A big step toward clearing the air about the Polk St. Garage (69)

(69th in a series of posts on parking)

The Mayor’s statement (5 mins.) video
Mayor on BPA 11-07-18  text
Councilman Reynold’s follow-up to the Mayor (12 mins.)  video

So let’s pick up the long-awaited meeting of November 7 in which City Council considered the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s proposal to increase parking violation fines in tandem with the Mayor’s previous approval to raise the parking meter rates. This meeting came after the BPA answered a series of questions asked by Council. Council voted 6-1 to table the fine proposal indefinitely. The meter rate rise will still go into effect January 1.

Gadfly felt good about this meeting. He left the meeting with a feeling of satisfaction. He felt progress.

But Gadfly welcomes judgments of the many wise heads in attendance.

Remember that Gadfly had said that for him Polk St. haunted this whole process. So many ambiguous statements.

Remember that Gadfly asked the BPA Board directly, “is the Polk St. Garage going to be built?” And was told unambiguously by the bulldog bodyguard BPA solicitor, “Nobody interrogates the Board”!

Well — answer to Gadfly’s prayers — the Mayor went right to sole focus on Polk.

The Mayor – without being asked to make a statement – immediately created a positive atmosphere through a 5-minute prepared statement focused on the previously enigmatic Polk St. Garage in which he provided important background in addition to setting a timeline for key future developments. All exactly what Gadfly had been missing.

There was no kumbaya, but the interaction between Mayor and Council was calm and business-cordial. The Mayor and the strong majority of Council (and even the BPA) were agreed on the “table indefinitely” option. There was never doubt of passage. The one negative voice was strong and given plenty of time to articulate his position. All good.

For Gadfly, this meeting took a big step toward clearing the air of the cobwebs around this whole process that have enveloped him for the last 30 or more posts in this long thread.

Mayor on BPA 11-07-18.

From Gadfly, kudos to the Mayor for his clear, concise statement of where the Polk issue has come from and where it is going. His statement is linked above, transcribed from an audio recording. Gadfly hoped to have a copy of the Mayor’s actual statement to post, but it did not come in before press time. Take a look for yourself. Gadfly always suggests going to the primary source and forming your own opinion.

Also, especially, for a feeling of being there, check out the video of the Mayor presenting his statement.

Here are a few key bullet points from the Mayor:

  • The first concrete step on Polk St. happened in 2014 through the Redevelopment Authority.
  • The RDA project stalled, and BPA was given responsibility for the project in 2015.
  • In early 2017 the Mayor asked BPA to conduct a comprehensive parking analysis as a prelude to capital projects.
  • Attempts to secure land from the Sands were unsuccessful till plans for selling the Casino in early 2018.
  • BPA approved an agreement of sale in September 2018.
  • The goal for beginning construction was the mid-2019.
  • Construction should take 16 months.
  • The meter and fine increases are needed for Polk St.
  • The BPA is exploring financing both with and without City guarantee.
  • The Mayor has asked the RDA to compile a complete timeline of their involvement.

The Mayor was organized, provided chronology, provided facts – provided understanding.

Had Gadfly purring like a kitten.

Councilman Reynolds then completed construction of Gadfly’s Era of Good Feeling by asking direct follow-up questions and getting direct answers (see the video of Reynolds here):

  • Yes, there is an agreement of sale for 3rd and Polk.
  • Construction should start mid to ¾’s 2019.
  • Construction should take 16-18 months.
  • Yes, the increased revenue is needed for Polk.
  • BPA will discuss options for funding with Council early in 2019.
  • Possibly, BPA funding may not need City guarantee.
  • But even if not, BPA will discuss funding with Council.
  • The fine proposal will be taken up again when funding is discussed.
  • That meeting will take place in the first ¼ 2019.

Clarity. Transparency. Timeline.

Pretty damn close to the strategic plan the Council letter asked for.

Now, here’s the only hitch Gadfly could see. Councilman Colon asked the Mayor if meter rates were still going up January 1, thus causing, if so, a skewed proportion with the fine structure that will remain static till later into 2019.

The Mayor said yes.

Meter rates going up though fines remain static.

Gadfly doesn’t understand that. And we’ll return to this point later.

We live in a Fallen World (remember, Gadfly moonlights as a philosopher-theologian weekends), is all he can say.

