Category Archives: Uncategorized

That Time I Spent a Week with Rex Tillerson

Uncategorized59 comments

Key Speakers At Ceraweek 2012

This is a post from Emily Roden, the smarter and more attractive Roden, about her brief few days with Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State…

Nine years ago, I showed up to the Denton County Courthouse for jury duty and got myself picked for the job. A young girl had accused her mom’s boyfriend of sexual assault and the case was being brought to trial. If you’ve ever served on a jury trial before, you understand the almost immediate, yet very temporary bond that ties 12 strangers together who are randomly chosen from each of their private lives in order to fulfill a very solemn public purpose.

One of our first tasks was to choose our jury foreman. Perhaps it was his business suit, his impressive stature, or his charisma, but almost everyone in that jury room suggested that this middle-aged man with greying hair was likely the most fit for the task.

“Thanks, but I decline. I’m not interested in the spot light,” he told us. I didn’t think anything of it.

I had just bought my first BlackBerry and used my breaks to catch up on all the emails I was missing from my week at the courthouse. I recall leaving the jury room on a break with this man and remarking how busy I was and how much work I had to do. He smiled as he sat and read the paper.

From the first day of jury selection, we all noticed another suited man always present in the courtroom. His presence was intriguing due to the ear piece in his ear. While grabbing lunch at Denton County Independent Hamburger on the square the 2nd day of the trial, we noticed this mysterious man dining with our fellow juror who declined the foreman spot. The intrigue grew and it was the talk of the jury – who were these men?

Finally, during a break in the jury room, one juror had the nerve to ask; “Who are you? And what do you do?”

Our fellow jury member was reading the paper again and pointed out an article with Exxon in the headlines.

“I work for them,” he said humbly. “There are a lot of people in this world who hate me for what I do, so they give me and my family guys like that to protect me.”

I immediately felt embarrassed for complaining to him the other day about how much work I had to do. It didn’t take long before a few internet searches revealed that I was serving on this jury with the CEO of Exxon Mobile, Rex Tillerson.

The trial concluded and it was time for the jury to deliberate. The story was heartbreaking and the facts of the case were clear enough to make the majority of the jury convinced of the guilt of this sexual offender of a little girl. But the defense did a good enough job to create a couple of hold-outs. As our deliberations came to a close, it appeared we might have a hung jury.

That’s when Mr. Tillerson began to speak. Humbly, delicately, and without an ounce of condescension toward those who disagreed, he began walking us all through the details of the case. I even recall being moved by his thorough explanation about the nature of doubt and the standards set forth by our justice system. With great patience, this man who strikes multi-billion dollar deals with foreign heads of state brought our scrappy jury together to bring a sexual predator to justice and to deliver justice for a scared and deeply wounded little girl.

A local nonprofit was instrumental in fostering that young girl through this process, providing her counseling and legal help. I was so struck by their mission that I toured their facility the week following the case in order to learn how I could donate and volunteer to their cause.

On a whim, I decided to reach out to Mr. Tillerson to encourage him to do the same. I found an email for him online and sent him a note, touting the role this agency played in our trial and urging him to consider supporting the great work that they do. To my surprise, I received an email back thanking me for my note, my jury service, and ensuring me that he would contact the agency. I later received a call from the director of that nonprofit to let me know that Mr. Tillerson followed-through and gave a generous donation.

I didn’t vote for Trump. This is not an endorsement of Mr. Tillerson for Secretary of State. I’m sure that the coming days and weeks will be filled with speculation and political discussion over this clearly controversial pick for Secretary of State. I certainly appreciate those concerns and the process that ensures significant scrutiny for this important position.

But during a news show tonight, I heard the term “corrupt” applied to this man who I spent five days with back in 2007.

All I know is that this man holds one of the most powerful positions in the world and clearly has the means and ability to side step his jury responsibilities, served as a normal citizen without complaint or pretense. I know that a scared little girl who was finally convinced to come public with her account of abuse was inches away from a decision that would have sided with her abuser, yet this man put his negotiation skills to a very noble use and justice was served. All I know is that this man and his myriad of aides could have ignored an unsolicited email from a girl in her 20s suggesting that he donate to a local cause, but he took the time to respond and opened up his pocket book.

My five days with Rex Tillerson is all I know about this man and his character. And in light of the recent news, I thought this a relevant story to tell.

