From St. Louis to New Orleans, from Baltimore to Oklahoma City, there are poor and minority neighborhoods so beset by pollution that just living in them can be hazardous to your health. Due to entrenched segregation, zoning ordinances that privilege wealthier communities, or because businesses have found the ‘paths of least resistance,’ there are many hazardous waste and toxic facilities in these communities, leading residents to experience health and wellness problems on top of the race and class discrimination most already experience. Taking stock of the recent environmental justice scholarship, Toxic Communities examines the connections among residential segregation, zoning, and exposure to environmental hazards. Renowned environmental sociologist Dorceta Taylor focuses on the locations of hazardous facilities in low-income and minority communities and shows how they have been dumped on, contaminated and exposed.
Drawing on an array of historical and contemporary case studies from across the country, Taylor explores controversies over racially-motivated decisions in zoning laws, eminent domain, government regulation (or lack thereof), and urban renewal. She provides a comprehensive overview of the debate over whether or not there is a link between environmental transgressions and discrimination, drawing a clear picture of the state of the environmental justice field today and where it is going. In doing so, she introduces new concepts and theories for understanding environmental racism that will be essential for environmental justice scholars. A fascinating landmark study, Toxic Communities greatly contributes to the study of race, the environment, and space in the contemporary United States.- Publisher’s Website
Last October, Michigan’s Department of Human Services (DHS) announced that an agreement had been reached to sell 1,500 abandoned lots on Detroit’s lower east side to Hantz Farms LLC, a company owned by the Hantz Group of investors, for half a million dollars.
The precedent-setting land grab is the result of years of machinations between Hantz and the city and state governments. This includes the amendment of Detroit’s zoning ordinance to allow for the creation of “urban farms” of uncapped size, specifically including “orchard[s] or tree farm[s]”—the products of which “may or may not be sold for commercial use”—in residential zones.
The deal was facilitated by the Michigan Land Bank, a “public-private partnership” of government and business representatives tasked with selling vacant land, headed by then-Michigan State Treasurer Andy Dillon, a Democrat appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder. The Detroit City Council approved the sale on December 11, 2012—when it still had formal control over the city.
The deal has been subsequently approved by Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and signed by Governor Snyder, both on October 17, 2013. On October 18, City Council member Saunteel Jenkins joined Hantz executives at a celebratory event on the property, where the first of many abandoned structures was ceremonially demolished.
Hantz paid $520,000, or about 8 cents per square foot, for the 140 acres and has an option to buy 180 more acres within a one-mile radius after four years if the project meets certain benchmarks. The sweetheart deal, facilitated by all levels of government, resembles similar transfers of property to real estate tycoons like Dan Gilbert, who now owns about 40 buildings in the downtown area and who heads the Detroit Blight Task Force.
Hantz Group is run by John Hantz, a stockbroker and one of Detroit’s wealthiest residents, reportedly worth more than $100 million. Hantz Group controls over $1.3 billion in assets. It controls Hantz Financial Inc., a core company providing financial services to high net-worth individuals, as well as dozens of limited liability companies, including several “business service” companies and a number of its own “entrepreneurial” business ventures.
The Group created Hantz Farms LLC in 2009 for the explicit purpose of buying land in Detroit on the cheap. A decades-long process of de-industrialization, compounded by the housing crisis before and after the 2008 crash—which led to 69,000 delinquency and home foreclosure notes in the metro area in 2009—has left the city blighted by many tens of thousands of vacant single-family homes. Buying up the land and demolishing the houses raises property value in the surrounding area. John Hantz happens to live in a 14,500 square foot mansion in the historic, affluent neighborhood of Indian Village, which is adjacent to the Hantz Farms property.
John Hantz told the Atlantic in 2010, “[T]here’s no reason to buy real estate in Detroit—every year, it just gets cheaper…We need to create scarcity, because until we get a stabilized market, there’s no reason for entrepreneurs or other people to start buying.”
Revealing the “urban farming” front to be a cynical attempt to cover his rapacious activities, he continued, “I thought–What’s a development that people would want to be associated with? And that’s when I came up with a farm.”
