As with any year that hasn't been lived yet, a world of possibilities awaits Detroit. For instance, the Detroit Tigers could still win the 2014 World Series and Belle Isle could still become a state park.
That's right. It's not over yet.
Hopes for a State-City lease deal that would have put Detroit’s island park in the charge of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources were seemingly smashed to bits last month when governor Rick Snyder pulled the offer. Snyder says he only dropped the deal after Detroit city council failed to vote on the proposal before deadline.
But it’s not the end of a possible State lease of Belle Isle. If enough council members change their minds, or if the city falls under the reigns of a state-appointed emergency manager, the 30-year lease deal may likely resurface in 2014. At least that’s what Snyder has been hinting at recently.
Reports that the state set aside more than $4 million to spend on Belle Isle's upkeep if the deal went through were true, but now that money will dissolve back into the state’s $50.9 billion annual budget. Snyder says he's willing to nest-egg some funds for Belle Isle again, though.
Last week the Detroit News reported:
“… The governor said he's not ruled out budgeting the money for converting Belle Isle into a state park in 2014 if City Council changes its mind about the lease.
"That deadline's past, so it's not going to happen (this year)," Snyder said.”
Snyder told the Detroit Free Press editorial board the same thing: that the Belle Isle may just come back to the table.
He said he left money in the state budget for Belle Isle to show he was “dead serious” about making a deal with Detroit to maintain the 982-acre park.
The council indirectly voted against the proposal this year by stalling past deadline, something that cancels the offer for this year. But 2014 is a chance for the city to have a change of heart.
“They can say they didn’t vote, but I take it they voted ‘no’,” Snyder told the Free Press. “So we’re going to follow through in what we were going to do for 2014. I said '13 was off the table, but if somebody wants to talk '14 ... [I’m open].”
For all intents and purposes, it sounds like the offer is still an option, just delayed. And from the looks of things, Detroit will likely be in State receivership come 2014. As we all know, a lot can change in a year.
Again, it's a world of possibilities.
Take a minute to step outside the emotional and passionate debate over what to do---or what not to do---with Belle Isle and imagine this:
Just imagine, you’re a foreigner who lives across a river, let’s call it Swan River, and in the middle of the river there’s an island, say, Swan Island.
To you, Swan Island is just a place on a map, a place across the river to feel good about knowing what it is if a visitor asks—it’s a public park that’s part of a neighboring country, you would say. That’s it. And they never ask.
You don’t think about Swan Island as anything more than a green spot across the rippling river water. In fact, you don’t think of Swan Island much at all.
But one day, you’re bored so you cross the river for a change of scenery. It’s a foggy day in a mid-winter thaw and you, on a whim, decide to visit Swan Island to clear your head and get some fresh air.
When you get there, you see it’s a beautiful place. Swans bob peacefully on the river's rippling waters. The island road gives an up-close stunning view of the City’s downtown area, and there’s nature everywhere, a spec of heaven in the Detroit River.
You decide to go for a jog in the bike lane to see more of the island. But the further you run the more you start to realize something: this island isn’t being taken care of like other parks you’ve been to. It seems like not many people care about the island because the trashcans are overflowing and the storm drains are so decrepit that amid the snow thaw has transformed a soccer field into a duck pond.
The flooding expands all the way into the bike lane, three inches deep. You running shoes are soaked through hand through. You have to go to the bathroom so you wade through the storm puddles in search of a restroom area, like they have in all the large parks you’ve been to.
Instead, you find an abandoned rest area and a row or port-a-potties outside of it.
With cold, soaking feet and a curious mind, you decide to ask people about the park.
You ask a couple who are taking photos of the swans: What’s going on here? Why is this beautiful place so neglected?
You are blasted with a cold response: that this place is not neglected, that it is a jewel; that you are an outsider who needs to mind your own business.
You ask more people, each shouting very different, heated and negatively themed answer.
