City Council Candidates Forum
The five candidates for three open seats on the
Charlottesville City Council
participated in a forum on October 3rd and answered questions about transportation, affordable living choices, and City-County cooperation. The event, which was held in Council Chambers, was co-moderated by Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum and Sean Tubbs of Charlottesville Tomorrow.
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Visit Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Election Watch 2007
website for even more detailed information on the candidates including,
bios, campaign finance reports, other videos and podcasts, and the
schedule of upcoming candidate forums. A complete transcript of this candidate forum will be posted here in the near future.
Peter Kleeman (I): “I am an independent thinker and an independent candidate. One of my reasons for running is that the City needs new leadership… I’ve been working as a citizen on a variety of issues in Charlottesville related to growth and transportation… I believe I can move the City forward in a positive direction.”
Holly Edwards (D): “I’m a part of the Democratic team for City Council. If I am chosen, I will focus on the problems of people. I will take ideas that you give me and use them to make Charlottesville a better place to live.”
Satyendra Huja (D): “I’ve been a resident of this community for the last 34 years, 31 of those as Director of Planner and Director Strategic Planning for the City of Charlottesville… I bring a fair amount of experience, creativity, and proven record of service to this community.”
Barbara Haskins (I): “I have been here twenty-six years… I am running as a horrified taxpayer. Believe me, I would rather not have felt compelled to run, but this last budget cycle I became increasingly horrified by financial decisions that the City Council made and made again and made again. It seemed that nobody was concerned about the taxpayers.”
David Brown (D): “I was elected in 2004… City Council has accomplished a lot in the four years I’ve been on Council… stream protection, Sunday bus service, traffic light synchronization, affordable housing initiatives, youth summer jobs program, increased curbside recycling, just to name a few… City Council is a team sport… Our accomplishments are shared.”
Question 1: With the state unable to fund critical road projects, what will you advocate for to ensure funding of priority regional transportation projects? Would you advocate spending city dollars in Albemarle County?
Holly Edwards (D): “I am not sure if the state is unable to or if the Republican majority has hijacked the funds… Secondly, road improvements also include bicycle and pedestrian pathways… Third, in order for transportation to really be a way for everyone can benefit, is for it to be a regional collaboration…”
Satyendra Huja (D): “There are ways we can cooperate. One of the suggestions I think can be explored is a joint transportation district where City and County can join and raise funds for their own projects so that those highways can be built in the County…”
Barbara Haskins (I): “No one is against advocating. The issue is how effective it can be. I would certainly not be in favor of spending City dollars in Albemarle County… Our tax rate is 95 cents, there’s is 68 cents.”
David Brown (D): “It’s not that the state is unable to fund roads, it’s that they are unwilling… We have not raised the gas tax in years and years and years… I agree with Huja that we do need to consider with Albemarle County some type of regional transportation district or authority, some way we can raise our own money… We already are spending some City dollars in on transportation in Albemarle County because we jointly funded a study of the Eastern Connector… I wouldn’t think we’d ever be a major part of their funding stream, however.”
Peter Kleeman (I): “I would question what the critical road projects are, and I think there’s a difference of opinion as to whether roads are the solutions to our transportation needs or not… We have many models of cities that have gotten larger and have tried to build roads to meet the demands of development… And we don’t see any good models out there of cities that have successfully built roads to meet those demands… I have no problem with City money be spent for the regional benefit…”
Question 2: Charlottesville City Council has approved the dedication of a portion of the property tax to the creation of affordable housing opportunities. How do you believe the City should address the need for not just affordable housing, but also workforce housing?
