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Local Govt & Politics

    Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Monday unveiled a citywide affordable housing plan, putting into action one of her central campaign pledges – to invest $1 billion in public and private funds to combat rising housing costs and the displacement of longtime residents. The 43-page document – called the One Atlanta Housing Affordability Action Plan – offers a menu of policy proposals. They range from finding ways to use existing public dollars and land as an incentive to attract private sector investment to changes in zoning, expediting redevelopment of vacant and blighted properties, developer incentives, and the creation of a housing innovation lab. Supporters called it the most comprehensive housing plan of its type in the city’s history. But in order to make the proposals a reality, the effort will test Bottoms’ ability marshal the resources of the city, state and federal agencies, as well as local businesses, developers and nonprofits. She will also have to convince the City Council to pass legislation such as zoning changes that might risk running afoul of neighborhood groups. In the hours after the unveiling, critics of the plan said it was short on details housing advocates said they’d expect for a document presented 18 months into the mayor’s first term. One prominent housing expert said he fears the city’s plans will take too long to deploy and potentially miss the current economic expansion only to face the headwinds of a potential recession. At a press conference before a ceremonial groundbreaking for Creekside at Adamsville Place, a 147-unit affordable rental development in southwest Atlanta, Bottoms said the document would serve as the framework for how the city deploys $1 billion in public and private funds and create or preserve 20,000 affordable units by 2026. “Rents are going up in around our city, but the increase in wages is not keeping pace,” Bottoms said. “There’s a growing gap in what people can afford and what people make.” The city has enjoyed a booming economy and a development surge primarily focused on luxury housing. That’s put a squeeze on renters and homeowners who have seen their property taxes soar. Meanwhile, city agencies failed to fill the gap in new affordable housing development. The 13 initiatives and 45 other items will require dozens of pieces of legislation, which Bottoms told reporters would be drafted as necessary. The city and related government bodies control some 1,300 acres, some of which could be used for new development. Bottoms said she would push the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) to redevelop 300 acres of former housing projects into mixed-communities, something she said would create 2,000 new affordable units. AHA has largely remained on the sidelines during the economic boom, mired in leadership turmoil and lawsuits. The agency also lacks a permanent CEO, a role Bottoms told reporters is a priority to fill. Other changes could come to zoning and building codes for more flexibility for unique multi-family housing and construction processes. Bottoms also said her administration would explore expansion of inclusionary zoning, which requires developers set-aside a percentage of new rental units as affordable. “The reality is that no city has gotten this right, and in true Atlanta fashion, I truly believe we will be the first to get it right in terms of the affordable housing challenge across this country,” Bottoms said. ‘Not a moonshot’ Sarah Kirsch, executive director of Urban Land Institute of Atlanta, applauded the plan. She said the plan builds on recommendations of HouseATL, a leadership group that presented more than two dozen proposals to the city last year. “This is not a moonshot, this 20,000 units,” Kirsch said. But echoing astronaut Neil Armstrong, she called it “a giant leap” for affordability in the city. Though Atlanta likes to tout its quality of life and affordability to industry, rising rents have squeezed residents as wages for many have stagnated. Dan Immergluck, an affordable housing expert and a professor at the Urban Studies Institute at Georgia State University, said he was unimpressed by the plan. “There’s too few details, no firm dollar commitments on different proposals,” he said. Immergluck said Bottoms is right to want to use local, state and federal dollars to attract private sector resources. But unless the mayor finds significant sources of local funds, Immergluck said she won’t be able to leverage the public dollars very far. He also said AHA’s land should be used to create far more than 2,000 new units. New construction is needed, Immergluck said, but city could add units faster by creating its own housing voucher program. As a candidate for mayor, Bottoms also left many housing advocates with the strong impression she would seek mostly new local revenues to build the $500 million in public dollars for her $1 billion housing pledge. On Monday, Bottoms said she always stated that she intended to use existing dollars to attract private investment while pledging to find new government funding. The document discusses potential future housing bond programs and exploring potential fees that other cities have enacted to help finance new affordable housing. Alison Johnson a member of advocacy group Housing Justice League, said she wanted to hear more from the mayor about how she plans to keep longtime renters from being displaced. Johnson said that the mayor’s anti-displacement efforts mainly focus on protecting homeowners from rising property taxes. In some neighborhoods, particularly south and west of downtown, more than 80 percent of residents rent, Johnson said. “How are those people going to be protected?” she asked.
