“What is Esrati’s end game”

Graphic accompanying Esrati's Endgame postA friend was asked this week, “you know Esrati, what’s his end game?” and my friend had no answer.

Really, it hasn’t changed since I bought my crap house in South Park on Jan 28, 1986- the day the Challenger space shuttle blew up. Buy low, sell high.

Sure, my $14,500 house could sell for 10x that now. And my neighborhood is one of the few in Dayton that has rising property values. But, that’s not enough.

Dayton Ohio, as a city, hasn’t seen the same prosperity, and other neighborhoods are suffering. It’s why I set out to run for Mayor back in 1993, after experiencing the incompetence of the leaders who jack slapped me for installing the “wrong garage doors” on a “historic home” way back when.

All these years later, the same kind of fools think they know how to fix Dayton, and instead, keep dragging it down.

When I talked to Paul Leonard, the “Rock-n-Roll Mayor” of Dayton- who was leaving just as I came to town, he asked a simple question: “What happened to “be the cleanest, safest city in America”? And there you have it. We went from a simple guiding principal, to one of let’s pretend government knows how to do “economic development.”

We blew a ton of money on the Arcade back in the early 80’s- and are about to do it again. We built the tower next to the arcade with tax dollars- and then lost it. We built new schools, only to see them shrink and die. We’ve torn down old buildings, and made it impossible to re-purpose them, so that they become rotting reminders of what was once a boom town. We’ve raised taxes to support a patchwork of fiefdoms, that add no value at all to the community- with more police chiefs, fire chiefs, mayors, city managers and school superintendents for  half a million odd people- while the city of NYC with 8.5 Million people can manage with one each.

I could go on, with the quasi-governmental organizations, non-profits and end-runs around a system so convoluted no one knows who does what and why- many with tax dollar support, and zero oversight;  like the morons running the Metro Library system with $187M of your tax dollars- and no respect for your rights, or Sinclair Community College which is doing everything with Montgomery County money that it gets- to expand services outside the county.

Which brings me to my end game. It’s really simple. Uni-government, that’s run by people who are elected, not anointed in the bowels of political party HQs. A government that believes in good schools, safe streets, excellent services, equal opportunities and fair and equitable taxation and incentives.

It’s really not that complicated. It’s not utopia. It’s just not possible in this lifetime says my friend, who posed this question to me.

But, that’s the problem with Esrati. He’s wired differently and thinks “Yes we can.”

I’ve spelled out the framework for Reconstructing Dayton. And, hopefully, as soon as I get past these two lawsuits, and the primary this spring has enough people named to the Montgomery County Democratic Party Central Committee to stop being the party of patronage, we can get moving on undoing the stupidity of people who believe that you have to color within the lines drawn in 1785 when Ohio was formed by the “Northwest Ordinance.”

Who in their right mind wouldn’t like to see Greene County and Montgomery County join together and create a single government that has one set of courts, one police force, one safe jail, one zoning law, one tax collecting authority, etc etc. (other than all the micro-minded people “working” in micro-fiefdoms like Moraine, Clayton, or Oakwood- don’t get me started on the urban township tax dodges).

Go look at the growth in Columbus, Cincinnati and even Cleveland- and ask why isn’t it happening here? This city has so much going for it- yet, we can’t get past all of our personal prejudices. We’re still as racially and economically separated as ever, we have people living in poverty for no good reason, and jobs and industry are passing us by. We used to build things like trucks, refrigerators, cash registers in Dayton- now, the world turns to places like Spartanburg SC and Marysville Ohio. There is a reason for that, and it is us.

It’s time to have a serious discussion of these issues. To analyze how we’ve become a place that has to pay people to come invest. A place where we have all the pieces to build a great economy, but lack the instructions on how to put them together effectively.

That’s my end game. Are you in?

Hara should be the new fairgrounds, run by MetroParks and the Convention and Visitors bureau

Hara ArenaIt’s time to stop playing around with the fairgrounds relocation. The first clue should have been when Hamvention moved to Greene County.

The second should have been when a local pro-sports franchise decided to sit out a season. Dayton built a really nice stadium for the Dragons and gave it away for 20 years. The Nutter Center stole hockey from Hara- very expensively, and then killed it because the building is a disaster to begin with.

