Lunsford Lane
December 1, 2008

Jim Goodmon's Tower of Light in Durham
Jim Goodmon's Tower of Light in Raleigh

Lunsford Lane
November 30, 2008

Yesterday, the News and Observer gave us a sneak peak at the new Comprehensive Plan, the first draft of which will be released to the public this week. The City of Raleigh's Planning Director Mitchell Silver "said residents shouldn't overlook the plan's importance. It offers Raleigh a way forward, and if elected officials want to deviate from the plan, they'll have to give a rationale for doing so."

Wow, that's some tough talk - look out Raleigh, the new Comp Plan is riding in on a white horse, there's gonna be a new sheriff in town.

Except what Silver says is the current rule, if a development proposal doesn't comply with the comp plan, the Council must give a stated reason for deviating from the plan. And it hasn't been used by either the Planning Commission or City Council to stop schlock development proposal yet. In almost every case, that reason is drafted by the Planning Commission in its review prior to City Council consideration. The most common reason given? Pretty much "just because." A couple of lines of weasel words that either times have changed (after all today isn't yesterday) or conditions have changed (the market is soft so anyone wanting to build anything should get the green light), all code for what a developer wants a developer usually gets.

Noting the paper's observation that the comp plan "has been amended so many times over the last 20 years that it now includes conflicting ideas about how particular areas of the city should grow," local development attorney Mack Paul laments that "there is a lack of clarity in the current plan."

The paper neglects to tell its readers that Paul and his law firm have built a lucrative business taking money from developers to grease the skids to get those conflicting amendments approved by City Council after City Council.

We will scour the new comprehensive plan with a fine tooth comb, under an objective eye. But word on the street is that this plan does little if anything more to guide development - what ACTUALLY gets built - than the current plan.

Planning Director Silver's comment above, tough talk about nothing new, is probably a clue that the street has it right.

Lunsford Lane
November 16, 2008

I’ve held off posting for awhile. Like you, state and national politics were occupying the little free space left in my small cluttered mind. And this blog is about local politics – Raleigh municipal governance only.

The last few weeks have been all about change, much of which is cool by me. But I do find myself contemplating what, if anything, has really changed here? In Raleigh?

I’ve always clung to the notion that the future belongs to the young. Hey all you rock and rollers, I want to turn and face the strain; time may change me, but I can’t trace time. So I’m skeptical that what we witnessed on November 4 is truly our local future.

Has President Obama fundamentally changed young people?

I am truly conflicted by the youth. On one hand I am proud of the so many young folks of this city, of all races and walks of life, who registered and then voted, especially the ones that got a few of their peers to do the same. On the other, I am too often disgusted.

With so many beautiful young people now actively engaged in effecting political change, how does our flagship university find itself upside down over racial slurs painted on campus walls? Many NC State students have said that they are surprised that such a thing would happen on their campus, in this day and age. I call bollocks on that claim.

Anyone who has even casual acquaintance with the college set is well aware of the racist, homophobic, and too often misogynistic language that characterizes much of their discourse. It’s been The Intern, invisible halo hovering above her Meredith angel head, that has been my window into this dark underbelly. Read any college chat - if you dare. Many are behind firewalls, but some are open to the public. If it takes a lot to offend you, and I mean a lot, then wander around the message boards of one of the most popular NCSU boards – the Wolf Web.

When you stumble upon something there that disgusts you, as you inevitably will, be it anything not considered cool called “gay” or the most offensive pornography you can imagine, don’t run back here saying I didn’t warn you. It’s not sponsored by the university, but it is populated mostly by students and young alumni, as you have to have an NC State email address to join the fray for free.

That’s right, these aren’t crunked up ghetto gangstas whose were lost to society he moment they were birthed into communities where education and nutrition and opportunity and hope hardly exist – no, these are YOUR little snots. They’re the supposedly smart ones, the ones majoring in biomedical engineering and architecture and computer science and poultry science (whatever that is).

Yeah, yeah, I'm a grumpy old man. Of course I know not every college kid is like that, maybe not even most, but certainly way too many. And many of those who participate in these displays of intolerance will tell you it is all good fun, they don’t really mean it or believe it. One thing I do believe in is the power of language, and that you cannot routinely use racial and sexist slurs without them affecting the way you routinely think about other people. Zack Medford was an abomination, but not an aberration.

There isn’t an administrator at any university in the country that isn’t aware of these everday displays of intolerance. Still, NC State provides the Free Expression Tunnel as “a venue for expressing their thoughts and feelings about anything.” That's anything, like say, hoping someone shoots the President soley because he is a different color than they are. The university provides no qualifers to anything, so what did the rumpled suits in the ivory towers expect? That when the sun beamed in Morning in America on November 5th, all of this latent racism and sexism just burned off with the fog?

To the matter at hand, will all these new young voters challenge business as usual in Raleigh? Studies show that most Americans are either habitual voters or habitual nonvoters, and most young Americans are the latter. But when a young person does vote for the first time, as many just did, the odds are overwhelming that she will become a life-long habitual voter. And she will most likely stick with the party she first identified with.

But will they all come out next October to vote for City Councilors and County Commissioners?

Mystics say yes, but logistics will make it less. The young tend to be highly mobile, particularly college students, so many of them will be long gone within the year. Now that the News and Observer has terminated any meaningful local reporting, there is no venue for real local news, much less one that appeals to young people. Most young folk don’t own real estate yet, so while most of them pay ad valorem taxes indirectly, they do not see the actual flow of money from their hands to the coffers of the city and county.

For me, all politics is local, and in Raleigh, my experience is that the more things change, the more the stay the same.

Byron Hurt told Jackie Lyden a few days ago that Barack Obama set a new black standard as “a man whose power lied in his mind, his ability to communicate his ideas, and his ability to instill hope and belief in people.”

Too many white kids desperately need an equal role model.

Young people of all races and social classes change their language (which is always a reflection of their thinking), then flood the polls next fall to elect a Mayor and Councilors that instill hope and belief in all people, not just real estate developers and other rich patrons – that would be change I can believe in. Sure they'll probably elect someone who I wish didn't represent me, but I'll take a fully functional democracy over getting my way every time.

Lunford Lane
October 10, 2008

When former District B City Councilor Jessie Taliaferro hurriedly vacated her office in City Hall late last year, she inadvertently left her political playbook in the bottom drawer of the desk. Her successor, Rodger Koopman, found that compendium of dirty tricks and has apparently memorized it word for word. Case in point – the rezonings in the Stanhope and Cameron Village neighborhoods that the City Council approved earlier this week, with his support.

In classic Taliaferro form, Koopman promises the neighborhood one thing, but at the City Council table hands the developer quite another. Mary Hennessy of the Stanhope neighborhood tells

At one point in the process, we did have assurances from Rodger Koopman and [District A Councilor] Nancy MacFarlane that they would vote against Capstone's site plan in whatever iteration the site plan was in at that time. We knew that Nancy was under a lot of pressure, but at no point did she nor Rodger advise the neighbors that their votes would be withdrawn. We were still hopeful when we walked into the City Council chambers.

The neighbors are not against Capstone building a student housing complex, but we have many objections to the site plan. Our first objection was the placement of the parking deck on Stanhope Avenue (Stanhope, though zoned I-2 has been residential for almost 100 years). Our second objection was the disregard/disdain shown for the City's own comprehensive plan and the Stanhope Village Small Area Plan.

This disregard is more difficult to process when you realize that the City of Raleigh is paying over 500,000 dollars to update its comprehensive plan. Why pay that kind of money for a plan only to thumb your collective nose at it?

And that, gentle readers, is exactly the problem. It’s not some feckless NIMBYism that’s intimated in comments on other blogs, or parochial Inside-The-Beltline hostility towards anything new. It’s the blatant disregard for the sacred processes of public participation that is so abhorrent. (OK, the going back on your word thing is pretty despicable too. You at least pick up the phone and let folks know you'll be stiffing them after all.)

Both the Stanhope and Cameron Village (aka Wade-Oberlin) neighborhoods are covered by what are called Small Area Plans. These plans are additions to the overall Comprehensive Plan that (in theory only) guides development in the City of Raleigh. But small area plans are much more intimate. Under the guidance of the professional planning staff at City Hall, all the stakeholders in the neighborhood gather – residents, landowners, business owners, you name it – and work together towards a consensus vision of their neighborhood. The plan is fully vetted through the Planning Commission and ultimately approved by the City Council before it becomes a part of the comprehensive plan.

As At-Large Councilor Russ Stephenson said at the City Council meeting last Tuesday, Citizens look to high quality small area planning to build consensus and provide some predictability in the development and redevelopment of their neighborhoods. He voted against the Cameron Village project because it so obviously does not meet “the spirit and intent of the small area plan”. A small area plan does not come without great expenditure of time and effort on the part of the local citizens. So when a City Councilor thumbs his or her nose at a small area plan, what they are really doing is telling the citizens who have invested their hearts and souls and countless hours that their work to build community is meaningless because some developer has his or her own contrary vision, and that vision is the only one that really matters. Way to go, McFarlane and Koopman.

For her part, McFarlane rationalized an otherwise unjustifiable vote for the Cameron Village project as her “real fiduciary responsibility to the City, I have to look at the economic times that we’re in.” Koopman later echoed this sentiment when voting for the Stanhope project. As if the remedy for a downturn in the economy is the summary dismissal of all development standards. Yet on the same day McFarlane made this statement, the City of Raleigh blasted the following across the front page of its website: Moody's: Raleigh's Economy Among Few Growing.

The aye votes are more problematic for Koopman, because many who opposed these projects are among those who worked so hard to put Taliaferro out and Koop in. He wasn’t even at the City Council meeting – he called in by telephone so he could vote for these projects. If he hadn’t phoned it in, the Cameron Village rezoning wouldn’t have passed. At-Large Councilor Mary Ann Baldwin had to recuse herself for a conflict of interest in the project, so Koopman was needed to make the fifth vote. If you’re a member of Community SCALE, you’ve got to be wondering what just what has Koopman done for me lately. Ever, for that matter. From their vantage point, they can’t see any functional difference between Taliaferro and Koopman. It's less than half-way through his first term, and already some folks in District B are discussing the search for his replacement.

Lunsford Lane
September 19, 2008

If you’ve been following the dustup over at NewRaleigh over who gets to be our next planning commissioner, and you don’t know the back story or the cast of characters, it gets confusing fast, with accusations flying left and right. Here are some facts – all verifiable – that are relevant to the argument.

  1. Seats at the Planning Commission table are not designated by council district, expertise, or stakeholder group. There are eight seats appointed by the Raleigh City Council. The Council appoints whoever it wants. Another three seats are appointed by the County Board of Commissioners. The current squabble surrounds the assertion by Dr. Feelgood that there are seats on the Raleigh Planning Commission that are reserved for African-American residents of District C, and the protocol for filling these seats is that the District C Councilor, currently James West, nominates the choice of local African-American leaders. The other City Councilors are to fall in line and vote to appoint this nominee.
  2. Councilor West doesn’t have a stellar record of promoting either District C residents or African-American women for the Planning Commission. One example reported in depth by December 2005, there are three nominees for two openings on the Planning Commission - Rev. Paul Anderson, Rev. Renee Bethea, and Chuck Walker. Rev. Bethea was president of the Method Civic League and a well-known neighborhood activist with some experience in the local planning process. West voted for District A resident Paul Anderson, and white male developer Chuck Walker, who also had never lived in District C, and during a prior 6-year run on the commission earned a reputation as one of the worst developer hacks ever to serve. Anderson and Walker got the seats, with West stiffing the qualified black woman.
  3. Heather Vance has impeccable credentials.
  4. It's Quince Fleming, not Flemming as seen in just about every recent reference to him, including those from Feelgood. Nobody really knows who Quince Fleming is, as none of his supporters have been willing to forward his credentials. He's a health educator, maybe that relates to planning somehow.

Here are a few other facts peripheral to the argument, also verifiable, in no particular order.

  1. The seven Planning Commissioners currently serving at the pleasure of the City Council divide up like this: District E - 5, District A - 1, District D - 1. The commissioner who just resigned, leaving an open seat, was from District C. District B is chopped liver.
  2. Heather Vance blew the cover of Dr. Feelgood (one of the worst kept secrets anyway), identifying him as Daniel Coleman, a small-scale local developer who operates a company called Building Contractors. Coleman cut his teeth in the business with Raleigh Hall-of-Famer John Winters.
  3. Coleman is the current president of the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, for many decades the principle advocacy group for local African-Ameican issues.
  4. Coleman has recently used his bully pulpit to shake, sometimes rather vigorously, several sitting City Councilors, both online and off.
  5. After Councilor West nominated District C resident Quince Fleming for the Planning Commission, Coleman pressed West to appoint him (Coleman) instead. West agreed, but when he later ran that idea up the flagpole, let’s just say that no one saluted. So West went back to supporting Fleming.
  6. Heather Vance has been co-nominated by three Councilors - Rodger Koopman District B, Nancy McFarlane District A, and Russ Stephenson At-Large.
  7. Mayor Meeker, Philip Isley District E, and Mary-Ann Baldwin At-Large did not cast votes in the balloting for this seat. A candidate needs five votes for appointment - Vance received four, Fleming one.
  8. Yes, Coleman did a few years in the big house for a variety of crimes. But the last conviction we know of was for drug possession while on probation, over twenty years ago. He can certainly claim that he has paid his debt to society and remade himself into a useful and engaged citizen.
  9. Stan Norwalk has no dog in this fight, isn't in any way a part of it.

Lunsford Lane
September 17, 2008

Now that even Karl Rove has weaseled his way back into political favor, you knew she couldn’t be far behind. Oh no, she’s been planning her return since the day after election day, and the extreme makeover is in full swing.

Of course, nobody here at expected that our Arch-Enemy of Democracy Numero Uno, our Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley’s Evil Twin, has just been sitting around the house baking cookies since she lost her District B City Council seat a year or so ago to Rodger Koopman.

Rumors have been circulating, but I didn't have anything concrete. I was sitting around last night, flipping from Channel 9 to 13 for the 10-oclock news, and as I pass Channel 11 I see they are showing the convention center dedication. So I watch that for awhile instead. After all the speech making and just before the confetti cannons, there is a two or three second clip of County Commission Chair Joe Bryan and Mayor Meeker cutting the ribbon. But wait, that wasn’t the Mayor, that was someone else wielding the silver-plated scissors. And it looked a lot like Jessie Taliaferro.

A quick Google later, I find these. There she was front and center two weeks ago, alongside Mayor Meeker, who handed her the scissors:

It was awful magnanimous of the Mayor let Taliaferro jump right in front of the man who knocked her out to cut the ribbon for the Convention Center . If she’d have squeezed in any tighter against Koopmann, we’d all soon be getting invitations to the shotgun wedding. Nothing would scare me more than being that close to Taliaferro when she’s waving a pair of mini hedge clippers at crotch level. In politics you find out fast who your friends really are - Neal Hunt and Benson Kirkmann had the good sense to back waaaay up.

Ya think Joe Bryan invited Paul Coble to do the honors on behalf of the county commissioners?

I’m not saying that Taliaferro shouldn’t have been there, after all it wasn’t the current council and board of commissioners that built the convention center. But the Mayor may as well have jammed those scissors through Koopman’s sternum for the message he was sending.