  • Two New York-based agencies reaffirmed Cobb’s Aaa credit rating this month and upgraded the county’s financial outlook from “negative” to “stable” thanks partly to a tax hike passed last summer. Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings both said the county appears to be in good financial shape, despite a low funded pension ratio of 51.6 percent.  “The revision of the outlook to stable from negative reflects the county’s sizable surplus in fiscal 2018, largely due to a tax rate increase,” Moody’s said in a statement. “The outlook also reflects the county’s strong tax base growth, driven in part by the county’s proximity to Atlanta’s large, diverse and growing economy, leading to healthy increases in property tax revenue.” Chairman Mike Boyce, who spearheaded the tax hike, touted the latest reports as vindication and said the increase put the county on solid footing going forward. In a follow-up conversation, Boyce acknowledged the challenge posed by the pension fund. But, he said, the county had taken responsibility by committing to a 30-year plan and adopting more realistic assumptions about investment returns and the life expectancy of pensioners. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We’re not happy where it’s at,” said Boyce. “The key thing is that the rating agencies understand why we are where we are and it’s not because we’re doing any shenanigans with the numbers.” Cobb is preparing to vote on its next budget and millage rate at the end of July. Commissioners have proposed keeping the millage rate the same. The first public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, July 9 at 9 a.m. at the county government building on Marietta Square. 
  • The MARTA Board of Directors on Thursday approved a timeline for the agency’s $2.7 billion expansion in Atlanta. Under the plan, MARTA would launch two bus rapid transit lines and other bus improvements by 2025. But more expensive light-rail projects such as the Atlanta Beltline and the Clifton Corridor would come years later. And the full light-rail network envisioned in the plan would not be completed until after 2040, though some segments would come sooner. Atlanta Beltline advocates expressed their displeasure with the timeline at Thursday’s board meeting. They want the full Beltline built by 2030. “It’s unacceptable,” Matthew Rao of the group Beltline Rail Now told the board. “I’m glad you’re committed to move forward. I urge you to move forward faster.” MARTA officials say the plan is subject to change, though the agency would need additional funding to speed up some projects. “I see this as a beginning,” MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker told the audience. “Clearly, as circumstances change, whether it’s new funding coming along, our ability to get federal funds, we will have to react to that, and sometimes quickly.” In 2016 Atlanta voters approved a half-penny sales tax for transit expansion. Last fall MARTA approved a project list that includes 29 miles of light rail, 13 miles of bus rapid transit lines, the renovation of existing stations and other improvements. Thursday’s vote lays out an initial timeline for those projects. Among other things, it accounts for expected cash flow from the sales tax, the status of various projects and the desire to distribute improvements equitably across the city. Under the timeline:MARTA would launch a Capitol Avenue/Summerhill bus rapid transit line and the first phase of its North Avenue BRT line by 2025. The agency would launch three arterial rapid transit lines and renovate Bankhead station by that same year. Also by 2025, construction would begin on an extension of the Atlanta Streetcar east to the Beltline, the renovation of Five Points station and a new transit center at Greenbriar Mall in southwest Atlanta. Meanwhile, planning would continue on other light-rail projects, including the southwest and northeast segments of the Beltline and the Clifton Corridor from Lindbergh station to the Emory University/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention area. Some projects — including the Clifton Corridor — will require additional local funding. If that funding were to materialize, it could move up the timeline for those projects. In a written statement, Emory University called Thursday’s decision “an additional step” toward making transit available for tens of thousands of employees, students and health care patients who visit the area each day. “Understanding that MARTA and the city must balance many needs, Emory will continue to push for making transit to the Clifton Corridor a top priority,” the statement said.
