Church of the Highlands moves fence blocking Irondale hiking trail by itspapyrus in Birmingham

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From the Lede:

Church of the Highlands moves fence blocking Irondale hiking trail, hiker says new fence is an ‘eyesore’

By Heather Gann

Birmingham’s Church of the Highlands has removed a 6-foot-tall chain link fence from where it was previously blocking a popular hiking trail on Grants Mill Road in Irondale.

But one trail visitor says the fence has merely been relocated. While it no longer blocks the trail, outdoor enthusiast Ginny Brown says a new fence still affects visitors and wildlife.

The church removed the trail-blocking fence earlier this month after they were able to come to an “amicable” resolution with local nonprofit the Fresh Water Land Trust, said the trust’s Executive Director Rusha Smith.

Part of the trail that was blocked by the fencing ran across land owned by the nonprofit, and Smith told the Lede last month that Fresh Water Land Trust would be working with Church of the Highlands to find a solution.

“I am confident that we will be able to come up, in short order, with some kind of resolution that will be satisfactory to everyone involved. Including Freshwater Land Trust, the Church of the Highlands, and trail users,” Smith previously told the Lede.

While hikers have been granted access to the trail again, Brown, who has helped maintain the trail for the last six years, says the fence’s new location, which runs parallel to the trail from about 50 ft. away according to her, remains an eyesore.

“They left the section that was on the mountainside that ran vertically up to their new building and made a right angle on it and ran it parallel to the trail,” said Brown, “They ran it quite some distance [roughly a quarter of a mile, Brown said] and then it stops abruptly at a retention pond.”

“This fall, when the leaves are off, it’s going to look awful. And that’s going to be their [Church of the Highland’s] monument.”

Despite some lasting impacts to the trail, people were eager to return over the last couple of weeks, especially for the Memorial holiday weekend, Brown said.

“People are back on the trail, of course there’s a bit of a mess there where their ATVs came and churned up the trail,” she said. “Hopefully it will heal itself… But it’s a better situation.”

When Brown first took to Facebook to post about the original fence, Birmingham hikers and nature enthusiasts expressed anger over loss of access to the trail. Hundreds of people reacted to a Reddit post featured on the r/Birmingham page which showed a screenshots of Brown’s now deleted Facebook post complaining about the blockage with photos of the fence.

Brown said she made the decision to remove the post due to commenters losing focus on what she said was really important, the trail.

While two-legged forest visitors have benefitted from the fence’s relocation, Brown said woodland animals will still have to figure out a new way to navigate the area.

“So, the wildlife are still trapped in there,” she said. “I guess they’ll figure out a way to go all the way around it and come out at the retention pond.”

This reconfiguration in travel patterns could have drastic impacts on the local wildlife according to local environmental scientist Janna Owens.

“…You have animals that you think can get over that but what about rabbits?” Owens said previously. “Or what about if you have owls and so forth that live off a certain diet, but that animal tends to live on the other side of the fence? But then the food that that animal eats they can’t get to because, oops, it’s on the other side of the fence from where they are.

“It causes a schism, I guess you could say.”

Representatives for Church of the Highlands did not respond to requests for comment.

‘Historic’ tax cut on groceries approved by Alabama Legislature by Surge00001 in Alabama

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Some frequently asked questions about the grocery tax cut from our follow-up story here and a few of the most pressing below:

When does the tax cut take effect?

The 4 percent sales tax rate on groceries in Alabama will go down to 3 percent on September 1.

Does that mean if my city’s overall sales tax rate 10%, my grocery bill’s new tax rate will be 9%?

Yes. The full sales tax rates for cities and counties and special taxing districts remain and are not cut as part of this legislation.

In Mobile and Montgomery, the overall sales tax rate is 10%. With the cut, the overall sales tax rate on your grocery bill in those two cities will be 9%.

Dothan, Auburn and Huntsville all have overall sales tax rates at 9%. The cut will reduce the rate on grocery purchases to 8%.

