Dear Decaturish – Why I am saying ‘yes’ to LaVista Hills
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I have been asked by friends and neighbors in the Briarcliff Woods community why I will be voting YES for the city of LaVista Hills on Nov 3. It is a straightforward decision for me. I believe that the new city will improve our community’s quality of life by addressing the erosion of services and security issues we currently face.
My family moved to this area almost 35 years ago because of the schools, location, and quality of life. We have been very happy with our choice. However, in recent years we have seen troubling changes to the services provided by DeKalb County:
– We have roads and sidewalks that have long needed repair or have been inadequately repaired. There are dangerous high-traffic areas that badly need sidewalks. School walk routes have newly installed electric crossing signs that don’t work, and some routes have hazardous sidewalks that are addressed by long-term placement of orange cones. Overgrown right-of-ways are obstructing traffic and drivers’ vision.
– We have increasing security concerns. My wife has served as a block captain for the Neighborhood Watch for a number of years. We have noted more and more Neighborhood Watch messages about burglaries, vehicles broken into, and children trailed by suspicious individuals. Several neighborhoods in our community have felt compelled to hire their own security guards. Despite these safety issues, this year the County reduced the millage rate for Police Services by 24 percent while it increased the millage rate for County Operations by 26 percent. This is a perplexing action when many areas across the County perceive that the DeKalb Police are overworked, understaffed, and underfunded.
– We have little support for development of our parks. We have attended several planning meetings with County parks personnel for a new neighborhood park on land that had been purchased by the County. During the planning sessions, we were told that the County had no funds for development of the park; any development would have to be funded by the community through grants or donations. Within days of the last meeting, the County announced a multimillion dollar agreement with Atlanta United that would support the development of a soccer complex behind the County Jail with County funds and tax incentives. Yet the continued message to our community is that there are no funds for park development.
– We see little evidence of smart planning and development or responsive zoning and enforcement. We have watched as nearby areas in the city of Brookhaven, such as the old Loehmann’s Plaza on North Druid Hills, have been remodeled and reinvigorated. In contrast, commercial areas in our community are declining. Whereas the revitalized Loehmann’s Plaza gets a Fresh Market, we get another gas station/convenience store where a grocery store once stood. The old shopping centers at Clairmont and Briarcliff now have bars and nightclubs that are making efforts to expand their hours of operations. The Northlake Mall area has declined. The Northlake business community is so concerned that they have joined a Community Improvement District and are seeking funds to implement a plan that would improve the infrastructure, security, and appearance of the area.
We must reverse the decline in services and address the security issues. It is also critical that we fix the corruption, waste, and inefficiency in the County government. However, I am not convinced that fixing these problems will address the core issue: as evidenced by all of the above actions or inactions, the needs of our community’s 67,000 residents are not a priority for the County’s government. I am not confident that our future tax dollars will be used to address our needs. The current government structure does not provide us effective representation or accountability to make these needs a priority. I am optimistic that a new city, with the primary functions of providing these services, would be more effective and efficient. The city leaders would live in our area and they would be accountable to us. I will vote YES on Nov. 3 because I believe that the city of LaVista Hills offers us the best chance to maintain and enhance the long-term quality of life in our community. This quality of life, in addition to the schools and location, will lead families to make this community their home, just as it did for us 35 years ago.
– Mitchell L. Cohen, M.D.