Decatur, Ga., protects trees, not people

Last night the Decatur, Ga., City Commission unanimously voted to enact a 90-day moratorium on tree cutting and then voted to defeat a temporary moratorium on the demolition of single family homes. The city will protect trees and not people. The three commissioners who voted against the teardown moratorium abrogated their responsibilities to the city’s most vulnerable citizens.

The moratorium on single-family home demolitions was defeated in a 3-2 vote. Commissioner Fred Boykin introduced the motion to approve the moratorium ordinance and he was joined in supporting it by Mayor Jim Baskett. Commissioners Patti Garrett, Kecia Cunningham, and Scott Drake voted against Boykin’s motion.

One woman whose family was among the first African Americans to buy homes in the city’s Oakhurst neighborhood begged the commissioners to have their backs and stop the teardowns and destruction of their community, including the loss of economic, age, and ethnic diversity; the commissioners, by their vote, declined the request. Another woman mentioned the extreme lengths to which Decatur residents have gone to prevent transparent public discussions about gentrification, race, and class.

City Commissioner Kecia Cunningham, who voted against the teardown moratorium, stated on the record that Oakhurst (her neighborhood) probably has been too greatly impacted by teardowns and gentrification for any moratorium to be beneficial to her constituents, the elderly, mainly African American women, being harassed by builders and forced out of their homes by rising property taxes and increasing race and class tensions:

I’m afraid it might be a bit too premature since we don’t know yet where we want to go. I mean in the years I’ve been on this commission and we talk about affordability. We talk about diversity. We talk about all kinds of lofty and laudable goals but as we have seen, in here, we’re losing that stuff.

You know, I talked to Mayor Wilson tonight and asked her what her opinion was on all this and she said, “Well we should have been talking about stopping teardowns and what’s happening to the primarily senior citizens and African American people ten, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years ago. And now basically the horse is out of the gate.

So if we’re really going to make some progress on affordability and maintaining diversity and so forth, it’s not going to come at the end of ninety days. It’s going to come after a lot of hard work and soul-searching that we need to do.

There’s potential that it might be too late. There are a lot of folks who have already sold, cashed out, and we may have missed that. And I’m not sure that a moratorium at this point is going to stop the bleeding that we’ve already got going on.

Finally, one woman who came with the African American homeowner who testified said this:

Please be loyal to the residents and not the developers. And I just want to thank my friend to, who I work with, Veronica Edwards over here for coming. Her mother lives in Oakhurst. Most of the older black neighborhoods in the history have already been destroyed and when I saw that article with the historian, [Rotenstein], I think the City should be very ashamed of themselves because you’re putting economic development and evolution in front of people, human beings and history. I see this moratorium. I am for both but I see it more for the developers not going in there and clearing out neighborhoods. And I think our neighborhoods have seen enough. Thank you.

I was astonished to hear the commissioners and many residents on both sides of the issues admit that the system isn’t working and that “lip service” has been paid to environmental issues for far too long. And yet, many of the people sharing that observation failed to support the teardown moratorium.

I agree that Decatur’s done too little to holistically deal with land use, social justice, and environmental issues.  That’s why I started writing and speaking about the teardowns and the community impacts as early as Oct. 2011. I disagree with the folks who opposed the two moratoriums because they claimed that there isn’t a crisis and that extreme measures aren’t needed. I think there is a crisis and there has been one for some time. Last night’s session and the two weeks of acrimonious online discussion only underscore the extent of the crisis. As one speaker last night put it, the City has never comprehensively and, honestly, had a frank conversation about these difficult issues.

I got a call early this morning from a longtime city resident who thanked me for bringing to light the many issues tied to gentrification there despite the concerted efforts by folks who went to unlawful lengths to prevent me from writing about it. What goes around comes around and as reporters and others write about the lawyer, builder, and other residents who filed false police reports against me (and then bragged about it in blog comments and tweets) or the mommy blogger against whom we secured a temporary restraining order for stalking, my wife and I will see some degree of justice served.

Yes Decatur, you should be “very ashamed.”

NOTE: The City of Decatur has video from the Monday Oct. 21, 2013 meeting at its website: http://decaturga.swagit.com/play/10212013-807. Public comments and commission deliberations begin at item VI (Part 2 of 3).

One thought on “Decatur, Ga., protects trees, not people

  1. Some people think there isn’t a crisis – so don’t do anything. Other’s think it’s already too late to do anything because too much damage has already done – so don’t do anything.

    Funny, that.

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