In case you were wondering…my responses to 7/20 candidates forum

contact Brandon Collins
(434) 249-3312   brandoncollins@comcast.net  FACEBOOK

My responses to questions asked at the July 20 “Democrats Only” Forum, but first some quick thoughts:

*Not one person pointed to the obvious- a power outage could have been avoided had Burley School been equipped with solar panels. The whole fiasco should have reminded us all how fragile our energy supply is, and that we have technological solutions now, we just need to use those solutions.

*The candidates had way too many opportunities to be vague. I appreciated the yes or no answers and would like to see more of that in the future.

*The notion that talking about the water supply is somehow distracting us from dealing with the big issues concerning poverty is utter nonsense. This popped up in council on Monday, has been floated around in the press, and was mentioned by one of the candidates. The equating of building an expensive new dam as being a good position to have if you are concerned about social justice issues needs to stop now. I would point out that two of our strongest current councilors on issues of poverty and housing are the ones also consistently opposed to the new dam, and I would also point out that council voted unanimously to dredge and raise the existing dam a few months back and that maybe it is those interested in changing that to an expensive and destructive new dam that have dominated the conversation and kept us from addressing the real concerns of poverty and justice in Charlottesville!

Anyways, here’s my answers, and even answers to questions to individuals when possible. Unfortunately I do not have the exact wording of each question.
I have tried to keep answers to the time allotted each candidate.

Quick Answers, Yes or No:
Do you support construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway?
NO

Do you support construction of the Western By-Pass if the state fully funds it and fully funds other transportation priorities?
NO

Do you support dredging before construction begins on a new dam?
YES

Questions from the moderators:
What is your transportation agenda and how will you fund it?
I have made my transportation agenda fairly clear both in the campaign and as a citizen who regularly addresses city council.
We need to focus explicitly and vigorously on expanding public transportation- offering full service on Sundays, more frequent service, expanding routes, adding late night service, more free routes, and direct service shuttles. Expanding and promoting bike lanes, and consistently improving and expanding access to pedestrians and people with disabilities. At every turn we should use state transportation funds solely on mass transit, bike, and pedestrian transportation and resist building new roads.

How would you grade the City and County relationship on a scale of A to F, how would you seek to improve the relationship?
D+, City and County relationships, or at least their governing bodies have been in contention for a while, and seem to be getting worse. One only need look at the decision to revive the western by-pass without consulting the city to see where much of the tension is coming from. Charlottesville needs to represent the needs and goals of our residents and that can bring us into conflict from time to time. I say that struggle is okay, we will sort all of this out in time but we won’t get anywhere if we simply give in to everything that county developers want. We can improve relations by having City and County staff and City and County residents working to expand a healthy bus system, and by working to bring meaningful job opportunities to our lowest paid residents.

Has the City done a good job of measuring performance on it’s vision?
I would say so-so. the vision statement is pretty good, but we can think bigger. Measuring those goals may be lacking a little, but we do get a lot of information from a well informed and hard working staff. Lets set goals like having City Government entirely energy self suffucient by 2024, with 1/3 of all city owned property powered by self generated electricity by 2016. Lets have full employment at a living wage for all of our residents in 4 years, with the real unemployment rate down to 2% in two years. These are only two examples, but something we can do, we just have to be consistent in not only evaluating what we we are doing but why we are doing it.

Are you planning to seek a new vote on the 50 year community water supply plan? How would you change it, if at all?
I absolutely guarantee that I will call for a new vote on the community supply plan at the first meeting of January 2012, no matter who is on council. We should at the least see where the new council stands. I would call for a return to the original decision made unanimously by council to dredge now, consider raising the existing dam, and take data. We should monitor our water use, implement new conservation methods and ordinances, and see where we stand in 5 years, and 5 years after that and so on. there is no immediate need for a new dam that we might not need for a long time to come.

What do you think the top 3 responsibilities of City Council are?
1. To take seriously and follow- not lead- communities and individuals who are directly affected by decisions of city council.
2. To ensure that poverty, racism, and oppression is eliminated permanently. To ensure all basic needs of residents are met.
3. To protect our ecology and work for a world that is 100% sustainable.

Are you satisfied with how our schools are operating? How would you support improvement?
Our schools have plenty of room for improvement but we have a lot of great things to build on. Arts education, after school opportunities, great teachers and a commitment to closing the achievement gap and improve graduation rates are a great start. We can do better. Lets eliminate “zero tolerance” which uses our schools as a gateway to prison for many of our underserved young people. Lets strengthen Head Start and give MACAA a boost in funding from local sources. Installing more solar panels on every school will provide a great learning opportunity, train and employ workers. Lets expand the college scholarship program and make sure we have a solid “alternatives to military service” program to help young adults serve their country. Lets make sure all employees- including teachers aides, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers etc.) of the school system make good wages and full benefits. Fully fund our schools even when faced with cuts from the state. We need to make the city an affordable place for parents to live and work- that means jobs for living wages and affordable housing. Finally, we should include students in every step of the decision making process so that they have some connection and feel some responsibility towards the world, and allow them ample recreational time.

What is the best way to develop career ladder jobs?
First and foremost we open a jobs center. We include the new section 3 coordinator in this office, ensure that all residents have access to job skills training, and use the center as an employment service for public and private hiring. We actively work with residents to make sure they get meaningful work, directly through the city if need be. We need to set a goal of guaranteed employment and work to make it happen. Everybody talks about “green” jobs and how we can do so much by greening the earth and employing people at the same time. SO WHAT IS THE HOLD-UP? We should not wait for the free market to come along and do this for us. We can start by vigorously transforming our city to be sustainable and clean, and we can hire a local workforce to do it. The act of doing so could lure some green manufacturing business here. We need to focus on moving low income workers out of poverty and always have an eye towards that goal. We should not be “business friendly” rather we should seek out friendly businesses that add to our community and meet our needs, not the other way around. Further I would support incentives for worker owned cooperatives to come to Charlottesville.