Satyendra Huja (D): “Affordable housing is a regional issue, and not just an issue of the City of Charlottesville…. I also believe the City should and has contributed a fair amount of funds for affordable housing… I believe we can assist with down-payment programs…”
Barbara Haskins (I): “One way to come at is, who owns the housing? If you have a developer and you say you must offer X percent of your units below market rate for our targeted group of workforce housing, the first owner wins the bonanza because then it goes to market rate… A more desirable operation then would be to maintain ownership of the units…”
David Brown (D): “The City has been addressing affordable housing, particularly now with Dave Norris on Council… . Workforce housing gets addressed through homeowners assistance programs… it also gets addressed by encouraging a variety housing stock, encouraging the market to not just build to where the most profit is…The other couples of areas that often get overlooked are affordable rental housing…and special needs housing….”
Peter Kleeman (I): “I think the issue of having housing be a free enterprise endeavor has led to having a shortage of certain types of houses and a surplus of others. Apparently one can make a lot more money as a developer building upscale housing… A good role for the City a government entity is to try to find where the missing pieces are… and try to find a way to encourage development of a broader range of alternatives…”
Holly Edwards (D): “The whole housing issue is one of Charlottesville’s biggest economic problems. Workforce housing is affordable housing. Affordable housing is workforce housing…”
Question 3: Last year City Council replaced the 7th street vehicle crossing with another crossing at the
east end of the mall at the behest of businesses along the mall. Do you support the second vehicular crossing of the mall?
Barbara Haskins (I): “I sort of identified three potential constituencies around this subject. One would be the business owners, one would be the drivers, and one would be the pedestrians… I would at least want to look at the methodology of the data collection to see if I felt it was valid…. It was done for business people… so there should be data available to see if it increased sales. I personally don’t think that’s the main reason to do it. I think driving downtown is confusing…”
David Brown (D): “The City is very proud of and somewhat dependent upon the health of the Downtown Mall…. But City downtown merchants can’t depend solely on city residents…. We need to make it easy for a person who is trying to figure out where to park and where to go to do so… I did support it and I continue to support it.”
Peter Kleeman (I): “ My short answer would be no, I do not support it… To introduce cars into [the Mall] that is like having pedestrians spaces along 29 in the middle of the road… Most of the people who were surveyed crossing the Mall were coming from or going to a destination that was in vicinity of the mall… It has been a failure meeting its targeted goals and the downside it has had a negative impact on pedestrianism in our pedestrian centered area.”
Holly Edwards (D): “I am the only [candidate] who has the distinct pleasure of chasing two toddlers across the mall and the fear of being able to catch them in time before they get to that intersection. So I was initially discouraged at the presence of the vehicular crossing for the benefit of the businesses, I do however think the crossing is a benefit for the elderly being able to get closer to some of the stores…”
Satyendra Huja (D): “I used to be opposed to crossings, but I have seen that it works and I think that it will be useful to have one on each side… As long as the priority is still given to the pedestrians… It provides better circulation for the downtown…”
Question 4: The Meadowcreek Parkway is now scheduled to begin construction in 2008. Do you support the construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway including the grade-separated interchange at Route 250?
David Brown (D): “I voted in favor of the parkway Monday night, so I do support the parkway…Even though we have a great mall now, I worry about what congestion on Route 29… what Albemarle Place is going to do to our Downtown without the Meadowcreek Parkway… This isn’t an easy decision, and it’s not one that I go home and really feel great about…”
Peter Kleeman (I): “No, I do not support the Meadowcreek Parkway with or without the grade-separated interchange… The Downtown Mall is quite healthy… [The Parkway] is a solution that has been kept alive despite the fact that it is not a solution to our transportation needs. Our needs are not to get people into downtown. Our needs are to get people around the City… With or without the interchange, if you look at the traffic data… it’s really like bringing a bunch of new traffic into an already congested set of links…”
Holly Edwards (D): “I think this is kind of a rhetorical question because it’s already been answered by the present council… I don’t support the development because of the amount of loss of parkland…”
Satyendra Huja (D): “I do support Meadowcreek Parkway as long as it’s a two-lane parkway design and has pedestrian and bike access… I prefer a tighter interchange. It will provide better access to downtown. There are many benefits to this road…”
Barbara Haskins (I): “I think It behooves us to support the commercial revenue stream. Virtually every business person downtown feels the Meadowcreek Parkway is vital… We need to keep our commercial core viable, and even though people can get downtown today, it doesn’t mean they will be able to in five years…”
Question 5: Some citizens are concerned about increasing cut through traffic through residential neighborhoods. What can or should be done to reduce cut through traffic?