One person rants that the city that owns the park is led by a bunch of obstructionists who always say “no” and never have a plan to counter an offer with. Another person says a there’s a Fascist ruler in the province who wants to steal Swan Island from the people and that any problems on the island can be fixed by the city, not the province. They say the city, although it is in financial trouble, has to find away to keep up the 982-acre jewel on the river without giving it up.
Another person says the leader of the province is not a tyrant at all but rather a concerned citizen who really wants to see Swan Island cleaned up and maintained properly-- something that the city cannot afford. But after all the name calling and bickering from the city, this levelheaded ruler recently abounded his effort to try to help restore the island.
Another person says they are getting a group of billionaires together to buy the island and turn it into an exclusive tax autonomous commonwealth for wealthy investors and secede it from the city, the province and possibly the country.
You feel like you just stepped into some bizarre dream where passion leads and there is no logic.
It quickly becomes obvious that it’s not that people don’t care about Swan Island but that perhaps people care too much. I mean, these people really love this place, so much so that's it paralyzing. They all seem blinded by emotion and heated debate, firing off at one group or another for being “the problem”.
Not one person you talk to has a calm, comprehensive outlook on the issue. Grown adults are pointing fingers like kids on a playground. When will that fire be squelched?
Will people ever calm down and work together?
If there is so much passion, why are there not volunteer groups picking up trash? If the province cares so much about the island, why don’t they offer a grant to help fix its drainage problem?
And if city leaders are so determined not to go through with any plans that are on the table, why don’t they create a plan of their own?
It starts to rain so you get in your car, all soggy and cold, and drive home.
One passionate bombardment of arguments is enough for one day.
Back home, across the water, Swan Island is still that green stretch in the fog.
Maybe the people in that province need to see it from your angle, you think. Just take a step back and cool off, put themselves in your soggy wet shoes for a second.
Then maybe when the fog lifts and the anger subsides, they’ll be able to roll up their sleeves and use their passion for the place (which is remarkable and in many ways admirable) to sculpt a real solution and not an elementary name calling fight.
Less than a week after being ousted from her perch at the top of Detroit’s Law Department, former Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon has announced her intentions to explore a mayoral run.
Crittendon gained name recognition only this year after challenging the legality of the city’s consent agreement with the state this spring with a controversial lawsuit that pitted her against current Mayor Dave Bing as well as state officials.
At the time the Bing administration painted Crittendon as a rogue lawyer who acted out of line to dampen city progress. But Crittendon asserted that the lawsuit wasn’t about her, that it was about doing her job to make sure government was acting within the city charter.
Since then Bing has opted to hire his own lawyers from the private firm Miller Canfield a move that has cost the city more than $300,000, city bond ratings have slid further into the junk bin and Crittendon has been demoted.
But her hasty post-firing announcement of a possible run raises questions that one can’t help but ask: Was Crittendon planning a run all along? Did she make a big (and ultimately unsuccessful) show of an attempt to halt the consent agreement, (a controversial compromise tied directly to the unpopular emergency manager law) to gain name recognition and position herself for a plausible run?
It’s true, politicians have to stay continually ahead of the game, in months, sometimes years of strategically planning. A telltale sign is that Crtittendon says she already has eight people in place to run her exploratory committee with less than a week of job displacement behind her. She told The Detroit News she heard about her ouster over the news media “like everybody else”.
If that was the case, it seems like she had been planning a run for some time regardless of whether she would be fired.
In a radio interview with Mildred Gaddis on Inside Detroit WCHB-AM: News Talk 1200 Monday morning, Crittendon had all of her talking points ready, and still insisted that it wasn’t about her but about the law and the voice of the people.
It almost seems as if her rise to fame or in some cases infamy was a calculated power play. Which as far as poltics goes, would be brillaint. Or maybe the events of the past year steamed her up for a run.
“The papers have portrayed me as a polarizing figure,” she told Gaddis Monday morning. “This is not true. I can work with both branches of government, as well as residents and the business and corporate community. This is not about me.”
She said her legal actions to block the consent agreement gave people hope, that the legal fight got people “believing we can reclaim this city”.
