Jun 18, 2020

Axios Cities

By Kim Hart
Kim Hart

💡Tomorrow at 12:30pm ET, Axios will host a virtual event to commemorate Juneteenth and unpack the steps forward for a nation working through a pandemic and nationwide protests against police violence.

  • Axios Markets Editor Dion Rabouin speaks with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, former senior advisor under Barack Obama Valerie Jarrett, BET founder Robert Johnson, and Campaign Zero co-founder DeRay Mckesson. Register here.

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I welcome your feedback, comments and tips. Find me at kim@axios.com, or just hit reply.

Today's edition is 1,843 words, a 7-minute read.

1 big thing: The return of community policing

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The concept of community policing, or a framework for forging stronger relationships between police departments and the communities they serve, is seeing renewed interest in cities as a way to rebuild trust and repair racial rifts, Axios' Michele Salcedo and I write.

Why it matters: While this policing strategy has been criticized as too "soft," proponents say the emphasis on de-escalation, daily engagement with residents, and a greater sense of empathy and tolerance is exactly what's needed to defuse the national outrage over police brutality against African Americans.

"When people have an understanding of what community policing really is, the practicality of community policing, they are much more receptive. People want to see their neighborhood police officer because they know that person is the one who's going to respond. So when something does happen, it's a more positive interaction regardless of the situation, because of that relationship."
— Dallas City Councilman Casey Thomas to Axios

Background: Community policing was popular in the 1990s, but it was de-prioritized after 9/11. Responding to possible threats of terrorism became a larger focus, officers took on more homeland security-related duties, and funds withered during the economic downturn of the early 2000s.

  • Now, people are seeing the value of it again as Americans look for ways to rebuild trust between police departments and the people they serve.

How it works: The Justice Department’s Community Oriented Police Services program, created during the Clinton administration, was a top-to-bottom overhaul that moved police departments away from the traditional paramilitary structure to more transparency and community involvement.

  • The program leveraged substantial grants and local commitments to add about 100,000 additional police officers to departments around the country.

The other side: Community policing isn’t cheap and doesn’t lead to instant, quantifiable results. Building relationships, networking and sharing information with residents don't always align with the modern data-driven methods that put a priority on increased arrest and warrant numbers.

  • Some police unions have pushed back against the mandate, arguing playing football with kids and taking complaints from residents isn't the best use of uniformed officers' time.

The bottom line: Greg Evans, a member of Eugene, Oregon's city council who also provides civil rights and anti-discrimination training for the Lane County Sheriff's Reserve Academy, tells Axios that improving relationships between the police and the public requires a broader change in police culture, a significant undertaking that won't happen overnight.

  • "Our police are trained on tactics, not on community service and engagement, and the curriculum is outdated," Evans said. "We really need structural reform in the department if we're ever going to make any substantive progress toward community policing and de-escalating reactions."

Read the full story

2. Protests strain police budgets

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Cities and states have spent millions of dollars on police overtime over the past few weeks during the Black Lives Matter protests, Axios' Stef Kight and Dan Primack report.

Why it matters: Government budgets already were under severe strain from coronavirus shutdowns due to steep tax revenue declines, and these extra expenses could make it even more difficult to meet obligations.

By the numbers: The Dallas Police Department tells Axios it spent $1.5 million in extra staff and equipment costs during the first three days of BLM protests.

  • Nashville's police department spent an estimated $2.3 million just on police overtime since May 30, it tells Axios.
  • The Miami Police Department has spent more than $1.8 million on police overtime so far since May 29 due to police brutality demonstrations, a spokesperson tells Axios.
  • Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said last Friday that he had hoped to save on police overtime from most large events being canceled because of the coronavirus, but "unfortunately that’s not the case because of the protests.”
  • Some cities with some of the largest protests, including New York, Minneapolis and Philadelphia, didn't respond to Axios' requests for numbers.

At the state level, the California Highway Patrol spent more than $38 million on its response to protests — mostly overtime costs — in addition to the $25 million Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration reportedly spent to deploy National Guard troops.

  • Several states, including Arkansas, Virginia and Georgia, declared states of emergency, unlocking emergency funds and activating the National Guard.

Even some small towns are facing these unexpected expenses.

  • Police overtime for protests is costing Lake County, Indiana, roughly $80,000 per day.
  • Lake Havasu City in Arizona reportedly spent around $45,000 to police one BLM protest.
  • In Sonora, California — which has a population of less than 5,000 — officials imported police from neighboring counties, which could cost upward of $20,000.

Other costs: Some cities, such as Boston, set up free COVID-19 testing sites near protests. And all protest sites resulted in extra sanitation costs, while some had extra fire and rebuild expenses due to fires.

3. Data du jour: Where COVID-19 is growing
Adapted from Nephron Research; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Although Los Angeles and Chicago are still adding a lot of new cases each day, the number of cases is decreasing over time.

  • In cities throughout the South and the Sunbelt, cases are increasing — and in some instances skyrocketing, per Nephron Research.

Go deeper: Los Angeles, Phoenix lead metro areas with most new coronavirus cases

4. Racial inequities in education can start as early as preschool

Pre-K students at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports: Universal preschool would help close the math and reading gaps between white and black children who are approaching kindergarten, an analysis from Rutgers' National Institute for Early Education Research shows.

Why it matters: Math and reading skills at kindergarten entry are indicators of later school success, and children who enter kindergarten behind are unlikely to catch up.

  • Black children are on average nearly nine months behind in math and almost seven months behind in reading compared to their white non-Hispanic peers, the report notes.

