Wednesday, September 21, 2005

More on La Puerta del Sol

We've received a copy of an email from States McCarter to Matt Casey (Casey, by the way, is the consultant who is helping Bruno Rubio on getting the LPDS development sheperded through the various government entities in ACC). We note that States CC'ed the email to all of the members the Commission and the Mayor, and that it seems to have made the rounds among folks who are involved in this particular shitstorm.

Now this email is long, but we hope that you'll take the time to read it through and see what the other side is saying. We've also taken the liberty of responding ourselves to some of the points that McCarter makes, although it is by no means an exhaustive point-by-point rebuttal.

(Our comments are in blue)

Mr. Casey:
I feel obligated to respond to your latest e-mail concerning the Cofer's redevelopment petition. Let me say at the beginning that this is the strangest, most convoluted, and unorthodox petition that has come our way in case of the Eastside since I have been a commissioner and before. The way this proposal has progressed is unprecedented in
Athens-Clarke County. In fact, every rezoning proposal (several of which involved commercial) that has come our way (Ansonborough, Cedar Pointe, Tower Place, Geogetown Square (primarily Chick-Fil-A), Lowe's, Athens Offices East, Clarke Federal Credit Savings, etc.) has been accepted by our eastside (not that everyone was happy with all of them) without any big controversy.

Notice that he didn't mention WalMart. That one, if memory serves, was pretty controversial, as are most WalMart invasions. We would also mention that this implies that Rubio, Casey, et al created the controversy, when that's not really the case. In fact, most of the "controversy" was created by McCarter's somewhat spurious straw polls (more on that later), and his generally bull-headed response to all of this. After getting what appears to be a pretty hostile reaction from McCarter, Rubio and his team did what they should have done in that situation - tried (successfully, it seems) to generate support in the community for the project.

Neighborhood community meetings has preceded several of these. This should serve to demonstrate that neither the community out here nor I am inherently anti-business as some in your petition group have stated. The Cofer's redevelopment proposal is entirely different. Despite your spin, I can assure you that the majority of folks out here do not want the rezoning (although they would welcome the restaurant at a number of other locations). The reasons against the rezoning are legion. You have read them. I am attaching my July newsletter in case you missed it. The negative comments came from my constituents who have studied all the issues involved and contacted me. I believe Commissioner Dodson is getting the same vibes?

A few points here. First, it's pretty obvious that neither States McCarter nor the community at large is anti-business, but McCarter's position on this, and his consistent refusal to listen to the other side raise some questions as to why he appears to be only opposed to this particular business. Now, as far as the "despite your spin" comments that pop up here and there in this email, McCarter himself is hardly spin-free. In fact, this whole email, despite being somewhat curmudgeonly in tone, is merely McCarter's spin on the issue, and being spin, is no more credible that Casey's spin, or our spin, for that matter. Finally, we believe that Commissioner Dodson should speak for himself.

Since you continue to give your spin, I feel obligated to write an orderly account of what has happened up to this point. This will not be short. I doubt that everyone will read all of it. However, it will be totally accurate and I feel that it is necessary or I would not take 2 hours of my time to do it. It will serve as a record of what happened. Commissioner Dodson will certainly verify what I will say is entirely true (at least the part in which he was involved). Ask him if you have doubts. Here is my account. In most cases I have not indicated dates, but I have everything thoroughly documented in writing should that be needed.

Nothing to add here, except to reiterate that this is spin too! Matt Casey and Bruno Rubio hardly have a monopoly on spin, and it's duplicitous of States McCarter to pretend otherwise. Also, the whole thing about taking two hours of his time? That's just whiny. Don't bitch and moan about doing your job. And again, Commissioner Dodson should speak for himself.

My first contact concerning this development was with Designer Ken Beall. Mr. Beall requested that I meet with him to discuss "redevelopment of the Cofer's property". Of course, I agreed to do so immediately as I have always done. I suggested that the meeting should include Commissioner Dodson. He agreed and later requested that you, Mr. Rubio, and Mr. Garland also be invited. I immediately agreed. You will recall our first meeting on the Eastside. At that meeting, you and Mr. Rubio were mostly silent. Both Commissioner Dodson and I told all of you that we believed the proposal would not be received very well by the community. Of course, we were talking about the "community" that will be affected by the rezoning. However, we made the offer to contact area neighborhood groups to get their reaction. I agreed to make the intial contact with the Cedar Creek Civic Association (CCCA) to get their response. I followed through on this commitment, presenting the proposal (the copy that you provided) in an objective way to the entire board of the CCCA. In short, the idea was not well received. The next day I contacted Ken Beall telling him about my experience with the CCCA. I indicated to him a possible alternative site for the restaurant and gave him a telephone number of a contact. I learned later that the contact was never made. Still, I made the offer to Mr. Beall to set up a neighborhood meeting (standard practice out here) to let the petitioners make their case. I did not hear anything further from Mr. Beall.