Can’t have everything.

Video by Owen Gallagher

BPA fines proposal on hold (68)

(68th in a series of posts on parking)

Ok, is this the way you saw it?

Here’s the bottom line: City Council last night voted 6-1 to table indefinitely the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s proposal to increase fines, an action that BPA even suggested. The motion can be taken off the table at any time, and the legislative process will start over. The meter rate increase will still go into effect January 1 as planned. Mayor Donchez made his longest statement yet (which we hope to publish here) about the history of Polk garage planning and promised more info early next year. All agreed something will eventually have to be done about the fines. In a related development, Council voted 4-3 to deny re-appointment of the bulldog bodyguard BPA solicitor who famously told Gadfly that “Nobody gets to interrogate the Board” during a meeting, then also attempted to thwart his questions after a meeting as well.

The discussion of the fine proposal was long and very interesting. Gadfly will return shortly with a more extensive description and some analysis – and video.

For now, Sara’s article will fill you in nicely.

Sara K. Satullo, “Why Bethlehem is holding off on hiking parking fines.” lehighvalleylive.com, November 8, 2018.

Bethlehem City Council is holding off on a request to hike city parking violation fines until it can get more information from the city’s parking authority. A majority of council was reticent to back the ordinances that would hike the fines on first reading Wednesday evening and voted 6-1 to postpone them indefinitely.

Donchez said the authority wanted more time and planned to come back to council in early 2019 to discuss the fines and the financing options for a new parking garage planned for the corner of East Third and Polk streets. The authority is now exploring whether it will finance Polk Street independently or with bonds backed by a city guarantee, Donchez said.

“There’s not a lot of confidence currently in what is the long-term plan for the parking authority,” Council President Adam Waldron said. “It kind of feels like they are making it up as they go.” Waldron noted that’s likely more reflective of poor communication, rather than poor planning. Waldron emphasized that parking authority Executive Director Kevin Livingston himself requested the matter be tabled, which was echoed by Donchez.

Councilman Bryan Callahan, who is the liaison to the parking authority, adamantly opposed postponing votes on the measures indefinitely. He argued at length about how crucial it was to hike the fines and the meter rates at the same time. Otherwise, long-term parkers are likely to roll the dice, not pay the meters and risk getting a $10 fine, he said. This will hurt businesses that need meters to turn over, Callahan said. “All we are voting on is a ticket fine, not the Polk Street garage,” he said. “They (the authority) are willing to wait until we get our act together. They’re into parking. They’re not into politics. They get a mandate from the mayor. The parking authority director works at the will of the mayor.” He criticized other council members for using the fines as “leverage” over the authority and making them political.

The mayor does plan to still make the parking meter rate hike effective Jan. 1. Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt suggested the Jan. 1 date is arbitrary and the city could opt to hold off on raising meter rates until council is ready to pass the fine increase. Donchez did not respond to the suggestion during the meeting.

Councilman J. William Reynolds said council is hoping to bring more transparency to the discussions and more public understanding about the relationship between a city and its authority. He pressed Donchez to lay out a vision and be clear on the impetus for some “large scale decisions.” “The administration’s job is to stand up and say, ‘This is what we think is best,'” Reynolds said.

The mayor reiterated how crucial the Polk Street parking deck is to the ongoing redevelopment of East Third Street in South Bethlehem and to the success of Northampton Community College, The Factory, St. Luke’s Health Network and Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts. NCC and Charter Arts have committed to 265 spaces in the garage.

The mayor reiterated how crucial the Polk Street parking deck is to the ongoing redevelopment of East Third Street in South Bethlehem and to the success of Northampton Community College, The Factory, St. Luke’s Health Network and Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts. NCC and Charter Arts have committed to 265 spaces in the garage.

There’s a lot to chew on in this latest parking chapter. Been a busy week. The Planning Commission meeting today on 2 W. Market was riveting as well. So Gadfly has a lot to catch you up on.

Not “under the surface” any more (67)

(67th in a series of posts on parking)

Just last night Gadfly wrote: “There’s actually quite a bit of drama going on. But yet it’s under the surface. The news [regarding the parking issue] hasn’t really been covering this process in any intensive way. The town isn’t on the edge of its seats.”

Seems not to be under the surface any more.

