To the Editor:
When the Virginia journalism awards come out, I hope Michael Pope’s exposé of city hall using the same law firm as the waterfront developers gets an award for investigative reporting. Michael’s feature [“Conflict of Interest,” Oct. 24] is on par for the local level with what major dailies do on a national scale.
City hall’s waterfront plan is trail-blazing in a sense because it understands that development has politically evolved into a de facto “public-private partnership.” Once the land owners, who behind-the-scenes (let’s face it) helped shape the deal, have bought into the framework, they have become de facto partners with city hall. That is why having the same law firm represent the three developers and city hall isn’t a conflict-of-interest. They all are “working together” on the same project where the quid pro quos have already been worked out between city hall and the land owners.
Early on, city hall laid out the specs: so much explicitly designated open space, public access, nuisance flooding mitigation money, etc. in exchange for tripling currently existing density and a radical change in permissible uses (two hotels where none before were allowed). Whereas, a conflict-of-interest potentially existed before these terms were worked out, once the waterfront plan was adopted with mutually acceptable terms, city hall and the developers became de facto business partners in the waterfront venture. That’s why Vice-Mayor Silberberg was unable to get a second to her compromise cutting the number of hotels to one; it would have violated the terms the “business partners” had already agreed upon.
Other developmental special use permits (DSUPs) are also evolving in this direction. In the Beauregard Plan, the developer is backing transit improvements and paying for a new fire station in exchange for an enormous density increase. At some point, if these developments are large enough, the quid pro quos between the developer and the city government become sufficiently pervasive that the city government and the developers become de facto business partners.
The complaint about a “conflict-of-interest” is almost quaintly passé. The real complaint should be that a large segment of the people city hall represents, such the waterfront and Beauregard neighborhoods’ current residents, have been sold out in order for these de facto “public-private partnerships” to fly. And the real question which folks should be asking is whether they feel comfortable with their government entering into this kind of arrangement, although we should not assume that their answer is, “No.”