Peter Kleeman (I): As we have more and more vehicles in the City, we will have more and more cut through traffic… If we can reduce the number of vehicles… if we have more increased housing opportunities in places where people work and shop, they don’t need to do those extra trips… We just need to change the opportunity set for people to do their daily trips. Transit, biking, biking clearly would do it…”
Holly Edwards (D): “Ultimately the best way to decrease the traffic is to get people out of their cars to create a culture where pedestrians and bicycles are actually welcomed in our city…”
Satyendra Huja (D): “At three things which I think could help deal with this issues. First, promote more traffic calming in residential neighborhoods… Second, lot of cut through traffic is coming from County and I think I would encourage County to build more connecting roads like Sunset-Fontaine, Eastern Connector, Southern Parkway so they can have some other roads to travel on… Most important thing I’d like to promote is a good transit system…”
Barbara Haskins (I): “We all know that people do the thing that makes the most sense to them, so if cut-throughs seem like the best choice, they will continue to use cut-throughs until they are no longer seem like the best choice… You can make cut-throughs more toxic… We already have the continuous running trolley between Downtown and UVA… Perhaps extending that to Barracks Road and the K-Mart would encourage people to use transit.
David Brown (D): To deal with cut-through traffic you can get people out of cars… You can try and encourage density where people can walk to work or walk to school…. I think a Regional Transit Authority and cooperation with Albemarle County could go a long way… And then you can encourage people to drive on the roads you want to drive them and discourage them from being on the roads you don’t want them to be on…”
Question 6: The city’s comprehensive plan calls for increased housing density. How will you balance the goal of increased density with citizen concerns about changing the character of neighborhoods?
Holly Edwards (D): “Increasing the housing density has the advantage of allowing people to live closer to where they work… The concern I have with the density is making sure that the infrastructure is in place to support it… I believe strongly in the power of grass-roots organizing and the ability to have neighbors collaborate and be part of the architectural planning so that everyone is part of that process to assure that the character of the neighborhoods are being preserved…”
Satyendra Huja (D): “There are areas which in the City that I think I would like to encourage higher density development like on major corridors… But at the same time you want to discourage higher densities in single-family residential areas… I’ll also encourage some good transition between high-density and low-density…”
Barbara Haskins (I): “If the density is next door to them, there will be unhappiness…Hopefully there is citizen input on facades, and size and what have you, but generally speaking people don’t like it… Zoning ordinances are intended to help balance this…”
David Brown (D): “Density has a lot to do with sustainability. It’s just simply much more efficient, energy efficient, to have people living densely in a city then it is to have people spread out and having to drive places… Several years ago there was a consultant here really looking at what we could to do to improve transit, and the number one thing he said was… to have more hubs of density that could support a sophisticated transit system. What we don’t want is to overwhelm functioning neighborhoods….”
Peter Kleeman (I): “I believe that the opportunity for density in areas that are looking for density is a great opportunity… Other areas that are well established neighborhoods that are stable as single family neighborhoods and there’s not that much demand for change, I believe those should be allowed if the neighborhoods want to not suffer, in their terms, spot density, like some of the parcels of land that have been turned into these… Planned Urban Developments which are very high density stuck in the middle of a low density neighborhoods…”
Question 7: Looking ahead to the upcoming budget, does City government have the appropriate resources, financial and personnel, to achieve the objectives in our comprehensive and strategic plans?
