Sunday, January 28, 2018

(Update) What happened at the 1/ 23/18 council meeting: Tax for Tracks advances, Airbnb partial phase out, trampling property rights deferred again, Police Oversight Board bill killed..

by Rod Williams - This past council meeting had several very important issues on the agenda and I will summarize those first. If you are going to actually watch the meeting you need an agenda and the council staff analysis. Without a playbook you really will not know what is going on. To access the agenda, staff analysis and my commentary on the agenda, follow this link.

Mayor's tax for tracks mass transit plan approved.
Bill BL2017-1031 on Second Reading is the bill to adopt  the Mayor's transit improvement program and requesting the Davidson County Election Commission to call a county-wide referendum election to be held on May 1, 2018 to approve the tax increases to support the program.  As expected this passed overwhelmingly. The outcome of the vote on this was never in doubt. At a three-and-half-hour public hearing on January 9th the proponents vastly outweighed the opponents, supporters have been organizing for months, the proposal has the support of Chamber and other movers and shakers in town and the Council meeting as a special council committee composed of the entire body voted 29 to 1 to recommend it. A group called Transit for Nashville Coalition has gathered over 30,000 signatures in favor of a mass transit program for Nashville but the signatures were supporting mass transit not a specific amount of taxes to support mass transit. While this vote of the Council was never in doubt I would not bet on it passing the public referendum.  Experienced political opposition to the plan has now emerged and opponents are only now getting organized. I think when the public learns more about the plan and has to vote on it they will reject it.

The bill is amended to modify the language of the referendum. The new language will makes the plan more attractive by distorting the facts.It is amended to require that the language of the referendum not say that the vote is a vote  increasing the sales tax to 10.25% but instead to say the vote is a vote to increase the local option sales tax to 3.25%. While that is technically correct it is deceptive. The vote will be increasing only the local option, not the state sales tax. However, when the public votes on this, if they they vote for the referendum, they will be voting to raise the total sales tax to 10.25%,  making Nashville's sales tax the highest in the nation. I bet most people could not tell you which portion of the sales tax is state and which is local. The deceptive language was approved by a voice vote with some audible "no's."

Councilman Cooper proposed an amendment that would require that the public referendum language state that the project would cost $8.952 billion which is the cost of the project over 15 years. The referendum was to state that the project is a $5 billion project. The  $8.952 billion figure is a figure stated in the project plan and is the estimated cost of the plan over the 15-year construction period. The $5 billion dollar figure is some of the cost expressed in current dollars.  Cooper's amendment failed and the language of the referendum will use the deceptive lower figure of $5 billion.

His amendment would have also revealed the amount of the total sales tax if the referendum is approved instead of just the local share of the total which is 3.25%. His amendment would have had the referendum state the local option would increase to 3.2% for a total sales tax rate of 10.25%. Cooper's amendment was tabled by a vote of 21 in favor of tabling, 14 against, one abstention and three not voting. The bill is then voted on and passes by a vote of 30 to 5. Check back and I will post how members of the Council voted on this amendment and how they voted on the final bill.

To better understand the bill see page 6-14 of the staff analysis.  Also for more information see this link and this link.  To view the Council debate see the video at timestamp  43:28 to 1:10:47.

Phase-out of non-owner-occupied Short-term rentals approved.
Bill BL2017-608,  Substitute Bill BL2017-937Bill BL2017-981, and Bill BL2017-982   all on third reading all concern short term rentals. I was surprised by the outcome of Council action on this issue. The worst bill of the bills dealing with this was Bill BL2017-608. It phases out all non-owner-occupied short term rentals in areas with a residential zoning and it is the one that passed. The others failed. Bill 937 and 981 are deferred indefinitely and 982 is withdrawn. Passage of bill 608 may  result in action by the state legislature to preempt the ability of local governments to regulate short term rentals.

Substitute Bill BL2017-937 was the best of the bills, or the least bad bill, and the bill that a subcommittee of the council that had been studying the issue for over a year had produced. It is deferred indefinitely. Councilman Shulman was the sponsor of the bill and chaired the special committee that worked on the issue for over a year. He was treated very badly by some of the opponents of short term rentals. Several council members take to the floor to express the sentiment that he was treated unfairly and to thank him for his hard work on the issue.
What was passed means that if you have an accessory dwelling unit on your lot and have it permitted for short term rental, you can keep it. If you own the house next door and rent it for short term rental, you will no longer be able to do so.

An attempt was made to amend 608 to extend the phase out period from three years to eight years and that failed. It was tabled by a vote or 21 to 14 with 2 abstentions. The bill was approved by a vote of 25 to 6 with 7 abstentions. Check back and I will list the results of the roll call vote.
To understand what the various bills do and for a greater understanding of the issue, follow this link, this link, and see the staff analysis starting on page 16. To view the video discussion see timestamp 1:13:33.

