Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ten Things You Didn't Know About The Proposed Digital Billboard Ordinance

This was just published on the Indiana Forefront blog.  Availability to Had Enough Indy is still handled like a porn site on the City Hall internet.


Now that the proposed digital billboard ordinance has been voted out of Council committee, it might be a good time to review the problems with the proposal.

1) The proposed ordinance, drafted by lobbyists for the billboard industry, requires that in year three of the law, the Council must decide if the law should continue to allow conversions into the future or not.  Once the third year is over, the taxpayers would be on the hook to pay the future value of potential conversions to each billboard company, should the Council or the Mayor or the public decide to change the law back. Say a billboard company has 1000 signs in Marion County (as at least one company does). In year one they can convert 6, year two another 6, and in each year thereafter they can convert 2 to digital. That gives this billboard company guaranteed conversions for nearly 500 years. The future value would be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in revenue for each conversion. Quick math isn't even necessary to calculate the payoff would be catastrophic to the taxpayers.

2) The proposal grants a monopoly to those billboard companies now operating in Marion County. Only these 3 or 4 companies with existing billboards may convert them to digital. Those billboard companies who are not so qualified, will surely sue the City. It won't be Lamar or Clear Channel that pick up the litigation costs. No, the taxpayers of Indianapolis will.

3) Digital signs can be bigger that those they replace. The proposal says that any sign face of more than 300 square feet can be replaced by a digital billboard face of 672 square feet. There are three legally allowed configurations that are more than 300 square feet - a 378, a 600, and a 672.

4) The size of a digital billboard along a freeway can be more than twice the size now allowed. The current billboards along freeways are 300 square feet, compared to the 672 square feet that would be allowed for digital faces.

5) There is no requirement that the pole for an existing billboard be taken down when the sign face is removed as part of a swap for a digital billboard. It is possible that this is required elsewhere in the City's laws, but it certainly is not specified in the proposed ordinance.

6) If a billboard was removed as part of the conversion, another company (perhaps even the same company) could apply for a new billboard permit at that exact location. As long as the location met the criteria for regular billboard sizes and distances, a permit would have to be granted. This would severely impact any expectation for an actual reduction in the number of billboards in the County.

7) By any lucid individual, a digital billboard would qualify as an Electronic Variable Message Sign. But, since the proposed ordinances declares that not to be true, it would not be regulated as an EVMS. Currently EVM signs must be 600 feet or more from homes. The proposal would allow a digital billboard to be 500 feet from a home - and it is far brighter than the much smaller EVM signs.

8) Current law requires billboards to be separated by at least 1000 feet on city streets and no more than 2 per mile along freeways. Digital faces need only be 500 feet apart.

9) The proposed ordinance would allow up to a 2 second gap between ads. Studies have shown that gaps between ads are a hazard to driving, drawing longer gazes off the road and traffic. Two seconds is the distraction threshold accepted by the scientific community as hazardous driving conditions that lead to accidents and near accidents.

10) There is language in the proposed ordinance that claims that digital billboards are not intermittently lit, despite what lucid individuals might actually think.  It is there not only to get around our local EVMS laws, but also to circumvent the 1971 agreement between the State of Indiana and the US Federal Highway Administration on the control of outdoor advertising along freeways. In 2007, FHWA issued a memorandum that said digital billboards did not violate the intermittent lighting ban. That memorandum is being litigated in the Courts. If, as some expect, the memorandum is overturned, it would leave Indianapolis in an unenviable legal position - rescind the digital billboard ordinance and pay the future value of thousands of conversions -- or stand in violation of Federal Law for any digital faces erected along freeways in Marion County and face losing federal highway dollars. Either way it would be entirely too expensive for the taxpayer.

This proposed digital billboard ordinance is not only an affront to a vigorous public process, it is bad law for Indianapolis.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Proposed Digital Billboard Ordinance is an Insult to the Public Process

I just posted the following entry on the Indiana Forefront Blog - because my Had Enough Indy blog ist verboten in City Hall.


