Friday, April 28, 2006

The MySpace of Pets

The MySpace of Pets

My wife Kelly recently created pages for all our pets on Catster and Dogster, which are just too cute!

You can have your pets become online buddies with our pets - even if, perhaps, in real life they might not get along so well...

Several of the buddies are abroad, one as far afield as Estonia.

It's a truly fascinating (and did I mention cute?) form of online community.

On Catster:

  • Celia
  • Maggie
  • Tess
  • Finnegan

    On Dogster:

  • Sam
  • Dingo

    Meow! Woof!
  • Thursday, April 27, 2006

    Westfield SubsidyTowns

    Westfield SubsidyTowns

    The news that Westfield America is selling Northwest Plaza may be a good thing.

    It may signal that they're not interested in that market area anymore. Or it may at least mean somebody else is coming in with more interest in making it successful.

    Westfield already got a massive TIF to redo the West County Center in "blighted" Des Peres a couple years back. Fergie even came to the grand reopening. I'm not sure what subsidies were involved in the added-on Sears wing and remuddling of South County Center, but I'm sure there were some.

    Then there's Crestwood Plaza. Under Westfield's management, it seems to be doing less and less business all the time. Although they successfully (from their point-of-view, not necessarily the homeowners') stopped the Sunset Manor TIF down the road midstream, does that necessarily mean they'll invest in Crestwood without a massive subsidy?

    Don't count on it.

    As for Northwest, didn't St. Louis County Economic Council already partially subsidize the enclosure of what was the area's largest and last open-air mall, in the late 1980s? I know it's a very different time nowadays with competition from "big-boxes", but what strategy (if any) does the City of St. Ann have for that place?

    That section of the county is changing. There's a burgeoning Hispanic population, a sizable African-American percentage, and not nearly as many Catholics as there once were. It's not necessarily decline; it's just change.

    But just like in South City, it seems like many political leaders have outdated ideas and expectations about what constitutes economic development.

    Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    Check Out Jeanette Mott Oxford's Campaign Website

    Check Out Jeanette Mott Oxford's Campaign Website

    You can find the re-election campaign web site for District 59 Missouri State Representative Jeanette Mott Oxford at:

    http://www.jmo4rep.com (AKA http://jmorep.blogspot.com)

    We'll be posting copies of her email updates, which you can (as always) sign up for by sending a message to jmo4rep @ juno.com.

    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    No Longer AWOL

    No Longer AWOL

    Well, for the past week or so I've been pretty busy in the real world - or my version of it anyway - so I've been away from the blogosphere. Sometimes that's a good thing.

    What was keeping me so busy?

    1) Administering, grading and recording the final exam for the course in which I am a TA, Environmental and Energy Issues.
    2) Heading to Chicago so I could present at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association held in the heart of the downtown Loop at the Palmer House Hilton. I presented my paper at 8:30 on Friday morning.

    We stayed not at the solidly booked, pricey Palmer House, but at a guest house up in trendy Lincoln Park. We had an entire apartment to ourselves for two nights! Kinda cool - although it still cost almost as much as our monthly mortgage payment for about half as much square footage.

    We took Amtrak, which was surprisingly effortless. It was only about a 1/2-hour late getting into Chicago Thursday night on the Ann Rutledge, and almost on time returning to St. Louis Saturday night on the State House.

    I was surprised that CTA El trains do not serve the very busy Chicago Union Station directly. But riding the El and the Red Line subway was quite a treat. Sure, the Brown Line particularly is old, rusty and creaky, but trains come very frequently, and they are really heavily used even by people in fancy-looking suits who work in the financial district. We also rode a CTA bus a few blocks to get to Union Station on Saturday. (Thursday night we took a cab directly to where we were staying.)

    The most tedious sections on the Amtrak route, really, are in the Metro East and in Chicagoland. Occasionally there were brief delays in central Illinois as well, to allow freights or other Amtrak trains to pass. But nothing unexpected. Nevertheless, the trains operate at very slow speeds throughout the East St. Louis and Granite City areas, so it takes about an hour to reach the first stop northward, Alton IL.

    Interestingly, the train took slightly different routes entering and leaving the downtown St. Louis area.

