I love the smell of burning garbage in the morning

Iowa City’s Great Garbage Fire of 2012 continues for the fifth day, with estimates for an end to the noxious nuisance in the one week range.  My pastoral idyllic drive into Iowa City has taken on a charming post-apocalyptic feel, and the odor of the burning tires shreds from the landfill lining is as pleasant as the smoke plume is beautiful!

Expert: Iowa City landfill fire large, challenging by Gregg Hennigan for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 29, 2012

At 7.5 acres, the fire would be considered large, said Tony Sperling of Landfill Fire Control Inc. His Vancouver, Canada-based company specializes in helping landfill owners put out and prevent fires.

Another complication, he said, is that what is burning is the landfill lining, which is made up of shredded tires. That means it’s essentially a tire fire, he said, which are notoriously difficult to extinguish.

“You have a real problem with that,” Sperling said.

The fire started at the city-owned landfill, located just west of town, on Saturday night. The city at this time is planning to let the fire burn itself out, saying that’s the safest and most cost-efficient thing to do.

A question: if the floods of 2008 were Iowa’s Katrina (not a term I’d use personally) is this Iowa’s BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill?


Proposal to slash tax bills for apartment complex owners would force communities to cut crucial services

Not sure if there is a way to make that headline “sexy.”  If there is, I certainly couldn’t find it.

The general push by republicans in the Iowa legislature is to reduce property taxes on businesses in the state.  This would force municipalities to tax their residential property owners at higher rates or reduce critical municipal services.  There are many aspects of this push, so for simplicity’s sake, I’m just considering the 11th hour proposal to tax rental properties at the same rate as residential properties.

Iowa City anticipates tax reform losses in the millions by Mitchell Schmidt in the Iowa City Press Citizen, May 8, 2012

The reform would reduce apartment complex taxes from a 100 percent on valuation tax — similar to commercial and industrial properties — to a residential tax, which is about 51 percent of the value with the help of state rollbacks.

In Iowa City, the estimated loss is anticipated conservatively at $2.8 million lost a year.

“That translates to between a seven and 10 percent drop in our general fund,” Hayek said during the call. “That is significant.”

Why a profit making enterprise should be treated as the equivalent of a private residence is beyond me.  And keep in mind that this push to lower revenue is coming at the same time that Iowa House republicans seek to decrease state funding in a variety of areas.

Iowa Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) points out that starving government will ultimately lead to a less business friendly environment:

UPDATE: Two Democrats vote no; Is Iowa’s property tax reform dead? by Jason Clayworth in the Des Moines Register, May 8, 2012

Two key Democrats have voted against the Senate’s business property tax reform bill, creating further uncertainty to what currently appears as legislative gridlock on one of this year’s key issues.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, voted against the bill in a committee meeting this afternoon saying governments are already not meeting their basic obligations to protect the public in such areas as flood mitigation. He says cutting their future revenue collections is wrong.

“You know what destroys businesses? When government fails to do its job and protect people and property from basic things like natural disasters,” Hogg said, noting that 31 feet of floodwater in 2008 caused the city to lose more than 200 businesses.  (Emphasis added)

Who is asking for the tax cut for apartment owners is an open question.  The governor maintains that that provision was added at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs).

Governor says tax break for apartments is a compromise with Democrats from Radio Iowa, May 8, 2012

The mayors of the 10 largest cities in the state spoke out today against that portion of the property tax reform plan, but Branstad says Senate Democrat leader, Mike Gronstal pushed for it.

“This is Senator Gronstal’s priority, so we had to reach a compromise. It wasn’t in my original recommendation, but to get something done we need to do something. And look at it from a fairness perspective. Is it fair to people who live in apartment houses to have to pay higher taxes than people who live in other residences? I don’t think it is,” according to Branstad.

To answer the governors question: I think that it is disingenuous to suggest that savings on property taxes for apartment owners would be passed on to tenants.  If the state would like to ensure lower rents for renters, I would suggest a model such as regulation rather than relying on a ridiculous trickle down prayer.

Baby on board trumps disabled?

Saw this jerk park in the disabled parking spot aisle at lunch yesterday.  Personally, I drove an additional five yards and parked my baby-on-board car in a legal spot.

Really, Press Citizen, really?

I’ll admit that the “really” bit was old and busted back four years ago when I was forced to ban it from my classroom, but I can’t think of better phrasing to question my trusty Iowa City newspaper, the Press Citizen, on their decision to not publish Doonesbury last week.  Really, Press Citizen, really?  The word “transvaginal” is too sexy-sounding for your readership, really? Really, Press Citizen, trenchant commentary on the degradation some American women are forced to endure in order to undergo a legal procedure is too controversial to be put in the pages of your precious paper, really?  Really, Press Citizen, in an educated college town you think we can’t handle a bit of sadly controversial current events mixed in with our funnies, really?

In all honesty I followed this story from afar, thinking that my Press Citizen would be above the hysteria surrounding last week’s Doonesbury.  Little did I know…

Thanks to Gawker, here’s the whole week reproduced:

(Click on the image to see full size.)

The Iowa River Landing poaching project persists

Not happy to simply steal Von Maur from Iowa City, the San Diego based developer in charge of doing Coralville’s dirty work is approaching various downtown Iowa City businesses in an effort to lure them to the Iowa River Landing.