The proposed digital billboard ordinance, coming before a Council committee Monday night, is an insult to the public process.

This lobbyist written law would overturn the compromise embodied in the current law, which bans digital billboards in Indianapolis.  The current law was created with a robust, public process that included all stakeholders and was led by a bipartisan Council effort.

The current law has been vigorously defended, both before the Boards of Zoning Appeals, the Metropolitan Development Commission, and in the Courts.

The proposed ordinance would declare that digital billboards erected in Indianapolis are not really illuminated by, among other things, intermittent lights.  Yah, right.  And the emperor is fully clothed.
This particular phrase is included as an end run around a long standing agreement between the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration that, due to the intermittent lighting, bans digital billboards.

The lobbyists also included a provision that would allow the various ads to take up to 2 seconds to transition.  The literature clearly demonstrates that this is a particularly dangerous thing to do.  Two seconds inattention to the road ahead, is considered a hazardous driving condition.  The delayed changeover is specifically used in order to call attention to the ad, as drivers fix their attention, waiting for the next one to appear.

I could mention that a Michigan study demonstrated a statistically significant rise in accidents within 0.25 miles of digital billboards, even while the average accident rate on their highways fell between 2004 and 2012 – representing the years before and after  installation of electronic billboards.  The deviation is an 18% increase in accidents near such a billboard over the expected number.
I could also mention that a 2013 study of digital billboard induced driver distraction in Sweden, led that country to remove the signs and ban them.

Or, I could mention that an Israeli study that demonstrated a decrease in accidents of more than 30% when billboards were covered or removed along a busy Tel Aviv highway.  Injury and deaths from these accidents dropped 69%.

I could mention lots of studies.  But that is not the point I most want to make here.

The billboard lobbyists have been haunting the back rooms of City Hall for years now.  The total revision of our zoning laws has been going on for the last three.  The public could have been included in a review of the digital billboard ban in a comprehensive and valid way.

Instead, we are left out of the loop by some of our own elected officials.  Our previous efforts and our previous compromises are thrown aside as insignificant and meaningless history.

Its bad enough that lobbyists for any industry are allowed free rein to write our laws.  Its even worse when they are overturning a law that involved so many people, so many hours, and so much effort and money to create and defend.

Friday, October 31, 2014

County Compared With Downtown

After concentrating on the economic data for Downtown Indy yesterday, I used the US Census website to map the same sort of data for the entire County.  Downtown is both a bit better for income and a bit worse for poverty than the County as a whole.

The map for the estimated 2012 mean household income is below:

To make the maps as large as possible, I had to cut off the County at the very top and bottom.

As you can see, when it comes to average household income, Downtown isn't anything special.  In fact, 5 census tracts in northern Marion County are about twice that of Downtown.  Taking the County average for comparison, Downtown does outperform.

The estimated 2012 per capita income is mapped  next:

Again, the five northern census tracts are about twice the income, this time based on a per capita calculation, than Downtown.  And again, Downtown isn't unusually high or low compared to other areas of the County. 

Turning to poverty rates, we see that Downtown is slightly higher than average.  The map for the estimated percentage of people who fall below the poverty line is below.

The Marion County average is straddled by the three Downtown census tracts.  The worst poverty rates surround Downtown.

Looking at the situation for children in poverty, we find that Downtown doesn't stand out.

The intensity of poverty among children is much higher than the population as a whole, and further spread out beyond the Downtown limits.

It is untenable that a fifth of our people and nearly a third of our children live below the poverty line.  We have literally spent billions of taxpayer dollars on Downtown and we seem to have created, perhaps, a slight oasis in the center of our County, but not by much.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Tale of Two Downtowns

A brief news item by Jeff Swiatek and a follow-up by Erica Smith over at the IndyStar piqued my interest.

Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., now apparently going by Downtown Indy, on Tuesday, gave its version of how things are going in their namesake area.  I have looked high and low through the Googler, and I have been unsuccessful at finding their report, much less track down the data they relied upon.

