Lakeside Bill Fails 8-7 in Committee: Identity Crisis Averted

March 12, 2014 16:16 pm

by George Chidi · 13 comments

Lakeside and TuckerIn an 8-7 vote in committee today, legislators killed a bill that would have allowed for the creation of a city of Lakeside in DeKalb.

I suppose it’s possible that a last-minute late-day deal can be cobbled together between Lakeside and Tucker. A compromise map is supposedly out there. The public hasn’t actually seen it.

The bill faced fierce bipartisan opposition from proponents of the community of Tucker, as well as from DeKalb Democrats deeply concerned about the creeping municipalization of the county and the effect it would have had on the county’s tax base.

The source of Tucker’s victory? Identity. Tucker has one. Lakeside did not. I might argue today that Tucker’s identity may — after this fight — have a stronger unified sense of community than even the city of Atlanta.

I wish it weren’t so, about Atlanta. Strong culture is attractive. But we all remember the reaction to the laughable effort of Brand Atlanta a few years ago. “Every Day is an Opening Day” and “City Lights, Southern Nights?” The ATL theme song? Eight million dollars and they couldn’t find something to say about Atlanta that wouldn’t equally apply to Charlotte or Charleston?

Identity can’t be imposed. It’s an emergent property.

Real identity around Atlanta bubbles up from neighborhoods. We’re a collage – a gumbo, perhaps – of idiosyncratic communities, a direct result of the economic stratification and lousy transportation infrastructure here. There isn’t enough connection between us as a region for us to identify as a region. Morningside may as well be in a separate town from Buckhead, all demographic similarities aside. East Atlanta Village hipsters will ironically shank a hipster from Midtown or Castleberry Hill on general principle.

Community identity applies outside of Atlanta proper, too. Druid Hills is unincorporated DeKalb County, but we all know where it is and who’s likely to live there. The same went for Dunwoody and Sandy Springs before they incorporated.

Tucker knows who it is. Lakeside does not.  

I watched Lakeside and Tucker present their incorporation plans to the legislature in January. Of the three competing proposals – Tucker, Lakeside and Briarcliff – only Tucker emphasized its 100-year-old history of civic organizations, community events and activities … because they’re the only ones who have them. Lakeside’s proponents seemed tone deaf, like the folks at Brand Atlanta who thought their sloganeering would seem recognizable to anyone actually living here.

Even the name is fake. “Lakeside is a working name,” the authors of the legislation wrote in frequently asked questions on the proposal website. “We need to know our final boundaries before we can get to the point of naming the city, and we have a great deal of work to do before we get to that point.  The name ‘Lakeside’ was an attempt to avoid using names of places that might give the appearance that one area (Oak Grove, Northlake, Briarcliff Woods, Hawthorne, etc.) was more important than the other.”

Tucker doesn’t have this problem. Tucker knows who it is.

Still, the legislature seemed ready to permit a local referendum to create a city of Lakeside in the middle of DeKalb County, one that would have effectively destroyed Tucker by incorporating about half of territory Tucker partisans call their own. Tucker proponents say that Lakeside leaders expanded the footprint all the way to the edge of Tucker High School after learning that they didn’t have enough “yes” votes to win a referendum vote from inside the perimeter. This map was ostensibly changed at the last minute in a deal revealed to legislators moments before the hearing. The backroom machinations appear to have left some Republicans on the committee cold.

I assumed before the vote that Republican legislators believed they could win over Tucker residents in a referendum with stark an all-or-nothing negotiation – join Lakeside or no one gets to incorporate.

That would have been a fundamental mistake to make, borne of a misunderstanding of identity.

Lakeside attacks Tucker’s identity as a community. Identity is not an abstraction. It’s very personal. It’s a survival mechanism.

For most of the people pressing for a city of Lakeside, the issues at play are simply political abstractions around tax rates, the allocation of police resources and “local control,” whatever that means given how little connection people have to one another in the boundaries as drawn. Some people see a chance for personal reward – a mayor and city council seats and the attendant local contracting opportunities.

At the end of the day, Tucker’s war of survival would have turned on partisan politics versus identity politics. Boundaries for a city of Lakeside appeared to be drawn to increase the number of Republican voters. Virtually every city created in the latest wave of incorporations has been a majority-white, majority Republican enclave.

Tucker’s voting pattern and demographics tend to be more ecumenical, though Tucker’s got plenty of Republicans who loathe the Democrat-dominated county commission. But Tucker Republicans are Tucker’s Republicans. Even Elaine Boyer, a lonely Republican on the county commission, told Lakeside’s champion, State Sen. Fran Millar, to back off.