Crittendon said she has seen an outpour of support, residents approaching her asking how they can help in her mayoral bid. She also struck on a cord that resonates with many Detroiters who are worried a state receivership would mean a loss of voice for residents by declaring that the city can manage its own financial crisis.
What would be Mayor Crittendon’s first action? A thorough audit, and a beefed up collections taskforce to get back money owed to the city, she said.
Although she obviously is against recievership, she said kowtowing to State pressure in order to stave off the dangling threat of an emergency manager is not her course of action. She said the state will likely appoint an EM anyway, so fear is not the answer.
“The City Council should not be afraid to take a bold stand and listen to the people, not be afraid,” she said adding that even if an EM is appointed prior to the election, “he will not be here forever”. It seems likely that after establishing herself as a fighter for the people, she has positioned herself in the spotlight as a sort of martyr, perhaps gaining a soft spot in voter’s hearts.
The second question is, will it work?
Pitted against the likes of former DMS frontman Mike Duggan and Wayne county sherrif Benny Napoleon, Crittendon has some big fundraising to do. And fast.
It remains to be seen: What side of history will the woman who tried to stop Detroit’s state-mandated restructuring process fall on?
When I was a kid whenever I asked my grandma for something new she always sharply reminded me that, “money doesn’t grow on trees.”
Turns out, she was wrong. Money does grow on trees. In fact, with the gift foresight and some startup funds, it can grow on just about anything.
Don’t take it from me. Just ask Warren Buffet, the third richest person in world who made his fortune based on money growing speculation. He’ll tell you something that all investors know, but perhaps haven’t fully mastered: “The lower things go, the more I buy. We are in the business of buying," Buffet told Fortune magazine in an interview. Well, here in the Tha D, “things” have pretty much bottomed out.
And unless Detroit is the one city that defies history, there’s nowhere to go but up, up, up. You don’t have to be a soothsayer to see the signs. It’s a slow, slow uptick, but it’s happening. It’s not rocket science but it’s a science of analysis: The people who make the big bucks are the ones who see them coming before they land.
John Hantz, the successful investor who plans to buy up a big swath of Detroit for cheap, is one of them. He knows that in 40 years “things”—in this case city land—won’t be dished out at fire sale prices. No. The early bird gets the worm and it’s just a rule of investing.
I ain’t mad at him. He’s a talented guy. He’s a smart investor. He didn’t get rich by leading clients of his finance-consulting firm astray or by making poor investment decisions himself. So let’s put the emotional responses to this proposed land sale aside just look at the facts here.
Hantz has pitched this proposal as a philanthropic act, claiming that he only wants to spend millions on the area surrounding his Indian Village home simply to make Detroit a better place to live; simply because Detroiters deserve better, that more research has to be done on using urban and for agricultural purposes. We can operate under the guise of philanthropy or we can just call it what it is. I prefer the latter. So let’s be real: this is a business investment.
In Detroit there is an element of class warfare, a rich v. poor battle raging on under and at the surface and often justly so presenting a grand clash of idealism and realism given the country and society we live in. Rich people can do stuff that poor people can’t. But if that’s not the oldest story in the book, then I don’t know what is. Well, maybe prostitution is but I digress.
The Hantz land proposal comes from Hantz Group subsidiary Hantz Woodlands, LLC. The company would buy 1,500 vacant city parcels for $600,000 with agriculteral tax credits. The plan is to demolish abandoned buildings and clean up the land which makes up about 140 contiguous acres and plant thousands of hardwood trees. Trees that will take about 40 years to get to the point to where they could be harvested for lumber. Right about the time land values in Detroit will be going up.
So why are we participating in this charade? We all know what the real intentions are: to invest in the land, buy low, sell high or develop and sell even higher. From an economic standpoint this is a great thing. But lets call it what it is and not insult our intelligence. If the city council approves it, approve it for what it is and not for what it’s pitched to be. History can be the guide here.