Face it. Private enterprise can’t compete with public dollars- and we’ve done everything we can to put the Wamplers out of business, starting with the ridiculous tax burden which takes no heed of the economic development bonus they provided.

Yes, it’s now a shithole. But, dump $20 million into it, make it public, and voila- back comes Hamvention, back comes hockey, and who knows what else. Put the fairgrounds there too. Why not? It’s closer to agricultural parts of the county than downtown is.

And, Jackie Powell has it right:

Hara is a unique venue because it has an arena component as well as a number of different buildings,” (Jacquie) Powell  (president and CEO of the Dayton Convention & Visitor’s Bureau) said. “When you look at the Convention Center, it’s a different setup. The arenas are different too. For the summer months it makes it difficult for us to position groups there.”Furthermore, Hara’s 7,000-seat capacity was the fifth largest in the area — only 13,400-seat UD Arena, 11,000-seat Welcome Stadium, 10,000-seat Nutter Center and 9,000-seat Fifth Third Field are larger.

Source: Hara Arena’s closure highlights needs for updates at other Dayton-area venues – Dayton Business Journal

Turn it into a public venue, invest a little, and give it better management, and we’re all better off. Build a nice soccer/football stadium up there too- and hold regional games. Might be a great place for a regional olympic swimming pool too.

Book sales, Hamvention, and a hockey team are ready to come back, if the County and the fairgrounds board would just stop futzing around.

Make it a joint project between Metroparks and the Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau for funding and ownership.

Problem solved.

 

Save

5 of 6 structures in Dayton are occupied

Photo by David Esrati of the demolition of the OOF hall in St. Annes Hill

We tear our city down literally- too well.

The Dayton Daily news headline is “1 in 6 structures in Dayton are vacant” and it sounds horrible.

Of course it does- because the Dayton Daily news thinks bashing Dayton is good for selling papers (not that they are doing a good job of that- you can now giveaway 4 subscriptions with your one subscription for free….).

The real story is in where the vacancies are- and how much money the city is pouring into the hands of demolition contractors, instead of doing things to strengthen the city.

Here are some excerpts from the DDn hack story:

About one in six structures in Dayton are vacant even though the city has spent millions of dollars knocking down eyesores and some areas show strong signs of blight reversal.

Urban decay continues to plague area neighborhoods, including a handful in which more than one-third of structures are empty or abandoned, according to the results of a citywide property survey obtained by this newspaper.

Vacant homes and buildings drag down property values, attract criminal activity and provide neighbors with a disincentive to invest in their properties.

But the survey data show that less than 10 percent of structures are vacant in nearly half the city’s neighborhoods, suggesting some stabilization in the housing and commercial real estate markets.

The city and its partners have removed more than 2,200 structures since 2009. The city has spent $18 million or more on demolition.

“We’re not out of the woods, but I think these numbers show things are improving,” said Aaron Sorrell, Dayton’s director of planning and community development.

Earlier this year, Dayton hired the Ohio-based Thriving Communities Institute to survey all parcels in the city to document their conditions and whether or not they are occupied.

Two-person teams spent months canvassing the city to assess, map and photograph every structure and empty lot. The information will be used to create a database to guide Dayton’s demolition strategy and how it invests community development funds.

The survey found the city is home to about 53,574 parcels containing structures. Of those, about 6,601 — or 12 percent of the total — have vacant homes, buildings, garages and other structures.

No one next door

Blight casts a long shadow over day-to-day life for some residents of the Santa Clara neighborhood.

Santa Clara was ground zero of Ohio’s foreclosure crisis. Five years ago, government data showed it was one of the 10 most abandoned areas in the country…

More than 35 percent of structures in the Santa Clara neighborhood are vacant. It had the highest proportion of vacant structures out of Dayton’s 66 neighborhoods.Some other parts of the city are nearly as empty. More than one in three structures are vacant in the Southern Dayton View and Roosevelt neighborhoods.

There is no directly comparable data for previous years, because the U.S. Census only measures individual units and not structures.