In fact, the deal is of a piece with the all-sided efforts by the ruling elite to restructure Detroit in line with the current level of social inequality, which is at historic highs. The Hantz Farms Facebook page states, “Before Detroit became an industrial powerhouse, it was part of a great farming region that fed thousands [sic?!]. It’s our aim to renew Detroit by returning to its agrarian roots…creating the world’s largest urban farm, right here within city limits.”
Pseudo-left groups such as Detroit’s Boggs Center, named after Grace Lee Boggs, have supported the drive to return society to its “agrarian roots” for years. They use Orwellian terms like “sustainable activism” to describe their retrograde plans, which are deeply hostile to Detroit workers. In fact, the grandparents and great-grand parents of many current-day Detroit workers escaped impoverished agrarian regions in the US and around the world to strive for a higher standard of living in the Motor City, which once employed hundreds of thousands in the auto industry.
The Boggs Center has written against the Hantz purchase on the grounds that Hantz is not a legitimate “community member” and that the urban farm should not be run by such a transparently elite businessman. Instead, the organization would no doubt prefer the land be handed over to aspiring “urban farming” entrepreneurs and Green capitalists with whom the Boggs Center is associated.
Detroit once had the highest standard of living in the US because of the efficiency of the assembly line and mass production on the one hand, and the militancy of the working class on the other, which fought many bloody battles to wrest rights and concessions from the ruling elite in an earlier period. The idea that urban gardens and farms can provide jobs and food to masses of people is a reactionary pipedream, aimed at blocking any struggle against the banks and corporations, which decimated the city through deindustrialization and are now trying to loot it through the bankruptcy process.
The “world’s largest urban farm” pretense required alteration after neighborhood residents expressed fears about the potential social impact of things like pesticides and rotting produce, since the Hantz-owned lots are non-contiguous and are interspersed with homes. The project was then changed to a hardwood tree farm called Hantz Woodlands (the LLC retains the Hantz Farms name). John Hantz said at the time, “Who can argue about a tree?”
In fact, the 15,000 trees Hantz now promises to plant will be confined to just 15-acres, or about 10 percent of the land. It is unclear whether the company is planning any further “development” of the rest of the property, or if it just intends to mow the grass and hold onto it.
Mike Score, president of Hantz Farms LLC, told the Atlantic in October, “This is designed to be a for-profit enterprise. I can assure you we have a business plan and we don’t have any anxiety about achieving our goals. We’re entrepreneurs…The purpose of the investment is to make the neighborhood more livable and then recover our investment over time, and we’re very confident we can do that.”
“In November 2013, Ian Strange in collaboration with cinematographer Alun ‘Albol’ Bollinger [Lord of the Rings, Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners] created three new film and photography based artworks incorporating four suburban homes in Christchurch, New Zealand. These homes were located in Christchurch’s residential “Red Zone”, an area containing over 16,000 houses slated for demolition after the devastating 2011 earthquake. FINAL ACT is in part an emotive archive of these Christchurch homes and a continuation of the artist’s ongoing exploration of the social and emotional icon of the home.”
“Ian Strange: FINAL ACT is presented as a solo exhibition at the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch by RISE Festival, OiYou and the Canterbury Museum.”
This home just sold at auction for $1.74 million (Australian), not for its aesthetics or historic merit, but because the neighborhood it’s in is hot and the location is perfect for a “tear down" – something new and gauche with five bathrooms probably. Here in Atlanta, this same trend is leading to the demolition of a steady number of very pretty, 1920s bungalows and cottages in areas like Virginia-Highland and Morningside. -Wendy
Airbnb horror revealed in Channel 4 documentary which explores the sites dark side
Airbnb is often a byword in exotic travel to expensive locations but with the benefit of budget accommodation. With the Kardashian clan, Beyonce and Miley Cyrus raving about the site via social media pages like it’s the best thing since sliced bread,the question on everyone’s lips: is it all sunshine and rainbows?
Last year, in the UK alone, 80,000 people listed their property on the site. Tonight’s Channel 4 documentary Airbnb: Dream or Nightmare? investigates the darker side to the travel site. It aims to explore its impact on the rental market amid claims that it is pushing up prices and turning residential areas into tourist zones.
The insightful programme will also look at users’ positive and negative experiences of using the website: from valuable extra income, to houses ruined by out-of-control parties and stolen prized possessions. We’ll also glimpse inappropriate behaviour and envisage substandard accommodation - the kind of which Kim K would definitely not tolerate.