And it’s more than just ceremonial. Taliaferro was just appointed to represent the City of Raleigh on the Centennial Authority – that’s the board that runs the RBC Center. It’s a sweet gig – rubbing elbows with the big-money businessmen, developers, and real estate attorneys who make or break mayoral candidates, not to mention free tickets to the VIP suite for every event held in the arena. Pretty nice of those city councilors to bestow this honor upon her.

Not exactly, see the Centennial Authority itself appointed her to be Raleigh’s representative. Now I know what you’re saying to yourself, “Hey, I may have gotten my degree in poli-sci from UC Santa Cruz way back in 1979, but I was under the impression that the whole point of these boards is that city councils and other government entities get to make their own appointments.”

Indeedee do they usually do. But Taliaferro found a loophole – she was replacing someone who was originally appointed by the City Council, but has resigned before the end of his term. So rather than ask the City Council who it would like as a replacement, the Centennial Authority granted itself the authority to make the interim appointment. After all, it is called the Authority, not the Board, the Commission, or the Knights of the RBC Roundtable. Word on the street – Mayor Meeker authorized the Authority to make the appointment (any of you gentle readers want to confirm that?).

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Koopmann can’t even get the Mayor to support his current nominee for the Planning Commission.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water...

Lunsford Lane
September 5, 2008

Flashback, 6:15 pm, September 5, 1996. "No Sweetie, nothing to worry about, Fran is going to pass well west of Raleigh."

Famous last words before the power went out around midnite, and stayed out for more than a week.

Now it's about 6:15 pm, September 5, 2008, exactly twelve years later, and I am watching EyeWitness News to get the latest on Hanna. Thankfully, Hanna's no Fran. But it does have the potential for plenty of danger. Enough so that the news is telling me that Wake County has declared a state of emergency - stay inside, stay off the roads. And in the background behind the reporter, the Raleigh Wide Open celebration continues on. Arrested Development is singing on stage, Chuck Berry is up in just over an hour. The City's response - let's wait and see.

I know Mayor Meeker really really wants to show off his new convention center, but there is a time and place for everything, and the start of a storm is neither. He's handling this event just like he handled the drought earlier this year - do nothing, hope the gods are with him. That's not leadership, that's flat out feckless.

I want nothing more to wake up tomorrow morning and find nothing more than a wee bit of water in the crawl space. I didn't run out and buy enough milk and bread and beer for two weeks, but I am at least smart enough to know to play it safe at home. Chuck Berry gets $50,000 if he plays at least one song, $40,000 if he sits it out in the hotel bar. Figure maybe a 100 people show, that's $500 a person, in the very unlikely event there are a 1,000 fools who'll stand in the rain, that's still $50 per person.

Mayor Meeker, suck it up and send the bands and the audiences home.

And what is Arrested Development singing at this exact moment?

Take me to another place,
Take me to another land.
Make me forget all that hurts me,
Let me understand your plan.

Lunsford Lane
August 27, 2008

With the kiddies returning to school this week, and Barack Obama about to be confirmed as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States exactly 45 years to the day after Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech, I'm thinking this is an appropriate time to review this City of Raleigh history lesson.

Lunsford Lane
July 31, 2008

Like Pirsig some forty or so summers ago, I've been bumping around the countryside the past few weeks, floating along in a kind of lateral drift, though for me it's been a combination of both work and play. It’s a beautiful country we have here; there may be many equals, but really there is none better.

What do I mean by beautiful, you ask?

Uh, duh, there’s an entire branch of philosophy devoted to defining beautiful, Pirsig wrote two whole books about it and in the end even he found it to be pretty much undefinable. But I know that’s not a very satisfying response, so let’s go with the gross oversimplification of beauty as quality - when everything is working, one should be in a Zen state of "being". And when it's not? To truly experience quality, one must embrace both the classic and the romantic, the technological and the humanistic, and apply both as the situation demands.

Unlike Pirsig, I need more than two wheels on the ground at all times, though like Pirsig I had ample road time for collecting and considering the next series of fragments of the Chautauqua that is this blog.

Yesterday I arrived home unexpectedly refreshed and got a good night’s rest. When I rose this morning I brewed a pot of coffee and sat in the morning sun to tackle the stack of unread N&O’s.

Only halfway through the pile and I’m wondering if anyone in Raleigh has any clue about what esthetics is.

Let’s start with yesterday and work backwards - Aesthetics drive Raleigh Faction. We’ll cover that today, and continue throughout the next week.

Once again, the N&O gets the story completely wrong, which in turn completely destroys its premise. Which is, “focusing on, and debating, the aesthetics of development in Raleigh has become a staple of this City Council,” ostensibly because District D City Councilor Thomas Crowder and At-Large Councilor Russ Stephenson are practicing architects.

Cases in point:

1) In 2006, Crowder crusaded for the use of stone walls instead of synthetic stucco on the new Marriott Hotel along Fayetteville Street. Although he failed to excise all the stucco from the project, the developer did eventually agree to trim back the stucco to 25 percent of the hotel's exterior, all of it on the upper floors.

Yes, Crowder did insist on rock, because the City foolishly gave the hotel developer $20 million of taxpayer to build the damn thing, and as the N&O reported, the developer’s “original plans called for extensive use of stone, masonry, metal and wood.” Now the N&O is jumping down Crowder’s throat for protecting the taxpayers’ investment, and brings in District E Councilor Philip Isley, who didn’t say boo about this bait and switch on the taxpayers' dime, to sucker-punch? (The supposedly conservative Republican Isley voted for this give-away of taxpayer money to the rich, Crowder and Stephenson voted nay.)When a City Councilor says “he frequently hears complaints” but can’t identify a single complainer, you know that what he is really saying is that his spouse is complaining that he’s mumbling in his sleep.

2) In September, Crowder held up the approval of a new McDonald's restaurant on Peace Street because he thought the design could be more pedestrian-friendly. A McDonald's representative said only stores in New York had the characteristics Crowder was seeking. Crowder said he had seen them in Tennessee. The council approved the project, with Stephenson and Crowder voting against it.

You’ve got to be joking. The McDonalds’ site plan was opposed because it in no way meets the letter or the spirit of the Peace Streetscape plan. In one of the most obscene examples of Pharisaism ever displayed before the Raleigh Planning Commission, the McDonalds folks literally screamed racism when it was pointed out by concerned citizens that its plan was not lawful (the Peace Street McDonalds is owned by an African American). The City Planning Director contrived an unbelievably tortured convolution of the code, and the Planning Commission recommended that the City Council approve the new McDonalds.

And now the paper slams City Councilors for trying to uphold the law.

3) Last month, Stephenson wanted to delay approval of the Powerhouse Plaza project in Glenwood South because of concerns about how the facade on a parking deck would look. Mayor Charles Meeker pointed out that, in addition to meeting the city's current standards, the developer had already agreed to make changes to the facade that will be visible at street level.

The Planning Commission made a screwy recommendation to the City Council, something about encouraging the developer to hang “art objects” (BTB to Raleigh Arts Commission, what are “art objects”?) along two of the street fronts. Stephenson asked that the Comprehensive Planning Committee of the City Council review this new recommendation, and report back to the Council.

Uh, Earth to N&O, this is normal operating procedure at the Council table, it happens at just about every Council meeting.

Sorry, hometown rag, three strikes and you’re out.

Now, for the sake of the next part of our discussion here, let’s say that Crowder and Stephenson do focus on aesthetics. Is that wrong?

Check the municipal code - that’s the official book of Raleigh laws - and the word aesthetic comes up more than once.

"Quality construction," Crowder said sarcastically at one point in the tour.

Quality, as Pirsig sees it, is the source of Reason.

Now I don't think for a New Bern second that either Crowder or Stephenson is contemplating the metaphysics of modern life, either at the Council table or the dinner table. My point is just that a Raleigh City Councilor is supposed to be thinking about aesthetics. A City Councilor, trying to take the City to that Zen state of "being", is supposed to be applying both the technological and the humanistic. It's the freakin' law.

You may not like that law. I'm cool with that, I just ask that you direct your energies towards changing the laws, rather than the easier work of seeking out politicians who would ignore the laws.

In the meantime, how about a newspaper article that tries to get at why the other five Councilors and the Mayor are shirking their responsibilities?

Lunsford Lane
May 30, 2008

Dog-eared copy of Roget’s Thesaurus at yard sale - 50¢
Can of black spray paint at Briggs Hardware – $4.59
N&O’s research and editing - Priceless

Given the recent blurb about us in the News and Observer (about 1/3 down), and subsequent inquiries via email, an explanation of the image(s) I recently posted is apparently in order.

First, none it can make any sense if you haven’t read this, so review it first.

The day before this story appeared, I was sent some of the email chatter about these accusations of racial targeting. The newspaper apparently received some of the same and ran with it. It apparently did no independent investigation and simply repeated the charges made by the NAACP and local African-American leaders.

Ronald White, president of the South Central Wake County Branch of the NAACP, appeared before the City Council last week. There he continued his attacks on District D City Councilor Thomas Crowder. Targeting black families, hate crimes, similar strong language.

The next day in the paper, not a peep about the charges against Crowder, whose alleged campaign against the homeowners is at the center of the storm. And oh by the way, nothing racist about the graffiti either.

A simple Google search by the paper before it printed the first story would have told much. So I compiled some of the images I found online and posted a collage.

It was easy to determine that the graffiti is the work of Mathew Curran (yes, the paper spelled his name wrong). He’s known around town and beyond as a stencil graffiti artist, and presumably the paper does have an art editor that reporters can check in with, even about underground art. The graffiti images in my collage are all examples of Currin’s work.

The photo of Councilor Crowder with the very same President of the NAACP that attacked him at the Council meeting can be found on the NAACP website. Both look sharp as tacks and are smiling in a close embrace. That photo alone should have raised the eyebrows of the N&O editors. Play the hate game out a bit. One year, Crowder is the guest of honor at the NAACP banquet, the next he is Grand Wizard of the District D KKK? Something don't compute - it was reckless, tabloid journalism in its finest form, for the paper to print that story without checking it out.

Hagiography? Give me a break, any long-time reader knows we bust on all the City Councilors on this website. Hey N&O editor dudes, that image of Nelson Mandela, it too is credited to Curran (way down the page), so maybe burn that copy of Roget’s and direct more of your effort to real research. One year an artist is stenciling images of Mandela and tiny dancers on walls and signs, the next year he's painting images of black men being lynched? If you had stopped for a second to think about it, you'd have realized that this too doesn't compute. We'll send you a bill for $201.37 worth of fact-checking we shouldn't have had to do for you. For an additional $38.50, I’ll throw in the definition of hagiography. Though you may want to wait until next week – will be running a fact sale, buy three get one free for the whole month of June. We might even cut you folks a better deal, since we do appreciate any links to our site.

Does racism still exist in Raleigh? Duh.

Do we need to be ever vigilant? Duh. Racism needs to be called out whenever wherever it occurs.

Is cracking down on a residence that has been in constant disrepair for years and has housed a crack dealer racist? Hardly.

For years local folk have tried to clean up their neighborhoods around town, with only modest success and modest support from the City. Crowder has been more aggressive than any City Councilor that I can recall in assisting those efforts. If he’s been a bit clumsy about it, so what? I personally have never met a black person that appreciates run-down houses and drug dealing in his or her neighborhood. Or a white, yellow, brown, red, or purple one for that matter.

Maybe I don’t run with the right crowd, or maybe I just don’t get out enough.

Lunsford Lane
May 22, 2008



Lunsford Lane
May 9, 2008

The Raleigh City Council is set to consider raising development impact fees at its next meeting in eleven days. Expect Big Real Estate to scream bloody murder.

In their relentless campaign to keep from paying their fair share for growth, the developers’ weapon of choice is a study by NC State University Professor Michael Walden, paid for by the Homebuilders Association of Raleigh-Wake County, that purports that new housing developments generate more new tax revenue than they cost to serve – that “from the point of view of the local public fiscal ledger, owner occupied residential construction in the Triangle ‘pays for itself.’

Here’s how it works, according to Walden. For a typical 100 unit single-family detached home development in the Triangle, $131 million and 147 jobs are created for construction. After the construction is finished and families move in, the development generates $6.7 million in income annually and creates 174 new jobs. For a typical 100 unit townhouse development, $20.6 million of income and 97 jobs are created for construction; after build-out, the townhouses generate $6.4 million in income for the local economy each year, and 167 permanent jobs are created.

As a result, the single-family home development generates $3,000 more per year in taxes than the local government spends on servicing the resident. For the townhouses, the annual tax revenues fall $6,000 shy of the total costs of services to the hood.

For the moment, overlook the flawed logic that the new houses created the new jobs (it's the new jobs at Cisco and Burt's Bees and Pozen that create the new houses, not the other way around). Unlike Walden, you and I aren't financed by the Homebuilders Association, so our eyes aren't clouded - we only have to drive around the hood once to know we’re not breaking even. Wake County schools are over 100% capacity, with new students arriving faster than we can build new (very expensive) buildings to shelter them. Roads are waaay overcrowded, and there is much talk about adding tollbooths to new roads. Mass transit instead? Fogetaboutit! And don’t even think about watering your lawn.

A quick Google search reveals that both Big Real Estate and the John Locke Foundation love the Walden report, and never miss a chance to tout it to local government officials. So much so, that we here at fondly refer to this as “dropping the W-bomb.” We call it this because when we read all of these references to the Walden report, it is clear to us that none of these folks have actually read the fine print that’s on the side of every W-bomb – if you raise everybody else’s property taxes, every year.

That’s a heck of a caveat that will never be mentioned by Big Real Estate or the spinmeisters at John Locke. When presenting his analyses of impact fees, Walden can’t honestly ignore that we are consistently coming up short in the city and county bank accounts, so he always adds this stipulation: …because real property assessments are not conducted annually, there may be a period of time before the full market value of residential property is taxed.

In other words, if your property taxes went up every year, then growth would surely pay for itself.

Indeed, Walden has worked closely with development interests and the John Locke Foundation to make raising your taxes reality. A couple of years ago, Walden served on Wake County’s Blue Ribbon Task Force (a group that represents county business interests, not county citizens), which endorsed his recommendation that our homes be reassessed more often (recommending reassessment every four years instead of every seven). Walden argues with twisted logic that while you and I will pay out more of our real green dollars, our imaginary taxes aren’t really going up because “I argue a tax increase only happens when the tax rate increases.”

How silly of me to have considered that you and I paying more taxes is a tax increase. I guess it all depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.

That’s what we call dropping a W- bomb. But not a very large one, because what Walden really wants to drop is a huge cluster bomb, the mother of all stink bombs: 1) you pay a local capital gains tax when you sell your house, 2) the county reassesses the value of your home every year, so your property tax will rise every year, and 3) the county raises the sales taxes you pay to clothe your kids and furnish your home.

Walden knows full well that “growth pays for itself” is the biggest lie in the history of the planet. He's caught between what he philosophically wants to be true and what the numbers actually say. That is why whenever (at least in his writings) he praises growth for paying for itself, he is always careful to add a caveat about raising other taxes, specifically the ones you and I pay.

