November 2007


I’ve said I understand why UNC feels compelled to push forward it plans for the Carolina North Innovation Center but I still want to see a master plan that incorporates this project, its supplementary infrastructure and the results of the on-going transit, fiscal equity and environmental studies before one concrete block is laid.

Timing is important as is soliciting continued community input.

My hope is that UNC, the three local government entities, other local stakeholders and the wider community will use the Innovation Center approval process as an opportunity to create a structured framework for further sustained negotiations on Carolina North. While committees like the Horace-Williams Citizens group have helped define some of the principles we want to see the project adhere to, an intermittent process, whose existence is subject to the whims of the Mayor, will not serve our citizens well.

From the outset, we need to create a flexible framework for open and inclusive discussions on Carolina North. As opportunities and obstacles arise over the first fifteen years of Carolina North’s development, how else will we address these challenges?

UNC is giving the community a chance to meet with both their staff and that of their developers, Alexandria Real Estate Equities (whose on-line presence could use a serious upgrade) to see how innovative their cornerstone project – the Innovation Center – will be.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The University and Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. are planning the Carolina Innovation Center on the Carolina North property at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and the former Municipal Drive. The Innovation Center will provide an environment where innovation-based companies affiliated with the University can turn laboratory concepts into viable businesses.

The design process for this building is in its early stages. I hope that you can join us on Thursday evening, November 29, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. at the Robert and Pearl Seymour Center at 2551 Homestead Road for a community meeting on the Innovation Center. Representatives from UNC, Alexandria and the architect for the building will present preliminary sketches of the building design.

We have submitted a concept plan for the Innovation Center to the Town of Chapel Hill. The Town Council is currently scheduled to consider that concept plan at its January 23, 2008 meeting.

We look forward to meeting with neighbors and community members to answer your questions and to listen to your ideas. You can learn more about the Innovation Center in an article from the University Gazette here .

We hope to see you on November 29. As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions. If you are a neighborhood or community contact, please forward this to your group or others who may be interested.

Best,

Linda

Linda Convissor, Director of Local Relations
Office of University Relations
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Linda_Convissor@unc.edu
CB# 6225
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-6225
919-962-9245
919-843-5966 (fax)

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.

You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting, after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

Marge Piercy, “Seven of Pentacles”

I wasn’t familiar with Piercy’s poem before today’s memorial service for Joe Herzenberg – a great way to illuminate the influence Joe had on our community. Great remembrances from folks like Gerry Cohen, Leonard Rogoff, Jon Courtland, Ellie Kinnaird and Kathie Young (who did an incredible job keeping Joe going over the last year).

Joe could be mischievous, cantankerous and real curmudgeon. He also was a passionate defender of what he believed in – including our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. In fact, as Ellie noted, Joe was an inveterate cheerleader for Dec. 15th’s Bill of Rights Day event on the old Post Office’s steps – a role she feared would not be taken up by someone new.

Speaking of roles unfilled, Franklin St. used to be the home to many unorthodox citizens – folks like Joe and Marty – but as the old generation disappears the number of new folks stepping into those roles seems diminished. Sure, even today, there are unusual folks that are being woven into our community’s fabric but it seems at a lesser and lesser rate.

Then again, maybe it just seems that way to me as I’ve taken on my own role that has swept me away from the undercurrents of our local creative culture.

Following up on last week’s panel discussion of John Ehle’s 1965 book “The Free Men,” Terri B. is concerned about the direction Chapel Hill is headed:

I do not believe that building luxury housing surrounding the remaining historically black neighborhoods in downtown is an acceptable solution.

Thanks Terri for the link to photographer Jim Wallace’s snap in UNC’s News Service press release.

Orange County Commissioner Mike Nelson on Marty Ravellette.

He was, perhaps, the most impressive individual I’ve ever met. The world was a richer place because he walked amongst us.

