ON THE AVENUES: Taco Bell has as much to do with “local business” as Jeff Gahan does with “quality urban design principles.”


ON THE AVENUES: Taco Bell has as much to do with “local” business as Jeff Gahan does with “quality urban design principles.”

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Serendipity is the chief motivating factor behind all of human existence, and this fact might explain how I happened upon a film clip from a television series I never once watched.

Last week on Facebook, the proud owner of the newly plasticized Taco Bell perched precariously in a bulldozed flat spot halfway up a hillside that used to be delightfully wooded – just below the barren strip mine tableau up on top, which might yet boast a Rio-sized statue of Dear Leader grinning vacantly and C-student-like, hovering over us all – praised loyal New Albanians for supporting his “local business.”

Jeeebus, here we go again. Does anyone around here read? If you’re baffled by the onslaught of “fake news,” then look no further than the bathroom mirror, which reveals a human being desperately seeking self-delusion.

When the Gordita-bearer was lightly questioned, predictably vapid bilge came spilling out: it’s not a chain at all, because it’s a franchise, and the franchise is locally owned because it’s not a chain, and therefore, this Taco Bell is no different from Aladdin or Lady Tron’s.

By the same token, the Ford Fusion that I inherited from my mother, manufactured in Sonora, Mexico, magically becomes a “local” New Albanian automobile because I drive and operate it locally.

Uh huh.


It’s all so very tiring. You substitute money for creativity, buying a fully developed restaurant built and programmed by others. You cannot change the menu on whim by substituting Frito Bandito Hot Browns for Roadkill Chalupas, but you’re quite happy to reap the benefits from national advertising and sponsorship campaigns of the sort almost never available to indie innovators.

Yes, it’s true that you must have enough money to buy the franchise and sufficient moxie to run it, but I’m guessing that bankers are far more cooperative with franchise financing than start-ups from scratch, and of course the entire point of franchising is to adjust the risk factor inherent to start-ups by applying the sheer weight of huge pervasiveness.

It’s ever harder to discuss matters like this without unleashing f-bombs. Franchisees like the strip mine Taco Bell mogul are almost as objectionable as those wealthy kids born on third base, convinced they hit a triple. It’s more like paying the umpire for a base on balls, trotting to first, and claiming to have been hit in the face by a pitch.

Note: Genuine independent local small business owners know exactly what being hit in the face by a pitch feels like; it’s how we learn, daily, without a safety net from a multinational, making it doubly ironic that one redevelopment commission appointee loudly cheering this cookie cutter Taco Bell is the legitimate long-term owner of a local independent business.

Such is the busyness of sycophancy.

There’s another big difference between franchise accumulators and indie entrepreneurs, in that neither Aladdin nor Lady Tron’s have been selected as winners in City Hall’s subsidized strip mine development lottery, unlike the operator of the sleek and utterly non-unique “local” Taco Bell.

Taco Bell’s winning ticket casually rides piggyback, wearing flip-flops, on the backs of the stubborn property development coagulators Pat and Pam Kelley, who have relentlessly pursued a lifelong goal of paving every last square inch of their holdings, whether knob or valley, with the closest distance between these two points invariably measured by enhanced storm water runoff, even when their kinky desire to build a shiny profit-making city shitty on a hill was contested by the Dear Leader – and it was, at least for a while.

Then Scott Wood got waterboarded and the city collapsed into a puddle of cowardly avarice when the unmistakable odor of opportunism became too alluring to ignore, with Jeff “Dollar Sign” Gahan dispatching David “Bag Man” Duggins to broker a deal, and overnight, as though New Albany were standing in for Orwell’s decrepit Oceania, City Hall no longer sought to enforce rationality in development, but instead grandiosely announced its “partnership” in purposeful irrationality.

From that moment, when taxpayers footed the bill for a spanking new mountain-engineered road to reach the very Summit of the Kelleys’ insatiable greed, the Kelley/Gahan Loot-A-Thon became an indirect subsidy for multi-national hotel and fast food chains.

In turn, this helping hand from the mayoral picker of winners has emboldened the Taco Bell owner to proclaim he’s a local independent businessman, which is propaganda so shameless in its deception that neither Paul Joseph Goebbels nor Sarah Huckabee Sanders have shown any interest in furthering it.