Recently Professor Walden has been backpedaling hard on his association with the John Locke Foundation, where he serves as an adjunct scholar. We here at can’t help but wonder if he isn’t getting pressure from the university for dropping so many stink bombs all over the county. The Chancellor at NCSU has got to know that Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden’s central bank) won’t be calling anytime soon.

The next time Big Real Estate stands up before the Raleigh City Council and drops a W-bomb, as it inevitably will, you just pinch your nose and let out a loud “Pee-You!”

Lunsford Lane
May 1, 2008

Recently it's been rough sailing for District B City Councilor Rodger Koopman, now the editors at the News and Observer are piling on (one last jab on their way out the door?).

The problem with the News and Observer is that it so often gets it wrong when it comes to local events. This editorial credits District E City Councilor Philip Isley as the lone vote against the short-lived garbage disposal ban.

Except that never happenend.

Isley was truant - he had left the City Council meeting before the discussion and subsequent vote occurred. After all hell broke loose in the press when the Council voted to ban food grinders, Isley admitted that he didn't read the Council agenda so he wasn't aware the issue was at hand, but had he read the agenda and had he stayed at the meeting, well of course he would have voted no.

Yeah, right, very convenient. And very typical - one only has to have casually followed Isley's performance on the City Council to know that not reading the agenda seems to be his normal operating procedure. Isley's confessions were reported in the N&O; it's distressing that the editors don't read their own paper.

The News and Observer slams Koopman for calling out City managers who give him incomplete and sometimes false information, sometimes quite intentionally. And in doing so it gives its readers information that is patently false, that it knows is patently false.

I don't know what the paper's hidden agenda is, but it clearly has one. In the editors' own words, "unprofessional, and just plain rude."

Lunsford Lane
April 30, 2008

Two random spots in the media recently caught my eye.

The first - about ten days ago - a news story about a bill that has passed the NC Senate and is being considered by the House. If passed, this law will severely restrict the City’s ability to identify substandard housing. Robert Spruill, Raleigh's housing inspections administrator, told the paper that the bill would make it harder for his department to do its job.

The other just last night – a commercial for NC Senator Janet Cowell for State Treasurer. You will remember that before Cowell left for the NC Senate, she was one of two at-large Raleigh City Councilors (the other was Neal Hunt, also now a Senator). Sitting next to Cowell in the ad was former City Councilor Geoff Elting.

It immediately occurred to me as I viewed the commercial that Elting has always fancied himself as a “pro-neighborhoods conservative,” a monicker he probably has earned. One the other hand, Cowell has been anything but pro-neighborhood, as we here at have documented on occasion. So I thought to myself, dollars to donuts that Cowell supports that bill to gut City inspections.

I’d still be stuffing my jowls with Krispy Kreme if I had actually made that bet with myself, because of course Cowell voted for this bill – after all, it is supported by Big Real Estate.

Who’da’ ever thunk it – a "pro-neighborhood conservative" endorsing an "anti-hood liberal". You would hope that the local politicians who make it to the big show would watch the backs of us peons who are left behind. Of course, we expected Hunt to vote for the bill – he’s a Republican businessman who made his small fortune by building rental housing, and he wears his business agenda on his sleeve. But Cowell is quite a different beast, whose rhetoric seldom matches her political actions. Last week the City Council added this bill to its list of items that it wants to discuss with the legislature. Maybe the City Council should ask pro-neighborhood Elting to have a heart-to-heart with Cowell.

I've yet to decide who all I will vote for next Tuesday, but for Treasurer it will be ABC – Anybody But Cowell.

Lunsford Lane
April 29, 2008

Is this the official start of the mutiny?

City Manager Russell Allen calls District B City Councilor Rodger Koopman on the carpet for talking trash about City staff - make that City managers - that aren't reliable. Over the past three years, we've presented many examples of city managers trying to lead Councilors astray; perhaps Allen himself is the most recent example.

I recently told y'all about how developers worked with City staff to make sure that law requiring them to recycle water main flush water doesn't really apply to them. The developers are supposed to capture the flush water in tanker trucks and take it back to the water plant. Kinda like that law that requires car washes to recycle water, except they really don't have to. District D City Councilor Thomas Crowder raised the issue at the April 1 City Council meeting, saying he's "incensed" that Big Real Estate is thumbing its noses at the intent of the Council.

City Manager Allen responded that, "We have encouraged those others and let them know of the availability of the tankers, and some of them do take advantage of that."

Which prompted the Mayor to suggest, "Why don’t we get a report from the homebuilders as to what percentage they think are recapturing water versus those that aren’t."

So the Council put this hoax as a special item on its April 15 meeting agenda.

We looked over the City records weeks ago and told you that the developers had not captured a single solitary drop of flush water, and had no intention of ever doing so, no matter the City Council's intent. The City Manager knows this, so why would he tell the City Councilors something that is so easily verifiable as false?

Guess what happened when this came up again at the April 15th meeting. It was swept under the rug. No report from the homebuilders, no retraction by the City Manager. Rather it was sent off to a Council committee where it can languish until it is forgotten. Nobody downtown is going to admit that is right and the City Manager is wrong, and that you and I are getting taken to the river by developers who take and take and take from us.

It seems that Koopman is finally sorting out Chain of Command. If City Manager Allen wants to have any credibility when he dresses down Councilor Koopman for getting peeved when he is mislead by City staff, then Allen needs to set a better example with his own behaviour.

The mutiny is apparently underway. Long live the mutinier.

Who will be the first to be made to walk the plank?

Lunsford Lane
April 25, 2008

It’s been quite some time since I last posted – why, Falls Lake was still half empty last month, and we were under stage 1.sumpin water restrictions. But April showers bring May flowers, and everyone’s long forgotten that Raleigh is still officially experiencing severe drought.

Let me share with you an experience I had on the last Friday of last month, before the recent rains filled the lake. I was sawing logs on the couch when the doorbell rang at eleven p.m. Looking out the peephole, I saw a woman with long black hair parted in the middle, sort of like Morticia Adams with a heavy black makeup goth look.

I was thinking is this some practical joke, set four days too early to throw me off of April Fool? And then I recognized her: The Intern.

I opened the door and almost gasped – that was no Morticia. The Intern usually goes for hair up, glasses, jeans and rainbow flip flops, but this creature was sporting a flowing black dress, black tights, black boots, and rings on every finger. More like a cross between a young Stevie Nicks and Elvira (except an itsy bitsy less busty and a whole lot prettier. And with brains.)

I said, "Girl, why in tarnation are you out trick or treating in March?" She looked me up and down, "You look ridiculous in pajamas." She brushed past me into the living room and all that hair and fabric whirled around. "Put on some clothes," she barked, "We're going for a ride."

"Uh? Now? Where?"

“To a séance.”

Every time the dear young lady had come by during the preceding weeks to help me with this blog, I’d bemoaned (she calls it whining) that I just can’t figure out this new City Council. What had happened to the victory rush I'd felt back in the fall? Why wasn't this group boldly changing the political landscape? Why all the gaffes? And even what by all appearances look to be sell-outs?

I pulled a sweatshirt over my pajama top, slipped out of my Minnetonkas and into my Bridgeports, and within five minutes I was napping again, now in the passenger seat.

Soon I was again awakened, this time by the dull thunk of the Intern dropping the wheels of the car off the edge of the road. We got out, she pulled a large duffel from the trunk, and we followed a thin moonlit path in the dark woods. We were in fairly deep when we emerged alongside a great clearing. Expansive red mudflats. Falls Lake.

And a football field length or so from the shore, a half dozen or so figures sitting in a circle, lit by a dim orange glow. We trudged out, to find all of them dressed like castoffs from the Eastern Haunters Convention . They’re sitting on a big black velvet blanket, circled around a little pot of burning herbs, softly chanting something about Flowers of Evil. The Intern sat, I sort of squatted, and she threw the contents of the duffle into the middle: six sets of car keys, an empty Yoohoo bottle, several tattered paperbacks by Hunter S. Thompson, a ZZ Top bootleg cd, and some photographs of me and Dr. de at the State Fair.

“Where’d you get all of that junk that belonged to Walter?,” I stammered.

“You keep saying it yourself, if only Dr. de were here to explain the inner psychosis of a city councilor. So tonight we ask him.”

With that, she pulls a square board and a little triangular thingamabob from the duffel. My eyes were still adjusting to the dim light, “Is that a Ouija board?”

“It was my grandmother’s,” she said, “and she taught me how to use it.”

A bunch of kids with eyes painted black channeling the ghost of a dead blogger in cyberspace?

“So all this stuff is going to summon Walt from the Spirit World?” I asked.

“Yes, he is with us always,” she said. She shrugged and pointed to the keys, “I found the keys to his old Chevy, but I was really looking for the keys to the 225.”

She picked up the keys and threw them into the burning pot. That must have been the signal to start, because each of the kids in black threw a little bundle of twigs and herbs into the pot, then they began to chant in unison: “Spirits of the past, move among us. Be guided by the light of this world and visit upon us. Beloved Walter, we bring you gifts from life into death. Be guided by the light of this world and visit upon us.”

“Ask him something,” the Intern said as she placed my hand lightly upon the little triangle on the board.

I looked up at the sky and all I could say was, "Hey de Gama, where is that Lost Planet Airmen CD I loaned ya?"

“No dummy, we have to ask the board and if you don’t take it seriously it won’t work.”

“Sorry, it’s all that patchouli smoke going to my head. So Walter, where are you, bro’?"

And strangely, with our fingers trembling, the triangle started to move, slowly spelling out h-e-l-l. And after a very long pause - o. The Intern and I looked at each other and restrained our giggles. Greeting or final resting place? Typical, a cryptic note from Wally.

“Okay Walter, what’s wrong with this city council?”

Our fingers stayed still for a few moments, and then the thingamabob started to slide. Slowly, but with precision, C-H-A-I-N-O-F-C-O-M-M-A-N-D was spelled out.

“There’s your answer, whatever it means,” The Intern declared.

And that was it. You get two questions and you’re gone. The Intern and I trudged back across the cracked dirt, leaving the greasy-haired kids in black chanting something about a New Raleigh.

We sat in silence through the drive back and I let Dr. de Gama’s response churn in my noggin. Chain of command? Of course, the chain of command is the system for decision making in the military, or maybe some bureaucracy.

How could I have missed it? Last fall, these people ran for office on a ticket supporting the Mayor, er, the General. And then they took direction from him. But what if the General is wrong or his decision-making is corrupted? Do the troops mutiny? Is there revolt in their confusion to understand the true nature of the battlefield?

Yes, it was all clear now, the anxiety in the trenches as folks try to sort out where true power lies, the problem of sifting through the shifting sands of trust. Yeah. The perception was that this Council was operating on the premise of a clear chain of command, when the truth is that in the shadows are the puppet masters and honest effort garners no medals.

Surprisingly, I caught no flack when I recently equated District B City Councilor Rodger Koopman with his predecessor Jessie Taliaferro. For his part, after my blog Koopman did confront Planning Commission Chairman Brad Mullins, who routinely distorts the truth before the City Council, at the March 18th Council meeting:

“Mr. Mayor, I would like to enter a comment into the record. Two weeks ago during the last City Council meeting I moved to approve a specific zoning case and I was given incorrect information. And for the record I want to just mention my displeasure with that situation because we are a part time Council, and if we cannot rely on the information given to us and then make decisions based on that we’re hurting the Citizens.”

Mr. Mayor tried to end it there, but Mullins was not amused. Mullins said yeah, he did give incorrect information, so what, if the Council didn’t like it, it could take another vote. The one thing that he was careful not to say was that he was sorry. Not a word, not even a hint of apology. The Mayor was quick to dismiss the whole incident as minor, and said that the Council doesn’t revote.

And that was that.

And for the record, the official minutes of the meeting say, "Planning Commission Chairman Brad Mullins admitted the Planning Commission had made a mistake and apologized for the error." He did no such thing (the video doesn't lie).

The Mayor understands Chain of Command. The City Council does not work for the Citizens, it works for Mullins' daddy. His daddy is one of the biggest and most influential developers in town. Mullins wasn't appointed to the Planning Commission because he has any particular skills or talents to lead planning for the City - his daddy installed him to ride herd over the City Council for Big Real Estate.

In the weeks since, Mr. Koopman has continued to buck his commanding officers in Big Real Estate. He voted, along with the rest of the City Council, to ban garbage disposals. But big business balked, so a committee of the City Council held a hearing, and took testimony from Insinkerator and its paid consultants. A week later, with no real data in hand, the Council reversed its decision, as it was told to do by its commanding officers.

Now this week, At-Large City Councilor Russ Stephenson and Councilor Koopman are balking at having the Citizens pay $86 million to run reuse water lines, principally to serve to exclusive golf courses and a handful of other large businesses. At-Large Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin, handpicked and bankrolled by Big Real Estate, is not so gently reminding Stephenson and Koopman of the chain of command. So expect in the near future that rich developers will still be spilling millions of gallons of our water onto the ground during the week, and on the weekends playing golf on exclusive courses irrigated with water paid for by you and me. Meanwhile, we’ll still be futzing with our rainbarrels trying to collect enough water to keep the petunias planted next to the house from wilting.

As a retired and highly decorated military man, Koopman undoubtedly understands chain of command. His problem is that politicians don’t wear uniforms. If they did, then he would see the single star on Baldwin’s shoulder, the two stars that Mayor Meeker sports, and Brad Mullins' three stars. No stars for Captains like Koopman, only a couple of stripes.

But Koopman must also understand the military duty of obedience. Obedience demanded of soldiers to the chain of command does not apply when the command or order is itself illegal, wrong, or unjust. And if he has any hope of saving himself, he must start disobeying the marching orders from Big Real Estate. Mayor Meeker is already toast – even his most ardent supporters, soured by his inability to manage the drought responsibly, admit he can never again be elected to public office. The other Councilors are hell-bent on following Meeker’s flute tune over the cliff.

But despite the foibles of this City Council, it’s still not too late for Koopman to redeem himself. He needs to rent a copy of Breaker Morant and gather his kitchen cabinet for a private screening.

The mutiny will not be televised.


Lunsford Lane
March 16, 2008

I don’t exactly know what it is, but there's some weird love/hate tango going on between District B City Councilor Rodger Koopman and Planning Commission Chair Brad Mullins. It has certainly manifested itself at recent City Council meetings, so to set the stage let me do a recap.

At most every regular meeting of the Raleigh City Council, the Chair of the Planning Commission (currently Mullins) is joined by the City Planning Director (now Mitch Silver) to give the Council the Commission’s official recommendations on planning actions. Most items sail right through with no inquiry by the Council, but there’s always a couple of actions that a Councilor or two has questions about.

Now rewind to the January 22nd meeting of the City Council, where Mullins reported that the Planning Commission recommends that the City Council approve the site plan proposed for the Wake Crossing Shopping Center. Regular readers will recall that this is the plan where the developer, actually the developer’s son who works for him, forged the signatures of neighbors so they could take landscape easements from them. I have already laid out in great detail how this case stinks to high heaven, and how the Planning Commission has shown no will to nip it in the bud.

Councilor Koopman asks Mullins if this is the case with the developer or the developer's son who forged signatures. Mullins, in a rather haughty tone (and I listened to his answer on the video five times so don’t accuse me of misrepresenting his tone), replied that the signatures were forged by “an agent of the developer.” Koopman then asks if it is still the same developer requesting approval of the site plan. Mullins says he isn't certain.