The Fake Controversy of Sanctuary Cities

Uncategorized1 comment

sanctuary

I do a lecture for university government classes on the importance of local democracy. While attempting to unpack how it is we’ve gotten to a point where all of our focus, energy, and political rearing occurs on the national political stage, I point out the absolute genius of national politicians and political parties to distract and engage us with shiny, flashy objects – issues that are engineered to divide us by appealing to our deepest sense of justice.

And every election cycle we prove to them that we can’t resist it. Both political parties successfully define our opinions, set the table for us of issues we should care about, and dictate our everyday discourse with friends, families, coworkers, and neighbors around the trumped up controversies they create.

The fake controversy of “Sanctuary Cities” is a great example of this.

I moderated a candidate debate for the three Republican candidates vying to replace Myra Crownover for the TX State Representative seat for District 64 during last Spring’s primary season. During the course of that campaign, all three candidates put out mailers declaring that they would put an end to sanctuary cities in Texas. Having received angry emails from angry constituents over Denton being on some list as a sanctuary city, I looked forward to engaging them on this topic.

My question was simple: “What is a sanctuary city and is Denton one of them?”

Despite this being a major “issue” in state and federal politics and despite this being a major campaign platform for these three candidates, not one of these candidates had any idea what they were talking about on this topic. Two of the candidates admitted as such and revealed that they, in fact, had no working definition of what a sanctuary city was. Without that, they had no idea whether Denton – or any other city, for that matter – was a sanctuary city. The third candidate at least attempted a definition, albeit an absurd one: “every city in the US in now a sanctuary city now that President Obama is in office!”

Complete nonsense. This controversy was nothing more than a slogan that could fit on a bumper sticker. There were no problems, nothing demanding any real policies, just a way to piss off a bunch of voters into getting angry enough to get to the polls and vote.

And nothing has changed on this front between then and a few weeks ago. There still exists no legal definition of a sanctuary city, no formal declarations coming from cities, no agreement on what policies anyone is even pointing to that would put a city in or out of this camp – just more nonsense.

Other than the self-understanding that politicians are generally a dumb breed, I can’t for the life of me understand why some mayors and cities and going overboard making public declarations that they are Sanctuary Cities and intend to keep it that way. They are appropriating a completely made-up designation – a designation made up, to be sure, to criticize them – and proudly applying it to themselves and the cities which they represent.

This has, in turn, led to a movement of citizens (who are concerned for the plight of immigrants in their community) demanding that their city become a Sanctuary City!

I can understand why a politician or political party would want to make up a controversy, make up a name for it, apply it to their political opponents, and whip up citizens into a frenzy on the basis of all of this in order to win votes. What I can’t understand is why those who are the target of this nonsense are so willing to accept the terms of the debate without much reflection and willingly describe themselves in the very made-up slogans that were meant to criticize them and stir up fear in their community.

Fellow city leaders: try a different approach. Call out this nonsense, don’t join it. This sort of bumper sticker discourse is making us all dumber.

 

Mike Pence, Hamilton, and What We Should Value in a Democracy

Uncategorized2 comments

hamilton

 

My Twitter and Facebook feeds are lit up with praise for Brandon Dixon and the cast of Hamilton for boldly standing up to the Vice President-Elect after the performance that he attended. This after Mr. Pence arrived to the performance to boos and jeers from those in the audience.

 


All of this amounts to perfectly acceptable forms of first amendment expressions of political beliefs.

But when we think about what democracy is, how it works, and what values and behaviors we should encourage in order for democracy to flourish, we just might be praising the wrong people here.

It certainly is no display of political bravery to stick it to Mike Pence in a Manhattan Theater surrounded by a cast and audience who, for the most part, shares your political leanings.

But what about Mr. Pence? He took time to go enjoy and learn from a great work of art. He willingly put himself in a situation where he knew many in the cast and audience disagreed with him. He walked in to a crowd of boos and made the decision to stay nonetheless. And with dignity and class, he stopped, stayed, and listened while he received admonition from the cast, to the cheers of all those around him.

Surrounding ourselves with those who agree with us and receiving praise by that crowd for sticking up our middle finger at those we disagree with is all well and good, but it is neither a display of courage nor a productive form of democracy.

On the other hand, placing ourselves into a crowd of those who disagree with us, listening, and taking the lickings that inevitably result with poise and class, is something we could all do more often.

The virtue of democracy is that, when practiced, it moderates our passions. We learn to take our self-interests, ideologies, and desires and allow them the uncomfortable confrontation with our neighbor’s self-interests, ideologies, and desires. It is precisely in this confrontation that democracy has its most humanizing effect: we learn from one another and ultimately seek compromise and shared values.

