The report, published Monday, noted Atlanta’s downtown office vacancy rate stood at 12.6 percent on Dec. 31, 2008. This compares with a rate of 13.5 percent at the end of 2007.However, suburban Atlanta office vacancies were a different matter. The suburban office vacancy rate was 15.8 percent at the end of 2008, compared with a rate of 14.4 percent at the end of 2007.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
19 questions -- questions as simple as whether the patient's identity confirmed been confirmed and his surgery site marked -- dropped the death rate by 40 percent and the complication rate by a third. That means not only that more people lived, but there was less need for follow-up care, for rehabilitation, for corrective surgeries. It's possible that some of that improvement came because the surgery teams knew they were being studied but that simply underscores the point: More attentiveness means fewer deaths.
Monday, January 19, 2009
At the beginning of December the Atlanta City Council unanimously adopted the Connect Atlanta Plan, a long term transportation plan for the city. It's the first comprehensive transportation plan Atlanta has ever had, and in my opinion it lays out some amazing possibilities for this city. The plan has the potential to transform the city into a much more walkable, well-connected city while preserving the special character of Atlanta. To someone like me who has been dealing with the difficulties of walking, biking, or taking MARTA around this city since she was 12, the plan feels almost too good to be true.
I was lucky enough to snag some of former planning commissioner Steve Cover's time. He gave me a good overview of the plan and what's needed to carry it out. I'm going to address the plan in broad strokes, but you can download the whole thing, which is quite easy to understand, here: http://www.connectatlantaplan.
The plan focuses in on some problem areas, but it's comprehensive and looks at the entire city. It incorporates many other studies—the beltline, the Piedmont corridor study, the LCIs, and the Peachtree streetcar—and ties them all in. You can download maps of the entire plan on the website. Here's the piece that covers most of downtown. The major recommendations, which you can see on the maps, are:
- Increased transit, which is its major focus
- A new bicycle network (!)
- Better pedestrian facilities
- New streets to improve connectivity and efficiency
- Road widening to increase capacity and road diets in some cases
- One-way to Two-way street conversion
- Design guidelines for various street-types
- Reduced block sizes
- A series of recommended projects (check these out!)
- A focus on circulation within the city rather than in and out of it.
Imagine that! A city with a network of bike paths, sidewalks, and transit options! We all know these are great things to have--no shockers there--and the plan does a good job of integrating all of them and dealing with some real problem areas. But, I think there a couple of points on which the plan is tailored really well to Atlanta and shows a lot of originality. For one thing, I am excited about how the plan conceives of the city's urban structure: Connect Atlanta breaks the city into a network of nodes, which are major activity centers of varying density (downtown, Glenwood Park, etc.), corridors, which connect the dots (Dekalb Ave.), and districts, the areas between corridors that are primarily single family (Atlanta's neighborhoods).
Each of these components of Atlanta's urban structure has its own transportation priorities and needs. To me, this structure is perceptive and smart, because it allows for a good amount of flexibility and specificity within what is still a well defined, cohesive system. It strengthens what I love about this city; while Atlanta's specific configuration is part of what causes our transportation problems, the plan deals with that while celebrating the peculiarity instead of eliminating it.
Another one of the more original pieces of the plan is the way it proposes funding the recommendations because it allows the city to pay for the entire proposal without state or federal funding. The plan proposes a parking fee or tax; buildings with parking will incur a fee for it. They'll be offsetting the infrastructural costs that are currently unaccounted for, and they'll be supporting development around them which will ultimately help their business and the city as a whole. The report makes the point that the city, with all its free parking, is subsidizing really harmful practices. This tax will correct that, and it will raise $70-80 million a year.
So, what does this all mean for us and for the future of the city? The plan gives the city a document that can guide our development in the future, as well as some specific, realizable projects. The council's adoption of the plan means that they're signing off onto the principles and goals it lays out, but the components of it will still need to pass council individually. And that's where we come in: As we move closer to an election season, the plan's realization should be a major part of the platforms of the people we're voting for. If carrying out the Connect Atlanta plan isn't part of someone's campaign platform, that's a big problem. Make sure you support candidates who are explicit in their support of the Connect Atlanta plan.