District D Councilor Thomas Crowder asks to hear the positions of the Planning Commissioners who did not vote to recommend the plan. Mullins answers that those Commissioners did not express their opinions “at the table.” He adds that "clearly there are emotional scars with this land," that unfortunately the dissenters didn’t say exactly why they do not support the recommendation, and that it is not his place to make suppositions.


First, it is public knowledge that the developer’s son forged the documents. Even his old man admits it. So why not just answer Councilor Koopman’s simple question with a simple yes? Second, Mullins knows good and well that a new developer hasn't taken over the project. Third, “at the table” Planning Commissioner Maha Chambliss gave several good reasons why this project sucks; I even recapped some of them in this blog a few weeks back. When Mullins told the Councilors that the dissenters did not express themselves, and that he did not know their reasoning, he was out and out lying. If he was Pinocchio, his nose would have knocked the microphone off the podium in front of him.

Now fast forward to the March 4th City Council meeting, once again to where Mullins gives the Planning Commission report to the Council. This time the questionable plan is to rezone a few acres from R-10 to R-15 (which means the developers can build 15 housing units per acre rather than just 10). Questionable because the rezoning would violate the City’s Comprehensive Development Plan, but that has never deterred the Planning Commission, which was recommending approval.

Councilor Koopman says that he understands that the neighborhood has reached a compromise with the developers that would allow building only 12 units per acre, what he referred to as R-12. He asks Mullins what happened to that agreement. Mullins says the agreement is reflected in the rezoning proposal before the Council; he looks to Planning Director Silver who is standing next to him for confirmation, Silver affirms yes. Koopman asks again, perhaps just to be certain that he's on the record. Mullins explains that there is no R-12 zoning category, but by adding conditions to the R-15 request the developer has limited the number of units to 12 per acre.

Finally, Koopman makes a motion that the City Council approve the rezoning, which votes unanimously to do so.

I generally follow the Planning Commission, and I didn’t recall that this was the case, so I looked it up. The condition is no more than 19 units on the 1.37 acres.

Do the math: (12 housing units per acre) * (1.37 acres) = 16 units

(obviously you can't have partial units, so you always round down)

Only on the Raleigh Planning Commission and City Council does 16 equal 19. Once again, Mullins flat out lies to the City Council. If he was Pinocchio, his nose would have poked Koopman’s eye out. Once again, Silver stands right beside Mullins and tacitly approves the lies. And once again, as has happened countless times before, the Citizens get royally screwed by the Planning Commission and the City Council.

This isn’t just bad, Gentle Readers, this is super bad. You threw out former Councilor Jessie Taliaferro and elected Koopman precisely because you were sick and tired of this kind of collusion between the developers, the Planning Commission, and the City Council.

So what’s up with Koopman now? It seems to me that it can only be one of two things:

  1. Koopman is a fool.
  2. Koopman has sold out to, been intimidated by, or in some other way been co-opted by Big Real Estate.

Look at Koopman’s history of accomplishment, and it's obvious that the man is no fool.

I knew, and I told you, that it was a bad sign when earlier this year the City Council voted unanimously to maintain the current composition of the Planning Commission. Koopman knows full well that the Planning Commission represents only the interests of Big Real Estate, that Commissioners routinely use their positions to benefit themselves rather than the Citizens, and that these are sore points for many who voted for him. With two appointments up for consideration, he had a golden opportunity to call for a change in the direction and tone of the Commission. Yet he didn’t lift even a finger, voting to reappoint two of Big Real Estate’s most reliable supporters.

That was the big clue that Koopman’s campaign rhetoric was all hot air. Like all good politicians, once elected he threw the Citizens a couple of easy bones to pick, most notably assurance that Horseshoe Farm will be a nature park.

But he has been MIA in managing the drought, going along with all the Council’s sham regulations for water conservation – the water recycling scam for car washes, the new water main flushing scam for developers, you name it and if it gets those who waste the most water off the hook, he’s voted for it.

And he’s MIA in planning. Instead of reforming the Planning Commission, Koopman gives Brad Mullins carte blanche to lie to the City Council and to the Citizens. Instead of just sending the developer who forged documents packing, Koopman and the rest of the Council agree to consider his proposal. Instead of just refusing to rezone a property so that it won’t conflict with the Comprehensive Plan, Koopman throws the Comp Plan and the neighbors on the trash heap and asks the Council to approve the rezoning.

Last year we here at had high hopes for Koopman, but now we are quickly closing the door on him. It hasn't slammed shut yet, so if you have some alternate explanation of Koopman’s capitulation to Big Real Estate, you’d better let us hear it soon. And you’d better be able to explain it to those folks over in Five Points who just got played on R-12.

Because from where we’re sitting, the only difference between Rodger Koopman and his predecessor Jessie Taliaferro that we can discern is a coat and tie.

Lunsford Lane
March 21, 2008

Numero Uno (drumroll, please):

Our real focus is to make sure restrictions are fair and equitable and everyone is participating in conservation.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, to WRAL-TV news reporter Dan Bowens

The sole purpose of this top ten list is to demonstrate to you how every single aspect of this City Council’s drought management, without exception, is designed to place the entire burden of conservation on the little guys – that's you and me – while the rich and the powerful and the well-connected, some of whom are big water wasters, get by with no sacrifice whatsoever.

A couple of weeks ago, the Mayor called for inspections of all apartments in the City. I suppose to insure that those shifty apartment dwellers weren’t sneaking an extra two minutes in the shower, because everyone knows that gallon for gallon those folks are among the most efficient users of water in the City. Anybody in for more than three minutes gets snapped on the tush with a rolled-up towel by a City inspector.

Sure, the nicer complexes have their bits of irrigated landscaping and some lawn in the common spaces, but divvied up among the dozens or hundreds of tenants, the per resident water consumption for landscaping is teensy. And those apartments don’t have garden tubs and shower spas like all those new homes in Chatsworth.

If the Mayor was serious about saving water, he’d skip the apartments and check every home that had greater than some threshold amount of average monthly water use over the time we’ve been under water restrictions. Or he’d stop by Ferguson Plumbing Supply to pull receipts, then search every one of those megahomes in Wakefield that has one of these.

Own a carwash? You get a free pass on water conservation.

In the business of selling a half-cent worth of Raleigh tap water in a plastic bottle for a buck-sixty-nine up and down the East Coast? Slap a silly sign on the side of your truck, and you get a free pass on water conservation.

In with Big Real Estate? Then laugh all the way to bank, ‘cause you ain’t got to do nuthin' to save water.

Because with all the conservation scams and silly spin promulgated by this City Council, nothing tops the line flushing scam.

You remember – on February 5th, the City Council voted unanimously to impose stage 2 water restrictions, which began on February 15th. A key element was that developers could not flush new water mains unless the flush water was captured and returned to the water plant. Each week, developers spill about 3 million gallons of fresh potable water onto the ground by flushing lines. And they don’t even pay for this water - you and I give it to them for free (ain't we kind?). Returning this good water to the treatment plant was one of several concessions for water conservation that Big Real Estate proposed to the City Council. This is how the Council wants you to believe this new rule works:

Beginning February 15, 2008 Stage 2 Mandatory Water Conservation will be in effect.

Exception to Water Main Testing: New water mains may be filled and tested with Raleigh supplied water as long as all flushing and testing water is completely captured in tanker trucks that have been previously certified for use in water recycling by the City Public Utilities Director. Captured flushing and testing water must be hauled to the EM Johnson Water Treatment Plant on Falls of Neuse Road and placed back into the raw water supply. All direct City costs associated with certification of tankers, testing, inspection, transport and recycling, including the cost of the water, shall be recovered by the City as determined by the Public Utilities Director, for water main extensions constructed by private sector development, prior to these water main being permitted for operation, service and certificates of occupancy issued for facilities served from the water mains. (taken straight from the City of Raleigh website)

The developers use about 1.5 million gallons for flushing lines each Monday and Thursday, the two days of the week the practice is allowed. If the average tanker truck holds 6,000 gallons, then there should be at least 250 tanker trips to return water to the treatment plant on flushing days.

So a couple of Mondays ago, I parked the 442 out by the water plant during my lunch hour, to enjoy the spectacle of tanker trucks spraying water everywhere while eating my sammich, maybe snap a couple of pictures to share with you guys.


So I went back the next Thursday. A little bit later this time, in case the truckers all take lunch at the same time I normally do. Two lunchables and one snackable down the hatch, and still no tankers.


Huh? I know I read in the paper that “Stage 2 restrictions will ban pressure-washing and all remaining irrigation, but they will not prohibit builders from testing new city water connections, as long as they use recaptured water. Such tests must occur before homes and businesses can legally be occupied.”

Turns out that the developers have not trucked back a single solitary drop of water.

Not one molecule of our precious h-two-uh-oh.

Here’s how the scam is supposed to work: 1) The City Council makes a big noise about how Big Real Estate will recycle water, 2) the City’s spin machine puts the word out that this will happen, 3) the news outlets repeat what’s in the City’s press releases, and 4) nobody follows up to see what the City Council ACTUALLY did.

What the City Council ACTUALLY voted into law is this (excerpted from Raleigh City Ordinance N0 (2008) – 347):

Water use for the purpose of filling, flushing, pressure and bacteriological testing of new water mains extensions permitted by the City after the effective date of this ordinance is strictly prohibited, until this ordinance is rescinded by the City, except for new water mains that are filled and tested with Raleigh supplied water that is completely captured in tanker trucks previously certified by the City Public Utilities Director for use in water conservation recycling and transport of such water to the City’s E.M. Johnson Water Plant.

Did you catch the operative word in all that? It’s permitted. Only a handful of permits for new water mains have been issued since Stage 2 water restrictions were implemented. It'll be months and months before any of the water mains recently permitted will be built and subsequently flushed. Those lines now being tested were permitted months and months ago, so they are not regulated by this ordinance.

So every Monday morning when you drag your tired sorry butt into the bathroom for a three-minute shower that barely rinses the crust off your eyelids, standing there with a bucket between your legs to catch water so you can keep the pansies outside your kitchen door alive, take solace in knowing that all that water you are saving is going to make some rich developer richer, as he will be pouring hundreds of thousands of gallons onto the ground at just about the time you're reaching for that fourth cup of Maxwell House. Brewed extra strong. To save water.

It’s no wonder that at the City Council meeting last Tuesday, Tom Anhut, regional president of one of the largest homebuilding companies on the planet (and Cary resident), praised Mayor Meeker:

I’d like to begin by thanking you, Mayor Meeker, for your calm, measured, and common-sense leadership… Your reluctance to advocate extreme positions displayed a keen awareness of the important role that development and opportunity play in the city. Under your guidance, the staff worked closely with all the stakeholders to draft a fair and effective response to this unforeseen and uncontrollable event, and again I thank you for that.

The Mayor returned thanks for the compliment. You could almost detect Anhut and Meeker slyly winking at each other. Because both of them know that what Anhut refers to as "all the stakeholders" really means only those stakeholders that build houses and run carwashes and the like.

I cannot begin to comprehend how any Mayor or Councilor with even a speck of integrity can put this scam over on the Citizens, while telling them with a straight face that his real focus is to make sure restrictions are fair and equitable and everyone is participating in conservation.

I cannot fathom how any Councilor with even a pea for a brain would believe that the City could turn its water conservation education over to some of the largest wasters of water without the Citizens noticing.

And the one that really pains me, the one I simply cannot wrap my mind around - how any Councilor, much less an honored and accomplished veteran, can invoke the sacred principle of shared sacrifice in support of our fighting men and women, and forget to add that he really means “except for Big Real Estate.”

Because every single City Councilor voted for Mayor Meeker's waterline flushing scam.

Of course, now that I've spilled the beans, they're all gonna be crying foul, that this is surely not what they thought they were voting for. So let me dispel that notion now, to spare them the embarrassment of getting caught in yet another lie, and to save you from their whining.

At its January 22nd meeting, the Council was quizzing Public Utilities Director Dale Crisp about the feasibility of trucking water back to the plant. District D City Councilor Thomas Crowder opined that:

To me I think what we need is number one require that a staff member be present, number two it's incumbent on the development entity who is flushing the line to provide a tanker or whatever is necessary to recapture that water and take it back to the plant or to our water source... I would propose that it is either Phase 2 where we don't allow it, or they pitch in helping recapture it.

The City was (and still is) paying for three tankers to recycle water used in water main repair and similar maintenance, so Crisp has some current and relevant experience with this. But At-Large City Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin was very concerned about how much this was going to cost her Big Real Estate pals who paid for her campaign:

I think that if we are going to ask the development community (sic) to do this, I just want to know what the total cost would be in terms of that.

Crisp answered:

It's not so much the cost that will be onerous, it's just simply the tankers aren't available.

It has something to do with a bunch of stuff I don't understand - the demise of milk, the dearth of trucks sanitary enough to carry this water without polluting it, yadda yadda.

Fully briefed that any plan relying on tankers to recover water main flush water is simply not feasible, at its next meeting Ms. Baldwin joins the rest of the City Councilors in approving just such a plan?

I used to think that the biggest lie every told in this City is that “growth pays for itself,” and I still do, but this whopper from Meeker is a very close second.

Remember that other promise of water conservation that Big Real Estate made - that they would encourage builders to use rain barrels at each home?

Maybe you could call Tom Anhut and ask him why that ain't happening either. Mayor Meeker has his private number, I'm sure he'll share it with you.

# 2- I wasn’t on Council back then! - At-Large City Councilor Russ Stephenson, at the Will the Water Run Out? forum

# 3 - Has a water system in the United States ever run out of water? - Mitchell Silver, Planning Director of the City of Raleigh, at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

# 4 - No 4. I got behind, I wanted to get back on schedule, it's my blog, so I decided to skip #4. So sue me.

# 5 - We're getting data from the weather service that says this may be the worst drought in 800 years - yet we haven't run out of water. Dale Crisp, Raleigh Public Utilities Director, to WRAL TV reporter Dan Bowens

# 6 - I honestly have no idea why we've chosen certain industries to target versus others. - District E Raleigh City Councilor Philip Isley, responding to WRAL News Reporter Bruce Mildwurf's question about why the City Council isn't targeting the major water users for forced conserveration.

# 7 - Most anybody who's got their wits about them can get certified. - Ed Buchan, City Water Conservation Specialist, to the News and Observer on certifying that car washes are conserving water.

# 8 - The primary goal is to make sure we have a public education plan that complements our water conservation efforts. - Mary-Ann Baldwin, at-Large Raleigh City Councilor, on Eyewitness News

# 9 - We are very proud of our efforts in water conservation, and very proud that the City of Raleigh has adopted our water conservation certification program. - Dale Reynolds, President of the NC Professional Carwash Association at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

# 10 - Pressure washing should not be regarded as a luxury, but a necessity. Does it affect your health to have dirt on your car? Is it a matter of safety to have your hair washed in a salon? - Celeste Gothorp, Power Washers Network of the Carolinas

Lunsford Lane
March 20, 2008

# 2 - I wasn’t on Council back then!

At-Large City Councilor Russ Stephenson, at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum


At the recent Will the Water Run Out? forum, a woman in the audience asked Mary Brice, former chairwoman of the now-defunct City of Raleigh Water Conservation Task Force, why Raleigh doesn’t have a water pricing structure that promotes conservation. The Task Force had made just such a recommendation to the City Council almost two years ago. Brice responded that the reason that there is no conservation or tiered water rate structure is that City Council voted not to accept it – you’ll need to ask the council members! She called out Councilor Stephenson in particular, as she knew he was in the audience.