  • A lot of folks talk about the weather or high school sports. But we in metro Atlanta have another favorite subject: our world-class traffic mess.  Earlier this week, we asked how you’d fix Atlanta traffic if you could wave a magic wand. Oh, boy, did you want to talk.  We received about 330 emailed responses within a few days – some short and to the point, others lengthy and detailed. Others shared their thoughts on social media. Clearly, a lot of people wish they had a magic wand.  We’re still reading all the responses, but some common themes have emerged. Expanding MARTA, building another interstate bypass and encouraging telework and flexible work schedules are all popular ideas. Widening existing roads, better traffic enforcement and encouraging more dense, urban-style development also have plenty of support. A few folks would simply use their magic wand to make a lot of people and vehicles disappear. The most entertaining solution so far? Ziplines!  Below is a selection of the responses. We’ll publish another batch next week.    Atlanta just needs to bite the bullet and build an underground subway system that extends out to the major suburbs. Expensive? Yes! Would it improve the traffic problem? Yes! - Yvette Quisling, Duluth    I would like to see a true bypass of Atlanta, whereby all who have no reason to stop in Atlanta, but are merely traveling north to south or vice versa, can proceed on their journey without contributing to the problem. That would leave the local roads for goods and services, people going to and from work, and allow residents to move about more freely. People who WANTED to go to Atlanta would not be affected by someone travelling from Florida to Wisconsin. This true bypass could be a toll road that has VERY limited access, to help prevent growth around it. I have regularly seen the day where I would pay $5 just to get the heck away from Atlanta, especially at rush hour. My trauma of this is so strong, I will sometimes take U.S. 27 which is way out of my way, to alleviate the stress of having to go thru Atlanta on my way to Florida. - Larry Ryan, Adairsville    Get your butt on a bus and let a professional handle the traffic. We can't build our way out of this.  Seriously, when I worked, I took MARTA every day. I could read, study, do puzzles, or work on crafts. I arrived at work or at home refreshed instead of boiling mad at the traffic.  We need to do everything possible to get people to use public transportation. - Rhonda D. Wright, Brookhaven  If you really want to solve Atlanta’s traffic problems, do away with the emissions check and bring back what they use to do in the 60’s and 70’s, and that is require auto inspections. The emissions inspection is BS. But when you have cars on the road that do not have working brake lights, turn signals, windshield wipers, headlights or bald tires, then you have serious problems that can cause more traffic issues because of unsafe automobiles. - Larry Benator, Peachtree Corners    Take two lanes from all of 285, parts of 75, parts of 85 and parts of 400, and convert them to MARTA rail lines with stations at key intersections. Partly fund this change by implementing a congestion tax to drive into the city. Take part of the driving tax and part of the MARTA fare to purchase residential easements and build out a larger pedestrian and bicycling system, following rivers and creeks, where the landscape is shaded and flatter. Create an attractive GA tax refund or credit for alternative commuter costs: bicycles, running shoes, locker rental, bicycle maintenance and accessories, MARTA fare, etc. Speed up the adoption of self-driving cars that communicate with each other, lessening collisions and optimizing traffic patterns. - Christopher Dusack, Marietta    I would expand MARTA train services to the entire Atlanta MSA. No county will be able to opt out. I would also like to create destination centers for mass transit depot stations. These centers will have a park like feel while providing riders and the community an opportunity to buy snacks or grab a light meal. This will also be a great space for new vendors to introduce community to their business. I will also favor working with companies to adopt more flexible work schedules. I also would work with MARTA to allow a large company to buy MARTA passes in bulk at a discount to buying organization. Once a company purchased they can use it as a benefit and give to employees to encourage ridership or the company can sell at a reduced rate for its employees. Furthermore, I will use my wand to build up underserved communities, offering strong incentives for companies to relocate to underserved areas such as southwest Atlanta. The more large companies we have in the communities we live the less traffic we will have. - Avery McDougle, South Fulton    There is only one solution to our traffic problems: mass transit! The three counties alone cannot be responsible for a mass transit system needed by the entire region. Making bigger roads that all lead to the same point does nothing but increase the chances of accidents and stresses us all out. Increasing the cost of parking will not encourage people to use MARTA because it simply does not go to enough places and it takes forever to get to the places it does service. If we could trade an hour-long car ride for a 30-minute train ride I have to believe people will do it. However, people outside of Atlanta must understand the importance of the situation. Atlanta is the economic engine that fuels the economy throughout the state. If the traffic situation continues to deteriorate it will