[UPDATE] The Chape l Hill News reports on Marty’s service:

There will be a graveside service for Marty Ravellette at Maplewood Cemetery Thursday at 2 pm. The cemetery is located at 1621 Duke University Road in Durham.

There will also be a memorial service for Marty at the University Presbyterian Church Thursday at 7:15. The church is located at 209 East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill right across from UNC campus. There is plenty of parking in lots and decks on Rosemary Street, which is one road behind Franklin Street.

Following up on my recent comments, Fred Black weighs in on this year’s “super incumbency” and the deleterious effect it had on our community.

Heck of a month for Chapel Hill legends.

Photo AlderMedia

I met Marty many years ago, used to run into him down at 501 Diner and on Franklin Street. He was an industrious guy, grinning away as he worked. Willing to take a minute and meet new folks – talk to them openly about his unusual situation.

Just as always, Marty Ravellette took his seat Monday morning at the Sutton’s Drug Store counter and swung his bare foot up to grip a waiting coffee cup.

Neither the Chapel Hill legend nor the many people who loved and admired him knew it would be for the last time.

Ravellette, who was born without arms but learned to use his feet to do everything from eating breakfast to cutting down trees, was killed Monday morning in a car accident. He was 67.

N&O, Nov. 12th, 2007

Another friendly Franklin Street presence I’ll miss.


Figure 8 Films “No Arms Needed”

Long time residents probably remember Marty pulling a woman clear of her car wreck on 15-501 back in 1998. The N&O reported on the Discovery Channel documentary covering his life back in 2004.

Marty told them the story (which I’ve heard him retell) of meeting Chuck Stone and being invited to talk to UNC students.

Q. How did you start speaking to students at UNC-Chapel Hill?

My wife is African-American and she works at Shoney’s. One day we were there eating and Professor Chuck Stone came up and said, “Here is this beautiful African-American woman and she’s not only with a white man but a white man with no arms. What’s going on here?” He just couldn’t figure it out. He sat down and we talked. After three or four months he invited me to his journalism class to speak to his students. That was six years ago.

Q. What do you tell the students in your talk with them?

I talk about nobility and how mankind is noble. It just doesn’t know it yet. No man has the right to look down on another human being because of the color of his skin. I also tell them that they can do the same things I’ve done. You don’t have to be handicapped to have an impact.

Right on Marty.

One of the issues that got short shrift this election cycle was the relationship between Chapel Hill’s fiscal policy, Downtown’s “rah rah” growth plan, taxes and our goal to promote a diverse community.

We know longtime residents of moderate means struggle to keep their homes. We know folks just starting out can’t get their foot in the door. Often the folks most affected come from our traditional minority neighborhoods.

Many of the current Council crew think the decline of diversity is inevitable – that their policies worsening the situation will eventually pay off but, as I tried to discuss this recent election cycle, at what cost to the wider community?

I guess it’s a matter of “small-d” democratic philosophy. I promoted diversity of thought, diversity of opinion, diversity of community because, at least from my observation, communities that honor those values are stronger for it. “Honor”, by the way, does not mean being satisfied with the renaming roads or creating conditions that escalate the demise of one of our traditionally diverse neighborhoods.

From today’s N&O article on the “panel discussion at UNC’s Wilson Library to celebrate the republication of John Ehle’s 1965 book “The Free Men,” which chronicles Chapel Hill’s desegregation”, folks who have some historical perspective observe those corrosive effects.

Several panelists made the distinction between desegregation and integration and said they feel the latter is lacking in Chapel Hill.

James Foushee, who participated in demonstrations, said, “Chapel Hill is going to become, in the next five years, an all-white town.”

“We have desegregated,” Karen Parker said. “Integration is up to the individual.”

“Blacks are priced out. Are the people of Chapel Hill aware of that? No, they’re not,” said Wayne King, who covered the protests for The Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s student newspaper. “It’s harder to notice that … no black people are having breakfast in the Carolina Coffee Shop. … Would you notice?” he asked the audience.