    Going north, we crossed the Mississippi via the MacArthur Bridge on the south edge of downtown, then headed over the Poplar Street Bridge and under the MLK Bridge.

    Coming back home late at night, we had a panoramic view of the night skyline and the Arch from the Merchants Bridge and its high-line approaches, before turning south through the North Broadway industrial area and then under the MLK and Eads bridges, into the tunnel under the Archgrounds, and then west to the 16th Street Station. Pretty cool!

    3) Last night, I had a lot of fun representing my State Rep, Jeanette Mott Oxford, in seeking the Democratic primary endorsement of the 15th Ward Democrats. Naturally, JMO was (and is now) very busy in Jeff City.

    Our opponent, Mark Rice, did not attend nor did he send a representative.

    Other candidates in attendance included:
    Gregg Daly for Collector of Revenue
    Marlene Davis on behalf of Mike McMillan for License Collector
    a staffer whose name I don't remember on behalf of McCaskill for Senate
    Jim Frisella for Congress
    Kacie Starr Triplett on behalf of Russ Carnahan for Congress (Russ himself showed up later)

    and in the State Senate District 4 race...
    Derio Gambaro
    Susie Anderson-Bauer on behalf of Jeff Smith, who was teaching at WashU
    Billie Boykins on behalf of her daughter, Amber, who was in Jeff City
    Kenny Jones
    (nobody came for the El-Amin campaign)

    Very interesting to be a part of this process, and there really was a good crowd there.

    I'm working on the campaign website for JMO, which should be ready for prime time by the end of this week.

    Monday, April 17, 2006

    Crime Stories

    Crime Stories

    Something I've noticed lately about criminals and crime victims is that, often, they don't live in the neighborhoods where they commit crimes or are victimized.

    Granted, that's not always true, but for example, I noticed that Bobby Smith, the 17-year-old Roosevelt student killed last Sunday night at Pestalozzi and Minnesota lived way down in the 8500 block of South Broadway, near Marceau Street in far south Carondelet/Patch.

    Likewise, 16-year-old Roosevelt student Corey Blanks, killed apparently in self-defense by a cab driver in January near Nebraska and Wyoming, according to the Post-Dispatch report, lived in the 2400 block of Menard Street in Soulard.

    I don't want to blame Roosevelt itself for these kind of situations; after all, there are plenty of good young people there. But something is amiss when students are being gunned down in neighborhoods within a few blocks of the school, even if they don't live anywhere near there.

    Likewise, you'll find that many of the prostitutes who find customers along South Jefferson near Arsenal or Gravois, do not live in the area, but more likely in Illinois or in South County. And, of course, the customers of prostitutes and drug dealers in South St. Louis mostly are suburbanites.

    Most of the people in these neighborhoods - regardless of race, education, income, age, gender, religion, ethnicity, or homeownership/renter status - are downright fed up with the crime situation.

    I just wish I had an idea of how to fix the situation. It's so frustrating and at times downright scary.

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    Discount City: Wal-Mart May Come to the City of St. Louis?

    Discount City: Wal-Mart May Come to the City of St. Louis?

    I'm surprised other local bloggers haven't picked up on this one yet:

    St. Louis American 04/13/06: "Wal-Mart to target urban cores: St. Louis could be selected."

    This is a follow-up story to the "Wal-Mart Jobs and Opportunity Zones" initiative announced by the #1 retailer on April 4th on the West Side of Chicago, where the first such store will open this summer.

    Given that the American always has a Wal-Mart ad insert, this article was pretty even-handed. It was clear that Schnucks, Shop N Save, and the UFCW are not too happy about this idea.

    Meanwhile, I wonder what the community-wide response will be.

    Will something like the Southtown Coalition coalesce if a site is proposed on the Southside or (heaven forbid) in the central corridor?

    But what if a Northside site is proposed? Would there be any significant opposition? After all, Schnucks now only has two stores in the city limits north of Delmar: relatively new City Plaza at Union & Natural Bridge; and Grand & Kossuth, one of their smaller, older structures dating to the 1960s (originally a Kroger I think?), and which closes every day by 9 PM.