not matter how large our airport is or how business friendly we are, our economic growth will cease. Not just in Atlanta, but for the entire state. I hope our lawmakers reach that conclusion before it's too late. - Adam Long, Atlanta    If I could wave my magic wand and solve Atlanta’s traffic problem, I would poof away anybody that has moved to Atlanta in the last 12 months. WE FULL! - Jasmine Tillman, Atlanta    If I had a magic wand, I'd magically materialize motivated police units to patrol the HOV lanes and just the HOV lanes. If every violator were pulled over and cited, I'm sure the city/state could generate enough revenue to expand MARTA to Savannah. - Danny Hong, Marietta    I would greatly increase the public transportation infrastructure in metro Atlanta, with trains being the first priority along with buses. This would include mandatory participation of surrounding counties that feed into metro Atlanta such as Gwinnett. - Barbara Giuliano, Suwanee    If I had a magic wand in ATL, I'd use it to implement 'smart' traffic lights at all congested entrance and exit ramps in the area. 90% of all the traffic problems I observe are due to vehicular backups on exit ramps leading straight (or ultimately leading) to a traffic light that isn't 'timed' correctly with the flow of traffic, or adjoining intersections. I believe looking to technological solutions such as this would provide a more immediate relief to the morning and afternoon commute, as well as large sporting events. - Ryan Lewis, Decatur    Atlanta’s traffic mess developed over a long time because of many things. It’ll take a collective, very strong effort in order to change the status quo. Some quick thoughts:  1. Don’t punish people who *must* drive to work (like the suggestion to increase parking costs).  2. Learn from others. Surely there are cities that face similar issues. Study them, and figure out what’s worked and what hasn’t.  3. STOP APPROVING NEW DEVELOPMENT without corresponding improvements to our infrastructure!!! - Alison Jones, Vinings    My solution is to build a tunnel underneath the connector and to have through-traffic use the tunnel, while cars planning to exit the connector in the downtown areas use the surface connector.  A tunnel?? Why not?! On a recent trip around Austria, I witnessed and drove through countless tunnels all around the country. They were built to avoid roads running up and down mountains and to bypass small towns. If Austria can afford to build dozens of tunnels, why can’t we?  I realize it would be expensive, would disrupt traffic during the building phase, and would take time to complete. But I also believe that the current gridlock is costing our economy millions every day as drivers waste precious time, as people miss flights or other important appointments, and as our citizens’ health suffers from so much stress driving on our roads. I am sure there are many other measurable ill effects.  Something visionary and effective must be done! - Angelika Pohl, Decatur    Here's what I think that would look like:  1. More MARTA stops. My wife works in Buckhead and catches the MARTA at East Point, gets dropped off in Buckhead, but then catches a shuttle that takes her to work because the MARTA stop is not close enough. If her job didn't provide the shuttle, she probably would be driving. I like the GRTA option where people can park in the metro areas and have the bus go straight downtown. However, there needs to be more MARTA stops available once you get downtown and midtown. If there were more MARTA stops, my wife would probably just catch the bus and get on MARTA once downtown.  2. Expand MARTA to more metro areas or, at least, around the perimeter. I know this would be a huge undertaking (and that the initiative failed a few years ago), but I think that would be a real long-term solution that would provide the best options for people. I think that we'll eventually realize that we need a New York-type subway system. Maybe we could create more MARTA stations, with parking, closer to downtown but just on the outskirts (near the Perimeter) - instead of all the way into the metro areas.  3. Better enforce the HOV lanes. I think we all know that many people cheat on the HOV lanes, which causes it to get backed up whenever there is an accident or congestion. Maybe we could figure out a way to really restrict those lanes to the faithful people who abide by the rules. - Anthony Dean, Morrow    Government should legislate that outlying counties support MARTA rails to their neighborhoods; buses are only a partial answer for these areas. These suburban areas are a part of the metro area and should be made to fully support MARTA. Atlanta cannot rise to world class standards without having transit that adequately extends to all of the metro area. Atlanta needs a rail system that equals and even rivals New York’s subway system. - Madeleine Farrell, Decatur    If I had a magic wand I would build public transportation throughout the entire state. From Atlanta to Augusta, to Athens, to all major universities. The state would have an efficient train system combined with buses and shuttles for smaller connecting roads. In the suburbs every subdivision would have a bike station. People could run close errands on them. - Marie Vidal, Sugar Hill    Ban ALL vehicles over 8 wheels from using I-285 from 6-10 a.m. and 2-6 p.m. (keeping in mind all the wrecks involving tractor trailers during these hours). Also, do like Washington, D.C., and disallow any more parking lots to open inside 285 and triple the current rates of the present lots, forcing workers to