I get what the Buckhead City movement is all about. I understand the frustration.
Buckhead feels it’s not getting its proportional share of the time, attention, and resources it deserves. It feels neglected, disrespected, and used. At times, it feels like the policies that are in place are bad for Buckhead neighborhoods.
You elected me to make Atlanta work for Buckhead. I’ve spent four years doing just that. I believe it’s possible to address the current dissatisfaction if we act now. That’s why I’ve come up with the “Buckhead Pledge.”
Because Atlanta has a strong-mayor form of government, the success or failure of our city starts at the top. On November 2, Atlanta will elect a new mayor. That person will have a lot to say in how Buckhead and our city proceed --- together or apart.
I have declined to endorse any candidates. As my four-year term expires, I’d like to apply the lessons I’ve learned in the form of a pledge each mayoral candidate should make to be considered for Buckhead’s support. This pledge, if carried out, will address Buckhead’s most significant concerns and, at the same time, improve the overall performance of our city.
Here is the “Buckhead Pledge.” It covers a lot of ground and could cover more. For instance, a new tree ordinance could make this list. But I’ve stuck to the issues --- public safety, transportation and infrastructure, zoning, and city services --- that gnaw at people daily. They are what I believe have Buckhead residents upset. It’s up to our next mayor and City Council to remedy them. And that begins with listening respectfully to what people are saying.
The Buckhead Pledge
I pledge to:
1. Increase APD's ranks to the targeted 2,000+ level as soon as possible, and deploy new officers equitably across Atlanta.
2. Build the newly approved Public Safety Training Center as soon as possible.
3. Reach an agreement with Fulton County by July 1, 2022, to provide all or a portion of Atlanta's jail to house Fulton County inmates.
4. Build a new fire station in south Buckhead (Peachtree Battle area) to ensure residents have fire and rescue services with adequate coverage and response times.
Transportation and Infrastructure Spending
5. Spend all impact fees generated by new development on projects in the council district where the development and impact occurs. This is consistent with Georgia law and ensures those communities do not bear the brunt of growth.
6. Allow Community Improvement Districts, such as the Buckhead CID, to bid on projects to increase the efficiency of much-needed infrastructure projects.
7. Spend park and recreation dollars in Buckhead at a level proportionate to Buckhead’s population within the city. This includes park maintenance and capital funding to improve and build adequate facilities.
8. Work with MARTA and the Atlanta Department of Transportation to create commuter bus service at MARTA train stations and other central areas to relieve Buckhead traffic congestion.
9. Support residential neighborhoods by opposing zoning changes that: a) eliminate single-family residential zoning designations, b) allow for zero-lot-line subdividing of residential lots, c) allow for the creation of separate parcels from single-family lots beyond what is currently allowed, and d) allow for expansion of Auxiliary Dwelling Units (ADUs) beyond their current zoning allowance.
Solid Waste Services
10. Direct the city to determine the most efficient way to provide solid waste services, including through managed competition or outsourced to a private-sector business, and to establish solid waste fees, not taxes, that reflect the cost of the specific services residents and businesses receive.
I have sent this pledge to the top five mayoral candidates, Brown, Dickens, Gay, Moore, and Reed. and asked them to reply by mid-October. I will report back what they say.
Crime and Fear
According to a recent poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, seventy percent of Atlantans believe the city is on the “wrong track” in dealing with crime. That includes nearly three-quarters of white voters and two-thirds of black voters.
By a wide margin, crime is the #1 issue in the November 2 mayoral race. It’s also cited as a leading reason by those who support Buckhead seceding from Atlanta. I’d like to share some thoughts because it’s the main ingredient of these two important issues.
Without question, crime, especially violent crime, is up --- citywide and in Buckhead. In Zone 2, which covers most of Buckhead and includes District 8, murders have risen to 9 from 5 for the first eight months of this year as compared with 2019, the last COVID-free year. Four of those murders occurred at two spas by a single accused shooter.
Because Atlanta sheltered-in-place for large portions of 2020, there wasn’t as much crime through the first eight months of last year, which makes comparisons between 2021 and 2020 difficult. For the period, there were 2,905 crimes in Zone 2 in 2020, as compared with 3,424 in 2019. Thus, the 2021-versus-2019 measure.
Aggravated assaults have jumped to 182 in ‘21 from 112 from ‘19. Auto thefts are at 486 as compared with 382. Thefts from autos have remained relatively flat.
Yet, overall crime is down 8% between the two years. Burglaries have fallen 53% from 350 to 163. Larcenies are down 23%, from 1,098 to 846.
So, why the fixation on crime? Two things have changed, I believe. Violent crimes, especially involving guns, have increased. And the randomness of these crimes has struck fear into our hearts. When a man out for a Saturday morning jog in Buckhead is shot and wounded by a passerby, it’s only natural to think any one of us could be that victim.
Fear has us in its grip. But fear-driven decisions are ill-advised.
Ask yourself one question before you vote on November 2 or agree to place a “Buckhead City” sign in your yard, “How safe are my family and I?”
Is my fear driven by something that has occurred to me or that I have witnessed? Or is it fueled by what I have read on social media, seen on the news, or heard about from an acquaintance?
The rise in crime is not unique to Atlanta. According to a report produced by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, sixty-three of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw increases in at least one category of violent crimes in 2020, including homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
It's up everywhere. For instance, a stranger stabbed a pregnant Brookhaven woman this summer while walking on a trail with her son in that community. Fortunately, she was treated for her life-threatening wounds, delivered the baby via a C-section, and recovering. Her assailant was captured.
A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution story described the rise in violent crime, especially involving guns, statewide. You can read the article here.