Sara Satullo, “$800K in tax funds given to luxury apartment developer draws scorn in Bethlehem.” lehighvalleylive.com, November 7, 2018.

Gadfly is not exactly sure what to make of this at the moment. The situation has corners Gadfly has not explored yet. And Gadfly’s day is chock-full.  No time for much contemplation.

Does this change the dynamics of tonight’s meeting at all?

Gadfly is putting it out there to you to think about.

Here are some quotes from Sara’s article that jumped out at him:

Some Bethlehem City Council members were surprised to learn last week that a prominent city developer was awarded an $800,000 grant out of a tax fund they thought was almost empty. The same developer is a member of the investment group the Bethlehem Parking Authority is paying $2.1 million to buy land for a new city parking garage. And it left them wondering: If the city’s tax increment financing district fund had $800,000 in it, why wasn’t it put toward the cost of a new city parking authority garage planned for the corner of East Third and Polk streets instead of going toward private development?

“At the time we made the decision to fund Five10Flats, there was no discussion about the garage,” Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Tony Hanna said. “I’m not saying it’s not a legitimate question to ask, but it is a little late.”

“The Peron grant marks the first time TIF funds were awarded to a taxable, private development. Five10Flats also sits in the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone.”

[CRIZ, by the way, is chaired by the bodyguard BPA solicitor you have heard about here on Gadfly.]

“The money is there to spur development, not to enhance the private development that is already happening,” [Councilwoman Van Wirt] said. “It is not like this project was going to stop when it was already underway. It was already being done.”

“It was exactly what the TIF was intended to do: site remediation,” Hanna said Monday, noting the award was made in a public meeting. “We spent money on some appropriate issues.”

Questions surrounding the grant are interwoven with council’s questions about the future of parking and economic development incentive benefits in Bethlehem. It’s left some on council wondering about who benefits from the deal and if there were better uses for the money.

“I did not think there was money available,” Councilman J. William Reynolds said. “I was under the impression from the last couple of years that the parking authority was tasked with coming up with a plan for a Polk Street garage because there was no money left for the RDA to do it.”

Hanna sees the questions about using the grant for Polk Street as a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking. “Nobody asked me that question,” Hanna said. “We made the decision to fund Five10Flats as a standalone discussion. That was never on the table that the parking authority could use another $800,000.”

One of the most sought after properties in the TIF is a modest parking lot at the corner of East Third and Polk streets where city leaders have long envisioned a parking deck anchored by retail.

The plans date back to the Callahan administration when the redevelopment authority was spearheading the project. That authority spent almost $1 million designing and gaining city approval for the almost 600-space deck.

But plans stalled when a ground-lease deal for the property petered out and the authority began to question whether enough new projects would be built in the TIF to support an almost $13.3 million garage. The redevelopment authority and NCC have secured $2.5 million in state grants for the deck.

The redevelopment authority then handed over the project to the parking authority, which finally just inked a $2.1 million agreement to buy the land from Sand BethWorks Retail LLC, the development group that includes the Sands and Perrucci.

At one time, the Sands was supposed to sell the land for $1, Negron said, and now she is learning from meeting minutes that the parking authority bought the land.

“I am very frustrated because they keep making decisions without coming in front of us and then they come to us as if we have no other choice but voting in favor because the parking authority and the city will be in trouble if we don’t support it,” she said. “It is in the wrong order.”

Donchez’s administration hopes the luxury apartments atop a Starbucks and restaurants represents the first spark of economic resurgence in that stretch of the South Side. The mayor sees the parking garage as the crucial linchpin in that redevelopment, which will hopefully eat up the surrounding vacant parking lots that are all owned by the Sands development group.

Council is being asked Wednesday night to hike parking fines by almost 50 percent to encourage folks to actually feed the meters and to help fund the city’s parking infrastructure needs.

Waldron sent a lengthy memo to the parking authority pressing it to provide a long-term plan for how it is going to build a Polk Street deck, repair or replace the Walnut Street garage and maintain its other structures.

“The goals need to be clear, the financing needs to be clear and the idea that this Polk Street garage is the magic bullet that will draw development to East Third street is an antiquated notion,” Van Wirt said. “Development is there.”

Van Wirt is concerned about the authority’s ability to pay for another parking deck.

