Corporatism in the Richmond City Council

Apparently Richmond City Council wants to pay for the privilege of having my neighborhood hurt. Please come to the City Council meeting at 6:00 pm tonight to stop the council from using Federal stimulus dollars to pay taxes on a private developer's riverfront condo complex. It's such a good investment, the developer doesn't even want to risk all of his own money!

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There are many reasons to oppose this scheme. Governments like city council have too often used taxpayer-financed carrots to entice developers into making precisely the bad decisions that led to an oversupply and crash in the real estate market. If the project fails, will these City Council members be around to reimburse the taxpayers for either the stimulus money or the project tax revenue we lost by financing this? No, they'll be several years out of office by then, in all likelihood. Let's not insult citizen intelligence with pledges of accountability, now.

Remember: if the developer will not even risk his or her own money to fully fund the venture and its expected tax bill, he or she is implicitly attesting to his or her opinion that the risk outweighs the benefits. By giving this stimulus money to the developers, we are betting that city council knows better than industry professionals how to judge whether developments will be profitable and successful. Granted, these professionals were usually awful at predicting the crash of the last years, but is it likely that politicians even less informed in the area will make a better choice?

This is corporatism, pure and simple: an alliance between private business interests and government to shape the laws and lives of its constituents in ways that promote a particularly narrow and undemocratic agenda. The best case scenario is this: politicians get more tax money to spend, while the private developer gets a lot more money to spend. No guarantee that we - the people actually living here - will benefit at all.

In fact, any increased revenues will probably be handed out to special, connected interests. How do I know? Well, because that's how taxpayer money is being used right now. The council does not inspire confidence in taxes actually doing anything substantive besides fueling more and more speculative development.

It's important to realize that the entire project, from its beginning, has been contested by residents. That a neighborhood has fought against different incarnations of this project for years should rule out any applicability of stimulus funds to this project. Appropriating money not directly collected by the city is just a way to bypass citizen oversight and hide corruption that may be involved. Stimulus money should be used only in an uncontroversial manner that clearly benefits the general welfare.

This is all on top of the fact that we just learned of a new fire station being built on the edge of our neighborhood. We're already losing part of Canoe Run Park to another stimulus-driven project. Maybe right now isn't the best time to be handing out money for yet more development in this small, vulnerable neighborhood?

It should be remembered that this development negatively impacts the character of a designated historic neighborhood. Residents sacrificed a lot of autonomy about their property to protect it. If I want to put up a picket fence, it takes two months of filling out forms, putting together a case, and begging for approval. But you want to throw up condos on the river? Please, help yourself to the city treasury. If historic neighborhood designation is to have any meaning, it needs to apply to everybody.

How good of a neighbor will somebody be if they have to be induced by millions in free money to even consider building near you? We in Springhill are trying to revitalize our neighborhood after thirty years of neglect by the same body now threatening us. That City Council can only see imagined future tax revenue - even as it empties its pockets to get the shovels ready - speaks to the poverty of vision in our city government.

Written on Monday, January 11, 2010 | Tags: left-libertarian, corporatism, real-estate, richmond, springhill