If we are really concerned with the effects of a Trump/Pence administration, we’d do well to welcome them into circles of those who disagree with them more often. And we’d do well to do the same ourselves.

On Big Cities and Small Towns: Cultural Relevance and the 2016 Election

Uncategorized0 comments

tale

One of my favorite relatives took to Facebook recently to post this New York Times analysis of “The Two America’s of 2016,” displaying the stark divide between big city America and small town America in their opposed political sentiments as evidenced by the voting trends in this past presidential election. In his post, he made this claim: 

What a surprise that all culturally relevant cities (where there is great economic, religious, and racial diversity) voted against Trump.”

That led me to reflect on big cities, small towns, and the history of cultural relevance…

I recall spending some time in San Francisco a couple years ago and pondering the difference between small town and big city mentality. It occurred to me that they are both alike in one crucial sense: their inhabitants have it all figured out.

They understand the world, have a pretty dogmatic opinion of how things are or should be, and there are generally no longer any open questions about reality. All wondering is gone. And whether that comes from a dogmatic conviction to the religion of one’s youth or from the dogmatic conviction that the values of The New Yorker are unassailable, both have it pretty damn well figured out. They are both insulated in a world where everyone shares their opinions and values and can’t for the life of them figure out why in the hell anyone would think any differently.

The really culturally relevant cities throughout the history of Western civilization have been those who experienced a drastic and profound collision of competing world views – Rome when confronting Christendom and its ancient past, Middle Age Europe upon the discovery and confrontation with Ancient Philosophy, Early Modern Europe upon the radical threats and new ideas that early modern science brought to the late middle aged world, and on and on. It was precisely the conflict between faith and reason, religion and science, ancient and new that brought about the most productivity in the arts, literature, music, philosophy, science, inventions, new political systems, and everything we’ve come to understand as “culturally relevant.”

It’s in this space of conflict where new questions arise – all sides are challenged to awake from their dogmatism and the world suddenly becomes big once again.

The world is very small in today’s small towns, I agree. I also submit that the world is very small for most people in today’s big cities. They both have it figured out.

The cities that were split 50-50 on an election like this, where religion is as vibrant as academic thought, where the guy from the small town is forced to engage with the gal from the big city and both are made uncomfortable – those are the cities to watch. And I suggest that those will be the culturally relevant cities of the future.

Denton voted just about 50-50, by the way.

We Should Continue Investing in Downtown Denton

Uncategorized3 comments

downtown-train

The revitalization of Downtown Denton didn’t happen by accident. Connecting Denton to the greater DFW area with a commuter rail that terminates in Downtown Denton didn’t happen by accident. Overturning city codes that outlawed downtown residences and encouraging a bustling Downtown Denton neighborhood with thousands of residents didn’t happen by accident. Seeing private investors spend millions of dollars to revitalize historic buildings in Downtown Denton that they don’t own didn’t happen by accident. A year ago, Denton didn’t allow breweries in the downtown area – the change didn’t happen by accident. Three years ago, Denton didn’t allow food trucks downtown – the new ordinance didn’t happen by accident. The current trend of high tech jobs converging on Downtown Denton didn’t happen by accident. Creating Downtown Denton into one of the most vibrant, walkable urban centers in Texas didn’t just happen.

All of this came about with vision.

Of all the investments the city has committed in the downtown area over the last two decades, perhaps the cheapest has been the commitment to invest $100,000 a year in local mixed beverage taxes for capital improvement projects aimed at making Downtown Denton more attractive, more walkable, and our historic buildings more preserved.

Considering that in just one month – August of this year – the downtown establishments single handedly contributed over 87% of this annual investment, there are certainly no good fiscal arguments to discontinue this program. Assuming those numbers track throughout the year, that means that the Downtown Reinvestment Grant draws annually from a mere 10% of the mixed beverage taxes contributed solely by downtown businesses.

But on this Tuesday’s agenda is another discussion aimed at “expanding” this program to other areas of the city. Now to be sure, I have for years been an advocate of thinking beyond the square and finding new areas of our city with the potential to be other great cultural centers of vibrancy in our town. Finding new areas to invest in based on the successful model of Downtown Denton is a great idea.

Simply diluting the current investment in Downtown Denton, however, in order to invest in other areas without any specific vision on what precisely we are hoping to accomplish in those areas is not good policy. For one thing, the entire thrust of the Downtown Reinvestment Grant is to improve the downtown streetscape, encourage historic preservation and character, and incentivize projects that enhance the walkable character of the greater downtown area. If we divert funds to other areas of town, what vision are we trying to fulfill? What criteria will we use to judge the appropriateness of the request and project? What advisory body will advise us on the goals of that area so as help us make sound financial investments?

There appears to be an interest in taking money from downtown and investing it in other areas of town without any thought or vision as to what we are trying to accomplish.

Here are my suggestions:

First, let’s not take away a good thing. Something that has been a simple, low-cost tool in a limited tool box to help bring about the obvious revitalization of Downtown Denton shouldn’t be cast aside. Instead, we ought to be considering upping that financial commitment.

Let’s consider revisiting the goals of the Downtown Reinvestment Grant to better align them and the criteria for the grant to current circumstances. While the immediate square area and the East Hickory area have taken off, there are still many off-street areas that have yet to realize significant investment in the same way. What are the barriers to redevelopment and investment in these areas? How do we get the areas South and North of the square to pop in the same way? Are their certain types of business that we would be better off incentivizing over others in order to keep a healthy mix of businesses downtown? How can we continue the obvious momentum happening around the Downtown Transit Center and encourage underutilized industrial property to flip? Let’s have a robust discussion on these matters with the Downtown Task Force, Main Street Association, and Economic Development Partnership Board to explore further.

Let’s continue the very healthy conversation of finding another area (or two or three) for investment. But let’s separate that conversation from the Downtown Reinvestment Grant. As was mentioned earlier, that grant is connected to a clear vision and clear goals for the specific circumstances of our downtown area. It is fostered and administered by the Downtown Task Force, a volunteer city advisory board created to do just that. Both the vision and mechanics involved in pursuing investment in another area require an entirely different conversation.

Downtown Denton is the jewel crown of our city. It deserves our continued focus and investment.

 

“The Report was Biased!” – a claim we predicted several months ago

Uncategorized0 comments

The Denton City Council voted to move forward with the Renewable Denton Plan – a plan that puts Denton on the trajectory to power our city by 70% renewables by 2019.

No doubt, the secret, invite-only, block-if-they-disagree local Facebook groups are having a field day with the latest release of emails and documents and the supporting narrative by a city council member alleging corruption and collusion by city staff members, our third party consultant (that was chosen unanimously by the city council), and would be companies bidding for an opportunity to put into place the Renewable Denton Plan.

In fact, such allegations were part of the playbook from the very beginning. The call for a third party review of RDP – for most asking for it – was simply another way to stall a decision on the project in hopes of delaying it enough to build more support to kill the project. I pointed that out way back in January:

“There also continues to be calls from some people to stall the project until the city spends additional dollars seeking a third party consultant, “to objectively verify whether or not DME’s recommendation is the best way forward.” In most (not all) cases, calls for a third party consultant come from the same people who have stated explicitly on several occasions that they will oppose any efforts that involve the investment in gas generation in Denton. In other words, for these folks, their interest in a third party consultant does not stem from a desire for genuine objectivity – they have a stated interest in mind: shut down the Renewable Denton Plan if it involves the investment in gas generation. That’s fine if that is your perspective. But let’s not confuse things by calling for consultants when there are already possible results from such a consultant’s report that you reject before you ever read it.”

Just a few weeks later, Council Member Dalton Gregory made this prediction:

“I’m convinced, if we have a consultant that says anything to the extent that they think that the Renewable Denton Plan is a good plan, that we are going to have cries that it was a biased consultant, it was a flawed work, the consultant was not independent enough, and the consultant didn’t have enough renewable expertise…. If it came back with anything that confirms what DME did, that the same response would be, ‘it’s flawed, it’s biased – you need to hire another consultant!’ So how many consultants would we need to hire before we were satisfied?”

See Mr. Gregory’s comments in their entirety below:

 

To have political disagreements on controversial issues is expected – and healthy. Argue your case. Make a better pitch for your perspective. Involve yourself in rigorous debate. These are the glorious foundations of democracy!

But when you find yourself divulging into the depths of discourse by disparaging honest, hard-working, and first-class city employees in order to win the day, perhaps your case is thin.

The latest “news” was predicted long ago.

 

Faces of District 1 – Betty Kimble

Uncategorized2 comments

betty-kimbleAs I finish out my final year as the Denton City Council representative for District 1, I wanted to begin featuring some of the many leaders, movers, and shakers who work daily to create Denton into the city we all  love.

You may not know it, but Denton has two Senior Centers and the one housed in the American Legion building in the middle of Southeast Denton is the direct result of the efforts of Betty Kimble, a remarkable woman who now serves as the center’s Director.

Betty is one of many women who quite literally transformed the landscape of Denton in the 1960s and 1970s through her involvement in the Denton Christian Women’s Inter-Racial Fellowship. Black and white mothers across the city came together to integrate the public schools, fight for paved roads in Southeast Denton, work toward greater voter access, and build relationships between families of different backgrounds. Check out more about Betty and these efforts in her Oral History in the UNT Digital Library.

Betty works daily to provide seniors in her community with fellowship, learning opportunities, and warm meals at the American Legion Senior Center. But she is always thinking about the next generation. “I always set aside some cookies or donuts for neighborhood kids who stop by every day after they get off the bus from school,” Betty told me recently.

Healing the racial divides of the city, integrating public schools, paving roads “on the other side of the tracks,” serving seniors and kids each and every day – it’s hard to think of a better example of someone creating a better city.

 

The Supposed Gentrification of Denton

Uncategorized9 comments

Is Denton experiencing gentrification? Citing rising property values, changes in the downtown business make-up, new development in our urban core, and several anecdotes about people not being able to buy a house or afford rents, many in town are taking to social media to claim that we are. Even our local newspaper is chiming in, forwarding the narrative that downtown is in trouble and the Denton Creative Class is being forced out.

Let’s bring some data to the discussion.

But first, let’s define the question. According to a dictionary, gentrification is “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

This definition shows why the phenomena is generally found in certain areas of our nation’s urban centers, usually following a renewed interest in downtown areas that have been neglected for decades thanks to the growth of suburban America post-World War II. You don’t refer to a city, as a whole, undergoing gentrification, rather you point to a particular neighborhood that experiences significant change over time.

There’s also significant back-and-forth among urban planners and urban researchers as to the problems gentrification brings and whether managed gentrification can be good for underserved areas.

It is important to understand what gentrification is not (according to all definitions):

  • a general rise in property values that track across a city and track with trends state and nation-wide
  • a housing market that makes it difficult for most homebuyers to purchase a home anywhere in a given city due to supply and demand
  • the closing of a particular business
  • the opening of a particular business
  • Walmart coming into town
  • Chain businesses setting up (in fact, many point to the emergence of distinctively local, trendy, and unique/boutique businesses as a sign of gentrification)

For the purposes of this analysis, let’s look at how property values, rent, income, and ethnic make-up track over time in Denton by zip code. If Denton was experiencing gentrification in one or more of its neighborhoods, we would expect to see this played out in one or more of these categories. And you’d see it happening in neighborhoods connected to our downtown core.

Daniel Hartley, research economist at the Cleveland Federal Reserve, defines the metrics of gentrification as follows: a neighborhood (census tract) that has “moved from the bottom half of the distribution of home prices in the metropolitan area to the top half” between a given set of years. As we look at the data, let’s look for neighborhoods in Denton that follow a trend similar to this.

Here’s a zip code map of Denton. Pay attention to 76201 – that’s where downtown, our two universities, and their surrounding neighborhoods reside. There have been massive changes and investment in this area over the last ten years with renewed interest in our downtown, so if gentrification is happening in Denton, this is where you would expect to find it:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 6.29.57 AM

PROPERTY VALUES
The following chart shows the trend of property values in Denton since 2007 and compares those trend lines with the average values in the US, in Texas, and for purposes of comparison, a city to the North of us (Sanger), and a city to the South of us (Lewisville).

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 6.25.44 AM

Denton is the yellow line. This shows that the rise in property values that we are experiencing in Denton are all part of a trend nationally and Texas specifically. Notice the parallel trend lines of Texas, Denton, Sanger, and Lewisville.  The slope of property values in Denton is not anomalous and therefore not indicative of something particularly problematic for our city.

This is also made clear by the median home sales price per square foot. Consider the following chart comparing Denton to the rest of the country:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 8.15.24 AMBut what do the trend lines look like within Denton? Do we see significant property value changes in certain neighborhoods in Denton signaling gentrification? Do we see what Hartley says to look for – a particular neighborhood going from the bottom of the pack toward the top rapidly? Below are the property value trend lines by zip code in Denton since 1996:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 8.23.06 AM

This chart demonstrates a remarkable stability across Denton’s neighborhoods. While some neighborhoods are more expensive, property values are rising at a consistent rate across the city. The revitalization around the downtown square, train station, and universities (all within 76201 – the bottom line) has not impacted the property values of the surrounding single family neighborhoods in a way that is different from the property value increases across the city. In fact, 76201 continues to be the cheapest place to by a home across the entire city. A fact I find remarkable.

Compare this with a case of actual gentrification in Austin – the ascent of 78702 in East Austin. Look for the dotted line representing that zip code. Notice how it is rapidly ascending from the bottom of the pack toward the middle. That sort of trend-bucking change is a great indicator of gentrification:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 8.38.58 AM

IS THE RENT TOO DAMN HIGH?
Not everyone can or desires to purchase their own home, so rents across our city are another important indicator that might point to gentrification. Let’s first consider how Denton compares nationally, in the state, and with the same cities we used above in the area of single family home rental cost per month:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 8.59.41 AM

Here you see that Denton is above the state and national average, but that it has been that way for a while and the trends lines are roughly parallel to the national, state, and averages found in other cities.

Let’s see how single family home rental rates track across zip codes within Denton since 2010:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 9.05.45 AM

Once again, as we saw with home values, the trend lines are consistent across the city and 76201 – where our downtown neighborhoods reside – continues to be the cheapest place to rent a home in the entire city.

And here’s a chart showing the trend lines for multi-family rental units across zip codes in Denton:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 9.24.40 AM

While 76201 is not the cheapest place to rent an apartment in Denton (it’s the second cheapest), it also isn’t trending abnormally as compared with other parts of town. And this is particularly remarkable given several hundred high end units that have gone in around the square in recent years.

CHANGING ETHNIC DEMOGRAPHICS?
Something else to pay attention to as it relates to gentrification is the changing percentages of ethnicity within key neighborhoods. According to the census, neighborhoods in 76201 continue to become more diverse between 2000 and 2014:


2000 2010 2014
White 74.70% 74% 69.80%
Black 8.80% 12.50% 13.10%
Hispanic 18% 15.70% 18.30%

 

INCOME DATA
Gentrification typically occurs when something triggers a surge of higher income residents into a particular area. Denton, generally speaking, does not have the type of jobs or income characteristics to force rapid gentrification anywhere in the city. Denton’s median household income consistently lags behind the state. And as you see from the below chart, 76201 is well behind that:

2000 2010 2014
Median household Income in 76201 30,231 23,328 23,252
Median household Income in Denton 35,422 NA 43,976
Median household Income in Texas NA NA 51,704

CONCLUSION
A look at every metric associated with gentrification, Denton – and in particular our downtown neighborhoods – show absolutely no sign of such a trend. In fact, when I came on council in 2011 – just after the approval of the Downtown Implementation Plan and at the dawn of the downtown apartment boom – I remarked often how the plan left the downtown single family neighborhoods out of the equation. I argued then (and continue to argue) that the first couple of rings of single family homes around downtown have the most potential to realize a renaissance. But not a renaissance associated with the displacement of poor families and minorities, rather a renaissance of families moving back to neighborhoods that have historically been seen as places for real estate investors to have rental homes for college students. The conversion of downtown neighborhoods from college rentals to owner-occupied homes would be a welcome change.

So much more could be said on this topic and the unique impact of having two growing universities within our downtown core and how that impacts these neighborhoods and what sort of college apartment policy we should have to guide this… But I’ll stop here.

Thoughts?

City Council Preview – June 21, 2016

Uncategorized0 comments

Starting at 1pm and likely going past midnight, today’s Denton City Council meeting is likely to be a marathon. But more than that, it is filled with several significant items of concern to many citizens. If there was a city council meeting to pay attention to, to tune in via the online stream or DTV, this would be it. For the full agenda with backup, go here.

Many significant items will be discussed and/or decided upon, including:

- a substation near a prominent historic neighborhood

- a major “road diet” project along Eagle Drive, moving our key thoroughfares in an increasingly walkable and bikeable part of the city toward a “complete street” concept

- consideration of a ban on handheld mobile devices while driving – in other words, the possibility of prohibiting talking on your cell phone (as you now know it) while operating a vehicle

- consideration of the future contract of the city manager

- a vote on the adoption of Road Impact Fees and moving away from the exaction method of determining the contribution of new development projects toward the increased road usage their development brings

VOTE ON THE RENEWABLE DENTON PLAN
But perhaps the most watched decision of the evening will be the council vote on the proposed Renewable Denton Plan.

Only cities that own and operate their own electric utilities could possibly have this conversation. Realize that there are somewhere around 20,000 cities in the United States. Among those, there are only about 250 of them that have municipal electric utilities like we have in Denton. That’s 0.125% of all cities. Already Denton is in a unique spot.

Citizens living in the other 19,750 cities around the nation have very little, if any, ability to direct the future of their electric utility.  In Denton you have a voice and if that last 8 months of intense community discussion on the energy future of our city doesn’t show that, I don’t know what will. We’ve all become much more aware about the mechanics of running an electric utility, the national landscape for renewables, the ins and outs of new technology, what a grid is, how rates are set, and so much more. Every idea – no matter how seemingly wild it is – has been asked and addressed at one forum or another.

I’m convinced that had the Renewable Denton Plan been introduced 5 years ago or even this year in another municipality, it would be met with near universal praise from environmentalists and non-environmentalists alike. While cities all over the world are getting accolades and articles written about them for their mere intent to talk about someday somehow doing something about moving away from fossil fuels with vague resolutions and setting dates and percentages without any specific plans, DME has been doing something about it since 2009.

Renewable Denton will put Denton among just a handful of cities in the entire world who are taking serious steps to wean themselves off of fossil fuel:

- 100% reduction in our use of coal by divesting ourselves of Gibbons Coal Plant

- 36% reduction in our use of natural gas

- nearly 75% reduction in air emissions for the RDP portfolio compared to what we have today

- meeting our load with 70% renewable energy from wind and solar

But because the plan involves creating our own generation asset powered by natural gas in our city limits in order to back-up that massive amount of renewable energy, it has generated much controversy. So for the last several months, we’ve explored all sorts of ideas thrown out by citizens and environmental groups to understand the options.

We’ve looked at the status and cost of battery storage. It’s not ready. It’s not at utility scale. It’s incredibly expensive. And most haven’t even begun talking about the fact that batteries do not generate their own energy – rather, they must be charged by other energy generation. With a battery connected to the Texas grid, what it means is that your battery will be charged with mostly fossil fuel generation which is then returning power at a loss due to inefficiencies.

We’ve looked at buying enough renewables to meet all of our load demand even on the hottest and coldest days. This would involve a massive investment in renewables a few times over what we normally need. That would be costly and would still involve significant risk.

We’ve looked at just going to the market to meet our energy needs when there aren’t enough renewables from our 70% contracts to match our load. This would be incredibly expensive and risky – we’ve go to the market at the precise times to purchase energy when the costs are the highest.

Some have even suggested staying invested in coal generation, arguing it’s cleaner than natural gas and better for our environment.

What is lost in much of this conversation that has been focused on the part of the plan that involves natural gas generation is that the real risky part of this plan – financially speaking – is moving our portfolio to relying on 70% renewable energy. Because what generates renewable energy is not turned on or off under our control and because it can’t be ramped up or down according to peak demands, how you meet your load when the renewable portion of your portfolio is what brings in the greatest amount of financial risk. There’s huge financial value to the low cost energy contracts we are able to secure for wind and solar, but the financial value of that is crucially dependent on our ability to hedge against the times we need something else. This and this alone is the only value of creating our own gas generation asset.

This must be understood: if we weren’t moving to 70% renewable energy, talk of creating our own gas generation asset would not even be on the table.

So our city has a decision to make. Do we want to move the needle on renewable energy? Do we want to wean ourselves off fossil fuels? Do we want to take a huge step toward 100% renewables? Or do we want to remain status quo and join the hosts of other cities who pat themselves on the back for making vague plans about someday doing something about getting off of fossil fuels – always waiting for the magical right time.

The plan has been introduced by some of the top experts in the country at DME. The plan, at the request of some citizens, has been studied and vetted by some of the top energy experts in the world. It’s been vetted and approved by our city’s Public Utility Board. It’s been thoroughly discussed by our citizens for several months.

What a remarkable community conversation. It’s a truly remarkable, historic plan. I look forward to the conversation and vote on Renewable Denton this evening.

City Council Preview – June 7, 2016

Uncategorized0 comments

rosielou

My daughter Rosemary was only 2 when I first took office in 2011. Today is her 8th birthday. Happy birthday, darling!

The Denton City Council starts Tuesday’s meeting with a Work Session at 1pm, followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session. Click here to access the entire agenda with backup information.

There are two big issues up for discussion during our afternoon Work Session…

DENTON’S ENERGY FUTURE
The 3rd party expert study from the Brattle Group has now been completed and the council will hear from this team during our meeting. As a reminder, we opted to seek a third party consultant to review the Renewable Denton Plan after being asked to by some concerned members of our community. The group to do it and the scope of their study was approved unanimously by everyone on the city council at the time.

I’ve read through both the executive summary and the preliminary full report. The report extensively reviews the Renewable Denton Plan as conceived by our own internal experts at DME following direction from council to look for a way to scale beyond our current and nationally-acclaimed energy portfolio of 40% renewables. If we want to take advantage of the current low cost of wind and solar and take advantage of significant Purchase Power Agreements to move from 40% to 70% by 2019, the most fiscally responsible way to do that is to invest in new quick start generation technology powered by natural gas in order to avoid the risk of relying on market back-up at the same times that such market energy is at its highest cost.

I look forward to a significant conversation with the consultants during the meeting and hearing from continued concerns about and support of the Renewable Denton Plan from others in the community.

No doubt, there will be some coming forward criticizing the results of the very study they spent so much time asking for. I’m sure we’ll see some coming forward demanding that we take this issue to the voters. There will be several different suggestions on how to continue to delay this plan despite the fact that no viable alternative has been brought forward after 8 months of significant community conversation on the topic.

I think this is a time for leadership on Denton’s Energy Future. I’ve been clear all along of my view that this is one of the most progressive, innovative, environmentally-sensitive, and aggressive renewable energy plans you’ll find anywhere in the nation. Denton led the country with 40% in 2009 and we have the chance to lead the nation with 70% renewables by 2019. While other cities, states, and nations are celebrating the passing of vague and unenforceable resolutions regarding their desired energy future without actionable and specific plans, Denton has a plan to do something about it. We’re not waiting on circumstances or opportunities to arrive at our door – we’re acting now to invest in significant new wind and solar infrastructure through our PPAs. Make no mistake, such investments moves the renewable energy forward and provides a model for other cities around the nation to do the same. Further, beyond the benefit of the proposed Denton Energy Center to help firm up our renewable energy portfolio, having more quick start generation on the grid has the added benefit of helping other energy providers shore up their own new investments in renewable power.

If you are concerned about fossil fuel use or fracking, this is the plan for you – 100% reduction in our use of coal as we divest from the Gibbons Coal Plant and a 35% reduction in our use of natural gas.

If you are concerned about emissions, this is plan is for you – 74% reduction in emissions compared with our current energy portfolio.

If you want to see more renewables, this plan is for you – we’re going from 40% to 70% in less than 5 years. No one else comes even close.

If you are concerned about the economic impact of all this, this plan is for you – we now have the nation’s leading experts telling us Renewable Denton is the way to go.

I look forward to voting yes on the Renewable Denton Plan in the near future, recommending that we fund it via Revenue Bonds (backed by revenue from DME, not the taxpayers), and moving Denton forward as a national leader in renewable energy.

texting

BAN ON HANDHELD DEVICES
Two years ago, Denton voted to ban texting while driving. We knew at the time that a ban only on texting would be difficult to enforce, but we also wanted to use the new ordinance as a way to spread awareness of the dangers of mobile phone distractions while driving.

The issue is getting any better. Anyone driving down the road (even the highway) will notice several drivers with their phone in their hands and their gaze cast upon it. It’s not about texting anymore – it’s Facebook, Twitter notices, Instagram, Snapchat, and the like. The same addiction that causes all of us to pull our phone out while in line, at the restaurant, on the toilet, at the dinner table with our family, during a meeting, and every where else that is inappropriate is the same addiction that drives us to stupidly pull out our phones while operating vehicles.

The problem is we are addicted to this technology. And we know no boundaries. And just like we act stupid when we take it out during a date with our significant others, we are likely to act stupid and take it out to check a push notification we received while driving down Bell Ave. The former only leads to relationship problems, the latter has been proven to lead to tragic deaths.

So what do we do? Will a law change behavior? Does the data from other communities suggest that such all out bans reduce the number of mobile device relating accidents? Are there any other ways to address the root of the problem.

I full recognize that we are now about 20 years down the road of being able to drive while talk on our phones, so for some taking away that “right” just to curb the decidedly more contemporary problem of texting, tweeting, or checking emails from our phones seems a bit too far. I appreciate that perspective. But I also am at a loss to know how to curb what seems to be a growing problem, especially in a town made up of nearly 50,000 college students.

All this to say, I look forward to deliberating on this topic tomorrow during our work session on this important topic.

As always if you have any questions or concerns about these issues or anything else on the agenda, feel free to contact me at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.

 

Page 1 of 2412345...1020...Last »