The plan represents a major accomplishment by the Planning Department. Looking at it, we see that Atlanta will never be Manhattan, but I don't think we want it to be. What it will be, instead of the nightmare of traffic and sprawl that it has been threatening to become, is a denser, healthier, better-connected, and more legible version of the uniquely lush, historically complex city that it already is.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
The Georgia Department of Transportation requested $15.1 million to start a commuter rail from Atlanta to Griffin. However, Perdue included no money in this year’s budget for the train....The federal government has already allocated $119 million to the project. However, the federal grant requires state money to move forward....Governor’s spokesman Bert Brantley said Perdue still supports the commuter rail, but is looking for the DOT and local governments to identify other funding options.“The state is in the middle of a serious budget situation. Our latest revenue forecast shows the state collecting $2.2 billion less than was originally budgeted for FY2009,” Brantley said. “A statement of support does not mean a project has a blank check to be funded at significant higher amounts than originally proposed.”
2 a (1): to promote the interests or cause of (2): to uphold or defend as valid or right (3): to argue or vote for3 a: to pay the costs of; b: to provide a basis for the existence or subsistence of
Friday, January 16, 2009
Later Tuesday, International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623 president Scott Kreher laughed at the idea and said it’s implausible for the city to hire and train several hundred officers by Dec. 31.The mayor also took some snipes at council members who opportunistically blamed her budget cuts for an increase in crime:
Franklin responded by writing a letter to Kreher on Wednesday.
“You chose to make fun of the idea and not give serious consideration to the changes we’ve implemented in the last seven years,” wrote Franklin, who took office in January 2002. “Your comments may lead the public to believe you don’t think the goal is laudable whether it is achieved partially this year or next year.”
All of the officers, however, were furloughed by Franklin late last month and are working 10 percent less due to an ongoing city budget crisis. The city council is scheduled to vote on a resolution next week to end the furloughs for police officers and firefighters. Franklin has questioned how the council will fund their plan.The biggest problem I see is that all this squabbling over money and timing misses the real problem with the Police Department, which is lack of management and leadership which contributes to low morale and performance by officers. We've been trying to get to 2,000 officers forever, and one reason we haven't is because we can't find quality recruits who will stay at the APD. Of the 200 new officers Shirley wants to hire, how many will have criminal records?
“Show me the money,” the mayor said.
This is one reason I don't like to use high-profile incidents to set policy. I have no doubt that the response to the Standard murder played a role in this announcement, and it feels a little like an attempt to get the problem off of the desk. It is all reactionary. It is like the mayor is asking, "What can I do to quell the public on this?" not, "What can I do to really fix this problem?"
I'd love to have an extra 200 police officers on the street, I just don't think it addresses the real problem.
Keen has had a bill in his pocket that would take the power to choose member of the state transportation board out of the hands of ordinary lawmakers and hand that authority to a triumvirate: the governor, the House speaker, and the lieutenant governor.Pending seeing the proposal, I am actually very impressed. Sure, it's a power move to give the Governor, Speaker, and Lt. Governor more authority, but the DOT is something that the Governor should have more power over. We elect governors (and presidents, mayors, etc.) with the idea that they can bring about big changes. This may not always be fair, but it is true.
The governor would be given the authority to appoint the agency’s top executive — the state transportation commissioner. That duty now falls to the transportation board.
But Keen said he’s backed off his initiative after conversations with Perdue, who likes the idea and intends to incorporate in a sweeping overhaul of the state’s transportation system that will be presented to the Legislature this session....
The state currently has multiple transportation agencies — GRTA, CRTA, etc. “They were all created by past governors because they couldn’t get DOT to do what they wanted them to do. I’ve had two past governors both confirm that for me. You can never really get anything out of there,” Keen said.
The structure of the DOT makes it very difficult to change anything, like Keen said. The commissioners treat the DOT as their fiefdom and piggy bank, and there is practically zero accountability. Consolidating all the state transportation agencies makes sense, too. I've seen good ideas die because the various agencies got into a turf war over who got to (mis)handle the funds. I can't believe I'm saying it, but if Perdue could pull of reorganizing the state's transportation it would be a huge accomplishment.
In regard to Tuesday's post, perhaps I didn't give Perdue enough credit. I still would like to see more leadership on the funding issue, and I'm not a big fan of the statewide tax vs. a regional one. I don't trust the DOT to do much for Atlanta issues, although a reorganization could be interesting. Cagle and Richardson at least come from the greater metro area (Paulding and Hall), so there could be a new dynamic on the board and in the department.
I would also support consolidating MARTA with CCT, GCT, and GRTA (if it isn't part of Perdue's plan) but I'd like to see the representatives proposing it approach things differently. Whenever they talk about it now, it seems like an excuse to withold funding, not an attempt to improve service. I can't find any bills that have been filed proposing such a consolidation, which is one way to judge how serious someone is about an idea.