    Shop N Save and Dierbergs have zero stores in North City. Yes, Save-A-Lot and Aldi have invested in new stores there in recent years, but those are much smaller, limited-product-line operations. They can't compare with a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

    The City of St. Louis is now practically surrounded by Wal-Mart. They have stores in adjacent parts of Illinois (Granite City and the Village of Cahokia), as well as in Maplewood, Ferguson, Kirkwood, St. Ann, and South County. All are located within the I-270/255 beltway (albeit just barely in the case of the Ferguson and South County stores).

    There's also rampant speculation (at least by the Carondelet-Holly Hills Landlord Association) that Pace Properties wants to attract "either a Wal-Mart or a Target" to the old Stupp Brothers Bridge & Iron Co. (where my mom worked in the early 1970s as a secretary/nurse; it closed in 1998 and qualified as a brownfield) site on Weber Road in Lemay, directly across from houses located in the City of St. Louis.

    Of course, there's already one Target store in the city, at the busy corner of Hampton and Chippewa. Inside 270, St. Louis County has Target stores in Brentwood, South County, Kirkwood, and Bridgeton.

    Often, Target and Wal-Mart are located in close proximity to one another. In Kirkwood, they're actually in the same shopping center!

    I don't know when or where Wal-Mart will announce a site in the City, but I suspect it will be sooner rather than later.

    And I will be very interested to see the community response.

    Thursday, April 13, 2006

    On the Passing of William F. Woo

    On the Passing of William F. Woo

    I was surprised to read today that former St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor and columnist William F. Woo passed away Wednesday in Palo Alto, California, where he had been a journalism professor at Stanford since his retirement from the Post in 1996. (The University also has an article about him.)

    I met Bill Woo once, in summer 1995 as part of a speakers series during the Missouri Scholars Academy for high school students at UM-Columbia. I found him to be insightful, thoughtful and charming.

    I recall reading his columns which often were thought-provoking. I even have copies, somewhere, of the special pull-out section on the construction of the Gateway Arch, from 1965-66. His byline was in there many times as a long features writer.

    It's folks like Woo, who spent most of his career at the Post and was editor for about ten years, that continued to maintain its reputation for quality into the 1980s and 1990s, even as the Pulitzer family lost interest in the day-to-day operations of the source of their family fortunes.

    His term as editor, of course, spanned the period when the Post-Dispatch was still a dominant force in local media, with the Globe-Democrat having folded up and the Newhouse family entering into a joint-opearating agreement with Pulitzer, and with the World Wide Web not yet a force for information distribution.

    William F. Woo will be missed.

    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    News News

    News News

    As a member of the Communications Workers of America, I'm fortunate to also be subscribed to The Guild Reporter, the official newsletter of The Newspaper Guild.

    As you may have heard, the buyout of the Post-Dispatch by Lee Enterprises has resulted in some consternation and many expressions of frustration from members of the St. Louis Newspaper Guild.

    So, last month St. Louis guild members went up to Davenport to protest at the Lee shareholders meeting.

    And this is the best quote of all:

    "In addition to questioning the breakdown in benefits, Guild members criticized staffing levels that have fallen so low that copy editors no longer proofread the Post-Dispatch most days." (emphasis added)

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    Fyler and Brannon

    Fyler and Brannon

    The corner of Fyler Ave. and Brannon Ave. in the North Hampton neighborhood is probably the tightest turning spot on the through-traffic detour for the Arsenal Street Bridge reconstruction.

    Fortunately, Metro thought it out enough that they placed bus stops at this corner for the #30 Soulard.

    But some drivers don't always notice nor expect buses or tractor-trailers rounding that admittedly rather tight corner. It's particularly tight turning right, from westbound Fyler onto northbound Brannon.

    Approach this intersection cautiously, and please give way to larger vehicles!

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    BK Bye-Bye

    BK Bye-Bye

    Friday's Biz Journal reports on the shuttering of the five Burger King franchises owned by the Valenti brothers and a number of Florida-based retiree co-investors.

    As noted by Steve Patterson, the one on South Grand and Keokuk closed almost a month ago. The others seem to have closed up in the past couple weeks.