Sales tax rates differ from city to city. To find out your city’s overall sales tax rate, visit the Alabama Department of Revenue’s website: https://www.revenue.alabama.gov/sales-use/tax-rates/

Will I get a rebate on groceries I purchase between now and September 1?

No. The law will not take effect until Gov. Kay Ivey signs the legislation. Once she does, the tax cut will not begin until September 1.

So now instead of 10% sales tax, I’ll pay 8%?

Maybe. The second 1 percentage point of the sales tax cut could take effect on September 1, 2024. But that cut depends on the health of the economy, and whether the revenues in the state’s Education Trust Fund have grown by 3-1/2% over the previous fiscal year.

How much will a typical family save in groceries?

According to Alabama Arise, the typical Alabama family will save $150 per year in groceries under the 1 percentage point reduction in the sales tax. Under the full 2 percentage point decrease, the savings goes up to an estimate $300 per year, or $25 per month.

Is there a website where I can go to calculate my savings?

Not at this time.

More questions answered, such as what is covered by the tax cut, and what is not covered, at the link.

Close loopholes on predatory towing, Birmingham City Council member urges by itspapyrus in Birmingham

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Below is excerpted subscriber content, from the Lede. Subscribe to read more, including Darrell O'Quinn's thoughts on the Northern Beltline, the Regional Planning Commission’s 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, enhancing mobility and public transportation and the unique challenges in District 5.

Close loopholes on predatory towing, Birmingham City Council member urges By Heather Gann | hgann@al.com

Birmingham District 5 City Councilor Darrell O’ Quinn has been passionate about resolving ongoing towing issues downtown since he first took office in 2017 and is eager for the chance to resolve this issue for local drivers, he says.

As chair of the city’s transportation committee, O’ Quinn said he looks forward to hearing from those impacted by towing at a public hearing scheduled for June 7 at the Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham from 6 p.m.-7 p.m.

Speakers can sign up between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to speak for three minutes or less and will be asked to share their experiences following a presentation from the Office of the City Attorney explaining the city’s existing towing ordinance and detailing what changes are being considered, O’ Quinn said.

“This will not involve discussion about individual business entities,” he added.

Beyond resolving towing issues, O’ Quinn said his future plans for Birmingham also include increased focus on rail infrastructure and pedestrian mobility in the city.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

So, with a public hearing now on the horizon to address predatory towing in the city, what do you see in the future for Birmingham’s towing ordinance and downtown drivers?

I don’t know the venue or the exact time [for the hearing] but that’ll be determined, it will more than likely be in the evening. But June 7, is the date we’re discussing internally for sure.

A lot of the individual case reports and complaints that I have reviewed really kind of boil down to folks making some minor mistake in parking. One of the biggest issues has been that people park in a lot, they actually use the ParkMobile app to attempt to pay for their parking, but they haven’t updated their license plate number in in their profile.

And so, from the towing company’s side, the towing company is contracted with the property owner to do enforcement on the property. So, the towing company sees a vehicle and that license plate is not showing as having paid from their side. So, that’s something that will be addressed.

And actually, the city of Birmingham has already been in communication with ParkMobile to add warnings in the app to make sure that people are aware that they need to make sure that the license plate number and vehicle profile that they’re using is the correct one. So, I’m hoping that even before we do any changes to the ordinances, at least a portion of this will be addressed.

That being said, I think at least one of the towing companies that has been involved in a majority of the complaints just has no interest in doing anything remotely resembling good customer service. And I know that from talking with the mayor and my colleagues on the council that there’s a desire to want to address that situation in particular. There’s a lot of attention being given to it.

And I feel confident that between addressing the individual towing companies, in this case, that should be singular towing company, and sort of closing some of the loopholes in the ordinances that these folks may be taking advantage of that there will definitely be improvement and folks experience.

I’ve had a lot of people reaching out to me for updates from the city on the hearing date and etc. so I’m sure they’ll be happy to hear that there is so much attention on the issue now.

