Friday, March 27, 2009

Highland Park Turning off Street Lights

Arthur Blackwell II, thwarted in his attempts to privatize the Highland Park's water department and quasi-thwarted in his attempts to get paid by the state under the table, has a new cost-cutting idea: shutting off street lights. Citing a $1,000,000 a year DTE bill, he has requested that DTE let him turn off half of the city's street lights.

Blackwell II, appointed by Governor Granholm to be the city's "Emergency Financial Manager", essentially has the last word on every decision made in Highland Park.

Jack Lessenberry of the Metro Times described Blackwell II thusly:

The Detroit News, which I agree with editorially about once per papacy, called him “a nickel-grasping bottom feeder.” That was too kind. In a world where Lonnie Bates was the pinnacle of integrity, Art Blackwell would be suspect.

Forget the fact that his father, ex-Mayor Bob Blackwell, famous for having his jaws wired shut and sometimes running the city from a strip bar called the Tender Trap, did more than anyone else to ruin Highland Park.


This is a man who hid consulting fees, used leftover campaign funds to build a deck on his home, and couldn’t explain $27,000 in “travel expenses” back during his days as chairman of the Port Authority.

This is a man who once had a $42,000-a-year mayoral appointment with the Detroit Fire Department, but seldom showed up for work.

This is a man, in short, whose appointment to handle Highland Park’s finances makes as much sense as appointing a child molester to run kindergarten sleepovers.

Last year, Blackwell II was ordered to pay the state of Michigan back $66,000 after papers in a taxpayer-filed lawsuit stated that he'd cut a backroom deal with the State of Michigan (Ms. Governor?) to get paid $132,000 a year after he'd promised to work for $1 a year.

Earlier this month, WDIV-Detroit reported he was under investigation again for receiving an additional $44,000 from the state of Michigan. It's very strange how this money is coming directly out of state funds, and yet the media, masses and state politicians just can't seem to muster the same indignation for Blackwell II as they could for Detroit's ex-Mayor, Kwame "Detroit, you done set me up for a comeback" Kilpatrick.

Anyhow, back to the street lights... The Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press first carried the story on March 10. Blackwell II wrote to the city's block presidents in a letter dated February 23. He informed them of the plan to save 15% on the city's DTE bill by shutting of the street lights. Blackwell II floated a plan to shut the lights in alleys. Others have proposed shutting every other street light on Woodward, John R, 2nd, and 3rd. City officials met with block club presidents last night to discuss these plans. The plans were set to go into affect April 1. Crack Freep reporter Zlati Meyer wrote that a public meeting has been set for mid-April (?). He also called last night's meeting "public", despite the fact that it was only for block club presidents.

Back on March 10, a DTE spokesman told the Freep that they would not recommend the current proposal and would be willing to discuss alternatives with the city. But another DTE spokesman (Scott Simons) told the Freep today that he did not endorse, but would not object to Blackwell II's plan. Meyer offered no context on the change in tone by the DTE spokes-army (compared to the Freep's very own March 10 story). There was one quote from a retired female resident, but the majority of quote-space went to Blackwell II. Blackwell II had the audacity to claim that the city doesn't need as many street lights because it was designed for roughly 3 times the amount of current residents. He did not elaborate on how the city might morph into a landmass 1/3 of its current size. He did, however, report that 20% of the lights were busted anyhow.

2 months ago the Highland Park superintendent decided to immediately close the Highland Park Career Academy high school for all students except graduating seniors. Those kicked out by the decision were told to enroll in night school or internet classes to fulfill their legal right (and compulsory obligation for some) to attend school. Now, walking home at night could get even tougher...

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

What is "Justice" for Victims of Eminent Domain?

Detroit can claim the first mile of concrete paved road in the United States (Woodward from 6 Mile to 7 Mile) and the first "urban, depressed" freeway (The Davison). But did you know that Detroit once boasted one of the most important streets in Black America and that politicians chose to demolish it in order to construct Interstate-375?

When the decision was made to use eminent domain and evict the people of Hastings Street, it shut down what had been the highest concentration of Black-owned businesses anywhere in the United States. Hastings boasted blues bars, eye doctors, greasy spoons, dry cleaners, locksmiths, lawyers and dentists. Property owners on highway sites received only 30 days of notice from the state and no assistance with relocation.

But my how times have changed. From the AP...

Michigan pays $16 million in M-5 land seizure

January 3, 2009

LANSING -- Michigan has paid a developer $16 million after seizing land for a highway project in metro Detroit.

The settlement reached early last month ends 13 years of legal wrangling.

In 1995, the Michigan Department of Transportation, or MDOT, used eminent domain to take 51 acres of vacant land to help build the M-5 Haggerty Connector in Novi.

The state in 1996 paid nearly $2.8 million for the land, which was owned by Haggerty Corridor Partners Limited Partnership. The developer said the land was worth more because adjacent property it owned was rezoned later for high-tech offices instead of residential homes and agricultural uses.

This is quite a different result compared to the eminent domain used to seize property for highway construction some 60 years ago.

Eminent domain is used in the construction of every major freeway. Freeway siting in Detroit (and almost every other major U.S. city) has historically been used to dismantle minority communities under the guise of "slum clearance":

In each case, hundreds of residents and businesses were forced to relocate and paid far below the fair-market value for their properties. Communities were shattered and neighbors were literally separated by uncrossable "urban, depressed" freeways.

- The Lodge Expressway tore through Detroit's original Chinatown near 3rd and Howard. It relocated to the area near Cass and Peterboro.

- I-75 in SW Detroit cut through Mexicantown, bisecting Bagley Street, formerly the commercial thoroughfare. M-DOT is finally building a pedestrian bridge to reconnect Bagley this year as part of its seemingly never-ending "Gateway" project.

- I-96 landed right in the middle of an enclave of middle-class African American homes along Grand River Ave. on the west-side, making the neighborhood very difficult to access.

- I-94 took out a swath of the northern part of the Paradise Valley neighborhood.

Now, over half a century later, "Haggerty Corridor Partners Limited Partnership" has been paid a handsome sum to, er, compensate for the loss of their, er, formerly undeveloped swamp?

The $16 million is in addition to the $2.8 million already paid to the developer.

"I admire the government for realizing what's fair," said Alan Ackerman, an attorney for the developer. "It's not easy to give money away, especially in these times."

A message seeking comment was left with an MDOT spokesman Friday afternoon.

It was unclear how the settlement will affect the state budget, which Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration has said is facing a shortfall of at least $106 million in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Is it really unclear how it will affect the state budget? They owe an additional $13.2 million to a faceless group of developers and their cadre of lawyers plus whatever they've spent trying to fight the lawsuit. It will affect the state budget *negatively*.

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