A Plaza for All? Looking for Chapel Hill’s Public Commons

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Last night I made a few remarks to Council before they codified a series of restrictions on the use of Peace and Justice Plaza Downtown by organized and disorganized activist.

We renamed the small patch of ground outside the Downtown post office to Peace and Justice Plaza to honor its central place in Chapel Hill’s progressive history. Before the Town acquired the property in the 70’s, its unique status as a slice of Federal land front-n-center in our community made it an invaluable refuge for local civil rights activist who wanted folks to see what others didn’t want to be seen – that even educated Chapel Hill bore the stain of racial inequality.

Why did Council slide these changes altering a historical dynamic through, undermining the meaning of Peace & Justice, without reaching out to the community? Why the desperate speed?

It appears because the Town couldn’t figure out how to evict one remaining protester who by most descriptions was a homeless man using the Occupy movement as an excuse for staying. Rather than address that specific issue, Council chose to hastily adopt a potentially very chilling approach.

Until we see specific guidelines, drafted out of sight of the community – chiefly by the Town Manager – we will not know.

For at least 50 years, a small patch of ground outside Downtown’s Post Office has served as our Town commons. This historical precedent was set by local civil rights activists who sought to circumvent Town and State attempts to shutter the voices raised against racial inequality.

They sought refuge on that small piece of Federal land because efforts to evict would become – literally- a “Federal case”. Sadly, they expected Federal courts would be more sympathetic in supporting their Constitutional right to assemble, to speak, to petition and to ask for redress of grievances than our local community.

Over time, protection of those fundamental rights has shifted towards local governments. Chapel Hill citizens, some at great costs, have stood up and fought to maintain and expand key civic values including equality in their recognition of same-sex partners.

I was reminded of how unique our community is during a 2003 anti-war protest in Raleigh.
While his supporters got a front-row seat, protesters were herded into a chain link enclosure well away from President Bush’s cavalcade. Out of sight, out of mind. By then, the Federal courts had decided that a bureaucratically proscribed “designated free speech zone” was acceptable.

Tonight you are being asked to make what appears to be a few “minor” changes to Town ordinances. That is not the case.

The suggested changes allow the Manager to dictate what neatly fits into a particular idea of reasonable discourse. Times, locations and extent of exercise of Rights will be determined by the somewhat vague guidelines he as his staff deem necessary.

I’m disappointed that the recent occupation of the one place in our community reserved and cherished for free assembly didn’t serve as a lesson in how to preserve and even promote more civic discourse. Rather it seems to have served as a call to arms to cordon off what makes some folks uncomfortable.

In a free and democratic society we must err on the side of openness and access to the public commons. We must tolerate a process that can be a bit unsettling and untidy.

There are vanishingly few public spaces left for assembly of citizens. If not Peace & Justice, where?

During the Chapel Hill 2020 process Downtown has been touted as the place for the community to come to meet with many proposals for an enhanced public square.

Now is the time to ask – “How public?”

Please put off further amendments constraining our public commons until our community has fully weighed in.

I got into a bit of a discussion with Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt about a loaded equivalence described in the Town legal brief.

The memo describes a scenario where two groups at polar extremes want to occupy the plaza. The examples used: Nazis and Jewish community, KKK and NAACP members, Anarchist and peace officers.

Of course, the hatred expressed by the Nazi and KKK members against the Jewish and African-American communities is well-documented and exemplified by horrendous acts.

I learned a little about Anarchism in university 30+ years ago and have since endeavored to learn more after the recent Yate’s Motor occupation and police raid. From what I’ve read and learned from some of the local adherents, Anarchism is not a political movement but, rather, a political philosophy with many avenues of expression.

There is nothing intrinsic to that political philosophy requiring vilification, especially at the level suggested by using the KKK and Nazis, of the police.

It was inappropriate of staff, and surprising of the majority of Council, to endorse such an equivalence.

Recreation Fee Reduced Redux

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Last month I took my concerns about the proposed recreation fee structure amendments to Council (Parks Impact Fee: How Many (More) Goodies Do High Density Developers Need?).

Tonight, Council revisits the proposal for possibly the last time.

Unfortunately, the issues I raised Oct. 18th were ignored by staff.

The reason I petition Council at their meetings is too make it more difficult to push problems with policy out of sight. I know that there are not that many folks watching but a public plea is harder to reject directly. It is easier, though,to blithely claim that the issues brought forth were dealt with in a memo – few folks beyond Council really read through the agendas supporting documentation – fewer spend the time to analyze the claims.

I expect that Town Manager Roger Stancil will make some generic statement this evening to the effect that “there’s nothing to worry about, move the ordinance forward” even though his staff has not addressed the concerns I raised.

I won’t be able to make this evening’s meeting so I submitted the following to Council via email (another easy to ignore avenue for public access, when are we going to get a Town sponsored ‘blog?).

Mayor and Town Council,

I’m concerned that the staff did not address some of the comments I made Oct. 18th on the proposed amendment to Section 5.5 (Recreation) of the LUMO.

I raised several broad issues and made three specific critiques, none of which were directly addressed in the staff memo before you.

From a broad perspective, I argued that the new proposed formula would not be equitable, that the majority of cost that should be borne by a developer are shifted onto the community and that delaying implementation for some zones means the Town will miss the best opportunities for equalizing funding of services between the developers and the community.

The staff memo doesn’t directly address these broad concerns.

You might recall that I asked that two contentions, that developers would not pay the fee at parity or that the delay was necessary, be supported by factual detail. A month later, staff has still offered NO SUPPORTING EVIDENCE that a higher fee – say %75 – or immediate implementation will impact proposed or ongoing projects.