Still, the 2010 Census found that nearly half of units were empty in the Santa Clara area. About 44 percent of units were uninhabited in Southern Dayton View and 40 percent were unoccupied in Roosevelt, the Census said.

Combined, Santa Clara, Dayton View and Roosevelt have 844 abandoned structures, which tend to attract drug users, prostitutes, metal thieves and fire bugs.

But despite the prevalence of run-down properties, the city’s problem with abandonment seems to be receding as decrepit homes and buildings are reduced to rubble.

In Santa Clara, the city has leveled dozens of structures since the late 2000s, including some of the most abominable eyesores. The city has prioritized removing fire-damaged structures and blight along major corridors as well as in “asset development areas” near schools, employers and institutions.

City officials estimated Dayton had about 8,000 to 9,000 empty structures in 2009.

If those numbers are accurate, Dayton’s supply of abandoned structures has been reduced by as much as 27 percent.

“I think in most neighborhoods, there has been a decrease in the number of vacancies,” Sorrell said.

Notably, in 31 neighborhoods, fewer than one in 10 structures are empty.

And in some areas, residents can count the number of empty structures on two hands.For instance, less than 1 percent of structures are empty in the Forest Ridge / Quail Hollow neighborhood.

In the Eastmont, Gateway, Pheasant Hill, Shroyer Park and Patterson Park neighborhoods, less than 2 percent of structures are vacant.

The problem, however, remains daunting.

On average, it costs the city about $11,000 to demolish and remediate abandoned properties.

Based on that rough estimate, it would still cost the city tens of millions of dollars to dramatically decrease the number of vacant structures.

Source: 1 in 6 structures in Dayton are vacant

Let’s analyze the problem. In some neighborhoods, vacancy is running much higher. This means either no one wants to live there because the housing stock is too far gone, there is too much crime, there are no amenities, or, most importantly- there is no security in investing because no one sees a future where they get their money back. This is business 101.

Other neighborhoods the vacancy rates are much lower- but still too high.

Some neighborhoods aren’t having problems at all- and still have some vacancies.

Instead of fixing the problems that cause people to disinvest, we “invest” in demolition. We’ve spent millions of dollars taking tax generating inventory off the shelf. We get zero return for doing this. At an average cost of $11,000 just to tear a property down, that’s $11,000 that could go toward relocating neighbors into the solid neighborhoods- or to the ones where vacancies are just beginning to be a problem. We could also hire a new policeman for every 6 houses we tear down- to try to stop the “drug users, prostitutes, metal thieves and fire bugs” that these vacant houses supposedly attract.

We have not gone after banks to stop foreclosures- or hold them accountable for the properties that they empty out. We not only lose a citizen, we know that when we kick people out- the houses are getting scrapped and become worthless almost overnight. The cost is huge. Stop evicting people, unless you hold the banks accountable for the condition of the homes.

In order to see investment return, there has to be some kind of real plan in place to make the neighborhood attractive to investors. Why not waive all property taxes for any investor that purchases at least 3 homes in the same under-populated neighborhood- and give them $5000 each toward rehab? Condition of tax waiver- at least one tenant paying income tax per property. This means no more mowing lots, no more blight- and the houses have to meet exterior code. We have no problem waiving taxes for employers- why not do it for small investors?

We had a company in Dayton that hired x-cons to tear down houses and recycle the materials- we put them out of business by not awarding contracts fairly or smartly.

There are parts of Dayton that are doing OK- but, they can’t afford to keep paying to tear down others problems. You don’t build a city up by tearing it down. At some point, you just have to give up on providing services and worrying about neighborhoods that are half-empty and start working on keeping others from joining them.

Wake up people. Your leadership isn’t wearing clothes on this one.

Government of the people, for the people reexamined

It was 2012. I ran for Congress. I made a video about the foreclosure crisis and called on the banks to admit responsibility for the properties they seize and let rot.

I didn’t go to the hardest hit parts of the city- I just went a few blocks from my house and office.

Occupied. Home owner. In progress.

Occupied. Home owner. In progress.

The house where I’m sitting on the porch, with the siding falling out on the side- has had occupants for about a year now. It’s still not painted, but, it’s back to habitable.