    The locations now closed are:

    South St. Louis City

    1340 S. 7th St. at Park/Broadway
    3861 S. Grand Blvd. at Keokuk
    2500 S. Jefferson Ave. at Victor/Gravois

    St. Louis County

    14124 Manchester Road, Manchester
    126 Kenrick Plaza, Shrewsbury

    This cuts in half the number of BKs in the City, from six to three.

    I've been to all three city locations and the one in Shrewsbury at one time or another. None of them impressed me in terms of cleanliness, service, or speed.

    Interestingly, the article quotes the owner of the other three franchises, Charlie Fogg, as saying "he knew C.J.F.'s restaurants on Grand Avenue and South Seventh Street have been suffering from low customer volume for a while. 'I'm not surprised that the restaurants closed.' "

    Fogg's locations are at 3259 Hampton Ave. (near Fyler), 5025 Delmar Blvd. (near Kingshighway), and 5030 Natural Bridge Ave. (near Kingshighway).

    I've been to the Delmar one a few times; it does seem better, and considerably busier at lunchtime, than those Grand, Jefferson and 7th stores. I've probably been to the Hampton location, but not in years.

    All six BK locations in the city were built between 1984 and 1989, so they all look about the same. But that also means they're all due for remodeling according to BK corporate, which itself is struggling.

    St. Louis, apparently, is a highly competitive fast-food market. Note the number of Wendy's, Hardee's and yes even McDonald's locations that have closed up over the years on main roads in both city and county. Many such buildings have been (rather poorly) adapted to other uses.

    Anyway, with the BKs closing, what about Mr. James Proctor? He's the owner of the MickeyD's at Grand and Chippewa, as well as at:
    4420 S. Broadway @ I-55
    1919 S. Jefferson Ave. @ I-44
    4620 S. Kingshighway Blvd. @ Murdoch Ave;
    and I think one more?

    At one point, he or his family members owned a dozen franchises in the area.

    Anyway, it seems like these closures would help out Mr. Proctor's bottom line. Less competition down the street from the Grand store would make it more possible for him to pay for remodeling or replacing it without tax abatement!

    But Mr. Proctor is quite well-connected politically, unlike the BK ownership group. As a 2002 Biz Journal piece notes, he's been on the Convention & Visitors Commission board since 1991.

    Sure, Proctor 'gives back' to the community more than those BK guys did. But is that really a good reason to let him get away with an atrocious site plan and little to no respect for the needs and interests of the neighborhood?

    Friday, April 07, 2006

    Ward 20 Turnout

    Ward 20 Turnout

    A perennial question is: why don't people vote in local elections?

    My home ward is the 20th, which is always in the bottom five, and frequently dead last, in terms of voter turnout among City of St. Louis wards.

    This has little to do with the performance of the alderman, or the Democratic committeepeople... arguably. But it does relate closely to demographics and high mobility.

    According to the 2000 Census, the area now covered by ward 20 had just under 12,000 residents, which is about the average population of a St. Louis city ward.

    But of that population, only about 7,400 were age 18 and up. Of that, just over 4,000 - 54% - were African-American. This ward was drawn that way deliberately, to ensure ward 20 remained a majority African-American ward, albeit moved to the Southside after the controversial 2002 redistricting.

    The most reliable voting bloc anywhere tends to be the 60-and-up population, but in ward 20, those folks make up less than 10% of the population, or just under 1,000 people.

    Ward 20 is an irregularly-shaped area composed of parts of Benton Park West, Dutchtown, Gravois Park, and Marine Villa.

