What would I do the next 13 months? If you look back through the hundreds of posts on local issues I’ve made since September 2005, you will see I’m not short of ideas for positive change. I also have two election platforms (2005 and 2007) and many election questionnaires that contain specific proposals addressing Town finances, economic development, managing UNC’s growth, environmental protection and remediation, carrying capacity, improving operational efficiency and on and on.
For all that, the next seven months are going to be quite busy.
My main role is to fill in the gaps, put my shoulder to the wheel and work on those bread-n-butter issues that are already in the pipeline. I’ll add value where I can, manpower when its needed and innovative solutions as required but for the most part I fully expect that my agenda for building a pocket park Downtown or implementing the Dark Skies initiative will have to wait.
Here’s what I sent to Council:
Laurin suggested on her ‘blog â€œDecide what you want to do in a proactive way on the councilâ€. Noting â€œit would be easy to sit up there and just vote on things as they come along in reactive mode, but most council members have areas that they really want to work on making changes and spend extra time on those issues that are important to them.â€
As you well know, I have brought many issues before Council these last seven years. Over the next 12 months, most of the work I expect to do is to fill in the gaps, add my shoulder to yours, to push forward on known Council business. I do have a few ideas, old and new, that I would like to pursue. Most have to do with improving operations, environmental and resource management, technology and process enhancements, the budget, economic and Downtown development, managing growth, etc. Some, like adopting lighting guidelines as per the International Dark Skies initiative, can be grafted into current work. Others, like beginning the process of creating a new hands-on arts center, will probably have to wait.
Here’s a list of items I’d like to work on in order to give you some context:
Financial report card.
It’s nice that we have maintained, even tenuously, our AAA bond rating but that cannot be the only metric we use to indicate financial health. I would like to work with Council and staff to develop and publish other metrics indicative of the Town’s overall financial health.
Rebuilding our reserves.
The next few years are going to be tough. We need to start rebuilding our reserves beyond what is needed to maintain our yearly credit-rating. The recent and continuing financial crisis proves the need for prudent reserve planning.
We need to prioritize spending now, cap some expenditures and freeze some outlays. We must control costs â€“ especially energy â€“ and prepare staff for low or no salary growth. I’ll take the heat for putting all discretionary spending options â€“ library bond, Lot #5, etc. – on the table. We need to aggressively pursue operational efficiencies â€“ I will ask Council to form a small tiger team to work with staff to seek â€œlow hanging fruitâ€ that will cut short-term costs.
We can’t do it alone.
I will call for a new Citizen Budget Advisory Board. I believe this needs to be short-term appointment and that Council needs to actively recruit citizens with professional credentials to assist in formulating our budget.
Development agreement. Community benefit at every step.
I’ve already expressed some of my concerns on scheduling, the need for a more robust underlying zone, the necessity of negotiating with other entities and how to make the agreement successfully outlast its creators. I will continue to work those and other issues, one of which is community benefit. While Roger Perry suggested 3 million square feet as a good starting point, an investment by the University which justified significant returns â€“ like a $45 million transit plan – to the community I believe that the Council should set goals that benefit the community at smaller increments. For example, I would like to see the bus stop south of the Innovation Center site replaced with a multi-modal facility as part of the next step. Sidewalks should provide safe access to this facility where bicycles and scooters can be securely stored as folks switch to the bus system.
Development agreement. Standards above and beyond.
As a member of the HWCC environmental sub-group, I helped create a framework for making sure the negative environmental consequences of Carolina North were minimized. I and others proposed applying â€œbest in classâ€ lighting, air particulate, ground water, emission standards that are above and beyond those required under the comprehensive plan, LUMO or other statutory instruments. Since a development agreement provides the flexibility to mandate standards outside current zoning requirements, I will ask Council to revisit this framework, add additional provisions for incorporating future â€œbest in classâ€ energy and environmental standards.
â€œBang the drum loudlyâ€
As I’ve suggested with other large-scale development projects, I believe that our duty goes beyond inviting folks to Council hearings. We need to pursue public input. We need to use all the tools at our disposal â€“ notably the Internet â€“ to give our citizens an informed perspective on the various impacts these projects bring. I would like to team with the Planning and Technology departments and use Carolina North as a pilot project for developing a public outreach plan which can be extended to other facets of the development process.
Council meetings, discussions and transparency.
As the creation of the development agreement progresses the demand on Council time will also increase. I’ve already put a lot of time into Carolina North and am ready to pour even more effort into creating a framework for Carolina North’s development our community and the University can appreciate. That said, it strikes me that Council could use some new tools to both keep the public informed and to communicate openly with various stake-holders. Council has already called for a new Carolina North website. I’ve asked for a FAQ, glossary of terms and a record of every citizen question with attendant answer. I believe we can do even better and am prepared to make specific suggestions to improve our e-governance.
â€œWe’re not Mayberryâ€
Chapel Hill doesn’t exist in a bubble. I have been concerned about increased gang-related violence for several years. I would like Council to revisit Chief Jarvies proposals drafted after the Avalon incident. We need to make sure that Chief Curran and Captain Blue have adequate resources to train our force to meet organized violence.