take mass transportation. - Bill Cranford, Marietta    I would solve the traffic problem by using light rail connecting to the end of all MARTA train lines. Light rails that look like the street car downtown Atlanta. These trains would connect to major locations that people hang out in the different counties. For example, a light rail train could connect to Indian Creek Train Station and connect to Stonecrest Mall. People would flock to use it. A light rail could connect to Stone Mountain Park, Downtown Roswell, etc. - Kadesch Blackshear, Lithonia   I would like to see the outer perimeter completed so that all traffic doesn’t have to go through downtown ATL (including all those trucks). I’d also like to see Light rail extend to Gwinnett County (like to Mall of GA). Unfortunately, the deal that was floated this year was a terrible one and didn’t focus on light rail. - Kristen Lindenmayer, Duluth    If we had a magic wand, why not build tunnels under the city for I-85, I-75, and I-20 in both directions? They would act as rapid transit lanes for regional travelers and truckers to bypass Atlanta surface streets - vastly reducing congestion. In fact, we already have the technology to do so. The longest underground tunnel is the Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps. It is longer than we would need and cost $9 billion in 2016. If we had 6 of them, it would still cost half of the 'MARTA Moonshot' $100 billion. - Tony Hotle, Peachtree Corners    I’d explore eminent domain to widen several cross-town roads from single lane to multi-lane. I’ve lived in both Los Angeles and Tampa and noticed how Atlanta does not have any big multi-lane cross-town boulevards comparable to Olympic and Pico (LA) or Dale Mabry Hwy (Tampa). There’s currently too few major boulevards to relieve the pressure of traffic coming off the connector, 400 or 20. - Kevin Cohen, Atlanta    1. Have enough lanes for Peach Pass Express Lanes for travel in both directions all day everyday along all interstates in the metro area.  2. Have lanes designated for thru traffic. Cars enter these lanes outside the perimeter with no exits or entrances and deposit them on the opposite side of the Perimeter. (I75 I85 I20 only)  3. Limit number of exists in a mile to 2.  4. Build a light rail system that will actually take people where they want to go. - Mark Butler, Vidalia    To fix Atlanta's growing traffic problem, I would use my magic wand to create a second ring road or 'Outer Loop' that is 20 to 35 miles out from the 285 ring road. A significant amount of the current 285 truck traffic is just passing through Atlanta to some other destination. Creating toll lanes to reduce traffic only favors those with the means to pay and does nothing to reduce the wear on the 285 road bed from the heavy truck load that will continue to use it. In addition to greatly reducing the truck traffic on 285, this 'second ring' would allow many privately owned vehicles the opportunity to bypass Atlanta on their way to other destinations further reducing traffic congestion and wear. Because Atlanta is so late in creating an 'Outer Loop' there will be some added costs to get the land needed, but these costs could be quickly offset by new development from private businesses along the new roadway. - John Kernan, Dunwoody    The wand should be waved over those who believe there is a solution to the problem and have them realize that there is none. Drive safely, buckle up and keep your eyes on the road. - George Ross, Dahlonega    Ziplines everywhere! We build the world's largest network of ziplines. We start small, with simple routes in midtown and downtown such as Bank of America building, 38th floor to AT&T building, 18th floor. We slowly expand, connecting more office buildings and apartments until BAM! We go straight across the connector to the west side!! Suddenly, businessmen and businesswomen are zooming through the skies with utter grace and efficiency, ties and skirts flapping in the wind. The streets empty as the average ATLien finds his/her transportation needs being wholly and completely satisfied by hooking onto a zipline and ZOOMING into the open air. Being found on the ground, either in a car, bus, or on foot, will automatically label you as a social pariah in the eyes of your airborne neighbors.  We expand into Buckhead, building skyscrapers and launch towers along the way for each MARTA train stop and each highway exit. Then a network of smaller ziplines will naturally grow outward from there. Let's say you work at Georgia Pacific in downtown, but you want to go to the Braves game at 7:05pm aaaaaallllll the way up in Vinings. You're screwed, right? WRONG! Simply hook in to your rooftop zipline, don your ziplining helmet, and take the Northbound Breezeway to the I285 West Aerial Loop and you'll be there in no time.  What's the best part about ziplining? Is it the feeling of flying through the sky? Is it the freeing sensation of zooming over Atlanta gridlock without a care in the world? Or is it the satisfaction of knowing that, with a robust metropolitan zipline system, you can arrive at any destination ITP in minutes with ZERO CARBON FOOTPRINT?  You said magic wand, and a magic wand I shall have. The future is ziplines, and the future is now. - Mike Hutchins, Smyrna