If what I’m hearing in conversations reflects the actual sentiment on the ground, Tuckerites have been on a war footing. They would in all likelihood have superior manpower to mount a very personal grassroots campaign, because more people in Tucker manifestly give a damn than do their opponents. Immense social pressure was coming to bear on people in Tucker to vote no – social pressure that Lakeside proponents won’t be able to match because they have less shared identity. And the Tucker partisans are likely to go door-to-door outside of Tucker, preaching the gospel of Tucker, converting unbelievers. They would have looked very sympathetic, since they looked like they’re getting railroaded.

The fight will add to the lore of Tucker. Lakeside didn’t have lore to add to. It doesn’t even have a real name.

rwf March 12, 2014 at 4:36 pm

SB 270 was tabled, not voted down. So the bill should still be active, and can still come back before the Committee at any time. From Millar’s statement, the LCA and Tucker 2014 have apparently agreed to a mutual map where Lakeside conceded the Midvale district and the commercial areas south of Northlake Mall to Tucker. So, the motion to table the bill was made due to the general confusion with the last minute changes to SB 270 and the map and, hopefully, to allow both bills to be reconciled.

If both bills are reconciled to be in full agreement overnight (no overlap), and if all affected parties, included Sen. Millar, Representatives Oliver, Mitchell and Taylor all agree to the changes, then I see no reason the revised bills can’t come back before the Committee for reconsideration, and be approved with little or no debate.

Not dead yet!

George Chidi March 12, 2014 at 5:40 pm

You may be right. A recovery after a vote tabling a bill in committee is pretty rare, though. It would be easy enough to read the vote to table as a means of taking more time to evaluate the bill. It might also be read as a face-saving mechanism for small-government Republicans to walk away from a bill that does real violence to the concept of home rule on local legislation.

There are a lot of Tucker Republicans. Whatever else is going on, Lakeside could have very easily pushed them out of the R column, given how this was handled.

George Chidi March 12, 2014 at 5:43 pm

I should note that I have no fundamental problem with incorporations in DeKalb. I serve on the city council of a small DeKalb city, and I can see the merits. But I think the process I’ve seen has turned me into a real Tucker partisan.

I like Tucker. I like how they handle themselves. They deserve better consideration than they’ve received.

Billy Jack March 12, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Hey, as they say, politics ain’t bean-bags. Lakeside and Millar overplayed their hand a bit, but things look like they’ll work out in the end. Tucker was late to the game and really began as a reaction to Lakeside’s cityhood movement. So without Lakeside, Tucker would never have been this close to achieving actual cityhood and its very real benefits in the first place. And as far as politics go, everyone would do well to remember that if it was up to DeKalb County and its legislative delegation, Dunwoody and Brookhaven would have never come to be. Only Republican domination at the state level made that possible. So if Millar overreached, it can and should be forgiven as overzealousness in his mission to liberate folks up north from the incompetence in Decatur and elsewhere in a county where way too many folks just don’t seem to give a damn. So the process may have been messy, but it will hopefully result in not one, but two new cities in which others can enjoy the same benefits that Kathy Gannon, Mary Margaret Oliver and other Decatur residents already enjoy. Hey, if it’s good enough for them…

Dave Bearse March 12, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Tom Taylor agree to changes?

All of Taylor’s district is west of Buford Hwy, over a mile away from any of the proposed cities: http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/images/uploads/gallery/GeorgiaHouseDistricts2012MetroAtlanta.jpg

As I’ve written before: The GaGOP, we’re for local control (or fill in the blank with most topics), except when we’re not.

SallyForth March 12, 2014 at 7:56 pm

I sure hope the bill does not die! What happened to the concept of democracy and allowing people to vote on their own self determination? Not to mention taxation… Here’s an excerpt from a December 2013 news release re DeKalb County’s 2014 tax plan (note how much higher taxes are for people in unincorporated areas):
“While the budget would keep the total millage rate for unincorporated DeKalb at 21.21 mills for the fourth year, preliminary estimates show a tax decrease for every city, ranging from .66 mills in Pine Lake to 3.94 mills in Avondale Estates.
The total county property taxes would drop from the current rate of 16.25 mills in Brookhaven and Dunwoody to 14.17 mills if the proposed budget is approved by the commissioners in February. Chamblee’s taxpayers would see their county property tax bills drop from 14.76 mills in 2013 to 13.01 mills in 2014, while in Doraville the total would go from 14.52 down to 12.62 mills.”

