Thursday, March 20, 2014

Is Dunwoody Business Friendly?

Much of the interesting discussion in last week's City Council meeting inadvertently asked (and perhaps answered) this question.

The first was about mandating long neck garbage cans at drive-thru lanes in fast food joints and if you watch the video you're just waiting for someone on Council to jump up and shout:
"Live from City Hall---IT'S MONDAY NIGHT!"
Sadly this did not happen. They were serious.

Now those amongst us who are Southern by the Grace of God must be patient with those not so blessed but by all that is holy sometimes folks living in a world chilled by freon really stress the limits. We'll just have to ask them to imagine--not that there is no heaven...that really is easy if you try---but to imagine their drive thru experience. That's a bit more like hell.

Like the others it starts at the squawk box that makes the ESL student's voice even more unintelligible and as the queue moves slowly towards the window where you pay and you pray (that you got what you thought you ordered) you find an interestingly placed garbage can. Now the do-gooders say this is here because there are soooo many people, mostly in huge SUVs, that have run out of trash space in the back seat so they need to unload between order and fresh eats so they have room for the new garbage. Don't know what part of Dunwoody these folks live in but you can smell it before you see it. So then in their imaginary world you would gather up all the garbage (keep in mind you don't have the sense to have a litter bag in that overblown truck) and toss yesterday's junk food wrappers into the garbage can at today's junk food emporium. Because you're a junk food junkie. Anyway, that's how they see it.

But here's where the southland rises up. You know what an outdoor garbage can like this really is way down here in the land of cotton? It is a haven and breeding ground for all manner of vermin. But not just no-see-ums, flies and rats. No sir. We're blessed with a special creature. One that just loves to feast on what little Coke might remain in the cup thrown out this morning. We're talking about Yellow Jackets. Territorial. Fierce. Angry. Aggressive. Downright mean spirited. And when they launch out of that garbage can--and it isn't just any can because the City is gonna mandate it be a long-neck can with its bat-cave-like maw right beside your open window--they are coming after you and yours like Obama's drones going after a Pakistani wedding party. There will be blood.

What makes this trash can ordinance a business issue (as well as even funnier) isn't just that the City intends to foist the cost on businesses. It is because one justification was "it would be easier and better for the business instead of having to pick up trash in the drive thru." Really? You'd think a for-profit operation would have figured out which is better, cheaper and more efficient without a whole lotta outside help.

And this whole Yellow Jacket Microclimate Ordinance was just the warm-up act. It. Gets. Better. Because the on-deck issue focussed on "for profit"--something the City most certainly is NOT.

This issue was about the increasingly contentious "Arts Festival" which as we've pointed out in the past is stretching the definition of "Art" when we include booths for banks, kitchen remodeling and auto repair. However this is particularly on point when some of these booths are manned by for-profit organizations that are not even located in Dunwoody. But that wasn't really Council's concern. There was some concern about the negative impact to local business--this all but shuts down some village businesses for whom Mother's day is otherwise a big event--but the real concern was around the fact that the festival is organized and operated by a for-profit entity.

Some took issue with the perception that the City was "picking winners" amongst for-profits but there seemed to be little (some, but little) concern that this winner is itinerant and their financial victory comes at a cost to our neighborhood businesses. Of course the low-impact alternative presented earlier by TOD is impossible this year because the City has chosen to run a barrel racing contest on the Parkway while the Arts Festival is in full swing.

What was very interesting was the intense focus on the fact that the organizers are for-profit as if somehow that matters a bunch. Those who've not had much exposure inside a non-profit may believe everyone there is drunk on altruism and works for a dime on a dollar because they're doing good works they really, really believe in. Perhaps true for some folks on the front line, but by and large non-profits are driven by the same growth ambitions as any other organization money flows thru--business, government, you name it. You do remember the scandal of the United Way execs who were flying around in their G-4s and smokin' big cigars don't you? Rest assured, if this organization were non-profit the folks working there would be getting as much if not more money, they'd pay less taxes but we'd get to see their filings (after 3 years).

The profit/non-profit obsession seems deflective. Fact is the City is putting on a party and in new-city fashion we have privatized the operation by contracting it out to a party-organizer. Now before folks get their knickers in a knot, that's not quite precise as the party-organizers applied for permission to close the street and the City's involvement is only to approve and provide necessary security. Makes it a little less clear exactly who they work for now doesn't it?

And don't ask why security at Vermack/Womack isn't just as "necessary" Or why the City is more than willing to foot the bill for security at Food Truck Thursdays. And don't ask how Food Truck Thursdays can be such a raging success but relocating the Arts Festival to the very same location would be such an obvious disaster that it isn't even worth trying this one time. And certainly don't ask "if they were really trying to screw things up what would they do differently?"


Because we have a representative government and Council have already asked similar questions on your behalf. The City Manager and Staff were specifically asked to investigate moving the Arts Festival but haven't gotten around to finding an answer. Either that or this investigation is the only thing more delayed than the CAD-to-CAD interface. Or perhaps the City Manager and Staff don't believe something as silly as "Arts In The Parks" could ever work so they just don't want to waste their time.

The fact of the matter is that this train wreck is pretty much out of the Mayor and Council's control as the approval of these permits is an administrative matter not a policy matter. If the City Manager and his Staff want an Arts Festival and the third party organizer (no matter who they really work for) want it on Chamblee Dunwoody then that's what we'll have and that's where we'll have it.