  • The DeKalb Branch of the NAACP is holding its 2019 Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 15, at the Mall at Stonecrest. The family-friendly event will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and includes vendors, entertainment and workshops geared toward African-American audiences on topics like veterans affairs, healthcare, economic development and civic involvement. The event is being held in conjunction with Atlanta Sports City, which is developing a sports and entertainment complex at the mall. Juneteenth celebrations mark the day that slaves in Texas learned about the Emancipation Proclamation that granted their freedom. Officially, that date is June 19, 1865, roughly two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the document into law.  This essentially marked the end of legal slavery in America. African-Americans nationwide celebrate Juneteenth with parades, community festivals and other events that highlight black culture.  Related | 5 facts about Juneteenth, which marks the last day of slavery Related |Questions raised about status of Stonecrest’s Atlanta Sports City
  • Two military-style rifles and two semi-automatic pistols linked to the city’s former chief financial officer are now the subject of the federal corruption investigation at Atlanta City Hall. The U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a seven-point subpoena to the city last week demanding a range of information related to former Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard, including records associated with the purchase and distribution of the guns and a so-called “red dot” scope. Statements from Beard’s city-issued credit card show he made at least two purchases at gun distributors since 2016, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year. The subpoena, obtained Tuesday by the AJC through an open records request, is the sixth targeting former Mayor Kasim Reed or members of his inner circle. Beard was one of Reed’s closest confidants as head of the Finance Department. The Beard subpoena also asks for documents related to two invoices to the city by a vendor named Jimmie A. Beard, with an address of Atlanta City Hall. Beard often goes by the first name Jimmie. The invoices are for $20,000 and $10,000, and are from 2014 and 2016, AJC reporters found — years in which Beard served as the city’s finance chief. Beard’s attorney Scott Grubman says the information demanded by federal prosecutors amounts to nothing. “As Mr. Beard has consistently stated, he is personally unaware of any wrongdoing by anyone at the City during his tenure as CFO,” Grubman wrote in an email. “After over a year of overturning every rock and sorting through every haystack, the government has been unable to uncover one single piece of evidence against Mr. Beard.” On May 25, 2016, Beard used his city credit card to cover a $735.77 bill at G.T. Distributors, a gun shop in Rossville. Four months later, he used the card to cover a $416 expense at Law Tactical, a distributor near Philadelphia, according to credit card statements obtained by the AJC last year. Beard did not provide the city with receipts or justifications for either expense, as is required by city’s credit card policy. Top-shelf weapons Beard told the AJC last summer that his department worked with police officers on Reed’s Executive Protection Unit “to secure equipment when needed in an expedited fashion.” Each member of Reed’s protection unit had their own city-issued credit card. Beard’s use of public money was already under scrutiny. Federal investigations requested Beard’s credit card statements from the city after the AJC and Channel 2 Action News reported that he covered a $10,000 Paris hotel bill with his card. Beard repaid the city after the AJC requested the statements last summer — more than a year after he used the card to pay the hotel bill. Beard also used his credit card to cover an $8,000 tab at American Cut, one of the city’s finest steakhouses where he hosted a going away party for Reed and all 32 members of the mayor’s cabinet in December 2017. A city audit found that Beard improperly charged travel expenses to his city-issued credit card while attending board meetings of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, and that Beard did not report outside income as an MSRB board member on his city financial disclosures. At least seven times since 2016, Beard used his city credit card to pay for airfare, hotels and ground transportation when traveling to MSRB meetings, which the auditor cited as improper. MSRB spokeswoman Jennifer Galloway said Tuesday that the organization reimburses board members “for MSRB related travel, actual and reasonable expenses.” The subpoena demands records related to reimbursements made to Beard for travel. The MSRB did not respond to an AJC request under the Freedom of Information Act for documentation of any expenses submitted by Beard for his time on the board because they are not a government agency. It is unknown if Beard requested reimbursement from the agency. Other information sought by federal prosecutors include Beard’s personnel file, compensation, disciplinary history, ethics pledges and financial disclosure statements. Attorney Matthew Kilgo, author of “Georgia Gun Law, Armed and Educated,” said the weapons listed on the subpoena are all top-shelf. They are two AR-15s are manufactured by Daniel Defense, a Georgia gun maker with a facility near Savannah that Kilgo said makes “some of the best on the market.” The subpoena also lists two Glock pistols, a model 43 and a model 19. And Kilgo called the sight “very high end.” “He’s got some great taste in guns,” Kilgo said. When asked why a finance director might use public money to buy weapons, Kilgo responded: “You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that doesn’t sound right.” Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this story. 