“I don’t want to stick my kids with paying for an out-of-date parking garage that is not going to be used,” she said.

Parking Prognostications (66)

(66th in a series of posts on parking)

6:49 Tuesday night. 24 hrs to “game time” as Gadfly starts to write this. (And 2-3 hours before any meaningful poll results come in!)

Game time. The City Council meeting, Gadfly means – the one in which the Bethlehem Parking Authority proposal to raise the violation fines is on the table again.

But, really, this vote is a referendum on BPA actions during this entire parking study process.

There’s actually quite a bit of drama going on. But yet it’s under the surface. The news hasn’t really been covering this process in any intensive way. The town isn’t on the edge of its seats.

So it’s easy to think of the drama as a “game.” And only between an inner circle of mostly faceless City officials.

Ho, hum. Who cares?

But that’s a mistake.

It really isn’t just a story of nickels, dimes, and quarters – even dollars – that most of us, frankly, won’t miss.

But it’s a story of – astonishingly – the hundreds of thousands of dollars those nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars add up to. Which they do. And the millions of dollars they leverage for construction.

And it’s equally an exquisitely focused story of how our town’s political process works, with its checks and balances.

What will happen Wednesday? Approve? Deny? Table?

Gadfly’s no prognosticator. He was completely taken by surprise by the Council to BPA letter that postponed a decision last time.

But let’s do some random thinking out loud. Excuse the randomness. But please join in. The more minds the better on this.

  • Gadfly does not see any urgent need for action. The wheels aren’t going to fly off City life if nothing is done in the near- to medium-future, right? BPA has a timeline (ha! ironically, for this they do but not in a business plan!) of a January 1 soft start to the new rate schemes. But that deadline is not god-given, is, in fact, quite arbitrary. No decisions have been made on Walnut or Polk. The process could be tabled Wednesday night with temporary damage only to egos. No rush. Calm down.
  • Then the question would be what action would it take to successfully bring the proposal back on to the table? Well, Gadfly guesses the first question would be is there anything that would successfully bring it back on the table? Probably so. Probably there would be some condition. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense to table rather than flatly deny. So, if tabling is in mind, it’s probably best to think of tabling until ___________ is performed or happens. Give some clear direction. See the stipulations in post #65.
  • But BPA quite clearly said on Oct 10 in answer to direct questions that if this proposal was denied, BPA would ratchet up the enforcement to raise the revenue. Now that was a dastardly answer. One could envision squads of tow trucks. Bevies of boots. One could envision riots. Now – was that just a hot-tempered response, just a scare tactic, and not one that would ever be carried out? Maybe. But the point is that any move to deny or table the BPA proposal must think about what the BPA would do.
  • So what is the most likely thing BPA would do if this proposal is flatly denied? Continuing with increased meter rates but static fines seems absurd. It would create a system in which it might make better financial sense to get a fine. And it would tend to lessen the availability of open spaces for shoppers, thus hurting merchants. So BPA wouldn’t do that, right?
  • Doing nothing, continuing the status quo doesn’t seem likely either if, indeed, BPA genuinely needs extra cash. And it does for a capital repair program without even thinking about the two garages. So BPA would do something, wouldn’t it?
  • Wouldn’t it be more likely that denying the BPA proposal would force them into a negotiating position? Gadfly assumes that Council agrees that something has to be done about the Walnut and Polk St issues – these are problems that aren’t going away — so it’s not total denial of BPA as the endgame but forward process and progress with BPA on solving legitimate parking problems in certain ways and under certain conditions. Would not denial assure that negotiation on those ways and conditions occurs?
  • As Gadfly was working his way through the BPA answers to the City Council questions, you might remember that he surmised BPA felt it had a lock on an affirmative vote and thus did a perfunctory job. Gadfly wonders if that speculation has legs (wings!). Gadfly has absolutely no clue about whatever alliances – personal or political – operate in City government, but it just might be that this question drama is all sound and fury signifying nothing. 6 of the 7 Council members were present for the give-and-take of the Oct 10 meeting. 3 were strong questioners of BPA, but that does not necessarily mean they would vote against BPA. 1 was strongly for BPA. So Gadfly could draw no conclusions. But it seems reasonable to Gadfly that before the question-maneuver, there might have been a 4-3 vote in BPA’s favor. The “game” might be over.
  • But Gadfly will be listening closely to arguments given, if any, for positive votes. An argument for supporting BPA can be made, as he bulleted in his last post (#65). But Gadfly thinks that the BPA answers show publicly, visibly, the kinds of serious problems Gadfly has been reporting on privately and thus perhaps easy to discount. Gadfly thinks the response to the questions exposes serious flaws in the BPA to anyone willing to look.
  • Gadfly thinks the BPA guilty of bad behavior and one does not reward bad behavior.
  • For Gadfly the lack of a strategic business plan was the drop-dead moment.