The US Census does not have 2013 data for areas as small as downtown and nothing for 2014; the most recent are estimates for 2012.  So, where IDI got its numbers, I can't begin to guess.

According to Swiatek and Smith, IDI reports that downtown is humming along, with thousands of new residents whose household incomes average $90,000 a year, and who are employed in tech jobs.

The 2012 data from the US Census gives us a bit broader and more in depth look at the state of downtown Indy and the areas around it.  I pulled down the numbers and used the mapping function on the Census website for 24 census tracks.

The red line shows the generally accepted perimeter of "Downtown".  The numbers shown are those of the Census Tracts.
Downtown is composed essentially of three census tracts - 3910, 3542, and 3562.

Since Smith effused about all the tax money generated by Downtown residents, I feel I must add that property taxes are also used to fund police, fire, and equally important, schools.  Here is my best effort in sketching the various TIF districts in the Downtown area.  The TIFs are drawn in blue, and the 2012 estimated population is mapped.

The claim of an average household income of $90,000 is a bit high, compared with the 2012 US Census estimates, but not too much higher.

Note that the three Downtown census tracks top the household income in the immediate area.

But, that is only one way to look at income.  Another is a per capita view.  This is mapped below.

Viewed on a per capita basis, the income levels of the three downtown census tracts drop to numbers 1, 3, and 6.

One cannot look at income without looking at poverty rates.  The percentage of people living below the poverty line in each census tract is mapped next.

I find these poverty numbers stunning in how very high they are.  Downtown clearly is not spared residents who live below the poverty line. 

The data are generally worse when you look at the poverty rate among children.  Only three of the 24 census tracts show lower poverty rates for children than the general population, and two of those are Downtown census tracts.

What of the claims of tech jobs?  The Census has a few categories, but the one that seemed to fit the claims best included management, business, science, and art occupations.  The percentage of the workforce engaged in these jobs are mapped below.

The percentage of those in the service industry are mapped next.

So Downtown residents do hold more management and fewer service types jobs than the surrounding areas, generally.

What of the unemployed? The unemployment rate is mapped here.

There are some shockingly high unemployment rates right against Downtown.  The jobs being generated do not appear to be helping much beyond Downtown's perimeter.

While IDI likes to be a cheerleader for Downtown, the entire picture is somewhat different. 

By some indicators, Downtown does appear to have a better financial footing for its resident households.  However, unabated enthusiasm isn't warranted when one looks at per capita incomes, poverty, and unemployment. 

One would hope that the City's goals are to move everyone forward, and not just those who become attracted to new residences springing up thanks to taxpayer funded inducements.  To do that, we need a bigger view of Indianapolis than just the 2.6 square miles of Downtown. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Had Enough Indy? How Ballard's "Freedom Fleet" Saves (sic) Money

I am so very weary of the fleecing the taxpayer gets under the Ballard regime. 

The latest example is the belatedly announced deal to lease 425 plug-in hybrid and all electric vehicles for seven years, now dubbed by the well worn PR firm as the "Freedom Fleet".

Reported yesterday by the IBJ's Kathleen McLaughlin, but inked down back in February (before the company was an Indiana entity, by the way), the City has entered into a lease arrangement with Indy Vision - with the City being the company's very first customer !  Gary Welsh over at Advance Indiana wrote about this deal and the owner of Indy Vision.  Paul Ogden at Ogden On Politics challenges the administrations numbers

Ballard is swapping out 536 gas powered vehicles that the taxpayers OWN for a seven year lease for 425 gas/electric vehicles.

They tell us that they estimate the cost of keeping the 536 fleet at $9000 per year per vehicle, but leasing the 425 fleet drops the cost to $7400 per year per vehicle.  The $1600 per year per vehicle savings come from the reduction in number of cars and savings on operating them.

Quick math tells us that any savings the taxpayer will see comes entirely from dropping 136 cars from the fleet.  This reduction saves $1,224,000 per year or $2880 per year per vehicle in the new fleet. 

Simply by supplying fewer vehicles, Indy Vision will profit $1280 per vehicle per year BEFORE any other savings, profits and tax credits are counted.