The session moderator then summoned Stephenson to the microphone – to the front of the line here!

Stephenson walked up to the mike and blurted out, “I wasn’t on Council back then!

The room erupted in laughter.


December 5, 2005 – Stephenson sworn in to his first term as City Councilor.

April 4, 2006 Recommendations of the Water Conservation Task Force presented to the Raleigh City Council.

Recommendation #14: Implement a water conservation rate structure...

Recommendation #15. Implement the following water conservation rate structure immediately...

May 16, 2006 – The City Council votes to send the recommendations to its Public Works Committee for closer scrutiny.

May 15, 2007 – After languishing a full year in the Public Works Committee, the Task Force recommendations make their way back to the City Council. The Council chooses not to implement a tiered or conservation water pricing structure.


You make your own conclusion.

# 3 - Has a water system in the United States ever run out of water? - Mitchell Silver, Planning Director of the City of Raleigh, at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

# 4 - No 4. I got behind, I wanted to get back on schedule, it's my blog, so I decided to skip #4. So sue me.

# 5 - We're getting data from the weather service that says this may be the worst drought in 800 years - yet we haven't run out of water. Dale Crisp, Raleigh Public Utilities Director, to WRAL TV reporter Dan Bowens

# 6 - I honestly have no idea why we've chosen certain industries to target versus others. - District E Raleigh City Councilor Philip Isley, responding to WRAL News Reporter Bruce Mildwurf's question about why the City Council isn't targeting the major water users for forced conserveration.

# 7 - Most anybody who's got their wits about them can get certified. - Ed Buchan, City Water Conservation Specialist, to the News and Observer on certifying that car washes are conserving water.

# 8 - The primary goal is to make sure we have a public education plan that complements our water conservation efforts. - Mary-Ann Baldwin, at-Large Raleigh City Councilor, on Eyewitness News

# 9 - We are very proud of our efforts in water conservation, and very proud that the City of Raleigh has adopted our water conservation certification program. - Dale Reynolds, President of the NC Professional Carwash Association at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

# 10 - Pressure washing should not be regarded as a luxury, but a necessity. Does it affect your health to have dirt on your car? Is it a matter of safety to have your hair washed in a salon? - Celeste Gothorp, Power Washers Network of the Carolinas

Lunsford Lane
March 19, 2008

# 3 - Has a water system in the United States ever run out of water?

Mitchell Silver, Planning Director of the City of Raleigh, at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

At the end of each of the two Will the Water Run Out Forum sessions, audience members were encouraged to ask questions of the distinguished panel of experts. Mr. Silver first asked his question like this:

Of a system that the Army Corps of Engineers administers or oversees, has there ever been a case where the Army Corps of Engineers ever allowed a water system to run out of water?

The question was directed at Dr. David Moreau, the UNC professor of planning who manages the UNC System's Water Resources Research Institute. Moreau explained that the City of Raleigh owns space in Jordan Lake, and that it is up to the City to use the water in that space as it sees fit – he was basically saying that it is not the US Army Corps of Engineers' responsibility to tell the City of Raleigh how and when to use the water in its space.

Silver, not particularly satisfied with that answer, rephrased the question as:

Has a water system in the United States ever run out of water?

Silver’s implication was crystal clear. Raleigh doesn’t have to manage its water wisely, because the City can always fall back on strong-arming the Corps of Engineers into giving us water that doesn’t belong to us.

That’s exactly what the City did last month, when Mayor Meeker called the Corps of Engineers managers of Falls Lake before the City Council. Sitting next to him at the council table was U.S. Representative Brad Miller. Meeker wanted the managers to reduce releases of water from the lake, water that is allocated to other uses than drinking by Raleighites, and he was aiming his federal big guns at the Corps boys and telling them to stick 'em up.

A couple of weeks later, the Corps of Engineers capitulated.

What makes Planning Director Silver’s question so disturbing is that Raleigh is deep into the update of its Comprehensive Development Plan. The comprehensive plan is the primary and all-inclusive planning document for Raleigh. The Comprehensive Plan contains goals, objectives, policies and guidelines for growth and redevelopment of the City. This plan update only happens once every 20 years, and is being managed by Silver.

It should scare the holy heck out of every responsible citizen to learn that the comprehensive plan is being prepared by folks who publicly demonstrate little regard for the wise use of our precious and very limited natural resources.

And that's even before it gets watered down by the Planning Commission.


# 5 - We're getting data from the weather service that says this may be the worst drought in 800 years - yet we haven't run out of water. Dale Crisp, Raleigh Public Utilities Director, to WRAL TV reporter Dan Bowens

# 6 - I honestly have no idea why we've chosen certain industries to target versus others. - District E Raleigh City Councilor Philip Isley, responding to WRAL News Reporter Bruce Mildwurf's question about why the City Council isn't targeting the major water users for forced conserveration.

# 7 - Most anybody who's got their wits about them can get certified. - Ed Buchan, City Water Conservation Specialist, to the News and Observer on certifying that car washes are conserving water.

# 8 - The primary goal is to make sure we have a public education plan that complements our water conservation efforts. - Mary-Ann Baldwin, at-Large Raleigh City Councilor, on Eyewitness News

# 9 - We are very proud of our efforts in water conservation, and very proud that the City of Raleigh has adopted our water conservation certification program. - Dale Reynolds, President of the NC Professional Carwash Association at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

# 10 - Pressure washing should not be regarded as a luxury, but a necessity. Does it affect your health to have dirt on your car? Is it a matter of safety to have your hair washed in a salon? - Celeste Gothorp, Power Washers Network of the Carolinas

Lunsford Lane
March 17, 2008

# 5 - We're getting data from the weather service that says this may be the worst drought in 800 years - yet we haven't run out of water.

Dale Crisp, Raleigh Public Utilities Director, to WRAL TV reporter Dan Bowens

Crisp was claiming that he knows of tree ring data going back 800 years that proves that we are in pretty much our worst drought ever. This statement is dumb on so many levels that it is hard to decide where to begin.

Let’s leave it at this - drought and its severity are not determined by rainfall, but from a variety of factors including how much water we’ve got stored in Falls Lake, and what the demand for that water is. Drought as we talk about it in this day and age is an anthropogenic construct that relates water availability to current and projected human demand - I explained this a few weeks ago.

So unless the Eno, the Sissipahaw, and the Shakori were keeping tabs on how much water they were sprinkling on the lawns in front of their pole lodges, drought indexes are completely irrelevant to any but thoroughly modern times.

We're getting data from the Weather Service that says it's the worst drought in 800 years. Yet, we haven't run out of water; we have enough to last until the end of May,” Crisp tells us. “If the weather service is right and we're experiencing such a bad event as they say we are, we've actually done pretty good managing through that.”

Yet Ryan Boyles, North Carolina's state climatologist, told the paper that “comparing historical regional drought reconstructions based on tree rings with current drought indexes is comparing apples and oranges.”

In all of our references with respect to the historical nature of the drought, we have not mentioned any dates prior to 1895, when drought indicators were really first used... there was never any mention of the last 800 years.” said Jeff Orrock, the Weather Service office's warning coordination meteorologist.

It is astounding that the man in charge of our water supply doesn’t even know what drought is.

Yet another City official quick with the spin and the tall tales, and slow to real action to conserve water.

And just where are there 800 year old trees in Raleigh? These I gotta see!


# 6 - I honestly have no idea why we've chosen certain industries to target versus others. - District E Raleigh City Councilor Philip Isley, responding to WRAL News Reporter Bruce Mildwurf's question about why the City Council isn't targeting the major water users for forced conserveration.

# 7 - Most anybody who's got their wits about them can get certified. - Ed Buchan, City Water Conservation Specialist, to the News and Observer on certifying that car washes are conserving water.

# 8 - The primary goal is to make sure we have a public education plan that complements our water conservation efforts. - Mary-Ann Baldwin, at-Large Raleigh City Councilor, on Eyewitness News

# 9 - We are very proud of our efforts in water conservation, and very proud that the City of Raleigh has adopted our water conservation certification program. - Dale Reynolds, President of the NC Professional Carwash Association at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

# 10 - Pressure washing should not be regarded as a luxury, but a necessity. Does it affect your health to have dirt on your car? Is it a matter of safety to have your hair washed in a salon? - Celeste Gothorp, Power Washers Network of the Carolinas

Lunsford Lane
March 14, 2008

# 6 - I honestly have no idea why we've chosen certain industries to target versus others.

District E Raleigh City Councilor Philip Isley, responding to WRAL News Reporter Bruce Mildwurf's question about why the City Council isn't targeting the major water users for forced conserveration.

Here are the dots:

Now you try to connect the dots....

# 7 - Most anybody who's got their wits about them can get certified. - Ed Buchan, City Water Conservation Specialist, to the News and Observer on certifying that car washes are conserving water.

# 8 - The primary goal is to make sure we have a public education plan that complements our water conservation efforts. - Mary-Ann Baldwin, at-Large Raleigh City Councilor, on Eyewitness News

# 9 - We are very proud of our efforts in water conservation, and very proud that the City of Raleigh has adopted our water conservation certification program. - Dale Reynolds, President of the NC Professional Carwash Association at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

# 10 - Pressure washing should not be regarded as a luxury, but a necessity. Does it affect your health to have dirt on your car? Is it a matter of safety to have your hair washed in a salon? - Celeste Gothorp, Power Washers Network of the Carolinas

Lunsford Lane
March 13, 2008

# 7 - Most anybody who's got their wits about them can get certified.

Ed Buchan, City Water Conservation Specialist, to the News and Observer on certifying that car washes are conserving water.

You gotta admit, this guy’s got the toughest job in City guvmint. It’s his duty to see that the City’s water conservation programs are working. A big part of that is convincing you and me that the City actually has sensible water conservation programs.

Unfortunately for Ed, the local news media have done an admirable job of exposing as a sham those Raleigh water conservation regulations that apply to anyone other than Citizen You. The City Council made much hullabaloo about how only car washes that recycle water were going to be allowed to continue operating, and they sent Buchan out to slap certificates of approval on those elite few.

Turns out that with the rules handed to him by the Council, Buchan had to certify pretty much every mechanical car wash out there. Then the News and Observer busted him. What to say?

Take your cue from the Councilors and keep dishing out the spin? Or try to preserve just a bit of your personal dignity and integrity?

To his credit, Buchan chose the later, throwing his hands up in de facto admission that the whole car wash certification sham is just a show to fool the citizens into thinking something substantive is actually being done, “Most anybody who's got their wits about them can get certified.”

Which is only a stupid thing to say if the guy wants to keep his job, which is making his bosses (City Councilors) look good in the face of inaction.

Indeed, the News and Observer reports this morning that just yesterday afternoon the Public Works Committee of the Raleigh City Council recommended that the Council hold off on instituting real water conservation for car washes. It needs more study, the Councilors say.

How many years has the City been studying water conservation? And they still don’t know that 55 gallons is too much clean water for washing one car?

How’s poor Ed ever gonna explain this one?

# 8 - The primary goal is to make sure we have a public education plan that complements our water conservation efforts. - Mary-Ann Baldwin, at-Large Raleigh City Councilor, on Eyewitness News

# 9 - We are very proud of our efforts in water conservation, and very proud that the City of Raleigh has adopted our water conservation certification program. - Dale Reynolds, President of the NC Professional Carwash Association at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

# 10 - Pressure washing should not be regarded as a luxury, but a necessity. Does it affect your health to have dirt on your car? Is it a matter of safety to have your hair washed in a salon? - Celeste Gothorp, Power Washers Network of the Carolinas

Lunsford Lane
March 12, 2008

# 8 - The primary goal is to make sure we have a public education plan that complements our water conservation efforts.

Mary-Ann Baldwin, at-Large Raleigh City Councilor, on Eyewitness News

I thought it was more that just a bit condescending for Mayor Meeker to send the only two female City Councilors out to talk to business leaders about water conservation. The natives are restless - the Citizens are up in arms about businesses wasting of water, businesses are up in arms about talk that they should change their practices, so send out the pretty girls to make nice with everybody.

The task they’ve identified is not to help businesses reduce their water consumption, but rather to get businesses to help the City try to convince you and me to reduce our water consumption. So they got the local businesses together for a pow-wow - Pepsi, the carwash guys, all the usual suspects in the water wars. “The primary goal is to make sure we have a public education plan that complements our water conservation efforts," says Baldwin to the TV reporter.

Why, there's even talk of putting the City's water conservation messages on the sides of Pepsi trucks. Pepsi bottles Raleigh tap water and sells it up and down the East Coast under the label Aquafina. Between 6.5 and 8 gallons of water are wasted in the manufacturing and bottling processes for every gallon of Aquafina that goes out on the truck. So who is Pepsi to be telling you and me to conserve water? What’s the public service message on the side of the truck going to look like?

A water conservation education campaign brought to us by the very industries which consume a lot of water, exclusively for what can only be considered luxury uses? A water conservation campaign sponsored by Pepsi and your neighborhood carwash? If there was ever a time to kill the messenger, this is it.

Earth to Councilor Baldwin: Just how estupido do you think we are?

We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom, or on the side of a Pepsi truck for that matter. Hey, Councilor, leave us plebes alone.

Most of us save water, because we are educated and we are community minded and because we think it is the right thing to do. And most of us are doing pretty good at it. Find your neighborhood on one of these maps and see how you’re doing. WooWee! My street for the wins! Only a few hoods have significantly increased water use (best I can tell from the scale of the map, most notably District E City Councilor Philip Isley’s - must be those two garbage disposals he's running over there).

Baldwin wants a public education plan that complements our water conservation efforts. The City’s water conservation efforts are a sham, with car washes that spew like geysers and developers who are hosing all of us. This new education plan is just the complement for such a bogus conservation plan.

I ain’t usually one to run education into the ground, but Raleigh is one of the most edumacated cities in the world. With three major universities, lots more smaller colleges, and RTP all in or near the City, Raleigh has one of the highest concentrations of PhD's in the world. You can't throw a rock without hitting someone with a masters degree upside their head. But even a fifth-grader is smart enough to know something’s fishy when her school’s new water conservation education program is sponsored by AutoBell Car Wash.

Is the Councilor smarter than a fifth-grader?
# 9 - We are very proud of our efforts in water conservation, and very proud that the City of Raleigh has adopted our water conservation certification program. - Dale Reynolds, President of the NC Professional Carwash Association at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

# 10 - Pressure washing should not be regarded as a luxury, but a necessity. Does it affect your health to have dirt on your car? Is it a matter of safety to have your hair washed in a salon? - Celeste Gothorp, Power Washers Network of the Carolinas

Lunsford Lane
March 11, 2008

# 9 - We are very proud of our efforts in water conservation, and very proud that the City of Raleigh has adopted our water conservation certification program.

Dale Reynolds, President of the NC Professional Carwash Association at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum

Some folks just don’t know when to keep their yappers shut.

The car wash industry, in collusion with the Raleigh City Council, pulled a fast one on all us Citizens. We all thought that under Stage 2 drought restrictions that carwashes had to recycle water. After all, that’s what everyone down at City Hall led us to believe. So imagine our shock and awe at learning it's business as usual at the carwashes.

