Unite the Right

Author’s note: Several hours after posting this, the site was taken down by Wix after a Twitter follower of mine complained to this website design firm. Thanks to all who read it, shared it, and spread the word. I’m still a little shocked that the GOP in Vermont would let this site stand for so long without comment. But, then again, look who’s in charge. So, thanks for reading, thanks for helping take this site offline. But, stay tuned as I’m sure this site, or something like it, will pop up again.

 

Woke up this morning to find myself tagged in a blog post on a website with the sole purpose of maligning the name and well-being of a friend of mine, James Ehlers (who also happens to be running for Governor).

parody_postNow, James is no stranger to controversy or courting political enemies. Maybe that’s why we get along.  However, when we put something out on social media, or the Internets, or in print, and we call other people out by name, we at least have the decency to sign our names to it.

Apparently, that’s not everyone’s idea of decency. You see, the people behind this site haven’t identified themselves, other than claiming to be Stan Hardy to Seven Days‘ “Fair Game” columnist John Walters. I suppose Oliver Laurel didn’t have the same ring to it, but I digress.

sevendays_ehlersIt’s a pretty disturbing site, to be honest, even by parody standards. They’ve taken down some of the more toxic elements, such as putting the site’s main address at the psychiatric facility in Berlin. Pretty revolting, but what do you expect with a Fuhrer like Trump at the top of the GOP.

I did a quick online search to find the site’s owners, but the site was registered through a proxy service, who then also registered the domain for them, too. No easy way to trace them.

My guess is that the person(s) behind it have done this before and perhaps learned a lesson or two about putting your name to a fake website. I don’t think we have to look under too many rocks to find them. Since Slappy Whyte, er Scot Shumski, moved to North Carolina, we can possibly rule him out. (As an aside, the Ward 4 school commissioner still votes in Burlington and uses his parent’s home in Ward 7 – sure hope he’s not one of them there voter fraudsters! Don’t let James O’Keefe know!)

Anyway, back to our little website intrigue.

Some of you may recall that Executive Director of the Vermont GOP—Jeff Bartley—was a lackey for Republican Rich Tarrant’s senatorial suicide run against Sen. Bernie Sanders back in the day. And you may also recall that he made a fake news website during that campaign! He was outed by a real journalist who found the domain name registry. Like I said, some people learn their lessons.

Here’s where it gets fun.

Several years later, Bartley also worked for Republican Lenny Britton’s quixotic bid against Sen.Patrick Leahy. He and the “brain trust” of Hollywood wannabes Britton and Bradford Broyles came up with a couple of “funny” skits in their attempt take down ‘ol Sen. Leahy with a little creativity. But, mostly they spent other people’s money. And then sued each other. Britton and Broyles still cuddle up with each other, professionally, at a firm aptly called Public Spectacle Media.

I guess bygones are bygones between this trio now that Ehlers’ campaign is underway, and they’re plying away and bringing the political swampland to Vermont. They even have a nascent Twitter account, @VTDreamteam. Awww, how cute.

Ehlers must have really said something to annoy Bartley, Broyles, and other Vermont Trump lovers (like former Rep. Job Tate) on Facebook to get them to come together like this. Must be Ehlers is onto something.

Given the standards set by their Fuhrer in Washington, it’s clear that attacking a Veteran who has dedicated his life to fighting for the environment and the public health is par for the course in the GOP these days.

Seems to me the worst of Washington is now being embraced by Vermont Republicans.

I won’t be holding my breath for our aw shucks ’em golly good ‘ol boy Gov. Phil Scott to step in and say anything either to call off the demeaning attacks. I mean, that would require real leadership.

Give Local, Give Often

It’s Giving Tuesday In the post-Trumpian era of disbelief, worry, and downright fear of the pending hurt that could fall upon some of our most vulnerable members of society, many of us are wondering where to put our money that will most directly help the people in our community, and our state.

This time of year, and especially with this election, many of us are looking to support truly  local agencies who are helping members of our community: ALL members of our community.