UPDATE: I should not that Jill Chambers has said she would drop a bill to merge MARTA with GRTA, but to my knowledge has not done so and all reports indicate it doesn't involve CCT or GCT.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
A thriving business climate also includes a transportation network that supports commerce. Early in my first term, I was assured that the solution to our transportation needs was to spend more money. Like many government programs, the only diagnosis was lack of money and the only prescription was to spend more of it.But, just as I discussed earlier in education, too often we measure government programs by how much we spend instead of measuring the results of spending. As many of you remember, I launched the Fast Forward program in 2004, an idea that would speed up construction of needed projects.This chart shows federal and state transportation spending over the last five decades when calculated as a percentage of GDP. There have been several points in our history where we ramped up our investment – in the 60s when we built out the interstate system, in the 80s when we added lanes to those interstates and constructed MARTA, and in the last several years under Fast Forward.This next chart looks at the last 12 years – the six years of my administration and the six years prior. When you look at the data, it is clear that we have made a significant investment, and that our failure to keep up with an increasing demand is a problem decades in the making – not one that is fixed overnight.On Friday, I met with the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker for a very productive session on our mutual commitment to address our transportation needs. We all agree that the most important thing for our citizens is delivering value for their tax dollar.With our increased recent investment, one might expect our transportation problems to be solved. But we didn’t get the value that I was looking for from that money. That is why I commissioned Investing in Tomorrow’s Transportation Today, or IT3, to provide a “needs assessment” of where we are today and understand whether there is a business case for new investment.The results came back loud and clear. There is great promise that we can deliver value if we can execute on the findings of IT3, but there is no sense in investing if you cannot be assured of a dividend, of a return.We have proven that more money by itself is not the answer. It is clear that we need a functional, efficient system for delivering value, and the results of IT3 illustrate that it is possible.Once I feel certain that we can deliver transportation value to Georgia citizens, I will support prudent, responsible measures to raise additional revenues. I believe we will come to consensus on funding, and I believe we will stand up a system that can take that funding and provide the value Georgians deserve.
The speaker said the problem requires a statewide tax that goes for everything from road projects and rail in Atlanta, to figuring out routes to steer traffic away from the city. Of the regional transportation idea, he said, “I believe that plan will not fix transportation.”Afterwards, Gov. Sonny Perdue told reporters, “The speaker made some good points. Transportation is a statewide issue. I want a statewide solution to transportation as well.”Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said he couldn’t comment on Richardson’s proposal because the speaker’s comments were “general.” He added, “A statewide, one penny increase in the sales tax just for transportation would probably be difficult to pass in the Senate.”
It was yet another act of senseless violence, but what was needling me was why this particular murder is getting so much coverage and public organization. This happened in East Atlanta, a quickly gentrifying area of the city. Now I'm all for urban progress, but let's be honest here: middle-class people suddenly moving into neighborhoods were crime rates are traditionally high kinda spells a recipe for a "crime wave".
Sunday, January 11, 2009
It’s hard to know what to expect. Even in more prosperous times, the governor wasn’t exactly a visionary. His biggest initiative to date has been his “Go Fish Georgia” program. The current economic climate gives him the perfect excuse to once again “go small,” even at a time when much bigger steps are required.However, the roots of our transportation problems go deeper than mere money. For example, Georgia’s 13-member transportation board — one member for each of the state’s congressional districts — is archaic. It was designed as a means to distribute patronage around the state, and that’s exactly what it does. Traditionally, board members have seen their first responsibility as diverting as many transportation dollars as possible back to the home district; setting policy to create an efficient statewide transportation system was a distant second.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
But Atlanta police Sgt. Scott Kreher told reporters Monday property crimes are rising, largely because the department needs more officers. He said the recent furloughs of police officers will result in more crime and lower morale among officers.“It’s in the tank,” Kreher, leader of Atlanta’s police union, said of morale. “It’s the worst I’ve seen in my 17 years.”
The fact is, after historic declines, crime in Atlanta has risen sharply in recent years.In 2007, crime declined nationally, but jumped double digits in Atlanta.There were 89 murders in Atlanta in 2005, but 129 murders in 2007.As of Oct 2008, overall crime in Atlanta was up 6% from the previous year.Atlanta had fewer murder in '08 than '07, but it's still up from '05.And property crime in Atlanta continues to soar.Burglary and larceny, the crimes that most often effect regular people, were both up more than 10% from the previous year as of Oct 2008.source (PDF, see page 23)
None of this changes the fact that crime and perceptions of safety are major, major issues for the city of Atlanta. They are issues that will be defining my opinions on the next mayoral race. Unfortunately, at this point, I don't have any new ideas. I don't want to vote for someone who thinks they are "tough on crime" - I need a candidate who actually has a solution.Obviously I agree that this is an issue that needs to be debated, and that I'm hoping Mayoral candidates will talk about. I'm not an expert in public policy on this issue - heck, I hardly know anything about the nuts and bolts of crime prevention. So what follows is a layman's take on things.
