DeKalb Cityhood vs. Annexation; Information to Educate LLCC Residents

July 27, 2014

Darian Bilski

Darian Bilski, Woodland Hills Resident
Editor’s Note: This article was recently circulated in the Woodland Hills neighborhood. With Darian Bilski’s permission, some of her original text has been edited to reflect the most recent developments in the rapidly changing issue.
Current Status
During the 2014 legislative session three groups – Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker – pushed for incorporation of a new city in north DeKalb County. If the Legislature had approved those bills, the cityhood question would’ve been placed on the ballot in 2014. The bills for those cities didn’t pass because of a shorter-than-usual legislative session due to the new elections calendar. The maps for each of the cities overlapped, creating competition among the three groups. It would be easier to pass a bill for the combined cities of Briarcliff and Lakeside in 2015, assuming the two groups decide to stick together.(From http://www.decaturish.com/2014/07/briarclifflakeside-join-forces/)
According to the following Briarcliff and Lakeside Joint Statement issued July 3, 2014, the joint Briarcliff / Lakeside city would respect the compromise map between Tucker and Lakeside as the starting point of this collaboration. Therefore competing interests would be eliminated.  Furthermore, if City of Briarcliff and Lakeside join forces, the bills would then have both republican (Representative Jacobs and Senator Millar) and democratic
(Representative Oliver) support. This fact also increases the likelihood that the joint city would pass the legislative hurdles.
There is no name yet for the combined Lakeside / Briarcliff City; however, a name change is possible. For purposes of this summary document, the new city will be called Lakeside / Briarcliff. The final map has not yet been defined as the cityhood initiatives are in the process of soliciting community input. The final city map will likely be larger than Lakeside’s final map, but smaller than Briarcliff’s final map.
While the financial studies conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia (“The CVI”) analyzed the prior City of Lakeside and City of Briarcliff plans separately, there is general agreement that the combined city will also be financially viable without a need for an increase in property taxes. The CVI has a track record of reliable, conservative predictions for the studies it has performed for other cities. For example, CVI estimated that revenues for a city of Dunwoody would be $18,777,904. In its first full fiscal year in 2009, Dunwoody’s actual revenues turned out to be$18,394,942, or 2.0% less than CVI estimated. In the same study, CVI also predicted that Dunwoody’s total operating expenditures would be$15,571,573; in 2009, Dunwoody’s actual operating expenditures turned out to be $13,823,811, or 11% less than CVI estimated.
 
Local Neighborhood Issues and Decisions Residents Must Make
The questions that LLCC Residents Must Currently Consider are:

  1. Do LLCC community neighborhoods want to be included in a city? (Note that even if our residents do not currently want to be included in the city options currently on the table, it is likely that we will be pulled into some future city.)
  2. Which city do LLCC neighborhoods want to be a part of? Options for discussion include, Lakeside / Briarcliff, Atlanta / a future unincorporated DeKalb City initiative.If not included in Lakeside / Briarcliff, areas like Woodland Hills and LaVista Park risk being on an “island,” unable to be serviced by DeKalb financially efficiently without cutting through city of Atlanta or Lakeside / Briarcliff. One concerning issue is the length of time it could take DeKalb police to respond to Woodland Hills and LaVista Park calls and the increase in crime that would potentially result.Emory University has advised that they do not want to be a part of City of Briarcliff or City of Lakeside, mainly because they do not want their campus divided between jurisdictions. Emory is interested in a transportation plan that will include the Clifton Corridor Transit Line and they feel that with Atlanta’s recent grant from the Federal Transit Administration for the Atlanta Street Car, financing for the Clifton Corridor Line may come easier and more quickly with the City of Atlanta’s direct federal connections. Emory is currently weighing the possibility of being annexed by Atlanta.

Briarcliff and Lakeside Present Joint Statement to DeKalb County Operations Task ForceAtlanta, GA (PRLog), July 3, 2014 — Two DeKalb County cityhood groups, The City of Briarcliff Initiative, and Lakeside Yes read a joint statement before the DeKalb County Operations Task Force (OTF) on Tuesday, July 2, at the Maloof Auditorium. The Operations Task Force was created by Interim CEO Lee May and is charged with making recommendations that can be forwarded to the Georgia General Assembly by December 2014.The prepared statement from the July 2nd meeting reads:She continues, “Both of our groups presented maps during the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly. However, because our current maps overlap, Lakeside and Briarcliff have agreed to collaborate with the goal of creating a unified map free of overlapping areas and respecting existing city borders and future annexation plans. We respect the compromise map between Tucker and Lakeside as the starting point of this collaboration, and we respect the inclusive approach of the Briarcliff map. We will continue to work with our sponsors, Representative Jacobs and Senator Millar, residents and business owners in our community to reach the goal of local control and governance for this community. We invite the advocates of the city of Tucker to join with us so that we can present two cities with a clear path to cityhood prior to the 2015 session of the General Assembly.”He continues, “We seek to unite, rather than divide, to improve government operations not just in our region of DeKalb but in the entire county. The residents of unincorporated DeKalb deserve, and with respect we demand, the opportunity to form new cities that will become destinations where business and families can flourish. The time has come for us all to cooperate, north and south, inside the perimeter and outside, city advocates and county officials. We all share DeKalb County, and we all know the challenges we face. Cities are an important part of the solution.” He concludes, “We welcome your questions and your suggestions.”

  1. City of Briarcliff Imitative President Allen Venet read, “We are committed to working together because we agree on almost every issue except boundaries, and boundaries can be solved. As we refine our map, we are soliciting neighborhood input, and we will work with state, county and local elected representatives of both major parties and with the existing cities of DeKalb County.”
  2. Lakeside Yes Chairman Mary Kay Woodworth read, “Lakeside YES and The City of Briarcliff Initiative appreciate the invitation to present maps to the Operations Task Force. You have received our individual working maps, but we respectfully present this joint statement in lieu of focusing on a specific map.”
  3. For months both citizens and legislators have urged the two groups to communicate and work together more. Briarcliff and Lakeside have historically shared many overlapping views of cityhood, but have differed on proposed city borders. Both groups view cityhood as an opportunity to lift up the community and improve the strength of DeKalb County.
  4. Because Emory does not want to be included in a new DeKalb city, the Druid Hills neighborhood may also effectively be cut out of Lakeside / Briarcliff because without Emory, their neighborhood is no longer contiguous with the new city boundaries. Many people in Druid Hills have advised the City of Briarcliff initiative that after the DeKalb County Board of Education voted down the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, they are now considering what the City of Atlanta has to offer them. However, many Druid Hills neighbors are still interested in becoming a part of Lakeside / Briarcliff.
  5. There has been discussion of the possibility of Woodland Hills and LaVista Park being annexed into the City of Atlanta. The City of Atlanta is not obligated to annex either neighborhood, even if it is left as an isolated island within DeKalb County. There is also not an active push by our residents to be annexed by Atlanta. Therefore, if this option warrants serious consideration, immediate dialogue should be initiated. See the end of this document for a discussion of this option based on comments and research from Druid Hills’ residents.
  6. Interim CEO Lee May attended a Woodland Hills neighborhood meeting on July 24, 2014 and expressed his opinion that all of DeKalb County will be municipalized (no more unincorporated areas), having all areas flow into a new city, or be annexed into an existing city. He stated that while he was not necessarily an advocate of the cityhood movement, it is a reality and he would want all citizens to have a say in which city they join. There is already discussion of other cities being planned in the southern part of the county, which also has a lot of unincorporated land.