With the help of a friend, I’m posting this list of local organizations who are helping support those who are most in need this season, especially with a GOP-led Congress and … well … whatever it is that is taking up residence in the “White” House.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and feel free to add more in the comments and I’ll try to get them on the list as fast as I can.


AALV helps new Americans from all parts of the world (not solely Africa, although this is how they began) gain independence in their new communities through a range of integration services to help them smoothly transition to living and working in Vermont. (AALV is always looking for donations of winter clothing for adults and kids, as well)

Black Lives Matter Vermont is a growing network of individuals, families and businesses invested in the liberation of Black Vermonters, and the deactivation of systemic racism endured by all people of color in our state.

Boys and Girls Club of Burlington, King Street Youth Center, and Sara Holbrook Center all serve children in specific neighborhoods in Burlington and work with many refugee and immigrant families.

Champlain Area NAACP works to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.

Champlain Community Services provides essential supports to people with intellectual disabilities and autism, building a community where everyone participates and belongs. They offer coordinated one-to-one supported employment, home & shared living, school-to-career transition, and community supports throughout Northwestern Vermont. They  also promote and coordinate self-advocacy activities, and offer crisis (24 hour on-call response) and respite (staffing and coordination of additional hours).

Children’s Literacy Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire a love of reading and writing among children up to age 12 throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. Since 1998, CLiF has served more than 180,000 low-income, at-risk, and rural children in 400 communities across every region of the Twin States.

HOPE Works  is dedicated to ending all forms of sexual violence, and provides crisis counseling and advocacy for those whose lives have been affected by sexual violence. Their education outreach work strives to change attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate and condone the cycle of violence.

Huertas (a project of UVM Extension’s Bridges to Health program) builds gardens and distributes seeds and plant starts to Latino/a migrant farmworkers living in rural Vermont. Farmworkers face food insecurity at a higher rate than the general population of Vermont and have particular challenges in accessing fresh, local, and culturally familiar foods.

Humane Society of Chittenden County is a private, independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no city, state or federal funding and is not affiliated with any national organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States. They rely on local donations and program fees in their mission to foster compassionate treatment of animals and to prevent animal suffering.

The Nongame Wildlife Fund helps protect and restore Vermont’s endangered wildlife for future generations to enjoy. More than 100 wildlife species in Vermont are at risk including bald eagles, lynx and bats,

ONE Good Deed Fund believes that acts of kindness toward others are what build community. Often someone is inspired to help others and yet doesn’t have the resources to make it happen, so the fund provides financial support to make those good deeds a reality. This fund primarily serves the Old North End neighborhood of Burlington. 

Open Door Clinic of Middlebury brings healthcare to the uninsured and underinsured, including 270 Latin American migrant farmworkers each year.

Outright Vermont builds safe, healthy, and supportive environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth ages 13-22.

Peace and Justice Center works on the interconnected issues of economic and racial justice, peace, and human rights through education, advocacy, training, non-violent activism and community organizing.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England – If you use the donate link on this page, 100% will go to our local chapter headquartered in Colchester.

Pride Center of Vermont advances the community, health, and safety of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Vermonters.

Rights and Democracy Vermont is dedicated to building a popular movement to advance human rights and a real democracy. They work in partnership with community groups, progressive unions, faith communities, organizations fighting for human and civil rights, and environmental and climate action groups in order to transform Vermont and its communities.

Solidarity Healing GoFundMe – Help local clinical mental health counselor Vicki Garrison open a private practice that provides culturally competent, racially informed, and empowering mental health counseling for people of color.

Spectrum Youth and Family Services serves young adults ages 14-24. About 30-40% of youth who use their Drop-In and housing are LGBTQ, while Spectrum’s Multicultural Youth Program works specifically with youth of color, including refugees and immigrants.

Steps to End Domestic Violence‘s mission is to assist in the transition to a safe, independent life for all those who have been affected physically, sexually, emotionally, or economically by domestic abuse and to promote a culture that fosters justice, equity and safety.