Questions to individual candidates from the audience:
With 1/4 of our residents living below the poverty level, waiting lists for section 8 and public housing etc., how do you approach affordable housing?
We need to be consistent and have careful monitoring to ensure that people are moving up the housing ladder- starting with housing our homeless, moving through an expanded public housing and section 8 programs, into rented homes and finally getting low interest loans to low wealth residents to own their own home. Expanding our affordable housing stock will ensure that rents won’t rise, but we may have to take an active role in making that happen. Expanding MACAA or establishing a social services action committee could go a long way in making sure that the different housing needs of residents are met and that folks move up the ladder. I support the eventual creation of a public bank specifically for low interest home loans and upgrades. I call for an end to all evictions and foreclosures with the city taking responsibility until a plan or agreement can be reached for re-payment, reduced payment, or free housing based on need.

The Scottie Griffin settlement and controversy?
(This question was posed to Dede Smith specifically. The question included reference to the $290,00 settlement with the former superintendent of schools.)
I take note that Charlottesville schools were working hard to find a way to deal with the very large achievement gap. Griffin was somewhat controversial, but the intention of the school board was to bring a strong and ambitious superintendent on board to make some real headway. This rocked the boat and many people had a hard time with that rocking of the boat. In the end, the community was pretty ugly in it’s attacks on Griffin in my opinion, but ultimately the only thing left to do was to find someone new. The settlement was the only serious way to move forward fairly. Rosa Atkins came on board and I have been pleased with her performance overall.

Why build the Meadowcreek Parkway?
Good question, why are we building a destructive new road that dumps more traffic right into downtown? Why are we considering using any of our parkland for anything other than for recreational use? Why are various public agencies consistently asserting that the parkway is not one big project? Why aren;t we doing something to expand public transportation on a huge scale instead?

The city often ends up with a surplus at year’s end, how would you use the surplus, would you lower the tax rate?
First we take stock of what we have left over, we then use it for “council priorities” and I would say transit expansion, public housing expansion, creation of city jobs, and giving to non-profits and programs that have faced funding shortages especially concerning women’s health services access, and affordable housing programs.

How do you feel about construction of the YMCA in McIntire Park?
I do not support it. We could find many other places for the YMCA other than in our public parks. We can act now to find a more suitable location that serves many more people this is not a done deal.

How you would feel serving on council with a Mayor who has endorsed other candidates?
The mayor can endorse whoever he chooses. He has an opinion, obviously has an interest in who serves on council, and to avoid saying what he wants would be a cop-out. For me I hope that he and other city councilors will continue to respectfully consider my views in the coming years.

The school reconfiguration was much more costly than anticipated, how do you  justify making that happen?
(This question was given to Galvin- I had nothing to do with the reconfiguration besides chiming in a couple of times on surveys).
My daughter is confused and a little upset about the reconfiguration. The surveys given to students dod not include the option of “keep it as it is” which my child, who attended bothe Buford and Walker supported. I share her concern, we need to be careful when considering closing any school. We have crowded schools, more so now.When I was in City Schools both Buford and Walker were 6-8 grade. I do think that 6-8 grades is better than 5-6 in one school and 7-8 in another. We also need ensure that all staff affected by the closing are able to remain employed. That said, the upgrades to Buford are wonderful and will be a great starting point for a more integrated approach to educational and community life.

Questions from candidates addressed to other candidates:
Should stream flow requirements be re-written?
It seems as though they would have to be if we go ahead with dredging. I support the idea of having stream flow requirements being met through other channels other than the rate payers and the water supply plan. That is, conservation groups and other agencies can restore streams and rivers using other funding rather than rate payers.

Pocket Park on JPA?
I would like to hear what the residents of the Fry’s Spring neighborhood have to say about the small park. Very little information is available about this project.

Is an affordable housing strategy anti-growth?
Not specifically. It is more about how we grow, where we grow, and who we grow more than anything else. Builders and developers need to consider making housing more affordable for our existing low wealth residents, rather than catering to an expanding influx of more wealthy people moving here, buying here, and renting expensive homes here. Our new housing should be built specifically for low income residents and we may have to pass ordinances to ensure that more homes are being built or upgraded specifically for low-wealth residents.

How do you justify dredging only?
A classicly misleading question. No one simply supports dredging only. I support restorative dredging now and maintenance in the future, raising the existing dam and then seeing where we are at. The cost of new dam is often reported as being lower than it is because no one seems to want to talk about the pipeline. We will see if we really need to build a new dam or not, and we will have plenty of time to make it happen if need be, but there is no immediate need to build the new dam right now. Ultimatley I can justify dredging as a first step because we shouldn’t lose our natural areas to placate development hungry interests in the county.

Partnering with UVA?
(This question was specific to Cannon as he is employed by UVA.)
UVA has much to offer and we need to make sure they offer it. They are our biggest employer. We need to get aggressive about a living wage at UVA by requesting weekly meetings with Teresa Sullivan to discuss living wage for all contracted and direct employees at UVA. We should also request more student engagement with the community culturally and through service. One thing that comes to mind is medical care- when they send a team for a clinic in Wise County they should do the same here at home. I would also suggest an immediate extension of the free trolley into late night service until 3:30 a.m.

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