This really bothers me. I hope you share my concern and, considering that the recommendations staff has made are based on these key assertions, will ask for documentation supporting their belief.

As far as an equitable allocation of costs for services, I suggest you look at the proposed fee schedule in light of the %1 Arts fee and the requests for %15 affordable housing.

At %80, the Lot #5 project would yield roughly the same amount as the %1 Arts requirement. If we use RAM Development’s figures for the costs of affordable housing (including parking), even at %100, the recreation fee is a fraction of the affordable housing cost.

Council must recognize that the cost of providing recreational opportunities in the TC zones is substantially higher than providing them elsewhere. Council has pledged to increase the number of residents Downtown and has even created the new TC-3 zone to promote higher density development to accommodate those new residents. Beyond creating a new zone, Council continues to be quite generous in stretching existing and new zones to accommodate developers and increase their profit margins, East54 and Greenbridge both being notable examples.

Unless the Council plans to siphon off funds from these zones to subsidize services elsewhere, leaving those new residents high-and-dry, the fees collected from the developers should match to some degree the costs of providing these services within Downtown. Shifting those costs off onto residents, some who are still waiting for new recreational opportunities, is not fair.

Again, there has been no direct evidence – no documented conversations, etc. – that asking developers to pay at a rate comparable to the Arts fee is a show stopper.

As far as delaying the implementation for a select few projects, the Town will miss an opportunity, as with the fee reduction, to equalize funding of needed services between the developers and the community. Projects like the University Square redevelopment are rare. There has to be a firm, factual justification for delay.

Please wait to make a final decision on this amendment until: one, staff documents their underlying assertions; two, a comparison is made between other fees/requirements Council levies on developers and a higher recreation fee allocation; three, an analysis is made to show how much revenue is lost by delaying implementation of the ordinances for projects in the pipeline.

Thank you.

Tar Heel Basketball, Proven Excellence

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Though I wished UNC had clinched the ACC championship, tonight’s 89-72 stomping of Michigan State provided a conclusive and satisfying end to UNC’s great 2009 basketball season.

In case you haven’t heard the rumble rolling forth from Downtown, UNC fans are as jubilant as the players.

I’ve had the uncanny luck to have seen the 1982, 1993, 2005 and, now, the 2009 national championship celebrations and this one, at least as of 1:35am, seemed to be one of the best managed – no burning cars, major fires or parking lots full of triaged injured fans. Kudos to Town staff, UNC/Chapel Hill/State and local law enforcement, our fire and rescue personnel (who, I presume, missed most of the game prepping for the turnout) and all the other folks that made this year’s celebration a reasonably safe affair.

Congratulations to Roy Williams, the team and the University for an exciting demonstration of excellence.

Halloween 2008 on a Diet

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Wow! A %50 reduction in this years Halloween crowd.

The Town of Chapel Hill successfully reduced the size of the Halloween event on Franklin Street with an estimated showing of 35,000. Town Manager Roger L. Stancil said he believed the “Homegrown Halloween” campaign assisted in reducing the number of revelers, and strategies implemented by Chapel Hill Police helped to improve safety. Franklin Street was closed at about 10 p.m. to accommodate the crowd and was cleared of people after midnight to wrap up the party.

“The partnership of the Town, the University, student government, businesses downtown and the community at large is what brought us back closer to a homegrown event that was safer and more manageable,” Stancil said. “We did this together as a community.”

To manage the event that attracts costumed revelers to promenade on Franklin Street, the Town must coordinate a workforce of more than 700 people, including law enforcement officers, fire and emergency medical service personnel, parking monitors, public works, and parks and recreation crew members.

Some of the changes this year included restricted access to downtown Chapel Hill through lane and street closures starting at 8 p.m. There were no bus shuttles although Safe Ride buses operated for UNC-Chapel Hill students. Alcohol checkpoints were in place at the event, and DWI enforcement took place along outskirts of Chapel Hill with cooperation from the NC Highway Patrol. The Town worked with downtown bar and restaurant owners to restrict alcohol sales after 1 a.m. All ABC permittees among the bars and restaurants in downtown Chapel Hill would not permit customers to enter or re-enter after 1 a.m.

Town crews were expected to work through Saturday morning to clean up litter and restore order. The Town is holding special hours on Saturday morning to receive calls from residents who wish to report post-Halloween related issues that require prompt attention. Service calls will be accepted between 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, November 1, at the following:

Oct. 30th: Downtown Parking Forum

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

As a member of the Town’s Downtown Parking Task Force I lobbied vigorously for a baseline study of parking conditions Downtown. Why? The data covering typical parking patterns was spotty at best. Further, there was no adequate model to plug any data into to analyze suggested improvements. A year on the Downtown Partnership is rolling out the results of the study they and the Town commissioned.

Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership is holding a public forum to gather input from the community on the downtown Chapel Hill parking study. Parking has been identified by downtown business and property owners, residents and visitors as one of the top five issues affecting downtown.

The forum will be held at University Presbyterian Church on Thursday, October 30 from 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm. The church entrance is located at 110 Henderson Street.

Parking is available in the Wallace Parking Deck on Rosemary Street. For bus routes
and schedules please visit [routes].

The Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership hired the parking consulting firm of Rich & Associates to conduct the study. The study includes a current assessment of parking, an analysis of parking supply and demand, as well as parking promotions, management, policies and maintenance. The study makes recommendations on how to improve parking in the downtown.