We definitely want to hear from folks. I mean, one of the most important things for me in advocating for us to do this public hearing is I feel like the public has felt like we’ve just sort of ignored it for a long time. And I can’t say that they are entirely wrong in that respect.

I could go into detail as to why I haven’t taken a leadership position on this issue up to this point, but I can tell you that it’s been a concern for me since day one of coming into office. And that I’ve seen some things that I felt were inherently problematic in our ordinances. But I wasn’t in a position to be the point person on addressing them.

In any case, that’s behind us now. And we very much are paying attention now. Everyone on the city council and in the mayor’s office is very attuned to this issue and focused on making some improvements. So, that being said, I felt it was important for us to have this public input meeting. Just to communicate that, hey, we hear you and we care about what’s happening. And if nothing else, we want you to know that we’re listening and trying to do something about it.

The Birmingham Parking Authority (BPA) said they were also invested in finding a solution to predatory towing when they recently announced their strategic parking plan that will hopefully be completed early next year. How closely are you working with them on the plan as a whole and what are your main priorities as planning moves forward?

Yeah, the parking authority has been a years long project for me already. Before Andre Davis becoming Executive Director, I felt that the parking authority really wasn’t engaged in being a partner to the city of Birmingham in terms of tracking new businesses or facilitating businesses relocating to the city center. Or you know, retaining businesses in the city center.

So, I was very active in advocating for a change in leadership and have been very active in facilitating new leadership on the board of directors in particular.

So that to me, has been the big, biggest change. It’s getting good leadership in position at the BPA to now do something like a strategic plan to help guide that agency in being an economic development partner to the city of Birmingham. And helping to bring some coherence to a system that’s pretty chopped up and just dysfunctional from a perspective of private parking, public facilities that are operated and maintained by the BPA, and on street parking that’s operated and maintained by the city of Birmingham.

So, I’m hoping that this strategic plan will not only be a game changer for the parking authority itself, in terms of it functioning better, in a way that I think it was intended to when it was formed but also bringing improvements to parking as a whole. Especially across the city center core where there’s more need for there to be some sort of system that helps the parking sort of all function together as one system.

Beyond parking and towing, what are your goals for District 5 and the city as a whole during your time in office?

I’d say that many of my goals aren’t restricted to District 5. Like most folks, I feel very strongly about the importance of public safety. In my eyes, it’s one of the most important functions of government. So, supporting our police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, and public works employees is very important to me. Making sure that they have the tools they need to do the job is very important. Working to make sure that the job is not more than they can reasonably handle is very important.

I am also very focused on improving mobility and the infrastructure used for various forms of transportation: streets and sidewalks, public transportation, roads and bridges, railroads and ports. Much of our public commons is occupied by our transportation infrastructure. Mobility and transportation impacts access to opportunity and economic development. It’s how we connect to our city and how our city physically connects to everywhere else.

Housing and shelter have also become important goals for me during my tenure. I’m excited about the possibilities offered by the Home For All program that the Department of Community Development is leading. I’m also very excited about the transformative potential of securing a HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] Choice Neighborhood implementation grant for Smithfield.

Subscribe to read more from this interview.

White supremacist group Patriot Front hacked Alabama road sign in nationwide effort to ‘harass and intimidate’: SPLC by reportbywilson in radicalreports

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Article text, from our site:

White supremacist group Patriot Front hacked Alabama road sign in nationwide effort to ‘harass and intimidate’: SPLC

Patriot Front is responsible for over 80% of white supremacist propaganda distributed since 2019, by distributing banners, fliers, posters, and stickers. They are known for participating in alarming masked “flash demonstrations” across the nation.

The neo-Nazi extremist group also has a knack for reprogramming digital street signs, and their latest target was in Alabama on Monday.

The messages were captured by motorists along Interstate 65 near Clanton and posted on social media, with the words “Patriot Front” and “Reclaim America.”