Dale Reynolds, who is also President of Autorific High Performance Carwashes, couldn’t resist gloating. He stood before the packed house at the Will the Water Run Out? Forum on February 23, reveling in applause for his declarations of the commitment of the car wash industry to water conservation. But the News and Observer was listening, and wondering. And just six days later, reporting that Reynolds’ grandstanding was nothing more than the hot air from the dryer arch of one of his car washes. No recycling necessary, all you need to run a carwash is a certificate issued by the City that isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

To which Ed Buchan, the City Water Conservation Specialist who issues the worthless paper, says, "Most anybody who's got their wits about them can get certified." Here, just print this one out and tape it that $100 rain barrel you just put in the yard, it means about as much as an original from the City.

The 55 gallons of water per car wash limit only applies to the standard wash, not to premium. So any carwash operators with their wits about them will reduce the standard wash to a few gallons for a buck or so - call it the Spit and Wipe with Shirtsleeve wash - and relabel the standard water-guzzling wash as Premium, and the old premium can be the new SuperSoaker.

Of course, now the City Councilors, caught in the hoax, are backtracking. "The council didn't discuss it a whole lot," said Mayor Charles Meeker, noting the car wash program was adopted along with several other task force recommendations. Yeah right, what is arguably the biggest potential crisis the City has faced in decades may be upon us, and the City Council doesn't bother to look at what it is passing into law.

Unfortunately, having watched countless City Council meetings on cable access, I have come to the conclusion that Councilors typically don't know what's coming before them. Take the City Council meeting last week. District E City Councilor Philip Isley bugs out early, and misses the vote to ban garbage disposals. Later in the week, Isley is whining - he's full of regret for not reading the meeting agenda more closely.

Watch a few Council meetings, and it becomes apparent that Isley pretty much never reads the meeting agenda. But is he embarrassed by his irresponsibility?

The disposal ban is not about saving water, it's about saving aging undersized sewer lines that would cost a boatload of money we don't have to replace. But considering how a disposal works, it should be about saving water - you turn on the water and let it run, you grind up food or whatever, and when the grinding is done the food and whatever and mucho gallons of drinking water are down the drain.

On January 22, Isley voted for a City Council resolution that implores you and me to limit our daily water consumption to 35 gallons. But is Isley embarrassed by his irresponsibility? Heck no, he's got not one, but two disposals, and "We use it, I can tell you that."

As I've already said, some folks just don’t know when to keep their yappers shut.

Maybe it's time for the News and Observer to ask the City Councilors to disclose their water usage.

BTW, that Will the Water Run Out? forum is very interesting. You can see it in two parts on cable channel 11 (when they're not rerunning the Mayor's State of the City address for the umpteenth time - you'd think they'd kill that piece given how much of what the Mayor has said about water conservation has been exposed as "not accurate" since then). Or view it in micro in streaming video over the internet - I've listened twice now, and studied the powerpoint presentations from the forum posted on the WakeUP Wake County website.

# 10 - Pressure washing should not be regarded as a luxury, but a necessity. Does it affect your health to have dirt on your car? Is it a matter of safety to have your hair washed in a salon?

Celeste Gothorp, Power Washers Network of the Carolinas

Lunsford Lane
March 10, 2008

It seems not a week has gone by in 2008 when we haven’t learned something truly disturbing about how our response to the current and severe drought is being mismanaged. From car washes that really don’t recycle water to water main line flushing that spills millions of gallons of water onto the ground each week, the primary response to the drought by our political and business leaders has been to spin tall tales.

So I’ve compiled my list of the top ten stupidest things said about the drought. I’ve limited my selection to elected officials and business reps, and to statements made in 2008, with most coming from the last month. I’ll (try to) post one a day, with commentary. Like Letterman, we’ll start with # 10 and work our way up to Numero Uno. You’ll no doubt have others, by all means send them on to me, and if they’re good I’ll share them.

# 10 - Pressure washing should not be regarded as a luxury, but a necessity. Does it affect your health to have dirt on your car? Is it a matter of safety to have your hair washed in a salon?

Celeste Gothorp, Power Washers Network of the Carolinas

Ms. Gothorp owns Carolina ProWash, a powerwashing company working in both North Carolina and South Carolina, which coincidently shares an address with the Power Washers Network.

I am a huge fan of the power washer, I’ve owned one for years and they are indispensable around the shop and home. I’m also no spring chicken, so I remember life before you could buy a power washer at any building supply store or discount club.

In those dark, unwashed days, life in Raleigh was tough, real hard. Disease and pestilence were rampant. Sidewalks were covered with flies and roaches in the warm months. Rats the size of cats roamed the alleys. Buildings were stained dark with grime and algae. The rank odor of decay that hung over the City was stifling.

Then came the power washer, and with a wave of its magic wand, the dirt and disease and pestilence and vermin and stench were all washed away. All was made right in the City.

Ms. Gothorp reminds us that a skilled powerwasher uses only about 250 gallons of water to clean an entire 2,000-square-foot house. Why, that's only as much a one frugal citizen would use in a week (following the City Council's admonition to only use 35 gallons per day). Her business is cleaning new houses before they are occuppied. Who in their right mind would let their family move into a brand new home that has not been thoroughly sanitized by a power washer? The Raleigh City Council needs to get with the 21st century, and lift this ban on the power washer.

BTW, the rules that ban power washing during the drought allow for it when health or safety might be affected.

Lunsford Lane
Valentine’s Day 2008

As a Valentine to all you lovers and other strangers, your City Council is not implementing "Stage 2" water restrictions until tomorrow.  So tonight fill that Jacuzzi or jet tub, give that bottle of Mr. Bubble an extra squeeze, and you and your main squeeze steep in that luscious liquor of luv for a couple of hours.

It’s likely to be your last chance for a really long time.

Last Sunday the News and Observer reported that the Army Corps of Engineers - which owns and operates Falls Lake, our water supply – tells us that even with projected rainfall, we will run out of water in June or July.

At its last meeting, the Raleigh City Council voted to implement Stage 2 water restrictions, starting tomorrow.

Just a few days ago, I wrote that there was no way in hell the Council would go to Stage 2:

But Meeker has been Mayor for almost the entire time we have been in this water mess, and he still wants you and me to shoulder all of the burden. He took us to Stage 1.5 water restrictions, he’ll take us to Stage 1.75, Stage 1.85, and Stage 1.902160583104 before he moves to Stage 2 – the only stage in which Big Real Estate has to make a sacrifice.

Now before you go calling me out, think about it for a moment.  Have I ever mislead you?  If LL Cool Lane said it, have you not always been able to take it to the bank?

So peruse the City’s list of Stage 2 restrictions that was posted just after that meeting, and tell me what’s missing.  Bingo – what happened to that one where no new water mains could be opened?  The one that would mean de facto no new development until the crisis eases?  After all, wasn’t this really the one restriction that distinguished Stage 2 from Stage 1?

Of course Mayor Meeker and the City Council are not going to make Big Real Estate suffer, that honor is reserved for you and me.  So they gave the developers an out – they created Stage 1.902160583104 and decided to call it Stage 2.

Stage 1.902160583104 will do absolutely nothing but make the dwindling water supply dwindle all that much quicker.  I’ve already gone over the sham that the Mayor is trying to pull over on us, talking about the minor amount of water that is used to flush new lines and refusing to acknowledge the permanent drag that the literally THOUSANDS of new homes and businesses are putting on our water system.  On a per house basis, the cost of hauling the flush water back to the treatment plant is minor.  Tim Minton and Ken Kirby are still down at the mint dancing a jig.

Now that the N&O’s let the cat out of the bag that the water is likely to be gone before summer officially begins – something the City Council has known (or should have known) for some time now – Meeker still can’t act.  Instead, he’s calling a meeting between the Corps of Engineers and the City Council. 

For what?  So a litigator attorney can question some professional engineer’s math? Twist his arm until he cries Uncle and takes it all back, says that the Lake really isn’t almost empty? 

How many two-timers have asked, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”

There is one and only one thing leading us down the road to ruin – unchecked development that does not pay for itself.

It’s time for us to stop kidding ourselves, to take off the blinders and accept what our eyes really see – Mayor Meeker is simply incapable of dealing with this crisis.

It’s been a rocky marriage from the get-go, with Meeker promising his fidelity to us Citizens, but time and time again caught in bed with Big Real Estate. Like any tabloid television twisted tale of codependency, Citizens forgive Meeker over and over, turning a blind eye to his failure to act on their behalf on any number of issues in the desperate hope that someday he will actually care for us and do the right thing.

How many tears do we have to shed over developer lipstick on his collar?

This isn’t about riding the razor’s edge of negotiating between competing interests during Boomtimes, everybody understands that game, it is about the primary duty of an elected official to protect Citizens first and prepare for disaster. For every lovey-dovey sappy message sent today to a developer there are ten jilted, broken hearted, lovelorn Citizens waiting in vain for the phone call, or the card, or the action, that, deep in their hears, they know will never come. Like losing the Mandate of Heaven, who ya gonna blame on the day the water runs out? Homeland Security spends gazillions for disaster preparedness, and Meeker and the developers, like deadbeat dads spending the rent money at a casino, are praying they won’t hit snake eyes on the way to the dustbowl.

There won’t be any “I told you so” if the rains do come, because the message is crystal clear that demand for water far outstrips supply and current policy is patently unsustainable and has been for the last three years at least. Do you suppose that former councilors Jessie Taliaferro and Tommy Craven, with their developer-friendly feet firmly in the mud of Falls Lake, would have allowed any change in current policy?  So who is to blame for foot dragging now if not Mayor Meeker? Nobody wants to see development grind to a halt in our 50-mile radius, but are you feeling confident that your leader is firmly on your side? Does Stage 2 really start only when the well… er, lake... runs dry?

Can any leader make the moral case that conducting business is equal to Citizen protection?

And we woke up yesterday to find the whole sordid affair on the Jerry Springer Show???  Any gal with a modicum of self-respect can only stand so much humiliation, and this water crisis is Meeker’s ultimatum.  He’s made his choice – he’s leaving us and the kids and shacking up with Big Real Estate.

The only thing left to do is file the papers.

Our D-I-V-O-R-C-E becomes final today
Me and little J-O-E will be goin' away
I love you both and it will be pure H-E double L for me
Oh, I wish that we could stop this D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

Yes, it's a lot of paperwork, but maybe not as much as you'd think.  According to Raleigh’s municipal code: 

A petition signed by electors entitled to vote for a successor to the incumbent sought to be removed, equal in number of at least twenty-five (25) per centum of the entire number of voters casting votes at the last preceding general municipal election, demanding an election of a successor of the person sought to be removed, shall be filed with the Clerk, which petition shall contain a general statement of the grounds on which the removal is sought

Only 22,549 votes were cast for Mayor in the last election – that means only 5,638 signatures of registered voters are needed to force a recall.

But get real, Lunsford, you say, who's really gonna sign?

There is a real chance that in just four to five months we will be experiencing the greatest crisis ever to fall upon the City of Raleigh.  Sure, it may rain a lot, but it is just as likely that water supply will dwindle from 45 million gallons a day to 5 or 15 million.  Anybody who wonders what could happen if a major fire breaks out while the water mains are running dry will sign.

Anybody who would like to see the new Comprehensive Plan recognize the limits of our natural resources will sign.  The Planning Commission will oversee the development of this plan, and as we have already discussed, this new City Council - every single councilor - is perfectly happy to let Big Real Estate have total control of that Commission.  All the Councilors are jointly and severally liable for this unforgivable travesty, but it would probably be too disruptive to send them all packing.  Putting a real leader in the Mayor’s chair is likely to motivate the remaining Councilors to shape up before they too are shipped out.

Anybody concerned with infill should sign.  The Mayor will do nothing substantive to address their concerns.  The current plan being floated downtown is to let folks develop their own neighborhood conservation overlay districts, an option that has existed for quite some time.  Problem is, these districts don’t conserve neighborhoods, so once again the Mayor’s solution is to put cheap lipstick on a pig, hoping to pass it off as the belle of the ball.

Heck, the almost 1,500 folks who wrote in Clay Aiken and the No Hand King in the last election rather than check the box for Meeker (the only registered candidate) will sign.

Attend any church barbecue, elementary school fair, or soccer moms’ kaffeeklatsch and you’ll get an earful about how our leadership has failed us in this water crisis.  Stand out in front of any local mall for a couple of days, and you’ll have 5,000 signatures in two snaps.

Indeed, the only folks who don’t yet realize that the Mayor has lost the confidence of the Citizens are Hizhonor hizself and his closest advisors.

This is no laughing matter, fellow Citizens – God willing we will get adequate rain, but if She ain’t in a very sharing mood, we need a leader in place who can face the music.

Let’s give all this a couple of days to sink in, then we can talk about how to git 'er done.

And don't pull the plug on that Jacuzzi, use the water to flush toilets for a week.

February 8, 2008


Lunsford Lane
January 31, 2008

Excerpted from today's News and Observer:

Capturing water used to test new lines is one of several water conservation recommendations recently put forward by the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County in response to the drought. Home builders would be required to pay the cost of recapturing the water.

Over the past 45 days, the city of Raleigh has been recapturing water used to flush connections using three rented 6,000-gallon tanker trucks. Dale Crisp, Raleigh's utilities director, said the city has filled 160 tanker loads, which translates into 1.1 million gallons of water saved.

Given that each tanker load costs $200 and saves 6,000 gallons of water, the cost to the city is $30 for every gallon saved.



Note later in the day - they fixed it online. The reporter made a mistake, no big deal - IF editors weren't a thing of the past..

Given that each tanker load costs $200 and saves 6,000 gallons of water, the city is saving 30 gallons for every $1 spent.

Lunsford Lane
January 26, 2008

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker has spent the last couple of weeks trying to convince us that our current water woes are in no way related to development.


In one recent interview, an editor for the News and Observer challenged the Mayor to defend his proposal to raise our water rates by 50% against these charges published in a letter to the paper’s editors,

I continue to be astounded by Mayor Charles Meeker and the city fathers. Raise the water rates! That will hit the lower income people, retirees, etc., who will be penalized because of the drought.

But forge onward with the development of million-dollar homes! The affluent buyers will merely yawn as they pay the higher rates and squander even more water.”

The Mayor outright rejected the thesis that development and water use are fundamentally linked. After claiming that the negative reactions to his proposed rate hike were the result of his poor explanation to the public, he claimed that,

The problem is cutting off new development doesn't really help us very much. For example, if we had a six-month moratorium on any new building hooking up, it would save us, with a now 2% growth rate annually, about 1% of our water, and not a very big factor.

But it would put severe hardship on those finishing buildings, including groups like the City of Raleigh, which is finishing a convention center, if we couldn’t open that because of lack of water. What I’m trying to do is focus on steps that will save us 10% or 20% of our water supply, not just that 1% that comes in from new development.

The Mayor goes on to explain why the City Council only requests that developers use water conservation techniques in new building, rather than actually requiring that they use all of the latest greatest water-saving technology, of which there is much.

Then at the City Council meeting last Tuesday, the Mayor continued to insist that development and water supply are simply unrelated.