This makes us wonder. First of all, we wonder why it appears that McCarter's own subdivision was the only one he reached out to? What about the areas farther down Cedar Shoals Drive (which would, we presume, be more directly affected by the traffic), or for that matter, the people at Tivoli, which is right across the street? Second, doesn't it seem that if, as we suggest, McCarter already had his mind made up about the project, that having him present your proposal to the CCCA is a leeeeeetle but like letting the fox guard the henhouse? Third, McCarter is trying to imply that the LPDS folks should have pursued other locations for development, after hearing second hand from McCarter about a proposal presented by him to a group of folks he knows well. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If the LPDS team chooses to pursue a rezoning on that location, there is nothing to stop them from doing so. So far, they have done so through the appropriate channels, and with courtesy and professionalism. To imply that they should have taken McCarter's blowoff and gone their merry way to a less desirable location is just disingenuous on the Commissioner's part. Finally, you can't blame Beall and the rest of the team for deciding not to take advantage of McCarter's somewhat spurious offers of help. (With friends like these, etc...)

The next event was an e-mail from you to the mayor and commission (M&C) and others that was presented in a "lobbying" sort of way. I wrote the M&C suggesting that they wait until they got all the facts concerning the proposal before responding. I know that at least some of them continued to be lobbied by you and later by Mr.Stuart Cofer.

Isn't asking the M&C to hold off on making a decision also lobbying? Just like his somewhat nebulous concept of spin, McCarter's concept of lobbying also looks be a little more specific than is actually the case. More importantly, since when is it a crime for a business owner to proivde information and ask the M&C for their support? FInally, why shouldn't the M&C be allowed to make up their minds this early? As his comments here make very clear, McCarter had already done so.

I was so puzzled by your e-mail and its contents that Commissioner Dodson and I requested a second meeting. As I recall, the same group of folks as the first time were present. Mr. Cofer was not present. Again, Commissioner Dodson and I discouraged you folks in every way possible, knowing of the opposition we had already heard. On one occasion Commissioner Dodson said (jokingly, I hope) "I am hearing a lot of opposition from people of all ages, not just from cranky retirees like States". I thought this should be a clue to you. However, you did not accept our assessment of the situation.

Again, the folks at LPDS are under no compunction to accept their "assessment." There is a process by which people want the government to rezone can go about acheiving that goal. Nowhere in that process does it say that they have to give after being discouraged by a disgruntled Commissioner who may or may not have an agenda here.

In both meetings you and Mr. Rubio stressed that you folks did not want to move the development forward if folks out here (I presumed that you meant folks who would be affected by the development) did not want it. At the second meeting Mr. Beall indicated that he felt like he represented both you/Mr. Rubio and the property owner (a claim that Mr. Stuart later denied; I am puzzled). I stress the following. Again, we offered to set up a legitimate neighborhood meeting (that involves all affected neighborhoods). We never heard a word back from you folks regarding such a meeting. I know that you now indicate that there was some confusion about who was to contact whom. However, this was the third time that we made the offer. You may remember that I finally found you in Israel to arrange the second meeting.

Given McCarter's behavior up to this point, we're not at all surprised that LPDS decided to handle their own affairs.

Your alternative approach was to set up your own neighborhood promotional meetings to try to convince others that folks on the Eastside really want this development. In fact, they were nothing more than promotional meetings that involved very few of those who will be directly affected by the rezoning. One constituent called the events "the party". One problem. Most of the 250 or so folks who attended the two gatherings were not those who will be affected by the rezoning. The events were staged for obvious reasons. I attended both events at the Cofer's site. Nice parties!.

Now here, we'd like to borrow a page from McCarter's playbook and admit that we are baffled. McCarter is spending one of the largest paragraphs in his email essentially railing against the fact that the LPDS meetings Now we know that McCarter is only a local pol, but we're willing to bet that he has hosted a few "promotional meetings" his own self. They're called fundraisers.

