TLR Staff Report
All candidates for local offices were invited to submit a guest column addressing either one local issue about which they are concerned OR why they are running for office. Here are their responses:
Climate Change Isn’t Coming – It’s Here
By Michael Parker
Climate change isn’t coming – it’s here. We see it in the increased frequency of severe weather events. We see it in changes to our local and national flora and fauna. We need to act, and we need to act now. Many people ask: “What can a town like Chapel Hill do? Isn’t it a Federal and State problem?” While there are critical things that we need these governments to do – promoting the use of alternative energy sources and regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, for example — there are important things that we need Chapel Hill to do.
Case in point. Transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse emissions in North Carolina – soon to be the largest. The most important thing that we can do to reduce these emissions is cutting Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT). We must get people out of their cars. And when we can’t get them out of their cars, we need to get them into electric vehicles. This is where Chapel Hill comes in.
The combination of smart land use planning and the provision of multi-modal transportation – particularly transit – is the most important thing we can do to reduce VMT. We need to stop sprawling and create compact, mixed use neighborhoods that are walkable, bikeable, and connected to transit. We need to step up our investment in bike-ped infrastructure, particularly with the advent of E-bikes that can “flatten” Chapel Hill. And only Chapel Hill can do this for Chapel Hill. Regardless of what the Federal and State governments do or don’t do, it is incumbent upon us to take action now.
I am proud that Mayor Hemminger is one of over 400 climate action mayors across the country who have committed to the Paris Accords. It is now time for us to develop a Climate Action Plan that implements the goals articulated by the mayors, such as zero net carbon emissions by 2050. Such a plan must be:
- Goal and data driven: We need to have goals (e.g., for reductions in VMT and other emission sources) and milestones at five-year intervals so that we can measure progress and modify the plan. We should use data to ensure that we focus our efforts on the actions that will be most impactful.
- Comprehensive and integrated: Our plan must address the full range of actions that we need to take, ranging from land-use and transportation planning, to changing building codes to mandate energy efficiency, to promoting alternative/renewable energy, to waste creation and disposal, to tree preservation and planting.
- Resiliency focused: We must also adapt to the effects of climate change that we are already experiencing, such as more severe and more frequent adverse weather events. Our plan needs to include steps to mitigate the effects of these events through, for example, more effective stormwater management.
- Involve everyone: Climate change affects us all and all of us have a role to play in combating it. We need to include a major educational component in our plan so that everyone understands what they can do. And we need to motivate folks to participate.
- Focused on social equity: The effects of climate change will not be felt equally across the income and race divide. We must ensure that our plan spreads both the benefits and costs of our plan equitably.
I also want to stress that addressing climate change is not all about sacrifice. Apart from the climate associated benefits, there are other real paybacks of climate action. The social and health benefits of walkable neighborhoods, the green spaces that we will create, and the greenways that will be constructed will all promote a much higher quality of life for our residents.
I recognize that this is an ambitious agenda. It will require that our residents come together to develop and implement the plan in a way that may be new and challenging for us. And it will clearly require a commitment of resources that may require that we reorder some of our priorities. Can we do it? Will we do it? Climate change is the existential issue of our time. If we don’t respond to it quickly, boldly, and effectively, nothing else that we do will matter much to our children and grandchildren. I am convinced that we will.
Michael Parker is currently a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council and is running for re-election.
What Our Town Can Do About Climate Change
By Renuka Soll
Climate change resulting from the atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHG) is one of the greatest challenges we face at all levels of government. In recent years, action at the federal and state levels has been inadequate, making it more important for us to identify things we can do at the local level to minimize further GHG accumulation.
Much local discussion about climate change has focused on the need to reduce the number of miles people travel in fuel-combustion vehicles. While the transportation sector is a significant contributor to GHGs, it is not the only one.
There is little that the town can do to get people out of their cars, but the town does regulate building construction. Thus, reducing the amount of GHGs produced by local buildings must be an important focus of the town’s climate change action plan.
For example, the town should incentivize — state law does not allow us to require — new construction to meet the American Institute of Architecture’s 2030 Challenge standards. These standards state that by 2020, we should be constructing buildings that reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent compared to the average amount of emissions buildings produced in 2005, and construct carbon-neutral buildings by 2030 and beyond.