To view the Parking Study Findings and Recommendations please click here.

To view the detailed Parking Study Recommendations please click here.

This information is also available at the Downtown Partnership’s office located
at 308 West Rosemary Street, Suite 202. To receive a copy by mail or email please
contact the Downtown Partnership at 967-9440 or partnership@downtownchapelhill.com.

If you are unable to attend the forum but would like to make comments please contact the Downtown Partnership at 967-9440 orpartnership@downtownchapelhill.com

Election 2007: Money on the Street

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

X-posted from my campaign website.

“Eyes on the street” in one of the key mantras the incumbents substitute for a solid financial analysis of the economic benefits of their publicly underwritten million dollar Downtown condos.

Supposedly the $8.5 million tax dollars (so far) and land worth $5-8 million ($13.5-16.5 million) will help increase Downtown’s minuscule population to the point crime will plummet as folks living in those million dollar condos observe the street scene from high above. Those couple hundred of new folks will energize Franklin Street and help convert it into a 24/7 hub of profitable commercial activity.

Eyes on the street, the justification for this out-of-control project.

What about “jobs on the street”?

In 2005, I called on the Town and its Downtown Partnership to focus on a strategy to build an employment ladder and increase the number of well-paying jobs Downtown.

Why? Because I know that folks that work Downtown, spend Downtown. I do. My colleagues do. The owners and employees of many Downtown businesses do, funneling their dollars back into the micro-economy they subsist on.

And they do it without millions of dollars of public outlay. Their commercial activities represent a net gain for both Downtown and the larger taxpaying community.

Why didn’t Council pursue jobs growth Downtown? The high-priced condo scheme has been a distraction but, beyond that, I believe they didn’t understand the basic value proposition – that those who work Downtown, spend Downtown.

My objective, increasing Downtown’s employment profile, languished two years until recently when the new economic development officer (a position, by the way, I lobbied for) resurrected it as part of his greater economic development strategy.

How much does the Downtown workforce contribute to Downtown’s commerce?

I took a look at my spending habits, reviewed my credit receipts and came up with the following incomplete list of Franklin Street businesses within the Town’s Downtown economic zone (as defined by the Downtown Partnership) that I (or my family) have recently frequented.

While broad, you might notice a bias towards restaurants. My wife is a fabulous cook – but that doesn’t stop me from eating out at our wonderful Downtown smorgasboard.

Finally, Downtown already has “eyes on the street”. 5,000 based on the Town’s analysis. 15,000 based on State and Federal criteria. Eyes on Rosemary St. hasn’t stopped the drug dealing. Eyes on the street didn’t stop the recent Visions nightclub shooting. Eyes on the street, alone, is no panacea.

Where I spent my hard-earned dollars:

3 CUPS
431 West Franklin Street, Suite 15 (Courtyard)
Phone: (919) 968-8993
Fax: (919) 968-8994
Hours: Monday – Saturday 7:30am-6:30pm
www.3cups.net

35 Chinese Restaurant
143 West Franklin Street (Univeristy Square)
Phone: (919) 968-3488
Fax: (919) 968-0268
Hours: Monday – Sunday 11:00am-9:30pm
www.35citysearch.com

411 West
411 West Franklin Street
Phone: (919) 967-2782
Fax: (919) 969-7450
Hours: Sunday – Monday 5:00pm-9:30pm / Tuesday – Thursday 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:00pm-10:00pm / Friday – Saturday 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:00pm-10:30pm
www.411west.com
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Election 2007: Friends of Affordable Housing Questionnaire

Monday, October 15th, 2007

X-Posted from my campaign website.

I hadn’t heard of this organization prior to this election but they appear to have been active for the last 10 years.

Friends of Affordable Housing is a non-partisan Political Action Committee that has been active in selective elections within Orange County during the last 10 year. The organization was first organized to support the Orange ballot for Affordable Housing Bond Money. The committee has also periodically sent questionnaires to candidates running for Orange County Commissioner and Chapel Hill Town Council.

Core members of the committee felt the residents of Chapel Hill should have the opportunity to know the positions of the various candidates running in 2007 for Chapel Hill Town Council. The Committee felt the relocation of the IFC, the transition to more attached multi-story housing, the opportunity for more affordable housing in Carolina North, and the possibility of selective use of “payment in lieu” of affordable housing units were issues of significant concern for Chapel Hill residents. The committee members are all long standing residents of Chapel Hill. The four review committee members have extensive executive committee experience in non-profit boards including the IFC, Habitat for Humanity, Dispute Settlement Center, YMCA and various Orange County boards including the Commissioners Committee on Affordable Housing. Committee members have also consulted with staff members of several of the Affordable Housing providers.

The NC Board of Elections has informed us that Friends of Affordable Housing does not have to register as a formal PAC for the 2007 election because we will not be raising money to support a specific candidate or issue.

They weren’t active in the 2005 race even though there was a slew of known affordable housing related issues before the Council.

Dear Candidate:

As you know, initiatives to increase the stock of all types of affordable housing in Chapel Hill have been an election issue for many years. In order to give Chapel Hill residents a better understanding of your position on this critical subject, Friends of Affordable Housing has developed a 7-item questionnaire asking you to address some of the current issues.

A review committee of the Friends of Affordable Housing will review your responses and may endorse specific candidates prior to the November election. Your comments will also be made available to the general public.

Thank you for your cooperation; we look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

The review committee: Natalie Ammarell, Rev. Richard Edens, Susan Harvin ,Richard Leber

They obviously understand that maintaining and expanding affordable housing opportunities will require even more attention of the new Council than the last two years.