Fifty-six percent of the violent felons convicted in the 75 most populous counties from 1990 through 2002 had a prior conviction, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.Of the offenders with prior felony records, the study found that at the time of the new crime 18 percent were on probation, 12 percent on release pending disposition of a prior case and 7 percent on parole.
Galster theorizes that every neighborhood has its tipping point—a threshold well below a 40 percent poverty rate—beyond which crime explodes and other severe social problems set in. Pushing a greater number of neighborhoods past that tipping point is likely to produce more total crime.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
- Intowners are getting fed up with an increase in violent crimes
But residents of intown Atlanta say those statements and statistics don't mesh with reality. Violent crime, they say, has grown more frequent and brazen, a worrisome trend at a time when the department is actually scaling back officers to offset the city's $70 million budget shortfall.
- Our neighborhoods are falling apart because of the real estate bust and the recession
A map at city hall shows virtually every neighborhood south of I-20 and a number of others facing a dangerous combination of falling property values, increasing foreclosures, abandonment and crime.
- The suburbs are stealing our police officers because the APD is a total mess
In Dunwoody, preparing for a relative hiring binge, police applications are arriving from several communities, including Atlanta.
- MARTA is going broke and facing drastic service cuts, and transportation funding is disappearing
MARTA, which depends heavily on a sales tax collected in Fulton and DeKalb counties and the city of Atlanta, may have to stop service on one rail line, Walls said.
- Downtown is falling apart
The city is looking into three locations in and around Underground Atlanta where ground surfaces have given way in recent days...
The largest and most obvious is a 14-foot section of brick walkway on Underground’s upper plaza that separated just after midnight on New Year’s Eve
Another is a half-block stretch of Forsyth Street, just south of Alabama Street. Part of a Forsyth Street sidewalk nearby also is buckling.
Franklin used her final State of the City address to the Atlanta City Council to outline a list of accomplishments she said has put the city on “the threshold of greatness.”I wish I could say something else, but I think these articles pretty much speak for themselves. I wish the vigil at the Standard was at a realistic hour, because I can't get to Grant Park that early.
“Since most jurisdictions cannot pay police officers what they deserve, providing free homes to them would be a substantial supplement to their salaries and a good tool for recruitment and retention.”
Monday, January 5, 2009
He stopped short of acknowledging that city law requires the Police Department to release the documents, but said the department decided to do so last week.In case you were having difficulty remembering, the Citizen Review Board was created after the Kathryn Johnston shooting, took a year and a half to get staffed, and doesn't hear cases of bribery or corruption. The Johnston shooting also prompted the wholesale re-staffing of the entire narcotics division because of what the FBI called a "culture of misconduct."
“It’s the right thing to do for now,” Hagin said. “We made the decision to turn those documents over and wait to see what council does with the new ordinance.”
Police officials asked the city last month to allow them to only turn over documents and information that are public records, usually a small portion of a case file when the investigation is under way. The amendment not yet been voted on by the City Council.
If the change is approved, it would allow the Police Department to withhold most information from the Review Board until after the department conducts its own internal investigations.
What is the point of having a Review Board if they can't get unfettered access to the APD? It seems pretty clear that the CRB was just a PR stunt. At the very least, the APD needs to get some better PR people so that their attempts to avoid scrutiny aren't quite so obvious. There are really no checks on the APD. The chief reports directly to the mayor, and Atlanta hasn't had a mayor interested in getting control of the department in maybe 30 years. I frankly feel a little ill about it all, and the entire city (especially the mayor) should be embarrassed that this has gone on for so long.
We know that concentrating affordable housing ends up with ghettos, but that means that other areas have to carry their fair share of affordable housing. As Habitat expands this new model, it becomes a little more feasible:
In affluent Atlanta suburbs such as east Cobb and north Fulton, finding suitable, foreclosed homes for renovation remains difficult. Even in foreclosure, single-family properties may be priced above the $90,000 to $140,000 range considered Habitat-affordable.There are obviously more policy changes we need to see to increase affordable housing across the metro area, and I'll try and have a post on that eventually. I'm not that much of a policy wonk that I wouldn't need to do a bit more research on the topic, but it starts with things like inclusionary zoning.
