Jim Roos, who has been fighting to revise the eminent domain laws in our state, is working to see that McKee’s North St. Louis development won’t abuse that practice.
Sunday is the perfect chance to gather a bazillion signatures. Or anyway a couple thousand.
Please help gather signatures calling for vote by St. Louis city voters to repeal the Paul McKee/North St. Louis development plan, Ordinance # 68485, which allows eminent domain over the next 23 year and $391,000,000 of TIF/future tax subsidy. Reversing this plan will provide impetus for state eminent domain reform. To get this on the ballot, we need 4400 good signatures by December 10th and 11,000 more by early February.
On Sunday, Dec. 6th, from 7:30 to 5:00, along Oakland & I-40, south of Forest Park, from Hampton to Tamm (4 blocks) is a party to celebrate the reopening of I-40. 20,000 people are expected. It will be a great opportunity to gather signatures. Joe Finn, owner of Pat’s bar and grill, 6400 Oakland at Tamm, 4 blocks west of Hampton, is working with us. We will have anti E/D signs on his building.
On Sunday, Dec. 6th, from 7:30 to 5:00 Charles Stewart and/or I will be at our MEDAC “stand” at 6400 Oakland in Turtle Park, across the street from Pat’s Bar. We will have a table, tent, and signs. At this site people can get materials and suggestions on where/how to work. We have E/D buttons or signs people can wear. We do not have tee shirts. We also have 4000 half page fliers that volunteers are to give to people. The fliers describe the issue and say how to contact us and how to donate to MEDAC.
If we have enough volunteers, we will establish a second MEDAC stand at the NW or SW corner of Hampton and I-64.
This weekend call my CELL # 805-4206 if no answer at 771-03509.
If possible, return signatures to our stand in Turtle Park when finished collecting.
Also, please donate money to MEDAC & mail to 2752 Lafayette, St. Louis, Mo. 63104.
On Tuesday, I wrote about the campaign sign brouhaha going on between Rodney Hubbard and Jim Roos. Roos (pictured at left) says he’s been–with the permission of property owners–taking down Hubbard signs that were put up without the permission of those owners. Hubbard says Roos has been stealing the signs.
In the comments, ashriver suggested I contact the property owners to determine the truth of the matter. That sounded like a decent idea to me, so I drove downtown and got a list of the properties in question from Jim Roos. Unfortunately, the main thing I learned is that property owners and managers do not want to be in the middle of a political argument. They run businesses, and they don’t want anybody mad at them.
I only got two owner/managers to talk to me, and in each case basically got confirmation of Roos’s account. But both were quick to request that I not use their name or the address of their business.
In one case, for example, Roos’s notes indicated that he saw a 4′ X 6′ Hubbard sign in front of a gas station, stopped to ask if it had been put there with permission and if not, whether he could come back that evening and take it down. The manager told him that it was the third such unauthorized sign and that he (the manager) wasn’t going to wait until evening, whereupon the manager went outside and took it down himself.
When I spoke to the manager, he told me that he drove up to the gas station, saw the sign, planned to take it down immediately, but went inside first, where he found Roos, who had just walked in and was talking to the clerk. When Roos asked if he could come back that evening and take down the sign, the manager told me that he didn’t want to wait, that he went outside and took the sign down and threw it in the dumpster. He said Roos came back that evening with his truck and took the sign away.
I asked the manager if he had taken down two previous signs, and he said he couldn’t remember. He manages more than one place and has taken down other signs.
What this man stressed to me is that he doesn’t even know whether Rodney Hubbard is a Democrat or a Republican. He has no opinion on Hubbard. The only opinion he does have is that he doesn’t want to offend any of his customers with political signs. He said: “I would have taken the sign down anyway. I don’t want to be on a side. I want to be neutral and live peaceably.”
And he asked me not to give his name or the address of the station.
That gentleman was the most forthcoming of those I called. One other man basically confirmed that signs had been put up without permission and that Roos removed one with his permission. But he was reluctant to tell me even that much. Of the other five or six calls I made, either the owner wasn’t on the premises and wouldn’t be available within the next few hours or the owner preferred not to discuss it. Several of them were obviously foreign born so that communication was not easy and they seemed suspicious of a stranger asking questions.
But no one mentioned Roos stealing a sign.
Still, I gotta say, some reporter I’d make. I don’t have the patience for it. And I don’t have any names or addresses to offer either, just my unsubstantiated word–for whatever that’s worth.
