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Careful As You Eat Your Spinach!

Mention the word green at City Hall and the pols sit up straight in their chairs.

Green is good. Green is the new buzz word. Going green will save our sewers. Going green will save our economy. Going green will save the world.

It might even get you re-elected.

What more did you expect from a generation of politicians who grew up watching Popeye cartoons?

He’s strong to the finish ‘cause he eats his green spinach.

No, wait, strong isn’t really the right word. Superhero and superhuman is more like it. The guy who saves the day, gets the girl and rescues the diapered Sweet Pea from all manner of societal peril, wow…

Go eat your spinach now! Never mind that another green vegetable equally despised by tots might, in fact, be better for you.

Yes, when Popeye was created in 1919, Americans then “in the know” believed spinach contained 10 times the iron that it actually possesses. They thought it was the super food capable of turning scrawny boys into strong men who always do the right thing.

Turns out that broccoli is actually packed with more vitamins and nutrients, according to Men’s Health magazine.

The lesson?

Don’t automatically believe everything your Superhero tells you.

Today, 90 years later, in the Washington Post we are told:

President Obama is putting a new emphasis on revitalizing U.S. cities with a coordinated effort that involves stimulus funding and getting multiple agencies to work together to improve schools, housing and neighborhoods. The approach is winning applause from local officials and urban thinkers, who credit the administration for quietly beginning the most ambitious new policy for the nation's cities since the Great Society programs of the 1960s. But the plan involves fundamental changes in the way federal agencies dole out assistance to urban areas, making its success uncertain.

 "This is way more than an ocean liner trying to change direction," said Angela Glover Blackwell, founder of PolicyLink, an advocacy organization that has consulted with the administration. "This is glacial."

We’re not going to argue that any of those objectives aren’t as good as America and apple pie but, Angela, wasn’t it something glacier-like that sank the Titanic?

Reading on we are instructed:

Obama has lamented the historic failures of federal efforts to rejuvenate urban areas, noting in July at a White House urban policy roundtable that "federal policy has actually encouraged sprawl and congestion and pollution, rather than quality public transportation and smart, sustainable development."

In the same way that federal highway spending encouraged sprawl, the Obama administration says more concentrated development can lead to more job opportunities for residents and environmentally and economically viable neighborhoods.

Again, nice. Very nice. Who doesn’t want a job and a way to get to that job (remember Popeye was a sailor). And living in an“environmentally and economically viable neighborhood” sounds really nice, too. But at this point, I’m beginning to wonder who it is here that is believing their own press release?

To coordinate his initiatives, Obama in March named Adolfo Carrion Jr., a former Bronx borough president, to direct his new White House Office of Urban Affairs.

“This is not your father's White House," Carrion said in an interview. "This is a new way of looking at the new city-metro reality."

Over the past two months, Carrion and other administration officials -- from agencies as diverse as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency-- have visited cities to observe innovative development plans.

And who is the poster child for this “new city-metro reality”? According to the Washington Post and the President it’s us.

“In Kansas City, stimulus funding has galvanized a project called the Green Impact Zone, led by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), a former mayor of the city. About $200 million in mostly federal money will be invested in the project, which aims to transform an economically depressed 150-square-block area east of Troost Avenue. About half of its residents live in deep poverty, with numerous vacant houses, high crime levels and unemployment rates approaching 50 percent.

The project involves a coordinated rush of federal money. Stimulus funding will be used to weatherize the 2,500 homes in the community. Block grants from the Energy Department will be used to hire residents and train them to do energy audits. Meanwhile, the local power company will build a "smart grid" in the area, using $25 million in stimulus money and $25 million of its own. More than $30 million, mostly from the Transportation Department, will be used to build a 13-mile rapid-transit line through the community to downtown that will feature solar-powered stations and buses that run on biodiesel fuel. There also will be job training in environmental cleanup and community policing funded by various agencies.”

Shame on the Washington Post and Czar Carrion for not drilling a little deeper into the realities before holding up Kansas City’s Green Impact Zone as the “new city-metro reality.” And, shame on the Cleaver crew for putting out this press release to begin with.

Give Rep. Cleaver credit for securing federal dollars for the “13-mile rapid-transit line” which happens to be the Troost Max BRT which, in fact, is basically an express bus. But please don’t wax it as part of a $200 million “coordinated rush” of “stimulus funding” when the dollars were, in reality, secured and budgeted in 2007 and 2008, months before the 2008 Presidential election. And a person only has to go to the Kansas City ATA website to learn that its $24.5 million in federal dollars (not “more than $30 million) and $6.1 million in local dollars (PIAC and others) all committed while President Bush was still in office.

