Semi-live blogging from tonight’s Sierra Club/Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce Town candidate forum.

[UPDATE:] Comments on candidate responses are mostly paraphrases. Comments in quotes are verbatim from candidates. Comments in parentheses or brackets are mine. I didn’t capture all comments or questions. The People’s Channel video taped the forum and should have it posted sometime soon.

Someone recently remarked to me “What strange bedfellows!” when we were talking about tonight’s forum sponsors. Ten years ago that might’ve been true but not today.

The Sierra Club leadership, as distinct from its membership, has been AWOL on many of the most pressing environmental issues of the last decade. Most troubling for an organization founded on justice, the element of social justice has been missing as they have fully endorsed projects like Greenbridge and West140 irrespective of those projects broader consequences.

The Chamber’s Director Aaron Nelson has worked hard to position the Chamber as the gatekeeper on sustainability. The “triple bottom line” that Aaron lauds continues to be heavily weighted towards development and developers irrespective of broader considerations. Teaming up with the Sierra Club helps create an additional appearance of green even if the facts belie it.

All the candidates sans mayoral Wolff in attendance. About 32 folks in the seats though only a hand full are not involved in the sponsoring organizations, the press or candidate groups.

Mark Shultz, Chapel Hill News editor, is running the show.

Opening 1 minute statements, a good chance to see if candidates can hit their marks. Jim Ward, who gave me hell a couple years ago about going 19 seconds long, dragged 28 seconds over. OK by me, I well understand how hard it is to compress a dozen years of service into 60 seconds.

A few themes so far – transparency raised by DeHart, experience and fiscal responsibility by Matt Cz., continuing the Town’s sustainability initiatives by Storrow and Schuler, Baker on balancing economic development and environmental progress.

Some “usual suspects” – Fred Black, Nancy Oates, Mark Peters, Lynne Kane, Bernadette Pelissier.

How do you balance economic development and the environment? What is the priority?

Tim Sookram, Mayoral candidate – focus on environment, not concentrate on LEEDs certification.

Moses Carey, former OC BOCC member just came in.

Jason Baker – Council candidate and committed “smart growth” supporter. Doesn’t think that environmental and economic issues are at odd – both values are important.

Donna Bell – Council candidate and incumbent (appointed) – thinks that posing the question misses the point – shouldn’t be in conflict.

Augustus Cho – Council candidate (CC) – also agrees that the two aren’t in conflict – he believes if “we cut a tree down, we can plant one somewhere else…”

Matt Czajkowski – CC – observes that over the last 4 years there’s been an evolution from either supporting the environment or supporting economic development to one which they are seen by the candidates as complementary…

Laney Dale – CC – “doesn’t want to see any trees cut down” though he does understand development must occur

Jon DeHart – CC – also doesn’t see the two as mutually exclusive – realized that when he was labeled “pro-business” last round and he had done a poor job of responding to that critique – that he has a more nuanced approach – thinks that rehabilitating the Planning process is key to making the two work well together…

Lee Storrow – CC – brings up the urban boundary – gives a quick definition – wants to build dense in Chapel Hill – transit key – thinks C.H. is headed towards Atlanta style density and we need to have transit to support that…

Jim Ward – CC and incumbent – “the question is so last century” , “it isn’t an either or” proposition – 10 years ago the team sponsoring this forum would’ve been shocking

Mark Kleinschmidt – Mayoral candidate and incumbent – thinks that every project needs to take both in consideration – need to measure results of development decisions [Why has he drug his feet and resisted every attempt to make measurabilty part of the process? Will he support making metrics a key aspect on the Comprehensive Plan rework?]

How to increase jobs?

Jon DeHart – supports 1/4 cent sales tax – will help bring in more business via economic development – attitude – be more welcoming – make C. H. more hospitable to business…

Lee Storrow – Carolina North as a driver of innovation

Jim Ward – also points out that the part of the 1/4 cent sales tax dedicated to economic development will directly benefit Chapel Hill/Carrboro [Not accurate - if you look at OC BOCC spending priority list very little money flows South and what does won't come to late in the process].

Jason Baker – thinks we should adopt a revolving loan fund like Carrboro [No mention of political cronyism problem]

Matt C. – thinks we should recruit companies into CH that have existing work forces living in CH – we need to push the qualities of CH which are attractive to a work force [I worked Downtown over 8 years and when my company threatened to move there was a peasant insurrection - we all wanted to stay Downtown because of all the great amenities].

Donna Bell – economic development office under her tenure has done a great job targeting green companies for CH [can't think of any that actually have moved here...maybe she will list them?]

What can you do as a Council member to reduce environmental foot print? Greenhouse gases?

Laney Dale – better transit options – if you are a little late to pickup your kid then you’re out of luck…

Matt C. – biggest local contributor to greenhouse problem is lack of transit opportunities – need to get folks out of their cars…believes in the “greenhouse effect”…

Augustus Cho – also believes in greenhouse warming – only candidate not using yard signs – working to make his campaign the smallest environmental foot print

Donna Bell – doesn’t think there’s a direct role for Council rather we need to support larger initiatives [CRED - carbon reduction - is a key priority of Council - not sure what her answer means...]

