Oppose Corporate Interests

A growing theme during City Council meeting public comments is concern that the Council is placing corporate interests above community. The planned Takoma Junction development project is the catalyst for these comments. As a Council member who is now threatened by a recall petition, I feel it is prudent to review my role on this subject. I certainly feel I’ve been working for and in the best interests of the community for over 18 years, but the public concern that corporate interests are dominating our decisions leads me to reevaluate things.

Checking public records, I find that the Neighborhood Development Corporation, the chosen developer, is in fact a corporation. I, also, find that Takoma Park-Silver Spring Cooperative, Incorporated, a business that resides on the neighboring property, is a corporation.

Clearly, as we work through the details of this project I always have to be careful that neither of these corporations tries to take advantage of the City Council for their corporate interests rather than for the good of the community. I feel confident that I’ve followed that line so far, but I will continue to listen to others’ opinions.

 

3 thoughts on “Oppose Corporate Interests

  1. Thanks for taking time to think about this issue of protection from corporations. Let there be at least one recognition made. The coop is a member owned corporation. It’s purpose it to serve its members (among other goals of serving community more generally, supporting local and sustainable food systems, and other coop’s as well). I do not know if NDC is member-owned, but presume it is investor-owned or by a few members of it’s leadership, if not one. This doesn’t make them an “evil developer”, but the two corporations are likely not equivalent… unless maybe they are member-owned and guided by such things as the “seven cooperative principles”. Would like to be shown otherwise. For coop Seven Principles see page 5 here: http://www.tpss.coop/PDFs/TPSS_AnnualReport_2013.pdf

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  2. And of course, the Co-op has been investing in our community for decades, providing good jobs (now unionized, and with a $15 minimum and health benefits), contributing substantially to food recovery and other local non-profits, and supporting a network of over 100 local small businesses including Takoma resident farmers and those launching prepared food businesses. All while providing a welcoming and diverse space, as Emily Kombe recently testified. To equate the two corporations is troubling. Since this development is apparently going through, we are very interested in what the City Council will be doing on Wednesday to ensure that the construction jobs will be safe union jobs, that the retail and restaurant jobs will offer a $15 minimum and the kind of benefits offered by Andy Shallal at Busboys, and that we do not lose our grocery store since it does take SNAP. In short, are we still going to try, in spite of this development, to be Takoma Park?

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  3. Ditto to the above from S-J and Sue, and also I want to be sure to remind Councilman Seamens (and to thank him for creating this online forum) that some of us are not focusing on the Co-op in our activism around the Junction – rather, some of us are questioning why this non-designated public land (next to and not including the Co-op) should be given over to a corporation and to commercial uses in the first place. Yes, yes, I know the basic storyline. To recap, several years ago, people began to push for more businesses at the Junction (not *all* people, but a vocal element of the area around the Junction). The City formed a task force to look at the question. The task force produced a lengthy report and a recommendation for further study + canvassing of public opinion…and then instead the City went ahead and issued an RFP, neglecting even to use that valuable task-force report as a framework going forward. Sounds inefficient? Vaguely undemocratic? But there’s more! What about that task force? Who participated in it? 22 citizens of the People’s Republic, and they most definitely are to be commended for their many hours of effort. Who were they, though? Well, the roster of names is available on p. 7 of the report. It seems evenly divided between men and women, but as to race, and homeowner v. renter, the list is unclear. (I’ve been told that only one member of the task force was African American? Is that correct?) What is clear is that the group skewed heavily to Wards 2 and 3, and to a lesser extent Ward 1. Wards 4 and 6 were barely present (2 people each, for a total of 4 out of 22), and Ward 5 not at all. This is shocking to me, especially given that portions of Ward 4 — represented by Councilman Seamens at the time — are as close to the Junction as are portions of Wards 1 and 2. They are a stroll (or, hike) of less than 10 minutes, and from certain spots like Lee Avenue, only 5 minutes. My own house (right near Opal Daniels and Parkview Tower) is within that same range, and I walk to the Junction on a daily basis. Bus service is also available.

    Now for the hard-hitting questions that are awkward and, apparently, “divisive,” but that are too important not to be raised: What happened, Councilman Seamens? Why was such exclusiveness acceptable to you? Why have you neglected to advocate for Ward 4 as an equal party to this process? If your answer is that you’ve assumed or heard that your constituents see nothing of appeal at the Junction, then, my goodness, I ask all the more, why have you not insisted that potential uses for the *public* land at the Junction must be envisioned within parameters that might serve the entirety of the public, and, moreover, that in order for that sort of brainstorming to happen, a wide range of people had to be involved in it? Your constituents needed more seats at the table, not a couple of limited surveys. And if they and others had been more fully present — if, say, the City had opted to take the radical and truly democratic step of prioritizing renters over property-owners in this civic exercise and had stacked the task force with renters from all corners of the city — then I wonder if wholly and conventionally private, for-profit “commercial uses” would have dominated the collective imaginary of the Junction’s future. Or at least I wonder if we would now be awaiting (or dreading, as in my case) the “white-cloth restaurant” that NDC has said it hopes to attract.

    However, thankfully, all is not lost. As the City Manager has repeatedly stressed, the City can back out, with no penalties. Councilman Seamens, you can still hit the brakes. You can call for the process to be rebooted, and retooled. Such a message would be directed at the Co-op board as much as at those who want a craft brewery. And then who knows what would result? With properly expansive input from the public, maybe the consensus would be that the City should partner with Tebabu Assefa on a fair-exchange coffeehouse and roastery, with an attached food pantry! I’ve heard a number of neat ideas. Whatever the eventual outcome (and a few more years is nothing in comparison to 99 years), it would claim far more legitimacy than the present scenario.

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