MID TERM REPORT

Two years in of a four year term, I feel inclined to provide a mid term report of what I’ve done, what’s in progress, and what I hope for the next two years. Also, a sense of what is like to be on the council! as a newcomer two years ago. So here we go.

What I ran on (not all inclusive):

Neighborhood Protection: During these two years I’ve worked hard to make sure that development has not adversely impacted neighborhoods. I continue to study what’s happening for Carolina North and advocated for the Town to participate in the Chancellor’s Leadership Advisory Committee a while ago. The participation allowed the Town to make its case for the policy of the Horace Williams Citizens Committee report, which is our guide and policy for neighborhood protection here. Also, I found it important for the Town in good faith to participate in the early process, to lay a foundation for hopefully good communication between town/gown as this project moves forward.

Additionally on neighborhood protection, I served as the council liasion to the Northern Area Task Force that provided detailed recommendations on how development should proceed in the northern area of Chapel Hill, with a primary goal of neighborhood protection in light of a great deal of forthcoming development. We met on Thursday nights and two Saturday mornings through the summer of 2007, on a tight schedule, to provide the necessary work for the council given a moratorium in place. Examples:

  • Advocating to avoid cut through traffic for future mixed use developments on roads through neighborhoods such as through Northwoods.
  • How to make existing neighborhoods walkable/bicycle/transit friendly to future and existing commercial, etc.
  • Ensuring existing town services are not strained by the additional growth—that we have planned well in advance for the infrastructure to support future development in these areas.

Wireless Initiative: In Chapel Hill, we have the ability to bridge the digital divide and provide today’s ACCESS TO INFORMATION and EDUCATION that only the privileged have historically had (historically meaning the last 10 years of widespread subscriptions to internet providers). Unless you can pay over $50/month to Time Warner or BellSouth, etc. and own a computer with a wireless card, you will find it difficult to find information that can provide you with educational opportunities, instant news in the community, job opportunities, ability to pay bills online, etc. The benefit to government, which saves taxpayers money, is evident from other cities that have ubiquitous wireless coverage.

I have pushed this issue publicly and behind the scenes to try and get the community covered with wireless access. I have attended national meetings learning from other cities on how they’ve done it, and I have engaged with the School of Government and the University on the pros/cons of deploying a citywide network, and have had a great deal of support. Thankfully the town was on the brinking edge of replacing its fiberoptic traffic signal system, which means we will lay fiber along our traffic fiber to carry other forms of mass communication (i.e. wireless, video, or whatever we want, etc) and can have the ability to provide a “backbone” of hard infrastructure that lays the groundwork for town and community control of mass communication. Other cities would be very envious of our position, for they often have to do all of the backbone work by themselves and after the fact….fiber to the home, business, etc. can be expensive. Other cities are often indebted to some corporation in some form or fashion to provide the fiberoptic backbone.

I led a public forum on exploring wireless and have relegated the future work of this goal to the council on communications, which is the natural committee to continue studying and engaging in this important endeavor.

Remember when Alexander Bell invented the telephone? Remember when cellphones became all the rage? It’s time that not just VOICES, but INFORMATION becomes wireless and frees up people to access that information wherever they go.

Protection of Our Environment: As you can see from the previous post I am concerned about Duke Energy’s indiscriminate use of herbicides on trees in its easements, and how that affects our environment. This is an environmental quality issue, but also a safety issue because large swathes of dead trees are just waiting to catch fire in today’s drought. Duke Energy’s landscape management rep told me a couple of months ago that they had no plans to do anything to the large tree swaths that were herbicided and killed…..eventually they would fall down. Not only is this not aesthetically pleasing, but it could be a public danger for threat of fires. The corporate bottom line must not EVER infringe on the health, safety and welfare of our citizens.