Rodney Hubbard says Jim Roos is a slumlord. That’s some loaded language. The Post-Dispatch describes Roos this way: “A seminary school graduate, Roos founded Sanctuary in the Ordinary, a “housing ministry” that owns rental units throughout the city.”
This attack on Roos was brought on by the fact that he has been taking down some of Hubbard’s campaign signs–and making no bones about it. Rodney is pretty ticked off. His press release reads:
Jim Roos, a known slumlord and discredited activist has stolen and defaced a number of the campaign’s signs and advertisements. This criminal conduct will not be tolerated and has been referred to the City’s Board of Elections.
If Roos has been stealing Hubbard’s signs, then indeed Roos should be ashamed of himself. Except, Roos wouldn’t call it “stealing”.
More on that idea shortly, but first the backstory: the two men are at odds over the eminent domain issue. Rodney is getting a lot of money from Paul McKee, a developer who wants to use eminent domain to complete the property packages he has accumulated in North St. Louis City. Roos opposes such taking of property.
But enough about the mural and back to the campaign signs. Here’s Roos’s explanation:
Besides eminent domain abuse, one could charge Hubbard with “sign abuse”. His campaign, routinely, without permission, put up monster 4’x8′ signs in front of medium size food shops and service stations. Many of these owners are foreign born. They were confused and intimidated by the signs. Some American Born owners just took them down or stopped the installers. Other owners gave me permission to remove the signs. I “recycled” three Hubbard signs to make a single large protest sign for stopping Hubbard and stopping E/D abuse and put it on our warehouse at 2750 Lafayette.
I guess the only way I could judge the truth of Roos’s claim for sure would be to take him up on his offer of talking to the owners and managers who had Hubbard signs put up on their property without permission. I have to admit I haven’t done that: it’s a trek from North St. Louis County to Bohemian Hill, and I’m busy.
I have an opinion about whether Roos is telling the truth or not, but I haven’t collected proof. Take that for what it’s worth.
Naturally, Jim Roos spent last Saturday collecting signatures. He’s been working intensively on the eminent domain abuse issue for at least the last nine years, and Saturday was his last chance to get the needed signatures in the First Congressional District. So he spent the day in Florissant, where the annual Valley of the Flowers parade attracted thousands of people.
But despite how tiring that had been, Roos woke at midnight Saturday night, fretting, needing to do something. He decided to join the volunteers who were organizing and boxing the signatures in a room at the Drury Inn on Hampton. He drove there and worked until 8:00 Sunday morning, when the work was done.
In fact, those tens of thousands of signatures were so precious to the people involved that they considered paying Wells Fargo to deliver them to the Secretary of State’s office. After the–I don’t know about blood–but certainly sweat and tears required to fill those boxes with signed petitions, they can be excused for feeling a bit paranoid. In the end, though, Wells Fargo didn’t get the business. The group delivered the boxes themselves.
And Jim says he went home Sunday morning and mowed the lawn, grateful to have time to do something so ordinary. Cutting the grass was a pleasure.
He deserves time for (and the fun of?) mowing the grass. The road to sending those signatures to Jeff City began, for him, twenty years ago, the first time he found himself losing property in the city of St.Louis to eminent domain. Now he and the others involved–like Ron Calzone, who has headed the effort statewide–can breathe a little, at least until the group sees whether or not they’ll face much organized opposition from cities that don’t want to lose the option of taking people’s land.
Most of the volunteers are people who’ve faced losing property under eminent domain, but Roos says not all are. One, Cliff Underwood, for example, collected 1,075 signatures–not because he’s ever personally faced losing property but because he simply feels it’s wrong for a city to force someone to sell his land and then give it to a developer so he can make money.
The company that the eminent domain group contracted with to help them collect signatures, National Ballot Access, was impressed with the volunteers the group attracted. NBA staff told Roos they had never seen so many volunteers for a petition initiative.
Roos was still flying high when I talked to him a few minutes ago, alternating between excitement and quavering on the edge of tears. He and the others involved have earned their joy and satisfaction.
There’s this little two block area called Bohemian Hill–as in, one hill, it’s so small–tucked between Soulard and Laclede Square, that nobody really cares about and that the city of St. Louis has threatened to take over by eminent domain. Actually, I should have said almost nobody cares about it. Jim Roos does.