I was terribly troubled by the Mayor’s claim, as it conflicted with everything I thought I knew about our growth and our water use. My worst fears were confirmed when I read this, published just after last Tuesday’s Council meeting:

Stage 2 would ban pressure washing and all remaining irrigation and prohibit builders from testing new city water connections -- something that must occur before homes and businesses can legally be occupied.

Dale Crisp, Raleigh’s utilities director, said the city currently allows such tests to occur two days a week, and he estimated they accounted for an additional one to two million gallons of water on those days. That’s about five percent of the water system’s rolling 30-day average for daily water consumption, which currently is 39.6 million gallons a day.”

Got it? Do the math, and find that 1%-2% of our water goes to testing new water lines for new development. Just for testing - this doesn’t include the so much larger amount of water that will be used, in perpetuity, by the new occupants of these houses and building just as soon as the testing ends. And get this – we don’t charge the developers who construct these new buildings and the water lines that serve them one red cent for this test water!

Yet the Mayor continues to insist that new development only accounts for 1% of our water use, in toto. So what else is the Mayor telling us that just ain’t so?

I can’t remember a time when our growth rate was as low as 2%, as the Mayor claims it is now. Seeing as I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, I looked up the population stats for Raleigh and made the graph above. I could have tracked building permits or new water meters installed, but population correlates perfectly with all of these. Since Falls Lake was filled in 1981, the average annual growth rate has been 3.3%. There were only 2 of those 27 years in which the rate dipped slightly below 2%, the last time in 1990. The last reliable population estimate took us to July 1, 2007 - with a 4.07% annual increase.

Lunsford Lane didn’t fall off the back of the turnip truck just yesterday. Do you believe that somebody can be Mayor for over six years and not know the City’s growth rate?

Let’s not forget that population growth is exponential (here’s a primer for those like me with fuzzy math memories). Four percent of the population in 2006 is a heck of a lot more people than 4% of the population in 1981.

So what of Mayor Meeker’s claim that new development accounts for just 1% of our water use? I dug up data for water withdrawal from Falls Lake since the time it was filled, it's in the graph at the top.

Check that graph up there again - until the end of the 20th century, water use pretty much tracked population – as population nearly doubled, so did water use. Then as soon as the new millennium began, things started to get really screwy. Population kept right on growing unabated, but we were tapping out Falls Lake. Total water use began to stagnate, demand began to outstrip supply, and some of us have slowly learned to conserve.

The curious thing is that up until last year rainfall was pretty good:

Even the rainfall deficit in 2007 wasn’t so unusual – since records began in 1892, we’ve had 20 years when rainfall was at least as low as it was in naught-7. That means that we should expect a year like ’07 every six years or so on average.

But I recently read in the paper that “judging by a statewide average, 2007 was the driest year in North Carolina, going back to 1895.” So I reworked my rainfall chart a variety of different ways – I used other monitoring stations in Wake County, instead of annual rainfall I used two and three year running average, two or three year running deficits, no matter what I tried I couldn’t get a pattern substantially different from the one above.

So why do I keep hearing that we are in the worst drought ever? No doubt when you fly over Falls Lake it’s looking mighty empty down there, but every other shred of evidence says that the current drought shouldn’t be "exceptional," the most serious of five categories the government uses to classify droughts. The NC Drought Management Council tells us that:

When determining the issuance of a drought advisory, the Council takes into account stream flows, ground water levels, the amount of water stored in reservoirs, weather forecasts, the time of year, and other relevant factors for assessing the location and severity of drought conditions.”

Aha! So it’s not just about Mother Nature. It’s also about how much water we’ve got stored in Falls Lake. Along with other “relevant factors” that I can find no description of.

Now it is clear as day – if we had this rainfall deficit in 1987 or even 1997 rather than 2007, we wouldn’t be in exceptional drought, because ten and twenty years ago we had nowhere near as many folks trying to pull water out of Falls Lake. According to the U.S. Census, the Raleigh-Cary metropolitan area at 24.8% was ranked eighth in the nation for percentage of population growth between April 1, 2000 and July 1, 2006. To be sure lots of farmers were hurting last summer, but we're not talking about rain falling during critical stages of the growing season, we're talking about capturing rain whenever it falls during the year and storing it so we don't go thirsty at any time.

We have no history of using our water wisely. The City 'rents have never been good stewards of our natural resources, never have treated water as a precious resource that belongs to all of us, that needs to be protected for the public good. Instead, they've always told our water department to sell, sell, sell, the future consequences be damned.

Finance more lines to move more water, sell more water to pay off those new lines, repeat again and again until we are trapped in a downward spiral we can't break free of. During the height of the drought last summer, Raleigh broke its water sales records, rather than saving OUR precious water for a dry day three or six months later.

For decades now, we’ve been encouraged to plant lawns and fill swimming pools and do whatever it takes to use more water. Coke and Pepsi couldn’t have run better marketing strategies. Last summer, we were using 28 million gallons a day for in-home use, and another 20 millions a day for lawn watering. If many of us hadn’t learned to conserve after 2000 and water use had continued to track population growth dead on, those record sales last summer would have been 30% higher than they actually were. And Falls Lake would be bone dry.

Now that their house of cards is falling, City leaders are suddenly telling us that our lawns are evil, and that we should to pay more to cover the losses on all those pipelines that we no longer have enough water to fill.

Mayor Meeker continues to insist that new development has little to do with our water consumption. Either Meeker is smoking crack, or he is intentionally and repeatedly attempting to mislead us. Now the Mayor is right skinny, but he certainly doesn’t have that emaciated look with the flaky skin and rotting teeth you see in tweekers and crackheads.

Hey, I’m a trooper, I’m all about civic virtue and if we need to conserve water, so be it. I’m taking short showers, like lots of the neighbors we capture rainwater for our garden, and even though I am by nature a very shy guy, once the shrubs grow a bit taller I’ll even consider peeing in the yard (the least talked about secret in water conservation is just how many men pee in the backyard).

But I deeply resent being asked to pay 50% more for less water while every week the City Council gives away millions of gallons of our water to Big Real Estate, for its new development. For free.

And I get downright righteously indignant when anyone, much less a Mayor, tries to play me for stupid, giving me facts and figures they know are just not true.

I know that these are tough problems to solve, that there are no easy choices, that there is plenty of water to be had if we quit watering lawns, that we all have to do our fair share even if it hurts. But Meeker has been Mayor for almost the entire time we have been in this water mess, and he still wants you and me to shoulder all of the burden. He took us to Stage 1.5 water restrictions, he’ll take us to Stage 1.75, Stage 1.85, and Stage 1.902160583104 before he moves to Stage 2 – the only stage in which Big Real Estate has to make a sacrifice.

Three things are now indisputable:

  1. New development accounts for 100% of the increase in our water use, not 1%.
  2. Our current water crisis is 100% attributable to poor planning and zero political will, not natural causes.
  3. “Growth Pays For Itself” is the biggest lie in the history of Earth.

Lunsford Lane
MLK Day, 2008

Long-time readers will remember the sordid saga of the local developers who forged signatures on deeds that gave them easements on residential properties that border their proposed shopping center. If you’re up for reviewing the whole sordid affair, read here, here, and here. For you newbies with no patience:

Now fast forward to December 11, 2007 - Once again, the site plan is before the Planning Commission. The engineer for the crooked developers, Harold Yelle, has made some minor modifications to the plan. The shopping center is required to have a 40’ vegetated buffer around the perimeter. For those neighbors that actually gave an easement, half the buffer will be on their lots and the other half on the shopping center lot. But for the Mezzalunas, the young couple whose signatures were forged, the engineer has a surprise. He asks the Planning Commission to reduce the buffer width along their property line to only 30 feet, since all of it must now be on the his developers’ property.

And to send the message that nobody messes with his Big Real Estate clients, Yelle has concocted a special treat for the Mezzalunas. Instead of trees and shrubs, he’s gonna put the stormwater treatment area in that 30’ "vegetated" buffer - a grassy swale for the stormwater to collect in. HA! That'll teach those pesky peon Citizens to stand in the way of Big Real Estate and its development plans.

Having heard Yelle’s new plans, the ball is now back in the Planning Commission’s court. Obviously the right thing to do is to send the criminals and their henchman engineer packing. But you've read this blog for quite some time now, so you know the Planning Commission drill. Without discussion, Planning Commissioner Rev. Paul Anderson makes a motion to approve the site plan.

Whoa Nellie, immediately interjects fellow Commissioner Maha Chambliss, you mean to tell me that you're down with letting these crooks stick it to their innocent neighbors? What the h-e-double-l do you think buffers are for? The Reverend is clearly taken aback at being called out for being complicit with the developers. The rest of the Commissioners are speechless, so silent that the Reverend’s motion fails for lack of a second. They recognize that this case is highly radioactive, with a half-life of thousands of years, and what they fear most is that gamma rays are leaking out of their Yucca Mountain.

Commissioner Chambliss recounts the long list of flaws with the site plan, each of which on its own is cause for rejecting the plan. But bottom line is that this is Big Real Estate, says the collective voice of the Planning Commission, clearly we can't approve this today but we also can't reject anything Big Real Estate brings to us, so let’s delay our decision a little longer, see if we can't get the genie back into the bottle.

Fast forward to January 16, 2008 - The developers and Yelle are before the Planning Commission yet again, yet again with a few minor changes to the site plan. They’ve added a couple of trees to mitigate for figuratively urinating on the Mezzalunas with their stormwater. But Chambliss recounts a still long list of problems with the site plan.

By now the other Commissioners have had quite enough of her stalling, and the plan is approved.

Over the past few years, the Planning Commission has degenerated from dysfunctional to disturbing to despicable to now downright disgusting. So brazen has Big Real Estate become that the Commission no longer feels the need to maintain even the facade of representing the Community.

But I can hear you right now, Gentle Reader, saying don't have a cow Lunsford, only the City Council can give final approval of the site plan. And it's a new day in Raleigh, we ran those Big Real Estate shills out of town on a rail and the new City Council will restore order and democracy.

I hear ya, really I do, but the evidence so far is to the contrary.

Every Councilor, including the new ones, is well aware of how degenerate the Planning Commission is. They heard it from the Citizens during their campaigns, they read the sad tales here on (yes, the Councilors and their advisors read BTB). And they have experienced it first-hand. For example, take the great teardown debate raging inside the beltline.

The prior Council had proposed changing building heights and setbacks in residentially zoned areas, but that plan ran into opposition from both sides. So the new City Council looked to the Planning Commission for guidance on how to fairly address the concerns of both sides. A reasonable request, as the Planning Commission is ostensibly seated for the purpose of advising the Council. But every Commissioner knows that his or her true mission is to serve Big Real Estate, and Big Real Estate isn't in a compromising mood when it comes to teardowns. So when Raleigh's Planning Director presented the charge to the Planning Commission, and suggested a couple of options to jumpstart discussion, the Commissioners were mum. No one, not a single one, was willing to consider the Council's request. Rather they punted, telling the Council that there is no teardown problem so no action is warranted.

So now what's the Council to do? Such insolence and insubordination by any board or commission should have resulted in the immediate dismissal of its members. But this ain't any other Commission, it's the Planning Commission, ceremonially seated by the Council, but owned lock stock and barrel by Big Real Estate. So what's a City Councilor to do?

The time is always right to do the right thing - Martin Luther King, Jr.

What they always do - form a Study Group to do what the Commission should have done. Lock into a room three Citizens each from the pro and anti teardown camps, let 'em out when they've reached a compromise. Except this never works, because the Planning Commission still holds the trump card. Any proposed regulation of teardowns is by law filtered through the Planning Commission before it reaches the City Council.

Now you get it - the Study Group finds a true compromise because both sides are represented. Then the compromise moves to the Planning Commission for its blessing. But as only one stakeholder - Big Real Estate - has any voice on the Commission, all of the concessions made by Real Estate are promptly stripped out. This cleaned version is what is presented to the City Council, still billed as the compromise proposal of the Study Group.

This scenario always plays out, and truth be told the City Council is fine with this. Just to make sure the study group doesn't go astray, Councilors are looking to appoint a developer who is a former Chair of the Planning Commission to chair this new group. Does this sound to you like a Council that's on the side of the Citizen?

Even worse, just a couple of weeks ago the City Council had to fill two seats on the Planning Commission. This was the perfect opportunity to diversify the Commission. Instead, the Councilors voted unanimously to reappoint the Commissioners whose terms had expired. Not a single voice of resistance to Big Real Estate, not a single agent of change. Rather, the Council sent a loud, clear, unified message: It's bidness as usual in Raleigh.

This is tragic news. It means that there is no prospect of changing the Planning Commission in the next year or more. It'd be bad enough if Citizens just got no representation in the teardown and infill debates as well as all rezoning decisions and site plan approvals. What is truly tragic is that Citizens will get no representation during the update of the Comprehensive Plan, which happens only every twenty years.

So odds are better than even that at tomorrow's City Council meeting the shady developers will get their site plan and the Mezzalunas will get mosquitoes. The Councilors are betting that if they do approve the plan, no one will notice.

No one, that is, except your Geiger counter for justice,

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends - Martin Luther King Jr.

Lunsford Lane
A-Junked Scholar
W. de Gama School of Hard Knocks
January 16, 2008

Somebody owes the Mayor an apology, and no, it ain’t LL Cool Lane.

At the last City Council meeting, Mayor Meeker apologized for tagging NC State University professor Michael Walden as a consultant for the John Locke Foundation at a Council meeting last December.

The general opinion around town is that it was big of the Mayor to admit he was wrong.

The general reaction around BTB was WTBI???

A little recent history:
December 4, 2007, Reconvened City Council Meeting – Near the end of the meeting, Mayor Meeker brought up the topic of increasing impact fees. He questioned the need for updating the 2006 Duncan Report – an analysis of impact fees that the City of Raleigh commissioned from Duncan & Associates. District E City Councilor Philip Isley was not amused by the prospect of rising impact fees, and asked that the Walden Report also be considered so the Council would have both sides of the debate. The Walden Report is NC State University Professor Michael Walden’s analysis of whether or not growth pays for itself. Suffice it to say that Walden found that “owner occupied residential construction creates more public sector benefits than costs.” The Mayor cautioned consideration of a report that was prepared by a consultant to the John Locke Foundation. Isley was downright irritated (when isn't he?).

December 18, 2007 - Professor Walden is not amused that the Mayor associated him with the John Locke Foundation. In a letter to the editor published in the N&O, Walden protested, “My research on this topic -- as well as all my other research in a 30-year career -- has been through university-sponsored projects.

January 8, 2008 – The Mayor publicly apologizes to Walden.

Shame on Mayor Meeker. Where did he get the outlandish notion that Walden would work on anything other than university-sponsored projects?

Maybe the cover of that Walden report on the economic impact of residential development? It says right there on the front: A Study Prepared for the Homebuilders Association of Raleigh - Wake County. Not for North Carolina State University. Not for the Citizens of Raleigh nor the Citizens of North Carolina. But for Big Real Estate. Though it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the developers have bought off the University, like they've bought off most every political body in the State.

Or maybe the numerous articles Walden has written expressly for the John Locke Foundation, which identifies him as one of its print columnists?