Mr. King, it is not just racial minorities that are being shown the door. If we keep going down the road plotted out by our current leadership – anyone – elderly, minority, blue collar and of moderate of means – will be unable to afford the ticket to ride.

I’ll be wrapping my election coverage up in a series of posts, including a big thank you for all of you that “had my back”, but, before that, I just read these two items from today’s newspapers that underline why the incumbents strategy of disengagement was so corrosive – and was quite a shameful disservice to our community.

Only two days ago, incumbent candidates for Chapel Hill Town Council claimed Tuesday’s election had no issues, that it was really about the larger matter of how the town’s growth would be guided in future years.

Three of the four incumbents were re-elected Tuesday on that platform. And Wednesday night they took a step toward molding that growth, agreeing with Mayor Kevin Foy’s proposal to clarify principles established by the 2000 Comprehensive Plan.

Foy referred to informal talks with developers interested in projects on U.S. 15-501 across from Southern Village, near Glen Lennox and other areas. “I want us to confront the growth pressures in a way that gives our staff more specificity,” Foy said.

Other council members agreed with his assertion that the Comprehensive Plan now seems too vague.

“We need to be clearer and more precise in our language because it affects what we put on the ground,” said Councilman Jim Ward.

The Comprehensive Plan was adopted on May 8, 2000, and was intended to articulate “a vision and directions in which we want the community to move,” according to the town Web site. “It suggests the ways in which we can invest in our community and build value for the 21st century. And, most importantly, the plan focuses on specific actions that will help us achieve the future we desire.”

Foy was a member of the Town Council that worked on that project. Seven years later he doesn’t think the plan is specific enough. In a memo to the council, Foy explained that a strategic reexamination of the plan could help guide land development.

“For example,” he wrote, “the plan set forth certain criteria for the northwest quadrant of town, but when pressures built we discovered that the council, the neighbors, and land developers had different viewpoints about what the plan called for.”

Councilman Bill Thorpe pointed out the pink elephant in the room, wondering aloud why Foy waited until the day after an election to broach the topic of development pressures in Chapel Hill. He described the mayor as “smooth” and told Foy that the council is not afraid to take on a project like this.

“It’s a new day,” Thorpe said. “Let’s move forward.”

Nov. 8th, Herald-Sun

Smooth? I’d say slick political gamesmanship.

I not only called for a refresh in our comprehensive plan prior to the election but also lobbied for a new process of keeping our plan flexible and adaptable. Sure, the incumbents co-opting my call for adding clarity, specificity and predictability to our Town’s growth plan, at some level, is gratifying but, admittedly, discouraging in that I believe they will give the process the same old superficial shellacking we’ve seen with other policies.

Bill Thorpe says “it’s a new day” but I don’t think so – it is more of the same kind of clever surface manipulation of issues – all sound, little fury – that’s digging our Town deeper and deeper into trouble.

Of course, I guess the ends, for some, always justify the means. If that means running as a block, eschewing an opportunity to engage and educate our community on, say, the comprehensive plan or the coming resource crunch, well, that’s alright by these politicians.

Poor policy, slick politics.

During the election it was obvious that the incumbents wanted to avoid substantive debate on the issues for a number of reasons. On the comprehensive plan, for instance, the fact that I’d led the way on calling for a review would underscore how proactive my stance on development has been.

Oh no, couldn’t acknowledge that a challenger had a good idea – that was an anathema to the incumbents’ “no mistakes” strategy.

For a (former?) activist like myself, someone that works hard to educate and engage our wider community in a variety of issues, I know we could’ve leverage the election to bring focus and attention to our critical growth problems – to explore different approaches, debate various strategies. To see that opportunity squashed so effectively by a political strategy was quite disappointing – and reflects poorly on that strategy’s participants.

The other article from today? Cam Hill’s
call to ban watering lawns.

