Posted inMaria's Metro

United Way offers Atlanta’s homeless a way to go straight from “Streets to Home”

The magic number on Thursday morning was 17.

Seventeen homeless people Thursday morning agreed to leave the streets for a home — apartments that they would share with others.

They also agreed to work with assigned case managers and develop a plan to transform their lives — enter an addiction rehabilitation program, begin counseling for mental illnesses, help get necessary legal papers so they could begin getting disability checks or other support.

It’s called “Streets to Home” — a program that Metro Atlanta’s United Way and the Regional Commission on Homelessness have modeled after a similar program in New York City called

Posted inMaria's Metro

The recent deaths of friends a reminder we’re losing part of what made Atlanta special

Too many of my contemporaries are dying, years too young.

Debra Halpern Bernes, my high school classmate, passed away last week after fighting cancer for two years. The synagogue was full of family, friends and associates who marveled at how she had been able to keep an infectious upbeat attitude despite her pain.

For those of us who attended Grady High School 40 years ago, it was another one of those unpleasant reunions. After the service, a group of us gathered to outside the Ahavath Achim Synagogue for hugs and even a group photo. Another one of our classmates had left us.

One of the last times we had gathered was in May, 2007 when

Posted inGuest Column

Georgia’s water woes a critical issue in current gubernatorial campaign

By Guest Columnist ALLISON KELLY, senior vice president of the Georgia Conservancy.

For decades, Georgia’s environmental community has urged the state’s top elected officials to take water issues seriously.

In the 2009 state legislature, water yet again took a back seat to matters deemed more critical, such as the economy, education and immigration.

All that changed last summer, when federal judge Paul Magnuson ruled that metro Atlanta has no legal authority to draw drinking water from Lake Lanier. It was a shot across the bow that catapulted water from the sidelines to center stage among those now running to replace Sonny Perdue for governor.

Posted inMaria's Metro

Metro Atlanta transportation sales tax campaign needs to focus on transit projects

At this past week’s Regional Transit Committee meeting, the Atlanta Regional Commission’s David Emory made an interesting presentation.

A total of eight light rail projects are included in the Concept 3 plan. They would cost about $8 billion to build, and they would have an annual operating cost of $200 million.

Coincidentally, if metro Atlanta voters pass a regional sales tax for transportation, it would raise about $8 billion over 10 years.

I couldn’t help myself. I began to think about how wonderful it would be if the Atlanta region would spend most, if not all, of the new sales tax revenue on transit projects.

The eight light rail projects in the Concept 3 Plan actually would

Posted inGuest Column

Federal investment in Atlanta communities has made a difference

By Guest Columnist CLARA HAYLEY AXAM, former director of the Atlanta Office Enterprise Community Partners who currently is president of Clarification & Mediation Inc., a management consulting firm.

There is a well-quoted adage that implies that if something is free, it is probably not worth having. Whether you believe there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that is yours for the taking or in working hard, spending judiciously and saving for a rainy day, dreams of pots of someone else’s money to fix all of our woes are just that – dreams.

In 2002 Atlanta was designated as a federal Renewal Community (RC) in accordance with the 2000 Community Renewal Tax Relief Act targeting revitalization in designated census tracts with pervasive

Posted inGuest Column

Building community bit by bit along the Atlanta Beltline

By Guest Columnist ANGEL LUIS POVENTUD, a renegade community activist and believer in Atlanta.

Community. I’ve always had it. I was born in 1971 in a Miami neighborhood where my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all lived just three blocks apart, and my elementary school was just down the street. My parents are Puerto Rican who grew up in New York City.

My mom worked as an executive secretary, and my dad worked as a printer for Eastern Airlines, so we were able to travel the world until about the time I turned 15.

After I graduated from high school, I tried going to college for architecture and toyed with the idea of becoming a city planner. But then I left school to go

Posted inGuest Column

Shaking down the “shakedown” comments by U.S. Rep. Tom Price

By Guest Columnist MICHAEL DAILEY, a business litigation attorney who is active with several environmental organizations in Georgia.

Lost in the uproar which followed Rep. Joe Barton’s now-famous apology to British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward, for what Barton alleged was a White House “shakedown” of his company leading to the establishment of a $20 Billion escrow fund, was the original Republican scriptwriter for Barton’s ire – Representative Tom Price M.D. of Georgia.

