Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Community Forum rant

Speech given at Crest Hotel 20 September 2004. Sorry it's a bit long.

I am sick to death of hearing all the propaganda about how wonderful Macleay Street is and how Kings Cross is going to be like that if ever these streetworks are finished. Macleay street is fine but most people can't afford the $800 balcony plants, $220 beach towels, $365 vases, and the endless grey restaurants serving, in the words of Tony Bilson a bit of protein on garlic mash for $30 a plate.

It's all catering for the army of yuppies who are supposedly about to pay over 600,000 each for a grey box in a converted hotel. And to sell these units, Kings Cross has to be 'cleaned up', in other words turned into a monocultural wealth ghetto.

I am also sick to death of the staff of this council doing everything it can to make this real estate agents' dream come true.

Lucy Turnbull quoted urbanist author Jane Jacobs in this very room to justify the disaster we see unfolding outside this window.

Quoting that iconic author was a travesty, as everything that Council started here directly contradicts Jacobs and similar thinkers. Here's what Jacobs says about local politics:

'There are only two ultimate public powers in shaping cities: votes and control of the money.'

The votes have now produced a Council that listens to the community. But the same old council staff of yore work assiduously in favour of the big money, trying to make the developers' dream come true.

And the stupid thing is, this big plan for Kings Cross won't work.

Jane Jacobs' theme is that top-down planning always fails because it doesn't understand the street-level detail and dynamics. It's the detail that matters. Let me give you some on-the-ground detail about what's happening in Kings Cross:

At the last forum meeting councillors agreed the Cross should keep some of its neons. This is wonderful as far as it goes.

Yet last week Peter Pan Travel moved out of the World Internet premises, breaking a three-year lease, because it wasn't allowed by senior staff to put a sign up, even though councillors had agreed in committee that the rules were too inflexible in this case. This has now been repeated in round two after a suggestion for a revolving sign was also rejected. The rules are more important than someone's livelihood.

To put up a ladder to fix a neon, you have to get a $30 permit. After you go away to get the parts, you need another $30 permit. South Sydney had no such rule so it must be unnecessary. What small business has the time or money to do this?

The ubiquitous Sartor granite slab is being laid at the Top of William Street. I hear Shayne Mallard swung into action and at least got a reprieve for the mature plane trees that had to go because they didn't fit the slab concept.

But no-one's helping Aldo from Mama's restaurant who has had his outdoor seating pavilion fenced off, with no consultation, cutting his seating to less than half even though he has a DA for it and he just paid for a renewal of his three-year licence. There is no provision for it in the new plans either -- all the seating is being removed in case a drunk sits on it, and Aldo gets to look at a garden while he goes broke. His crime? Why, you can get a decent $5 breakfast there and he doesn't employ a yuppie chef. Wrong business mix in the proposed yuppie heaven!

At the last forum meeting I spoke about saving some of the heritage steel-riveted awnings, particularly the one on the Normandy Building, and councillors agreed, and also acted, thank you Phillip Black. Yet the senior staff have managed to spoil the spirit of this: even though this street is listed as a heritage streetscape, we now see the awning has been butchered back from its original proportions to fit the Sartor plan. Same goes for the Council's own Woolworths building. One of their justifications for continuing the useless awning cutback is agreements with owners. No excuse in this case -- they -- or rather we -- ARE the bloody owners.

As a partial quid-pro-quo for the loss of business during the street works, council originally budgeted up to $17,000 for each new awning and $1,000 per new sign as long as it fit the uniformity of the uberplan. I fondly imagined that money could be diverted to help refurbish the old awnings and subsidising a newly liberated signage policy. Nope. Only those who signed up for the bland uniformity -- after being told they had no choice -- will be getting any money. Everyone else can get stuffed. That alone represents $100s of thousands that has been withdrawn from Cross business.

The Moulin Rouge club now has $4,000 worth of parking fines because they and the bands that play there have a no-stopping zone outside their back door. How can you run a business without loading or unloading a vehicle? Same in Brougham Lane behind the Kings Cross Hotel -- it's a loading zone during the day but at night I see the bands from Club Blink bumping in and out of a no-stopping zone with lookouts posted for council rangers who slap on a $153 dollar fine.

I have raised this with council and with the Kings Cross Partnership, but no, the supposed representatives of the business community are not concerned with such matters.

Moulin Rouge needs to put up an under-awning sign -- you know, flashing lights, Moulin Rouge style. One, it's against Councils signage policy and two, they need the leaking awning to be fixed. The place is trying to become a live music venue and doesn't do drugs or prostitution -- and all they get is raids from the health dept and police, and fined when they do get a good night because people queue outside to get in.