I serve on the Triange J of Govt’s Regional Appearance Committee. I will help bring forward a program to Orange County that will allow champion trees, historic trees, etc. to be nominated for a special award that officially classifies them as such and places them on a GIS map for future protection! Wake County has had the Capital Trees Program become a great success…..not only are trees preserved and nominated for awards, but city ordinances for tree protection have evolved in the county to incorporate the protection of trees awarded by this program. This is very exciting! and hopefully awareness will be raised of the value that large trees have in our community for now and forever. They are worth preserving and we should make every effort to do so. The goal is for development to protect important trees and not proceed with mass cutting that makes development easier. Why cut down a 50 year old medium size beautiful tree and replace with a spriglet to ease the trucks moving through to create the development? It doesn’t make sense. The history and value of trees is as important as the history and value of stream beds.

The recent drought has really had the whole area concerned about our water supply and future demand. I think the council should be very careful in considering what future growth could do to our supply, and work closely with OWASA in its projections. Water supply is a basic need that must not be dwindled at the expense of dense development. Although density in some sections of town is desirable (like along major corridors), we must ensure the level of density and the pace of such development does not impact us adversely. UNC is one of the major users of our supply and we should make sure they continue to try to reduce their demand with efforts like their new water reclamation system.

Transit: As you know, council meets most often during the budget season. As our budget year approaches, transit is on my mind. We really need to think about expanding our services such that everyone in town can access a bus stop at 1/4 mile from their home. We should also expand our service to nights and weekends. Our EZ rider service needs an overhaul! and we must make sure that our citizens that use this service are finding it as convenient as ever. Hybrid buses are doing an excellent job, and I want to see future replacements of our buses to be in the hybrid form (if possible). Our Library here in town needs a more consistent and frequent route, and this is a priority as we expand it (a priority for me!). Additionally, I look forward to working with the results of our Long Range Transit Plan to decide how transit can be expanded in the future.

Our downtown is on the verge of becoming great. We should support the ongoing work of our Downtown Partnership in addressing the “real change for spare change” initiative. Additionally, as I said two years ago, it is very important to keep the Kidzu Museum downtown and we should support their efforts in finding a new locale downtown as their lease expires. Holiday free parking at our lots should be advertised more in advance next year and businesses be given a flier/poster to advertise this inside their establishments. A citizen wrote me with a great idea I’d like to institute for downtown: each council member should be assigned 8 or 9 businesses (downtown) to keep in touch with routinely to understand real-time concerns and help such businesses feel valued in our town. Downtown businesses are not all the council cares about, but they need our support right now while the perception and reality of parking difficulties exists. Perhaps we could rotate such assignments to businesses out of downtown, too. I think good contact and communication between businesses and the council is essential for a vibrant, sustainable economy.

Support Existing or New Business: I’d like to see the Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors Bureau work with the Town Council to let us know when new business is thinking about coming to our area so that we may have the opportunity to contact them and let them know that Chapel Hill is an excellent place to work and live. Such communication and formulating a good relationship from the start can show our support and work to rid some people’s perception that Chapel Hill is a difficult place to do business. Those in Chapel Hill that live here know that our property tax burden is great, and relief can be found by increasing our commercial tax base.

Town Gown Issues: Here we go. Carolina North is coming, whether we like it or not. Since the Town does not own the land and the University as owner wants to develop it, it is important to realize that it’s in the Town’s best interest (and the U’s) to make sure the development is good for everyone. The key is communication. The more the University and the Town can talk about the issues confronting us both, the better the outcome. I see no value in an adversarial relationship in which one side distrusts the other’s motives, for we all must live together and live with the results long term. A healthy tension is good, but it must not become negative—a reasonable and workable process engaged by the Town staff and policymakers (council); and University staff and decision makers (trustees/chancellor) will yield a mutually beneficial project longterm.

To Sum Up: I’ve left out a great amount of detail that you can always catch on the video streamlining of our council meetings. There is so much that we have all done over the last two years, and so much more work to be done in the next couple. And how has it been for me the last two years? What is it like to be on the council? One thing I’ve realized first hand (that I sort of suspected anyway), is that it takes a long time to get something done (usually). But the end result is that there have been many people studying the issue, public hearings/forums talking about the issue, staff time spent, etc. that we end up with a policy or decision that truly represents what the Town wants now and in the future and we feel good about that.