Satyendra Huja (D): “Yes, I think we do have sufficient resources….We have good staff, good personnel in the City… I would spend more money in capital projects, drainage, sidewalks, and water quality… We need to make sure… we monitor how [resources] are spent so that they are efficiently and effectively used….”
Barbara Haskins (I): “This [question] is exactly backwards… I would say… what are the resources, and what kind of wish list should we develop given that… It’s difficult to finance the City. We have the commercial and we have the homeowners and that’s pretty much the sources of income. And so when we create these big plans, where does the money come from to pay for them?”
David Brown (D): “The financial resource part is a moving target… not just because our projections of how well we’re going to do with sales tax, with our meals and lodging tax, with our real estate revenues, but because of the uncertainties that develop with state and federal funding…Currently the City does have sufficient resources…”
Peter Kleeman (I): “I believe we do have a fairly luxurious set-up, that we have some resources and we have some very stable organizations like the University of Virginia… and some large corporations that are moving here… I believe we have an excellent staff at the City… What I think is really lacking is some bold leadership and I think people who are sitting on this dais are people who are competing with a different vision of how to lead that staff, and to utilize those resources in a bold and dynamic way…”
Holly Edwards (D): “I certainly think we have the talent and the wealth and the desire to have all the things that have been set forth in the strategic plan… We need more resources, we need to do more work, but I think that plan just created a vision of how hard we need to work…”
Question 8: How important is creating new jobs to the future of the City of Charlottesville? With the departure of Martha Jefferson Hospital, what economic development opportunities should be explored?
Barbara Haskins (I): “I think that the more critical issue, again, is where the money come from? It comes from commercial operations and it comes from homeowners… So to me, the issue of jobs per se is less relevant than commercial businesses that supply a revenue stream to the city… In terms of Martha Jefferson Hospital, I do agree with the idea to sort of rezone or dezone back to housing for the part that are single-family nice homes so that those would not be vulnerable to being torn down for a more commercial development…”
David Brown (D): “We want to encourage businesses, small businesses, entrepreneurship, but the issue is not so much the jobs as it is making sure that our school children and our young adults are well-prepared for jobs in the future…Martha Jefferson Hospital leaving… it’s a loss. I am positive about the outcome of the consultant that’s been working with the neighborhood and the City.”
Peter Kleeman (I): “Job creation is just part of organic life of the City…People are doing pretty dramatically different things today from what they did ten years ago. And that will be true ten years from now… We have some great job generators. We have a University that is growing.
Holly Edwards (D): “A few years ago I worked with the Connecting People to Jobs program to prepare low-income residents for the workforce and Martha Jefferson was one of the partners that collaborated… As they collaborate with the consultants, I hope the same spirit of collaboration will continue with the community…”
Satyendra Huja (D): “Quality of life greatly depends upon having a good job and for most people… We need to create jobs that pay well, on which you can support a family, so that you can afford to have a house… [Martha Jefferson’s departure] is an opportunity also to have a development that can add to the economic well-being of our community…”
Audience question #1: Have you supported in the past, or would you now support a merger between the City and the County?
David Brown (D): “We’re a City and we provide pools, we’ve provided recreation centers, we provide trash pick-up. There are lots of things we provide that the County does not provide… Granted the County is becoming more urban… I think we are a long way from being well suited for a merger. I do believe, however, there are lots of areas where we could more fully co-operate…”
Peter Kleeman (I): “Twenty years ago, I can’t remember how long ago it was, there was the reversion consideration…. At the time I actually was somewhat in support of the idea of having us grow into a region… That was a long time ago and I’ve learned a lot more about cities and county activities since then. At this point in time, I would still be very much in support of us growing toward being a single region… I don’t think that in the current setup, the way things are happening in terms of growth, that we have some of the major issues on the same path. My personal feeling is that this is a great time for Charlottesville to step up and say we’re going to be the leaders of what’s going to happen in this region…”
Holly Edwards (D): “The City and the County have been dating for years. I don’t think that we should give birth to an idea before we’ve really planned the courtship…This is an idea whose time has not yet arrived.”