Let's recap:

If the existing fleet of 536 cars was replaced by 425 cars - the taxpayers would save AT LEAST $2880 per vehicle per year in the new fleet.  And, the taxpayers would OWN the fleet.

If the existing fleet of 536 cars is replaced by a lease of 425 cars - the taxpayers will save $1600 per vehicle per year in the new fleet.  There would be no taxpayer asset.

Ballard, as usual, is NOT saving the taxpayers a dime.  He is, as usual, charging us MORE while enriching a favorite contractor with the difference.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Paul Ogden's Real Crime

I'm going to go all Edith Bunker on you, but please bear with me.

Paul Ogden was just a quintessential Indiana nail.

I used to work for a company that was spun off a major American company.  Eventually it was bought by a major Japanese company.  During those years I had one particular conversation that stuck with me.  One of the representatives of the parent firm said that the reason they liked to collaborate with and buy out Indiana companies was the similarity in the social culture.

That kind of took me by surprise and befuddled me.  He went on.

In Japan, he said, there is an old saying that translates to - "the nail that sticks up, gets hammered".

That social culture is what they found here.

Fellow blogger, Paul Ogden, a lawyer who just recently put his law degree on the inactive list, was the nail that stuck up.  With regularity he used his blog to expressed his opinions on many things legal - from untoward recruitment practices of law schools, to self-serving methods of certain high power law firms that run the City government contract by contract, to telling the stories of unpowerful people caught up in the powerful legal system.

He cared enough to say out loud what other lawyers just mumble under their breath, if they notice at all.

Ogden was the nail that stuck up.

In a complaint jumped on by the so-called Disciplinary Commission, running its course over the last couple of years, powerful enemies tried to just push him out.  They waved around an email, making claims of ex parte communications and (GASP !) criticism of a Judge.  They piled on accusations.

He pressed on, taking it all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court. 

The Court sided with Ogden on all the major points.

As blogger and lawyer, Gary Welsh, put it
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court in an opinion written by Chief Justice Brent Dickson issued a 30-day suspension rather than a public reprimand because it found Ogden had been "obstreperous" rather than "cooperative" during the matter, which essentially means he contested the charges brought against him.
The Court, while siding with Ogden on 80% of the matters, crippled him with an unitemized and onerous bill of $10,000.  Faint praise.

The image of the Disciplinary Commission is toast at this point, as far as I'm concerned.  They ignore real legal rogues all the time.  They chose, instead, to hammer Ogden.

The Court's image isn't doing all that much better.  Any citizen would hope they were somehow elevated.  But, they don't seem to be.

They have done nothing to rein in the excesses of the Disiplinary Commission and managed to accomplish the very end desired by the Commission, by invoking a sort of debtors prison from which Ogden could not escape.

The Court just picked a different hammer to deal with the nail that stood up.

In the end, Ogden can hold his head up.  The others, should they have a conscience, cannot.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why Councillor Robinson Voted Against the Tax Increase

There were some riveting moments during the 3 or so hours of last night's hearing on the IFD and IMPD budgets.

One of the most stunning was when Councillor LeRoy Robinson made a statement about why he voted against the increase in the public safety income tax.
"What we need is a permanent change in our priorities.  We tend to pay for what we want and tax the people for what we need."
"A whopping 286 Million dollars is going to development, entertainment, and parking garages."
"That's the real conversation."
Well said, sir.  Well said.

Below is the clip of his statement and IMPD Chief Rick Hite's response. 

I have to say, I found Hite's mention of IMPD being a paramilitary organization something of a non sequitur and somewhat disturbing - especially since I did not hear the phrase "community policing" all night long.  I have included his entire response, as he does bring up good points regarding how the police numbers fell off.

However, he never addresses the spending priorities for the tax hike that appeared to be coming from, or at least endorsed by, both the Department of Public Safety and himself.  Those priorities include spending only $4 M of the tax hike on hiring new officers in 2015.  The tax hike is expected to generate $29 M; $16 M of which is earmarked for IMPD.