There is a heart-sinking moment when – after four guests claim they are staying there for a wedding – a Canadian family’s house is trashed with footage showing that, in fact, they threw a huge party and left the property in a state.
The property’s owner said of the nightmare: “If they didn’t come through with their guarantee, it would have looked very bad,” after being forced to shell out for repairs.
Airbnb – which was founded in August 2008 by Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia and headquartered in San Francisco – has over 1.5m listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries.
It has grown in popularity substantially in recent years – offering a more personable alternative to hotels or hostels. The documentary won’t put the minds at ease of those dubious of listing property but for a site we’ve only really heard great things about there certainly seems an ominous side to it.
Make your mind up yourself and watch Airbnb: Dream or Nightmare? on Channel 4 at 10pm tonight (21 September).
Medical marijuana: usage soars, regulations change
Hoping to limit facilities involving medical marijuana, City Council members last tweaked the city’s medicinal pot ordinance by changing the locational criteria for such buildings.
Warren had required cultivation, processing, storage and transfer of the pot to be at least 500 feet from any residential zone, schools and day care centers, and public parks. Instead of measuring outward from the lot line of a parcel containing medical marijuana, the council voted to amend the ordinance by starting the measurement from any building on the property, not merely a parcel border.
Macomb County’s most-populated community allows medical marijuana facilities only in areas zoned for industrial use.
Under the previous measurement ruled, any proposed use of such property for medical marijuana would be rejected if the parcel abutted a district zoned residential.
“Five hundred feet, that’s not that much,” attorney and council President Cecil St. Pierre said in July before the council last week approved changes drafted by the city’s legal staff.
The whole purpose of this (amendment) was that, if we pass this law (without the revision) and made it almost impossible to have any building qualify under the ordinance, then we’re going to be in trouble in the courts.“
Mayor James Fouts announced Friday he will veto the council’s action.
"I strongly believe the measure should be from property line rather than building to building. This would bring marijuana facilities even closer to schools, residents and parks. The R-1-P zones would also be eliminated from the radius, thereby eliminating any buffer for residents living in R-1-P zones,” Fouts said.
“We also need to work with the Planning Commission to review an ordinance change to incorporate the 1,000 foot radius between medical marijuana facilities and schools, playgrounds and public housing, consistent with the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.”
Fouts, an outspoken critic of the law regulating medicinal pot, noted many cities such as Grand Rapids prohibit marijuana facilities from being located within 1,000 feet of schools.
The city law also was amended to prohibit sales and products relating to medical marijuana in the industrial zones, and it bans the use of such buildings as dispensaries.
Warren’s change was approved two days before the Michigan House of Representatives recently approved legislation to expand and further regulate the state’s medical marijuana program, concurring with the Senate on a three-bill package that has been sent to the governor for his signature.
The three bills meant to clarify parts of the state’s medical marijuana law. The legislation covers substances besides smoked marijuana, lays out licensing procedures for provisioning centers, and makes other changes to the eight-year-old law, approved by voter referendum in 2008.
Ida Chinosis uses a marijuana oil extract to control the symptoms of her 7-year-old daughter’s seizures, an effect of her medical condition called 1p26 Deletion Syndrome.
A registered medical marijuana caregiver for her daughter, Michigan’s medical marijuana law has been vague on whether oils and other marijuana products are included in the state law regulating marijuana for medical reasons.
“My concern is they fall into a gray area,” Chinosis said prior to the House vote last Wednesday.
“What happens if I’m reported to DHS?” said Chinosis of Grand Blanc. “I need to know she’s protected and I’m protected as well.”
For Chinosis, passage means “I won’t be holding my breath and looking over my shoulder. I know we’re safe and protected and that’s it’s legal.”
Michigan is among 25 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized smoking marijuana as a medical treatment, after a 2008 referendum was approved by voters.
Since then, the number of people who use marijuana for medical purposes has grown every year, sometimes by leaps.
There were 4,398 registered patients in 2009, the year after voters approved medical marijuana.
That number jumped to 38,064 in 2010 and has since soared to 182,091 in 2015.
Today, there are 212,928 medical marijuana patients in Michigan.
The rules and regulation of the law were left to the Michigan Legislature to work out, and the interpretation of it has often fallen to the courts through criminal prosecutions of individuals and caregivers who thought they were complying.