Police Community Oversight Board bill defeated
Bill BL2017-951  on Second Reading which would establish a Community Oversight Board to conduct investigations and provide citizen oversight of officers of the Police Department is deferred indefinitely at the recommendation of the committee.  That means it cannot be placed back on the agenda by the sponsor. It really is dead.  To bring this issue back up someone would have to bring back a new bill.  The actual vote at this meeting was not a vote on the bill but whether of not to consider the bill. If the sponsor would have prevailed the bill would have been back on the agenda next council meeting. Only the sponsor and the chairman or a person designated by the chairman of the committees recommended deferral were allowed to speak on the bill. The sponsor, Scott Davis, spoke in support of his bill and Vice Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, Bill Pridemore who is a retired policeman, spoke against the bill. The vote in favor of putting the bill back on the agenda was five in favor, 25 opposed, and seven abstentions. It is dead.

This proposal resulted from a February 2017 police shooting that occurred when Officer Josh Lippert, who was wearing a police uniform and driving an unmarked car, pulled over Jocques Scott Clemmons for running a stop sign in the Casey Homes area. Police say Clemmons who had a  loaded 357 Magnum gun in his hand refused to drop it when Lippert told him to do so and fled.  Officer Lippert said he believed he was in danger and opened fire and struck Clemmons twice in the lower back . Clemmons later died. Clemmons had a criminal record involving cocaine and at the time was on probation and was not supposed to be in procession of a firearm. The police officer was Caucasian and Clemmons was a Negro.  This became a cause for many Blacks and Black Livers Matter and other Black activist. Officer Lippert was exonerated of wrong doing but is still not back on the streets, awaiting some administrative determination of his future status.

There is a lot of energy and passion around this issue so I don't know if the sponsor or someone else will try with a separate bill or not. Given the lopsided vote against it by the Council, I thing bringing it back would be a futile effort.  To view the Council debate on this bill see time stamp 26:50- 43:22.

Bill Trampling property rights and stopping affordable housing is deferred, again. 
Bill BL2016-219  on Third reading is the bill that tramples a person's property rights, partially takes property without compensation, and kills an affordable housing development. It is deferred until July 2018. This is a bill disapproved by the Planning Commission which means when it is finally acted upon it will take 28 votes of the Council to pass.  This bill has been in the works for a very long time, having been introduced in April 2016.

Unlike most zone changes which allow someone to do something with their property they were previously not allowed to do; this bill is a "down zoning," taking away a right someone now enjoys.  The owner is already vested in the project having designed the development and arranged financing.  I am pleased this was deferred rather than passed but it is unfair to keep this hanging over the head of the owner.  Doing so should be illegal in my view.  While I do not know anything about the project other than what has been reported by other media and what is public record, I would assume that the fact that the down zoning is pending affects financing.  A delay is a also a major cost in a project like this.  

Despite the bill not passing, Councilman Karen Johnson has most likely been successful in stopping the project. Her delaying the project may result in the planned affordable housing never being built since by the time the bill is finally defeated, assuming it is, the market may have changed and affordable housing may no longer be the best use for this property. Instead of the affordable housing, which Karen Johnson opposes, gentrification may have reached Antioch and upscale condo's may be built instead.

For more on this issue, see Contact your Council member. Stop the trampling of property rights and the killing of an affordable housing development.

In Other Council Action
Following the prayer and pledge, the first order of business is two presentations, one is recognition of Wear Red Day which is a campaign to bring attention to heart health.  The presentation is used as an opportunity to educate people about what to do if you have chest pain and to educate people to stop smoking and otherwise live a healthy lifestyle. This presentations takes about six minutes. Following that presentation there is a presentation honoring the Ryman auditorium and that takes about six minutes.

There are seven mayoral appointments to boards and commission on the agenda but only one is acted upon.  There is no report on the others at all and no explanation has to why.  I don't assume there would be an issue with six nominees and if they would have withdrawn their nomination or the committee would have recommended a deferral, then that would have been reported. It was probably a scheduling conflict but that should have been explained. It should be.

There are 12 resolution on the agenda and they are all routine things such as accepting grants, paying settlements and approving of signs to overhang the right of way. None of the resolutions are of much interest.  In my view, the council should give some other body such as the Board of Zoning Appeals or maybe just some pubic servant such as the Director of Codes the authority to approve signs overhanging the sidewalk. This seems to be a mundane routine thing.  If the applicant has met the design and insurance guidelines then it seems some bureaucrat could sign the permit instead of requiring Council action on every sign that protrudes into the right of way. 

Bill BL2017-941  on Second Reading which would establish a Commercial Permit Parking Program.  is deferred one meeting.

Bill BL2017-1026  on Third Reading in councilman Scott Davis' district is deferred one meeting. This is a zoning bill disapproved by the planning commission. I have no opinion of the merits of the bill and am only calling attention to it because it is a disapprove bill. To pass a disapproved bill requires 27 votes.

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