Fellow challenger Penny Rich and I talked about the limits of growth in terms of our ability to provide adequate water. The incumbents were not willing to admit their vision of high density development was at odds with our ability to sustain such development in light of our areas “carrying capacity’.

One of the incumbents was quite flip and dismissive about Penny and I’s suggestion that adequate water supply was one of the largest limiting factors in his plan for “rah rah” growth at any cost. Again, slick political strategy smothered civic duty.

Hill initiated the discussion in the wake of a presentation by OWASA staff showing that southern Orange County will be “vulnerable to severe drought conditions beginning in the early 2020s” if customers do not reduce demand and the agency doesn’t find new sources of water.

Now Cam and the re-elected incumbents can safely talk about our coming water crunch – no concerns about community alarm possibly influencing their quest for another 4 years in office. Again, if you’re desperate for a seat, great strategy for winning but a shameful disservice to our community.

Sad. Sad. Sad.

Which leads me back to my role in local affairs.

For more than six years, I’ve been dragging my old soapbox around, stepping up and passionately fighting for causes I believe in. Many times, whether on developing an economic plan for commercial development, setting targets for fuel use and tree restoration, working to save hands-on arts for Chapel Hill, saying we can only import so much water – export so much trash, I’ve been calling for action years ahead of the need.

I’m a proactive kind of guy. One foot in the future – looking for opportunities to improve our community – working to make sure our Town is ready to seize those opportunities. I’ve been effective at times – more than the incumbents were willing to admit – but at a fairly steep price.

Proactive and pragmatic doesn’t seem to be a priority for most local folks. Crisis seems, anymore at least, to be the only motivator.

Under those terms, I’m left with a personal dilemma: do I continue as before – getting some progress but with great effort – or do I just wait until the Town is in crisis and try to pitch in and help?

Or do I follow the recent ‘block’ of incumbents and disengage from any substantive, but politically risky, discussion at all?

I’m a proactive kind of guy. In the last few years I’ve tried to get our Town’s leadership to look beyond the immediate to address the foreseeable needs of our community and preparing for the consequences of our local and national policies.

In some cases, like moving forward on improving our Town’s communications infrastructure, hiring an economic development officer, doing a professional technology assessment, bridging the digital divide, I’ve had some success.

In others, like bolstering our commercial tax base, growing jobs, making practical improvements Downtown, adopting measurable energy efficiency standards, budget process refinements, fleshing out the Horace-Williams Citizens Committee’s principles on the environment, not as much.

Here’s an example of my attempt to make our Town operations more sustainable from September, 2005:

3a(10). Will Raymond, regarding Agenda Item #5b, Fuel Supply, Cost and Budget Issues for the Town’s General Municipal Fleet and Transit Bus Fleet.

Mr. Raymond petitioned the Council regarding Agenda Item #5b, Fuel Supply, Cost and Budget Issues for the Town’s General Municipal Fleet and Transit Bus Fleet. He noted he had sent the Council an email regarding the purchase of bio-diesel fuel, and was pleased that shortly after that the Town had purchased 1,000 gallons. Mr. Raymond said that was a “fantastic” first step and hoped the Town would follow up on that, noting that at the present time bio-diesel fuel was 20 to 30 cents a gallon cheaper than diesel or kerosene.

Mr. Raymond said there appeared to be some confusion in the agenda item, noting there had been some discussion that they could burn bio-diesel fuel in their buses, and now they were saying that maybe they could not. So, he said, he had called Detroit Engine that made the engines for the buses, and they were recommending to their customers that a 20 percent blend was “perfectly suitable” for those engines. Mr. Raymond said that Detroit Engine had indicated they would be happy to work with the Town and could possibly get that blend higher. He encouraged the Town to contact them and take that action.

Mr. Raymond also suggested that since they were running at a deficit within the fuel budget that they today start with targeted reductions in the amount of fuel they were using. He said they still have vehicles that idle wastefully, and that yesterday he had observed a Town vehicle left idling for two hours. Mr. Raymond said with the price of gasoline that was unacceptable behavior. He asked that the Council take immediate action to conserve fuel.