The guy who lives in it, is young, a contractor, he specializes in floor sanding and refinishing. He’s doing work around the neighborhood- and he, and his lovely girlfriend have been at a few neighborhood functions.

They like it in South Park.

The house had sold at one time for well over $150K- and been totally rehabbed. He bought it for a fraction of that.

What was red, and unsightly is now an Air B&B and architects office

What was red, and unsightly is now an Air B&B and architects office

The house where the sink, furnace, and wiring is cut- is now an architect’s office and Air B&B. People pay $90 a night to stay there. The owner, lives next door. It’s a total rehab- and completely finished. Cute. Friendly. A neighborhood asset.

Why am I pointing these two out?

Because, the city of Dayton did nothing for this to happen. The neighborhood is what made it happen.

People are still investing in South Park, wanting to live here, wanting to fix things up, because of the community we have created. Our public schools suck just as bad as they do for Westwood, or Residence Park or Dayton View- which has way nicer housing stock.

We all have the same crappy street cleaning, same crappy trash collection, same overburdened police, same poor parks and rec department- but houses that would have been doomed for demolition come back from death’s doorstep here. True, the historic zoning makes it harder to tear things down, but, in South Park things are happening.

We have a church- that houses an arts center. We may have another one on the way- right next door. The neighbors produce free Shakespeare in the park, we have progressive parties in the summer, an active neighborhood association. One idiot organizes social soccer on Sundays. We have a book club, hot toddy parties, the list goes on.

Since I moved here in 1986, we’ve been lucky to add places like Custom Frame Services, Halal International Grocery, Pizza Factory, South Park Tavern, Remember When Antiques, Coco’s, Jimmie’s Ladder 11, Spin City, Ghostlight Coffee and The Next Wave as locally owned, independent businesses. Unfortunately, we lost Graeff Hardware, Poppelmeirs, a shoe repair, a car parts store, a small bakery and a few others.

There are still opportunities here- and interest. Someone is thinking about a wine bar, another about a conference center/reception hall.

And all of it happens, without the help of an “Economic Development director” or the “West Dayton Fund” or ED/GE grants, or tax abatements or any of the other government “tools” that you constantly hear about as the reason for a “renaissance.”

On Monday the City Commission will swear in another pawn in the game, and re-seat a seat warmer. The Mayor will talk about all the things that she has accomplished- and yet, things are still grossly wrong in Dayton.

Property values are still moribund. Population is stagnant. Schools are the worst in the state. Our expectations from government are low. Taxes and fees are increasing. Service is lackluster.

The city has cut funds to neighborhoods considerably. Our police force is at record low staffing. Problems we had 25 years ago are still being dealt with- or pushed to the back burner, while we’ve added the heroin epidemic on top of it all. White-collar jobs are still fleeing downtown for Austin Landing, the Greene, and if it wasn’t for Obamacare driving the growth of CareSource, Dayton would be broke.

The focus always seems to be on buildings. We were told if we fixed the Arcade and built new “class A” office space downtown jobs would return, then we were told if we built new schools, performance would improve, now we’re looking at the Arcade again, we’re buying buildings with no public use for a premium over market value, we’re making holes in the ground on Ludlow street- all in the name of “economic development.”

For 2016, my advice to Dayton: go back to Lincoln and the Gettysburg address. Invest in community, in the power of people. Look at communities and figure out if the density is there to have them come back- or look to consolidate to other neighborhoods. Find ways to improve the quality of life. Stress pride in our community. Talk about what we have that’s working- and celebrate those that make living in the city awesome. Find ways to empower people who homestead. Look at empty houses as opportunities. And most of all, stop accepting mediocrity.

We need to dig in and find our collective integrity, a new respect for our citizens, innovate our way around the hand we’ve been dealt, inspire all to expect more, and bootstrap our way into being a city that is once again known as the cleanest, safest city in America. Invest in people, not in the buildings- and the return will surprise you.

South Park isn’t perfect, but, we’ve managed to buck all trends. It happened because we decided that we wanted something better, and came together to make it happen.

Of the people, for the people.