So, where is the $200 million? The Washington post “reports” there’s maybe a $25 million match to KCP&L’s $25 million commitment for a “smart grid”. $50 million for 2500 homes on a smart grid. That’s a $20,000 investment per home?

The Washington Post, the Czar, the President and the Representative all seem to just breeze over this $200 million. For clues we have to look at other sources. Let’s try Representative Cleaver’s blog, Under the Clock.

Not surprisingly, here too there are remarkably few details about the Green Impact Zone. Nevertheless, it’s a fun read if you head there just for his distortions and fabrications

Distortions first. Click on the link: Green Impact Zone; Economic Stimulus and you get the headline “$40 million in Recovery funds come to our area”. Oh you find out, if you bother to read the post, that it’s $10 million to build electric vehicles in Lee’s Summit and “part of a $30 million grant” to make hybrid vehicles in Claycomo.

And, while the Congressman is touting $30 million in stimulus dollars arriving in Rep. Sam Graves’ district, he manages to confuse you further with a $161-million grant going to Michigan. All nestled under the Green Impact Zone link which; hey didn’t he promise us $200 million?The details must be further down and I’ve got a bridge to sell you in…

But, first let’s see what the Representative writes next:

I am proud to say the Environmental Protection Agency awarded $1.6 million in Recovery Act money to clean up polluted land in the Green Impact Zone.

Most importantly, about half the money will be used to train 80 people in handling hazardous waste associated with cleaning up contaminated sites.

Let’s see. About half is about $800,000 divided by 80 that’s $10,000 to train each person. And then:

$560,000 will be used for grants to clean up brownfields, fund redevelopment and employ nearby residents of the sites.

Hmmm. Even if we spent all $560,000 on salaries (which is unlikely) that’s $7,000 per each of the 80 who we just trained to clean up hazardous waste.

Help Wanted: Part time hazardous waste cleanup. Who says we’re not treating our underserved communities right?

Still hunting for the rest of the promised $200 million, we next learn what the local pols and community leaders are up to.

Green Zone Director Anita Maltbia goes to Washington. Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) ExecutiveDirector Mark Warm goes to Washington, too. The Representative and some of the City Council members go to Greensburg, KS and then

“President Obama dispatches his Cabinet to Green Impact Zone”

We’re just going to let that slide as he probably just means some of them and since the next entry is even funnier.

“I truly believe the problems faced by urban core, primarily African American and poor residents of the Green Impact Zone, are remarkably similar to the issues faced by the rural residents of Greensburg.”

Yep, he’s right. Tornadoes and automatic rifles are both kind of dangerous.

But I digress. What I really still want to know is where’s the spinach?
So, naturally I go back to the Representative’s words:

“Because of the stimulus we now have money to finish this portion of Brush Creek and replace the aging bridge that spans it now.”

He must be talking about the Troost Bridge now and, even though this “stimulus” there is not capitalized and therefore could be any old kind of Rogaine stimulus or what have you, we think he’s asking us to believe that the $35 million Troost Bridge project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Well, indeed it was! But it was only partially funded by the ARRA after it was already totally funded by various governmental sources the year before. Yes indeed, the Troost Bridge was totally funded before we even knew who was going to play Popeye in 2009.

Yep, the absolutely, completely, totally funded Troost Bridge project (funded while President Bush was still in office) pulled down $8 million in ARRA stimulus dollars only after Popeye burst onto the scene with his can of green spinach stimulus. About $6 million of PIAC dollars in the Troost Bridge project then got spread out over road projects in all six districts. $1.5 of it went to administer the Green Impact Zone and its mysterious $200 million fund.

So, maybe that’s the $200 million still in his pocket?

I don’t know.

I’m still looking.

But, if this is to be held up by the President as a national model of good government, we should all be sweating bullets.

Oh, here…maybe this is it. We’re going to weatherize 2,500 homes. $200 million (less $1.6 million) leaves us $198.4 million am I right? Divide by 2,500 and it’s $79.360.00 per home.

Maybe we could just let Habitat for Humanity build everybody in the Green Impact Zone a brand new home and spend the $25 million in “smart grid” dollars on some police and playgrounds.

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