The legislation approved by the House Wednesday licenses and regulates medical marijuana provisioning centers, growers, processors, transporters and safety facilities. It also allows people to use alternative forms of marijuana for medical reasons, including oils, edibles, liquids and capsules.
The three bills moved by the House are:
o HB4209 - Covers the licensing and regulation of provision centers.
o HB4210 - Includes alternative forms of marijuana under the state’s medical marijuana law.
o HB4827 - Sets up seed-to-sale tracking of medical marijuana.
A lawsuit filed last January against Warren alleges city officials violated Michigan’s medical marijuana law by arbitrarily blocking efforts by two companies to cultivate pot for medicinal use.
The firms, Macomb Supreme Industrial, LLC and also JJN, LLC, seek court orders forcing the Warren Zoning Board of Appeals to overturn a zoning inspector’s decision to not issue a certificate of compliance with the local zoning ordinance.
JJN hoped to grow marijuana at three neighboring addresses on Schoenherr Road, north of Eight Mile Road. Macomb Supreme Industrial wants to cultivate pot in the 14000 block of Achyl, near 10 Mile Road and Groesbeck Highway, for medicinal use. Both are in areas zoned for light industry.
According to three consolidated lawsuits filed by JJN and one by Macomb Supreme Industrial, the zoning inspector Everett Murphy rejected the applications for certificates of compliance for the vacant warehouses last year. Murphy has publicly denied allegations he failed to “process” the documents and said he nixed both because medical marijuana is not specifically listed as a permitted use in the city’s zoning ordinance.
Both firms appealed to the zoning board in November. After some ZBA members suggested alternative ways for company representatives to allow growing, the board voted unanimously to affirm Murphy’s decisions involving all four properties.
The ZBA’s decision violated the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act and the constitutional right to due process, the lawsuits state.
Last September, about three dozen medical marijuana providers and/or patients – some of them cancer patients - sued the city in Macomb Circuit Court.
Their lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs were ticketed on multiple occasions for zoning violations contrary to state law. The building were the marijuana was dispensed is an office building on Hoover Road and owned by attorney Michael Greiner. Greiner is a former deputy mayor of Warren, having served in the city administration of Fouts’ predecessor, Mark Steenbergh.
Warren police executed search warrants at the building in summer 2015. The case is scheduled to go to trial in U.S. District Court in Detroit in 2017.
Meantime, jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday before Oakland Circuit Judge Nancy Grant in a case against Pete Trzos, whose medical marijuana dispensary in Holly was busted and closed in late January 2013, shortly after it opened.
Trzos was charged with felonies, and the case against him has languished since through stays, motions, appeals, legal interpretations, and now changes in state law.
Dave Rudoi, his attorney, said there are some aspects of the legislation the House approved that can be used as part of his defense and some that can’t.
The legislation allowing other marijuana products besides smoked weed under medical marijuana law was made retroactive, so it does have an impact on some pending legal cases Rudoi said.
But the legislation governing the licensing and provisioning of medical marijuana centers isn’t retroactive, even though it could impact legal cases going forward.
“Pete’s trial is on Monday so this law won’t be effective by Monday,” Rudoi said. “In the minds of juries, it still might have an effect, but no legal effect.”
Medical Marijuana Elsewhere
Another looming issue involves whether medical marijuana patients are allowed to purchase guns.
Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug under federal law and illegal to use, even for medical purposes under state law. Purchase of a gun by marijuana users is also prohibited.
A federal appeals court recently ruled that a federal government ban on the sale of guns to medical marijuana card holders does not violate the Second Amendment constitutional right to bear arms.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling applied to the nine Western states that fall under the court’s jurisdiction.
The reply to a query to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office over whether medical marijuana patients can purchase guns came back as a qualified sort of.
There’s nothing preventing medical marijuana patients from purchasing guns in Michigan, as long as they don’t have the active ingredient THC in their systems.
“A medical marijuana card alone does not disqualify a person from purchasing a gun,” the sheriff’s office responded.
Rudoi, the attorney, clarified further.
“You’re allowed to own the gun, you’re not allowed to possess it if the THC is in your system,” he said.
Rudoi said he expects the Western court ruling will be appealed.