Here are my answers to their questions.


Friends of Affordable Housing Questions for Chapel Hill Mayor and Town Council Candidates

1. Please describe your commitment to creation of affordable housing initiatives in Chapel Hill.

I’m dedicated to continuing our Town’s commitment to providing affordable housing in Chapel Hill.

We need to re-evaluate, though, our current initiatives, our capability to manage our affordable housing stock and to rebalance the types of housing we’re currently providing.

With that, we also need to adopt fiscal policy that helps folks keep the most affordable housing they have – their current homes. We’re already seeing a trend of long-term residents, after decades of contributing to our community, being “shown the door”.

Those just starting out, can’t even get their foot in the door without substantial incomes.

Finally, we need to make sure our Town’s growth policies align with our housing goals.

RAM Development, the Town’s private partner on the Lot #5 boondoggle, is proposing to replace the somewhat affordable apartments with hundreds of big-ticket condos. Developments that displace existing affordable housing stock, like Hillsborough 425, are part of Chapel Hill’s future.

We need to make sure, though, that we anticipate the consequences of those displacements.

2. Please give your opinion about the actions taken by Town Council in the last 4 years to increase the stock of affordable housing in Chapel Hill.

I commend the Council for their intent. I applaud their successes. But, we could’ve done better.

Too much in lieu money, not enough square footage. Necessary reform in managing our housing stock or being able to adapt to changing conditions left undone for too long. Opportunities like Roger Perry’s %30 offer at East 54 or Greenbridge’s Northside neighborhood in-fill proposal missed. Rebalancing the kind of housing we offer, not adequately addressed.


3. Given the current impasse with the County, what would you do as a Town Council member to proactively advance the effort to find a new site for the IFC Men’s Residential Facility?

a. Would you oppose locating the facility in certain parts of town (e.g., downtown; near Seymour Center)?

I would like to see the IFC split the food service and the shelter functions. As far as the Men’s Shelter, our Town – if a leadership vacuum exists at the county level – has a responsibility to manage this process. I believe the Town should work with the IFC, proactively, along four basic thrusts.

One, develop criteria that incorporates both the IFC’s requirements for just the shelter component and our Town’s goals for development, transit and neighborhood preservation.

Transit opportunities, accessibility to health and other social services are a few of the criteria I would suggest.

Two, once we have the mutually developed criteria, find the site that best suits our joint needs. Our community needs to be involved in both the development of relevant criteria and the selection of the site.

Locating on Homestead makes sense, especially over Eubanks or Millhouse but there might be better sites based on the decision matrix the IFC, other interested parties and the Town develops.

Three, our Town could provide some logistical support to the IFC in developing a task list to move the shelter.

The Chamber asked me if I’d support pulling the IFC’s lease on the existing shelter location. No way I did say that our Town should help develop a punch list of items with specific performance goals and a timeline to hold the IFC to – but taking a punitory tack is – in my estimation – a poor strategy.

Four, we need to bring our community into the process early, educate the public on the relevant issues and, proactively, publish a guide on how the Council will measure the success of this project. If Council affirms, as I believe we’ll be able to do, that the population at the Men’s Shelter will not increase criminal activity in surrounding neighborhoods, we should already be prepared to assess that activity and report back if reality matched our projections.

4. What new programs do you envision to increase the stock of affordable homes in Chapel Hill?

a. Do you think priority should be given to one type of affordable housing (e.g., transitional housing, special needs, rentals, small condo’s, larger owner occupied detached homes) over another?

We need to rebalance our housing stock based on a few criteria. First, what is the most diverse kind of stock we can reasonably manage using existing resources? Second, look at partnering on denser developments like Raleigh’s Carlton Place (I wrote about this development here: http://citizenwill.org/2007/03/21/raleighs-carlton-place-a-downtown-affordable-housing-commitment-worth-emulating/ ). Third, like Carlton Place, re-evaluate rental housing within our current mix.

b. What type of affordable housing should be built in Carolina North and on the Greene Tract?

I would like to see affordable housing developed on the Greene Tract that is akin to that of the Homestead Park neighborhoods. I would also like the housing to be on the eastern side of the tract to integrate into those neighborhoods, take advantage of existing and new amenities, be closer to existing transit, take advantage of new transit capabilities (depending on what happens at Carolina North) and avoid damaging some of the more ecologically sensitive areas.

The University has suggested that housing on Carolina North will be market driven. I would like to see a mix of units that parallels the stock that UNC commissions.


5. In the last year, Town Council has approved three mixed-use developments: 54 West, Greenbridge and Ram’s Lot 5. Under Chapel Hill’s Inclusionary housing policies these developments will generate almost 100 affordable one and two bedroom condo units. However, these units will not serve lower income families with children.

a. In your opinion, do current policies provide the types of affordable housing that are really needed? If not, what should be changed?

As you might be aware, I’ve been critical of the Town’s Lot #5 development for a number of reasons. The project is fiscally irresponsible, the original affordable housing stock was not family friendly, the affordable housing parking was off-site (second class citizens), the condo fees were steep and not capped, the condo units – especially the larger ones – will most probably server the student community, measurable energy efficiency and environmental standards were dropped, and on and on. You can read my web site – citizenwill.org – for a detailed discussion on these and other Lot #5 ills.

For all my criticism of the majority of the Council’s decision to take on this money pit, I am happy that Cam Hill did accept my recommendation to resize some of the affordable units to accommodate families. Will families find them inviting? I’m not sure.