Iowa River Landing tests waters with I.C. businesses by Dave DeWitte from the (Cedar Rapids) Gazette, Mar. 20, 2012

Mark Weaver, owner of the outdoor apparel and equipment retail store Active Endeavors at 138 S. Clinton St. said the invitation was “obviously flattering, but we’re committed to the downtown.”


The owner of Chait Galleries, 218 E. Washington St., also was invited to consider opening in Iowa River Landing.

Owner Benjamin Chait said he’s impressed by Coralville’s positive approach to helping businesses, which he considers a stark and favorable contrast to Iowa City’s. Nevertheless, Iowa River Landing didn’t fit Chait’s vision for the contemporary art gallery.


Catherine Champion of Catherine’s Boutique, 7 S. Dubuque St., confirmed that she was contacted about Iowa River Landing. Champion said she loves being downtown, considers the prospects bright and isn’t considering a relocation to Iowa River Landing.

Thank you to these businesses for their commitment to downtown Iowa City.  Please reward them with your patronage.

In other Iowa River Landing news, Judge Marsha Bergan heard arguments today in a case brought by local IC/CV businesspeople seeking to block Coralville from using overtly under-the-table means to donate a large piece of land to Von Maur.

Coralville, group make their arguments in court by Emily Schettler from the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Mar. 20, 2012

A group of area business owners and developers has requested an injunction that would prevent the city from moving forward with plans to sell about 7.5 acres of property in the IRL to Von Maur to use to build an 80,000-square-foot department store.

The city offered Von Maur more than $14 million in financial incentives to locate in the IRL.

Attorneys for the plaintiff group argued Tuesday afternoon in Johnson County District Court that the proposed land sale violates several sections of Iowa Code and that the city’s use of tax dollars to subsidize development provides an unfair advantage with which private developers cannot compete.


The crux of the plaintiffs’ argument is focused on the city’s hiring of OliverMcMillan, a San Diego-based firm, as its master developer and Coralville’s use of the company as a go-between in its land sale to Von Maur.

Robert Hatala, an attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that the city was secretive about selecting a master developer for the IRL, making it difficult for other businesses to present their own bids for that role.

The plaintiffs also questioned the legality of the land sale to Von Maur. Coralville plans to provide OliverMcMillan with a $1.5 million economic development grant to purchase the land from the city. OliverMcMillan is then required to sell the land to Von Maur for $10. Iowa Code prohibits a city from gifting land away or selling it below fair market value.

I have used my editorial judgement to leave out the arguments made on behalf of Coralville.  I can boil them down to this: Hey, we’re going to make some money for us and help Coralville grow, why are you asking so many questions?


The Iowa River Landing killed Dolls Inc.

Driving past the work in progress that is the Iowa River Landing in Coralville this past weekend, I was reminded of the injustice faced by Dolls Inc., a “gentlemen’s” club that was forced out of business to make way for the development.  There are, I realize, a number of angles of disgust with which to approach the issue of the Iowa River Landing.  They include the shady use of TIFs, the poaching of a business from a neighboring community, and the building of a major development right in the flood plain.  Those issues have been covered in depth elsewhere, so today I will consider the little guy (figuratively speaking, the owner of Dolls Inc. was Hatchet Jack, a formidable wrestler from back in the day).

Adult entertainment venues are disliked by many on legitimate concerns such as the degradation of women and the attraction to their grounds of an undesirable clientele.  Those issues, although significant, do nothing to lessen the injustice suffered by Dolls Inc.  When Coralville was in the process of taking over the area that is now home to the Iowa River Landing, businesses such as Holiday Wrecker were assisted in finding a new home.  One business, however, was actively stymied from finding a new location: Dolls Inc.  The legal, if morally dubious, business was barred from relocating anywhere in Coralville or anywhere else in the greater area.

That my friends, is an example of a community using backdoor means to achieve what could easily have been accomplished through above-board democratic means.  If Coralville was intent on driving naked dancing ladies from their community, the proper way to approach it would be introduce a change to the city code, have hearings and solicit input from the community, and have the city council vote on it.  Seriously, though, are we surprised that Coralville took the most expedient and developer friendly route?

As a bonus, enjoy this video of Hatchet Jack wrestling on a local Iowa independent wrestling show in the early nineties.



The Opposite of Disgust: Kudos to the University of Iowa

The University of Iowa has declined to invite the University of North Dakota to a spring tack meet due to UND’s use of the Fighting Sioux mascot.

UI denies North Dakota invitation to meet by Emily Schettler from the Iowa City Press Citizen, Feb. 27, 2012

The University of Iowa has decided against inviting the University of North Dakota to compete in an upcoming track meet because of its use of the Fighting Sioux mascot.


UI policy prohibits the athletics department from scheduling competition with schools or attending tournaments hosted by schools using American Indian mascots unless those mascots have been approved by the NCAA and their respective American Indian tribes.

It makes me proud as an alumnus to see the University of Iowa stand up for sensitivity and respect.  Words have meaning, strength, and consequences.

It is worth noting that there are limits to UI’s policy:

The University of Illinois, whose nickname Fighting Illini also has come under fire, is exempt from the UI policy as “a result of our contractual obligations within the Big Ten Conference.”

Competitions that UI has no control over scheduling, such as bowl games and NCAA or conference-sponsored competitions also are exempt, as are competitions with institutions that have NCAA approval for the use of American Indian mascots.

All in all, I find those to be fair exceptions to the policy given the reality of collegiate sports obligations.