Jason Baker – supports 3/4 cent transit sales tax – calls on BOCC member/chair Bernadette P. to get that on the ballot right away….

Jon DeHart – need to support electrical recharge stations – need to continue to encourage UNC – which is the largest local producer of greenhouse gases – to meet their goals – include of moving the Cameron Ave. power station off of coal to a more amenable source of fuel…

Lee Storrow – as an under-grad was part of moving UNC forward – would work with Chancellor Thorp to make good on that pledge – enthusiastically supports 3/4 cent transit tax next year.

What would you do on Council to make small business more effective in CH?

Jason Baker (JB) – more local purchasing especially by Town – endorses Chambers “think local” efforts – make business permitting easier including consolidating depts. that manage that work

Donna Baker (DB) – already discussed with Town Manager Stancill how to stream line permitting process for small business – need to work with UNC to continue to spawn off innovative companies that stay in CH

Augustus Cho (AC) – work with UNC, reduce regulation

Fred Black notes that crowd has grown – roughly 50/50 citizens and supporters/staff – another dozen or so including Gregg Gerdau, WCHL’s Barry Leffler

Matt C. – two biggest problems – access and access – transit and affordable business space – when we look at new developments need to encourage more affordable office space and ask developers to provide free parking

Show of hands – who supports 1/4 cent sales tax? All Council candidates, Kleinschmidt

With expected expansion of Carrboro/Chapel Hill over next 20 years what can you do to ensure the water supply is clean and adequate? What changes do you support to the Lake Jordan allocation? What alternatives exist?

Lee Storrow – challenging issue to talk about – need to tap Lake Jordan – thinks the Council’s vote jeopardized allocation [Not true].

Jim Ward – supports emergency allocation and looks to regional solution – voted against modification because we started tapping Lake Jordan for less than emergency reasons…

Mark K. – two reasons we use less water now than a decade ago – incredible conservation efforts by citizens/Town/businesses – and water reuse by UNC – need to expand reuse and conservation – gets 3 bell notice…

Jon D. – pauses – says he was having a flashback to two years ago – remembering how Mark goes on and on…but “we love ya…” Believes we should maintain access to emergency Lake Jordan use [WHICH WE ALREADY HAVE without a change]

Carl S. – agrees we need it for emergency use…

Donna B. – “emergency backup” only – needs to make sure OWASA keeps the Council informed of limits to growth as constrained by water supplies – need to make that part of the development discussion…

Matt C. – incorrectly says the OWASA agreement has to change to retain emergency access – not true – says that it sounds like all the incumbents supported that though he was the only one not to vote for it…

Jason B. – “wants true emergencies” before tapping into Lake Jordan – need to keep eyes on water use – improve conservation – not penalize conservation…

August C. – echoes Jason….

What needs to change with urban services boundary [rural buffer]?

Jon D. – “short and sweet” – not change a thing…

Lee S. – “NO” – no changes to rural buffer agreement

Jim W. – key aspect of reducing sprawl to date – would entertain modifications – like at Star Point – that would allow it be built [this is south of Southern Village on the edge of Chatham County].

Mark K. – no agreement with Chatham County to manage sprawl – want to influence the “awful sprawl” in northern Chatham – going to suck a lot of economic development into Chatham that should be here…

Mark Schultz interjects – not everyone knows what rural buffer is …Rural buffer dictates where water/sewer goes…Chamber report says high housing because of the rural buffer that’s why he asked the question…

Matt C. – high housing costs directly related to rural buffer constraint…

Jason B. – does think Chatham County is part of the problem – might need to modify rural buffer to reduce impact of Chatham County development on southern edge of Town…rejects assertion that rural buffer is responsible for higher housing prices…

First time SAPFO (school adequate facilities ordinance) will be invoked in next couple years and a CAPs will not be issued for development – in other words – there will not be enough space for students if we build more housing – what to do?

Jason B. – talk to OC about speeding up money for Elementary #11 (Northside) – it’s up to them

Donna B. – we need to live within SAPFO and use it as intended – to constrain growth until the schools catch up

Augustus C. – agrees that OWASA and Schools need to be consulted on limits to development but does not agree that growth should be stymied by outside boards like the school board

Matt C. – “this is a wake up call” – will help us focus on commercial development over residential housing

Laney D. – why are we building more homes? there is 11-12% homes already on market – why do we need more – thinks developers – like Meadowmont – should build new schools [Meadowmont did assist in building Rashkis].

Mark K. – doesn’t think we should undermine SAFPO – doesn’t make sense to crowd in more students and diminish quality – points out Southern Village and Meadowmont did contribute schools – doesn’t support modification but thinks we need to work around it to continue to develop…

Lee S. – thinks we need to have honest discussion with developers – when a developer builds apartments and says no family will live there need to challenge them – to measure additional impact on schools…

Jon D. – moved here because of schools – needs to make sure we keep quality up…

Should lawn fertilizers be regulated? Show of hands – Carl S. Lee S. Jim W. Mark K. (maybe more – too quick to follow)…

How to improve regional and local transit?

