Category: Uncategorized

Let’s Talk: Washington University

It’s time to make Washington University not just a part of our City, but a partner to our City. Wash U can do more for our community. We do have the leverage to make it happen. We just need the political will for change.

Wash U is our most important cultural and economic relationship. They bring up our property values and bring talented people into our neighborhoods. But they bring real costs, too.


We pay (almost) as much as their President makes

Wash U is a nonprofit. That means, much like a church, they pay no taxes on the property they buy. But unlike a church, they own 5.3% of the total property value of University City. By not paying taxes, Wash U takes $2 million away from our City and schools each year.

To put that number in context, our general fund is only $24 million. To really put that number in context, their President makes $2.3 million a year.

Wash U bought up Parkview Gardens. They revitalized an area in decline and lifted property values for everyone. But they also surrounded the Loop with student housing, which is often empty in the summer. Our local businesses depend on strong summer sales, and Wash U’s development plan is hurting their bottom line.

And the biggest costs don’t show up in a budget. When a family on my block moved out of their house, Wash U moved in. Now the property occupied by students, who won’t send kids to Flynn Park, or show up for a neighborhood block party. Wash U’s expansion is changing the character of our neighborhoods. We deserve a say in where and how it happens.


We can build a true partnership

Wash U can do more. It’s time for our representatives to stop throwing up their hands, and start rolling up their sleeves.

One proposal is to ask for Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). Other Universities negotiate PILOT programs with the municipalities they occupy to compensate for lost tax revenue. In the long-term, PILOT is an option worth exploring. But as a first step in negotiating with Wash U, it’s a bad idea. Asking for Wash U to pay money keeps our relationship stuck as a zero-sum game.

Wash U contributed more than $300,000 to help establish the Neighborhood Security Initiative in the Central West End. The initiative has put up almost a hundred security cameras and transformed public safety in the area. By contrast, their main annual contribution to U City is just $90,000 for a single police officer’s salary. 


We should point our relationship with Wash U toward the interests we share:

  1. Fighting Crime. Wash U’s students and professors live in our neighborhoods. Promoting public safety is in the University’s interests, too. In the Central West End, Wash U partnered with the community and contributed more than $300,000 to put up security cameras and fight crime. We can negotiate to make that happen here.
  2. Improving Schools. Wash U has incredible talent that has the potential to transform our education system. The problem is, their tutoring programs are decentralized and inconsistent. We can’t depend on the support year over year. Our City and School Board need to work together to bring Wash U to the table and get world-class resources for our school district.
  3. Jumpstarting Innovation. The empty storefronts on Olive should be the incubators of our City’s future. Wash U is investing heavily in building up its computer science program: they want to build places for their young entrepreneurs to set up businesses in our area, rather than leaving for the coasts. We should partner with them to direct that talent and investment to Olive.


Partnership means we have a seat at the table

Wash U plans on a decades-long time frame. They’ve already started designing new parking garages that will be backwards-convertible to mixed-use buildings for when self-driving cars come on the market. As your City Councilmember, I will negotiate for a true partnership where your concerns are incorporated into their long-term plans.

I will work to get open access to a decision-maker.

  • U City works with Wash U mostly through a Public Relations official.
  • By contrast, leaders in the Central West End have an open line of communication with Hank Webber, who directs Wash U’s development planning.
  • We need what they have: access to someone with actual decision-making authority, who can change Wash U’s plans and direct funds to our community.

I will push to establish a permanent resident committee. That way, we can vocalize the concerns of our community as they develop over time, and make sure they are heard by someone with the authority to take action to address them.


That’s one reason why I’m asking for your vote on November 8th! 

We can make this relationship grow in a way that works for everyone. I will bring new energy, new ideas, and new experience with 21st Century planning and development to help make your voice heard. It’s time for our City Council to start looking outward and forward.

Always a call away,
Luke Babich

Your questions about Gateway Ambulance

Earlier I published an analysis of our contract with Gateway Ambulance (…/lets-talk-gateway-ambulance-caf021ccff…). A lot of neighbors raised great questions and important additions. This post follows up to offer more depth on some of the topics I’ve heard many neighbors ask to learn more about.

My original analysis started from the question, “How did we know things were working *before* Gateway?” That question didn’t lead to the data, but to our Fire Chief, who has always personally heard almost every single emergency call on his radio. Our Fire Chief said that for now, Gateway has performed comparably to what we had before.