Only hours before Barton unleashed his surprising outpouring of sympathy for the company responsible for delivering America’s foremost environmental disaster, Rep. Price, speaking as Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, issued a statement

Posted inMaria's Metro

Creating crosswalks that protect pedestrians

Crosswalks. Some would rather watch paint dry than talk about crosswalks.

But well-designed crosswalks can make all the difference in the world when it comes to developing a city that welcomes pedestrians.

Atlanta’s crosswalks — or lack there of — is one of my pet peeves. There’s probably no better barometer about how pedestrian-friendly a city is than the way it designs and maintains its crosswalks.

Friends of mine roll their eyes when I start talking about the beauty of painted piano keys that safely outline the space reserved for those walking from one side of the street to the other.

Those wide white-painted stripes command respect for pedestrians and clearly communicate to cars their boundaries.

To reinforce the message, some cities change the pavement

Posted inMaria's Metro

Before he retires, CAP executive Paul Kelman talks about the future of downtown Atlanta

More people living downtown is key to creating a vibrant center city for the Atlanta region.

That is the view of Paul Kelman, executive vice president of Central Atlanta Progress, who recently announced his retirement effective July 16 after 22 years with the downtown business organization.

Kelman is the longest-serving employee in CAP’s 70-year history — providing continuity for the organization through at least seven different presidents, and even filling in as interim president during one of its transition periods.

He is the one member of CAP’s staff who dates back to the tenure of legendary president Dan Sweat — who led the organization during the pivotal 1970s and 1980s — when Atlanta’s political power shifted from white leadership to black

Posted inGuest Column

Creating greenways to manage storm water is key to water quality

By Guest Columnist JACKIE ECHOLS, an environmentalist and citizen acitivist.

Second a two-part series on the state of the City of Atlanta’s water and sewer plans.

The Atlanta Department of Watershed Management (DWM) needs to give top priority to demonstrating that the combined sewer overflow (CSO) tunnels and treatment investments already in place will bring Atlanta into compliance by the current 2014 deadline. No time extension should be granted.

However, a time extension to rebuild sewer infrastructure in the combined sewer areas is appropriate. These areas are served by the CSO tunnel and treatment systems. Because water quality

Posted inMaria's Metro

Atlanta’s Beltline seeking delicate balance between smart design and quicker progress

By Maria Saporta

The magic number on Saturday was 2.5.

Jim and Sarah Kennedy donated $2.5 million to the Atlanta Beltline.

Kaiser-Permanente also donated $2.5 million to the Atlanta Beltline.

And their combined $5 million gift will build 2.5 miles of a multi-purpose trail stretching from Monroe Drive at Piedmont Park to DeKalb Avenue.

On Saturday, there was a celebration to announce both gifts and the latest development plans for the Beltline — a 22-mile corridor that will lasso intown Atlanta.

The long term vision for the Beltline calls for green space with miles of bicycle and pedestrian trails, a transit line and new

Posted inGuest Column

Water quality in question as city spends $3.4 billion on water and sewer fixes by 2014

By Guest Columnist JACKIE ECHOLS, an environmentalist and citizen acitivist.

First in a two-part series on the state of the City of Atlanta’s water and sewer plans.

With another 12.5 percent water and sewer rate increase due in July 2010, the question that should be at the forefront of the minds of City of Atlanta residents is: Are we getting what we’re paying for?

Almost 13 years into two federal consent decrees, the City of Atlanta has asked the court for an additional 15 years, until 2029, to complete wastewater fixes that are supposed to finally bring it into compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Posted inMaria's Metro

Atlanta leaders hope streetcar proposal will win in second round of U.S. TIGER grants

Maybe the second time will be the charm.

The City of Atlanta hopes the federal government will give its streetcar plan a green light during the second round of TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants.

City leaders are presenting their revised streetcar proposal to the Atlanta City Council this week and need the full council’s approval before July 16 when pre-applications are to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Atlanta and Georgia did not fare well during the first round of TIGER grants — when $1.5 billion were distributed to transportation projects across the nation. In the first round, the federal government was offering 100 percent of the funding.