This may seem an ambitious goal, but a carbon-neutral building — the Sancar Turkish Cultural Center — is actually already under construction in Chapel Hill and will serve as a model for future new construction and redevelopment.
Whether a building can be made carbon-neutral depends on its height or, more specifically, on the ratio of its interior volume — which requires energy for cooling, heating, illumination, etc. — to the amount of roof surface area available to install energy-producing solar panels.
With current technology, buildings can be made carbon-neutral only up to four stories tall. Buildings taller than that require some additional source of renewable energy generation beyond the building itself, such as solar carportcanopies or other ground-mounted solar systems.
Thus, while some argue that tall buildings help reduce GHGs by concentrating more people in a smaller area and, in theory, reducing transportation-related GHG emissions, that benefit needs to be weighed against the fact that, at present, tall buildings will inevitably contribute to further GHG accumulation. A four-story limit on building height may be the sweet spot, providing much of the GHG-related benefits of compact development while also allowing for the creation of carbon-neutral structures.
In addition to encouraging the construction of carbon-neutral buildings, we should also encourage our local businesses — such as by providing a revolving loan fund — to upgrade their energy systems in ways that reduce their carbon footprint. For example, the town government switched to all LED lights and mechanical systems in three town-owned facilities (Town Hall, the Wallace parking deck & Homestead aquatic center). The carbon savings from this investment was equivalent to removing 100 cars off the road.
There is still more we can do, such as saving more of our mature GHG-absorbing canopy trees, as well as planting more trees throughout Chapel Hill. Specifically, we should strengthen our Tree Protection Ordinance by requiring developers to spare more canopy trees during construction rather than allowing them to replace mature trees with saplings, which take decades to grow. Additionally, we should impose a harsher penalty on those developers who violate our code by clear cutting.
Of course, the value of trees goes far beyond their role in combatting climate change. Our canopy trees are beautiful and give Chapel Hill its distinct verdant character, make walking and biking more pleasant in the summer by providing shade, and are a source of oxygen for our community.
Finally, I will also advocate for installing more electric charging stations around town and for continuing to transition our bus fleet to fully electric vehicles. Currently, the town has purchased three electric buses, and I would like to see us move to a fully electric fleet as soon as possible. I will also encourage UNC to make good on its pledge to shift away from using coal as a source of energy in its on-campus co-generation facility and to move toward non-GHG-producing sources instead.
Renuka Soll is a candidate for the Chapel Hill Town Council.
Carrboro Can Serve as a Model
By Steve Friedman
I believe Carrboro is a great place to live and has an opportunity to serve as a model for other small towns that are looking to make a difference on a broader stage. Though politics at the national level may receive more attention, in our country more meaningful politics is local.
I am a 15-year resident of Carrboro and have seen the town go through significant growth and yet maintain its unique sense of place. My background is one of business, growth and analytics and will bring a new perspective to the CBOA. My goal is that voters will elect me to not only represent their interests in our town but to advocate for their interests with larger bodies, including the General Assembly, whose members’ views do not often align with ours.
My top three priorities are as follows:
- Create a plan for communicating to, and engaging with, all residents of Carrboro to create a more involved, active and ultimately knowledgeable citizenry.
- Create a sustainable business model for Carrboro that grows the diversity of the businesses in town to create a stronger, more sustainable economy.
- Make good on the town’s ideals, including that of broad inclusivity, by increasing the amount of affordable housing.
Our town is too small for residents not to know what is going on or be closely engaged with the work the government is doing on their behalf. We don’t have a newspaper or news source dedicated to our area the way other metropolitan areas do, so the burden of communication falls on the town’s government to proactively reach residents.
The fact we haven’t been effective in doing this has led to residents feeling like they are being left out of the process. The town is very effective in putting out yard signs to let us know when trash or recycling pick up is moving because of a holiday, but is less forthcoming when issues of significant consequence to our neighborhoods are being discussed in Town Hall.
My solution for addressing this is to lean on my work in communicating to a defined community (my day job is working with 550+ independent pharmacies in the Southeast) with disparate interests, yet all with the same common goal and broadly the same engagement level.
We can segment our residents by communication method (e.g., phone/email/text/mail), then by geography and then finally by interest (e.g., climate change, transportation, events) where we can provide timely and accurate communication to residents using their preferred method. This is accomplished using existing software and once established is easy to maintain and does not place a significant burden on town staff to execute.