Satyendra Huja (D): “The City is a unique entity in many ways…. That character and lifestyle which we have, we need to maintain and I think by merging we would lose that… There are many areas where we can co-operate…. School buildings which could be used by City and County jointly… Social services… “
Barbara Haskins (I): “Its one thing to cherish it, it’s another thing to pay for it… Why buy the cow when the milk is free? The City is paying for quite a lot that adds to the amenities of our area… Can we afford to stay this way? Merger is one of the possibilities, another is reversion to town status and the others is revisiting the revenue sharing agreement where we agree to not annex more County land in exchange for a certain percentage of their money….”
Audience question #2: Over the last five years, residential property taxes have approximately doubled. If you are elected will you support similar tax increases? Please state your plans to exercise fiscal restraint.
Peter Kleeman (I): “There is a fair bit of revenue that has to be spent on mandated items. There are some discretionary items. Rather than give an answer about what I would do… I’ll give my strategy which would be to have our budget manager provide an assessment on what can be adjusted and what cannot…”
Holly Edwards (D): “I offer my experience as a Belmont Resident, experiencing the rise in taxes first-hand. I would be willing to explore all the options that are available, and to be in a place to really ask all the right questions at the right time… I would make sure that the questions I would ask would be of benefit to everyone.”
Satyendra Huja (D): “There are many things which are required by law – state or federal mandate – but there is also a discretion in our budget… Our tendency is to decide how much money we have and then to build our budget around that. First we should ask what priorities we want to pursue, and then build a budget according to that… We should budget based upon our important needs.”
Barbara Haskins (I): “I would like a symbolic year next year where homeowners’ taxes do not go up. We had a nine million surplus a couple years ago, and we still raised taxes the following year. I disagree about the budget manager doing a good job – he noted in the budget that we were having a 12% revenue increase and stated that we should spend it all. I understand that there’s a housing bubble that popped and taxes will go down because of that, but I just think there is taxpayer fatigue… I would give us a tax increase amnesty year… I just think we’re going to have to be less profligate. I have really been disappointed in the rate of spending increases over the past five years.”
David Brown (D): “It is true we have many mandates. Many of these are supposed to be cost sharing with the state or federal government, but as time goes by, to balance their budget the state and federal governments lower what they pay us. Since they’re mandates, we still have to pay more. A second big area of cost for us also deals with salary benefits and retirement benefits. Those are the same costs that businesses nationwide face; a lot of those businesses deal with that by reneging on promises to employees. The city is not going to do that. There is discretionary spending, but some of that goes towards things we say we need to do: transportation and affordable housing, for example.”
Audience question #3: The land around the Ragged Mountain Reservoir is owned by the City. When and if the water level is raised [as part of the 50-year water supply plan] many miles of trails and acres of natural habitat will be lost. Assuming that reparation funds will be made available, how would you propose to use those funds?
Holly Edwards (D): “My first priority would be to have the land lost by the City is replaced by the County… Once land is gone, it’s gone forever. Perhaps use of that funds would be to create settings where people can still appreciate our natural land…”
Satyendra Huja (D): “If we get funds for replacement land, I would like to see that land be in or near the City. My inclination would be to protect flood plain land and streams… It would be easy to acquire and would be accessible to our citizens.”
Barbara Haskins (I): “The question assumes that there will be reparation, but from what I recall, there is a struggle going on with what is being deemed as acceptable replacement… What’s been suggested may or may not be acceptable to city residents, and this points out the constant push-pull with the County. In so many ways it’s artificial – we’re the same community… In the broader sense, we have so many things in common that to focus on the differences may not move us down the road of solving our problems.”
David Brown (D): “I agree with Mr. Huja, that any revenue we get from loss of this land should be used to improve our urban natural areas. In particular, remediating streams, creating buffers, acquiring easements, expanding trail networks are all worthwhile projects… We can’t replace exactly what we’ve lost, but we can take the spirit of what is being lost and use that.”