THE COUNCIL AGREED BY CONSENSUS TO REFER MR. RAYMOND’S COMMENTS TO AGENDA ITEM #5b.

Two years and several calls for adopting energy goals later, we still haven’t moved forward on targeted reductions in traditional fuel usage.

Our Town’s budget is built on assumptions that are “priced for perfection”. Slow housing growth, a flattening or decreasing trend in property valuations, a macro-economic downturn – like recession or any of another, foreseeable, bumps in our economic road will lead to higher taxes and lessened services.

$4 to $5 a gallon gasoline is a predictable trend – and an expected outcome if the Iraq war lingers or we open a new front in Iran – yet, what has our current leadership done to prepare our Town for the consequences of this one increase?

Nothing. Further delay is not our friend.

To all the folks that have sent me emails of support in the face of a dramatic surge in negative, personal attacks, I thank you.

It has been a strange election season.

I didn’t expect the Sierra Club or the IndyWeek to endorse me, for political or personal reasons. But I never expected the Indy to create a “red herring” or the Sierra Club to get my record – which was to support 5 of their environmental causes that the incumbents shot down – and my name wrong.

I knew that two local incumbents would go negative when one of their common advisors tipped his hand months before I even signed up – bullying me about how I planned to run – but I never expected the virulence or disingenuous of the latest attacks. Youch!

Again, thanks folks for trying to stem the tide.

Part of this negativity, I’ve come to believe, goes beyond mean-spirited politics to political strategy. There must be a fear that votes for Raymond will lead to the election of Penny Rich – at least that appears to be part of the calculus.

Maybe they’re right – maybe you should vote for me AND Penny if you want Penny ;-).

I hope the voters realize that the challengers – Penny, Matt and I – are the only candidates this year that engaged in substantive discussions of the issues before our Town.

I hope the voters recognize I’ve been trying to take the opportunity of this election to engage and educate the wider public on key problems facing our community.

And I hope they understand that personal attacks, character assassination, trying to diminish a candidates public service, is not just a sign of desperation but also an indicator of the sponsoring person’s fitness to lead.

That said, I’m at a bit of loss at what to do. I’m going to stick with my original plan, which was focus on the issues before us, to work to promote positive strategies to improve our community and to ignore issues lacking substance.

What about the arrows sticking in my back?

I’m a big guy, passionate about my causes, have tried to do what’s best by the community – and that helps take the sting out but I am saddened that instead of engaging in an open discussion of policy a few of the incumbent candidates feel going negative is their best strategy.

What a wasted opportunity! For now, I forge on with my portfolio of issues and solutions – campaigning straight through until 7:30pm tomorrow.

The citizens of Chapel Hill deserve no less.

As I wrote recently, it’s been quite interesting to see how folks respond to the challenge of campaigning.

I know it’s not conventional to salute your campaign opponents – which explains why the incumbents don’t mention my role in hiring an economic development officer, green fleets, re-balancing the size of affordable housing on Lot #5, etc. – but, as I imagine most folks have figured out, I’m not big on following the status quo, especially when it means passing up an opportunity to improve our community.

Which brings me back to Penny’s and Matt’s well-deserved recognition and endorsement by the Daily Tar Heel.

I’ve gotten to know these folks and they’re both the real deal. They’re not running to be the next Mayor or position themselves to run for State office – ego building is just not part of their portfolio.

Instead, Penny and Matt are quite concerned about our community and have presented solid, pragmatic proposals for addressing some of the tasks left undone these many years.

This year, they also were the only two folks, other than myself, willing to engage in a real debate – an exploration if you will – of the ways we could realistically address many of the challenges still before us. As Matt notes, the incumbent monologue might have been an effective campaign tool but it was a miserable strategy for educating and engaging the wider community.