Considering Lot #5’s location, I’m quite concerned that the Council never took my call to look at affordable living as well as affordable housing seriously. What is the cost of living in one of these units if you should be on the lowest economic rung of those that can purchase a unit? Will the economics of that location end up making this housing more transitional in nature than was originally anticipated?

The units at East54 strike me as being more family friendly. I was encouraged, at least until the Harris-Teeter moved, that a mix of services were within easy reach. I was discouraged though by the Landtrust’s assessment that these units would be transitional in nature. And, of course, continue to be concerned we couldn’t take advantage of the developers offer to build %30 affordable housing.

With Greenbridge, I believe our philosophy of integrative units, a good goal, interfered with an excellent opportunity to acquire more square footage. The rejection of the proposal to build family units within an existing adjacent neighborhood was disappointing. Our Town policy should be flexible enough to adapt to exceptional opportunities that don’t diverge greatly from our housing goals.

b. Can Chapel Hill’s Inclusionary housing policies be utilized to generate affordable rental housing? If you think so, please explain how such rental housing would be managed and maintained.

From my understanding, the existing inclusionary policies don’t align with encouraging development of rental housing. As the inclusionary zoning process continues, we need to make sure rental becomes more of an option.


6. Many affordable homes are “aging” and will require significant maintenance. Is it appropriate for public funds to be used for long-term maintenance? If so, what sources of funds should be used?

I’m interested in the proposal for a rotating loan fund to assist folks in maintaining their properties. This loan fund, if created, needs to come from monies outside the general fund. I would not support additional Town debt – via bonds or other mechanisms – to fund this loan program.


7. Do you think “payment in lieu” of affordable housing construction should be accepted from builders? If so, what guidelines should be used and how should these funds be used?

Over the last five years, my sense is the Council is accepting way too much in lieu monies over square footage. We’re asking developers to create housing. Housing built now will not only help relieve some of our current demand but also be cheaper than housing built 5, 10 , 20 years out.

If we ask for housing, we should get housing.

Delay is not our friend. Easy money also erodes are discipline. Square footage over in lieu money should be our guiding principle.

Election 2007: Chapel Hill News Candidate Questionnaire

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Here’s my answers to the Chapel Hill News candidate questionnaire. If the answers seem a bit terse, it’s because brevity was required.

POLITICAL PARTY AND EXPERIENCE:

  • 2005 Candidate for Town Council
  • Town Advisory Boards: Horace-William’s Citizen Comm., Downtown Parking Task Force, Technology Board
  • Other: Community Independent Expansion Comm. , Friends of Lincoln Arts Center

While I’ve collaborated with the Orange County Democratic Party for many years on GOTV efforts, been a poll sitter, literature distributor and have supported local Democrats, usually with sweat equity, in their runs, I am an
independent voter.

Until the party realistically deals with state mandated torture, the two on-going wars, the shredding of the Constitution and begins to address key domestic issues such as health care and the increasing split between segments of our citizenry, I will remain unaffiliated.


CIVIC ACTIVITIES AND OTHER AFFILIATIONS:

– Member of Electronic Frontier Foundation

WHY SHOULD YOU BE ELECTED?

Chapel Hill is at a crossroads.

Do we want a diverse community that honors the contributions of our eldest residents, where young couples and working folks can get their foot in the door or is Chapel Hill reserved for those buying publicly underwritten million-dollar condos?

Good intentions have to be backed by sound fiscal policy and real public accountability.

Borrowing millions from the rainy day fund, engaging in a risky Downtown project whose cost has escalated $500,000 to $8.5 million, when our debt payment is tripling is not responsible.

I will work to return Chapel Hill’s sound foundation so all of us can flourish.

1) Please describe your vision for downtown Chapel Hill and assess the council’s current approach to revitalization.

We need to build on the uniqueness of our Downtown by preserving and improving its human-scale charm.

Let’s invest in simple, cost effective, traditional amenities over risky, costly investments with poorly understood and unmeasured returns.

Let’s start with a family friendly pocket park, decent bathrooms, a water fountain and repaired sidewalks. Simple “you are here” directories to assist visitors in finding public and commercial services would make Downtown more inviting.

Let’s take up the low and no-cost Downtown parking improvements the Downtown Parking Task force suggested instead of raising parking rates as Hill and Foy argued for.

The current revitalization effort is open-ended, too expensive – rising from $500K to $8.5M in one year with no end in sight – and puts all our development “eggs” in one basket. The incumbents have resisted efforts to set measurable goals and make timely reports of successes or failures.

If possible, we need to restart the process using measurable goals, an appropriate and fiscally sound commitment of public resources and an approach that doesn’t risk all for an unknown return.

2) Please describe your vision for Carolina North, noting any disagreements with the university’s announced plans.

For many years I have called on UNC to use its incredible research savvy to build a world-class campus pioneering the best in “green” technologies.

To conform to that vision, UNC had to design a campus that was transit-oriented, partially housed its workforce and worked within some serious self-imposed constraints – few parking spaces, a defined energy budget, minimum footprint, cohesive infrastructure, monitored off-site noise, water, air, light impacts.

To achieve these goals, UNC must build within an established master plan.

Further, building upon the successes of the University’s Carolina North Leadership Advisory Committee (LAC), I suggested we work to create a new, sustained framework for further dialog and negotiation. That framework should incorporate the diverse interests of our community within an open, transparent process to work through the next 15 years of issues.

Doing incremental build-outs, like the recently proposed Innovation Center, without a master plan or a framework for further discussion is untenable.