Peter Kleeman (I): “I have never been there, but I understand it is spectacular. If we are losing some natural area, we should try and replace that with some new natural area; certainly recreation or conservation areas of some sort. I don’t know where we would find that kind of land, but we do have recreational and conservational opportunities and we can certainly spend that money in very positive ways towards improving our environment… The City is a member of the Cool Cities program to try and provide more tree cover, the mayor signed the Mayors’ Climate Treaty; so we can actually move towards some of the things that are in our strategic plan.”
Satyendra Huja (D): “Thanks again for this opportunity to share with you our thoughts and hopes for the future of our community. I would like to make two commitments to you: that I first listen and learn from you and follow up on your concerns; the second, that I work hard and proactively to find creative solutions to problems that can make our City a better community…” At this table is a strong, experienced and diverse democratic team of Edwards, Brown and Huja.
Barbara Haskins (I): “I would just point out again that we are a land-locked square of ten miles, we have a limited commercial base, we have one in four living in poverty, and therefore a lot of paying for the city comes from home owners. We have expensive tastes and are carrying the torch of maintaining Charlottesville as a unique place for its residents. My question is: how is this sustainable and affordable in the long run?”
David Brown (D): “I’d like to thank Charlottesville Tomorrow, and the Free Enterprise Forum, not just for tonight because I think that people paying attention to this election have a great chance to learn about what’s going on… That connects to what I’ve been attempting to do on City Council: make the processes more accessible. The second thing is that the theme tonight was relations with Albemarle County. Most of the questions had answers that somehow related back to that. People who live here don’t see the boundaries the way that politicians do, and we need to create ways of having trusting relationships where we don’t view City-County relationships as win-lose situations… The third thing is that I’ve enjoyed my time on City Council. I’ve tried to listen and be responsive and I promise to do the same if I’m re-elected.”
Peter Kleeman (I): “I want to thank the sponsors for this, and for bringing forth the issues of transportation, land use and community design. But I also think there’s a resource that I look to for solving these problems, and those are the people I see at Council meetings standing up for what they believe. What makes our city great, and what makes the opportunities reachable is the fact that we have a wealth of resources available.” As a candidate for City Council I’m just one of the points of light that can contribute in some meaningful way. I hope to be able as a Councilor to energize you all to participate in this great enterprise that we call Charlottesville.
Holly Edwards (D): “I think the city is a complex puzzle of issues and concerns, and the puzzle piece that I hold onto is my experience in education and having desire to help people. I bring the understanding that roads are important, but it’s also important to build roads of social equity. I think that it’s important to plant trees, but it’s also important to plant seeds of hope… I also bring the importance of understanding a balanced budget, but it’s also important to have citizens that lead balanced, healthy lives. I’m going to hold onto that puzzle piece.”
0:50 – Introduction from Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum
1:42 – Peter Kleeman’s opening statement
3:35 – Holly Edwards’ opening statement
5:01 – Satyendra Huja’s opening statement
7:25 – Barbara Haskins’ opening statement
9:33 – David Brown’s opening statement
11:42 – Question 1
19:21 – Question 2
28:25 – Question 3
36:54 – Question 4
44:55 – Question 5
52:41 – Question 6
59:53 – Question 7
1:09:38 – Question 8
1:18:06 – Audience Question #1:
1:27:23 – Audience Question #2:
1:35:58 – Audience Question #3:
1:41:57 – Closing from Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum
1:42:53 – Satyendra Huja’s closing statement
1:43:52: – Barbara Haskins’ closing statement
1:44:58: David Brown’s closing statement
1:46:45: Peter Kleeman’s closing statement
1:49:03: Holly Edwards’ closing statement
1:50:22 – Closing from Sean Tubbs of Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sean Tubbs & Kendall Singleton