Additional Information from the Lakeside City Alliance Website: http://lakesidecityalliance.org/

Pros and cons of incorporation (cityhood) (Pros and cons of cityhood are considered herein; however, it is important to keep in mind that remaining unincorporated may only be a short term solution if all unincorporated areas become municipalized in the future.)
What are the benefits to becoming a city?

  1. A government closer to people and more responsive to their needs. Currently a DeKalb county commissioner represents approximately 130,000 people and 54 sq. miles. A city of approximately 60,000 residents could potentially have 5-6 commissioners, who live in the community and represent fewer citizens, thus bringing government closer to the people and resulting in more local control over city services.
  2. More control over land use (zoning) and development to decide on things like new subdivisions, teardowns, construction, nightclubs, apartments, strips malls and other uses.
  3. Mechanism to revitalize residential and commercial areas, parks and common areas.
  4. To efficiently manage our tax dollars.
  5. Tax equity. More local dollars spent locally.
  6. Improved community identity and quality of life.
  7. Advocates – elected officials and city staff — to improve quality of life. Many incorporated cities have a downtown development authority and economic development professionals on staff. Staff could work for the benefit of the city, including the collection of state and federal grants.
  8. Safer neighborhoods.

What are the risks to becoming a city?

  1. Requires a grassroots effort with a tremendous volunteer movement and popular support
  2. Must provide evidence to state legislature of financial feasibility, by funding a professional study, such as one written by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which can cost upwards of $30,000.
  3. No action leaves unincorporated area as is for the short term.
  4. County is currently experienced in providing services and new city would have no experience. Therefore there is risk that the services may not be provided more efficiently or better under a new city government.
  5. Without infrastructure, city would have to hire 3rd party, as Sandy Springs did, to take over services.
  6. Without cash in the bank, the new city would have to finance initial operations through startup financing.
  7. Unknown government entity (and officials)
  8. Budget and Revenue estimates are projected, not tested

What’s the process of becoming a city?

  1. Define our community. As some have asked, “who are we?”
  2. Define the boundaries of a proposed city boundary.
  3. Obtain community input and make adjustments to these definitions as necessary.
  4. Request that our elected officials introduce legislation (a placeholder bill in year one) to create a new city since only the General Assembly can provide authorization to create new cities.
  5. Commission a feasibility study of the defined area. Is there a sustainable balance of commercial and residential property to fund a city without raising property taxes?
  6. If it is economically feasible and the community desires to move forward, during legislative year two, legislators will discuss the bill and vote on it. If the legislation passes and is signed into law, hold a vote in our community on whether the new city should be formed.
  7. If voters approve the ballot, hold elections to seat government officials, and a transition committee would be appointed by the Governor to help the local government get up and running.
  8. The initial & ongoing operation of the local government on the date set in the bill creating the new city.There is a list of services mandated by Georgia law, and cities must provide provides at least three of the following services, either directly or by contract – O.C.G.A. § 36-30-7.1 (b)

What are the proposed services, what will it cost?

  1. Law enforcement;
  2. Fire protection (which may be furnished by a volunteer fire force) and fire safety;
  3. Road and street construction or maintenance;
  4. Solid waste management;
  5. Water supply or distribution or both;
  6. Waste-water treatment;
  7. Storm-water collection and disposal;
  8. Electric or gas utility services;
  9. Enforcement of building, housing, plumbing, and electrical codes and other similar codes;
  10. Planning and zoning; and 11. Recreational facilities.

Initially, the City of Lakeside proposed the following services, based on interest and feedback from the community:

  • Public Safety and Code Enforcement: Includes police services as well as zoning and land use violations (but not zoning or land use policy issues). Items such as creating an accredited police department and providing emergency services, traffic control, criminal investigation and public safety education and outreach are included.
  • Public works: Includes determining what services can be more efficiently and effectively provided, such as lighting, sidewalks, roadwork, street lights and drainage services.
  • Planning, Land Use and Zoning: Includes developing and enforcing regulations that govern how the city of Lakeside’s land is used.
  • Parks and Recreation: Includes inventorying current and potential parks and green spaces and creating a comprehensive development and maintenance plan.
  • All other services would continue to be provided by DeKalb County.

After incorporation: Can the City pick up additional services from the CountyWouldn’t a new city just be another layer of government? Will my property taxes increase?

  • Forming a new city does not result in adding new taxes to your property tax bill. In fact, under the proposed city of Lakeside legislation (SB 270), property taxes would decrease for property owners compared with the taxes paid by residents living in unincorporated DeKalb County. The tax money used to provide services in the area of the proposed City of Lakeside comes from the taxes residents already pay to the county. The city of Lakeside proposes to provide services in a more cost-efficient and effective way for its residents with greater local control, using the funds which will be shifted from DeKalb County to the new city. Thus, instead of a new tax, a portion of your county property tax revenue simply is shifted from the county to the city. This shift would be reflected in two of the existing “line items” (or sources of revenue) which appear on your property tax bill. They are:
  • No, it would be a shift of certain responsibilities from the county government overseeing 700,000 to a local board representing 50-60 thousand people in this area. The resulting representation would be more direct with more accessible officials who live, work and play in our own community.
  • The city can elect to pick up additional services from the County at any time in the future. A vote from the city residents for additional services is not required except to the extent that providing additional services requires a millage rate increase, which the voters would have to approve. (This is true as of the currently proposed version of Lakeside City Charter.) County consent is not required for the city to provide additional services otherwise authorized by Georgia law.
  • People want more police officers and quicker response times in our area. They want the assurance that existing ordinances will be enforced in order to preserve neighborhood integrity, encourage community pride and protect the public’s health and well-being. They want greater control over zoning decisions so that development occurs in a thoughtful manner and so that development that does not fit with our community’s vision of itself does not materialize seemingly overnight as some nightclubs have. People also want to have well-developed and wellmaintained public spaces where people can walk, where kids can play and where pets can be outdoor. The goal would be to provide better and more efficient services in a more financially sound manner.
  1. The “Unincorporated Tax District” (listed as “UNIC TAXDIST” on your bill) and
  2. “Police Services” (“POLICE SERVC”). Together, these two items represent the bulk of what are known as “city services” and include activities such as public safety, parks and recreation, zoning, and land use, code enforcement, etc.
  3. The charge for the services listed above (and most others listed on your property tax bill) is determined by multiplying the assessed value of your home (40% of what the county estimates your home to be worth) times a fraction known as a millage rate. A mill equals 1/1000 (or .0001), so, for example, a charge of three mills equals 3/1000 or .003. DeKalb County currently charges 4.96 mills for the Police Services and Unincorporated Tax District line items. For a home valued at $250,000, this would amount to $496:
  • Home Value = $250,000.00
  • Assessed Value = $100,000.00 ($250,000 x 40%)
  • Charge for City Services + Police Services = $ 496.00 ($100,000 Assessed Value x .00496 millage rate)(Brookhaven) is capped at 3.35. On its face, DeKalb County’s rate is 48% higher than Brookhaven’s capped rate. The actual millage rate charged by Brookhaven’s government is even less, however, 2.85 mills, making DeKalb’s rate 74% higher. (In the case of Dunwoody, the County’s millage rate is over 80% greater than the city’s charge for the same services: 2.74 mills. It is worth noting that Dunwoody is running $1-2 million annual surpluses.)