Look back to New York in the 80s, in the Alphabet City neighborhood. It was a total slum. Now? Million dollar apartments abound there. That was 30 years ago. Look at that happened in Washington DC, in Berlin, Germany. It's the history of cities.
In 30 years it will be happening in Detroit. It’s happening now. Dan Gilbert knows it, John Hantz knows it and the ones who don’t will be crusty visionless naysayers left in the dust. Detroit is coming around, shaping to be an invetor's dream. Time and money is all it takes.
When we consider this proposal we should take a moment too look around the country. This type of proposal is not unique to Detroit. The Hantz Woodlands project may be the largest land sale Detroit has seen but it certainly is not the largest city land grab in the country.
Last year city panels in St. Louis approved a much bigger city land sale to private developer Paul McKee. The St. Louis Real Estate Society reported last year:
Despite the continued legal appeals over losing out on $390 million in tax increment financing (TIF) money for infrastructure improvements, St. Louis mega-developer Paul McKee is pressing forward on his ambitious Northside Regeneration Project. Just this morning, City officials quickly approved McKee’s offer to purchase 1,233 city-owned parcels and option on the neglected Pruitt-Igoe for roughly $3.2 million. All these parcels are located on the Near Northside of St. Louis, just north of Downtown. With this expansion, McKee will now hold around 2,200 parcels, totaling over 250 acres."
Perhaps McKee took a different approach than Hantz but it’s basically the same thing. Because St. Louis has different economic circumstances, it doesn’t need a 40-year of hardwood lot to buffer the land value gap. It’s already there.
Detroit’s top development officals plaud the Hantz land sale, happy to be relieved of the cumbersome responsibility of too much land and too little tax dollars to maintian it with. Perhaps they are lacking foresight here but right now in Detorit it is what it is. Money is tight, you get it where you can.
Rob Anderson, Director of the Detroit Planning and Development Department said the project would save the city money and was all around a good thing. “What we have is an individual who is willing to clean this community and pay taxes. I don’t see the down side,” Anderson told city council members recently.
"Rodney Crim, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay's top development official, said the land sale agreement was a good one. It moves more than one-tenth of all city-owned property off the books, adding $100,000 to the tax rolls and saving the cost of mowing and maintenance. Some of the $3.2 million proceeds will pay to demolish more crumbling city-owned buildings across north St. Louis, freeing up more land for redevelopment. And much of the ground has been up for sale for decades, with no credible buyers, until McKee. "The market hasn't addressed this issue," Crim said. "Now we have a developer who plans to address the whole area and is ready to move forward."
Is sugar the new tobacco? That’s a question with a growing buzz around the nation, especially after the City of New York’s bold move to ban large, sugary beverages in restaurants, cafes and movie theatres.
By now it’s no secret. It’s a known medical fact that sugar is packed not only with nutritionally “empty” calories but it’s a veritable appetite stimulate. Some even argue that sugar is an addictive drug and should be regulated just like alcohol or tobacco. A study released by the American Health Trust this September found Michigan to be the fifth fattest state in the union. Numerous reports over the past decade have put Detroit anywhere between the first and fifth most obese city on the nation, at times rivalling Houston, Texas for the fattest spot depending on the year and who’s reporting.
This is yet another list Detroit doesn’t have to be on.
After a spirited rally against soda pop yesterday, Detroiters may be getting on board the sugar-awareness train. The rally, held at Detroit’s Sinai Grace Hospital, urged people to cut pop out of their diets to prevent excess caloric intake and therefore, obesity.
Any doctor or dietitian will tell you: excess sugar intake (Americans guzzle syrup-filled drinks by the gallon) leads to obesity and obesity causes serious health complications including heart disease, diabetes and other leading causes of death in the United States. There’s nothing to debate there.
What many people disagree on is what we, as a country, should do about it. Should the government intervene like it did with booze and tobacco? Some argue that regulating sugar opens the door to regulating all sorts of lifestyle choices. Perhaps the best approach is not to regulate sugaar entirely but have warnings on foods and drinks with significant added sugar about the health risks involved in excess sugar consumption.