    There are only five precincts and three polling places:

    Froebel Elementary School, 3709 Nebraska at Winnebago: Precincts 1 & 3
    Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, 2817 Utah at Oregon: Precincts 2 & 5
    Monroe Elementary School, 3641 Missouri at S Broadway: Precinct 4

    This is what you find in terms of turnout for ward 20:

    November 2, 2004 Presidential Election:
    58% turnout (3rd from the bottom, above ward 3 and ward 22)
    5,822 registered voters
    3,364 ballots cast

    April 5, 2005 Board of Education Election:
    5.3% turnout (dead last)
    5,963 registered voters
    319 ballots cast

    April 4, 2006 Election:
    PubDef.net suggests that only 126 people voted in the 20th ward, where Downs and Jones were the winners. Actually, the breakdown (courtesy of the Arch City Chronicle) is as follows:

    Clinkscale: 111 votes
    Buford: 110 votes
    Downs: 122 votes
    Jones: 126 votes
    McLin-Shireff (withdrew too late): 22 votes
    Duncan (withdrew too late): 13 votes
    Clark: 38 votes

    Since most folks probably voted for two candidates - C&B or D&J - the vote total is probably something closer to 126 + 111 = 237 voters. That seems to closely correspond with the 542 total votes across the seven candidates. Divide 542 by 2, and you get 271 voters. Without official turnout figures, that's an OK guess.

    Even if we say it's 271 voters, though, that's still LESS than the number who voted in the school board election one year ago. So it's less than 5%!

    And again, dead last in the city. Ward 3 had twice as many votes in toto.

    Of course, even the high turnout ward 16 barely broke the 3,000 vote mark. That suggests about 30% turnout there; impressive, in context of such low figures citywide, but hardly surprising out there. And they, too, went pretty solidly for Downs and Jones.

    Ultimately, most people just don't have enough time to vote. Yes, the law says you're supposed to get three hours off on election day, but realistically, most low-wage workers cannot afford to ask for that. Maybe if they had a union...

    Thursday, April 06, 2006

    Epiphany UCC -- Upcoming Services

    Epiphany UCC -- Upcoming Services

    Epiphany United Church of Christ
    2911 McNair Ave., 63118
    (314) 772-0263

    'There is Room at the Table' Palm Sunday celebration:
    Sunday, April 9th
    worship 10:30 am
    community meal 12:00 noon
    tours of historic church beginning 12:30 pm

    Maundy Thursday Service (April 13th): 6:30 pm
    Good Friday Service (April 14th): 7:00 pm Tennebrae Service
    Easter Sunday Sunrise Service (April 16th): 8:00 am, Easter Breakfast at 9:15 am

    Epiphany UCC is a Just Peace, Open and Affirming congregation... Where God is Still Speaking!

    Cross-posted on the Arch City Chronicle blog.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    Unofficial Results -- Now Up!

    Unofficial Results -- Now Up!

    April 4 2006 Municipal Election Unofficial Results - Board of Election Commissioners for the City of St. Louis.

    School Board -- well, you know what happened.

    Prop EJ -- would have passed solidly in the City alone. But in the County, it failed badly:

    City:
    13,454 (57%) YES
    9,928 (42%) NO

    County:
    45,821 (45%) YES
    55,395 (54%) NO

    Franklin County (small area in and around Pacific):
    977 (33%) YES
    1,925 (66%) NO

    Jefferson County (small area near Pacific):
    176 (52%) YES
    160 (47%) NO

    On Prop EJ, the Post-Dispatch is for some bizarre reason only reporting the County figures. The results posted by Channel 5 are actually a little easier-to-read, and seem to be totals across all four jurisdictions, indicating totals of:

    60,428 (47%) YES
    67,408 (52%) NO

    Clearly, a 3,500 vote winning margin in the City isn't enough to overtake a 10,000 vote losing margin in the County. You'd have to get a majority in the entire Junior College District in order to pass the measure.

    The campaign literature mailed out in support of Prop EJ was pretty mediocre, and had a Kansas City address on it. I didn't like that. Anyway, the press release issued today seems to suggest that further tuition increases are on the horizon. After all, if state funding is continously cut, and taxes can't be increased, who gets stuck with the bill?

    Sure, $78 per credit hour (up from $42 in 2001) is still a pretty good deal. Compare that with Harris-Stowe ($145 per credit hour for summer 2006), or the University of Missouri (just increased to $227 per credit hour beginning with summer 2006).

    Still, it's not necessarily that affordable when most folks' incomes are not keeping pace with inflation by any means, and when other expenses are rising quickly as well. Loans, grants and scholarships can help, but by no means is a college education affordable to all.