Our main businesses today are restaurants, small shops and arts and entertainment venues, which drives patronage in our town. In order to ensure a vibrant future for Carrboro’s businesses, we must create a diverse business environment which includes women-owned and minority businesses, as well as a broad range of enterprises. When we bring in a small to mid-sized technology or professional services company, those employees eat in our restaurants, purchase goods from our stores and patronize other businesses to support their lifestyle (e.g., bike repair, dry cleaning, grocery shopping). This creates a sustainable business base for Carrboro not reliant on any one industry.
Additionally, we will reduce the traffic we see every morning as over 9,000 Carrboro residents leave town to work elsewhere. This will cut down on car miles and carbon emissions. We also will create positions that pay enough so employees of these businesses can afford to live here.
I also want to focus on more affordable housing options, especially for those that work in service to the town but cannot afford to live here. There are a number of commissions, coalitions, advisory boards and concerned citizens working on this issue, which is appropriate.
This is one of the most critical issues we face and we need to continue to seek creative options, including zoning and working with nonprofits and developers to create a variety of housing options at all price points for homeowners, renters, single families and the elderly. We can build on the foundation that created the Affordable Housing Task Force and Plan.
I am also a big proponent of a living wage for our town. This effort will go a long way toward helping people live where they work. This is not only an effort that should be undertaken by local businesses, but also by the town itself.
Steve Friedman is a candidate for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.
We Can Improve Outcomes for All Students
By Rani Dasi
Education is critical to address many of the issues that affect society. As the parent of four, I have a strong motivation to improve education for all children and the background to drive positive change.
In 2015, I was elected to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) Board of Education and over the last four years I have served as a board member, including terms as vice chair and board chair.
I am running for re-election because I know firsthand how transformative education can be to a person’s life and I know that in this community we have the resources and the will to improve outcomes for all of our students. I want to continue the work being done to make CHCCS a district that transforms lives.
Like many districts across North Carolina, CHCCS faces critical challenges:
- Reduced state funding has significantly decreased resources even as student needs have increased. Incredibly, inflation-adjusted funding is down six percent vs 2008-09 despite a 90,000-student increase. North Carolina has fewer teachers, teaching assistants, support staff (psychologists, librarians, nurses, social workers, etc.) and materials.
- Facility needs — Across North Carolina, school renovation needs are estimated at about $8 billion. In 2016 the CHCCS renovation estimate was upwards of $300 million. Voters approved a local bond to renovate Chapel Hill High (initially estimated at $52 million). When the project broke ground, costs had increased to $72 million. Historically, North Carolina
has issued a state school bond about every decade. But more than 20 years have passed since the last bond. We need advocacy to encourage legislators to address this gap.
- Increased competition for declining teacher supply. Enrollment in UNC system teacher preparation programs has declined 41 percent since 2010. Recruiting and retaining teachers, particularly in areas such as math and science, is increasingly challenging, as teachers see more
earning potential in the private sector.
- Opportunity Gap — Continued weaknesses in educating black, brown, economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities.
To improve student outcomes in CHCCS, we must redesign our core education systems to create success for all students. This requires proactive efforts to eliminate institutional structures and practices that create barriers to student learning and achievement.
- Increase recruitment and retention of teachers of color.
- Build a school and district climate which welcomes and engages families and students of color, including the implementation of culturally inclusive rigorous curriculum and instruction to meet the wide range of student abilities.
- Continue to advocate for increased compensation and supports for teachers.
- Build community support to address issues of race.
- Strengthen accountability systems, communicating progress on success metrics and check points for interventions as needed.
- Renovate our school buildings to create appropriate learning spaces.
True change requires community support and investment. Some priorities include:
- Paid family leave for our teachers.
Astoundingly, teachers don’t receive paid time off for maternity/paternity leave. The state recently began providing paid leave for some state employees but teachers were not included.
- Comprehensive Social/Emotional programming to support increasing mental health needs.
- Expanded summer programming to help elementary school and exceptional students in need of extra academic support.
- School Safety. ADA compliance upgrades, emergency systems.
We know that challenges which exist in schools also exist in our broader community. When we strengthen resources for students, we make improvements in our community health. Let’s support investment in education to improve outcomes for our students and our community.
