Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Gas Prices, Part Deux

Just a quick link. A la Gauche has a nice little photo-journal-bloggy thing that details gastasrophe 05 in Athens. Dig on it here.

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Gas Prices

It was a frenzy in Athens and across the country today. If you want the economic mumbo-jumbo behind it, there are plenty of good stories around. But here's one thing to consider. It isn't just gasoline. If this keeps up, come this winter, it's going to be heating oil too, which brings up a very frightening possibility that should shake every American that thinks about it, regardless of political ideology.

If heating oil prices go up as outraegeously as gas prices did in the past 12 months, people will freeze to death this winter.

Mostly, those victims will be poor kids and the elderly.
There used to be a program to help those people out. It's called LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program). Unfortunately, it's been one of the first programs targeted for budget cuts every year of the Bush administration.
So, we hope that we're not being doomsayers here. When the lives of senior citizens and poor families are on the line, we really hope we're wrong. But if we're not, remember what tax cuts for the wealthy and an unecessary war hath wrought.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Thoughts on the Navy School

You'll forgive us if we don't partake in the "Why did we lose the Navy School" type of navel-gazing, and if we'd rather not question our Senate and Congressional leadership on why we lost it. We'd rather look ahead and talk about what's going to happen to the campus, once the Navy School leaves.
Of course, it goes without saying that the Navy School isn't exactly packing up the U-Haul right now. They get two years or so to begin the process and quite a few more to actually finish the job up.
But it's worth examining what will eventually take the Navy School's place.
Legally, the federal government has first dibs on the land, followed by the state government, followed by everyone else. That means, assuming that the feds don't want it, that presumably the land will be bought by UGA. More on that in a paragraph or two.
We'd personally rather see UGA take a pass on the USNSCS campus. One of the reasons why folks in Athens, and especially those who live near the School are upset is because the NSCS has been a great neighbor. Unlike a lot of other, larger military installations, the folks in charge of the Navy School have, over the years, taken pains to keep the development of the base reasonably in line with the appearance of the neighborhoods around the base. UGA, not so much.
We'd love to see the land go to educational purposes. Gainesville College would do well to have a campus close to downtown Athens, as would Athens Tech, or even Piedmont College. It may be too optimistic, but we wouldn't be opposed to seeing a brand-new public college move in.
But of course, the University of Georgia (and yes, we know, it's the biggest employer, yada, yada, yada, and without it, Athens would be no bigger than Watkinsville) is shall we say, a little land-hungry? It's not that we don't want UGA to expand, but we are afraid of what they'd do with the land. More parking lots, perhaps? More high-rise dorms? UGA buses thundering through Normaltown? Those are, of course, the worst-case scenarios. But they must be considered. In local (and often state) politics, UGA is the proverbial two-ton elephant, and it will sit anyplace it damn well pleases.
Of course, UGA might surprise us. The Navy School campus would make a great location, as an example, for parts of the Ag School, or the new School of Public and International Affairs.
Another option, if UGA opts out of the NSCS campus, would be the always-expansionist Athens Regional Medical Center. Hopefully the same activists who fought successfully to keep the medical monstrosity from going up on Prince Avenue recently are screwing their courage to the sticking-place for this potential battle.
Any way you slice it, the Navy School is in for some big changes. Let's just hope that they are Athens-friendly changes, too.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Speaking of the Mayor's Race...'s a few issues we'd like to see addressed by our crop of current and potential candidates. (We'd also love to see the current Mayor and Commission address these, but they're too busy on more important quality of life issues.)

[source for these numbers available here]

  • Wages: Despite having arguably the best-educated workforce in the state, Athens' average weekly wage is 16% lower than the state average. Imagine how much lower it would be without those relatively few, high-paying professorships to push up the average. Also, the average per capita income for Athenians ($24,985) is almost 10% lower than the state average.
  • Poverty: Nearly 20% (19.4% if you're keeping score at home) of Athenians live in poverty. Worse yet, 26.7% of children here live in poverty. Thankfully, we have a number of charitable organizations that are working night and day to help these folks keep food on the table, but that's not enough.
  • Housing: As developers try to build more student housing, working Athens is being pushed farther and farther out of the city. If you're lucky, you can afford some swank acreage in Oconee County, but if you're one of the above-mentioned 19.4%, or really anyone not making six figures a year, chances are that you'll be feathering your nest in beautiful North Athens, where if you're really, really lucky, you might be on the sewer line and have decent access to fire and emergency services. Then again, maybe not.
We'd love to see our candidates for Mayor and Commission talk about these issues, almost as much as we'd like to see the current crop of office-holders do something about them. But, as we said before, they're too busy working on quality of life issues, which apparently these aren't.

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Mayoral Madness

Even though the election is still over a year away, the Athens mayor's race is already getting pretty consistent press. But before our local punditocracy gets too jiggy with speculations about who's in and who's out, and who's going to win, we've got a few questions.

1. Is current Mayor Heidi Davison going to run or not?
This is the biggest question of all. With three announced candidates in the race, Heidi has been strangely silent. Biding her time, or weighing her options? Even as the incumbent, a win for the Mayor isn't exactly a lock (isn't that right, Doc?), and as the most identifiable driving force behind the rental registration debacle, as well as the downtown surveillance system, and the smoking ban, she has, as Desi might say, "some 'splainin' to do" to the downtown community that she talks up so frequently. Oh, and did we mention the whole Judge Simpson/Judge Giese thing? Rest assured that the local lawyers will mention it. Probably frequently, and probably to her challengers as they write a check or two.

2. What exactly is the difference between Tom Chasteen and States McCarter?
Well, one is a moderate (business-friendly although not completely chamber-friendly) Commissioner from the east side, while the other is...well...a moderate (business-friendly although not completely chamber-friendly) Commissioner from the east side. Oh, and they both pissed off Pete McCommons from Flagpole, which isn't a bright move for any politician. (Link here) Pete is probably supporting Heidi, judging by his writing, but he's also a fair and scrupulous journalist who has no axe to grind.

3. How does the new non-partisan election referendum affect things?
At this point, it probably doesn't affect things much. States, Tom, and Heidi are well-known with their constituents. Charlie Maddox does have a pretty tough road ahead though. When it gets interesting is when (and if) the Chamber of Commerce runs a relative political unknown as the "Chamber candidate," which brings us to...

4. Who will be the Chamber candidate?
(Because we love nothing more than a good segue) The Athens Chamber of Commerce has a balls to the wall president (Larry McKinney) and a shiny new PAC to spread the developer-friendly love around. So, which business owner can they connive into a quixotic run for the mayor's job? Unclear. Perhaps calling the candidacy of a chamber-endorsed candidate "quixotic" is a little premature, at least until the word gets around that said candidate is, in fact, chamber-endorsed.

Now that we've got that off our chest, let the punditry begin in earnest!

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