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AUDIO: KCAF v. Downtown Streetcar TDD

Full audio from the July 16, 2013, oral arguments at the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District are now available.

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Clay Chastain at Union Station

Clay Chastain
Photographer Eric Bowers captured Clay Chastain during his petition drive at Union Station on Saturday, which was also National Train Day. Chastain gathered about 1,000 signatures, but announced today he’d be scaling back the proposal.

Earlier in the week, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders made a competing pitch to the Kansas City City Council; the Council tentatively agreed to support the Sanders plan [PDF] and is considering a change in the petition process that would require a financial statement from the city auditor for each petition initiative submitted to voters.

Photo used with permission.

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Chastain returning with one-two punch

Chastain Map

Punch #1 – Another light/commuter rail plan. PrimeBuzz has the details.
Punch #2 – Strip the City Council’s ability to invalidate petition initiatives.

We’ve maintained that Chastain’s motivation actually seems quite pure and is valuable in keeping the city’s feet to the fire on transit improvements. Our system is undeniably underfunded and has yet to make the leap from poor-people mover to economic development engine.

BRT, commuter rail, and streetcars are all great proposals, but none of them will ever come to fruition if our operational funding isn’t significantly increased (and preferably on a truly regional basis).

Regarding Punch #2, the Council will never live down repealing the only successful vote on light rail, flawed as it was. Since that first repeal of a petition initiative didn’t go so well, expect voters to do some punishing.

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Chastain appeal rejected

The Missouri Court of Appeals put the final nail in the coffin of Clay Chastain’s only successful light rail petition initiative today by denying his appeal. Chastain argued that the city council’s repeal of the petition initiative was unconstitutional, but the robes disagreed.

The city’s charter was amended years ago to allow the council to undo any petition initiative. Opinions on the wisdom of applying that option in this situation vary. It was, at a minimum, short-sighted to reject Chastain’s plan entirely (which was approved with 53% in a low-turnout election) than to put all of our eggs in a similarly-problematic basket in a replacement ballot question (which was swept under the rug with only 44% approval in a tide of “change”).

Of course, it all seems obvious in retrospect. The council was simply not given adequate information on the options.

In the interim, KC transit riders endured a fare increase and an unsuccessful attempt to secure state funding to prevent service cuts. Brights spots actually exist, however: County leaders are poking around in the commuter rail attic, the city is getting somewhat serious about bike and pedestrian issues (vital to supporting transit), and SmartMoves is progressing with our Bush-era BRT-lite template (the Troost Avenue corridor is next in 2010).

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Profiles in Courage or Absurdity?

Two very different takes on the continued legal challenges from Clay Chastain: Star columnist Mike Hendricks and Scott Wilson on Pitch Weekly’s Plog.

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Appellate court hears Chastain challenge

Read about the continued courtroom drama here, but heed this: “Chastain conceded to the three-judge panel that if the repeal was struck down, there may have to be yet another light-rail vote.”

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Chastain still fighting; is he all we've got?

The Star printed a letter to the editor today from light rail advocate Clay Chastain indicating that he and wife Valerie are will file another appeal this month over the City Council’s repeal of his successful ballot question in November 2006. Yes, it’s been that long.

While we’re still confident the Council was on sound legal footing — the ability to repeal a ballot initiative is a voter-approved part of the city’s charter — we’re now left with the frightening prospect that Chastain is literally the last figure out there fighting for some semblance of light rail in Kansas City.

- Funkhouser or Ford? Neutered, distracted, or both.
- Johnson? Deferring to Sanders.
- Sanders? Who the hell knows (and does he care?).

What’s sad is that there is no one from the business community stepping up to make the next push (Hello, Downtown Council!!!), as we’ve seen in other successful cities (Denver, Portland, Charlotte) and those with fires still burning (Detroit). Instead, we’re stuck with leaders pursuing one zero-sum game after another (convention hotel, pro-sports teams).

We’d really like to see business interests pick up on the Detroit model for a public-private partnership between the river and the Plaza. There is absolutely no reason why every single business/property owner or corporate interest along Main should be supporting this type of endeavor.

In the interim, city leaders should be listening very closely to the feedback from the Alternatives Analysis, which basically is a huge wake-up call for how land use is managed across the metro: STOP SPRAWLING AND SUBSIDIZING PARKING OR YOU WILL NEVER GET LIGHT RAIL OUTSIDE OF THE RCP CORRIDOR. If light rail and improved transit is as important as you said it was last fall, then you need to fix the root cause ASAP.

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City Hall cleared in light rail ethics probe

The Mayor, his staff, and some city council members were cleared this week in an state ethics investigation triggered by the opposition to the November light rail campaign.

The city auditor is still investigating the allegations, which involved the statute that prevents elected officials or their staff from using municipal property or time to campaign for ballot initiatives.

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Court will hear Chastain appeal Feb. 25

According to the Business Journal, the Missouri Court of Appeals will hear Clay Chastain’s appeal on Feb. 25. Chastain filed an appeal last year in response to a lower court’s ruling that threw out his case. Chastain is being represented by his wife Valerie, who is a lawyer.

The Journal makes an interesting comment: “It’s unclear what happens if appeals court judges accept the Chastain argument, including whether his plan then would have to go into effect.” However, we’re quite confident that won’t happen. If it does, we’ll be interested to see the city scramble to come up with a response (because you know they don’t have one yet, just in case).

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KC files brief in Chastain legal challenge

Kansas City’s attorney filed a brief today responding to the appeal of the dismissal of Clay Chastain’s challenge to the City Council’s repeal of his light rail petition initiative that passed in November 2006.

Did you follow that? Well, it’s not that important. The challenge was dismissed and the appeal will probably be dismissed, as well. Meh.

In retrospect, the Council’s outright repeal of the “unworkable” plan seems especially foolish — not for any legal reason, but simply for the fact that changing the plan with a subsequent vote would have avoided the November 2008 failure at the ballot box.

But here we are, regardless, with our smelly buses, waiting patiently for county leaders to get moving on a regional plan so Chastain can’t come back with another initiative (because, let’s face it, he will). Recent budget crunches at all levels will put the inevitable off for another year, and Kansas City will continue to evade a reputation as a serious metropolitan area.

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