Vermont Access to Reproductive Freedom is a grassroots organization that works to ensure women have the right to control what happens to their health and bodies, this includes access to abortion.

Vermont CARES is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life of HIV-positive individuals, create compassionate communities, and prevent the spread of HIV by educating our youth and community on general.

Vermont People with AIDS Coalition serves is a community of peers who seek to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV and AIDS through mutual support and empowerment, exchange of information, and advocacy.

Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program supports refugees who are relocated to our community. VRRP is currently accepting donations for basic such as mattresses, coats and winter boots for adults and children. People can either donate money and earmark it for winter gear or donate their gently used coats or boots to VRRP. [We hope to post a full list of needed goods to this blog. Stay tuned!]

Here is the link to the items that are needed: welcome-kit-and-kaboodle-two-pager

Vermont Worker’s Center is a democratic, member-run organization dedicated to organizing for the human rights of the people in Vermont. Founded in 1998, members have fought for livable wages, healthcare for all, and more here in Vermont and beyond.

Vermont Works for Women helps women and girls recognize their potential and explore, pursue, and excel in work that leads to economic independence. They have three strands of programming: Moving women into employment success; investing in girls, the next generation; and, advocating for large-scale culture change for women & girls.

Just Say Whoa

It’s time to Just Say Whoa.

We’re down to the final days before election day, and I thought I’d recap why Burlington should vote down ballot items #3 and #4 and say “Whoa” to a project built on false promises, false fears, and false information.

I’ve always lived by the belief that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. And, this project smacks of it:

While I understand that any new taxes raised within the TIF can’t be used for anything but what’s located in the TIF, I still question greatly the pre-determined spending of the money to benefit one developer. And, I question whether leaving new taxes unspent until the end of the TIF is a bad idea for Burlington schools, and schools throughout the state.

Given how much money is at stake from our wallets (and the state education fund’s wallet) – I think state lawmakers should enact legislation to loosen the TIF’s restrictions on what kinds of infrastructure we can spend on.

If we’re worried about bonding to rebuild our own crumbling schools: Why not make improving schools and school buildings (to care for those new kids) an allowable public infrastructure investment?

If we’re worried about how to afford more, permanent low-income housing: Why not make creating permanent, affordable housing (i.e., subsidized units to keep them perpetually affordable for truly low-income, senior, and disabled residents of the city) an allowable public infrastructure investment?

The $22 million, or most of that, we’re being asked to spend on a couple of streets would (if not for the TIF) go to the state education fund when the TIF expires. And, guess what? Despite the fearmongering by some of the proponents, a significant chunk of that money comes back to Burlington – for property tax relief, and for direct aid to pay for our schools, etc.

And, can anyone explain to me that if the TIF is supposed to keep our taxes from going up while it’s in place, why our taxes have gone up in Burlington despite having two active TIFs – one downtown and one on the “waterfront.”?

I could go on, but this project – as it stands – and the unknown, negligible or negative effects on our community (as it’s currently planned)  are too risky a scheme.

If someone wants to develop one of the most prime commercial real estate parcels in Vermont, and is asking for this many special favors from us – a change in zoning, $22 million of our tax money, and an expedited approval process, then we should be getting more out of this than we are. So either the folks in the city are the worst possible negotiators, or they just don’t want to try.

Let’s be clear – the project “benefits” that are being touted by proponents are the bare minimum standards that we as a community have set for development – inclusion of affordable units, reconnected streets, etc. Minimum. Yet, this developer wants more than the maximum we already offer in terms of how, and what, he can legally build.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Finally, let’s do away with the “this is our only chance” bullshit. Personally, I’m tired of the fearmongering and Chicken Little-esque statements from so-called “leaders” in this community.

Come on – like no one is going to want to develop the most prime piece of commercial real estate in Vermont in a way that the community wants? That’s why we have zoning standards, and it’s what our elected officials should be telling developers. If Sinex can’t do it, it’s because he’s a shitty developer. In fact, I’d just as soon see the city buy it off his hands if he keeps whining about it, and then put the project out to bid. Let’s see what other, local developers could do with that property.