I spend a lot of time Downtown. Handicap accessibility, lighting, signage, and cleanliness continue to be problems. I would like to work with the relevant staff and boards to address some specific issues that seem to be raised over and over.
â€œWalking is not a crime.â€
When the Police Department announced the Orange County Community Safety Partnership, I was concerned because it sounded like the roundly criticized Homeland Security TIPS program. It wasn’t clear what kind of oversight, training or civil protections were part of the program. Pat Burns, our representative, walked me through the program and provided some insight on its operation. The training presentation has a few items I would like see addressed and I believe the community would be well-served by having Pat run Council through the process to solicit feedback. For me, the part about reporting â€œpersons walking through yards of residential areas or seeming out of placeâ€ needs to be clarified. You might recall a recent embarrassing incident when a young man using his cell on his street corner had the police called because he â€œseemed out of place.â€
Extending neighborhood contacts
As part of the new website revamp, I would like to provide my professional expertise in improving public safety communications between neighbors and neighborhoods.
Civil rights/civil liberties
We have a well-trained police force. We try to hire the best. Chapel Hill has prided itself on maintaining the highest standards protecting civil rights and civil liberties. I want to work with Council and Chief Curran to make sure we can maintain our citizens confidence that we consistently honor our duty to protect our citizens rights, privacy and liberty.
Parking recommendations implementation.
As a former member of the Downtown Parking Task Force I’m quite familiar with the competent suggestions made by staff and task force. One, the new parking assessment I called for, is near completion. We should see this as the starting point for addressing our longterm parking needs. As Dwight Bassett scrambles to backfill the spaces being lost on Lot #5 and plans move forward for more on-street slots, now is the time to form a small implementation task force to make sure the best, practical (low-cost) recommendations are carried out expeditiously. I volunteer for that new team.
I would like to be part of the team that improves Downtown’s security.
There are a number of short and long term improvements that would improve folks Downtown experience. Water fountains, a decent bathroom, a family-friendly pocket park, way-signs and other amenities which don’t have to be expensive could greatly improve visitors and residents Downtown experience. I will work with the Downtown Partnership, the Downtown business community, the Chamber, staff and relevant advisory boards to bring these straight-forward improvements to Downtown.
Development and growth
How high, how dense?
Last Spring, Council decided to end their pursuit of high density development zones. We need to restart that discussion. We should take the recent work on twisting RSSC into a palatable high density zone and start fresh with the density discussion. Our community might not embrace high density, but if we’re going to allow high-density development to go forward civic duty demands we have a clear, honest and open discussion among not only Council and those developers wishing to use a new zone but the wider community.
What just happened?
We need to make the development and inspections process easier to understand, easier to deal with and easier to track. We can use the Carolina North process as a pilot for community outreach. We can pursue NRG’s (Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth) request for a straight-forward progress reporting system.
University Square, how does it fit?
The UNC Foundation is moving forward on their plans for University Square. One challenge, in the next few months, will be how to seize this opportunity to reshape one of the more troublesome aspects of Downtown. Also, incorporating the University Square redevelopment into a broader Downtown development plan is necessary if all the components of revitalization currently on the table are to work complementary.
The Foundation has already expressed an interest in building a parking deck, which could elegantly solve some of Downtown’s parking issues, but Council needs to work from day one to make sure that their parking solution has a wider public utility.
For several years I’ve suggested we use more metrics-based goals in our planning process. Compliance, by necessity, requires measurement but many times the goals under which a project is approved are not measured on delivery.
Along with measurable goals, we need to establish the longterm growth limits of Chapel Hill. We only have so much water. We can only ship so much trash cost effectively to some other community. Now is the time, as the available land for development is nearly gone, and as discussions of in-fill and density begin, to start a community discussion on what are the resource limits to Chapel Hill’s growth.
As we review our development plans and modify LUMO, I believe we need to revisit the process we use to keep these instruments current and firmly based on the best understanding at the time.
Rogers Road, our neighbors and future residents.
As the Rogers Road Small Area Task Force’s efforts draw to a close, we need to look at resolving some nuisances that have long plagued this community. In next years tight budget, adequate planning must go on to deal with these long neglected items.
Miscellaneous items I would want to work on:
- Website refresh
- Technology upgrades including more use of open source and open document standards.
- The DOT fiber optic project
- Better community outreach
- Leverage the Internet
- Put Council email on-line
- Trouble ticket system
- Specialty sites for Carolina North and Hillsborough425
- Complete Council agendas on-line a full 7 days before meetings
- Council and Planning Board video on-line. Audio of all advisory board meetings.
- International Dark Skies Initiative
- Waste management
- Our part in managing waste â€“ setting long term goals – in-county or not
- Siting transfer site – our role
- Storm Water Utility
- Effective coordination between SWU, OWASA and Bolin Creek restoration
- Effective oversight
- Open space
- Preserve creeks leading to Bolin Creek watershed
- Identify and preserve natural corridors connecting through Carolina North
- Hands-on arts in Chapel Hill
- %1 Art funding to more local artists