The big picture: Universal pre-K would practically eliminate the reading skills gap for kindergarten and cut the math skills gap almost in half — from about nine months to five months.

Yes, but: Economic turmoil often leads to less spending in public schools, with lower standards and decreased enrollment. And right now, states are absorbing massive public health costs and economic blowback from the pandemic.

The bottom line, per Rutgers University researchers: "Providing all Black children access to high-quality preschool will not be a small task. It will require raising quality standards, expanding enrollment, and, of course, more funding."

Go deeper:

5. Opportunity Zone tax breaks fall short on helping underserved neighborhoods

The Southwood Mobile Home Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, is in one of the 8,700 opportunity zones designated as part of the Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017. Photo: Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post via Getty Images

An Urban Institute report finds that the Opportunity Zone (OZ) incentive created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is falling short of its goals of fostering equitable development and business growth in undercapitalized communities.

The big picture: Researchers found some examples of capital flowing to neighborhoods that otherwise might not attract it, but Opportunity Zone incentives aren't sweet enough to motivate investors to seek out mission-oriented projects that may truly benefit low- and moderate-income communities, such as affordable housing or small businesses.

How it works: The program lets investors defer capital gains taxes if they invest in designated areas and, for the maximum tax benefit, keep money in the project for at least 10 years. Opportunity Zones have attracted more than $10 billion in investments.

Yes, but: Investors with the ability to park money in a project for 10 years naturally look for projects with the highest return. So investing in a high-end condo will almost always be more attractive than, say, a grocery store.

  • And because eligible investors are wealthy, "people from outside the zones will largely be making investment decisions that affect zone residents," per the report.
  • The study also found "patterns of discrimination." Interviews with 70 stakeholders revealed that minority developers have found it difficult to connect with or be taken seriously by investors.

"This was sold as a business creation, job creation program in the heartland," said Brett Theodos, Urban Institute senior fellow, noting that only 3% of OZ resources go toward operating businesses. "It's not a business creation program, it's a real estate subsidy. That may be the most egregious shortcoming of the program."

What to watch: Congress is actively considering changes to the program. Broadening investment eligibility and giving more flexibility to mission-oriented projects could help the program come closer to its goals, Theodos said.

6. San Francisco seeks to tax "overpaid" execs and stock compensation

San Francisco’s board of supervisors has proposed November ballot measures that would tax companies that grant stock to their employees and those who pay top execs more than 100 times their median salary, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva writes.

Why it matters: If passed, the measures, which aim to raise money for the cash-strapped city, could add to the growing acrimony between San Francisco and its tech-focused companies.

Details: Supervisor Gordon Mar's proposal would tax publicly traded companies an additional 1.12% on the value of employees’ stock compensation, and it's expected to generate up to $150 million annually.

  • In a separate proposal, Supervisor Matt Haney is seeking to add a tax on companies whose top executives' total compensation — including stock — is at least 100 times the median of its San Francisco-based employees.
  • Companies would have to pay 0.1% (or more) of their gross receipts earned in San Francisco, and the measure is expected to bring in up to $140 million annually. Portland enacted a similar tax.

Between the lines: Many in San Francisco, including some elected officials, blame the tech industry for the city's stark economic inequality.

  • This has been especially pronounced in recent years following a controversial tax measure best known as the “Twitter tax break” of 2011, which was passed to prevent the social media company from moving elsewhere and to incentivize companies that move into particular buildings in San Francisco’s blighted Mid-Market area.
  • The city has reportedly lost an estimated $70 million in tax revenue (out of a total budget of $12 billion) without seeing great benefit to the area.
  • In 2018, residents approved a tax meant to raise funds to fight homelessness, which was opposed by some tech execs.

The other side: Business execs, investors and advocates argue that these types of taxes could push companies to move out of San Francisco, or at the very least, choose not to set up shop there.

  • “It makes no sense to suggest tax increases this year. Our local economy is still struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve already seen several major employers leave the city, and our unemployment rate is at a record high,” Rodney Fong, president and CEO of the SF Chamber of Commerce, told the SF Examiner. “These tax increases will stall our city’s economic recovery.”
7. Urban files

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Everything is local again (Axios)

What’s really going on at Seattle’s so-called autonomous zone? (Slate)

How the coronavirus will reshape architecture (New Yorker)

Architects' model for socially distanced schools (The 74)

Want to "defund" a Florida sheriff? There are roadblocks (Miami Herald)


"If we are truly going to make cultural shifts, we have to be willing to say, let's build the departments we want and we need and that this moment demands, rather than how do we start with what we have and just start chipping away an arbitrary number."
— Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on shifting resources between city departments, speaking on Axios' new daily podcast "Re:Cap."
8. 1 future thing: 🌊 Ocean living in a pandemic

Artist Concept: Prismatic Island / The Seasteading Institute and Matias Perez

Imagine living in independent, human-made communities on top of or under the ocean, away from deadly germs.

  • Since the pandemic started, so-called Seasteaders have been enthusiastically pitching their ideas for new living spaces in remote parts of oceans, NBC reports.

Proponents have taken to social media and virtual conferences to explain why they think sea living is safer during a pandemic.

  • Per NBC: "In the Reddit group r/seasteading, people have discussed how they would respond in the event a pandemic came to their sea home, with one suggesting that sick residents could simply 'detach and float away to a safe distance.'"
  • Other advocates say it could be a solution to crowded housing conditions in dense inner cities.

Quick take: If you feel isolated and stir crazy now, just imagine being confined to a floating structure at sea for months or years.

Kim Hart

Thanks for reading! Stay safe, and see you next week.