    There are no easy solutions, but I am dismayed at the huge disparity between City and County in the results on Prop EJ.

    Parents and Teachers Win!

    Parents and Teachers Win!

    Peter Downs and Donna Jones were elected to the St Louis Board of Education yesterday! I am elated.

    While the challenges facing SLPS have not changed, I still believe that Downs and Jones will add important perspectives to the board.

    It also goes to show that grassroots organizing really can work, especially in a low-turnout local race like this. And perhaps the negative campaign mailings by the Clinkscale/Buford "Educate St Louis" committee that had weak, cruddy portrayals of Downs as anti-reform, did backfire by providing him with more name recognition.

    And I do believe Downs and Jones will support Dr. Creg Williams - just not blindly. Many of the superintendent's reforms are not at all new ideas. Also, if you implement a whole bunch of dramatic changes like 9th-grade-centers and single-sex schools all at the same time, how can you ever prove statistically which ones worked and which didn't?

    I wouldn't necessarily call this a referendum on Mayor Slay's performance. Many voters are still pretty satisfied with him (for whatever reasons), and he won re-election last year quite handily.

    But also recall that last year, only one of the three candidates endorsed by the mayor actually won. Who remembers Joe Moramarco and Joe Keaveny now, except for their neighbors? Veronica O'Brien (a parent with kids in Clayton via deseg) and Bill Purdy (a district retiree) were elected along with Flint Fowler, who has exceptional name recognition as head of Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club.

    So this does represent a pretty dramatic rebuke of some of the strategies employed by the (up to now) current board majority of Clinkscale, Jackson, Archibald, and Schoemehl/Buford.

    What will be very interesting to see is what happens next year, when Bob Archibald and Ron Jackson are up for reelection. I kinda wonder whether Archibald will bow out early like Schoemehl did this time around.

    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    Touch This Screen

    Touch This Screen

    About 8:45 this morning at Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, I had my first encounter with a Diebold Election Systems touch-screen voting machine, courtesy of the Board of Election Commissioners for the City of St. Louis.

    It wasn't as bad as I had feared. After signing in, a poll worker gave me a control card to insert into the machine. Then I simply followed the on-screen instructions and pressed the active areas of the screen as appropriate.

    I was able to print out my ballot results, but the printout was behind a plastic cover and then a clear plastic screen. I didn't quite get that at first; but I guess that's the "paper record" everybody talks about. However, I didn't get a copy to keep for myself; it just looped back into the machine.

    I was generally satisfied, although I wish there were some taller screens on the sides of the machine. I felt like anybody could stand behind me or next to me and see how I was voting. At least with the old punch-card voting booths, I felt like I had a little more privacy, even if I wasn't actually behind a curtain.

    Touch-screen seems like the better option than optical scan. If I want to fill in bubbles, I'll go back to high school and take the MMAT!

    Monday, April 03, 2006

    Storm Damage

    Storm Damage

    The collapse of the K & G Fashion Superstore at 10865 Lincoln Trail in Fairview Heights IL is both tragic and surreal. At least one person was killed: Delancey Moore, a 54-year-old customer, a former St. Clair County Sheriff's Department jail superintendent, and an active resident of East St. Louis. He may have also been kin to SIU prof Debra Moore, but I'm not absolutely sure.

    At first glance, I thought this may have been a case of a newly-constructed building failing under adverse conditions.

    But actually, now I realize that building is probably about 25 years old, because it has the tell-tale appearance of a St. Louis-area Kroger store. Indeed, the glass-and-steel front entryway looks almost the same as the store built in 1981 as part of South Lakeview Plaza on Lemay Ferry and Forder Roads where my family sometimes shopped during my childhood.

    Kroger left St. Louis in 1986, and many of these stores were taken over by National Supermarkets. National, of course, was bought out by Schnucks in 1995. This store probably had a temporary Schnucks banner for a brief time, but then was divested to the "new" National (Family Company of America). It probably closed in 1999 when the new National went belly-up.

    Schnucks has a store less than one mile east, at 625 Lincoln Highway.

    Since 2001 - and, at least until yesterday - the 10865 Lincoln Trail property was known as Commerce Plaza Center, managed by Koman Properties.