Legislating morality vs. moral legislation

In a state where recreational pot for adults is fine, we have a high school football team being punished for sexting. Juveniles playing modern-day spin the bottle are facing possible felony charges for making and distributing child pornography. Colorado isn’t exactly a state known for puritanical tyranny like nearby Utah- where Applebee’s can’t be called a “bar and grill”- but some people can have “sister wives.”

In Ohio, a bunch of holier than thou legislators,  are trying to legislate laws to make legal abortion impossible. We just passed a law to “ban monopolies” aimed at a private pot cartel, but not at the casinos that wrote themselves into the constitution without a peep of protest from the Statehouse. Now, all of a sudden, everyone from used car dealers and dentists to hairdressers and morticians may be under new scrutiny caused by passage of Issue 2.

Smoking pot in this state, even for medical reasons is still illegal, and while we’re facing an epidemic of heroin deaths, our solution is still prison instead of health care.

Our “sex offender” laws create an underclass of people, who are no longer free to live where they want, without notices being sent to all the neighbors. Normal employment, basic rights- all out the window- even if your crime was being in love – with someone younger than you, or having had nude photos on a computer of someone who appears to be too young.

Never mind the huge number of African American males being imprisoned for being poor.

I read “The Scarlet Letter” in high school and thought that those days were long over. We’d had the “sexual revolution” in the 1960s- and Roe vs. Wade had settled the abortion issue. Pornography- hard core, had come out of the closet with Larry Flynt and his raunchy “Hustler”- which no longer made any secrets of what a certain part of a women’s anatomy looked like.

The fascination with Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and celebrity sex tapes is able to captivate the country, yet we still seem to think that our politicians don’t have sex, or if they do, it’s only in the missionary position, with the lights off, with their legal spouse of the opposite sex.

We impeached a sitting president for a blow job, spending months investigating this most personal act, between consenting adults. Yet, when the Wall Street wizards destroyed the global economy- we didn’t put a single one of them on the scaffold, or force them to wear a scarlet letter. Fuck the world economy and you get a pass, fuck an intern and it’s all over.

To bring this into local perspective, the City of Dayton has given up on basic city services- leaf collection, street sweeping, snow plowing, parks and recreation, and even effective policing.

But, we handed $3.5 million to Stuart Lichter of IRG to pillage the Emery/UPS building- and create zero value, without a peep. We’ve bought 3 buildings for half a million each- that have zero public use. We’ve allowed CityWide Development to buy a few more- including this gem of a piece of shit for the same. All without a single cry of immoral uses of the public trust. $2 million went into the hole in the ground on Ludlow- $5 million into the failed Wayne Avenue Kroger- and no trials, no witch hunts, no question of impropriety. We’re handing out $75K checks left and right for office remodels to “help businesses relocate in downtown Dayton” while our property taxes are being hiked indiscriminately and capriciously.

The latest levy- issue 13, was heavily backed by the health care cartel in Dayton, which isn’t subject to the property tax in the first place. And while they scream about low government reimbursement rates for services- any kind of questioning their illegal ad hoc pricing structure goes ignored.

It’s time to stop legislating against sex, race, orientation, and poverty- and start putting laws in place that guarantee equal and fair treatment for all. From corporate welfare disguised as “economic development” to tax breaks for the wealthy and the protected classes (hospital networks) it’s time that no more breaks be given unless they are equally available to all who meet fair and published standards- i.e., no tax breaks for companies that have employees who are eligible for public assistance or that pay their executives more than 20x their median payroll. No incentives for individual companies or industries that may have supported or contributed to political campaigns. Look at the donors to Mayor Whaley’s campaign chest- and see that the Sinclair Supporters bought her election for her.

It’s time to stop criminalizing human behavior- like sex and sexual health, addiction and orientation- and get back to criminalizing criminal behavior like grand theft, racketeering, union busting, labor exploitation and violent behavior that are all much more important than two or twenty teens sexting.

What passes for “news” these days is often just glorified gossip. Actually committing a crime isn’t even necessary anymore- if you’ve been following the pathetic case of a local basketball star who is being punished for being accused of a crime- not for actually committing one.

Which leads me to wonder, how much longer will my ability to publish this blog still be protected?

Read these words carefully-

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

And start looking at our society with a more observant eye.