Transit tax and transit improvements via 3/4 sales tax seem to be the focus – not specifics so far…

Mark K. – endorses 3/4 cent transit tax – will increase 40,000 hours of bus service – will strongly advocate for it…

Jim W. – chairs local transit group endorsing the transit tax… need to improve transit…

Lee S. – says transit tax will increase number of routes on major thoroughfares covered by bus [not quite accurate] but will strongly support transit tax…

Carl S. – supports the concept but wants to make sure the discussion is transparent and open – that options are reviewed but definitely need to move forward

Jon D. – is on Transit Board for CH – congratulates sitting incumbents on their efforts – supports new revenues for services…

August C. – chair Transit Board – points out that there are route improvements we can make – first not to rely on sales tax as overall answer – brings up some practical improvements not requiring new revenues…

Jason B. – “important that people making decisions on system and the people using the system”…has worked hard to make system improvements…points out the Matt C. and other incumbents have reduced his service by eliminating a stop – went from 1/4 mile walk to 1 mile to nearest stop

What could be done to improve development approval process so that a yes or no can be arrived at quicker? That maintains environmental quality? Mark Sch. – “the Ed Harrison crap shoot question”…

LD – doesn’t know much about approval process but has heard that the process is broken and slow

MC – quotes Ed again – the SUP process arrives at a better result – disagrees totally – “look at recent projects” – indicates with shrug that they were less than quality – believes we should zone areas more appropriately – if a project doesn’t meet a zones spec. then we should reject sooner than later…

DB – of course supports as the Council has already instructed Town Manager and staff to streamline/improve process

JB – doesn’t want to remove rigor in process – points out practical improvements like having a joint design review meeting with all interested advisory boards which greatly reduced the review time while not reducing the quality of the review [my understanding is that this joint meeting was sparsely attended so....]

LS – points out that not many people showed up for that joint meeting – open to improvements but wants to maintain quality end product…

CS – should be like educational degree process – when you do your dissertation you know the expectations – development process should be similar

JD – process is broken – should look to Asheville which has similar values as Chapel Hill but is able to process applications much more effectively…

JW – “clarifying words” to process to make sure developers understand expectations – reduce surprises in the process

MK – shouldn’t cobble process together – should have a process for areas like Downtown which expedites development in these areas with specific expectations and streamlined approvals…

Public questions…

JW – Parking downtown – how will you facilitate discussion of providing 400 to 800 additional spaces? Would challenge that number – the current report from Town says that there is adequate parking…

Open – Support community dev. block grants to build a standalone mens emergency homeless shelter?

CS – Working with IFC on good neighbor plan for Homestead Rd. site…

LD – Would support using those funds to support housing – his father was homeless starting when he was 10 (?) – came back into his life late – worked to get him stabilized – very personal perspective…

Open – What do you expect from the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan rework process?

MC – goes back to comment by MK who said MC did not say he wanted throw out SUP process – thanks for clarification…

MK – 2020 process is most exciting done in decade – wants 10,000 people to turn out…the broadest community support [If that's the case why did he handpick leadership and why is Town handpicking leadership for sub-groups? Why have various folks been already excluded from process?]

Is Chapel Hill addressing affordable housing needs?

JW – “NO NO NO” – “we can pat ourselves on the back” for the 200 units we already have but we haven’t met the price points for necessary for need – CH shouldn’t be a new Disneyland where folks come to visit and leave – where we import our labor who leaves each night because they can’t live here…

JD – Knows something about this – taxes make it difficult for older folks to stay here – that as one long term resident leaves 2 high wage earners move in – tough problem – need to work on it…

Who defines “emergency” for Lake Jordan allocation?

DB – OWASA defines it and Council approves that definition.

JW – Says he doesn’t think we can get emergency supplies under current language [WRONG - we already can get emergency allocation using inter-local agreements]

What 3 issues will mandate tax increases over the next 3 years?

LS – Maintaining staff – fireman and police – realistically need given current economic conditions that we need to raise taxes – a broad response…

Will you protect public employees and ask for comparable benefits for out-sourced jobs?

CS – As a State employee understands question – would be willing to explore options…

DB – Would be willing to look at encouraging vendor support for benefits…

Should trees be trimmed and lights added in town for safety?

LD – as an over 6 foot male not afraid of the homeless but thinks Downtown needs more lighting so his 14 year old daughter has a greater sense of safety…

Other attendees – Elizabeth Friend WCHL has been here all night…

Would you support a ban on further social services being sited along Homestead?

AC – Serves on IFC good neighbor initiative – need to make sure there’s equitable distribution – needs to work with OC to address issue…

JB – “obligation to help” – lives in area – there is a huge concentration of services there – need to make sure we continue to provide services but also address the concentration issue…

Event over…

Chamber’s Aaron Nelson thanks folks – says been a real joy to work with Sierra Club leadership…

Final wrap – other folks Ed Harrison Council member and Katelyn Ferral Chapel Hill News…

And in the role of “Fairy Good Sales Tax” Council member Penny Rich handing out pro-tax propaganda to the assembled folks (who knows that I don’t think the ends justify the means no matter how good the cause…).

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