The Reclaim America phrase is one of the group’s rallying calls and highlights their hopes of preserving the cultural and ethnic origins of their white ancestors.

“They’re definitely trying to harass and intimidate with the signage to the targeted groups,” said Jeff Tischauser, senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.

“So, something like ‘Reclaim America,’ that’s their slogan. They think America has been stolen from them. They think that American, European roots have been stolen and needs to be reclaimed. This is how far they have gone.”

He added, “They think that Jewish people, Black and brown folks, LGBTQ communities, women, Muslims, they target a lot of different groups. But with this Reclaim America, it’s really a broad message that suggests they need to take back power from their perceived enemies.”

Vandalizing billboards is a strategy Patriot Front has used before, according to those who track the group.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League has tracked similar incidents in Texas, Washington, California, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.

Thus far, there have been no known arrests nor any repercussions against Patriot Front or their members in altering road signs, according to Morgan Lynn Moon, investigative researcher with the Center on Extremism with the Anti-Defamation League.

“When people are reprogramming these street signs, they are concealing their faces and are wearing hats and sunglasses,” Moon said. “It’s difficult to identify them when they are reprogramming these signs. With the Alabama sign, I hope that is no longer the case.”

Investigation continues

The I-65 hack was publicized on Twitter, after a motorist identified the messaging from the white supremacist group.

The messaging is drawing some sharp rebukes on Tuesday.

“We condemn this devious attempt to promote hate on our nation’s highways and urge Americans to stand together in repudiation of all bigoted ideologies,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

John McWiliams, spokesman with the Alabama Department of Transportation’s West Center Region, said Tuesday the digital board is managed by a private contractor on site, Birmingham-based Dunn Construction Co.

He said while the state is “still gathering specifics on this portable message board’s capabilities, typically these message boards are programmed at the boards themselves, although some do have remote capabilities.”

McWilliams said that ALDOT is looking into how to “better prevent incidents like this in the future.”

Dunn Construction, in a statement to AL.com, said the messaging signs are provided by a subcontractor, and are intended to share safety and travel information while assisting motorists as they travel safely through construction zones.

“We are aware that this kind of tampering has been occurring nationwide, and we are taking steps to help prevent situations like this. There is no place for messages of hate on these traffic zone signs. We are working with the Alabama Department of Transportation and the subcontractor who provides and oversees these signs to look into the situation.”

Moon, who shared a screenshot image of a similar road sign message in Oklahoma, said Patriot Front is “not hiding what they are doing” and will show their actions in altering road signs on their Telegram channel.

Easy to hack

Electronic road signs, in general, have become targets by vandals in recent years. The result is often an absurd viewpoint into whatever the hacker wants to say. The most popular road hack sign is a simple warning about zombies ahead.

Marcus Sachs, deputy director of research with the McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security at Auburn University, said the road signs are easy targets for hackers.

Signs are often altered physically, or remotely over the internet through easy-to-remember passwords often shared online.

“It’s often too easy to do this,” he said. “You don’t have to be a world-class hacker from Russia or anywhere. It’s unfortunate but a lot of times, these companies don’t see themselves as targets or the harm that is involved. So, these machines and devices are left unsecured, sitting on the side of a road, 24/7. Breaking into them is not hard.”

Sachs said that by now, construction companies should be aware that their signs could be vandalized and hacked.

“They should do everything in their power to keep them from being tampered with,” he said.

Moon said that Patriot Front will post online about the signs they have reprogrammed in the past.

“They are not hiding what they are doing,” she said.

Recruitment efforts

The hacking of the I-65 sign is extra worrisome, some say, because of Patriot Front’s reputation as a hate group and the organization’s connection to the tragic 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Patriot Front is an offshoot of Vanguard American (VA), which gained national attention after the rally in Charlottesville after a white supremacist and member, James Alex Fields, Jr., drove his car into a crowd of protestors. Killed was activist Heather Heyer.

According to the SPLC, 18 days after the rally, Patriot Front leader Thomas Rousseau broke with VA and formed his new group.