It’s time to say No to #3 and #4, and Whoa to this strong-armed process being put forward by the Mayor and a select few. If (or when) this ballot goes down — leaders on both / all sides of this debate NEED to come together and work toward creating a better project and a community vision for this prime commercial parcel of real estate so that it benefits EVERYONE in our community, both today and into the future.

We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.

And, if these ballot items do pass, I would highly recommend that the supporters not gloat and ridicule, but find ways to incorporate the many, and legitimate concerns, into a public benefits agreement, and the final designs for the project. Doing that will go a long way toward healing divisions in the community, and put us on the path toward making the next big development project — Memorial Auditorium perhaps? — less of a battle, and more of a true community dialogue about what’s best for ALL city residents.

#NCHIMBY (No Corporate Handouts in My Back Yard)

There’s a lot of spin out there from boosters of the downtown redevelopment and the tax scheme to siphon $22 million of the public’s tax money and hand it over to a Wall Street developer.

Despite spending thousands on a well-paid lobbying firm with almost zero ties to Burlington to come up with fake sloganeering and fake supporters, there’s little that can be done to spin a taxpayer ripoff masquerading as a TIF masquerading as a “unity” project masquerading as a last gasp to save a “dying” downtown.

Setting aside the problematic zoning issues, poorly managed public engagement, this is why voting for the TIF is a bad idea. It’s because voters are being asked to:

• Hand out $22 million in taxpayer money to a Wall Street developer to do work that we as a community said must be done (reconnecting streets, among other items) in order to build in the downtown core.

• Hand out $22 million in taxpayer money to a Wall Street developer and wait 20 to 30 years to reap the reward of additional taxes while developer Don Sinex will most certainly be reaping profits for himself from day one.

• Hand out $22 million in taxpayer money to a Wall Street developer, and as such taking needed money from funding education, or bonds to improve the safety and energy efficiency of our schools.

• Hand out $22 million in taxpayer money to a Wall Street developer who is only making the minimal investment in truly affordable housing, while expecting to charge high(er) market rents for other apartments (doing nothing to stem the rising cost of housing).

• Hand out $22 million in taxpayer money to a Wall Street developer who is going to be privatizing more of downtown, and making minimal truly public spaces accessible to all residents.

Good grief. And, people thought Burlington Telecom was a bad deal – at least it ended up being a public benefit that could pay for itself and has been credited with creating good-paying jobs (Dealer.com) and an emergent tech sector in the Queen City.

To reiterate above, though: boosters of this Wall Street development conveniently omit the fact that the TIF makes it such that our tax rates won’t truly benefit until 20 OR MORE YEARS FROM NOW when the TIF expires and any new monies go to the city or school coffers. That’s right – 20-PLUS YEARS. Not next year, or even in five years – but almost a generation away! By then inflationary costs will likely chew up any perceived benefit we’re told about today.

And, while the money might not be directly helping Burlington schools, floating this TIF funding and the $50 million bond will only make it harder for the schools to ask taxpayers to fund long overdue classroom and building improvements in the coming years. That, too, will have a ripple effect that will negatively affect the next generation of Burlington students.

You can call it what you will, but this is a corporate welfare—using our tax money for one person’s private gain with an incremental, if nonexistent, gain for us, the chumps who forked over millions in our taxes for someone else to make money on while we sit there, hands in pockets, waiting on a reward. If Sinex were asked to fund these required improvements himself, then we could see a more immediate impact on our city’s coffers and we could use the new revenue to make improvements throughout the city and lessen the burden on homeowners to pay back the other bonds we’re being asked to approve.

If you’re not fond of corporate welfare or putting corporate interests before those of the community—then it’s simple. Vote NO against the TIF on the November ballot.

We need to step back, truly examine our city’s infrastructure needs for both city and schools, and then determine  what needs public funding and what can be leveraged from the private sector.