Ok, time to see what’s happening with the election returns.

Gadfly seems to have worked his way to hoping for (but not prognosticating) denial or tabling of the BPA proposal.

And – how has Gadfly stayed so innocent entering his 8th decade of life? – he would really like to see the getting together and working things out that end in the Kumbaya moment he joked about in posts #59 and #60. Life too short for hassling.

But Gadfly invites you to tell us what you think will or should happen tomorrow night.

Try these parking hats on for size (65)

(65th in a series of posts on parking)

City Council will probably decide Wednesday night on the BPA proposal to raise the parking violation fines.

If you have been following along with Gadfly, you probably have been forming opinions.

Council members at this very moment may be thinking about how they will vote.

Let’s play along.

Try on the Yes hat, the No hat, and the Maybe hat.

If you are a City Council member prepared to vote yes, you are probably doing so because:

  • You firmly believe that there is or will be a severe parking shortage on Southside East.
  • You firmly believe that the Polk Street Garage is the best way to address that shortage.
  • You believe that, in a sense, a Polk Street Garage is inevitable.
  • You believe that the Polk Street Garage has been on Council’s horizon for so long that nobody should be surprised about it and everybody should be knowledgeable about it, and therefore there is no reason for a delayed decision in approving the money needed to build it.
  • You believe that problems associated with the New Street Garage will not be repeated with Polk.
  • You believe that the exercise of submitting questions to BPA was a stalling tactic.
  • You believe that the answers given by the BPA to those questions are inconsequential.
  • You believe that the attitude and behavior and communication problems attributed to BPA, though sometimes accurately portrayed, are just noise, smoke, and should not distract or detract from the fact that the BPA is fulfilling its mission well.
  • You believe that nothing will be gained by denying the BPA proposal and that, in fact, such action will produce chaos for the would-be tenants, which makes no sense since the ultimate outcome is inevitable.
  • Therefore, you believe the best thing to do is for Council to approve the BPA proposal so that the Polk preparation and construction process can move on in timely fashion.

If you are a City Council member prepared to vote no, you are probably doing so because:

  • You believe that there is or will be a parking shortage on Southside East.
  • You are not sure that a Polk Street Garage is the best or only option to address that shortage.
  • You do not believe that it is wise to support a financial request without a business plan and thus no accountability.
  • You are very worried about the amount of debt the BPA is piling up and which the City may ultimately be responsible for, especially since exact numbers are hard to come by.
  • You see no assurances that past grievances concerning the New Street Garage will be rectified with the Polk garage.
  • You believe that garages should not be built on the backs of the common residents.
  • You believe that BPA has demonstrated reprehensible behavior in the course of the parking study and proposal process.
  • You do not trust BPA.
  • You believe that BPA answered Council’s questions cavalierly and in bad faith.
  • You believe that if the BPA proposal is denied, it will be BPA’s fault and then their responsibility to find a way to move on from there.
  • Therefore, since the process has been so flawed and since BPA has been shown to be such a bad actor, you believe the best thing to do is for Council to deny the BPA proposal.

If you are a City Council member who finds yourself in the middle and prepared to negotiate a settlement, you are probably that way because:

  • You agree with virtually everything the Naysayers believe as described above.
  • You are the kind of person who likes to compromise, likes to try to find a solution, a way to get things done.
  • You want to avoid chaos as totally unproductive and hurting everybody in the long run.
  • You would vote yes if BPA would stipulate to the following:

doing a real strategic plan
raising Lehigh’s New Street rates to market rate in 5 years
charging market rate to institutional parkers at Polk
submitting a detailed plan for studying VRP
giving you the Sands correspondence
going to confession with Father Mulrooney at the Steelworkers Chapel
kissing Gadfly’s buzzer

Does one of these hats fit you?

