Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Progress" v. The Metropole Tenants Association (Part II)

Note: this is a continuation of the post immediately below.

2. Does 3CDC have too much power in downtown and Over-the-Rhine? Truthfully, I have no idea. Certainly, we should talk about 3CDC and what it does. (And I don't think 3CDC would shy away from that discussion.) I definitely don't want to engage in some conspiracy-laden rant, accusing 3CDC of being some local version of the Trilateral Commission. But we should discuss, from time-to-time, what 3CDC does and whether it's good for a private organization to play the role in development decisions occupied by 3CDC.

At the outset, let me say this: 3CDC has, for the most part, done a terrific job in downtown and OTR. Anyone who doesn't believe that didn't drive up Vine Street five years ago and then again today. Anyone who doubts that 3CDC has made a lot of good decisions hasn't been on Fountain Square in the last three days--or, frankly, in the past three years.

Having said that, though, 3CDC has become something of the de facto planning commission for downtown. Maybe that's alright, because they have done a pretty good job thus far. But we should make sure the delegation of downtown planning to 3CDC is a conscious decision, and not one driven solely by momentum.

Last week, City Council debated the Queensgate Terminal project. Part of what was discussed was that the project would put Cincinnati Bulk Terminal out of business. Jeff Berding suggested that it's not City Council's job to favor one business over another, thereby creating "winners and losers". Maybe it's not. But it's something Council does more often than one would think. The remodeling of the Metropole is to be supported with $2.5 million from the City. An agreement to allocate that money will be a decision by the City that 3CDC's proposed business plan is better than the one currently in place. Notably, it will force the relocation of Roma's and the Subway Lounge. There's no guarantee that either of those will be successful in a new spot. So sometimes, the City does, indeed, choose winners and losers. 21c and its restaurant (which is Italian, by the way) win, and Roma's loses.

City Council routinely rubber stamps 3CDC proposals. My question: should it? Maybe it should. But let's make sure we talk about it every few years.

3. Why is this Legal Aid's problem? Finally, I have to wonder why the Metropole Tenants Association is represented by the Legal Aid Society. Is this really part of its core mission and services?

Some of Legal Aid's attorneys are my friends. The people who work there are dedicated, hard-working public servants, many of whom chose to work for Legal Aid even though they carry six figures of educational debt and could parlay their degrees into much more lucrative private practices. They are intelligent and capable, and they will no doubt represent the tenants zealously and professionally.

But is this type of class-action really the type of activity that Legal Aid should be spending time on? There are certain clients and cases that would go unserved if not for Legal Aid. Most poor people in the midst of divorce, foreclosure, social security applications, education law needs, and individual landlord-tenant disputes would not find representation in the private bar. As clients, they cannot pay a lawyer's hourly fee, and their cases are typically too small to justify a contingent fee arrangement.

With unemployment reaching double digits, the need for Legal Aid's individual services is larger now than ever. And that makes me wonder how Legal Aid is able to find the time to devote to a class action case. (Perhaps its plan is to merely see the case through its administrative phases, and to assist the tenants in finding private counsel should litigation be required.) The Metropole action, should one be filed, is large enough that there are members of the private bar who would take it on. Should it be left to the private bar, then?

I don't ask either of the questions raised in the post to demonize either 3CDC or Legal Aid. Both are organizations that (though very different) are extremely competent in their respective fields. Each is enormously important in the future of our city. But like any organization, it's fair to talk about their role from time to time. (Commenters, please take your meds before ranting here about either of these groups!)

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