Dunwoody Tax Comparison / Additional Tax Considerations What is the relationship between a city and a county with regards to school districts and zoning? Will a new city have its own school district? What impact will the passage of the proposed City of DeKalb have?

  • If DeKalb County is incorporated and becomes the “City of DeKalb”, it would prevent any community in the “City of DeKalb” from incorporating.
  • Currently, there is no relationship. A city’s boundaries have NO effect on the DeKalb County School System’s attendance districts. Attendance districts will change only if DeKalb County School System redistricts. At present, our State Constitution provides that no new school system could be established in a newly created city. It is possible, however, that this could change in the future. It goes without saying, however, that no city school system could be created in our area unless a new city is formed. Note: Decatur and Marietta school systems were created before this was added to the Constitution, and therefore were grandfathered in.
  • No city should increase property taxes as long as a sustainable mix of commercial and residential property exists. Dunwoody has not raised property taxes and has still created budget surpluses of $2-3 million annually. In the view of the Lakeside Alliance, the city charter would include a provision that property taxes could not be raised without the approval of voters in a referendum. Taxes could decrease if there was a budget surplus, but it could be that taxes will simply remain at current levels. That would be a decision for the local government and voters to decide. Please see the information under “Presentations” for information about the cost of services.
  • Perhaps the most important fact to note, though, is that DeKalb can raise its millage rate simply through approval by the County Commission. By contrast, under SB 270, raising the city millage rate would require not only a vote of the city council, but also ratification by a majority of voting city residents. Thus, the creation of the City of Lakeside could yield local control over the provision of some services as well as an opportunity to target services locally to residents and business owners. It could also provide an opportunity to cap property tax rates UNLESS city of Lakeside residents vote to change them.
  • For example, the millage rate for these same services for the most recently incorporated city in DeKalb

Additional Information Primarily from the Druid Hills Association Website: http://druidhills.org/

City of Atlanta Annexation Option PROS (from Carl Larson, druidhills.org http://druidhills.org/cityhood-annexationoptions/city-of-atlanta-annexation-initiative/. Carl is a proponent of Druid Hills being annexed by Atlanta):Atlanta is a city that has reinvented and reinvigorated itself. Here are some key points regarding the positives to annexation with Atlanta:

  • Atlanta has a very vibrant and diverse tax base—corporate, commercial, and residential.
  • Atlanta is home to a world-class international airport, and—to date—the busiest in the world.
  • Atlanta has, and is continuing to develop, a neighborhood feel that is very much in line with Druid Hills. This includes park and the ever-expanding Beltline—places to be outdoors, active and fostering a sense of community.
  • Druid Hills is an activist community, and taking our role as citizens of Atlanta would give us a chance to influence the emerging development of this vibrant city.
  • Last year, Atlanta had $1.5 billion in development—mixed use properties, in town housing, and business, commercial and retail. This approached pre-2008 levels, and indicates lots of optimism about the City’s future. It also grows the tax base. It is predicted that by next year, more than $2.1 billion more in investment will occur, which would be a record for the City.
  • Atlanta has a police force over double the size of DeKalb County’s force—and over a much smaller geographic area.
  • Atlanta has worked hard on its finances under Mayor Reed, and has positive and stable credit outlooks from the rating agencies.
  • Atlanta has a very good relationship with the Atlanta business community, and the latter is very involved in the directions the city is taking.
  • Atlanta and Mayor Reed have a good working relationship with state officials, including the Governor.
  • Atlanta has been effective in garnering federal dollars to help with its development.

City of Atlanta Annexation Option CONS: (See comments of John Frost Murlin: http://druidhills.org/cityhood-annexationoptions/city-of-briarcliff-initiative/. John is a proponent of Druid Hills becoming a part of the new DeKalb City.)

  • Schools
  • Perception
  • Corruption
  • Potential Immediate Tax Increase (though as indicated herein, DeKalb Co taxes could also increase.)

Additional Resources:

Atlanta Council Delays Vote on Walmart Development

Jaclyn Hirsch – Buckhead Patch
Atlanta City Council failed yet again on Monday to make a decision on the controversial mixed-use development plan off Lindbergh Drive west of North Druid Hills that includes a Walmart.
Council voted to send the zoning request back to committee to address the land use issues, according to a note sent to residents by the Lindridge Martin Manor neighborhood association.
Developers want to build a mixed-use development that would include a Walmart off Lindbergh Drive near the MARTA station.
But the property is zoned for residential use, and Monday’s city council vote indicates that council will not approve the project unless the property is rezoned.
“The Walmart development cannot go forward with out the land use being changed,” Lindridge Martin Manor Neighborhood Association President Roxanne Sullivan wrote to neighbors. “There was lots of speculation as to what does this mean. Most of them involved the fact that the developer did not have the votes for approval. It most likely will not come back from committee.”
Developers battled with neighbors for roughly two years in an effort to move the project forward.
Many residents in and around Buckhead opposed the project due to the size of the development and the location.
Andrea Bennett, who chairs NPU-B’s Development and Transportation Committee, told Reporter Newspapers “the accusations of prejudice against Walmart are unfounded.”
“We voted against this before Walmart ever entered the picture, before we even heard Walmart was involved,” Bennett said. “Our issue isn’t whether this is a Walmart or whether it’s a Nieman-Marcus or something else. It’s about the form of the development.”

