Will Black Mecca Bail Out Its Gentrifiers and Their Jim Crow BeltLine Streetcars?

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Hailed by “smart growth” advocates around the country, the Atlanta BeltLine, is a massive & racist gentrification scheme funded by diverting billions out of Atlanta's Public School budget to banksters and crooked developers. But those billions aren't enough. To bail out the BeltLine, the governor and Atlanta's black mayor want to levy a one-cent sales tax on Atlanta for streetcars and light rail most of black Atlanta will never ride, for Jim Crow streetcars, when black Atlanta neighborhoods don't even get 24 hour bus or train service. Can the black misleadership class really pull this off?

Will Black Mecca Bail Out Its Gentrifiers and Their Jim Crow BeltLine Streetcars?

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

...everybody knew the drill. It was old news by the time James Baldwin declared in the 60s that 'urban renewal means Negro removal.'”

Beginning in World War I, the migration of African Americans from the rural south to mostly northern cities resulted in large black urban communities. Back then, the powers that be needed black labor for their war plants, and later for steel, auto and other manufacturing industries. It became American custom to keep urban blacks at arms length, to segregate and redline their urban neighborhoods, and when federal home ownership loans became available in the mid-twentieth century, to largely deny these to blacks.

By the 1950s, another response to the existence of black urban communities emerged. It went under many race-neutral names --- slum clearance, urban renewal, urban revitalization, later, upscale development, gentrification. But everybody knew the drill. It was old news by the time James Baldwin declared in the 60s that “urban renewal means Negro removal.”

Much has changed since the 1960s. But not this. Black urban communities are still on the whole poorer than white ones, even at the same income & education levels. And no matter how race-neutral the name, nobody, including the black misleadership class, our favorite term for the African American preachers, business people, entertainers and politicians who fancy themselves as our leaders --- none of them have even tried to come up with any sort of “urban redevelopment plan” that does anything but move poorer, mostly black residents out and richer, often whiter ones in.” The black misleadership class does not know how to stop gentrification, even if they wanted to. What they do know is how to get paid.

...the BeltLine was a colossal scam to enrich real estate speculators and developers, banksters and well connected law firms at the expense of Atlanta's public school children...”

Atlanta's been the flagship city for the nation's black misleadership class since electing its first black mayor in 1973. It was a black mayor, Shirley Franklin, who joined with the city's white business and media elite to deceptively peddle the Atlanta BeltLine, a supposedly green, environmentally friendly, smart-growth plan to develop a 22 mile loop around the inner city into bike paths, new shopping, parks and housing, served by new streetcars and light rail.

In fact, the BeltLine was a colossal scam to enrich real estate speculators and developers, banksters and well connected law firms at the expense of Atlanta's public school children and the black residents of metro Atlanta, which led the nation in child poverty in the 2000 census. Here's how the scam works:

The BeltLine drew lines around 8% of the city's land area, much of it industrial, but next to dozens of existing poor and black neighborhoods targeted for profitable turnover and gentrification. Property tax revenues reaped by the city inside the Tax Allocation District, TAD as it's called under Georgia law --- some other states call it a TIF, or Tax Increment Financing (TIF) or similar name --- were frozen at 2005 levels. As is typical nationwide in these modern Jim Crow special tax districts, expected increases in property taxes inside the Jim Crow district could only be spent within the district, and not shared with the unwashed and poorer sections of the city. As usual, a private corporation was established, in this case BeltLine Inc., to decide how and where the billions in supposedly public tax dollars would be spent. Surrendering public resources to well-connected private hands in this manner is euphemistically called a “public-private partnership.”

At least one well-funded community organization was well aware of the racist theft of public resources to create the BeltLine...”

To get its hands on 23 years worth of tax revenue up front, politicians of both parties allowed BeltLine Inc. to issue $1.8 billion worth of tax-free bonds, to be repaid approximately twice, with interest and fees in the neighborhood of $4 billion, which would otherwise go to Atlanta's cash-strapped public schools. In the closing weeks of 2005, with corporate media blacking out any discussion of BeltLine financing, Shirley Franklin bullied the Atlanta School Board into approving the diversion of about $187 million a year over 23 years from Atlanta's mostly black public schools to its gentrifying real estate and bond scam, the “public-private partnership” of BeltLine Inc.