Or the many articles Walden has published in other venues in which he identifies himself as an Adjunct Scholar of the John Locke Foundation? Including one published in the N&O's sister paper, just the day before the N&O printed Walden's letter of denial? Oh yeah, and let's not forget the beaucoup articles posted on the John Locke Foundation website under that same title of Adjunct Scholar.

So the Mayor doesn't know the differences between “adjunct scholar,” “print columnist,” and “consultant.” From the OED:

1. One who consults (an oracle).

2. A consulting physician.

3. A person qualified to give professional advice or services, e.g. in problems of management or design; an adviser; also spec. a private detective. Also attrib.

So the Mayor mixes his metaphors - whoop-de-damn-do. Looks to me like what Professor Walden has been doing for the John Locke boys meets the letter and the spirit of the definition of consultant, adjunct scholar title notwithstanding.

After so heartily embracing the John Locke Foundation, why is Walden suddenly parsing words and being much less than forthcoming about his long-standing association with it? Anyone with half a brain, no matter how far to the left or right they fall on the political spectrum, long ago figured out that the John Locke Foundation is in no way a scholarly organization. It is and always has been nothing more that a front for the lunatic fringe ideas of gazillionaire Art Pope. Maybe the University has a spot of egg on its face for being linked to Pope’s personal agenda?

Methinks it’s the 'Fess who owes the Mayor an apology.

And Councilor Isley owes the Citizens of Raleigh an apology for trying to pawn off shilling for the Homebuilders Association and the John Locke Foundation as independent scholarly research that can inform City policy.

And the News and Observer owes both the Mayor and its readers an apology for not doing so much as a Google search before printing Walden’s letter disavowing his association with the John Locke Foundation and its subsequent report of the Mayor’s apology.

Dollars to donuts that not a one of these apologies is forthcoming.


Disclaimer: In no way does consult for the JLF, JFK, KKK, SLA, HBA, HBO, N&O, Steve-O, Toto, Major Domo, Mayor Meeker, Jerry Meek, Eek a Mouse, Goodwin House, House of Pancakes, or the Daughters of the Confederacy for that matter, but hey, we'll put our absolutely independent research up against theirs any day and you make the call. Nor would we want to be affiliated with any organization that would have us as a member. Just because.

Lunsford Lane
January 11, 2008

So Mayor Meeker has finally decided to do something about our water crisis. In his press conference last Monday, he called for a 50% surcharge on water, everyone cut their use to 25 gallons per day, low flow devices in all homes by March 1, and rain barrels on every gutter.

I was not amused.

And apparently neither was the City Council.

Trying to get a handle on just how dire are the straits we’re in, the first thing I wanted to know is how much water do we really have left. Truth be told, it’s pretty hard to know. has been tracking the level of Falls of Neuse Lake, our primary City water supply, for quite some time, with periodic updates of this graph:

Before the end of the year rain, the official poop from the City was that we had 95 days of water left, after the rain 120. But that doesn’t begin to jive with our graph. After the rain, the lake went up to the level it had been 75 days before, not 25. Look closely at the tail end of that graph:

And more importantly, the lake level is now dropping much more slowly than it was before the storm. That’s because we're probably using a bit less water, and more importantly, the streams are flowing again. The rain finally gave us some groundwater recharge, so the streams that have continued to flow even though the rain clouds are long gone. Do the math - extrapolate the curve out - and see that those rains bought us about 120 days of supply. Add that to the 95 days we still had, and we’re good for at least seven months, not four. Somebody’s not giving us the real story.

Tracking water supply is not as straightforward as gaging lake level. Available water is not a linear function of lake level (the lake is bowl-shaped). And even when the lake is at normal level, only about a third of the water in it is available for our use. It works like this:

Every water supply lake is divided into “pools” – allotments of water for different uses. The highest level of the lake is what would be obtained under extreme flood conditions – this is the flood storage pool. That’s for the Hurricane Frans.

The second pool is called the conservation storage pool – that’s when the lake is at its normal level. The conservation pool is itself divided into two pools – the water supply pool and the water quality pool (also called the low flow augmentation pool. The water supply pool is what we get to drink. The water quality pool must be held in reserve to guarantee downstream flow in the river. Though we usually tend to forget it, there is a downstream. Other folks below us got to drink and bathe too. And there are an awful lot of critters in the river that would suffer mightily if we stopped the flow of the river altogether. So we are required by law to hold a goodly amount of water to keep the river flowing during drought conditions.

The lowest part of the reservoir is called the sediment pool. In case you haven’t noticed, the water around these parts is pretty dirty. That’s cause it’s loaded with sediment – thank you very much Big Real Estate and your token efforts at erosion control. That sediment fills up reservoirs. So we are required to reserve space in the reservoir for all this mud to settle.

Even though the capacity of the sediment pool will be diminished over the coming decades of erosion and siltation, the water that is currently in there is perfectly fine to drink. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Estimates are that we have another 90 days of supply down there. So now we’re up to about ten months of water that we can potentially tap. And that’s if it doesn’t rain a drop during that time. And if it doesn’t rain a drop over the next ten months, we got beaucoup problems ‘cause the four horsemen of the apocalypse will be galloping across the desert of Moore Square.

So why are our fearful leaders telling us we only have 4 months of water left?

Also, there’s other water around besides what’s in Falls Lake. We have a pipe connected to the Town of Cary’s water system, and we can buy two millions gallons a day from them, about 5% of our water supply. Cary gets its water from Jordan Lake, which while certainly not full still has a boatload of water left. If we started doing that tomorrow, then our current supply on hand is 10.5 months ore better. There is the pesky problem of interbasin transfer – the water we can get from Cary comes from the Cape Fear River basin, and when we turn it into wastewater we will pipe it into the Neuse River basin. But in a pinch, this is tolerable.

And of course we could do what the Mayor is suggesting – we could tap into the water quality pool. Straight out – that is a terrible idea. We are not so desperate that we have to consider ruining the flora and fauna downstream. And if we ever get that desperate, then what a pitiful lot we are.

So why are our fearful leaders telling us we only have 4 months supply of water? Are they lying to us? I rather doubt it. A more likely explanation is that neither the Mayor nor any of the City Councilors has a clear understanding of our water supply.

We here at have always fancied ourselves rather conservation minded, so even if there is 10+ months worth of water available, that doesn’t mean we need to waste a drop of it. So let’s assume for argument’s sake that there is only 120 days left. Does Mayor Meeker’s proposal to raise our water rates make any sense?

We’ve been in a drought for a hell of a long time now. The drought got bad enough that way back in 2002 the City Council created a Water Conservation Task Force to explore solutions to our water woes. In April of 2006, the task force sent the City ‘rents a bundle of recommendations for water conservation.

Instead of enacting these common sense and necessary recommendations, the City Council sent the task force’s report to its Public Works Committee. Chaired by former City Councilor Taliaferro, the report gathered dust in the committee’s files for a full year. Finally, the Public Works Committee sent the report back to the City Council in June of last year, with no recommendation for implementation. The City Council in its infinite wisdom took its cue from Taliaferro’s committee and also did nothing of consequence - two months later, at the height of the drought, the Citizens of Raleigh were still setting new records for water consumption.

It was clearly long past time for serious action, but two months later Mayor Meeker could only muster enough courage to enact “Stage 1.5” water restrictions. And you, like me, were saying what on God’s green earth is Stage 1.5?

Why no Stage 2, you asked with dismay. Check that link again, ‘cause there you'll find the rub:

“Once Stage 2 Water Conservation Measures are implemented, the Public Utilities Department will issue water and sewer permits for construction only. New water and sewer mains may be constructed, but not filled with water for testing or flushing. Since water service taps are required to be made under pressure, no taps may be made on new mains.”

(bold emphasis NOT mine)

Holy strawberries Batman! We're in a jam! We don’t have any water, but no way on heaven, hell, or earth are we not going to restrict new development. So Mayor Meeker, already suffering from a severe case of testicular atrophy, kòutóued to Big Real Estate and created “Stage 1.5.”

That should have surprised no one – the Mayor had already been trying to give our water away as fast as he could. In July, at the height of the drought, the City Council voted unanimously to direct the City staff to investigate selling our water to new subdivisions in Youngsville. For those of you not familiar with local geography, Youngsville is way up in Franklin County.

And if that idea wasn't cockamamie enough for you, just last week the City Council considered a proposal to start selling our water to new subdivisions out in Johnston County. Surely the new improved progressive City Council put the kie-bosh on that idea in a New York second, you say. Well you say wrong – the Council knew that it could hardly approve that sale at the same meeting at which the Mayor was trying to stick you and me with a 50% rate increase for water, so they sent it to a Council committee. Look for it to be approved when the current flap over water conservation cools off a bit.

You know the BTB mantra by now, the City is not run to serve its Citizens, rather it’s run to serve Big Real Estate. You think not? Then why does Mayor Meeker want to stick it to you and me on our water bills, but he won’t support any water conservation that hits Big Real Estate in its pocket book?

Late last year, the Mayor and the City Council approved a resolution directing the City Manager to implement Stage 2 restrictions when the water supply got down to 90 days. We had seen 95 days of water left before the holiday rains, and Big Real Estate was sweating bullets – remember Stage 2 means no new hookups to the water system. They had to do something to make sure we never get to Stage 2 without costing them anything, so they created these new measures for the Mayor to champion.

You think not? Just who do you think was standing behind Mayor Meeker when he announced these new measures at a press conference last Monday? Was it the Chairwoman of the Water Conservation Task Force? Was it the Neuse River Riverkeeper? The new Director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund? The Water Resources Program Manager at Triangle J Council of Governments? No, no, no, and hell no - it was Ken Kirby and Tim Minton from the Homebuilders Association standing right behind the Mayor, pulling on the puppet strings.

So there you have it. You and I have to cut our water use by two-thirds. The average citizen uses 75 gallons a day to bath and brush and flush and keep the house clean. Now the Mayor wants you to use only 25 gallons a day (even he can’t do that), and pay 50% more for the privilege. And not so we can save the water for our own use later in this or a future drought (which will undoubtedly come). But so the Mayor can sell it to the homebuilders, who will continue to line their pockets without making any sacrifices whatsoever.

Now we here at have always fancied ourselves rather community minded – you wanna get everyone in Raleigh out to Shelley Lake to hold hands and prance around bonfires and sing kumbaya, unbathed and unshaven for a week and dressed in dirty clothes, to appeal to Osiris, Rhea, and Gaia for drought relief, then hey we are so there. But it will be a cold wet day in Hades before I show up for Sunday worship smelling a bit ripe just so that Tim Minton and Ken Kirby can laugh all the way to the bank.

Over the years, we’ve tried to be fair to the Mayor, even when he has given us little reason to trust him. If you want to learn the true measure of a man, look at who aligns himself with when it's all down to the wire and he is forced to choose sides.

Alas, at the end of the day, Mayor Meeker looks at us lowly plebeians as just all so many catamites put here solely to pleasure the big boys of Big Real Estate.

There’s plenty of water to be had. But it’s being sold out from under us.

"Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in."
Silvio Dante, The Sopranos

"Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in."
Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part III


A belated Happy New Year to friends and foes alike.

When I last posted three months ago, I said you’d hear from me again on New Year’s Day. I didn’t forget, it's just that I've been mired in an awful funk and couldn’t bring myself to do it. So New Year’s Day came and went and I had nothing to post. It's alright, we've got a new City Council with a new outlook on life. So I thought – then Mayor Meeker comes up with about the most lame–brain plan imaginable for dealing with the drought. That really got my blood boiling, and before I even realized it, I could feel myself being sucked back in. It's a new year, and I'd finished the old one by finally cleaning up the various messes Dr. de left behind – life goes on, funny how the mood changes imperceptibly.

In his will, de Gama left me all of his things automotive – vehicles, tools, shop manuals, collection of Snap–On girlie calendars (every single edition until the final in 1994). Bless his soul, I was touched; that is until I found out the old S.O.B. had seventeen jalopies that were now mine stashed all over North and South Carolina. The 1968 Chevrolet Camaro SS 2–Door Coupe out behind a chop shop in Darlington, SC. The 1970 Chrysler 300 convertible – 350 horse, automatic on the floor, dual exhaust, air shocks, 1 of only 1077 made – under a thick tarp behind the quartermaster's shack at Camp Old Indian.

And the pièce de résistance – the Chevy Caprice fire–apple red convertible wedged into a tobacco barn out in Rockingham County. The great red Shark looked to be near perfect – until I got a door pryed open. The whole damn car was filled with soap – floors, seats, glove compartment, even the trunk. Hundreds and hundreds of bars of Neutrogena soap. All melted and congealed into a single greasy mass. And perfectly preserved in that translucent blob, protected from the ravages of oxygen and UV – trinkets of all kinds. Shot glasses and painted spoons from the Vegas strip, plastic fake Zippo–lighters with built–in roulette wheels, JFK half–dollar clips, tin apes that shake dice. And a fat black .357 Magnum, and a few hundred rounds of 158 grain lead semi–wadcutter, and hundreds more spent shells. What a freakin’ mess…

Well, Dr. de was gone, and finally the cars were gone – neither to ever be forgotten mind you – but time to get on with it. So what to do with I've missed the writing, I've missed the venting, I've even missed the drinking – working up a blog post was always good for a couple shots of Fighting Cock. I don’t drink when I’m down, and I hadn’t taken a single sip between the time Dr. de died and the champagne toast late on New Year’s Day. Even after de’s wake, all us boys sat around and clinked our bottles of YooHoo in memorium. I missed the grit, I missed the angry emails from furious readers, but the one thing I didn’t miss was the time.

This blogging business ain’t as easy as it looks, especially for the technology–challenged. It was always good for at least several hours a week, and I have really relished having that chunk of time back. So by Thanksgiving I’d pretty much made up my mind to be done with it all.

I had high hopes that some other blog would fill our local politics niche, A View of the City or maybe New Raleigh, but that hasn’t really worked out. So I’ve decided to give it a go again. It’s not gonna be the same BTB without Dr. de. I expect that I’ll post less often, if I can put up one good bit a month, perhaps that is enough. I’ll try to make each post a bit more informative, a bit more in–depth, so as to make it worth your time to check back every now and again. The Intern, bless her heart, will help me maintain the site. And if I find that the fire in the belly is really extinguished, then I’ll shutter the site for good.

First BTB post for the new year– Drowning in Drought.

Thanks for all the kind emails over the past three months, and thanks for looking for BTB again.


I'm in a lonely room,
Hank Williams sings the Lovesick Blues.
Winter's walking up the avenue,
And I ain't seen the sunshine since the 6th of June.

I'm in a crowded place,
But I can't recognize a single face.
They say the thrill is in the chase.
Well I ain't got the legs, ain't got the legs
To run that race.

They say I made my money messing up young minds,
I stooped the congregation and left them crying in the rain.
Yea left them with their pain.
Exit your boy with his ill–got, left them crying in the rain.
Yea left them with their pain.
Exit your boy with his ill–got pain,
Exit your boy with his ill–gotten gains.

Well the blood runs deep and the blood runs cold,
As the knife slits so another sucker is born and thrown into this world alone.
The doctor came knocking, wasn't nobody home.
Better burn a candle light.

Ease the pain.

But I tell you this:

Don't call the doctor, I'm gonna get better.
Don't run for the priest, I'm gonna find some faith.

Just because I burned my Bible, Baby,
It don't mean I'm too sick to pray.