Rani Dasi is a candidate for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.
The Diversity of Diversity
By Nancy Oates
When my sister came to town last week, we went out to eat a few times. In Chapel Hill restaurants, most people looked like us, and like each other.
Then we went to Mebane to meet my son and his wife for dinner. We went to an independently owned restaurant in the heart of downtown, and the contrast to Chapel Hill was striking.
Customers had different hair colors and styles, and different skin tones. I heard different languages spoken at tables around the room. The manager wore traditional western dress of khakis and a polo shirt. The waitress gliding among the tables wore an outfit made from kente cloth. Some men had the haircut standard among military personnel and law enforcement. Some women had dyed their hair purple or blue. Two women showed off their brand-new baby.
All those people living the life that’s right for them, all in the same town. That’s the diversity I want for Chapel Hill.
How do we get there? We create an ecosystem in which people feel comfortable being themselves and have what they need for their vision of a good life. That begins with making room for people of a wide range of income levels to live in town.
I see some of that diversity on campus, less as I move through other areas of town. Diversity goes beyond racial and ethnic demographics. Some of it stems from money and who has access to it.
We lose some of our diversity as wealth rises. Often as people move up to higher pay scales, the pressure to conform increases, too. Just ask Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, whose job was on the line after tweeting his support of Hong Kong protesters. As it becomes more expensive to live in Chapel Hill, the diversity door has inched shut.
Generational wealth factors in to diversity. I recall talking with a professor, a man of color, who wanted to buy a home in Chapel Hill and was stymied by the large down payment he would have to accrue first. His lender suggested he borrow the money from his family, not understanding that because segregation had denied African Americans access to homeownership for generations, the professor didn’t have family money to fall back on.
Here’s where I’ll put in a public service announcement for Community Home Trust (I’m a board member), the best dime taxpayers have ever spent. The buyers of home trust homes can purchase a home at a deep discount in neighborhoods where homes sell for a much higher price. Even though appreciation is capped to keep the homes permanently affordable, Community Home Trust homeowners still build equity, which develops financial stability that can be passed along to future generations.
The high cost of housing impacts businesses as well and can skew success toward businesses that target upscale buyers. Some independent restaurants and businesses that cater to the middle class have gone out of business in recent years. As the cost of housing takes up more of the household budget, middle class and working-class residents have less discretionary income to go out to dinner, and they cut costs by shopping at big-box discount stores outside of town.
As independent businesses close, chain stores with more financial cushion and the ability to pay higher rents move in, shifting the commercial rental market price point ever upward.
A healthy town is a balanced town. Our vitality as a community depends on people who work in town at a wide range of pay scales making Chapel Hill their home.
I have stayed true to this message for years, through my advocacy for affordable housing during the years before I was elected, by pressing developers to make a more robust contribution to affordable units during my four years as a council member, and I won’t let up if re-elected.
Nancy Oates is a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council and a candidate for re-election.
Public Educators Saved My Life
By Jillian La Serna
Somewhere in the rubble of a rundown, one-bedroom shack in Sacramento, CA., is a poster written by a 2nd-grader that reads: “When I grow up, I want to be a teacher.” Above the hand-written caption is a photograph of the smiling girl standing next to her teacher. That condemned wooden shack with the busted-out windows and broken screen door was my childhood home. The girl who wrote the report was me.
Public educators, beginning with my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Larson, saved my life. My parents had me when they were in high school, raising me together for a time before throwing in the towel and splitting up.
Of Dad, I have two early memories. The first was of his funny looking (and smelling) cigarettes, which I only later realized were marijuana blunts. The second was of him pummeling another young man with his bare fists in a public swimming pool. After that, he faded from view, spending time in and out of prison before turning his life around.
Mom did her best to raise me alone from her trailer, but her drug addiction made it almost impossible. When I was a small child, my grandparents took me in and decided to raise me, just until Mom “got her act together.”
My grandparents didn’t have much — Papa was a retired Folsom Prison guard and Nanny never graduated — but they loved me and encouraged me to stay in school. I’m glad they did, because my teachers saw a future for me that I couldn’t yet see for myself.