Website to ‘Save Lindbergh’ Launches

A website has been officially launched in opposition to the controversial Lindbergh development.
NPU-B Board member Abbie Shepherd spoke about the site at last week’s meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods (BCN), during Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook’s lengthy and informative discussion about the development.
Buckhead Patch originally reported on the BCN meeting here.
The site aims to inform the public on why the development is bad for the community, show ways that those interested can contribute to the anti-development initiative and enable others to get the word out about the movement. It features a listing of contact information for Atlanta City Council members and signed letters of opposition.
The webiste reads:

Savelindbergh.org is made up of the people in opposition to this project. We are local residents, neighborhood organizations, homeowner and civic associations, business owners, concerned citizens and voters. You can join too by commenting on this very site and contacting your local City Council members.

Shook, who said he had seen savelindbergh.org, asked Shepherd to make her name and the names of others directly affiliated with the site more visible — in order to make it easier to engage in “meaningful dialogue.” While Shepherd pointed out the signed letters, she agreed to post those names elsewhere on the site.
by Michael Packer for Buckhead Patch

Where It All Went Wrong: If only we could undo the MARTA Compromise of 1971

Doug Monroe for Atlanta Magazine
8/1/2012

Like ghosts rising out of a Confederate cemetery, Atlanta’s past lapses in judgment haunt the region today, leaving a smoky trail of suburban decay, declining home values, clogged highways, and a vastly diminished reputation.
At the heart of the rot eating at metro Atlanta is the Mother of All Mistakes: the failure to extend MARTA into the suburbs. It wasn’t just a one-time blunder—it was the single worst mistake in a whole cluster bomb of missteps, errors, power plays, and just plain meanness that created the region’s transportation infrastructure.

As we look at the future of Atlanta, there’s no question that battling our notorious traffic and sprawl is key to the metro area’s potential vitality. What if there were a Back to the Future–type option, where we could take a mystical DeLorean (heck, we’d settle for a Buick), ride back in time, and fix something? What event would benefit most from the use of a hypothetical “undo” key?
The transit compromise of 1971.
Before we get into the story of what happened in 1971, we need to back up a few years. In 1965 the Georgia General Assembly voted to create MARTA, the mass transit system for the City of Atlanta and the five core metro counties: Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett. Cobb voters rejected MARTA, while it got approval from the city and the four other counties. Although, as it turned out, the state never contributed any dedicated funds for MARTA’s operations, in 1966 Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment to permit the state to fund 10 percent of the total cost of a rapid rail system in Atlanta. Two years later, in 1968, voters in Atlanta and MARTA’s core counties rejected a plan to finance MARTA through property taxes. In 1971—when the issue was presented to voters again—Clayton and Gwinnett voters dropped their support, and MARTA ended up being backed by only DeKalb, Fulton, and the City of Atlanta.
In 1971, given the lack of support for MARTA by the five core counties, then Mayor Sam Massell came back with a new plan: to provide an ongoing subsidy for MARTA through a sales tax levied in Fulton, DeKalb, and the City of Atlanta. No other jurisdiction in Georgia had a local option sales tax, so the General Assembly had to approve the idea. When the notoriously anti-Atlanta legislators gave the go-ahead, Massell called a press conference that featured a flatbed truck pulling up in front of city hall, facing the Capitol, with a large billboard that said, “Thank You, Georgia Lawmakers!” Massell then dug a hole in the city hall lawn and buried a hatchet to symbolize his appreciation for the state’s rare support of the city.
In a promotional stunt worthy of Mad Men, Massell sent a bevy of young women to the Capitol in pink hot pants with little keys to the city, a proclamation expressing the city’s gratitude, and invitations to city hall for a lunch featuring fried chicken (for Lieutenant Governor Lester Maddox), peanuts (for Governor Jimmy Carter), and, of course, Coca-Cola. “We got a four-column picture—the biggest exposure we ever got from the Atlanta newspapers,” recalls Massell, now president of the Buckhead Coalition.
After getting the legislative approval for the sales-tax option, Massell had to persuade voters to pass the sales tax. “We were going to buy the existing bus company, which was then charging sixty cents and a nickel transfer each way—$1.30 a day—and they were about to go out of business. I promised the community we would drop that fare to fifteen cents each way immediately,” Massell says. The daily fare would plunge from $1.30 to thirty cents. Not everyone believed him. City Councilman Henry Dodson cruised the city in a Volkswagen with a PA system that blared, “It’s a trick! If they can’t do it for sixty cents, how are they going to do it for fifteen?”
Massell countered the VW with higher visibility, chartering a helicopter to hover over the Downtown Connector, congested even then, while he called through a bullhorn, “If you want out of this mess, vote yes!”
“This being the Bible Belt, they thought God was telling them what to do,” Massell quips today. Still, to make sure Atlantans voted his way, he rode buses throughout the city, passing out brochures to riders, and he visited community groups with a blackboard and chalk to do the math on the sales tax. Voters approved the plan by just a few hundred votes.
Another of the blunders that crippled MARTA at the outset—and haunts it to this day—was engineered behind closed doors by the segregationist Lester Maddox, according to Massell, who believes Maddox’s intervention was even more devastating than the vote not to extend MARTA into the suburbs.
After the Georgia House of Representatives approved funding MARTA through the sales tax, Massell had to approach the Georgia State Senate, where Maddox held sway. Maddox told the mayor he would block the vote in the senate unless MARTA agreed that no more than 50 percent of the sales tax revenue would go to operating costs, Massell recalls. “He called me into his office and told me that was it. Either I swallowed that or he was going to kill it and it would not pass.”
That has meant that whenever MARTA needed more money for operating expenses, it had to cut elsewhere or raise fares. As a result, MARTA has raised the fare over the years to today’s $2.50, making it one of the priciest transit systems in the country.
Although the 50 percent limit has resulted in higher fares, few people realized the ramifications of the so-called “Maddox amendment” at the time, Massell says. In fact, it actually was viewed favorably by DeKalb legislators because they were afraid MARTA would spend all its money in Atlanta before extending rail service to DeKalb, according to a thirty-six-page history of MARTA written by former State Treasurer Thomas D. Hills.
Hills’s MARTA history also illuminates why the state never contributed funds for MARTA, despite that 1966 vote that would have allowed it to. One early plan was for the MARTA sales tax to be three-quarters of a penny, with the state chipping in up to 10 percent of the cost of the system as approved by Georgia voters. But early in his administration, according to Hills’s history, then Governor Carter called MARTA attorney Stell Huie—who was on a quail-hunting trip—and said the state couldn’t afford its $25 million share for MARTA. Carter offered to raise the sales tax to a full penny if the state didn’t have to pay, and Huie agreed. The lawyer said the 1 percent sales tax plan came out of the House Committee on Ways and Means and “there was a tag end, not even part of the act, that just said the state won’t put any money in.”
Hills wrote that the events help to “explain why some representatives of state government and others in the community understand that the state’s support in allowing the local option sales tax for MARTA was a bargain in exchange for a reprieve for the state from future funding for MARTA.”
The 1965 and 1971 votes against MARTA by residents of Cobb, Clayton, and Gwinnett weren’t votes about transportation. They were referendums on race. Specifically, they were believed to be about keeping the races apart. Consider the suburbanites voting back then. The formerly rural, outlying counties had exploded with an astonishing exodus of white people fleeing the city as the black population swelled during the civil rights era. This mass migration came at a time when Atlanta was known through its public relations bluster as “The City Too Busy to Hate.”
The 1960 census counted approximately 300,000 white residents in Atlanta. From 1960 to 1980, around 160,000 whites left the city—Atlanta’s white population was cut in half over two decades, says Kevin M. Kruse, the Princeton professor who wrote White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. Kruse notes that skeptics suggested Atlanta’s slogan should have been “The City Too Busy Moving to Hate.” “Racial concerns trumped everything else,” Kruse says. “The more you think about it, Atlanta’s transportation infrastructure was designed as much to keep people apart as to bring people together.”
In the early 1970s, Morehouse College professor Abraham Davis observed, “The real problem is that whites have created a transportation problem for themselves by moving farther away from the central city rather than living in an integrated neighborhood.”
The votes against MARTA were not the only evidence of the role of race in Atlanta’s transportation plans. The interstate highways were designed to gouge their way through black neighborhoods. Georgia Tech history professor Ronald H. Bayor, author of Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta, says the failure of the 1971 MARTA referendum in Gwinnett and Clayton was the beginning of the region’s transportation problems because of the lack of mass transit in the suburbs. Yet his research goes back to the racial reckoning behind the route of the interstate highway system that began construction in the 1950s.
The highway now called the Downtown Connector, the stretch where I-75 and I-85 run conjoined through the city, gutted black neighborhoods by forcing the removal of many working-class blacks from the central business district. It could have been worse. The highway was first designed to run smack through the headquarters of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the city’s major black-owned business. “The original intention was to destroy that black business,” Bayor says. A protest by the black community saved the structure and moved the highway route a few blocks east, where it still managed to cut through the black community’s main street, Auburn Avenue.
Interstate 20 on the west side of town is a particularly egregious example of race-based road-building. Bayor wrote: “In a 1960 report on the transitional westside neighborhood of Adamsville . . . the Atlanta Bureau of Planning noted that ‘approximately two to three years ago, there was an “understanding” that the proposed route of the West Expressway [I-20 West] would be the boundary between the white and Negro communities.’”
The strategy didn’t work, of course, as whites fled by the tens of thousands. One of the unintended consequences of the race-based road-building is today’s traffic jams. “What happened didn’t change the racial makeup of the metro area but led to congestion within the metro area,” Bayor says.
Aside from political vengeance and racial politics, another enormous factor was at play in transportation policies of the 1960s and 1970s: Atlanta’s love affair with the automobile. The great migration out of the city started in the late 1950s—just as workers at General Motors’ vast Lakewood assembly plant in southeast Atlanta put the finishing touches on one of the most iconic cars in history: the 1957 Chevy.
The allure of roaring around Atlanta in cool cars took over and never let go. Once MARTA started running, who would ride a bus or subway when they could drive a sleek, powerful car and fill it with cheap gas? Only the people who couldn’t afford the car. MARTA became an isolated castaway, used primarily by poor and working-class blacks. Racist suburbanites brayed that the system’s acronym stood for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
While MARTA was struggling to crank up the bus and rail system, the State of Georgia and its powerful highway department had other, bigger ideas.
David Goldberg, a former transportation reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says the road-building binge that led to the gigantic highways that course through metro Atlanta—some of the widest in the world—diminished MARTA’s potential. “It’s not a single mistake but a bunch of decisions that add up to one big mistake—the failure to capitalize on the incredible success we had in winning funding for MARTA by undermining it with the incredible success we had in getting funding for the interstate highways,” says Goldberg, now communications director for Washington-based Transportation for America. “We were too damn successful—it was an embarrassment of success. Like a lot of nouveau riche, we blew it before we knew what to do with it.”
As metro Atlanta’s geographic expansion grew white-hot, developers had to move homebuyers—those fleeing the city and others moving South from the Rust Belt—in and out of the new subdivisions they were carving from the pine forests and red clay. Georgia started “building highways expressly to enrich developers,” Goldberg says. “A whole lot of land owners and developers who knew how to do suburban development had the ear of state government and the money to buy influence. They took all that money we had and put it into developing interchanges way out from town. A lot of what was new suburban development back then is now underused, decaying, and part of an eroding tax base in the older suburban areas.”
The vast highway system sucked up billions of federal dollars while the state refused to put a penny into MARTA—until the past fifteen years, during which it helped buy some buses. “The sick joke of it all is that we built the place to be auto-oriented and designed it about as bad as we could to function for auto use,” Goldberg says. “The highway network we did build was designed in a way almost guaranteed to produce congestion—the land use around all that development put the nail in the coffin.” He refers to the neighborhoods full of cul-de-sacs that force cars onto crowded arterial roads lined with commercial activity, then force them to merge onto the freeways, which eventually funnel down to one highway through the heart of Atlanta.