Here’s what the DTH had to say about Penny:
(more…)

Local teen alcohol awareness activist Dale Pratt-Wilson asks if the $225,000 spent managing Downtown’s Halloween booze-fest is worth it:

Wow…What an awesome use of my tax dollars! I am especially pleased with having to pay for twenty-one Orange County EMS calls related to drunkenness.

It would be interesting to see a cost analysis of what the town earned in tax revenue and fees etc. vs. funds expended for manpower both law enforcement and civilian and finally the crews needed to clean up the mess.

As the night rolls on and families have gone home, this financial extravaganza amounts to nothing more than a drunk-fest. If you don’t believe me, ask any of the 385 officers being paid to work this gig.

Why are we bank-rolling this party? Help me and the other citizens to understand the thinking behind this decision.

I’ve disagreed with some of Dale’s tactics but she’s got an excellent question here, does the investment merit the return?

When I first moved to Greenville to attend ECU, Halloween was “banned” Downtown. In the mid-’70′s, there had been a tear-gassing police riot that shutdown the festivities and, in 1980, the town was still in no mood for downtown parties.

The constitutionality of the town’s Halloween crackdown was questionable but the outcome was quite effective – step off the sidewalk, congregate or wear a mask and get arrested.

Eventually Halloween returned to downtown Greenville and by the time I graduated folks were puking their guts up in downtown alleys, getting their heads bashed in during drunken brawls and damaging private property for blocks around. Adding to the volatile mix – tensions from out-of-town visitors like Jacksonville’s and Fayetteville’s young recruits, gangs out of Raleigh and university students from State, UNC-CH and UNC-W – which often resulted in some rather nasty incidents.

I’m not sure the best course of action to take in managing our Halloween but letting it continue to escalate in cost and taking on a riskier profile with no clear return to the citizenry doesn’t make sense.

Time for a community confab to sort out what we value most from this Chapel Hill tradition and preserve those elements we, as a community, find most appealing.

I believe there’s usually a better way to do almost anything and, as a business person, well understand the value of customer complaints as a tool for driving improvement.

Complaints are like canaries in the coal mine alerting you to developing negative conditions – many organizations, though, would rather kill the canary than respond to their plaint.

In 2005, then Town Manager Cal Horton, made sure that the candidates for office were tied into Council’s information stream. This included citizen mail, status reports, early agenda items and advisory board work product.

After the 2005 election, I asked Council to make this information available to the wider public. In spite of professing an interest in transparent governance, the majority of Council decided not to expose our residents to citizen complaints or alert folks early to developing policy problems.

The Chapel Hill Police Department reports that last night’s Halloween bash, attended by 82,000 folks, went fairly well – at least based on the numbers:

Simple Affray(4),Assault on a Female (1),Simple Assault(2),Drunk and Disruptive(3),Assault on an EMS(1),Disorderly Conduct(1),Assault on an LEO(2),Resist and Delay(3),Failure to Disperse(1).

Orange County Emergency Medical Services responded to thirty-one calls and eight people were transported to UNC Hospitals. Twenty-one of the calls were related to intoxication.

Sounds good but not everyone was happy about our Town’s effectiveness:

The control on our street, NORTH STREET off Hillsborough tonight was ridiculous! By 10PM, the street was filled with cars that didn’t belong here. I spoke with the “traffic control” people and they said “…nobody told us anything…”. They let anyone down the street to park who asked them to, they had no cones until they found some up near Rosemary Street, and had no clue what they were supposed to do. This is the most ridiculous traffic control during Halloween I have ever seen. Someone at the Town needs to take control of this Halloween disaster and protect the neighborhoods from the thousands who invade the Town each year.

There is no reason to spend this much tax money on an event and NOT
protect the people who live here!

Now, we could look at this an isolated complaint, be comfortable with the overall numbers and not investigate any further OR we could look at this as an opportunity to do better next year.