Scott Ogilvie is an Independent candidate for Alderman of the 24th Ward. Here are his answers to our 20 Questions for Aldermanic Candidates in the City of St. Louis. Scott can be found online at ward24stl.com and on Twitter at @ward24stl. The City of St. Louis general election is April 5. For more information, visit the St. Louis Board of Elections website. Tom Bauer-Democrat is also on the ballot in the 24th Ward.
1. What is the single most important issue in your ward?
The issue I hear most discussed by voters is the ongoing strength of local schools. Luckily, the 24th Ward has several excellent primary schools that provide a lot of choice for families in the ward. A big issue coming down the pipeline is the possible re-development of the Forest Park hospital campus. This is a project (should it happen) that needs to serve the neighborhood for the next 50 years. Its going to require community input to ensure things are done correctly – but its potentially a great chance to offer new living space or new commercial tax base to the City, rather than the mostly empty complex the Hospital has become.
2. What is the best thing to happen in your ward in the past five years?
This is mostly adjacent to the Ward, but the improvements made to Forest Park over the last decade are extremely welcome. I love being able to live in an affordable neighborhood right next to the world class, and still improving, Forest Park. For me, and I know for many other residents, proximity to the park is a huge asset. And we finally have recycling throughout the ward! (almost, probably by June)
3. What is the worst thing to happen in your ward in the past five years?
The closure of Forest Park Hospital meant that almost 300 people who worked, and sometimes shopped in the Ward lost there jobs. A hospital is an important community asset, and losing one was unfortunate, although long term it can also be an opportunity for new development.
We also have several stalled, foreclosed, or partially occupied residential and commercial projects that suffered both from the recession and housing crash, and from lackluster design.
4. How does the continuing decline in population affect your ward?
The 24th Ward area has long been a place where families can find affordable housing nearby strong schools. As school age population declines, we risk not having enough students to keep local schools open. Luckily, the elementary schools throughout the ward are performing so strongly that they are attracting students from a large area, and have healthy enrollment levels. Ultimately though, a growing population would make it so much easier to provide something I consistently hear people want: strong neighborhood schools.
5. What does the City of St. Louis do well?
We do many things well. One thing I’ve been a little surprised about during the campaign is how many people I’ve met who have lived in the neighborhood for 40+ years – who grew up on one street and moved a few blocks over when they started a family. You’ve got to be doing something right to have people spending their whole lives in one neighborhood. We also provide a wealth of low cost and free activities for residents, from parks, to museums, to the Zoo. The hard work and investment of thousands of St. Louisans have saved and rehabilitated beautiful neighborhoods throughout the City.
6. What must the City of St. Louis do better?
We desperately need a stronger Urban Planning Dept. and modern zoning. We need to make it easier for architects and developers to build quality urban projects – zoning should encourage this kind of development, not discourage it through 1950’s style auto-centric rules. Good urban design sells wherever it is implemented. We should focus on 1,000 small block by block or house by house projects, rather than one or two “silver bullets”. All of the best examples of vibrant, rehabilitated neighborhoods in St. Louis have come from a thousand dedicated home and property owners committed to their neighborhoods. On the flip side, our attempts at modern infill are pretty mixed, partially because of the zoning issues I mentioned. I think we are getting there – but we desperately need a stable and improving school district to make sure middle class families stay in the City.
7. Do you support city-wide historic preservation review?
I believe there is strong support for keeping the 24th Ward in the Preservation District. The historic quality of our neighborhoods is one of our greatest strengths as a City, and we need to ensure that when demolition takes place, a new project of equal or greater value is replacing what is being removed. The fact that much of North St. Louis is not in the Preservation District has led to some senseless demolition of historic buildings of a type that are unlikely to be replaced. I would like to see stronger protection of existing structures and fewer demolitions – but we need to make sure there is support for expanding the Preservation District into new Wards.
8. Do you support Great Streets projects such as South Grand between Arsenal and Utah, an effort to make city streets more pedestrian friendly?
I absolutely support projects like this. On a larger level, even when we aren’t remaking “signature” streets, we still need to ensure that all our streets are safe and welcoming for pedestrians of all ages and cyclists. This can be as simple as properly striped and curbed crosswalks, tree lawns, and limiting curb cuts into parking lots. St. Louis has taken some steps in the last decade to correct mistakes that harmed pedestrians beginning in the 1950’s. I’m hopeful that recently passed Complete Streets legislation in St. Louis will accelerate improvements. We’re all pedestrians, most of us are drivers, and most of us are cyclists. Everyone can be accommodated – we just need to make good decisions up front so we don’t need to later correct problem areas.
9. Do you support the City of St. Louis re-entering St. Louis County as an independent municipality?
It took some convincing, but I believe this would be a positive development for St. Louis. St. Louis City would be, by far, the largest municipality in St. Louis County, and we would have a lot of influence over regional policy. I also think we have much in common and would share many of the same concerns as older suburbs, and this voting block would be able to steer County policy. I think the clearest advantages would be better funding for public transportation, more revenue sharing between the current City and County, and better regional cooperation to attract new industry to the area without giving away too much in tax incentives. St. Louis County would also contain more than 20% of the Missouri’s entire population, so hopefully our influence in Jefferson City would increase. My main concern is the complicated process through which unification takes place. I would hate to see the process started and stalled midstream.
10. Whether or not the city re-enters the county, should "county" offices be appointed rather than elected?
It’s a good question, but its not one that have any strong opinions on at the moment. I’d love to hear more from interested parties.
11. Twenty-eight alderman once represented 856,000 city residents. Today, 28 aldermen represent 319,000 residents. How many Aldermen do you believe are needed to represent the residents of the City of St. Louis?