At least Goebbels has the good taste to be dead. Shall we discuss the many high-wage jobs being generated by the subsidies granted to Summit Springs?

No? I thought as mush – make that “much,” but not “munch,” at least at a Taco Bell … ever. Local, my ass.

Near the end of the Irish ballad Carrickfergus, the singer comes to an epiphany: “But I’ll sing no more now til I get a drink.”

That’s what I’m saying, and I’ll write just a bit more before shuffling off to the liquor cabinet. At Governing, there’s a cautionary tale about the convergence of excessive economic development subsidies and worsening inequality.

Early this year, construction began on a $130 million luxury high-rise apartment building in St. Louis’ burgeoning Central West End neighborhood. The development will dramatically alter the area’s skyline, but the city won’t be reaping much tax revenue from it anytime soon. Local officials approved a 95 percent property tax abatement that will be in place for a decade, as well as an exemption from sales taxes on the construction costs of the project.

These tax breaks coincide with steep spending reductions St. Louis made last year to bridge a budget shortfall. They are contributing to concerns that many neighborhoods and lower-income residents in the city aren’t benefiting from the tax breaks enacted to encourage projects like the luxury apartment complex.

Many other localities aren’t all that different from St. Louis. Early evidence from newly released financial data suggests that local governments most heavily reliant on tax incentives tend to be those with greater levels of economic inequality.

In New Albany, greater levels of economic inequality have become a favored, risk-free platform for Democratic candidates, and accordingly, the city’s heavily sapped tax increment financing (TIF) areas are displaying an increasingly sickly pallor.

And, speaking of shambles, subsidies and the impending Reisz City Hall historic preservation project, Paul Cooper (at BBC) offers a fascinating explanation of how dictators exploit ruins: “(Saddam Hussein) followed Mussolini’s lead in appropriating ancient ruins to tell a flattering story about his own authoritarian regime.”

For Saddam, the ruined city of Babylon had always held a special fascination. He ordered an ambitious reconstruction of the city’s walls, costing millions of dollars at the height of the Iran-Iraq War. And he raised the walls to a historically-improbable 11.5m (38ft) high, drawing criticism from the international archaeological community, who accused him of turning Babylon into ‘Disney for a despot’. As a finishing touch, Saddam built an anachronistic Roman-style theatre in the ruins. When archaeologists told him that ancient kings like Nebuchadnezzar had stamped their names on Babylon’s bricks, Saddam insisted that his own name be stamped on the modern bricks used in the reconstruction. These efforts were later described by Provisional Coalition Leader Paul Bremer, who was the envoy to the new Iraqi government following Saddam’s fall in 2003, as “a travesty… ersatz monstrosities”.

Our own tin pot Disney despot duly follows in these narcissistic footsteps. From Taco Bell on the bald knob to a promiscuous proliferation of anchors, spiced by incessant attacks on the poor, not to exclude gentrified alleys, full contact karaoke and the only municipal water park in the world with an offshore safe deposit box to keep the financials from prying eyes … a million bucks to desecrate a Native American site with a dog park, and coming soon, quadruple the functionary space for city hall so as to facilitate seceding from Floyd County and actually becoming the Veneer Salesman’s Republic of New Gahania — and, of course, the inevitable dogs playing poker.

Let’s celebrate government by the worst, least qualified and most unscrupulous citizens with a Burrito Kakistocratio (no, not castrato) from the plummeting depths of Taco Hell’s commanding vantage point around the corner from the butt ugly bison, below the strip mine, where the storm water roams and the campaign finance report is not cloudy all day.

I’ll have mine with a side of Incensed (Jim) Rice — light on the MSG, the HWC and the complete BS, please.

Recent columns:

There was no column on May 31.

May 24: ON THE AVENUES: Long live Keg Liquors Fest of Ale, an indisputable annual beer institution.

May 17: ON THE AVENUES: Ghosts within these stones, defiance in these bones.

May 10: ON THE AVENUES: Seeing is believing.

May 3: ON THE AVENUES: Sadly, the Kentucky Derby no longer is decadent and depraved. It’s just another vacuous capitalist bait ‘n’ switch.