Moon said that Patriot Front is divided into several regional “networks,” each run by a “regional director,” who organizers regional meetings, handles new recruits and keeps Rousseau informed on the network’s actions and growth.

A leak of Patriot Front’s international communications, reported by Unicorn Riot last year and illustrating the group’s use of anti-Semitic language and racial slurs, also revealed a map of the group’s regions. Much of North and South Alabama and Georgia, and portions of south Tennessee, are included within the group’s Network 6.

It’s unclear if anyone from that network was responsible for the I-65 messaging.

“These regional cells are responsible for local level recruitment and ensuring their network reaches their activism quota and to place propaganda out there on a weekly basis or they are suspended from the group,” Moon said.

‘So much hatred’

Other areas of Alabama have been targeted by Patriot Front before. Graffiti was found on the Slossfield Community Center in Birmingham last fall which read, “Reclaim America Patriot Front.US,” according to a story from The Lede’s Heather Gann.

The venue was notable in its history, Gann noted in her piece, because the Slossfield building is a landmark, and carries a historical significance to Birmingham’s Black community. It was once used as a site to train Black physicians and nurses, according to the Birmingham Historical Society’s website.

“There is so much hatred in the darker corners of this group that they don’t necessarily want to broadcast to American because they know that it’s a losing message,” said Tischauser, with the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “Their real effort is trying to pretend or just show America that they are somewhat patriotic when, in reality, they’re worshipping slavery.”

He noted that the leaked chats revealed Patriot Front members worshipping the losers of war against the U.S, such as Nazi Germany and Confederate slaveholders. During demonstrations, they are known to fly the American flag upside down to convey their belief that the nation is in distress, and no longer represents them.

They also use what is commonly called the Betsy Ross flag, which features 13 alternating red and white stripes and 13 white stars – an early design of the U.S. flag.

“They might pretend that, ‘hey, we’re this patriotic group look at us, we’re flying the Betsy Ross flag, which is the flag that was popular in the Revolutionary War times,’” said Tischauser. “If you look not even deep, but take just a little bit of a poke inside, you’ll see it’s full of racists.”

The altering of a road sign in Alabama might be minor compared to what Patriot Front members have done elsewhere. Members of the group have destroyed dozens of murals, statues, and other public displays celebrating feminist icons, Black culture, LGBTQ pride or commemorate victims of racially targeted violence.

Group members also face legal issues from recent incidences, notably from about one years ago in Idaho after 31 masked members of Patriot Front were arrested inside a U-Haul on suspicion of conspiracy to riot during a “Pride in the Park” event. One of those arrested was Wesley Evan Van Horn of Lexington in Lauderdale County.

Rousseau was also arrested, and his case is pending for later this year.

Predatory towing in Birmingham is ‘bad for long term,’ investor says by aldotcom in Birmingham

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Speaking specifically about the account. It auto-crossposts articles that are posted on from our domain to our own profile page.

Predatory towing in Birmingham is ‘bad for long term,’ investor says by aldotcom in Birmingham

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It's our first post in a few years? And we commented with the entire paywalled the Lede story so you don't even have to click.

Predatory towing in Birmingham is ‘bad for long term,’ investor says by aldotcom in Birmingham

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This is subscriber content from the Lede.

By Heather Gann | [hgann@al.com](mailto:hgann@al.com)

Have you ever paid for timed parking and then your meeting ran a little longer than you anticipated? By the time you get out you realize you’ve gone over your allotted time but you hustle to your car in the hopes that you haven’t been towed yet.

Local investor Matt Lyons recently returned 15 minutes after he thought his parking time was up (it had actually been expired for about 30 minutes) to see that he had just missed a Parking Enforcement Systems (PES) truck towing his car out of a lot across from the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) on 1st Avenue South in Birmingham.

“I went to a meeting at the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama,” said Lyons. “The parking spots immediately in front of it were filled, but there was a parking lot across the street that had one of those ParkMobile signs.