3) How would you respond to persistent complaints about panhandling?

As the only candidate who works Downtown, I’ve experienced the problems first-hand.

I’ve also seen a troubling shift in our community’s attitude – troublemakers all, seems one current perception. Worse, for a few citizens, the face of that population is always a minority one.

My observation? Aggressive panhandling has taken a backseat to the loutish, aggressive behavior. Concrete steps – focusing on those bad behaviors, policing the worst offenders – should come first. Structural changes – moving benches, increasing police presence in a few places, better lighting – should reduce this sometimes frightening Downtown backdrop.

Practical approaches like “Real Change from Spare Change”, will soon shift the economics of begging – reducing panhandlers’ revenue – while bolstering our other efforts to help the homeless.

Finally, the majority of the folks hanging out Downtown are not causing problems. Some are odd but harmless. Our Downtown policy must be focused, goals-oriented – not broadly punitive if we are to succeed.

Election 2007: Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

This year the NRG decided to vet the candidates via email. In 2005 they held interviews and presented the audio responses. Trying to be thorough, I went a bit overboard this year. Figuring no one would want to wade through 10 pages of answers, I tried to boil down this final response to the NRG.

In its Comprehensive Plan, Chapel Hill is committed both to denser urban development and to protection of existing neighborhoods. Do you see any conflict between these goals and what do you feel is the best way to achieve them?

There are trade-offs, thus conflicts between the goals of high density and neighborhood protection.

To start, in any discussion of density we need to establish the limits of growth. I’ve been using the concept of “carrying capacity” as a guide.

Carrying capacity is a multi-dimensional evaluation of an ecosystems ability to maintain a particular population. In biology, this usually means water, food and habitat. In Town, we need to add, for instance, the ability for to maintain a diverse and healthy socio-economic balance within our community. We all can’t live in million dollar condos or pay an extra couple hundred bucks in taxes each year.

We don’t currently assess density to that level of detail. I believe we should at least start thinking within those terms as it will help us create a more sustainable outcome.

Another general problem with our comprehensive plan is that our process for upgrading our goals as our understanding improves is broken.

We need to implement a continuous review process, as suggested by the former chair of the Planning Board, to review our goals in light of achievements to-date, successes and failures. Not only do we need to be more nimble in managing our Town’s comprehensive plan, we need to be much more inclusive in drawing upon our community’s expertise.

Three recent omissions in our planning process provide examples of where we need to improve.

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Election 2007: Chapel Hill’s Diminished Environmental Credibility

Friday, October 12th, 2007

I’ve been clear – our Town’s ability to negotiate with UNC and other developers on environmental standards (or pretty much any other issue) is directly related to how well we practice what we preach.

Southern Park is a great example. The Mayor and the incumbents (sans Jim Ward) thought the difficult decision was to authorize the removal of half the trees at Southern Park to build soccer fields. I like soccer fields, but it is clear to me that the difficult decision was really one of how to align their commitment to carbon reduction (CRED) with the gross reduction of trees.

Along those lines, I’ve had a number of folks email me about the Sierra Club endorsement process. These folks know that, besides Jim Ward, I’ve called for stronger protections – protections within a measurable framework – than the incumbents I’m challenging. The talk, it appears, doesn’t always follow the walk.

I hope to enumerate those discrepancies (fuel usage, light and noise pollution, tree replacement, etc.) but, until then, here’s an example from this Spring where Jim Ward took up my call to bolster our Town’s credibility by implementing measurable energy efficiency goals at a project WE THE PEOPLE are paying for…

X-Posted from my campaign site:

A common theme of both my activism and my campaign is that if we don’t measure the results of our policies then we can’t tell if we’re achieving our goals. Worse, if we’re trying various strategies to solve an issue, without proper oversight, we can’t select the most effective – cost-wise and goal-wise – solution to run with.

I’ve asked the Council many times over the last few years for a proper accounting on a number of issues – how much the citizens have spent on Lot #5, costs over-runs for the Town’s new Operation Center, fuel usage, reducing our street light electricity bill, etc. – but those requests have been uniformly batted down by the majority – which, this year, is most of the incumbents I’m running against.

I’ve argued that to be good stewards of the publics money, we must accurately report our failures and successes.

And to bolster our credibility, we have to “walk the talk”.



Take energy efficiency. While all the incumbents pay lip service to the concept, Jim and I were the only two folks running this year that called for specific, measurable energy reduction goals for the Lot #5 project. Yes, the LEEDs certification process can be expensive and flawed, but relying on a developer that has already demonstrated a consistent pattern of failing to follow through on initial expectations (the promise to keep the citizens cost to $500K, for instance) to police themselves is foolhardy.

If not LEEDs, then some other objective standard was called for – a specific methodology that an independent consultant could verify.

How else do we bolster the credibility of our environmental stewardship?

As you can see from this video, Jim makes a good case for why not “walking the talk” in one sphere can directly diminish your leverage in another.

Just as I said many times prior to Jim’s statement, how can we call on UNC or any other developer to adhere to the highest standards if our Town practices “do as I say, not do as I do”?

Tracey Coleman on Rogers Road: Most Popular Video To Date

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

At 1460 hits, this video is by and far the most popular one I’ve posted on youTube. No surprise to me as Tracey did an incredibly eloquent presentation on the flawed Solid Waste Advisory Board’s search for a new trash transfer site.



Election 2007: League Of Women Voters Forum

Monday, October 1st, 2007

A big thank you to the local chapter of the League of Women Voters for an excellent forum this evening. Vicki Boyer, who occasionally posts on OrangePolitics kept the show moving along with a variety of audience questions.