Taxpayers in unincorporated DeKalb are getting shafted, while those who live in incorporated cities pay less to the county and have money in their pocket to apply to local concerns. The Briarcliff/Lakeside/Tucker area of DeKalb is a high tax area that sees little or no money being spent on their pot-holed, crumbling streets; no police patrolling of neighborhoods or drivers from other counties speeding up and down the artery streets, using us as cut-throughs; no enforcement of commercial ordinances; cats and dogs running loose and seemingly feral; etc. of county neglect and no city.

With total population approaching a million, DeKalb has grown too large and unwieldy for its central government. We pay the highest taxes, but our money is being spent elsewhere. Hence, folks are focusing on establishing a smaller, manageable subset like already exists for residents in other areas of DeKalb. (It is interesting to note that the City of South Fulton is barreling through the Legislature, while our area sits mired in obstructionism.)

This legislation that would give the opportunity to simply vote on the matter was introduced in March 2013, and has been under public discussion ever since. DeKalb already has the cities of Lithonia, Pine Lake, Stone Mountain, Brookhaven, Doraville, Dunwoody, Decatur, and any others I can’t recall. It is wrong to deny residents in the Lakeside (or whatever name the voters choose) area the chance to vote their wishes on whether to incorporate as another DeKalb city.

South Fulton Guy March 12, 2014 at 8:53 pm

South Fulton Bill Clears Committee, Gives Residents Until August 1st to Join Existing City http://www.georgiaunfiltered.com/2014/03/south-fulton-bill-clears-committee.html

matthewrlee March 12, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Nice article, George and you’re right about the harm SB 270 has done to the Republican Party. Several registered Republicans have commented to me that they will be voting for whom ever is running against Senator Millar. Based on what’s happen they cannot sustain him in office.

While they may not want a Democrat in office, at least they will be able to sleep at night without worry that a new map is being draw up to squeeze half their neighborhood or school district through an unwitting legislative committee that’s trying to play nice with a forceful member of their own party.

Dave Bearse March 12, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Millar’s got nothing to fear. Only a fifth of his safe seat district would be in either Lakeside or Tucker, and perhaps only one-eighth is within would-be Tucker.

http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/images/uploads/gallery/GeorgiaSenateDistricts2012MetroAtlanta.jpg

Jon Lester March 13, 2014 at 6:13 am

Oglethorpe County should have had this conversation before someone decided to spend $80,000 from the emergency fund on a “branding” effort. Much as you said, someone commented, “it needs an identity first.”

I wish I could link you, but Ralph’s had oglethorpeecho.com parked at Tripod since the year 2000.

objective March 13, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Tucker deserves a lot more respect and deference than it got prior to this bill railroading past them and the DeKalb delegation. Tucker has been developing for cityhood for years, and developing community for much much longer. It remains an insult to have even attempted taking away areas where they have been raising money for parks, cleaning them up, securing infrastructure funds, etc.

James Fannin March 13, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Why is it so hard to establish boundaries? If you are going to take a bunch of identities most closely identified with some old Dekalb County high schools, you might as well just take their school boundaries and make them the city boundaries. Maybe we should also have the City of Cross Keys and a City of Columbia and a City of Druid Hills even. At least Fulton County and the people of Sandy Springs had the good sense to close Sandy Springs high school and sell the land to the Kroger before they created a city named for it. Think about it, Brookhaven, and Johns Creek are the only new cities not named for a high school.

abmagic March 14, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Tucker absolutely has a leg to stand and on a much better sense of place and community. The TCA and Business Association, along with some enterprising private owners, have done a fantastic job in turning around the commercial core of Tucker. The residents likewise have built a strong sense of community around the schools and the parks (especially Henderson Park).

However, isn’t it ironic that while they accuse (correctly) Lakeside of making a land grab in order to get the votes, or the tax base , or whatever other reason, they ARE DOING THE SAME THING to STONE MOUNTAIN. In fact, it could be argued that their land grab is even more egregious than Lakeside’s because they are doing it in an area that is 100% commercial based and which the property owners have already stated publicly their belief that Stone Mountain offers a better level of service than Tucker would.

In addition, they are reaching into neighborhoods that have closer proximity to Stone Mountain and where most residents either affiliate with Stone Mountain or with neither Tucker nor Stone Mountain to try and increase their tax base further. At least in this scenario the residents would get to vote on the referendum.

I would support your efforts 100% if you could come up with a way not to incorporate and not infringe on existing cities planned annexation and growth. However, I don’t think you can, and so you will just keep shouting about Lakeside doing it to you while you do it to others.

Shame on you Tucker for being so duplicitous.

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