“And so, I said, okay, well, that’s, that’s easy enough, I’ve used ParkMobile before. And I’ll just park in that lot. And so anyway, I parked in that lot. And I logged into the application and set myself up for three hours of parking. Thinking that it was supposed to end around noon. And, you know, went through the meeting.

“Part of this meeting involved traveling off site and looking at some buildings that that are being developed. So, we did that. And we got back a little bit late, I would say around, you know somewhere between 12:15, 12:30. And my car had been towed.“

And obviously, I didn’t know it at the time, I just saw, you know, that the lot itself was empty. I had been the only car in the parking lot. And I could see, you know, where is my car?“

So, my car has an app that allows me to see its location, and I could see it was nearby. And so, I got into a car with one of the folks there and we basically chased after my car and ended up at the [PES] lot.”

When Lyons arrived at the PES lot, he said he was told by the employee there that they use an online form with a list of license plate numbers that are verified to park in whichever lot they are checking at the time.

If a license plate is not included on the list, the car is towed. So, PES employees don’t know if a car has gone over their parking time or if they have parked somewhere without paying at all, Lyons said.

“That seems a little ridiculous,” said Lyons. “If the city’s going to convert to this ParkMobile app it seems like they should be able to, before they tow someone, see if that person paid for parking, and if it just expired.

“It seems a little harsh that the penalty for being five minutes late back to your car is that it gets towed.

”While Lyons did acknowledge that he had gone over his time, he raised concerns about how quickly PES officers were able to tow his car after his time was up since he said he was told that his car had been towed at noon, 13 minutes after his ticket expired.“For all I know, they do have some ability to see [when people’s time runs out],” said Lyons.

“And they saw my car sitting there and said ‘Hey, I can wait until noon, when this guy’s parking expires, and I’m going to, you know, be there right at noon, so I can grab this car.’ I have no idea how they operate.”$160 later Lyons had his car back but was worried about possible damage since all of the lights on his dashboard were on.

“Of course, you know, every warning light in my car was on,” he said. “It basically said, ‘dangerous don’t drive.’”

“And the guy just assured me, well, that’s normal for BMWs. Just drive around the block and your warning lights will go out. And they did.

“And, you know, it’s not like the guy at the lot was rude or anything like that. But there was no doubt that he was not going to let me have my car until I paid the money. [He] Really didn’t care about the fact that I had, you know, in my mind paid for parking.”

While the fee to get his car back wasn’t a major financial burden for Lyons, he said, it could be for others. Fear of these fees or the possibility of getting towed in itself could keep both visitors and investors out of the downtown area, Lyons said, and used himself as one example.

“It definitely makes me less willing to go downtown, because I feel like these folks are predatory,” he said.

“…I was down there visiting the EDPA and the goal there is to get people to move downtown and get businesses here. And, you know, this runs entirely counter to what we’re spending tons of money to try and do.

“I think one bad experience like this, and people don’t want to come downtown then. That’s not good for the long term.”

PES has been a longtime source of public complaints about predatory towing practices in downtown Birmingham for at least ten years according to legal records from the Alabama court system database Alacourt.

Following a series of driver complaints starting in late 2022 and carrying into this year, representatives for the City of Birmingham say they have been looking through the city’s towing ordinance over the last month in an attempt to find a solution.

Last week Andre Davis, Executive Director and CEO of the Birmingham Parking Authority, said they were also looking for a solution in partnership with the city as part of their upcoming strategic parking plan.

In the meantime, drivers can expect a public hearing to be scheduled in the next few weeks where they can come and air their towing concerns, according to a previous statement from Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O’ Quinn.

Birmingham City Council updated the towing ordinance once before, in 2013, to limit towing fees to $160 or less as the Lede previously reported. This came after complaints about PES charging owners nearly $300 to retrieve cars that had been towed from within Birmingham city limits according to a story from former AL.com reporter Conner Sheets.

Representatives for PES did not respond to requests for comment.