At least one well-funded community organization was well aware of the racist theft of public resources to create the BeltLine, and of its inevitable gentrifying effects on adjacent black neighborhoods. Back in 2005, I contacted Georgia Stand Up, to inquire whether they planned to alert Atlanta communities they supposedly represented to the impending BeltLine heist and the imminent threat it proposed to surrounding communities. I was told in no uncertain terms by Georgia Stand Up's research person and executive director that though they had known about the BeltLine since 2003, it was already a done deal. The best that could be done, according to them, was to accept a few construction jobs and some funding, a so-called “community benefits” arrangement, and get with the program. This too, is in keeping with the ethos of the black misleadership class, which owes its existence to corporate connections, corporate donations, and other corporate funding. The black misleadership class doesn't know how to stop or change much of anything, but it knows very well how to get paid.

From the beginning, the BeltLine's pretended to be a “green” alternative to suburban sprawl. The BeltLine's greenwashed marketing aggressively emphasizes its bicycle paths, pedestrian walkways, light rail and streetcars to make it an easy sell to whites supposedly concerned about the environment, and ignorant or indifferent to its racist theft from black Atlanta school children and gentrification which is anything but race-neutral. The BeltLine's projections also make the absurd claim that it will produce 30,000 permanent and 40,000 “long term” construction jobs.

the BeltLine's light rail and streetcars are Jim Crow streetcars... most black Atlantans will never have a reason to ride”

But the $4 billion stolen from Atlanta's public school children only pays for land acquisition, yuppie shopping and housing, parks, and subsidies to developers, along with fees and tax-free interest to banksters, lawyers and bondholders. None of it pays for the BeltLine's promised streetcars and light rail. To redeem the BeltLine's promises of smart-growth streetcars and light rail will take a multibillion dollar bailout in the form of a one-cent sales tax levied upon all the residents of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties. This is what local corporate media, and the black and white politicians of both parties, in the deceptive tradition of the are calling the “Transportation Investment Act.”

Of course the BeltLine's promised light rail and streetcars don't run anywhere near the places black Atlanta needs for access to jobs, education, health care, business growth and opportunities. The light rail project goes from an already gentrified area to Emory University, and the streetcars run between tourist and downtown destinations, and soon-to-be “reclaimed” neighborhoods as well.

Just like the BeltLine tax district is a Jim Crow tax district, the BeltLine's light rail and streetcars are Jim Crow streetcars,” offered Paul McLennon, a member of the Amagamated Transit Union and the Atlanta Public Sector Alliance. “It's incredible. Mayor Reed wants to levy a regressive sales tax on black Atlanta for Jim Crow streetcars most black Atlantans will never have a reason to ride.

Metro Atlanta needs 24 hour regional bus transit, across county lines, to the neighborhoods people already live in, to the jobs, the shopping and the opportunities current residents need and want and deserve. Urban economic development should be for the people who already live here, not the richer, whiter ones you want to attract. Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb already pay a one cent sales tax for MARTA. We're optimists. We think that beating back this one cent sales tax will derail the racist BeltLine and its Jim Crow streetcars.

The July 29 Transit Investment Act referendum will be on the ballot in outlying suburban counties, ten in all. In the burbs the one cent tax pays for more highways, and some privatized luxury GRTA buses from the burbs to downtown Atlanta. Suburban counties would be wise to reject the one cent sales tax as well. Joining MARTA to extend an integrated bus and rail network out to Clayton, Gwinnett, Rockdale and Cobb is the only way to achieve the regional mass transit we all need.”

This one-cent sales tax might not even be the last bailout the racist BeltLine needs. The depressed real estate market may inhibit property tax growth inside the Jim Crowed BeltLine tax district for some years. If tax revenues are insufficient to repay the approximately $4 billion we can be sure politicians will try to find public money to make up the difference. After all, bankster bondholders, unlike the rest of us, are too big to fail, too important to take a loss.

When Shirley Franklin rammed the initial BeltLine proposal through in 2005, she had the advantages of a corporate media blackout on discussions of the BeltLine's financial arrangements or gentrifying impacts, and the complicity of the rest the local black misleadership class. That was enough to do the deal back then. But it might not be enough in 2012.

A spokesperson for the Georgia Green Party agreed.

"Back in 2005 Shirley Franklin and local corporate media kept the public in the dark to foist the BeltLine upon us. Bailing out the BeltLine's crooked and racist scam at the polls with a one cent sales tax will be much harder for Mayor Reed, Governor Deal and their wealthy backers. The Green Party of Georgia will work hard to defeat the July 31 referendum both in Atlanta and surrounding counties."

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and lives in Marietta GA where he's also a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party, and a partner in a technology and consulting firm. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.