The Kings Cross Arts Festival is coming round again. Apart from having half last year's budget, it's been a saga of squelching by staff. I want to know why we can't have a banner across the street to advertise it -- the Bourbon was allowed when they opened. Looks like big money talks, the community can walk. We've been told a banner is 'too old-fashioned'.

The ever-so-uniform smartpole banners are going to be the centrepiece of Kings Cross. We were told they were there 'to celebrate community events'. But no, we can't use them to promote the arts festival. Why? We're getting the City's generic Christmas design – for the next four years. This, in the least religious postcode in Sydney according to the ABS. I can just see all the mummys and daddys Chrissy shopping for the kiddies in the sex shops.

Kings Cross is about to lose its library yet again because new tenants have a lease on the temporary premises and the Woolworths building still isn't ready. The saga of this library has been a comedy of errors marked by the incompetence of successive councils or worse, pandering to developers' interests. (BTW advice given at the meeting about closing and opening times contradict the leaflets being circulated in the Cross.)

Not only the Woolworths building but the streetscape works are running way over time and budget -- under this council staff -- who are supposedly famous for good management. Business has virtually stopped right along the street. I've seen the figures -- Andrew Strauss's photo shop across the road was doing 30-40 rolls of film a day last September.

This September it's down to three or four on some days. People are screaming for help. But all they get is platitudes and more enforcement of ridiculous rules.

At the last PACT meeting we heard there was another application to extend the working hours into the night to speed up this work. Hullo! Do we hear any work? No, we only hear excuses about unforseen water mains, and I hear council is planning to charge the locals for fixing them.

Several promises have been made to businesses on this street -- parking bays were going to be successively opened as they were finished. Rubbish was going to be cleared up. So far nothing has happened. A recent schedule of work showed that the Bourbon end of the street was going to have by far the shortest construction downtime, but this end the longest. In whose interest is this? Not the small guy, that's for sure.

Council Rangers have been hassling patrons at Bar Coluzzi to move their stools 1.6 metres away from the kerbline. People have been sitting there for decades and it has not been a problem. The place is an institution. We don't need robots for rangers, we need human beings!

Why is the Community Centre still battling to get its secure parking spot as shown on the original DA for the Rex Building, while last week the General Manager, the Property Manager and the Place Manager all came and hassled them because in the empty foyer of the otherwise empty building was some furniture awaiting pickup!

Councillors recently called for a review of the city bike plan and for the Gateway plans to include safe cycleways separated from traffic. This is being blocked by Council staff who say they don't need to do the RTA pedestrian and Bicycle Course even though a Traffic Committee member said in a recent meeting that he enjoys running down cyclists! This, too is the precise Sartor agenda.

And the exact same Sartor design team is bringing us a new Springfield Plaza, same as all the other granite slabs. My submission, for one, addressed several concerns and suggested positive design solutions. All were ignored, and yet exactly those issues came up at the last PACT meeting, including strong concerns from the police.The plan, however, has hardly changed.

But I'm used to submissions being ignored, including the 30-odd generated by the Kings Cross Times when this travesty was proposed -- go have a look, councillors -- you'll find each one objects to the awning cutbacks, the uniform signage and the grey granite. All ignored.

I then organised a public meeting in this room -- ask Roy Bishop and Chris Harris about it, they were here among the nearly 300-strong crowd. The community voted for a more villagey European style paver, not the ubiquitous granite. Not only was this clear expression of community will ignored, but I heard Robert Domm assure Clover Moore at the recent meeting in Springfield avenue that the community had spoken in favour of the grey granite. Not true, Robert.

Now I hear Mr Domm has already moved to fix all the problems by engaging HR consultants to conduct a 5-year 'professional development' program to 'improve efficiency' and including a 'customer service' review to improve their 'interface with the public'.

So we can all relax -- it was all the junior staff's fault. Now we'll get 'Have a nice day' from the robots instead of 'Resistance is useless', as they 'interface with the public'.

And by the way, senior staff, we are not your customers, we are in fact the shareholders of your corporation, and you are supposed to be public servants who represents us, not corporate masters of the universe.

I have become such a such a vocal critic of these plans that middle management in council have now been told not to answer my emails. My emails have to be kicked upstairs and if there is an answer it eventually comes back in the smoothest of passive-voice – and says nothing.

Steve Carnell recently said to me, when I was asking for his help about the neon signage issue, 'Michael is just on about what Michael wants'.