Unlike the Sierra Club forum, the environmental and social justice issues surrounding our neighbors out on Rogers Road (of which I have spoken about numerous times) got a fairly decent airing. The $8 million Downtown Development boondoggle merited one round.

The forum’s format, a round of answers with some opportunity for give-and-take, suited tonight’s questions. I hope the public and the local media take some time to mull over our responses.

There were a few surprises from the non-incumbents: Kevin Wolff bringing up voter-owned elections, Penny Rich suggesting punishing Downtown landlords who wouldn’t fill their storefronts, Matt Czajkowski’s excellent point that Chapel Hill has become introverted.

Of course, the incumbents tried to take credit for all the successes over the last four years while trying to dodge any responsibility or account for any of the mistakes.

Some of the successes – hiring an economic development officer, developing a strategic economic development plan, the Town’s new fiber network – were issues I brought forward first.

As far as surprises from the incumbents, I appreciated Mayor Foy’s complementary observation that I have an eye for efficiency.

Jim Ward’s bit of criticism (Incumbency Is Not Enough or Nineteen Seconds Is Too Long) about the 19 seconds I went over my time on one response provided some humor.

And Cam Hill, one of the negotiators on Lot #5, quoting a citizen outlay about $1 million short of the actual figure (CHN). I’ve been up since 6am and can understand a fumble –
hope fatigue explains his sloppy accounting.

The League graciously allowed me to assist them in posting tonight’s video on the web.

I’m preparing for upload now and expect the full video to be available by tomorrow evening (I’ll post a new article when it’s done).

Oh, and the Sierra Club has since declined my offer to post their forum on the Internet. They plan to do it themselves. I’ll keep an eye on their progress and will announce its availability.

Visions of Avalon

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Last night there was an unfortunate and possibly gang-related incident at Rosemary Street’s Visions nightclub.

At approximately 1:00 a.m. this morning officers responded to a report of gun shots at Visions Night Club located at 136 E. Rosemary Street. Multiple shots were reportedly fired from a handgun by an unidentified black male suspect after a fight occurred inside. Six victims were treated for non-life threatening gunshot wounds at area hospitals. Some of the victims identified have known gang affiliations. Due to the low lighting and the confusion associated with the large crowd, the suspect exited the night club shortly after firing the shots.

Lt. Kevin Gunter, CHPD

I was relieved to hear no one suffered grave injury.

I was also struck by the timing – it was just one year ago that then Police Chief Jarvies issued this memo [PDF] enumerating the reasons for closing Avalon, a similar venue on Rosemary St. I work close to Avalon and saw the escalation of minor problems into what became the culminating event leading to its closure – the July 30th, 2006 fatal shooting of Kevdrian Swan.

This was not the first incident at Avalon or, as Chief Jarvies noted, 136 East Rosemary St., the then location of Player’s, the current location of Visions.

My first thought was: “What should we have learned from the Avalon mess? Why didn’t our Town do more to prevent another outbreak of violence?”

Chief Jarvies pointed out the Players had the second highest incidence of serious offenses. The plan was to meet with the owners of that club and try to prevent another Avalon type outcome.

Why, a year later, are we dealing at the same location with what could have been a worse tragedy? Couldn’t the Town intervene earlier? Why didn’t it?

Both citizens and the media report that problems – including violent behavior – had been escalating at Visions (and spilling over into the nearby neighborhoods). The pattern was established but the Town failed to act.

As a University town, night clubs are a act of life. The Town should be able to foresee, especially with the growing influence of gangs in the Triangle, that venues like Visions can attract a dangerous crowd. Why don’t we have a standard mechanism for working with club owners to forestall these issues? Why aren’t we monitoring these flash points?

As far as Visions, I’d like to hear more about the incident. The knee-jerk response is to call for its closure – to go into reactive mode – something our Council is quite adept at.

Since we apparently missed an opportunity to learn some lessons from Avalon, I’m asking Council to make an effort to learn from Visions. If these venues are going to be allowed to operate, we should damn well be proactive and be ready to clamp down when we see a pattern of problems developing.

I’ve supported the CHPD’s efforts to become more “gang savvy” (here’s what I said about funding on WCHL).
I called on Council to provide a little “helper” funding to help make the recent Governor’s Crime Commission grant a bit more effective (didn’t happen).

Whether I’m elected or not, I will be asking Council again to support adequate gang education for both our police force and our community. And, as I said one year ago, we need to do more than deploy officers Downtown. We need to re-balance our force to nip issues before they escalate.

That is why I’m encouraged by an objective our Town Manager set our new new police chief, Chief Curran, to “expand the community policing efforts of the department so that community policing becomes a belief system within our department”.

Finally, Office Gunter asks:

Anyone with information about the shooting, please call either the Chapel Hill Police Department at 968-2760 or Crime Stoppers at 942-7515. Calls to Crime Stoppers are confidential and anonymous, and the caller may be eligible for a cash reward up to $1,200 for information that leads to arrest.

Forewarned, supposedly, is forearmed. We obviously missed a few lessons from the Avalon mess, hopefully we won’t miss the lessons of Visions.

Hail to Our New Chief: Brian Curran Takes the Helm

Monday, September 24th, 2007

[UPDATE:] Not 15 minutes went by before I got the chance to congratulate Chief Curran in person. He was making his rounds through the Northside neighborhood (I noticed him rolling around Town before – he doesn’t seem to be much of a desk jockey).

