Sunday, August 9, 2009

Responses to Sierra Club Candidate Survey

The general election for City Council is about to shift into higher gear (election day is Nov. 3, with myself and Kristin Szakos on the Democratic ticket), and to that end I share with you my responses to a recent Sierra Club candidate survey on environmental issues -- a policy arena that is obviously near and dear to me, both as a citizen and as an elected official. I encourage you to read Kristin's excellent responses as well:

What is your position on the preservation of McIntire Park in its entirety?

I am a strong supporter of our City’s parks and recreation program, and have championed a number of initiatives to expand and enhance parkland/green space in our community and improve recreational opportunities for our families.

McIntire Park, as our City’s largest park, should be the crown jewel of our park system. Instead it has suffered from a failure of imagination and as a result, only a tiny percentage of our population ever sets foot in McIntire Park on a regular basis. The eastern half of the park is reserved almost exclusively for golfers, who are several hundreds in number (out of a combined City-County population of 130,000+). The western half of the park is primarily used by softball and baseball players, most of whom don’t live in the City. While the picnic pavilions, wading pool, Dogwood Carnival, 4th of July fireworks, Dogwood Memorial, etc., do draw occasional visits from local residents, McIntire Park is by and large underused and underappreciated. That is the main reason why there hasn’t been more of an outcry about the plan to pave a major road right through the eastern half of the park. If more local residents had a firsthand appreciation of McIntire Park, if more local residents had a vested personal interest in saving McIntire Park, we would not even think about building the Meadowcreek Parkway. We need to open McIntire Park to the community. In particular, we need to provide opportunities for more CITY residents (especially residents from disadvantaged communities, who have historically felt excluded from the park) to use and enjoy the park as a resource for family recreation, youth enrichment, community-building and appreciation of nature. When I consider any proposed change to McIntire Park -- or any City park, for that matter -- I ask myself if the change will advance these four goals, and do so in a cost-effective manner. I do not believe in rigid adherence to the status quo for McIntire Park, because the status quo has not served the best interests of either the park or our community.

Do you support construction of the parkway in McIntire Park?

No. I have long opposed the Meadowcreek Parkway and have repeatedly voted against it while on Council. I do not believe the Parkway advances the goals I spelled out above for use of park space; furthermore, the Parkway is going to produce an unacceptable level of vehicular congestion in downtown Charlottesville from County cut-through traffic, just as we are trying to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly. If we are going to build more roads in this region, they should be roads designed to carry traffic around our residential neighborhoods and not directly through them.

What is your position on the proposed YMCA in McIntire Park?

I strongly support the YMCA in McIntire Park, not only because it does advance the goals I mentioned above for use of park space, but it also (more importantly) will be an invaluable resource for students at the Charlottesville High School next door. We have a serious need for positive recreational, enrichment and employment opportunities for teens in this community, and locating the YMCA adjacent to our High School (just as the new Boys & Girls Club is located adjacent to our Middle School) will be a big step forward in meeting these needs and countering the negative influences that are otherwise available to our young people out on the streets. Those who argue that an indoor recreation facility will “destroy” McIntire Park, and use patently false claims and divisive rhetoric to back up their assertions, ignore the fact that we already have two other parks with indoor recreation facilities in them (Washington and Tonsler), neither of which has hardly been “destroyed” by those facilities – even though both of those indoor facilities have a much larger relative footprint in their parks than the Y will have in McIntire. Finally, I support the YMCA because it will save the taxpayers of Charlottesville tens of millions of dollars vs. us building and managing our own second indoor aquatic and recreational facility, and thousands of lower-income City residents will be offered free memberships in the Y. Having said all of that, it is essential that the YMCA be well-designed and that any new parking be kept to a minimum, and that public transportation be extended to McIntire Park to reduce the need for parking and make sure all members of our community can enjoy the YMCA and the park.

What would you do to encourage alternative transportation and to improve pedestrian and bicycling safety?

Since I have been on City Council we have added Sunday bus service, expanded bus routes, increased frequency of service to certain neighborhoods, incorporated new real-time technology, and made other improvements to our transit system. Due in large part to these changes, transit ridership has risen dramatically, from approx. 1.5 million trips in 2006 to 2 million trips in 2008. We are now working with our regional partners (Albemarle County, UVa, JAUNT, etc.) to explore establishment of a Regional Transit Authority, which has the potential to significantly expand funding for public transportation and thereby increase ridership even further. I believe a trunk-and-feeder bus system, with a highly-visible, fast, frequent, fare-free “trunk line” connecting our major residential/commercial/employment centers (29 North, UVa, West Main/Downtown, Pantops), combined with a better park-and-ride system and smaller buses running frequent routes into our neighborhoods and feeding into the trunk line, could take transit ridership to an even higher level in our community. As for pedestrian and bicycling safety, I am proud of the fact that City Council allocated $750,000 this past year to new pedestrian safety improvements and created a Pedestrian Safety Committee to identify opportunities for making our City safer for those who are trying to get around on foot, on a bike, in a wheelchair, etc. In recent years we have also increased investment in sidewalks, bicycle trails, and other bike/ped amenities, in part by re-directing surplus funds from our road-paving budget to these kinds of uses. There are more improvements yet to be made (for example, I would like to see us expand our network of dedicated, off-road bike/ped trails), but we are at least moving in the right direction.

The City of Charlottesville has sought to promote marketing of locally produced foods. Are there any steps you believe the City should take to support local production and sale of healthful foods.

