The Nicastro Proposal

This week's Five to Four, appropriately enough, is about the five-vote city council majority from which this column takes its stately name.

On Monday, November 5, in a complete shocker, the council voted five to three (close enough), with Jim Compton absent, to pass an amendment sponsored by Council Member Judy Nicastro that encourages developers to build low- income housing. This Cinderella amendment hadn't even made it out of committee a week earlier. In fact, heading into Monday's full council session, Nicastro thought she only had comrade Nick Licata's support.

Nicastro was trying to amend an ordinance that had been proposed by the Chamber of Commerce. The chamber ordinance allowed residential developers to save dough by relying on existing off-site parking instead of having to build new, expensive parking lots for new buildings. Nicastro's amendment required developers to devote 20 percent of housing to low-income residents (people earning 50 percent of the median income) in order to get the break on construction expenses.

"I was convinced it wasn't going to pass," Nicastro says. "I just wanted to bring it to a vote, [and] force people to go on record about affordable housing."

However, Heidi Wills, along with Richard McIver (!) and Council President Margaret Pageler (!?!), joined Licata to support the Nicastro amendment after she argued that it was time to stop granting sweet deals to developers without seeing some public benefits.

"I was shocked. I thought they didn't realize what they were voting for," Nicastro says. "But [Pageler] did a hand count, and my God, we were all for it."

Well, not all. Council Members Jan Drago (responsible for killing the amendment in the aforementioned committee meeting), along with Richard Conlin and supposed housing advocate Peter Steinbrueck, voted nay.

After the vote, in a rare moment among the council's disorganized progressive contingent, Licata went into Nicastro's office and gave her a high five.

Nicastro passed a similar but more dramatic ordinance last year for the Pike/Pine corridor. It waived parking- construction requirements for developers if they agreed to set aside a whopping 40 percent of units for people making 60 percent of the median income. However, the deal hasn't enticed a single developer. That failure convinced Nicastro to go for the more politic 20 percent measure city-wide. "Some low-income units are better than none," Nicastro says. Apparently, "some" low-income units are too many for outgoing mayor Paul Schell. As we went to press, Schell was threatening to veto the ordinance because of Nicastro's handiwork. This means she now has to find a magic sixth vote to override.