[ORIGINAL]

I’ve had an opportunity to meet Brian in a few different venues these last few months and my initial impression that he was a talented officer capable of leading our department through transitional times has only been strengthened.

When he was initially appointed to take Chief Jarvies position I did a little research and was impressed by the commitment he has shown our Town.

When Town Manager Roger Stancil cast a wide net seeking a new Chief, I was hoping that our own law enforcement folks would be considered fully. With the failure to secure Roger’s first choice (due to the candidate’s failure to pass a health exam), I was looking forward to a re-evaluation of our home team bench.

Today Roger announced the permanent appointment of Brian to Chief.

Concurrently, Roger set some specific goals that will keep Brian busy over the next couple years.

To: Mayor and Town Council
From: Roger L. Stancil, Town Manager
CC: Senior Management Team

Date: September 24, 2007

Subject: Appointment of Brian Curran as Police Chief

I am proud to appoint Brian Curran as the Chief of Police of the Town of Chapel Hill. This appointment is effective immediately.

Since April 1, 2006, when Chief Gregg Jarvies retired, Brian Curran has served as our Interim Chief. During that time, he has exhibited the qualities that our community said they wanted in a chief during a series of community focus groups. As I made my decision, I reviewed the notes of those focus groups carefully. The words they used describe the behaviors and characteristics I have seen in Brian: Fair, honest, well-rounded law enforcement experience, understanding Chapel Hill, experience with University relations, understanding of neighborhood needs and concerns, leads by example, decisive, team player, experience with managing large gatherings of people, ability to relate to everyone in the community, good manager, approachable.

Having seen those behaviors, I have decided Brian is the best person to lead our Police Department and become a part of the Town’s Senior Management Team as we work collaboratively to make Chapel Hill an even better place to live.

Brian has worked for the Town of Chapel Hill since 1982. He began work in the Parks and Recreation department. He then served as a non-sworn communications specialist with the Police Department before becoming a Public Safety Officer in 1987. He has served in various roles in the department that give him a broad view and an understanding of the department and the community. I have attached his resume for your information.

The process.

As stated above, I carefully reviewed the characteristics of a chief of police as stated by the various community, employee, management team and Town Council focus groups earlier this year. I also reviewed the matrix of leadership characteristics that evolved from those focus groups. I reviewed the remaining finalists in the original round of applications as well as the applications received since we readvertised the position in July. I assessed the behavior of Chief Curran since he became interim chief in April. I asked the interview panel from our assessment center, supplemented by other assessors, to interview him and provide feedback. Based on the behavior I observed in his interim role and the feedback from the interview panel, I determined that Brian has demonstrated the characteristics sought by our community and is the best person to lead our police department.

The charge.

I have charged Brian with the following goals:

  • Assess the department, involving our employees and the community to tell us what we are doing well and where we have opportunities for improvement.
  • Create a leadership development program for our officers and our non-sworn employees to develop our future leaders internally.
  • Take positive steps to create a diverse command and supervisory structure that represents the various cultural faces of Chapel Hill.
  • Expand the community policing efforts of the department so that community policing becomes a belief system within our department.
  • Take the lead in innovation and teamwork to find solutions to community issues.

I look forward to working with Chief Curran.

As so do I, Roger. I especially like the goals Roger has set our new chief. Community policing needs to be a reflexive ethic of our department. Developing AND RETAINING our young turks will serve the Town well over the next few decades. And working to encompass the diversity of our community should make our law enforcement officers task smoother.

Congratulations Chief Curran.

Election 2007: Sierra Club Interview

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

X-Posted from Will Raymond for Town Council 2007:

The local Orange-Chatham Sierra Club participates in the local election process two ways: endorsing candidates and sponsoring a forum.

Last Sunday, Chairman Bernadette Pelissier, Political Chair Loren Hintz and member Matthew Scheer interviewed me on behalf of the Sierra Club to determine if I qualified for an endorsement.

Questions spanned local zoning policy, a discussion of good and bad infill, personal commitment to environmental protection and Carolina North.

Folks that read CitizenWill already have a good idea about where I stand on many of these issues.

Surprisingly some issues, like local waste management, the trash transfer station and Rogers Road community’s complaints, our storm water utility policy or in-town open space preservation didn’t make the list. Of course, you can only fit so much into a 45 minute interview.

I appreciate these members taking the time to review my thoughts on Carolina North, zoning policy, pragmatic carbon reduction strategies, transit, etc. (I tried to cram way too much into my answers and digressions).

The Chapel Hill forum takes place next Tuesday, September 25th, 7-9pm at the Chapel Hill Town Hall. The event will be broadcast on our local public access channel.

In 2005 I did secure the local club’s enthusiastic endorsement. Here’s what they said two years ago:

Will Raymond has been one of the most outspoken and effective citizen activists in Chapel Hill in recent years. We look forward to him using his talents to advocate for the environment as a member of Town Council. In particular we are excited about his initiatives to promote energy efficiency in town buildings. He will also work to protect lesser known creeks in the Chapel Hill area and to minimize the number of single occupancy vehicles causing air pollution and traffic congestion at Carolina North.

We strongly encourage Sierra Club members and any residents of Chapel Hill who care about the environment to support these four candidates in the November 8th election. They are the best hope for a Town Council that will always make reducing environmental impact a top priority as Chapel Hill grows bigger.

We’ll know by mid-October if the work I’ve done since – on Carolina North, as a member of the Horace-William’s Citizen Committee sub-committee on environment, tracking and publicizing the landfill/transfer site problems on Rogers Road – will secure an endorsement in 2007.

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