More than forty years later, what does the failure to create MARTA as a regional system mean for Atlanta? Christopher B. Leinberger, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution and professor at George Washington University, has been watching Atlanta’s growth—and decline—for decades. In January he declared, “Atlanta is no longer Hotlanta.” He cited the free fall from the number eighty-ninespot on the list of the world’s 200 fastest-growing metro areas to ranking at 189 in just five years. Not to mention the plunge of 29 percent in average housing price per square foot between 2000 and 2010. Not to mention that Atlanta has the eleventh-most-congested traffic of 101 metro areas in the country.
“The big mistake was not taking advantage of MARTA,” Leinberger says. “Atlanta was given by the federal taxpayers a tremendous gift that they squandered as far as MARTA. It’s not just that Atlanta did not take advantage of it. They didn’t expand it and they didn’t recognize that it could allow them to build a balanced way of developing.”
Leinberger agrees that part of the region’s blindness toward MARTA’s potential was the belief “that the car was the be-all and end-all forever. The other part was the basic racism that still molds how Atlanta is built.”
The most maddening realization is that the once virtually all-white suburbs that voted against MARTA years ago are today quite diverse and reflect Atlanta’s evolution from a biracial city to a multiracial, multiethnic one. Today’s suburbs are not only home to African Americans, but also Latino, Asian, and Eastern European immigrants. The city’s diversity is projected to increase over the coming decades (see page 68). Many of the people who voted against MARTA decades ago are dead or retired. The suburban lifestyle they were so eager to defend has lost much of its cachet as gas prices soar and houses don’t sell. Smart young people up to their necks in college debt don’t want to spend their money and time driving cars back and forth; they want to live in town. Atlanta’s only neighborhoods to gain inflation-adjusted housing value in the past decade, Leinberger notes, were Virginia-Highland, Grant Park, and East Lake.
The Georgia Sierra Club’s opposition to the July 31 referendum on a regional transportation sales tax—on the grounds that the plan, despite including a majority for transit, was a sprawl-inducing road expansion—troubled Leinberger. “That’s a dangerous strategy. From what everybody tells me, this is a one-off.” He says the state legislature has traditionally treated Atlanta like a child, and is saying, “Finally, one time only, children, are we going to let you decide for yourself. This is it.”
The July 31 vote is “an Olympic moment,” he says. “If the vote fails, you have to accept the fact that Atlanta will continue to decline as a metro area.” Forty years from now, will we look back at failure to pass the referendum as a mistake as devastating as the 1971 MARTA compromise?
Atlanta faces a classic problem. It boomed in the go-go decades at the end of the twentieth century when everyone zoomed alone in their cars from home to office to store. Now it must move beyond what worked in the past to a new era that demands a new way of building, with up to 70 percent of new development oriented around transit, Leinberger says. “Atlanta has a lot of catching up to do, but it’s hard for old dogs to learn new tricks.”
The never-ending ramifications of a race-based transportation infrastructure, built to accommodate a suburban driving lifestyle that has started to die off in a state that has traditionally refused to embrace mass transit, could doom Atlanta to a future as a newer, sunnier Detroit.
“It only takes a generation-plus of yinning when you should have yanged to wake up and say, ‘Oh my God! How did it happen?’” says outgoing MARTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott, who watched from afar the decline of her hometown, Cleveland.
Atlanta’s failure to build out MARTA looks even more shameful when compared with what happened with similar transit systems in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., which started at the same time as MARTA, she says. “The reality is, this region got stuck. We have about half the build-out of what it was planned to be.” But San Francisco and Washington “kept building and moving . . . they had plans regardless of whether folks were red or blue. They had a vision and the fortitude to make purple and keep moving. We just got stuck.”
MARTA was born out of Atlanta’s giant ego in the days when the city was entering the major leagues across the board—baseball, football, international airport—bolstered by a racially harmonious reputation unmatched in the South, deserved or not. “You said to yourself, ‘We’re top-notch. Everybody’s got to have a rail system,’” Scott says. “But it was built as a manifestation of ‘we have arrived’ without a bigger vision of ‘what do we want to do for our region?’ You built it like a trophy.” Indeed, some of the Downtown MARTA stations were built on a scale that would please a pharaoh.
Yet Scott says she is no doomsayer. During her tenure at MARTA, she has seen marked progress in forging the civic- political infrastructure necessary to build an integrated transportation network. Her concern is that the region is at a critically urgent juncture in the process and can’t afford to lose focus or momentum.“There’s still much work to be done,” she says.
Word about Atlanta’s transportation muddle has gotten around. Scott says she’s been privy to meetings during which corporate relocation experts tell Chamber of Commerce members: “Hey, Atlanta is not only not at the top tier anymore, we’ve got companies saying, ‘Don’t put the Atlanta region on the list.’” It’s not just the congestion and pollution—“they’re not seeing leadership or plans to get yourself out of the fix.”
Atlanta’s leaderless transportation fix is the ultimate example of the admonition, “Be careful what you pray for.”
“This is the irony: The majority of whites in Atlanta wanted to be isolated when they thought about public transportation,” says historian Kevin Kruse. “As a result, they have been in their cars on 75 and 85. They got what they wanted. They are safe in their own space. They’re just not moving anywhere.”

