is logically inconsistent with the sources, uses and users of guns and violence, in a way that undermines the very important point underlying Johnson's comments.

Because the use of policing power in the public interest is a necessary function of any division of government, and while Johnson shows great promise as one who can reform the work, the seeming eschewment of its validity and purpose could undermine that end.

Because the intersection of the fundamental tensions here -- the acknowledged misuse of power at times by law enforcement, coupled with the inalienable necessity of policing functions to exist -- makes it crucial that elected officials engage and not pigeonhole the subject.

At the end of the day, Johnson's activist background is one of the things that drives the passion and engagement so many citizens have with Durham's newest elected official.

Yet it may be hard to hold the reins of power and a picket sign simultaneously.

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Cops and Cocoa Cinnamon: C'mon, folks, let's give credit when the D.P.D. does something right for a change

I've been trying to make sense of this odd story emerging about Cocoa Cinnamon's recent, and quickly regretted, partnership with the Durham Police Department to reward folks obeying crosswalk rules.

Dpd_crosswalkAs part of the operation, bike officers gave a coupon for a free coffee from the popular Durham business for those it spotted obeying the law -- a positive reward, instead of the usual warning or citation.

The response was... swift. On Instagram, for instance, many of the comments to Cocoa Cinnamon's partnership announcement were apoplectic.

"This post is problematic," said one. "Disturbing, insensitive, and harmful," said another. "The police are terrifying," said a third. "Get woke. This is supremacy," said a fourth.

Which led to a Herald-Sun article capturing the backpedaling of Cocoa Cinnamon in the wake of the criticism, and to this post from a Cocoa Cinnamon barista/brand-new Clarion Content editor.

And, most unfortunately, a tweet from an Indy Week writer, which manages to use a popular, problematic porcine pejorative in referring to Durham's police, a line I'm surprised to see crossed.

So let me be direct. It really seems worth stepping back a bit from the rhetorical extreme to put this campaign in context.

The Durham community has been extraordinarily vocal, and effective, in expressing its disdain for the D.P.D.'s leadership and behavior in recent cases -- disdain that's driven the City to turn out its police chief, and which is driving moves towards reform in drug enforcement prioritization and conditions for those incarcerated.

And more voices than ever have been calling for genuine community policing and engagement, criticizing outgoing Chief Jose Lopez for the department's failures on this front.

All of which makes the seeming notion that there can be, should be, no collaboration with police -- when the police are doing exactly what the community seems to be asking for -- naive at best, antisocial at its worst imagined extreme.

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Recapping the INC Council/Mayoral debate

A crowd of about 40 Durhamites attended last night's InterNeighborhood Council candidate debate featuring the six finalists for at-large City Council seats, along with the mayoral finalists.

The entire debate is available for viewing on YouTube -- and it's a must-watch, we'd suggest, for folks who are planning to vote in the general election. After all, newspapers, PACs and blogs can endorse, summarize and critique, but ultimately this election is about finding the candidates each voter feels is qualified to serve and represents the values that they think should be reflected in Durham.


Incidentally, next week Lisa Sorg and I will be recording video interviews with each Council candidate. Look for those on the site late next week.

Here's a rundown on some of last night's highlights and key areas of discussion.


Public Safety and Crime

Most candidates agreed that Durham faced a perception of increasing crime and that, in the last year or so at least, crime had seen an increase. 

Several of the candidates emphasized the importance of repairing citizen-police relationships. Ricky Hart noted that residents and police "do not have that trust, they do not have that fellowship" as car-based officers drive through communities, while Charlie Reece called to "recommit to a policing strategy that gets police officers out of their cars and walking beats in their neighborhoods."

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Lisa Sorg to contribute to Bull City Rising

I'm very pleased to announce that Lisa Sorg will be contributing stories about Durham here at Bull City Rising, beginning this week.

As an award-winning writer and editor at the INDY Week, Lisa has long established herself as one of the most prominent and knowledgeable voices about Durham. Lisa is someone whose perspective I've often agreed with, sometimes disagreed with, but always appreciated.

We'll both be trying this out over the next few weeks, taking on a bit of an experiment in this little blogging adventure at BCR. We're not entirely sure exactly where it'll take us, but I'm looking forward to the collaboration. And, I'm especially eager to be able to help share Lisa's reporting, analysis and experience with our readers.

One thing I've long appreciated is the camaraderie that developed in the 2000s between Durham bloggers and the local media. Editors and reporters from the Herald-Sun, the N&O, WRAL and WTVD and others have always been gracious and collegial, even as we approach stories from different angles and sometimes compete on approaches to stories.

Lisa and the INDY Week were perhaps the most collegial and engaged of all over the years, from co-sponsoring a U.S. House District 4 debate to meeting up for drinks. I hope you'll enjoy Lisa's contributions in this new forum.

N&O, H-S veteran Jim Wise announces retirement

It's literally the end of a Bull City era in print journalism: Jim Wise has covered his last City Council meeting.

JimwiseAnyone who's picked up a newspaper in Durham since, oh, the Reagan administration has had a pretty good chance of having read or been influenced by his work.

A dedicated student of Durham and regional history, Wise has always had the unique opportunity to take something out of the current headlines and tie it back to some other time in history -- even back to the 19th century hardscrabble founding of the Bull City, when needed.

And his voice will be missed.