  • The 10-year-old girl who pulled her sister to safety during an incident at an apartment pool was recognized as a “DeKalb County hero.” Surveillance video showed Jayla Dallis pulling her three-year-old sister to safety after she fell face down into the pool on May 15. Jayla performed CPR until a Chamblee police officer arrived. She said Tuesday that she learned what to do by watching movies and YouTube videos. Kali Dallis made a full recovery, but during the two weeks she was hospitalized Jayla missed her school’s end-of-year awards program. Huntley Hills Elementary School teamed up with the DeKalb County commission to honor her at a meeting today. Jayla received her A/B Honor Roll certificate and medallion, as well as a proclamation naming June 11 as Jayla Dallis Day in DeKalb County. Daneshia Dallis, the girls’ mother, said she was grateful that Kali has no permanent injuries and that Jayla was quick-thinking. “I’m glad to know she listens to me and protected her little sister,” she said. DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond praised Jayla for her “selfless act of heroism” and asked her what she wants to be when she grows up. A police officer, she said. Related | Sister, Chamblee officer credited with saving girl from drowning in apartment pool
  • The MARTA Board of Directors this week will consider a timetable for the agency’s Atlanta expansion, and supporters of the Atlanta Beltline aren’t happy.  The proposed timeline (here’s a detailed look) would launch two bus rapid transit lines and other bus improvements by 2025. But more expensive light rail projects – including the Beltline – would come later, with some not completed for more than 20 years.  That prompted the group Beltline Rail Now to decry the proposed timeline in a statement issued over the weekend. The group said it’s “disappointed that MARTA doesn’t plan to build light rail on the full loop until the 2040s.”  “We had high hopes after MARTA’s board voted to include most of the Beltline on its project list last year, but this plan careens down the wrong track,” the statement said. The group urged the MARTA Board to “take another look at the list and maximize transit that serves more Atlantans by 2030.”  The timeline passed the MARTA Board’s planning committee two weeks ago. The full board is expected to take up the plan on Thursday.
