Former State Senator and Mayoral Candidate Vincent Fort (right) explains canvassing techniques to Redlight the Gulch volunteers. Image by Derek Prall.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is working to make the Gulch agreement more equitable, but some community organizers and activists are fed up, saying the whole deal needs to be scrapped.
Redlight the Gulch, a grassroots organization of volunteers and community leaders, took to the streets this weekend, canvassing to inform residents on Atlanta’s west side why they think the mayor’s Gulch agreement is a raw deal.
“I’ve been around doing this stuff for a long time,” former State Senator and mayoral candidate Vincent Fort, who helped organize the event, told Atlanta Loop. “I’ve seen some rotten deals, but this is the worst.”
Fort says he first became concerned when he learned about the mayor’s timeline. The 600-page packet outlining the deal was given to the city council on a Saturday, and they were expected to vote on it the following Monday. “I said to myself ‘they must have something to hide. What do they not want us to know?”
The city council made it clear on Sept. 17 that they would not support the deal, prompting Bottoms to withdraw the proposal from consideration. This gave community members more time to unpack the deal and better understand its ramifications.
When the group dug into the deal, they became aware that the affordable housing element of the deal was a “sham,” as Fort puts it. According to their materials, the city is claiming it would build 200 affordable housing units as part of the deal, but they would have the option to sell these units after just 3 years at prices up to 20 percent more than the area’s median income.
The group also takes umbrage with the tax breaks the Mayor’s deal offers the developers. According to materials they handed out in their canvassing efforts, The public would end up paying nearly half of the $5 billion investment needed while no publicly-held assets would be created. Additionally, the city would miss out on nearly $2.5 billion in taxes, meaning the gulch plan costs more than 55 times what it would generate in return for the community.
But it’s not just the grassroots organizers who are opposed to the deal. Recently Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen came out against one element of the agreement – a 10-year extension of the Westside Tax Allocation district, or TAD.
A TAD is a zone where governments do not collect property taxes at normal levels for a specified period of time, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, instead using future expected increases in property values to fund infrastructure.
“After several months of negotiations, recent public statements by Atlanta Public Schools have reflected their unwillingness to reasonably partner with the City of Atlanta on the Gulch,” Bottoms said in a statement. “Thus, the Administration has worked with CIM to remove the extension of the Westside TAD as a part of our Agreement.”
The deal must be approved by Fulton County and Atlanta Public Schools, the AJC reports. It’s unclear at this time if removing the TAD is the only change to the proposal or if the city has made any concessions to the developer in exchange.
However, Bottoms’ office says the renegotiated agreement has been declared sound by an independent research firm recommended by the Georgia Municipal Association called Springstead.
“While their assumptions are based upon an even more conservative assumption and analysis than anticipated by the city, their findings confirm that the administration has negotiated a sound agreement on behalf of Atlanta,” Bottoms said in a statement. “I trust this assessment will address concerns about the thoughtful work and recommendations already provided by our internal and external team of experts.”
To read the entirety of the original Gulch proposal, click here.