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Civitas investigation alleges conflict of interest, open meeting law violation in DSS change

I'll be the first to admit my preternatural wariness about the work of Civitas, the conservative think tank that's part of a sprawling consortium of organizations funded largely by Art Pope and responsible for the reddening of state government and in part for increased appearances by the likes of "Americans for Prosperity" here in our state.

But we have damn too little investigative reporting happening around here, so credit goes where credit's due to Civitas' Andrew Henson for his story Tuesday about the termination of Durham County Social Services chief Gerri Robinson.

As we noted here in our bon voyage to Robinson a couple of weeks back, the DSS chair came to the Bull City's host county after a rocky tenure in Nashville, Tennessee, and hit headwinds early in her term over a controversial child care subsidy idea -- one which was said to have hastened the departure of at least one local non-profit leader involved in early childhood support.

But as commenters here noted at the time, there was a little grey-cloud asterisk hanging over the firing -- namely, the timing. The personnel change came simultaneously with the selection of one County Commissioner Joe Bowser as vice-chair of the DSS board, and with newly-appointed DSS board member Gail Perry getting called up to lead the agency at her very first meeting.

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Greenfire stumbles, American Tobacco promises big expansion in a day of odd downtown duality

When it comes to downtown Durham development, the recession has slowed the commencement of major new projects and slowed the news cycle in general, though the upfit of existing retail spaces and the like has continued to move along smartly.

Which makes it all the stranger how active Tuesday was in downtown Durham news stories -- one quite worrisome to many, the other remarkably bullish, pardon the pun.

The troubling story, no surprise, is the latest turn in the Greenfire Development saga over the Liberty Warehouse, Durham's last remaining standing auction house for tobacco, though inactive for that use for decades and now serving as office and business space for a range of largely non-profit organizations.

But "last remaining standing" risks being anachronistic, with City partial condemnation actions over leaks and squabbles with tenants followed by this weekend's rain soaking leading to a roof failure. On Tuesday, the City forced the lock-out out of all tenants, leading them to scramble to find new homes.

Meanwhile, Tuesday also noted the big reveal (in the form of ex-Herald-Sun reporter Monica Chen's story in the Triangle Business Journal) that Capitol Broadcasting had filed site plans for the expansion of American Tobacco -- including both Diamond View III and the long-awaited wrapper building for the east parking deck.

CBC real estate VP Michael Goodmon notes that the filing is procedural at this point, and that there aren't tenants linked to the project and a construction start date isn't ready. The wrapper buildings could include office space, could include residential units, could be a boutique hotel, based on past reports.

Still, we have a hunch here at BCR that given market demand and the size of the spaces, much of the space would be ideal to "tweener" companies, the next-level in downtown entrepreneurship who, to paraphrase Goldilocks, need a space that's not too small and not too big.

Which, ironically, are the very tenants that seem to sit at the heart of Greenfire's plans too. 

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So, Raleigh, now it's *you* caring about what's going on downstream?

Throughout the Falls Lake Rules process, one thing that's been frustrating at times for those of us in upstream Durham -- where a significant majority of our blue county, I suspect, supports tougher environmental measures -- has been the frustration of getting finger-wagged over growth and pollutants by our downstream neighbor.

A neighbor that's grown far faster than Durham, Orange, or Person, taking up a disproportionate share of regional growth. A neighbor whose impervious surface levels soared in the area around Falls Lake much faster than Durham's did. A neighbor whose County Commissioners vetoed a slow-growth provision near a future reservoir site so that Rolesville (who wants to live in Rolesville?) could keep growing.

A neighbor that chews up greenfields for subdivisions like a fat guy eats hot dogs at a July Fourth eating contest on Coney Island.

Well, what do we see today at the (absolutely terrific) site Raleigh Public Record?

Raleigh city officials say a proposed chicken operation in [downstream-from-Wake --BCR] Nash County could cost them big bucks for waste cleanup. [...]

If [the plant and associated Consolidated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs are] built as planned, Raleigh officials say nutrient levels in the Neuse and its estuary will rise. Should that happen, Waldroup predicts “the federal government, through the Clean Water Act, will require additional nutrient reductions from everyone upstream, not just the plant or the CAFOs.”

“Everyone within the basin will be affected, and traditionally point sources, like waste water treatment plants, will feel the brunt before non-point sources like land application operations,” he said.

“Municipalities, rather than the CAFOs, will receive more scrutiny because of how the Clean Water Act is structured.”

Meanwhile, the article tells us, Raleigh's three wastewater treatment plants have spent $25 million (gee!) to meet tighter nitrogen and phosphorus requirements -- and as much as (gasp!) a half-million a year in operating expenses to meet pollution rules.

But let me get this straight. Raleigh's grown at massive rates in the past decade, with the fastest growth countywide in the Brier Creek area, which drains to the Neuse just downstream of Falls Lake...

...and you're concerned that something happening downstream from you could make you have to spend more on pollution clean-up?

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King's Sandwich Shop featured in nice ABC 11 vignette

King's Sandwich Shop owner TJ McDermott left me a voice mail on Friday letting me know that WTVD ABC 11 was running a package on Saturday morning focused on the renovation of the Geer and Foster landmark, which re-opened last year.

Endangered Durham's Gary Kueber (who provides some background and context on historic renovation in the segment) featured this video up at his place, and I wanted to share it here, even as I imagine our blog readerships largely overlap. Still, this is too good a watch to miss.

I had seen the videographer at one of King's early opening dates, and understood then that the station was tracking the rehab of the eatery over time. The result is a nice, three and a half minute look at the return of a special place in our Bull City.