The City Market and Farmers in the Park have both been very successful, but both have been operating with a perpetual cloud of uncertainty over their heads with regard to their long-term future. That uncertainty needs to end. We need to secure a permanent home for the City Market at a site that will allow the Market to grow and thrive. We need to figure out a better way to manage/site Farmers in the Park so that it doesn’t have the look and feel of an afterthought. We need to broaden the consumer base for our markets by allowing low-income residents to use EBT cards at the markets; we’re currently exploring a pilot program along those lines. We need to encourage community gardening in more neighborhoods and thereby encourage more of our residents to get involved in growing their own food. I myself have been heavily involved in the effort to transform the old First Christian Church building downtown into a community resource center for the homeless, hungry and disadvantaged; one component of that project will be a community kitchen (“Kay’s Kitchen”) that will support production and distribution of local foods. I am eager to hear other ideas as to how the City can support the burgeoning local-foods movement.

Do you believe the City Council should support the determination of an optimum sustainable population size, such as the one proposed by Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, and use this information for future planning?

I supported the funding for this study and am pleased that it’s now in progress. I believe ASAP’s effort has been mischaracterized as an effort to create an arbitrary, legally-enforceable cap on population that we cannot grow beyond. Instead, I see it as an effort to better understand the optimum “carrying capacity” of our region’s natural resources, with an eye to understanding how our use of these resources – the choices we make regarding our built environment, our patterns of living and moving and using energy, etc. – impact the quality of life for ourselves and future generations. Decisions regarding growth need to be informed by a thorough understand of how that growth will affect the manner of living to which we’ve become accustomed.

The City of Charlottesville is surrounded by Albemarle County and the environments of the two localities are intertwined. Is there any any environmental issue in which you believe additional City-County cooperation should be sought?

The issue of climate change is one that lends itself naturally to greater collaboration between regional partners; carbon emissions know no jurisdictional boundaries, and we can do more to curb them by working together than by acting separately. I am pleased that the City and County have taken the first steps toward creation of a joint Regional Climate Action Plan, which will hopefully lead to closer cooperation between City and County on a range of emissions-reduction strategies (promotion of green building, energy and water conservation, renewable energy, alternative transportation, preservation of green space, recycling/waste reduction, etc.). This effort will build on the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) which the City and County recently unveiled, an initiative which is putting our region in the forefront both statewide and nationally as a clean energy pioneer. I was very pleased that the City of Charlottesville was named the “Greenest City in Virginia” last year for our size, and we should pursue every opportunity to scale up our environmental sustainability efforts for wider beneficial impact.

Would you support reconsidering the Community Water Supply Plan if the dredging study shows restorative dredging is economically and environmentally feasible?

Yes. I have insisted that the City and County revisit certain assumptions underlying the Community Water Supply Plan, one of which is that dredging is prohibitively costly and unfeasible. We are now conducting a feasibility study to see whether this particular assumption holds water (pardon the pun). If dredging is determined to be economically and environmentally feasible, if we can safely assume that there will be more than a 5% decrease in per-capita water consumption over the next 50 years (which I believe there will be), and if enlarging the size of the pipeline between the South Fork and Ragged Mountain reservoirs will lower the necessary storage capacity of Ragged Mountain, then my hope is that we can avoid building a large new dam at Ragged Mountain and instead simply repair and enlarge the existing dam. This approach would conceivably save the taxpayers/ratepayers a significant amount of money and result in much less environmental destruction.

Will you work to increase parkland acquisition in the City?

Not only will I work to increase parkland acquisition in the City, but I already have. For the first time in memory, this year’s City budget includes funding for parkland acquisition, and we’re about to announce a major gift of parkland from a local developer. I have been working with City staff to identify and prioritize parkland/green space acquisition opportunities and we will be pursuing a variety of strategies (purchase, donation, easement, etc.) to secure as many of these parcels as possible in the coming years. I am not opposed to creative, urban-infill, pedestrian- and transit-oriented development in the City, which I would much rather see than continued suburban sprawl in the County. However, if we are going to adhere to our goal of substantially increasing our tree canopy and enhancing our status as a “Green City,” we cannot stand by and let all of our green space be chewed up by development. We have to be proactive in adding to our inventory of parkland/green space and instituting policies and incentives for private sector efforts to protect and enhance green space as well.


Peter Kleeman said...

Dave - thanks for sharing your responses to Sierra Club survey. The challenge it so get some of our current council members to adopt environment-friendly and pedestrian-friendly policies and support only projects that are consistent with making Charlottesville a truly sustainable city. I look forward to the discussion about granting the requested permanent easement to Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority in McIntire Park that is on the August 17 council agenda. Council has only authorized temporary easements at VDOT request, but now VDOT is back to ask for more land rights in the park to allow construction of the destructive McIntire Road Extended (a.k.a. Meadowcreek Parkway). We need our council decision makers to vote consistent with the city's vision. Only a no vote on the permanent easement is consistent with the city's vision as I see it.

Lonnie Murray said...

Mayor Norris, thank you for your clear statement on McIntire. While I too am opposed to the Meadowcreek parkway, I've been frustrated so far that a small group of people seem to be fighting a democratic master planning process that could open the park up to more of the public.

While I support consideration of a botanical garden on the east side, I think the MOST important thing is that there be a public process and an open community discussion. I think you have set forth excellent guidlines by which to evaluate ANY potential use for the park.

I also completely agree that if we'd really done this work years ago, and opened up the park to more people, then no one would even consider putting a road through the park now.

As a side note, has anyone considered offering to help MACAA apply for TEA-21/SAFETEA grant funds to restore the gardens there?