This round is not quite as generous. Only $600 million will be

Posted inGuest Column

Tapping the potential of high school students

By Guest Columnist CHARISSE M. WILLIAMS, director of Posse Atlanta — the local arm of the Posse Foundation, a national non-profit that recruits young leaders in urban public high schools and helps them enroll and excel in college.

As we look ahead to the upcoming college season, there are many high school students in metro Atlanta and throughout the country without any post-secondary education plans.

The earning potential of these young people is bleak. A person without a college degree is more than twice as likely to be unemployed as someone with a college degree.

For minorities, the outlook is even more dramatic. At a

Posted inMaria's Metro

Opportunity exists to create a regional transit system; new leaders at the helm

A transit evolution is underway in metro Atlanta.

But what form it will take is still a mystery.

What key regional leaders do know is that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

The incremental progress for transit is literally running on parallel tracks.

On one track is the state legislature and the state government. After several years of inaction, the state legislature passed a transportation bill that will permit regions to vote on a penny sales tax two years from now.

The bill was flawed, however, because it singled out MARTA — stipulating that none of those sales tax revenues could go to existing MARTA operations. The bill also mandated a new governance structure for the MARTA board and established a

Posted inGuest Column

City needs parking policy that promotes people-friendly streets

By Guest Columnist MIKE DOBBINS: a Georgia Tech professor of architecture and planning who also served as the city of Atlanta’s commissioner of planning, development and neighborhood conservation from 1996 to 2002. Dobbins also is author of a new book: ‘Urban Design and People.

Parking is about a lot more than storing cars and generating revenue.

Parking, and in the current situation on-street parking, is about access and walkability, retail, restaurant and residential viability, and altogether the character – the attractiveness and functionality – of the more intense parts of town.

Various studies have confirmed the common sense that cars parked at on-street parking spaces provide a

Posted inMaria's Metro

Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys; and from where should we buy our gas?

What’s a socially- and environmentally-conscious consumer supposed to do?

I haven’t bought gas at an Exxon station since 1989 following the disastrous oil spill of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit a reef in Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989.

It was a matter of principle. Exxon’s response to the oil spill was slow, defensive and insensitive. All these years, I have not wanted to spend my money on a company like Exxon.

On the other hand, I truly believed BP was worthy of my money.

I really got to see what BP was made of back in 2000 when I was working on a column about our upcoming smog season.

At the time, the state of Georgia had passed requirements for

Posted inGuest Column

Atlanta’s pension problems can be solved through defined contribution plan

By Guest Columnist JOHN MATTHEWS, a commercial real estate investor and an MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School

Atlanta’s public employee pension system is a structurally flawed retirement program that does not serve taxpayers, does not serve city workers and puts our city at risk of financial insolvency.

Significant changes will have to be made to the pension plan in order to prevent the city from entering either permanent economic decline or outright failure. If the city wants to put itself and its employees on a permanent path to long-term fiscal security, our city

Posted inMaria's Metro

The King Center’s eternal flame is burning brightly again thanks to Atlanta Gas Light

Something was wrong.

Walking along Auburn Avenue during the Sweet Auburn Festival, we stopped by the crypts of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King — one of the most sacred spots in Atlanta.

We sat next to the eternal flame and realized that the coals were cold and the eternal flame had been extinguished.

How could that be? Wasn’t an eternal flame supposed to burn forever?

Underneath the flame, there was a plaque saying that the eternal flame had recently been refurbished by the Atlanta Gas Light Co., the keeper of our city’s Shining Light Awards.

So sitting there, I sent an email to John Somerhalder, CEO of

Posted inGuest Column

Four keys to how HB 277 can mean a better transit system for metro Atlanta

By Guest Columnist RAY CHRISTMAN, executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition

After a three year debate, the Georgia General Assembly passed last month HB 277, The Transportation Investment Act of 2010, which provides the opportunity for the Atlanta region (and other regions of the state) to pass a one percent sales tax dedicated to transportation improvements.

The bill’s passage generated much celebration among transportation advocates of all stripes who had worked for years on this goal. And it induced a good bit of teeth gnashing as well, particularly by those who felt the legislation unnecessarily penalized MARTA.

But with the bill passed and the rules and processes in place for moving forward, it is now time to turn