Most violent crime, though, involves people who know each other. Strangers commit about 38% of all nonfatal violent victimizations, according to the Bureau Of Justice Statistics. The percentage changes from year to year, but what doesn’t change is that 62% of violent crime involves people known to their victims.
As discussed in September’s newsletter, most of District 8’s crime occurs in its commercial corridors. That’s why I contributed $50,000 from my office’s budget to the Buckhead Safety Plan, which has raised more than $1.5 million to put more officers on Buckhead’s streets and increase the presence of security cameras and license plate readers.
I’ve also been a proponent of more permanent steps. Increased pay to attract and retain qualified police, fire, and 911 personnel have helped, and I have been proud to help sponsor these measures. Our recent Council vote to build a state-of-the-art police and fire training center is another step. I’ve also worked to ensure our first providers have the equipment and facilities they need. And I’m a proponent of providing relief to Fulton County’s overcrowded jail with Atlanta’s underused facility.
Pay, training, and the right tools and facilities are what Atlanta needs to improve its safety. But there is another area that has received less attention and is essential to our well-being. As anyone who has ever watched an episode of Law & Order knows, the courts are critical to our criminal justice system.
Fulton County District Attorney, Fani Willis, has pleaded for help to ensure violent criminals are afforded due process, lest they be freed. This recent column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution paints a chilling picture.
Fulton County commissioners have heard the DA’s appeal and provided some relief. As an aside, all 15 of Fulton’s cities are impacted by the county’s courts. If a sixteenth were to be created, it would be affected, too.
I’ll leave it to the experts to determine what has caused our spike in crime and why it has so gripped us. But fear is not the answer. Instead, we all need to take a deep breath, gather the facts and make the best decisions we can.
November 2’s election is a step toward doing that.
The Case for Representative Democracy
Seventeen hours of recorded comments represent a lot of direct democracy. That’s the time my Council colleagues and I spent listening to views about a new Atlanta police and fire training facility.
Notwithstanding the opposition expressed in those 17 hours to the 85-acre site on city-owned land in DeKalb County, we voted 10-4 to build the facility. We also voted to preserve the balance of the 350 acres as green space.
This is not a complaint about those recordings, even though many of them made the same point and reflected an organized lobbying effort. In this era of virtual meetings, when citizens are invited to phone in their views --- rather than appear in person --- it’s something we’ve come to expect and accept. Similar efforts have been mounted for other causes.
But is there a better way? I think there is. It’s called representative democracy, and it begins with the purest form of direct democracy --- your vote.
When I was elected to represent District 8 (note the word “represent”), I knew I would face complex issues and that all D8 residents wouldn’t agree with me. But I vowed to listen, then make the best-informed decision possible.
I cast votes that some constituents disagreed with, but I’ve tried to explain those votes, especially in this monthly newsletter. Many of you were kind enough to listen. Some even changed their minds. Had I decided to stand for reelection, I knew others would judge me on those votes. That is as it should be.
The day will come when Council again meets in person, and citizens --- as they always have --- will appear to give their views. I hope my colleagues will listen with an open mind, but I also hope they will vote their consciences and live with the consequences of their choices. That is a representative democracy.
None of us has the time, and very few of us have the resources to know all that goes into making informed decisions. Good government is about trust. Good government earns the trust it deserves.
I wonder if the Founding Fathers would have declared independence or been able to write a Constitution if social media had existed in the late 1700s.
Our current-day concerns are nowhere near that lofty, but they are still grounded in trust that is the oil of a smooth-running democracy.
As you vote in Atlanta’s mayoral and Council races on November 2, please take time to know the candidates. You should still hold them accountable if you do know them, but you’ll be more likely to trust them to do their jobs.
Memorial Park Tree Planting Plans
This just in from our friends at the Memorial Park Conservancy: Join members of the conservancy and Memorial Park Civic Association for a Walk and Talk with Trees Atlanta. All are welcome to attend.
Our Walk and Talk at noon on Tuesday, October 5, will take us along the corridor where Trees Atlanta and volunteers from the community will be planting trees this planting season (on October 16 and November 6). Join us to listen, learn, ask questions, and give your input on other areas in the park that you'd like to see added for future plantings.
The meeting location will be the entrance to the Memorial Park playground on Wesley Drive.
To register for the October 5 Walk and Talk from noon to 1 pm, click here.
* * * * * Click here to be one of the 50 volunteers needed for the October 16 tree planting day from 9 am to noon.
Click here to be one of the 60 volunteers needed for the November 6 tree planting day from 9 am to noon.
Last but not least, the final tree and shrub planting of the year in Memorial Park will be on Saturday, December 11, from 9 am to noon. Memorial Park is the area along Peachtree Battle Avenue where Trees Atlanta and AMPC have been working all year to remove invasive species to prepare for the planting.
To volunteer for the December 11 tree and shrub planting day, click here.
Thanks to Trees Atlanta and all of our volunteers for helping to restore Atlanta Memorial Park's tree canopy!
A New Home for the Chastain Conservancy
JP (left), Parks and Rec director John Dargle (center), and executive director Rosa McHugh at the new Conservancy offices.
What it lacks in its predecessor’s shabby chic charm, the new Chastain Conservancy headquarters more than makes up for in gleaming and practical workspace.
The 1940s-era Quonset hut that burned to the ground has been replaced with a nearby refurbished facility that formerly housed Watershed Department offices.
Now there are meeting rooms, offices, kitchen facilities and ample storage for Conservancy equipment. Although the building was ready months ago, it could not be occupied during the pandemic. Rosa McHugh and her staff took up temporary residence at the Chastain Horse Park offices.
We recently dedicated the new Conservancy offices, and here is a brief clip about the new facility.
I hope you’ll stop by to visit. The offices are at 4001 Powers Ferry Road. I hope that neighborhood groups will take advantage of the meeting rooms in the building.