They saw the promise of a young girl who could be so much more than she could imagine. They instilled in me a love of reading and learning, and an appreciation for the empowerment of knowledge. Teachers like Ms. Larson, and my principal, Mr. Baumgartner, were more than just educators. They were role models. They were family. They made me feel special, they listened and knew me as a person, and I knew then that I wanted to be like them when I grew up.
For me, school became not only an escape from the trauma of poverty and a broken home, but also an exhibition of the possible. In high school, Sr. Amezcua, my Spanish teacher, unleashed my passion for language and culture, and a desire to travel the world. Mr. Carlstroem, my math and newspaper teacher, taught me the value of crunching numbers and the power of investigation. They encouraged me to go to college to become a teacher, attended my wedding, and continue to be in my corner to this day.
As a board member, I want to ensure that we make this experience a reality for all of our students. We have excellent educators in this district making their impact on our children and we need to empower them to change lives. We need to recruit more diverse teachers — Black, Asian, Latinx, LGBTQ — so that our students can see themselves in those who grow and mentor them.
We need to ensure that we are utilizing our budget in creative and new ways that will address opportunity gaps. We need to ensure all students are given access to challenging and rigorous curriculum that will push them to new heights. We need to expand learning opportunities for students within and outside of the traditional school day. Future possibilities are boundless and this district can make them happen!
I have kept the lessons and relationships from my childhood education near and dear to my heart in my own path as a public-school educator. They have shaped every step of the journey, from teaching assistant, to classroom teacher, to interventionist, to volunteer teacher in Peru (thanks, Sr. Amezcua!), to assistant principal, to principal, and now as a college professor training the next generation of school leaders.
Just as my educators loved me, I have loved every student that has walked through my halls or sat in my classroom. And it has always been, and always will be, my mission to show every child that they are loved, and to see in them that future that they may not yet see for themselves.
Jillian La Serna is assistant professor of educational leadership at UNC Charlotte and a candidate for CHCCS Board of Education.
Let’s Put More Green in Chapel Hill
By Amy Ryan
When I talk to people on the campaign trail, I hear over and over how strongly Chapel Hill residents value the natural beauty of our town. They accept that we’re growing, but they want to find a way to keep that essential green character as we make room for new people and businesses.
It’s a message I’m delighted to hear. My master’s degree in landscape architecture taught me the value of preserving natural space as a community grows, about the importance of balancing building and preservation — of having a smaller ecological footprint by building more in some places, and then promoting a healthy ecosystem by preserving the natural environment in others.
Chapel Hill’s leaders are rightly focused on becoming more environmentally responsible, but a lot of the discussion revolves around density, transit and technical solutions. These are all important, but it’s time to add to the conversation — to make sure we’re keeping the green in our environmental plans.
I’d like to see the town think bigger about our parks, trails and natural areas. We can grow them into a connected system, a “green infrastructure” for the town. It can provide the larger spaces and natural corridors that help preserve species and habitats. It can become a system for accessible and safe bike and pedestrian transportation throughout town. It can expand our network of outdoor recreation options so all our neighborhoods have public green spaces nearby. Finally, it can help preserve our forested areas, sequester more carbon and protect our waterways.
This kind of planning is not only ecologically responsible; it has the potential to bring other benefits to our town and its residents. Creating connected greenway infrastructure will encourage better health by offering opportunities for children and adults to bike and walk. More bikers and walkers mean fewer cars on our roads. And more natural space means better air and water quality for us all.
In my 17 years of service on Chapel Hill boards and committees, I’ve built a reputation as an effective champion for land-use policies that nurture our environment — walkable design, infill along transit corridors, protecting our tree canopy and stream buffers, and promoting bike and pedestrian infrastructure. I’ve advocated for other policies too, like
- Building a strong business community to bring new companies and good jobs, promote a more vibrant downtown and take some of the tax burden off residents.
- Fostering a more diverse community and making room for new, more affordable kinds of housing, especially along our transit corridors.
- Planning strategically for growth that fits into the fabric of our community — located in the right place and at the right size for its context.
As your representative on council, I’ll continue to advocate for all these policies. But I’m especially excited by the opportunity to build a greener, more connected and healthier Chapel Hill for everyone. Our residents tell me they’re excited about the idea, too. I know that if we’re willing to think big and work together, we can green our town in amazing new ways.
Amy Ryan is a candidate for the Chapel Hill Town Council.