Perhaps the worst sugar and junk food travesty is childhood obesity. One in three chidlren in America are not considered overweight or obese. At the hosptial rally yersterday, the president and CEO of Sinai Grace Hospital, Dr. Reginald Eadie, said that childhood obesity is causing more damage to the American people than a natrual disacter like hurricane Sandy could ever do. I agree.
We need to find a way to bring awareness to the amount of sugarwe as Americans unconsciously consume. Maybe a massive education effort through government health agencies and schools is part of the answer.
At any rate, Americans are too sweet on sugar.
“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average American consumes 156 pounds of added sugar per year. That’s five grocery store shelves loaded with 30 or so one pound bags of sugar each. If you find that hard to believe, that’s probably because sugar is so ubiquitous in our diets that most of us have no idea how much we’re consuming. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) puts the amount at 27.5 teaspoons of sugar a day per capita, which translates to 440 calories – nearly one quarter of a typical 2000 calorie a day diet.” Obesity doesn’t just affect fat people. It affects everyone by spiking health care costs."
This year’s "F as in Fat” study conducted by the Trust for America's Health showed glaring statistics that between type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and arthritis, more than $23 billion is spent on healthcare costs every year. The sickness industry and insurance companies may be doing well, Americans, especially Michiganders and Detroiters, are not.
This isn’t fair to healthy people or people who unconsiously are making themselves obese. Should we do like Canada does with tobacco packaging and stick a photo of a grossly protruding belly on pop and candy labels? While that might sound extreme, we have to do something about obesity in America. It is estimated through studies that one in three Americans is clinically obese.
History shows, government regulation on anything has stirred up heated debates on freedom in this country. But if people are not educated, they are not making a conscious choice.
Decades ago, in the late 60’s, ferver over tobacco regulation revved up to a frenzy when, on April 1 1970, President Richard Nixon signed a law officially banning cigarette ads on television and radio. Meanwhile, Government was bulking up its efforts to discourage the sale of cigarettes. Post office trucks carried posters: "100,000 Doctors Have Quit Smoking," posters warned “quit smoking, or die”.
This summer, a U.S. appeals court struck down a law that would require tobacco companies to use graphic health warnings on the packages of tobacco products. These warnings would include gross-out photos of blackened lungs, rotted teeth or a smoker exhaling through a hole in his throat.
Much like tonacco, a war on sugar is a war on big industry. Most soda pop and other sweet products lining grocery stores shelves and restaurant tableware is no packed with cane or beet sugar but high fructose corn syrup.
Most government regulation stems from concern over kids. Just like childhood obesity is a scare, so is youth smoking. The U.S. Surgeon General warned this March that youth smoking has reached the scale of an epidemic , as one in four U.S. high school seniors is a habitual smoker and set up for life long battle with nicotine addiction.
Should the surgeon general issue a warning on soda pop and other sugary beverages that offer no nutritious content to our diets? Many health professinals and scienticic researchers argue that sugar is in fact addictive and should be considered a drug. Many Americans casually refer the affect of sugar on kids and adults a “sugar high”. But this is something we should take more seriously.
A report last year citied researchers claiming that sugar is just as addictive as cocaine or nicotine and that most people don’t realize this because it’s so culturally acceptable and available.
In more positve news, the State of Michigan is aawre and making moves to curb the state's obesity problem.
When the numbers were released from the most recent national obesity study "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012” Michigan’s high rank spurred Governor Rick Snyder’s administration to release a statement on the topic.
The governor's office released a statement once the findings of the study were released:
"While watching these numbers climb in the wrong direction is disappointing, the governor and Department of Community Health have recognized this as a critical issue, and are taking steps to turn it around,” Snyder’s spokeswoman Sara Wurfel wrote in a statement. “With Michigan's '4 x 4 Plan,' and the help of our communities, we are on our way to reversing this trend and making Michigan a healthier, stronger state."