I made a point of determining who from my own subdivision attended (I know practically everybody in Cedar Creek). I counted (and asked others to verify) that about 21 Cedar Creek folks attended (I presume that written, mailed invitations went to all?). I received an invitation by mail. Remember, there are more than 600 homes in Cedar Creek. Of the 21, I know for a fact that 17 oppose the development. Some others offer "weak" support. Opposition is growing now that folks are getting all the facts. The proponents (fewer by the day) are those who are simply pro-business to the extreme, know the Cofer's in some way, know Mr. Rubio for the fine person and accomplished businessman that he is and want to support him, or think that we simply need more good restaurant choices on the Eastside.

Here's our favorite part, the uber-scientific McCarter straw poll. We can almost picture him calling his trusted constituents (the ones that stay in touch with him, he's not calling random voters here) and asking them if they support LPDS. Problem is, we're not going to accept his results until he shares his methodology. Did he get a representative sample of the folks in his district? Probably not. Did he get a representative sample of the mostly white, upper-middle-class, well-educated folks who live in Cedar Creek? Yeah, probably. Well hey, we can play that game too. We asked a few of our friends what they thought about the whole thing, and we have 9 supporters and 1 opposed (Latin food gives her gas.) A related Athens Politics poll shows that 90% of respondents think that States McCarter is just being cantankerous for no reason. Man, we love scientific opinion research.

I am sad to have to report that there is also a little politics mixed in with all of this.

This from the guy who is throwing around the words "spin" and "lobbying" like Rush Limbaugh after a bad batch of oxycontin?

I personally would like to see Mr. Rubio bring his restaurant to an appropriate place on the Eastside.

NIMBY alert! NIMBY alert!!

The Cofer's site is simply not the appropriate place for a business complex. Folks out here have fought long and hard to keep Cedar Shoals Drive (CSD) as a non-commercial corridor. There are a lot of "quiet" things already in place on CSD.

For instance, Tivoli, Barrington, and Cedar Shoals High School? (Especially on Friday nights in the fall, or whenever the marching band practices, or before and after school?) All of these places are very close to the proposed LPDS site, and as to the noise factor, well, they ain't exactly the local monastery.

In a telephone conversation with me, Mr. Stuart Cofer suggested to me that, in fact, all of Cedar Shoals Drive should be commerical and in the same conversation accused me of being anti-business. The facts will show a different picture. I visited with the Cofers (Hal alone one time and Stuart and Hal on another occasion). Mr.Stuart Cofer seems to have a passion to sell the property regardless. Understandable, but Commissioner Dotson and I have to be concerned about the total picture in regards to Eastside development.

Interesting. In the last sentence, McCarter implies that anyone supporting LPDS is not concerned about Eastside development. Besides being consecending to the extreme, this also higlights exactly how stubborn McCarter is being on this issue. It isn't that people aren't concerned, it's that they are concerned, and feel that this development is appropriate and would be beneficial. It's okay to have different opinions here. It's what representative democracy is all about.

The picture changed and the lobbying increased when Mr. Stuart Cofer entered the picture. When this happened and he contacted me, I again tried to contact you to determine relationships. Again, I found you in Israel and essentially you did not want to talk to me. In a later e-mail you said that I should direct all contacts to Attorney Michael Morris. I later learned that Mr. Stuart Cofer hired Mr. Morris to represent him. Perhaps you can see why I am confused by this whole affair.
Finally, Mr. Cofer concluded that a "genuine" neighborhood meeting would be useful. I tried to arrange one before the Planning Commission considered the preliminary plan on July 11. However, you folks were not available so the meeting was scheduled on July 25 at Fire Station #7 to accomodate your schedule (and mine to some extent as I was off to Scotland on July 11). The neighborhood folks could have met before the Planning Commission meeting. By that time, the picture was so tainted that I would not consider the July 25 meeting to be a very "objective" meeting. Still, considerable opposition was evident.

Ok, leaving aside all of the nitpicking over meeting scheduling, we're left with the Commissioner's allegation that the meeting wasn't "objective." By whose standards, we ask? It seems by the tone of this email that McCarter thought the meeting was "tainted" because LPDS made efforts to influence public opinion (much like McCarter has in his newsletters). We believe what's good for the goose is good for the curmudgeonly, angry gander as well.

I was in Scotland during the Planning Commission meeting on July 11. When I returned some constituents who were there to oppose the development complained because Mr. Stuart Cofer approached some Planning Commission members in an off-room informal setting before the official meeting. I reported that appearance of impropriety to Attorney Holly Hilton and later to Attorney Bill Berryman.

If there's actual impropriety there, then we're not going to defend it. But the best McCarter can do is the "appearance of impropriety." So we'll content ourselves with wishing he'd stop whining when he doesn't get his way.