Gadfly’s thoughts on BPA’s response to City Council’s questions (64)

(64th in a series of posts on parking)

The all-important City Council meeting is coming up Wednesday. Council will again consider the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s proposal for an increase in the parking violation fine structure.

Council asked the BPA to answer a series of questions before considering the proposal.

Those questions and BPA’s responses are available in post #62 in this sequence. Gadfly will not repeat the questions and answers here.

Gadfly has now (11pm Sunday night) started considering the BPA answers. He will make notes here. It may take a day or so to consider all the answers (and he may not have thoughts on all), so he will just keep updating this post rather than adding separate posts as he moves through the list.

Keep checking back here for updates.

Gadfly invites the observations of others as well.

Think about helping City Council decide what to think about BPA’s answers and how to resolve the BPA proposal.

Here goes —

***************************

Introduction: CC asks BPA to provide “a strategic business plan” roughly for the next 5 years. Gadfly knows virtually nothing about such things – all he knows he learned from “Shark Tank”! — but he can honestly say that what BPA offers is absolutely nothing like what he expected. But a little research indicates that a “strategic business plan” is a standard business document with standard parts probably taught in Business 101 everywhere in the country. So standard, there are even templates online. BPA offers nothing of the sort. Gadfly gathers that a “strategic business plan” is the kind of document prepared by businesspeople when, for instance, they are seeking funding, a document presented to a funding source. There’s an analogous situation here between BPA and CC. Gadfly could not for a moment imagine presenting those 12 lines to a funding source and expecting success. And expecting anything more than being shown the door. A little research shows that a “strategic plan” includes a detailed action plan, a detailed roadmap. A “strategic plan” contains an action plan with specific activities and due dates – a specific timeline  — and possible obstacles. So, and Gadfly is just pie-in-the-skying here, Gadfly is imagining that a “strategic plan” might say the goal is to open the Polk St. garage in 2023. In year 1 we will complete the purchase of the property, in year 2 we will secure City go-ahead, in year 3 we will float a bond issue, in year 4 we will begin construction, in year 5 we will finish. We project the increase in rates will bring in $XXXXX beginning year 2, so that we will be able to carry debt service of $XXXXX. If by year 3, we see that the increased revenues are not what we expected, we will go to Plan B. If you don’t have a “strategic plan” something of this order, who is going to give you financing???? Gadfly thinks – and is always willing to be slapped upside the head – that is something like what a “strategic plan” would look like and something like what CC was asking for. Gadfly may be far wrong, but Gadfly sees the same kind of failure here that he saw in the Desman study and in the whole proposal process actually – a failure to sense what is important for its audience. Gadfly sees the BPA response here as very, very, very thin and failing to acknowledge the seriousness of the CC request. It’s hard for Gadfly to imagine that an organization so big, with such a large budget, does not know what a “strategic plan” is. Gadfly is feeling a “fatal defect,” a “fatal error” in the opening paragraph. Gadfly is not sure he even wants to read further. If this were a report in his college class, he would return it immediately for a do-over.

Question 2: CC asks BPA to explain the decision to demolish Walnut St. An example here of BPA imprecision Gadfly noticed and reported on many times in previous posts and BPA unwillingness to acknowledge and explain seeming contradiction. The Desman report and the Desman memo do indicate demolition of Walnut St, but BPA says no decision has been made. Contradiction without explanation. Now I kind of get it – Desman is recommending demolition (p. 75), but BPA has not accepted that recommendation. It has “accepted” the Desman report and said it will discuss specific recommendations in turn. Well, ok, say that to CC as explanation for CC’s confusion. Don’t just leave the contradiction hanging out there. But still an unanswered part of this question is the fact that the Mayor’s memo of Oct 1 to BPA approving the meter increases says “replacement” of Walnut St. Isn’t that “input from the City Administration”? See how we go round and round? And Gadfly must admit to continuing confusion about where the buck stops in regard to Walnut St. Who has ultimate authority for pulling the trigger?  BPA waits for “input” from the City. Is “input” advice about the decision, a necessary but not determinative component of the decision, or the powering force of the decision? Not clear. And if there were a “strategic plan,” we could “see” when that step along the timeline would be made in relation to the increased revenue coming in. Could that “input” be five years out?