And many are two to three times larger than a Habitat house’s typical 1,200 to 1,500 square feet, leaders say.
But even in these pricier neighborhoods, chapters hope to turn some older houses quickly, and relatively inexpensively. They are fielding more calls from sellers — including homeowners on the cusp of foreclosure — and developers eager to unload some of their unfinished lots.
If the pattern continues, advocates say more spots in higher-end communities could open to modest-income earners.
Friday, January 2, 2009
As of this week, Phoenix has light rail, and metro Atlanta mass transit boosters are jealous.Consider this quote from the business community, as well:
“I continue to be frustrated that we can’t seem to move in that direction,” said Sam Olens, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Cobb County commission. “We’re losing our competitive advantage.” ...
Olens said plum employers with skilled jobs are slipping away. “In the last two years, I’ve had two major corporations tell me they would not move their headquarters to the Cobb Galleria area because all we had are buses,” Olens said this week.
On Wednesday, Sam Williams, president of the chamber, said in a statement that “cities that have made transportation a priority, like Phoenix, Dallas and Charlotte, continue to leapfrog Atlanta with respect to regional mobility. … While these areas make progress, we seem choked in congestion with little leadership to get us out.”Sounds like Sam Williams wants someone like Olens at the capitol. See this Political Insider column for more on Olens' conflicts with the state GOP. The next two legislative sessions should be interesting to watch as folks jockey for position.
I don't know if he could win a GOP primary, but Olens strikes me as the kind of candidate that in-town Dems would flock to in the general election. He is about as good as a Dem could hope for on issues like transportation, and has a reputation for working well across the aisle. If I had to choose a Republican for the governor's mansion, I'd choose Olens. If I have to choose between Dubose Porter and David Poythress (who I know next to nothing about), I might vote in the GOP primary for Olens.
Mounting loan losses erode a bank’s worth and put it at risk of running afoul of regulators, who can order a bank to make changes or even shut it down.I'm glad they've figured out that regulations are why homebuilders are going bankrupt. It wasn't that they overbuilt, or that the banks made bad loans in the first place, or that no one is buying houses right now. Nope, none of the basic market facts. Regulations.
“The regulators are hammering the banks for not following the strict interpretation of all the rules, especially as they relate to residential real estate construction,” said Joe Brannen, president of the Georgia Bankers Association. “Unfortunately, this gets perceived and portrayed as banks not being willing to work with our borrowers.”
A bank that modifies a troubled loan to help a builder still carries a troubled loan, so its financial picture hasn’t improved.
What sort of regulations are they talking about? I am not a banker, nor am I that familiar with the particular regulatory codes for commericial real estate loans. So I could be way wrong on this, but I glean from the article that it is the same mark-to-market accounting practice that helped tank banks carrying sub-prime loans:
“It appears that there is not-so-subtle pressure from regulators to get new appraisals and immediately write down loans based on them,” said Steve King, president of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association. “When that occurs the banks often decide that they are better off foreclosing, since they have already been forced to reduce the value of the loan on their books.”So the onerous regulatory pressure killing homebuilders is an accounting practice forcing banks to mark all these bad loans down to their current value. They are forcing banks to carry the actual value of the loans on their books, instead of pretending that acres of vacant home sites are still worth what they were a year ago.
I call B.S.
The article notes that 40% of Georgia banks are unprofitable, and that five Georgia banks got shut down last years. I'm guessing that just trying to stay solvent has a much greater effect than regulations on the rate of foreclosures. Banks need cash right now (remember that whole bailout thing?), and reworking loans to wait for homes to sell doesn't bring in any cash. Foreclosing and selling the developer's home, even at a loss, does.
The issue isn't how they "look" to regulators, it is whether they can survive. If I were a banker, I'd want to reappraise my bad real estate loans regardless of whether I had to for regulators. I'd want to know how much I stand to lose, and whether it was realistic that the loan would ever actually perform. Even the GAHBA president notes that regulations aren't forcing banks to foreclose per se, but that once banks realize how bad these loans really are they decide it makes more sense to just get out of them and move on.
I guess the Banker's Association point is that regulators can seize a bank if their financial picture gets too bad, but I have a hard time blaming regulators for banks that get themselves into such bad positions. If the banks hadn't made tons of bad loans, then they wouldn't have to worry about whether regulators thought they were going to collapse or not.
I have commented before that as a blogger, it is very easy to make a fool of myself. I would love if someone with banking experience corrected me if I'm wrong since there isn't that much to go on in the article, and my own knowledge of banking regulations is limited to an intro accounting class.