The proposal goes before the Planning Commission tonight and will come before the M&C in October. You have sent out a call for action on behalf of the proponents. I would be more impressed if you would circulate a petition through subdivisions that would be directly affected to get a count of those who support the proposal. The CCCA is currently circulating such a petition. I understand their volunteers have spent hundred of hours walking with the petition and have already gotten nearly 500 folks to sign the opposition petition. Again, I (and I bet Commissioner Dotson) will agree to meet with you a third time if you believe that would be productive. I wish you would simply return to your original position "we won't come if folks out there don't want us".

Here, we'll note the that Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the rezoning be approved. The petition idea is not bad, and is a good call to action for both sides. Again though, the Cedar Creek focus disturbs us. Last time we checked, States represented a whole lot more than just Cedar Creek, but throughout his email, he has provided no evidence that he has looked beyond his home turf for support or opposition to this. As to his parting salvo, there's no proof that people don't want LPDS, other than the previously addressed McCarter straw poll.

PS. Yesterday, a highly disturbed constituent delivered a business-like card produced by you and Mr. Rubio announcing the arrival of Puerta Del Sol on the Eastside. She naturally assumed that the M&C would simply rubber-stamp your proposal. Not so fast! We take zoning changes seriously. I am giving a copy of the card to the mayor and each commissioner for information. Please pass this along to Mr. Rubio and to anyone else you wish.

Again, McCarter seems to have a huge problem with public relations when he's not the one doing it.

Whew!!! Tired yet? We know we are. But hey, thanks for reading this far down. Unlike Commissioner McCarter, we're not going to piss and moan about how we just spent two hours writing this thing up. We wouldn't do it if it weren't important to us. We hope it's important to you too.

Now, put that compuer to work for more than reading AP and looking at porn.

Here's your email addresses. Go forth and lobby and spin to your heart's content, McCarter be damned.

Mayor: Heidi Davison
District 1: Charles Carter
District 2: Harry Sims (no email. Boooo!)
District 3: George Maxwell
District 4: Alice Kinman
District 5: David Lynn
District 6: Carl Jordan
District 7: Kathy Hoard
District 8: States McCarter
District 9: Tom Chasteen
District 10: Elton Dodson

We'd also like the thank the anonymous source who sent us the email. Be like him or her. Tip us off here.


DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Fantastic work. As time goes on, it becomes more and more clear that everything about LPDS makes sense, and States and the supposed others at Cedar Creek's opposition is mindless resistance to any kind of change that they think they may not like. As alluded to in an earlier post, I think there is one big obvious reason for the resistance to "this business", but I'm not gonna be the first to throw out those kind of charges.

hillary said...

Oh good. I'm glad you got this. It was included in my packet of stuff that showed up in my mailbox, but I was too lazy to type all this up too.

Anonymous said...

I'll throw out the charges. States doesn't want Mexicans in the neighborhood. None of the other excuses make sense. I bet he would take a strip center on that site. I bet he would take three chain restaurants and several clothing stores. As long as they aren't latin or hispanic themed.

hillary said...

Actually, I still think that's a little unfair. I'm not saying there's no subtle racism involved, but I think it's more about being inflexible and wanting zoning regulations to be stuck to than anything else, i.e., it's a control issue.

andyrusk said...

The elephant in the living room... at last.

Rascism? That's a heavy charge.

I'd call it plain old "White Fear".

Maybe our progressive little town ain't so. Surprised?

(good coverage on this, by the way)

Anonymous said...

What is the difference in white fear and racism? Different levels of a black and white issue?


Jmac said...

Technically, I suppose racism implies one race taking a position where it feels its race is superior to all other, or some, races. White fear, as the phrase is being used here, would be more of a prejudice it seems to me. That is, an irrational dislike of a particular group based on shallow rationale.

Does that makes sense?

Anonymous said...

Not the first time for States, either.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Just a reminder that this whole thing is on the agenda-setting session tonight, and then will be voted on on October 4. Keep the pressure on the "M&C", as States likes to call them, and if you have time show up at one of these sessions and speak up in favor of LPDS.

Gigantor said...

Wait a sec. The internet has non-porn sites now?

w-daniel said...

Good coverage. Obviously a lot of hard work has gone into this. Your facts aren't complete but they weren't necessarily evident in this correspondance so that isn't a huge deal. Keep up the good work. As for the folks crying racism, that's ridiculous. My wife was born in Spain, spent parts of several years in Nicaragua, and my children are growing up bilingual. Yet I oppose the rezoning (not the restaurant, the rezoning).