Question 3: CC asks — because $2mill has already been dedicated to Polk St. — whether the decision to build Polk St. was made before the Desman was finalized, with the implication seemingly clear that, if so, that fact should have been in the Desman. The City responds: “The project was decided upon in advance of the submission of the land development plan in 2014.” So, is that a yes? It certainly sounds like a yes. And thus, logically, the Desman should have clearly indicated so. Or is there some nuance here that Gadfly is missing? Is it that the part BRA played in the sequence, in the process is somehow not relevant? Are we to think that the Polk process began de nuovo when BPA became involved? If so, why not just say so? More questions: why didn’t BRA go through with the project? Why was Polk St taken over by BPA? And doesn’t that taking over indicate that BPA had made a commitment to Polk before Desman, a fact that should have been in the Desman?

Question 4: CC asks whether the Polk site is within the Central Business District, for if it isn’t, BPA is not required to provide parking. Gadfly is pleased to finally see a good answer to a question that has sinisterly hung in the air for too long. As Gadfly understands it from the City response, the BPA mission is larger than CBD and, in fact, can manifestly be shown to be from its current operations. In addition, institutions like NCC can not be required to provide parking, and other businesses there have provided parking. Unless someone shows objection to these two points, Gadfly feels this possible obstacle to building Polk has been satisfactorily handled. The only thing Gadfly quarrels with is why (last paragraph of the response) if the Polk is so drop-dead necessary, there is such a mystery surrounding it in Desman and other conversations. The City says: “the community is finally seeing the development the city spent years cultivating. Without this parking garage, [the expectation is] development [will] stall in this area of the city.” Gadfly has always said he can well be behind the Polk if the case were made. Sounds like here the case for the Polk is being made by a person in the know, a person with authority. The tentativeness of BPA and Desman was needlessly confusing and counter-productive in Gadfly’s mind.

Question 5: CC asks 2 things here: 1) what about the Polk leases? (The backstory is the lingering wound of substantial discounts given at the New St. garage, and 2) what about parking alternatives to a Polk garage? BPA’s answer to 1) is not responsive to the “real” question. CC wants to know if BPA will be giving substantial discounts. BPA knows that is the question. No answer. Councilman Callahan said at the Oct 10 meeting that the Polk leases will be full-pay, market-rate. BPA does not say that. In regard to 2) Desman affirms the Ruins lots as an equal option to a garage: “This plan could include a new parking structure, which has been discussed in the past for the corner of E. 3rd Street and Polk Street, or a formalized agreement with the Sands Corporation to ensure that the SteelStacks parking lots will remain available for public parking in the long-term” (my emphasis). Either garage or lots. BPA says the Sands has rejected the lots option but does not provide copies of communications as requested. Thus, how is CC to know if the lot option is off the table?

Question 6: CC asks about, in effect, a “strategic plan” for capital repairs. BPA doesn’t have one. BPA has been securing money for repairs without a plan, apparently.

Question 7: CC asks whether Variable Rate Parking was considered, and, if so, why it was rejected. BPA says VRP and other options were considered and rejected. That seems doubtful to Gadfly. There is no mention of VRP or other options in the Feb 2018 Desman draft. VRP and other options were not brought up at the April 12 public meeting according to the “feedback” in the final Desman (77-78) and thus would not have been discussed because of that feedback. When were the considerations done and by whom? There’s nothing in BPA minutes. VRP was urgently advocated both at the Sept 20 and Oct 10 meetings, and BPA had timely opportunity to meet commenter passion right then by saying, yes, we studied that and rejected it for this and this reasons. But silence. These occasions were the times to meet this question head-on. But the silence naturally engendered suspicion of BPA’s omission. Gadfly’s admittedly subjective impression was that the idea of VRP came as a surprise to BPA at the Sept 20 and that they met it with evident reluctance rather than an open mind on Oct 10. In their response, BPA missed an opportunity to at least curry a little favor with proponents of VRP by detailing a “plan” for studying it at the Mayor’s request. BPA’s commitment to further action on VRP not as definitive as it could and should have been.