While we may be a long way from government regulation on sugar, we should all take responsibility for what we’re putting into our bodies. After reading that one 12-once can of popular soda pop such as Pepsi or Coke has ten teaspoons full of sugar, I decided to see exactly what that looked like.
I measured ten teaspoons of sugar into a 12 once bottle. It filled up more than a quarter of the bottle. Gross.
While most soda pop doesn’t use granular sugar but high fructose corns syrup, that doesn’t make it any better. Perhaps high fructose corn syrup is even worse because it is more concentrated.
If nothing else, realize that when you drink a really sweet beverage like pop or sweet tea, it’s straight sugar you’re putting into your body. Liquid candy. If you drink pop, go ahead, but it should be regarded the same way you count a candy bar: as a junk food snack full of excess calories.
Teach Me How To Duggan
But if Mike Duggan—or any other Detroit mayoral candidate— shares a genuine, hopeful and realistic vision to move Detroit forward through choppy economic seas, then more power to them.
It hasn’t been a week since Detroit Medical Center (DMC) head Mike Duggan threw his hat into the mayoral race and there have already been tough criticism of his status and work in Detroit.
Two-time mayoral candidate Tom Barrow charged Duggan with being an outsider and chided him for having to move into Detroit from Livonia in order to run for mayor. The Michigan Nurses Association accused him of being a “union buster” for ending an effort to unionize nurses at the DMC.
It would seem that in order to earn the title “union buster”, there have to be unions there in the first place to bust.
Duggan, like current mayor Dave Bing, is a businessman who lived outside of Detroit and moved into the city to make his mayoral run. Duggan, too, looks at running the city like running a business. He said his experience turning around the DMC when he came on board in 2003 would be similar to turning around Detroit.
As much as I don’t agree that cities should be run like businesses (a business’s bottom line is money, a city’s bottom line is people), I think Duggan deserves a fair shot.
The fact that Duggan would be the first white mayor since the 70’s should be considered a non-issue. It really doesn't matter if you’re black or white as long as you can do right by the city and do it well.
Duggan told the Detroit Free Press:
“What I’m focused on is we need to get the violence down, get the streetlights on, and get people moving into abandoned homes, not just knocking them down. That’s what I find everyone wants to talk about. And what I find is when you talk about those issues, issues like race melt away.”
While Duggan has shown successful leadership of the DMC, he still has a lot to prove. But let’s observe a bit before we start with sipping the Hater-aid.
Is Mayor Dave Bing gearing up for another mayoral run? Or has Gov. Rick Snyder really crossed a line with his proposals for Detroit?
Up until now, Bing has been mostly supportive of input from the State of Michigan to support and control parts of the city that are failing under the financial crisis. He supported the consent agreement, he supported cuts proposed by the consent agreement's financial advisory board, and he condemned the city's Corporation Counsel when she tried to stall the consent agreement.
But at a meeting with Detroit NAACP members in Midtown Wednesday, Bing hotly expressed frustration with Snyder's proposals for the city using words like “hell” and “damn”, according to a report in The Detroit News.
Bing said of Governor Snyder:
“You can't come in here and think you can do any damn thing that you want.”
Bing added that he does not want the state to “impose” decision on Detroit:
"I have never in my 46 years in this city seen a governor of the state of Michigan involved in city politics like this one," he said.
But The state has been imposing a lot of things lately, so why has Bing turned on this one?
My first guess is that he’s lining up his ducks for another mayoral run and in order to get a good footing with his electorate he has to start standing up the governor.
I’m no political advisor, but I guarantee candidates who toss the term “union busting” around a few times and throw verbal zingers Snyder’s way are bound to rack up Detroit votes.
City Council President Charles Pugh, who also has expressed interest in a mayoral run, has essentially done the same thing. He supported the consent agreement up until now, when he suddenly is calling it “union busting” and blasting the state for wanting to take over Detroit.
Looks like Bing, Pugh and DMC front man Mike Duggan will be top mayoral contenders in 2013. And it’s clear that a successful run it will be a tight balancing act of who can keep in good with the State while giving Detroit voters what they want to hear.
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