Public Meeting About Nature Trail Set for April 10

By Sally Sears
A plan to link two  major nature preserves in Virginia-Highland and Morningside is gaining momentum in the neighborhood.
The South Fork Conservancy and  Park Pride are leading discussions about a trail along the south fork of  Peachtree Creek connecting Morningside Nature Preserve and Herbert  Taylor-Daniel Johnson Nature Preserve.
The first public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 10 at 6 p.m. at Haygood  Methodist Church could demonstrate some of the benefits and challenges  of creating more greenspace with easy access to walkers, joggers and  perhaps bikers.
Creek  cleanups and trail building are expected later in the spring.
Here’s  what one avid creek paddler found on a cleanup downstream from Cheshire  Bridge Road.
From Richard Grove, Georgia Kayaker:
There are good river days and there are great river days. Today was a great one. Today  after 9.5 hours, 25 more tires were removed along with 3 shopping  carts, some carpet, a picnic table umbrella, 3 golf balls, mirror,  fishing reel, vehicle tail light lens, sleeping bag, trash can lid, PVC  pipe, wire, metal stud, shoes, shirts, roof shingles, safety fence, silt  fence, fire extinguisher, lots of aluminum cans, plastic bags &  bottles, a disposable razor. Still looking for a toothbrush. The pile is  huge. Next work day will be from Cheshire Bridge Road.
I have  never removed a Herbie trash container or a shopping cart from the  river. I thought the Herbie was a bear to get out but nothing compared  to the shopping carts which took more than an hour to dig each one out.
One  day next week I will cut up the tree in the river across from the trash  pile area which will make the river look much better from that view  point.
I see and hear people walking the trail when I am in the  river working but the only chance I get to talk to anyone is when I’m  either starting or finishing and at my truck.. When I was cleaning in  the area of the trash pile several people came to the riverbank to say,  hello. Sunday I met a couple who walk the trail several times a week.
A  year from now there will probably be less trash in the river but more  on the trail. Fact-of-life, Americans are pigs. Where they go so come  their trash.
Sally Sears is the Executive Director of the South Fork Conservancy,  a nonprofit that seeks to restore, conserve and protect the Riparian systems of the South Fork of Peachtree Creek Watershed. Follow South Fork on Facebook. Learn more on their website.

Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative Announces Locally Preferred Alternative

by Jane P. Rawlings, LLCC Transportation Coordinator
 

MARTA Planning staff has completed the review of community feedback and technical analysis and have finalized a recommended locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the Clifton Corridor. The LPA is the alternative that, based on technical analysis and stakeholder input, would most effectively address the needs of the corridor and goals and objectives of the project.
The recommended LPA includes 8.8 miles of new light rail transit (LRT) service connecting the Lindbergh MARTA Station to the Emory/Clifton Corridor and beyond to the Avondale MARTA Station. The recommendation for the locally preferred alternative includes several tunnels and one of those tunnels extends from an area west of Lenox Road to an area just west of Briarcliff Road.
MARTA Planning staff will present the LPA recommendation to the MARTA Planning and External Relations Committee on March 26 at 10:00 a.m. and to the MARTA Board on April 9 at 1:30 p.m.  There will be a public comment period prior to the Board meeting only.  Both meetings will be held at:
MARTA Headquarters, 6th Floor Board Room, 2424 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, GA 30324.
Upon MARTA Board approval, the agency will present the LPA to the Atlanta Regional Commission for adoption and incorporation into the long-range transportation plan. Afterwards, the LPA will be advanced through the next step in the federal project development process which is the completion of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). This study will go into much more detailed level of analysis as compared to the Alternatives Analysis (AA).
The Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition (LLCC) in conjunction with the Morningside Lenox Park Association (MLPA), and the Woodland Hills Neighborhood Association (WHNA) hired Heather Alhadeff, Senior Transportation Planner with Perkins + Will, to assist us in disseminating information to the public, collecting this input, and preparing a formal document for inclusion in the AA. This document which includes a summary along with all results and comments from our surveys is included. To view this report click HERE. Inclusion in the report best positions our communities in the federal process moving forward.
The Fact Sheet recently released by MARTA has concerned some in our community as it did not mention tunneling of the project or a Morningside station. The purpose of a Fact Sheet is to comment ONLY on the alignment and technology preferences for the project. It is not intended to address the project in great detail. For this type of information one will have to review the study document. I have reached out to Jason Morgan, Project Manager, for the CCTI requesting additional summary details regarding the second segment (from Cheshire Bridge to Briarcliff) as I have received emails with questions. I share below his comments in an effort to address some of these matters and provide clarity to the public.
Email correspondence from Jason Morgan, Project Manager MARTA:
The fact sheet that has been distributed does not preclude the tunnel.  The tunnel is part of the proposal. In fact, there are three tunnels that are included with the proposal. The second and third tunnels are further east along the alignment. The fact sheet is not intended to go into the details regarding where every tunnel or elevated structure is located.  We have other materials which illustrate the specific station concepts and tunnel proposals. We have done our best to balance the comments from members of the community throughout the entire project corridor with our best technical analysis. The LLCC report has provided valuable insight into the perspective of residents in this section of the corridor, but the project team must consider cost and potential construction issues as well.
With that said:

  • A bored light rail tunnel is proposed to run parallel to and beneath the northside of CSX  right-of-way.
  • The tunnel depth will be a  minimum of 55 feet.  The specifics of the tunnel design will be  determined during the Environmental Impact Study which has been targeted to begin later this year.
  • Specific impacts and compensation are quantified during the Environmental Impact Study and in accordance with guidelines identified within the National Environmental Policy Act. Keep in mind, this corridor is 8.8 miles long and most of the potential impacts or displacements we can estimate at this stage are in areas where the alignment is above ground.
  • While a station at Lenox Road was requested to be examined, ultimately many residents expressed trepidation about having a station close to their homes.  In addition, there was a significant additional estimated cost associated with building a subway station at this location.  The suggestion from attendees at the October 25 meeting as well via many comments was to add a walking trail that would connect Lenox Road to the station at Cheshire Bridge.  This trail could be integrated with the South Fork of Peachtree Creek trail as well as others.

Revised station concepts and alignment concepts are currently being updated to the project website (www.itsmarta.com/clifton-corr.aspx). MARTA hopes to have everything activated by later this week.

Explore a New Trail Near Peachtree Creek

By Sally Sears
Invitation  to explore a meadow in winter — it’s a newly created trail through a  long-ignored slice of Midtown, beside Peachtree Creek and Interstate 85.  Popular tours of the trails last week gave dogs, owners and neighbors a  walk in nature.
The  neighbors and the South Fork Conservancy are carving a new vision for  caring for our intown creeks. Simple trails through the landscape beside  the south and north forks encourage people to walk their dogs, breathe  deeply and re-discover big hardwoods hiding in plain sight on public  land. This meadow is interstate right of way, next to a neighborhood  with almost no accessible greenspace.
Two years of cooperation helped to  build this mulch trail, weaving along the creek and through a meadow of  wild flowers and grasses.  Neighbors hope to connect the trails under  the interstate to the Morningside Nature Preserve, Zonolite Park and  then to the Herbert Taylor-Daniel Johnson Nature Preserve.
If  you want to walk it, the trail head is just across the guard rail at  Lindbergh Drive and I-85. On street parking available at Lindbergh Drive  and  Armand Road.
More information is available at the South Fork Conservancy website.
Sally Sears is the Executive Director of thr South Fork Conservancy, a nonprofit that seeks to restore, conserve and protect the Riparian systems of the South Fork of Peachtree Creek Watershed. This article appeared in the Virginia Highland/North Druid Hills Patch on January 11, 2012.

Local Voices – Why a Clifton Corridor Transit Line is Long Overdue

by Nenad Tadic for Virginia Highland/Druid Hills Patch
I wrote an article in August on a recent development to bring MARTA rail service directly to Emory’s Druid Hills campus. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept up with the initiative since then so I don’t know the current status of it.
But it’s a shame that when MARTA was constructed, it bypassed plans to service the Druid Hills/ Clifton Corridor area with a rail line. These are some of the biggest commercial centers in all of Metro Atlanta, which include Emory University, Emory University Hospital, Emory Point (coming soon) and the CDC, to name a few. These prominent institutions are located just 4-5 miles from Downtown Atlanta, yet because of the absence of a rapid transit line near them, travel times from the CDC to the Five Points station, per se, can take upwards of an hour.
Convenience. Convenience. Convenience.
That’s the first buzz word that comes to mind for me when I think of what a MARTA station off Clifton Road would bring to our entire community. Getting around town would be no hassle at all.
It’d be safer. It’d make exploring Atlanta neighborhoods more of a possibility. It would diminish the prevalence of the “Emory Bubble,” coined because a freshman at Emory is so limited because of unreliable and oftentimes confusing public transit options that he or she makes his own little bubble on campus.
Emory sponsors Cliff Shuttles which operate on a fixed schedule to/from Emory and various nearby business sites. Emory also has special shuttles that run to shopping districts like Lenox Mall or Atlantic Station. These usually operate on weekends, but not every weekend.
These shuttles are great! I use them often. But they are just too limited and run too infrequently to satisfy the student who has an internship Downtown and commutes everyday, or the cafeteria worker whose home in Southwest Atlanta can’t realistically be reached without a car, especially late at night or early in the morning.
As the 9th largest metropolitan area in the country, Atlanta’s public transportation is a nightmare compared to #10 Boston, #18 St. Louis, or even #23 Portland, Ore.
Of all the cities I have visited during my college visits (these include New York, Philadelphia, Houston, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and of course Atlanta), getting from Hartsfield Jackson to Emory was the hardest airport-school commute.
I myself am from Chicago and can attest to the fact that you can get anywhere in the city with public transit. Anywhere. Especially the University of Chicago and Northwestern University – Emory’s peer institutions. In fact, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs the “Purple Line,” named after neighborhing Northwestern which the line runs near.
That’s not to say better public transportation would necessarily make Emory a better school. Not at all. Sure it may make it seem more of an attractive option to prospective students, but that doesn’t get at the bottom line.
The bottom line is this: Atlanta is famous for its urban sprawl and consequently, its traffic. Its infrastructure is severely lacking for a city of its size.
Those opposed to transit lines cite that they bring crimes to otherwise safe and wealthy white neighborhoods. Policymakers need to address their concerns.
It is time for Atlanta to develop a plan that suggests it really is the forward-thinking city it once prided itself on. Better public transit is only going to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. And in important districts like the Clifton Corridor, a transit line is crucial.

