CRA Again

The curious news surrounding the CRA related agencies of the City prompt us to review a lament by Abbé Boulah from almost a decade ago, presented to the revered public among other strange tales in the book ‘Abbe´ Boulah!’ (XLibris 2009) which the revered public as the respective agencies have lamentably ignored, (just like similar reminders of unsavory real-estate goings-on in our City earlier on — actually last millennium — that were laid out, somewhat disguised in befogged discussions about architecture, building economics, planning discourse and other fascinating ruminations in a more recent book ‘Rigatopia’ – Lambert Academic Publishing 2015). Here is the premonition-laden text of the CRA chapter in ‘Abbé Boulah!:

“CRA Sticking in Abbé Boulah’s CRAw”

(From a letter by Abbé Boulah to his friend, a learned consultant on municipal government)

… By the whiskers of Holy Apostrophoulos of Kalambaka! Enlighten me on this latest conundrumous invention of the government of the City of Our Stuckness.

What elicits this degree of raging curiosity — or curious rage — about the intricacies of city governance, you ask? Today, it is the phenomenon of CRA, a device that seems uniquely suited to generate confusion in the minds of citizens. Why, isn’t it enough that those acrimonious acronyms which stick in my CRAw refer both to an agency (the Community Redevelopment Agency) AND the area (Community Redevelopment Area) designated by that agency for its selective and devious financial machinations? Wise knowleati tell me that those machinations are an instance of TIF — tax increment financing — which involve a commitment to set aside the taxes that accrue on the increase of property values as a result of the beneficial planning the CRAgency intends to unleash on the designated CRArea, to be spent solely on further infrastructure improvements in that specific area, so that it will prosper and become attractive and thereby benefit the entire community.

Sounds good, you say? I will agree that everybody should be interested in furthering the welfare and prosperity of all sectors of our town, and especially the downtown area. I do love wandering around in lively and mysterious cities, savoring their sights and smells and temptations of all senses. And I do lament, in my most high-pitched wailing voice, the way American cities seem to engage in an competition to eradicate those temptations from the walkable cityscape.

But today, dear friend and connoisseur of magistrative secrets, tell me this: Does the City not have as its main purpose to collect taxes to provide services and improvements for its residents in all its neighborhoods? And the County as well? So is the City in its entirety not a kind of CRA(rea) by definition? And the respective Government a CRA(gency)? And the same for the County?

Now, there seem to be areas in the City with problems that warrant special attention. Correct my naive ignorance: does this not strongly suggest either that those areas have been neglected (by comparison with other, better off areas) or that such special attention intends to bestow above-average benefits on those designated areas? In brief: that the government has been negligent in its duty to fairly distribute its resources, so that some areas are falling behind whatever expectations might be appropriate? Or intends to commit unfairness by future uneven distribution of resources?

While waiting expectantly for satisfactory answers to this question, there arises another in my curioucynical mind: Ready to praise and applaud the government for its insight that something has not gone right, we are stopped short, confounded and baffled by the measures taken with these CRA’s. Do the city, as well as the county governments, not have several departments toiling away on their charges to manage growth, to plan, to enhance economic development, to enforce its regulations, to attract new enterprises and financial investment here? Do we not have a Downtown Improvement Agency striving for the same admirable goals? Does the Chamber of Commerce not have committees racking their brains about the same conundrums? Did we not have blue-ribbon and zerostudded (1) volunteer citizens task forces attempting to provide our illustrious governments with guidance about all these issues?

So why do the venerable City Deadbeat Dads (Holy Chinchindra of Calcutta, forgive me for these unkind thoughts that intrude upon my inquiry) come up with this scheme of yet another agency to deal with these problems? Another agency, to be staffed and founded, housed and supplied with printer ink, toiling away making surveys one would have thought would fall under the regular monitoring duties of one or the other of the existing departments, making plans that either agree with or differ from the plans made by other agencies, which either way then have to be checked, negotiated and coordinated with all those other folks?

Why cannot the simple commitment to spend the tax money fairly and wisely on all areas of this great Town and County be achieved with a simple policy change and declaration by the governments involved — or with a statement of constitutional analysis that this is after all the basic charge of the government in the first place? Would this require too much in the way of admitting past misdeeds? We are not even asking for contrition, by all the scarecrows of Vladivostok!

Or could it be, Heaven forbid, that they are ever so slyly conceding the UNthinkable notion that such a policy declaration can’t be trusted to be adhered to in the long run? That in fact, policy statements by government aren’t worth the papyrus they are printed on, unless they come complete with fully funded new agencies and trust funds to guarantee the orderly distribution of monies? There are, to be sure, other questions besides these, that rob me of my deserved slumber. It may be too paranoid to spell them out, but some do require clarification. For example, why is nobody even conceiving of the possibility that citizens residing just outside the gerrymanderingly drawn borders of the CRA(reas) might begin harboring suspicions and concerns? To the effect, for example, that they will be comparatively less well-served by the combined efforts of governmental agencies? that they are at the mercy of the very agencies whose work has led to the deficiencies inside the CRA’s, instead of now becoming the beneficiaries of the superior wisdom, attention and benevolence of the surely infinitely more highly qualified CRAgents?

I shall not even entertain the mischievous and Danaherous (2) notion that some may be as suspicious of the competence of the CRAgents as they have by now been led (by the nose) to be of the existing agencies. What is the guarantee that there might not be areas within the respective CRA’s that might be as comparatively neglected or unfairly bestowed with preferential treatment, as the entire CRA has been in the city as a whole? I have heard the argument that the CRA is needed to instill confidence in potential investors and business leaders we’d like to attract: confidence they are now lacking? confidence that they will make a decent profit on their investment. Do we really want to attract investors who fall for this kind of tomfoolery? Unless the term ‘confidence’ be associated with ‘scheme’…

My head, dear friend, is spinning with those questions. And what makes me most suspicious is that I have not been able to pull up and read the full information the City has claimed to have posted on the CRA, on its website, and that the ‘citizen comment’ section there has a mere three brief, enthusiastic testimonials that contain no real argument or information, just pollyannic praise, posted by members of the very agency itself.

Yours in exasperation
Abbé Boulahghpfght (with a silent ghpfght).

Notes:
1) The reference is to a task force called Blueprint 2000, an entity once looking boldly forward in developing plans and priorities for big infrastructure projects around the city — but not, it turns out, looking far enough into the
future and thus inadvertently condemning itself to instant obsolescence as soon as the millennium was reached. Quite apart from the fact that blueprints themselves have been a thing of ancient history for decades…)

2) This word-butchering creation refers to the late Eugene Danaher, a self-appointed Government Watchdog who has made a considerable nuisance of himself by habitually and heroically asking such uncomfortable questions; it will never be known how much mischief he has prevented doing this. (At the time of the CRAcreation he was still around; may he rest in peace in a realm where his meritorious efforts are no longer needed).

*****

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