We face too many challenges as a city right now to be doing this in such a piecemeal, knee-jerk fashion.

If you’re interested in an additional take on the TIF, check out this previous post.

Get Miffed about the TIF

When Bernie Sanders—the former Mayor of Burlington—was running for president, a constant campaign refrain was to end corporate welfare for the millionaires and billionaires, and make government work for ordinary people.

He was, and is, right.

The tax money of hard-working folks should be used to pay for essential and shared services that make a community vibrant and livable—for everyone. The tax money of hard-working folks shouldn’t be used to pay for things that only serve one developer.

That said, even Bernie can be wrong form time to time and the current debate over the massive upscaling of the downtown mall is like deja vu all over again.

When Bernie was first elected mayor he got behind a massive waterfront re-development plan (called the Alden Plan) that would have privatized much more of the waterfront than we have today. What happened? Citizen concern and a demand that we do better for the public at large, not just a few wealthy developers.  From that community debate evolved Waterfront park, the crown jewel of downtown Burlington and a joy to residents and tourists alike. Just look at the number of festivals and sunset pictures on Instagram for evidence.

When we faced challenges with the academic and social climate at our two center city schools we didn’t jump at the first choice which was forced busing from the “poor” part of town to more “middle income” parts of town. Instead, we went back to the drawing board and created two magnet schools that are held up by national publications like The Atlantic as the model of the modern public school.

Why did these projects happen and become shining examples for other communities to model?

Because we took a step back, took a deep breath and decided to do what was right and best, not what was quick and expedient. We didn’t allow ourselves to be pressured by successful salespeople, like Mayor Miro Weinberger or Don Sinex, or past mayors and developers.

That’s the Burlington way.

Today’s Alden Plan – or massive publicly funded development scheme – is the Sinex redevelopment of our downtown and the “public” improvements / benefits are largely centered around reconnecting Pine and St. Paul streets from Cherry and Bank streets, making wider sidewalks, burying utilities, and updating some sewer and stormwater utilities. Why “public” in quotes? Because Sinex needs these streets rebuilt in order to accommodate the hundreds of daily car trips he’s creating with new housing and commercial tenants. In other words, without these improvements—his project doesn’t work.

Before asking our approval the mayor signed a pre-development contract agreeing to issue $22 million in bonds to repay Sinex for those street improvements if they are built to the city’s approval. And, the bond would be repaid from the hoped-for new tax revenue from the Sinex development, which is being built in the Waterfront Tax Increment Financing District.

So, what is a TIF? It’s a special assessment district that allows a city or town to siphon off new tax money that would instead go to schools and the town and pay off bonds or invest directly in other public improvements: parks, skate parks, public access, bike paths, sidewalks, street improvements etc.

It would seem that we’re putting the cart before the horse, eh? I mean, getting voter approval to subsidize a developer for work he already needs to complete in order to build.

Clearly the project COULD go forward without the city spending millions of this newfound tax manna. So, why not let it? Why not spend our new tax dollars more wisely as we see proof that the developer can actually pull off what he’s duly noted he’s never done before (as in build a project of this scale). We could use that new tax money to pay off other street improvements in other parts of the city OR go toward our schools (which really need the money – more than Sinex).

So, in November, Burlington voters are going to be asked two questions about the TIF and we can send a strong message if we believe the project needs to be reined in:

  • One question will ask us to extend the duration of the current Waterfront District TIF (which, oddly, this Mall project is considered to be part of) to allow for tax money to be collected from the Sinex project and used to pay for “public” improvements.
  • The second question will ask us to approve $22-plus million in spending (paid back over decades) to make those “public” improvements, some of which are needed.

If you’re not fond of corporate welfare, or a lack of accountability and transparency when it comes to spending OUR money in the city—then it’s simple. Vote NO against the TIF on the November ballot, and vote against the bond.

A No vote would impede the project and hopefully get the Mayor and Sinex to come back to voters with a better plan in March.

But, regardless of how you vote, here are some questions we should be asking elected officials between now and November:

  • Why not have more community input on just how the money could be used to improve downtown streets for cars, buses, pedestrians, public green spaces, and bikes rather than just these two street re-connections?
  • Why not set aside incremental city tax revenues and put them toward improvements that we, as a community, decide that are not so focused on this one project?
  • Why are we taking needed money from schools (since the TIF district siphons money from both city and school revenue streams) all at once? Don’t the schools (here in Burlington and statewide) need money more than a Wall Street developer?
  • Why isn’t the developer paying for some of these improvements as they will largely benefit his project, along with his housing and commercial clients?
  • Why are taxpayers being asked to subsidize a project that doesn’t truly conform to the human-scale city zoning standards of PlanBTV?

I’m sure there are more questions—especially with this project. Too many questions, to be honest, to be ready to have a vote on spending this much of OUR money, in my humble opinion.

While it’s true it may increase the overall grand list of the city, it’s also true that most of gains to the school and city coffers will be minimal because the loan has to be repaid first. That loan won’t be paid off for at least 20 years. So, this generation of taxpayers will see scant benefit. Good luck to the next generation, too!

Don’t get me wrong—some aspects of the public improvements have merit: Such as reconnecting streets that were destroyed by Urban Renewal. As a biker and pedestrian, I think this would be great for getting around town. But, given the sheer number of cars that this project will foist on downtown street grids make me wonder just how wonderful these improvements will be in the short or long-term. It seems as if we’re only making a few needed improvements for one developer rather than looking more expansively at how people and cars move through and around downtown. Why not more one-way streets to allow for more bike and pedestrian traffic? More green space or public areas to hang out for everyone – especially if you’re not just downtown to shop.

I say: let’s bring the Mayor and City Council back to the table and get them to be more hard-nosed in their negotiations with this developer. It’s time that the hard-working people of Burlington had someone on their side in these talks, not just someone looking for ways to spend their money to benefit a single developer.

A Down Town

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the multitude of projects planned, or underway, in Burlington, and thought I should add my voice to those who have expressed concerns with this downtown re-development.

In short, I think we need more information from the developer, city leaders, and this community would benefit from slowing the process down to ensure that the entire Burlington community can benefit from this project.

This isn’t just another housing development like on the old Burlington College property, or Hotel Vermont, or the housing built on No. Winooski Ave. in recent years. This about, in many ways, undoing what went wrong post-Urban Renewal for downtown Burlington.

We’ve gotten a lot right in the past 30 years, which is why this community is ranked among the most livable communities in the US, and why we have such a creative, vibrant city.

I’ve read through the scant information online and the nice promo flyers, but there is some nitty gritty details missing, which is fueling a lot of necessary skepticism that taxpayers aren’t going to see the benefits everyone claims.

And, let’s be honest: Despite the Trump-esque messaging from some in the business community that this project will somehow make Burlington “great again,” it couldn’t be further from the truth. Look at what Melinda Moulton and Main Street Landing have accomplished on the waterfront, largely thanks to the public assets that WE as a community ensured would exist.

There is a lot of building activity in Burlington (throughout the city) and plenty of big projects in the pipeline. Why else would Sinex be proposing this project if there isn’t already a vibrant community in place?

I’m not opposed to downtown development, or building up. I supported the new height allowances adopted several years ago; a reasonable compromise given what some wanted from both sides. That’s when things work best in Burlington – a robust public debate and discussion.

In the past 30 years, Burlington has gone from a big little city to one of the most decorated cities in the country for livability, raising families, starting businesses, and retiring. Not a bad mix.

No one project made that happen. And the projects that did help make that happen had a strong public participation component, as well as inclusion and a visible public benefit. Church Street Marketplace, City Market, the Waterfront (both park cleanups, and new development that came later through Main Street Landing and the housing).

I’d ask the council to take a step back, and really consider the long-term impacts of the project. At a minimum, we should be doing more due diligence, that includes:

  • More details about the financing of the project. If we’re being asked to set aside public money to build it, we need more transparency and details BEFORE we say yes.
  • A little more skin in the game from the developer in terms of the public infrastructure and public good that comes with this project.
  • Make the TIF improvements benefit everyone – like we’ve done on the waterfront – and not just a self-selected crowd of downtown boosters who seek to create a boutique image.
  • The environment! Climate change is real, it’s happening and we should be doing more to reduce cars downtown, increase bikes, pedestrians and public transportation, integrate food forests, rooftop gardens and farms, and require moving to a net zero construction model to keep our city’s carbon footprint at a minimum.
  • Truly put this project in context with all of the other projects being planned, or built, to boost housing and business space. There’s more happening than we’re willing to perhaps acknowledge.
  • Slow things down a little – there’s no real rush here. And, if that’s the developer talking because of a financing window, then maybe we need to question the viability of said financing plan and the demands of investors.

So, let’s ask the hard questions now. And, maybe we take a step back and build in the public equity component from the start?

Height & Design
[As an aside: I agree with Bruce Seifer that the developers should raise balloons to provide a visual demonstration of the building’s dimensions (corners and peak). A little 3D model on a table or a PowerPoint “fly by” do not it justice.]

Why not build within the community standards we have set? Couldn’t we be more creative rather than just simply allowing someone to go up 160’ in the air? Think that’s the first we’ll hear of this kind of variance? Not likely.

Secondly, this development seems dull and vision-less, derived from a decades-old hack design that lacks the vibrancy and creativity that has come to define Burlington. Hide a parking garage, plant a few trees and extend the look and feel of the Marketplace? Oy. For a city as creative and vibrant as Burlington, the design seems pretty bland and suburban – like a denser version of MapleTree Place. Seriously?

Public Good
Put aside the notion that taxpayers should lose out on new taxes in order to fund the public improvements the site needs to be redeveloped. Why shouldn’t the developer pay for it?

The Waterfront TIF that allowed for Hotel Vermont has done wonders for improving the public portion of the waterfront. I don’t see that same being applied here.

Where are the enhanced bike lanes throughout downtown? Or, one-way streets with wider bike lanes and sidewalks? Or, a public bike locker for downtown workers to store their bikes and gear safely a la Boulder? Integrated rooftop farms/gardens? Permanent downtown farmer’s market? Net zero construction? District-heating rather than using more natural gas and power and increasing the city’s carbon footprint?

These things matter, especially in the age of resource constraints, oil depletion, climate change, and when the city itself is sourcing its power from renewables. We need regenerative approaches to development, and realize the slow growth will be the norm in the coming decades. Overbuilding now will only come back to haunt our children’s generation, as we’re seeing it hit our own generations today.

Public Financing should Equal Public Good
If it’s all about financing, then the developer should be upfront and transparent about the financing deal they are pulling together if they want public welfare, er, resources to benefit their project. And, we should see that BEFORE the council approves anything, and before voters approve the TIF expansion.

If you want to create affordable housing – enact rent control, get the colleges to build more on campus housing. Hold developers feet to the fire to work with Champlain Housing Trust, COTS, and other nonprofits to build truly affordable, permanent housing. Building these apartments won’t magically open doors for low-income renters or the homeless. Or help addicts. It’ll make a few people richer, a few businesses healthier, and we’ll just wait for the trickle down – if it happens – while the TIF payments keep paying off the corporate subsidy to Sinex.

We’ve let developers off the hook repeatedly to commit to inclusionary zoning – and now some developers are point to that as a sign it’s not working! Come on, people. Stand up for the values that we’ve imbued into the charter over a period of decades and realize that like developers before him, Sinex will understand that our vision is what is working best – not a bunch of out-of-state financiers.

Personally, I think the developers should be the ones to finance any public improvements that they need to have done; that shouldn’t be on us to make it happen. If they can’t get the financing for all of that, then they should sharpen their pencils.

Burlington will still be here – thriving, creating jobs, opportunity, and attracting people. The market will be here for them, but let’s get it right out of the gate rather than trying to fix things a decade from now and regret seizing an opportunity to make our downtown open to ALL Burlington residents, not just a select few who fit the boutique-ness that is emerging from Church Street and its environs.

I also worry greatly about the future, not just because I have kids, but because the news isn’t all that good when it comes to the climate. There are serious resource constraints, and without forward-thinking development today – not just planting a few trees and adding a bike lane – but truly rethinking how “growth” looks, feels, and benefits a community needs to happen. DeGrowth may be the norm within 20 years, which means doing more with what we have, and giving back to the planet (and people) we’ve taken from for centuries.

Burlington could start living up to that model of growth and development rather than continuing with a failing model.

Hey Burlington – Let’s Have a Tea Party, Shall We?

Hey Burlington – did you know that one of the Tea Party’s rising stars is right here in Burlington? And, he not only sits on the school board but is hoping to get elected to the House, too?

You didn’t? Well … guess what. It’s true.

First off: Free speech is a great thing in this country; it’s even protected under the Constitution. But as with most rights, with said freedom comes responsibility AND accountability.

Scot Shumski likes to claim he has no connection to the Tea Party or American Majority, but an apparent alter ego Twitter account of @SlappyWhyte does it for him. Clever, eh? Not really – especially he, er Slappy, starts DELETING them when he gets wind that people might hold him “accountable.”  How Nixonian! As we all know, it’s never the “crime” that gets a pol in trouble, it’s the cover-up after the fact that angers voters.

Below are some choice screen shots, as well as a downloadable spreadsheet that shows you ALL of the tweets he’s deleted.

You see, the point is that whenever the issue of Tea Party connections and influence arise, Shumski feigns ignorance. And, people shouldn’t read too much (wink, wink) into the fact that he rakes in thousands of dollars from Tea Party Sugar Mama Lenore Broughton (who supports the privatization of public education) and was trained by American Majority, a Koch Brothers-connected group that travels the country training people to get on, and take over, school boards and then wreak havoc.

Check out this headline and story from the American Majority blog: “Liberal School Board Flipped in Wisconsin”. Ah, nullifying collective bargaining agreements. Ronnie Reagan would be so, so proud.

As an aside — Broughton’s bag man Tayt Brooks is American Majority’s state director and he loves him some Tea Party in the librul bastion of Burlington. Take his recent headline: “American Majority-Trained Scot Shumski becomes prominent School Board Voice”. Brooks is clearly basking in the glow of Shumski’s meteoric rise.

Too bad for Brooks that Shumski isn’t willing to return the favor and tout his American Majority training and Tea Party bonafides in his campaign literature (ditto Kevin Garrison, and David Kirk who comprise the Tea Party Triumverate).

Though, on American Majority’s blog, Shumski did thank them for his March victory.

But in real life, Shumski flatly denies any undue influence and calls American Majority nonpartisan. Nonpartisan, perhaps, but from the links above it’s clear they have an agenda.

“American Majority is a nonpartisan organization and cannot advocate political positions,” wrote Shumski on Oct. 3. “I have never given money to a Tea Party organization, held membership in a Tea Party organization, identified myself with the Tea Party moniker.”

Perhaps not as Scot Shumski, but his alter ego is happy to promote Tea Party principles and positions and even attended the American Majority candidate training, too, as you’ll see below, and believes Tea Party principles should be the core of any GOP candidate’s platform. Perhaps Slappy should remind Shumski.

You see, the problem with weasel politicians is in this day and age is that if you’re not careful (and Slappy got a little sloppy as you’ll see in a minute) you can have your digital footprints pretty well mapped out and traced back to your doorstep.

In fact, you can go to this site and type in @slappywhyte. The epicenter of Slappy’s tweets originate awfully close to Scot’s real-life house and “home office.” Here’s a pic for you in case the site doesn’t load, or Slappy turns off geolocation:

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.14.24 AM Continue reading