Atlanta’s quality of life to improve if we transform our ‘red fields’ into ‘green fields’

By VAL PETERSON, first lady of Georgia Tech for SaportaReport.com
Since coming to the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2009, one thing I have learned is that the City of Atlanta has truly benefitted from projects created by our students, faculty and alumni.  From our skyline to Atlantic Station to the Beltline, Atlanta would be a very different place without Georgia Tech.
A new project is being proposed by Mike Messner, a 1976 Civil Engineering graduate who grew up in Atlanta and still cares deeply about our city. In Mike’s mind there is far too much non-productive real estate and not enough green space in Atlanta.
Thus, in 2009, Mike and his wife, Jenny — through their family foundation: the Speedwell Foundation — created and funded a program to bring more green space to urban areas. They call it “Red Fields to Green Fields.”
A “red field” is a property that is deeply in the “red” financially. These properties can ruin neighborhoods. Today there are an estimated 27,000 “red” properties in metro Atlanta. They can become hangouts for criminals. They can become a blight to surrounding neighborhoods.
Regardless of how hard homeowners work to keep their houses looking decent, an abandoned house or vacant strip mall in the neighborhood drags down everyone’s property values.
Messner’s solution is to turn “Red Fields” into “Green Fields,” knocking down financially distressed real estate and replacing it with “green fields”—creating parks and green space.
Kevin Caravati, a senior research scientist at Georgia Tech, and his team are employing this approach and working to make this vision a reality.
Trees, plants and flowers are filters. They clean the air and cool cities in the summer; and they help with storm runoff and flooding.
Parks help to build community. They make people feel calm, boosting spirits and adding beauty to our neighborhoods. Being in nature can ease the symptoms of depression.
Parks and greenways also make surrounding property values climb. Knock down an unused building and the surrounding property values go up, sometimes up to 200 to 400 percent, researchers have discovered.
The Atlanta Beltline, another former Georgia Tech student’s class project, is one example of Red Fields to Green Fields.
Atlanta was originally a railroad town. Today, there are 22 miles of historic rails that are being pulled up, creating linear parks, playgrounds and bike trails.
Community gardens could also be built on these spaces. A partnership between the Atlanta Beltline, the PATH Foundation (which builds bicycle and walking trails) and Georgia Tech’s “Red Fields to Green Fields” research program to create a citywide initiative should be explored.
When you compare park land in Atlanta with park land in other similar cities, Atlanta ranks near the bottom of metropolitan cities nationally. Only 4.6 percent of Atlanta is parks. We can do a lot better than that, and “Red Fields to Green Fields” can help.
The initiative can help in other ways as well.
Georgia has had more bank failures (70) than any other state due to this economic recession. Many banks that lent aggressively during the housing boom suffered when the bubble burst. The commercial real estate business was growing, but was stopped in its tracks by the downturn—and the economic engine stopped as well. Let’s knock down the Red Fields and get them off the ailing banks’ books.“Red Fields to Green Fields” can help create jobs in Atlanta—jobs to help locate and process purchasing of the land, conducting environmental impact studies where needed, employment for park construction, jobs recycling old building materials and positions for the maintenance and operation of the resulting parks.
These are all real jobs that can be created here and stay here. Messner has proposed that cities form land banks. They would create parks and greenways until the economy improves and we can start building again and add properties to the tax rolls.
US financial institutions have lost over $70 billion in assets since 2007.  If the federal government can loan money at near zero interest rates to banks, why not form a land bank, a public/private partnership to invest in these properties?
The federal dollars could go straight to the land bank to buy properties at the current, discounted rates. This would remove these properties from the banks’ rolls and help to clear bad debt, so they can have resources to lend again. This would lead to the creation of parks and green spaces and elevate property values of adjacent neighborhoods.
Setting aside a small amount of the purchased land to build on and sell would generate funds to help sustain the “Red Fields to Green Fields” initiative in Atlanta.
Caravati and Messner have met with individuals from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; U.S. Sen. Johnny Isaacson; the Metro Atlanta Chamber; the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Treasury, and Interior; and the White House. Additional meetings are being planned.
And it is my hope that they meet with First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been a proponent of eliminating childhood obesity through her “Let’s Move” campaign. Parks can help kids to be healthy—particularly the one in three who are overweight—by helping them to become more active.
Building the necessary partnerships and consensus for a citywide “Red Fields to Green Fields” initiative is similar to problems faced in solving Atlanta’s transportation issues.
We will vote next year on whether to have a penny tax allocated to T-SPLOST, dedicating resources to improve transportation in metro Atlanta. There are so many small entities involved that it was impossible to discuss this and come up with a solution until the state legislature got involved. A list of potential projects was drafted by a roundtable of local leaders.
Let’s take the same approach with a “Red Fields to Green Fields” initiative for Atlanta. Such an initiative can make all of Atlanta a better place to live and raise families.

Georgia Conservancy Event: Trail Clean-up at Peachtree Creek Nov., 20th

Next Sunday, November 20th at 9am, Generation Green and South Fork  Conservancy will partner to clean-up trails, build benches and plant trees at  Peachtree Creek in Atlanta. The trail clean-up area is located near the  intersection of Lindbergh Drive and Armand Road. Volunteers are asked to  register for this event, to wear boots and bring gloves.
Generation Green is a program of  the Georgia Conservancy creating “exciting and inclusive” opportunities for  future generations of environmental leaders who will protect Georgia’s  environment. The program uses educational opportunities, social events,  adventure trips and service projects as mediums of engagement.
South Fork Conservancy is a  volunteer organization of neighbors and businesses with an aim at sustaining  Atlanta’s creeks and quality of life.  The organization is the beginning  part of an initiative aimed at restoring, and repairing Peachtree Creek to its  “rightful place in the forefront of the region’s natural resources.”
For directions, and registration information for this event, click here.
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Continue reading on Examiner.com Georgia Conservancy Event: Trail Clean-up at Peachtree Creek Nov., 20th – Atlanta healthy living | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/healthy-living-in-atlanta/georgia-conservancy-event-trail-clean-up-at-peachtree-creek-nov-20th#ixzz1dcaPKAJg