  • A panel of local transportation experts was asked an intriguing question last week: If you could wave a magic wand, what policy would you enact to solve metro Atlanta’s transportation problems?  The panelists – speaking Thursday to several dozen people at a forum sponsored by the co-working company WeWork – offered some thoughtful answers.  Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens said he’d implement affordable housing policies like property tax freezes for some residents to ensure they could live close to their jobs, instead of being forced out by rising home values.  Heather Alhadeff, MARTA’s assistant general manager for planning, said raising the price of parking in Atlanta would discourage driving and encourage people to use transit.  Jacob Tzegaegbe, senor transportation policy advisory to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, wished for a regional sales tax and state funding to support mass transit. He also favors zoning that allows taller buildings along transit corridors to encourage dense urban development.  Their answers got us wondering: If you had a magic wand, what would YOU do to fix metro Atlanta’s transportation problems?  Let us know by sending your thoughts to dwickert@ajc.com. Please include your name and city of residence. We’ll publish some of your answers later this week. > READ MORE: The AJC’s Gridlock Guy offers his most maddening traffic pet peeve
  • A new mile-long ribbon of concrete running alongside Ga. 400 will open to the public in the fall, establishing a car-free route between Lindbergh and Buckhead. PATH400 has been under construction for several years, with segments already open north and south of the Buckhead commercial district. But those bits don’t link up. They are mostly used by people who live nearby — the occasional jogger or dog walker out for a quick stroll. The new segment will connect the orphaned stretches into several miles of pathway bisecting north Atlanta. Though smaller in scale than the Beltline, PATH400 builds on the same idea of putting idle land to use, connecting areas that seem distant by car and opening up locations for restaurants, stores and other commercial development. “I think it’s a cool project with a big impact,” said Giles Stevens, a bike commuter who works in commercial real estate. The new link connects a path segment near Miami Circle to the Peachtree Park neighborhood near the center of Buckhead. Sidewalks and roads through the Buckhead commercial district tie in to a path that goes north toward Sandy Springs, ending at Wieuca Road. PATH400 will be 5.2 miles long when Livable Buckhead Inc. and the PATH Foundation add a final stretch to Loridans Drive in coming years. >> RELATED: PATH400 to receive city, federal funding The whole project is expected to cost $28 million, paid for with a mix of private and public money. Sandy Springs is planning to add 2.1 miles from Loridans Drive to the Glenridge Connector where Ga. 400 meets I-285. The Georgia Department of Transportation is expected to add a link to Dunwoody, at Peachtree Dunwoody Road. When those segments are complete, people will be able to ride or run from Lindbergh to Dunwoody on routes that are mostly free of cars. Denise Starling, Livable Buckhead’s executive director, predicts it will shrink the metro area’s north side in the same way that the Beltline has made Piedmont Park surprisingly close to the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, by carving a straight line between the two. “The thing that’s really cool is it goes from inside the Perimeter to outside the Perimeter,” she said. “It’s crazy how close all this stuff is.” She thinks developers will build restaurants and retail for path users at Miami Circle and at Lenox Square, which connects via the Gordon Bynum Pedestrian Bridge over Ga. 400. The new link parallels Ga. 400, crossing under MARTA tracks and an active Norfolk Southern rail line. The scenery varies from graffiti-tagged concrete support columns and vistas of the multilane highway to wooded wetlands that are home to a colony of ducks. “The fact that it can look like you’re walking through a forest and you’re literally 10 feet away from an interstate is impressive,” said John Gonzalez, a visitor from Miami. He was staying at a nearby hotel, and jogged the path on the recommendation of hotel staff. He started on the already-open Lindbergh portion and strayed onto the fenced-off section. It remains unsafe because there are steep embankments and side rails have not yet been attached. Starling expects it to open by Halloween. Even with the new link, the overall PATH400 will still be limited. With traffic and road conditions, it’s difficult to get anywhere by bike or by foot from the south terminus in Lindbergh. And the northern part ends in a neighborhood, far from restaurants, shops, offices or mass transit. That will change. In addition to the pending link to Dunwoody, the plan is to tie PATH400 to the Beltline. The Beltline formally ends at Piedmont Park but informally extends north as a dirt path along the east edge of the park, passing the Ansley Golf Club and crossing under I-85 to end at the rail lines by Armour Drive. Atlanta Beltline is studying how to get past the maze of rail lines and tie in to PATH400 at Lindbergh. Stevens, the bike commuter, sold his car a few years ago. He admits to borrowing his wife’s car on occasion, but said he mostly gets to his office in Buckhead by pedaling the 3 miles from his home in Brookhaven. He imagines someday being able to ride from his office to a restaurant or a pub on the Beltline, currently a risky trip. “My southbound commute options right now are Lenox Road, which is really scary on a bike,” Stevens said, “or Piedmont Road, which is also really scary.” So PATH400 is likely to be limited to recreational use by nearby residents until it is connected to Dunwoody and to the Beltline several years from now. Then, said Starling, it will become a transportation link through the heart of north Atlanta, as city streets thicken with cars: “I think it’s going to be a tremendous intown commute option.” IN OTHER NEWS: