What's behind metro Atlanta's high-torque transportation tug of war? And how can you gain a little pull?
CL's Political Party returns with panel to answer these and and other questions regarding public transit and road construction.
What do you want, Atlanta?
Five or 20 years from now, do you really want to be stuck on a highway in a hellhole where the air makes you sick, where every sign of nature has been blotted out for a highway, a subdivision or a shopping center?
Or do you want to live in a, well, livable city, with a fun, sophisticated, walkable urban core surrounded by cozy, village-like suburbs -- where, yeah, the traffic's still bad, but at least you'd have the option to get around by train, trolley, bicycle or your own two feet?
When we argue around these parts about a roads-only approach to transportation versus a more balanced vision, those are the two futures we're talking about. And when you strip the question to its core, it's pretty clear how most folks would answer.
For eight years or so, metro Atlanta has been heading unsurely in the right direction. But we've moved so slowly that we risk falling into reverse. Suburban bus systems, HOV lanes, the Beltline, and most of all, the repopulating of inner-city neighborhoods all hold out some promise that metro Atlanta can become a cleaner, more comfortable, more uplifting place to live over the next decade.
Now, however, comes an attempt to restore the corrupt system that did so much to harm Atlanta's quality of life in the first place. As Max Pizarro reports this week, highway builders and their fellow travelers are proposing a roads-only future that downplays the impact those roads will have on the air we breathe.
Here's the one thing we know with dead-certain clarity about metro Atlanta's congestion woes: No eruption of new expressway lanes, no addition of infinite concrete road miles, no rollout of train tracks cresting a thousand horizons, no stretching of buses and trolleys bumper-to-bumper from Doraville to McDonough -- in fact, all of those things stretched end to end won't bridge the galactic gap between the "truth" of the road-ists and the "common sense" of the transit-ites.
It's a fun debate to watch. The only downside is that as dogmatism rages, someday not too far away, one more new car on Atlanta's streets will result in a city-wide flash of brake lights as traffic everywhere jerks to a halt -- and never moves again. Terminal gridlock.
Two whip-masters in our community-wide transportation flagellation are AJC editorialist Jay Bookman and former AJC editorialist Benita Dodd, now a spokeswoman for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
Bookman sniffs that the foundation is "aligned" with road builders and Gov. Sonny Perdue, neglecting to note that 58 percent of Georgia voters were aligned with Perdue on Nov. 7. About 100 percent of us are aligned with the dastardly road builders, at least to the extent that we ride on their handiwork.
Dodd huffs back: "Oh, Jay is a die-hard liberal. He never lets facts spoil his ideology." She forgets to note that her own ideology -- "market-driven strategies" -- is wishful thinking. Laws, rules and regulations twist the flow of money -- and thereby define the "market." Claiming roads are "market-driven" means only that there are massive public subsidies to America's automobile culture.
You talk to Dems around this state, and very few of them are in the mood to give Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn what you might call a rousing send-off. This is a cruel game, politics. And when it comes to Kahn and Mark Taylor, the two of them might as well be Captain Bligh and his first mate, set adrift in a lifeboat while the rest of the crew beats it hard to starboard or port or wherever, as long as it's the opposite direction.
Here's how things now stand in the post-Kahn era: Mike Berlon, chair of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, has officially announced his intention to seek the chairmanship. State Sen. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna, is taking the holidays to consider his options and is not ruling out a run.
Democratic Party Secretary Steve Leeds will have to weigh his duties as a helpmate to candidates running for national office -- a passion of his and something he's been doing for years and does well -- but as it stands now he may run again for the chairmanship.
Kahn beat Leeds three years ago.
Beat him badly.
"As George W. Bush would say, 'I got thumped,'" admits the Atlanta commercial real estate attorney, who wants to help start building the party up again from the grassroots.
Gov. Sonny Perdue's Energy Policy Council is in the process of finalizing its plan for more statewide conservation of resources, more energy efficiency and more homegrown solutions to Georgia's energy woes, but critics say the 160-page document represents little more than a missed opportunity.
The council will review its final draft at a meeting scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 5, in the Loudermilk Center for the Regional Community on Courtland Street. It's an open public meeting, but there is no scheduled public comment period.
At a meeting earlier this month, "The tone of the council was very frustrating for those of us looking for a new course for energy," said Julie Mayfield, vice president and general counsel of the Georgia Conservancy. "The tone was basically, 'What we have works, and it works well,' and there is resistance to tax incentives for businesses that invest in and use renewable energy."
Mayfield also lamented the absence in the plan of a recommendation for a public-benefits fund or pot of money to be used for energy-efficiency projects. The money could come out of a $1.15 increase per household on utility rates, Mayfield said. But "there is a strong sentiment on the council not to raise utility rates," she added.
-- Max Pizarro
Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, last week said the health committee she chairs in the Assembly wouldn't rule out the possibility of mandating health insurance for all Georgians.
Who pays for it is another issue.
There are 1.7 million Georgians without health insurance, according to the Georgia Department of Community Health.
Cooper suspects that many of these are people in the 18-to-early-30s age range who "still think they're infallible." They're young and healthy, and they would rather shoulder a monthly car payment than invest in health insurance, says Cooper, a registered nurse and wife of a doctor.
"If something happens, they'll just throw themselves on the mercy of the state," the legislator says, referring to research in Massachusetts, a state that now mandates health insurance and may serve as a leader for the country, in Cooper's view.
Like a lot of Georgia Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Marietta, Cooper favors expanding private health savings accounts for the uninsured, in part because it would keep down health-care costs, she says.
"We need to involve people more in their own health care," Cooper says. "If you pay for it, it gives you some control over your own health care."
-- Max Pizarro
The battle rages on all fronts.
Few would disagree with the state Constitution that children in Georgia are owed an "adequate" education. But what that entails exactly has embroiled two sides in a legal fight over funding in Georgia's schools. After failing to reach an initial agreement with the Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia, the state has hired big-shot law firm Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan of Atlanta to grapple with the consortium's lawsuit in the courtroom.
The consortium is retaining its own legal team.
"We're determined to go to trial," says Joe Martin, the consortium's executive director. "ÉIt would be an acrimonious trial. A public relations debacle for the state. They'll outspend us. They'll be rougher and tougher than we are, but we're not going to settle for something that isn't real."
Everything hinges on the modern-day, inflation-adjusted definition of adequacy, which Martin and his concerned citizens' group contend the state is not fulfilling for every student in Georgia.
"It's one thing to agree on principle," Martin says. "It's another to have something measurable."
Many folks suspect that Georgia's state government is merely a service
organization for the utility companies. Now it's official.
Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-Disney World) has dumped his longtime chief of staff,
John Watson, who, according to a press release, "will pursue opportunities
in the private sector." That can mean one of two things. Either Watson will
be collecting unemployment insurance or, more likely, "private sector" means some form of lobbying.
The bigger news is Watson's replacement, Ed Holcombe, a Georgia Power honcho for 39 years, the last 19 in charge of the "state legislative affairs
department." Interpreted, that means Holcombe gave Georgia Power's dictates
to governors, PSC members and legislators, who happily gave the utility whatever it wanted.
But it appears Georgia Power didn't get everything it wanted. So now
the power monopoly/faux free-enterprise giant has its man at Perdue's ear.
Georgia Power's customers can prepare to bend over and get a real, um,
-- John Sugg
Disgorging someone from the belly of the beast might be a good starting point for the shipwrecked Georgia Democratic Party, and state Sen. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna, definitely has a Jonah-in-the-whale story to tell, coming as he does out of that Republican Party behemoth called Cobb County.
Stoner, who as a member of the minority party was just re-elected in Cobb with 61 percent of the vote, said this week he would consider requests from within the party to run for Democratic Party Committee chairman, to succeed outgoing chairman Bobby Kahn. As of Wednesday afternoon, Mike Berlon of Gwinnett County was the only person to officially announce his interest in pursuing the party chairmanship.
Stoner was mulling it over.
"At this point I haven't made a decision one way or the other," he said.
He'll be sitting down over the holidays with his wife to assess whether it's a sacrifice he and his family should make at this point, he explained. Stoner owns a string of ice cream parlors in the area and he's also a state senator. What's keeping him from jumping right into the party chairman race, he said, is the fact that it's a full-time job.
"I've had several people ask me," Stoner said, "and I haven't said absolutely no. I'm very flattered."
"I think Doug would make a great chair," says David Wilkerson, president of the Cobb County Democratic Party.
When I overhear a smart guy say over and over "it's the No. 1 story in the country," I want to know what the meaning of "it" is.
Todd Mark of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta had joined staff writer Alyssa Abkowitz and me last month at Creative Loafing's Political Party talk show at Dad's Garage Theatre. The topic was the financial crisis facing twentysomethings, which also had been the subject of Alyssa's Oct. 5 CL cover story.
But after the show, Mark said we should follow up with an article about the thousands of people in metro Atlanta who are losing their homes through foreclosures. Georgia, he pointed out, is one of the worst states in the country when it comes foreclosures.
He wasn't kidding. Alyssa's cover story this week takes us to the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse, where every month thousands of homes are put up for sale because their owners defaulted on loans. And, as Alyssa reports, the number of foreclosures in Georgia appears to be rising. That's partly due to laws here that make foreclosures easier than in other states.
When I first moved to Atlanta in 1994 and lived in the Artery, having the…
Janine Brown's campaign has completely shit the bed with a heinous mailer that has many…
""It says something profound about the state of our nation — and our fair city…
Why should the rich pay for water and sewer in Atlanta? Isn't paying one's fair…
You’re a good musician or a business man / woman or just any worker and…
(chorus) bwok bwok, chicken chicken bwok bwok, chicken heads (boy please whateva) bwok bwok, chicken…