We could do it with 14, but we’d need to make some other changes as well. The most important change would be a Planning and Urban Design agency with significantly more power, which would of course mean individual aldermen would have less power over development issues – in particular work that happens through the CDA and the LRA. I’d like to see updated zoning along with a PUD department that takes over the role of some of the development minutia from individual alderman. The way the board currently runs, individual alderman don’t receive much scrutiny inside their wards.
On a related note, fewer wards would force aldermen to appeal to a larger group of people, and might lead to more competitive elections. The success of any individual alderman would be tied more closely to the success of St. Louis as a whole. The change needs to come from residents of the City – and if it costs me my job in a few years, so be it.
12. How can you/the city support small business development and expansion?
The most important thing we can do is to stop subsidizing retail chains with huge TIF’s that defray the cost of low quality development for developers that cater to national chains. National chains are fine, but they need to compete on a level playing field with local individual operators. We don’t need TIF’s to build parking lots, and we don’t need to spend city money to re-configure intersections to accommodate big box retail.
As far as non-retail business goes, I think there is an opportunity to streamline some of the permitting and fees that are collected by the City. Yes, the City needs the revenue, but we do need to do everything possible to make entrepreneurship and business expansion in the City attractive. We have good transportation, inexpensive commercial / industrial space, and low utility costs in the City, which are all attractive to start-ups. What we don’t necessarily have is strong culture of local investment in innovative new businesses. I see a lot of people out there working hard on some projects – St. Louis is still a place full of potential.
13. What role do large employers play in our city?
All employers play a critical role in our City. We need a range of companies from large to small. Luckily St. Louis is not a one industry town – we have a diversity of industries which provides a little safety net in the event that there are global changes in the economy. It would be great to see a recently home-grown company reach national status – I look to the coasts with envy.
14. What should St. Louis do to retain large employers and encourage others to relocate here?
The biggest issue here is probably a possible City / County merger. The second issue is continuing improvements to public transportation – history bears out that investment in public transit is repaid in nearby development. Our cost of employment in St. Louis is low – its relatively easy to find good employees at a reasonable price. Finally, I do think that large employers look at St. Louis in the same way that some potential residents do: as a place with problematic schools and too much crime. If we can make progress on those two issues, I think we already have many other puzzle pieces in place.
15. What is the proper use of tax increment financing (TIF)? Is there a proper use?
We use TIF’s over and over in the St. Louis region to move retail around. We should completely stop that. TIF’s should be focused on expanding industry, making it easier to bring new industry to the City, or making it easier to bring new HQ’s to the city. We shouldn’t issue TIF’s to create $11/hr. retail jobs. We should also make sure we focus on goals that are reachable in a reasonable time frame – not TIF’s that stretch decades into the future. This isn’t just a St. Louis problem, its causing problems all over the country.
16. Is eminent domain ever warranted?
You can use eminent domain for a variety of purposes, some totally legitimate, such as compensating people for homes that are destroyed during road construction. But much more commonly this power has come to be used to force people out of homes in order to facilitate commercial development. This is a clear abuse of power – the rights of a developer do not trump the rights of a homeowner to stay in their home if they choose. Even the threat of eminent domain can be enough to destroy a neighborhood, while a developer waits while property values fall before making deals with residents. We’ve lost many historic neighborhoods to blighting and eminent domain, and perhaps even worse, we’ve created a deep mistrust of politicians and government – because people know that politicians have targeted, over and over, poor areas and wiped them clear, mostly for the benefit of rich developers. It’s a serious betrayal of the public trust.
17. Do you support local control of the city police department?
Yes. We should protect the pensions and compensation of current police officers, but St. Louis residents, as a group, also deserve some say in how the department is run. I honestly believe we can do both. St. Louis is a unique place, but not so unique that we can’t handle the same responsibility that 99.9% of other cities already have.
18. Do you support Prop E and the continuation of the 1% city earnings tax?
Yes, I strongly support voting YES on Prop E. I would prefer that we not have to vote on the issue every 5 years, as it will inevitably hurt our bond rating and make infrastructure projects more difficult. I hope Jefferson City will change the law to extend the period, or eliminate the need to vote on the issue at all. I don’t think the Earnings Tax is sacred. We can look at changes to it if we believe it will benefit the city, but we shouldn’t play games and pull the rug out from underneath the City budget. I think we are going to need the Earnings Tax until the City rejoins the County, and we streamline some services and have better revenue sharing.
19. Does the earnings tax provide a substantial disincentive for businesses and individuals to locate in the city?
No. Many cities level an earnings tax, some at a much higher rate than St. Louis. If we weren’t leveling an earnings tax, we’d simply be charging higher rates in other areas.
20. Should the city eventually abolish the earnings tax?
I don’t think the Earnings Tax is sacred, but the City should control its own taxing policy without undue influence from voters around the state. We shouldn’t “abolish” the tax – even if we remove or reduce it, limiting taxing options is a bad idea. Eliminating the tax right now would end up hurting Seniors the most, because we would have to increase sales or property taxes to make up some of the difference. Only working people pay the earnings tax – not the unemployed or retired. I believe it is a fair tax. Something else has to change before we eliminate the tax – perhaps the City entering St. Louis County. But personally, I think too much is made of the tax. I pay it, and I’m happy to pay it to ensure the fiscal health of the City, and to ensure that public safety, parks, and other City services are maintained.
* 20 Questions for Aldermanic Candidates in the City of St. Louis was posted Monday, March 28. From that article: "This is a public call for candidates in contested races in the upcoming April 5, 2011 general election to answer questions important to residents of the City of St. Louis and nextSTL.com readers. The 20 questions above were posted Monday, March 28. Responses by aldermanic candidates will be posted on nextSTL.com prior to Tuesday, April 5. Responses will be received until Sunday, April 3. Responses that omit any questions will not be posted. All responses should be sent to [email protected]."