Here’s the thing, though. The right nobody, fighting city hall, can raise such a stink sometimes that city hall relents. Roos, a longtime property rights activist, has protested eminent domain abuses statewide, he has hounded the city of St. Louis about its particular abuses, and he has encouraged the residents of Bohemian Hill to join him in protest. He got so fed up, in fact, that he had the mural at left painted on one of the properties owned by his non-profit corporation, a property that the city had said it was going to take.
And now, St. Louis has backed off. For the time being, at least, the city has retracted its intention to take any of the property on that particular Hill–though it hasn’t removed the official “blighted” designation, so the gate is still open.
The city is peeved with Roos, though. That sign is in your face as you travel down the highway from South St. Louis to downtown. Officials hate that mural and have waged war against it. Last April, citing three complaints from neighboring communities about the sign, they told him it was illegal and would have to be removed. At 363 square feet, it is ten times bigger than what’s allowed. The city could have granted him an exemption, as it routinely does for businesses. In fact, on the day the city cited Roos, it granted Laclede Gas permission to put up a 1,000 square foot sign on its building. Roos contends, therefore, that it’s the content of the sign that’s causing the trouble, not its size.
So, instead of painting over the mural, he got legal help from the libertarian advocacy group, Institute for Justice, and took his case to federal court, claiming that it was art and furthermore that it was protected by the free speech provision of the Constitution.
In May, the city sent Bohemian Hill residents letters saying that it no longer intended to take their properties. But officials are still annoyed about the sign. When Roos had lights put up to illuminate it at night, they cited him for not using a licensed contractor. He turned off the lights, but then the city came after him for having abandoned lights and wiring on the property. He has thirty days to decide whether to raise the $1017 to rewire the lights or whether to take down the lights and wiring.
He put the mural up in frustration after spending years trying to get Missouri to change its eminent domain legislation. He’s been fighting that fight because of his profession: Roos is a seminary graduate who decided that preaching wasn’t his forte and that helping poor people find affordable, decent housing was going to be his ministry.
To that end, he heads two businesses. One is a for profit corporation that manages city properties for investors who want to own rental property. The corporation, Neighborhood Enterprises, makes the day to day decisions about what kind of rehabbing to do on the properties and finds suitable, reliable tenants. The other business, Roos’s non-profit corporation, Sanctuary in the Ordinary, owns buildings that it buys from donations.
When Neighborhood Enterprises lost one third of all the properties it managed because of eminent domain seizures in McRee Town three or four years ago, Roos began actively campaigning to get the law changed. But in 2006, when the law was changed, it did little to protect urban areas. Sure, it said that farmland couldn’t be designated as “blighted”, but that left the possibility wide open for developers to get cities to declare urban areas blighted. Indeed, eight days after that law passed, he got a letter informing him that the city intended to take the Bohemian Hill property owned by his non-profit corporation, Sanctuary in the Ordinary. That’s when he decided that mural was going up.
Before those letters came, Alderman Phyllis Young had told Bohemian Hill residents that they had nothing to worry about, that the city did not plan to use eminent domain in their neighborhood. Then the letters saying otherwise arrived. When residents questioned Young about why this was happening, she said that “The project just got bigger than we expected.” What? It grew like Topsy’s hair, willy nilly and unstoppable? And forced Alderman Young to renege on her promises to her constituents? The fickle fate that those residents faced is, says Roos, typical. When taking property by eminent domain and giving it to developers is allowed, there’s no knowing how much will satisfy them. Too often, they just keep taking.
Roos points out that developers seldom take property in truly blighted areas. Oh no. They want the property in areas that are coming back to life on their own. The proposed Bohemian Hill takeover, for example, was to be an extension of a planned shopping mall. The property for that mall as it was originally planned had already been bought up under threat of seizure by eminent domain. But the Soulard, Laclede Square area isn’t blighted anymore, as any St. Louisan can tell you. It had come back on its own without those developers, and some of the property in that part of the city is quite expensive.
Jim Roos feels quiet outrage over such injustice, so he has made a federal case out of it–literally. The case about his mural will be tried December 1st.
Roos is also an active member of MEDAC, a group working to get a constitutional amendment on this fall’s ballot to prohibit taking private property and giving it to developers. Be on the lookout this spring for folks collecting the 240,000 signatures they hope to get. Better yet, help them collect the sigs: contact Roos and MEDAC at 314-771-3509 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: Bohemian Hill is between Soulard and Lafayette Square, not Laclede Square.