The biggest problems with our contract are long-term. One of the main reasons for outsourcing ambulance service was that our City was unable to collect on more than $1 million of unpaid ambulance bills. Ambulance service was losing the city money at a dangerous rate. When a private company collects less than they were expecting, they can only (1) cut service or (2) over-charge those who are able to pay. Our contract did not put in place effective mechanisms to detect these problems early and exit the contract if things start to go wrong. Also, we should have negotiated for less than a 5-year term, to have the flexibility to address problems moving forward.

We can point our political process toward solutions. We did need to reform our old ambulance system to improve public safety. However, outsourcing was not the only way to achieve that outcome, and above all we needed an inclusive discussion about the best way to make the reforms. Instead, we had one solution rushed through without citizen engagement. When things went wrong, our government did not respond. Our neighbors brought serious concerns about failures with Gateway. Just because a system is working on average, that does not mean that things do not go wrong. There should have been a thorough investigation to bring clarity, closure, and make sure public safety is protected better in future.

We also need a government that takes action. With the switch to Gateway, we lost our cooperative EMS agreements with nearby cities. But with negotiation, we can still re-establish them.


Here are answers to some of the questions raised about the last post. This does not address every aspect of this complicated issue, but offers short summaries and policy ideas for neighbors interested in engaging more. Please reach out if you’d like to talk further!

What does U City’s data show?

U City’s data show that Gateway is faster. To be clear: Gateway does not drive faster, but its drivers can wait for calls behind the wheel of the ambulance instead of in a fire station, allowing them to start driving sooner. Read more:…/learn-more-u-citys-ambulance-data-fa6b…

How do the qualifications of Gateway medics compare to our firefighters? Gateway’s medics pass the same state certification exams that our firefighters do. However, that does not mean Gateway medics are using that training with the professionalism our residents deserve on-scene. We should establish a system to follow-up with residents who use ambulance service, and study the quality of care they receive. Read more:

Was fatigue really a problem for our ambulance drivers? Yes. Before our contract with Gateway, U City ambulance drivers were working 48-hour shifts. That is standard for firefighters, but there are many more ambulance calls than fires. The data shows—and our Fire Chief confirms—that the 48-hour shifts were exhausting for our ambulance drivers. Changing to 12-hour shifts was an important improvement to public safety. Read more:

Where did this data come from? This data has been publicly available for a while. The response times were sunshined and published on Nextdoor months ago. The only new piece of data here was the geographic data of where calls were coming in from, used to create a map of U City ambulance calls. Several residents asked to learn more about the team involved in the work, you can read bios here:

Finally, read here to learn why Gateway’s data is different from U City’s, and what we can do to get reliable data:…/learn-more-why-are-gateways-and-u-city…

City Manager Performance Evaluation: a way to move forward

At the last Council meeting, our City Council split 3-3 on a vote on whether or not to evaluate the City Manager. Everyone agreed that an evaluation is long overdue, but even that consensus did not translate into action.

The evaluation needs to move forward.

City Council has not established a form for performance review. For the last three years, our Councilmembers have not reached consensus on what criteria the City Manager should even be judged against. On Monday night, they split over whether it was fair to use the form from three years ago to evaluate him. Council did agreed to hold a study session to establish a new form, but only further pushed off the actual process of review.

We need to get this done. Council could have reached a compromise. In the short-term, rather than further push off the conversation, they could have agreed to use a third-party template for City Manager evaluation. Relying on a neutral standard, our City Council could have made progress on fulfilling one of its most important responsibilities: giving feedback to its main employee.

The University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service provides a tool for City Manager Performance Evaluation that is “intentionally generic,” designed to apply to as broad a range of cases as possible:

Here is another provided by the League of California Cities:

Gateway Ambulance: See the Data

The graphs below show Gateway’s reporting on its response times. There is a lot we can learn from it, and potentially many ways it can be used to improve service.

The data and analysis both suggest that response times are very fast under Gateway. That does not necessarily mean that the contract was well-negotiated. Please read my accompanying report to learn more:

There is still a lot we need to discuss about how to manage Gateway’s reporting to U. City to make sure we are getting the clarity and reliability our city needs. Come to one of my events (click to see the calendar) to talk more and share your thoughts! I am here to listen.

Key Conclusions

  • Mapping emergency calls can help us choose the best places to position our ambulances.
  • Visualizing average ambulance calls over the course of a day shows that we did need to reform our ambulance system to give drivers time to rest.
  • The Gateway case showed that we urgently need to modernize our government. I have interned in U. City Hall, and have seen that our staff are not being equipped with the technical tools and training they need to help provide true transparency. The result was an embarrassment for our city when City Hall was unable to meet citizen requests for data.
  • We need a system for residents to raise complaints, find more information, and get clarity when calls take too long.


Number of Calls (blue) and Ambulance Response Time (orange) over the course of a day.