However I know that the things I am saying are deeply felt in the community.

I can assure you I have nothing to gain from any of this, unlike the other influence-pedlars. I can simply see that the most eccentric, interesting and diverse community in Sydney is being squelched by the big money, aided and abetted by a council staff dedicated to carrying out the will of Frank Sartor and sabotaging the democratic mandate of this elected council.

So what do we do about this distinct pattern of squelching? Here are four actions that would help.

1. As it is clear the culture of senior council staff is actively anti-democratic, it needs to be changed. And as culture is steered by senior management, and it obviously won't change, I urge this meeting to call for General Manager Mr Robert Domm to resign...

2. Kings Cross needs real help now, not more excuses. I propose that Council set up an interim committee on Kings Cross, reporting to the Lord Mayor, to immediately find ways to relieve the opression of parts of this local community and to come up with a sensible strategy for the future of Kings Cross.

3. We are sick and tired of time-consuming submissions being ignored by Council. I ask that submissions received from the public about council projects are assessed and reported on by an independent body and not by the very same people that came up with the plan.

4. At present council liaises with, pays money to and listens to The Kings Cross Partnership even as other sections of the residential and business community are ignored. I move the immediate election of a three-person precinct committee to represent our community interests and to liaise with Council's Interim Kings Cross committee.


Anonymous said...

One of the signs of leadership is to control the administration of government. Bureaucrats can provide the ultimate success or failures of government policy.

An experienced politician would know and understand this, It therefore comes as no surprise that the Lord Mayor a long serving politician has no experience in any form of administration be it in the private sector or in government She has so far failed to rein in her bureaucrats.

As an observer of government for so long she would have seen many times that the bureaucracy runs its own agenda and does as it wants if the boss is weak. It therefore is incumbent upon an incoming administration to show who is in charge.

Clover Moore is weak and her bureaucracy knows this. It will do as it wants. Councillor Black has found this out as well. His exasperation at the running of the city council was an absolute eye opener.

Ms Moore may have a vision. Without leadership she will fall on her sword.

The other problem with the Lord Mayor is that she is pre occupied with PR. You only have to read the community releases she is putting out. Her signature CLOVER becomes larger and larger as according to many so does her ego.

One newspaper said that after a few weeks in office that the honeymoon is over. As one Kings Cross businessman stated that it was not so much a honeymoon as a dirty weekend. I think he may have been right.

Stephen said...

Michael Gormley has misquoted me, spelt my name incorrectly and got the facts wrong about the Kings Cross Partnership's activities. I hope he has been more careful with the other information contained in this editorial. Stephen Carnell

The Editor said...

Hi Stephen -- Sorry about your name -- I thought 'Steve' was a reasonable diminiutive of 'Stephen'. If I have got the facts wrong, feel free to straighten the record. I suspect my errors will be ones of minor detail rather than substance.

If you email me some material I'll publish it as a post, as previously.

I have little argument with the KXP's activities -- as you know I actively endorse many of them (room for everybody etc) and both of us are working towards the revitalisation of the Cross, so our aims differ only in emphasis.

My gripe is that only one section of the community is listened to and not the others. And you have to admit that I for one have approached you for help on behalf of small businesses on a few occasions without success. Also the council money your group receives comes from the whole ratepayer base, so it is a matter of public interest in whose interests it is spent.

PS My surname is actually spelt with no 'e'.

Anonymous said...

The problem appears that you cannot be both a Lord Mayor and the State Member of Parliament.

Look how many trees Clover has to go around and inspect as Lord Mayor. Would our local MP have to do this?

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Seems that the bureauocracy in Town Hall does not listen to her.
Hmm. Seems that the Parliament does not listen to her either.

The Editor said...

I have received some very interesting information and views since Monday night's meeting. One source from inside Town Hall says that Robert Domm in this case is not sabotaging councillor's wishes -- rather, that Clover is right behind the Kings Cross upgrade works and it is all happening with her blessing. This would explain her sense of insult when I asked for Mr Domm's resignation. And Clover always endorsed the works during Lucy Turnbull's reign.

Another source says there is a cabal of old-school hardhead council bureaucrats who meet once a week in a certain pub after work. That group effectively decides council's agenda. If you are in with that group you are blessed. If not you are in coventry. The source said there was a party political connection among the group.

Both of these sources made me swear to keep their identity secret. They seemed very afraid of recriminations.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys, there's another English person about, :)
I'm a new on kingscrosstimes.blogspot.com
looking forward to speaking to you guys soon

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