White House Housing Toolkit a good start

White House Housing Toolkit a good start

Gazette Column
Have outdated and onerous zoning ordinances and environmental protections stifled housing development and local economies? A new federal report says they have, contributing to issues such as income inequality, gentrification, strained safety nets, commute lengths, racial segregation and homelessness. The past few days have been nearly overwhelming. We survived (and at least partially mitigated) another historic flood, did our best to absorb this election season’s first presidential debate, and remain in mourning for the latest young life claimed by senseless gun violence. It’s little wonder a new housing report didn’t spawn big, local headlines. [caption id="attachment_150" align="alignright" width="640"] (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)[/caption] Yet this White House produced “toolkit” offers a road map not only for the housing-strapped California coast, but for Midwestern cities like Iowa City and Cedar Rapids as they…
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Rethink sales tax holidays

Rethink sales tax holidays

Gazette Column
Sales tax holidays like the one happening in Iowa this weekend may sound nice, but they aren’t good public policy. And, yes, I can already hear groaning from the parents and grandparents reading that first sentence. Bear with me. For those who are unfamiliar, for the past 16 years, Iowa residents have been given two days in August to purchase various back-to-school items that cost under $100 without paying sales taxes. In addition, since 2000, the legislature has mandated that all retailers participate. Supporters of these holidays assert the incentive stimulates the economy by encouraging shoppers to purchase more of the goods included on the state’s tax-free list, even if some are impulse buys. But, research has time and again shown this to be false. The New York State Department…
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On the road to Philly: Gillian Popenuck

On the road to Philly: Gillian Popenuck

Gazette Column
Political Revolution exists beyond candidate, convention Gillian Frances Popenuck didn’t know she was being prophetic when she told Bernie Sanders, “See you in Philly.” The two met after a rally where Popenuck was chosen to introduce the candidate. “We had some time together backstage,” Popenuck said. “This was before the caucus in Iowa, so he had no idea how well he was going to do. He told me, ‘Whatever happens to me, you got to keep continuing to fight.’ And I told him, ‘I’ll see you in Philly.’ It was just one of those one-off things that you say. But he looked at me very sincerely and said, ‘Yes. You will.’” Three months later, the 30-year-old Burlington mom of two was elected during the 2nd District Convention as a delegate…
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The circus comes to Cleveland

The circus comes to Cleveland

Gazette Column
Perhaps Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter said it best: “Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.” Members of the Republican Party are on their way to Cleveland, where they will — despite movements to the contrary — choose Donald Trump as their nominee. Let that sink in. The Republican Party will choose a man who, as recently as March 2012, wasn’t registered as a Republican. There is plenty more than can and has been written about Trump — from talk of small hands to racial and gender slurs to, worst of all, far too few policy positions. But his rejoining the GOP, ending more than a decade of party hopping, is significant. Don’t get me wrong: I understand his vexation. After all, I am a…
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Iowan, once nation’s youngest grocer, still fighting for rural

Iowan, once nation’s youngest grocer, still fighting for rural

Gazette Column
WICHITA, Kan. — If attendees at the Rural Grocery Summit pulled Bic lighters from their pockets, gave them a flick and held the flame in the air as the owner of three rural Iowa grocery stores gave his keynote address, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It was clear many attending viewed the man as part rock star and part legend. And, for those searching for rural saviors, Nick Graham comes pretty close — even if he is reluctant to embrace the fame. His popularity has little to do with his overall success rate, because he’d be the first to tell you that he has made mistakes. But no one can deny that Graham embodies an attribute that’s become a necessity in rural counties and small towns. Nick Graham, you see,…
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Summit focus is declining food access

Summit focus is declining food access

Gazette Column
WICHITA, Kan. — Rural grocery store owners, food advocates and system experts are gathered for the fifth Rural Grocery Summit. If you’re wondering why I’m in the audience … well, let’s say you probably aren’t alone. The answer as to why I’m attending the summit is both simple and complex. The most direct answer is that I grew up in rural America; I’ve lived it and have family still living it. What happens to them matters to me and, therefore, what ails rural places also matters. More complex is my ongoing curiosity about how groups of people interact, and the ways industries and organizations adapt to ever-changing external forces. Why have we allowed certain places to exist as food deserts? How long are we willing to let our tax dollars…
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Transit blog, day nine

Transit blog, day nine

Gazette Blog
The changing face of 'those people' One of my main take-aways from this project has been that many people — roughly four out of every five I’ve spoken with — have developed a certain perception of who uses public transit. Some believe transit users are all homeless or nearly so. One woman told me that most bus riders are people with alcohol addictions who have had their driver’s license revoked by the state. Still others have implied the system would be more efficient if it only stopped at Goodwill or other places that employ people with disabilities. An added tax on retirement housing complexes and nursing homes should be explored, one man wrote, since the elderly are primary transit consumers. Large, local businesses should sponsor transit services, noted another, because…
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Cedar Rapids Public Transit’s mental toll

Cedar Rapids Public Transit’s mental toll

Gazette Column
Heard of the cognitive tax? This week, thanks to Cedar Rapids Public Transit, I’m feeling it. Cognitive tax is a term used to describe the mental state of those living in poverty or other stressful situations, also known as a scarcity mind-set. The more uncertainty in your life, the more mental work you need to expend, which takes a toll on the quality and number of tasks that can be completed. I think of it in terms of bandwidth, and how computers and smartphones bog down when they are trying to do too much with too little. When people have stable jobs, stable homes and generally predicable lives, routines go somewhat smoothly. We know where to go when we get hungry, know where we sit for work. Those are things…
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Time to rethink Cedar Rapids public golf

Time to rethink Cedar Rapids public golf

Gazette Column
It should come down the basic economic principle of supply and demand. People are simply no longer playing golf at the rate they once were. That’s true in Cedar Rapids as it is throughout the country. Municipal courses — many the result of residential developer deals during the 1990s that gifted courses to municipalities — have relied more and more heavily on taxpayer subsidies. Supply has outpaced demand, resulting in deficits. That’s a problem when a community has a single public golf course. It’s a disaster when a community operates four — more than any other community in Iowa — that compete against a dozen privately run courses and country clubs. Des Moines has three municipal courses, as does Waterloo and Davenport. In some cities, like Des Moines, local officials…
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Prepare for more food deserts

Prepare for more food deserts

Gazette Column
Accessing fresh produce and other healthy and affordable food will become increasingly more difficult over the next decade. Nearly two-thirds of rural grocery store owners in Minnesota expect to step away from their business within 10 years, according to a recent Minnesota Extension survey. Many owners are aging out of the workforce and preparing for retirement. Only a fraction have adopted transition plans that would keep the grocery open and prevent possible food deserts. The survey also found the majority of rural grocery stores are housed in older buildings, requiring significant upkeep — 43 percent of owners reported their facility was at least 50 years old, others (44 percent) were between 16 and 50 years old. “With aging buildings and thin profit margins, I’m concerned we will see a continuation…
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