Click here to see an interactive version:

Here we can see at each time of day, how many calls are made and how quickly our ambulances respond. The red line shows the 4.5 minute response time required in our contract with Gateway. Most calls are made between 9am and 9pm, but we can see that calls are coming in around the clock. This is partly why the fatigue factor is so important: previously, our firefighters had to drive the ambulances on 48-hour shifts, responding to calls constantly without the chance for adequate rest.

Number of Calls (blue) and Ambulance Response Time (orange) each month.

Click here to see an interactive version:

Here we can see each month how many ambulance calls were made, and how quickly our ambulances responded. In future, we can use this data to learn whether snowfall or increased traffic in summer months impact ambulance speed, and improve our ambulance system.

Every dot represents a call: we can see that while average times are very fast, there are many slower outliers. We should establish mechanisms to get more information on these cases, identify problem areas, and improve service.

Map of Ambulance Call Locations.

Every dot represents an ambulance call. The color of the dot represents how quickly our ambulances responded. Under the original Gateway contract, our ambulances were positioned with one at Ruth Park Golf Course and one in the Loop (as shown by the blue dots on the graph). When the first ambulance received a call, the second would start driving to Heman Park to be in a more central location. That flexibility was a reform we needed. Gateway can now relocate the ambulances as needed to improve response times. But there were many ways to achieve it, the contract with Gateway was not the only one, and our citizens needed to be involved to make sure that our solution reflected citizen values. Click here to learn more.

Campaign Launch Letter

Dear friend,

I hope you’re well! I’m Luke Babich. I’m twenty-two years old, I’m your neighbor over on Washington Avenue, and I’m running to be your U. City Councilmember.

We know what matters: safety, transparency, and a strategy for the future of our city. Achieving these goals is complicated, but coming together to discuss them as a community doesn’t have to be. It should be simple, because these issues affect all of us.

University City is my home. It’s been my home since my parents moved here when I was three months old. It’s been my community through thirteen years in our public schools and four years at Stanford University, where my U. City baseball cap never left my side and my U. City pride never left my heart.

But today, the voices of my community are being swallowed up by the static sound of factionalism. It’s a sound devoid of signal, a mess devoid of message. And trapped in it, the issues that truly affect our lives are being treated as pieces on a game board.

Politics is not a game. It’s not a war, either. It’s a conversation. And as your Ward 1 City Councilmember, I will make U. City politics a conversation that everyone can take part in. In my campaign, I am talking to everyone to understand the issues that affect our city, building on the ideas and guidance of community members, policymakers, and administrators.

I will champion the forward-looking agenda our city needs.

Our government urgently needs to modernize its use of data. We need a government that knows how to keep our 110-year community safe in the 21st Century. That starts with emergency medical services. When our government committed us to a 5-year contract with a private ambulance provider, Gateway Ambulance, they were relying on data to tell whether or not the company was providing reliable care. But City Hall does not have the capacity to effectively analyze Gateway’s data. It lacked the experience needed to negotiate the terms of data-driven oversight. Our police officers deserve to have the best tools and training to leverage new technologies that can help keep our communities safe.

I will campaign for transparency and equity in city hall. We need to revisit the outdated clauses in our charter that prevent our elected representatives from communicating with our city administrators. We need to build closer collaboration between our government and schools. Above all, we need to put an end to the politics of exclusion — in all of its forms. Our city just isn’t that big: it’s time for us to start talking and planning like neighbors again.

I will campaign for the creation of a holistic, long-term plan for developing our partnership with Washington University. That partnership brings benefit to both sides, but it’s the responsibility of our government to evaluate those benefits, and compare them to the agreements reached in other communities, and make sure our citizens are getting a fair deal. Up to this day, our government still does not have a comprehensive, long-term plan for managing this important relationship in a way that puts the people of University City first.

I am running because I believe good policy can bring people together. I fell in love with politics serving this community as the University City High School Student President. That passion took me to Stanford University, where I studied political science. It took me to internships in our Department of Community Development and the office of Senator Roy Blunt in Washington, D.C. It took me to a research position in partnership with the City of San Jose, studying zoning and affordable housing. That passion took me all the way to China, where I learned to speak fluent Mandarin to be a bridge. Finally, it’s brought me home. Because above all, I love University City.

I’m Luke Babich. I’m 22 years old. I still believe that politics is about compromise, conversation, and courage. I believe that if we stand together, if you join me in the streets to knock on doors, if you join my campaign to host a discussion in your home, if you help me raise funds to make our message heard — we can do anything.

I’m your candidate for University City Council. Let’s Talk!

Luke Babich

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