Question 8: CC asks about the blatant discrepancy between high revenue projections in Desman and the claim in the Oct 10 meeting that the proposal is revenue neutral. The BPA answer is totally non-responsive. And, frankly, insulting. The question called for a simple sentence beginning, “The reason for this discrepancy is _____________.” BPA says, “Desman’s fine increases in their parking study was an estimate.” Of course. Of course. But you have to think there’s something wrong with an estimator who says that increased revenues could be $400,000 or nothing. When Gadfly heard Desman’s claim of revenue neutrality Oct 10, his head spun like Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist.” Come on! (And, in fact, BPA contradicted Desman on this point shortly thereafter.) In effect, BPA says here the answer to your question is in the memo we sent you. Go look it up yourself. Gadfly is appalled.

Question 9: CC asks about discounted rates at the recently constructed New St garage. This is a hot issue for critics of BPA. Why are they letting people off who are well able to pay full ride and then socking it to residents less able to pay? BPA is totally non-responsive again. Gadfly is working up a lather, and his head is in full Exorcist spin.  In answer to a question about a (for some) grievous problem, BPA produces a lease that exactly demonstrates the problem. Putting a gun to its own head. Without explanation. No answer to the question. What has raising rates in May 2016 and the promise to do so again at an unspecified future date have to do with the discounted rate reaffirmed in March 2018? According to the March lease BPA produced, the institutional user is locked in at the discount rate for 5 years, a rate that only “may” be changed then, The discount rate could go on for another 5 years. And another. CC is trying to get at the rationale for discount rates at all when additional money is being sought. No answer to that. Moreover, at the Sept 20 meeting the question of this exact institutional user’s rates was asked directly, and Desman replied that the rates would be evaluated every 2 years (all this captured on video), clearly implying to Gadfly that the issue of discounted rates would be addressed soon. But the March lease had already been signed, is good for 5 years, and nothing was said about it. Misleading. Disingenuous.

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Gadfly suggested followers take the 2-3 days since Friday to review the BPA response themselves and hopes they will share their personal observations ESPECIALLY if they counter Gadfly’s. We need all perspectives to help Council make their decision.

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Question 10: CC asks for operational details about the New St. garage: occupancy rates, lease rates, finances. BPA says there is no current occupancy rate data. Really? The garage is a year old. And there is no idea how it is doing? Really? The reason for no data is that the garage was not included in the Desman study. Really? Do we need Desman to tell us how we are doing?  Ok, no Desman study data, but couldn’t something be said about occupancy even if anecdotal? If Gadfly had just built a controversial new garage, he would have been walking the levels every day, maybe 2-3 times a day, counting tailpipes if that’s what it took to get some data to satisfy just his own need to know if what he had just built for several million dollars was serving a purpose. No occupancy data? Really? How about lease and financial data? Well, we provided that during the public bond guarantee hearing, BPA says — go look it up yourself. Whew. Gadfly doesn’t get it. Doesn’t BPA know who’s in charge here? Doesn’t BPA know City Council holds the pocketbook? Gadfly is starting to suspect that BPA is overwhelmingly confident that it has support on Council, that passage of the proposal is a lock, and therefore that it can nonchalantly provide perfunctory answers to these questions. BPA is not answering as if it must persuade, as if it has something to lose. Interesting. I wonder if that’s true. Has a majority of Council already decided that this question exercise is meaningless? And signaled that this kind of slipshod behavior is ok? That would be a shame. More than that even, the way Gadfly is feeling right now.

Question 11: CC asks about the loss of the annual $500,000 contribution from BPA to the City general fund. Gadfly misunderstood — maybe others too? — thinking the whole amount was going away. But the City, while pointing out that in past years the contribution has been less than $500,000, explains that it is only dropping $25,000 per year, not going away, and will be at $400,000 in 2019.  Clears up that misconception. But, ok, so “In 2018, the current administration took the initiative to begin reducing the BPA’s contribution to the city over a period of time.” The question CC asks is, the question really on CC’s mind is . . . why? Why the reduction, not how much the reduction? What’s the reason for the reduction? Not answered.

Question 12: CC asks about consideration of alternate forms of transportation. BPA answers that that’s the City’s ballpark. Which is probably right. But no answer from the City given.

finis

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Gadfly suggested followers take the 2-3 days since Friday to review the BPA response themselves and hopes they will share their personal observations ESPECIALLY if they counter Gadfly’s. We need all perspectives to help Council make their decision.

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