The council is a very unique dedicated group of individuals that really has worked now for years and years together—so the newcomer feels a little bit “green” and a bit unaccepted at first. But there is mutual respect on behalf of all of the council members and one quickly gets over that.

One of the things that I have despised in my professional career in dentistry is the “old boys network.” I don’t think we necessarily have that on the council, maybe we do, but I feel strongly that more women should run for political office. I am also hoping that some day soon a member of our Hispanic or Asian community should happen to run for office, or anyone from another culture/country. Diversity of ideas and experiences enhances our democratic process.

I’ve discovered that this council position is a perfect fit for me. I have to know what’s going on and feel strongly it is my responsibility to make sure that what happens in town is the best for every neighbor who has chosen this great place to live. I’ve been amazed at the professionalism and dedication of our town staff, to include our police, fire, public works, transit workers, etc. The people that make this town “tick” have my utmost respect and gratitude. If I could only pay them more! I’ll continue to work hard each budget year for our town employees…..without them, and without their commitment to many years with this town, we would not be the Chapel Hill we are today.

I’m not afraid of challenges that come forward and the pressures of the job. They do exist. I feel like the greatest challenge in the next 2 years is Carolina North and town/gown relations. But we have so much else we need to work on in town, that I also know that we must have a good balance and not be consumed by Carolina North. We need to pay attention to redevelopment in town and what exactly Transit Oriented Development means for development along our transit corridors. We need to pay close attention to the Orange Community Land Trust model and how the town can ensure the long term success of this important organization. We need to continue the work on our Downtown in a variety of ways (beginning with receipt of our upcoming economic development report by our EDD); streetscape enhancements; oversee Lot 5 development, etc. Our transit system will be challenged by future denser growth, and at the same time we all desire increased service on nights/weekends and to points of interest such as our Library. I think all future bus purchases should be hybrids but realize that costs could be prohibitive (hopefully not). Speaking of energy efficiency, we should continue to ensure that buildings are LEED silver at the minimum, and our whole town should strive for meeting the energy reduction goals set forth in our Carbon Reduction Project (CRED).

Serving on the council has been challenging, but the work can be very satisfying. The hard part is knowing that you will absolutely not make everyone happy with the decisions you make. Many times there are two good ways of doing things, but you have to choose the better one in your opinion. The bottom line is that we get elected to work hard on behalf of those who live here, and I try to do that using my best judgement. The first two years have been a pleasure and I look forward to at least another two.

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3 responses to “MID TERM REPORT

  1. Hi Laurin,

    The Jamestown News interviewed our State Representative Pricey Harrison with regard to the use of Hazardous Herbicides by Duke Engery. I hope you can get a copy to read (Jan. 23, 2008, Page A3). You may be able to view it online. It will take a few years but I think, Pricey Harrison will work to make the changes we may be seeking. I really appreciate her efforts.

    Respecfully,
    Tommy Walls

  2. Thanks a ton, Tommy for all YOU have done on this issue. I am going to work here in Orange County on this issue and am thankful to have a lending ear from our state senator.

  3. The Jamestown News printed an article on January 2, 2008, a Wednesday titled “Ciztizen questions safety of Duke Energy herbicidal spraying”.

    On Monday morning at 8:30 AM, January 7, 2008 Duke Energy had a full crew out behind my property cutting down a non-threatening tree in and among the trees next to the edge of the right of way. The tree was a dead pine tree, it could not grow another inch and it was about 20 below line level.

    I believe but I can not prove that this was a form of intimidation or bullying by the local Guilford County Duke Energy right of way management. I believe because I questioned the use of their hazardous herbicides at the Piedmont Environmental Center, a public park, the local Duke management was out to show me their power to do whatever they want. Out of all the thousands of trees in the state of North Carolina and Guildford County Duke Energy chose to come to behind my property to cut down one single dead pine tree that was not a threat to the right of way. It could not grow another inch and it was to short to fall into the lines. I believe this is a blatant miss use of their power. What are the odds? This kind of action by a large corporation is suppose to only happen in the movies. I fear for myself, my family, and my property. It was a dead pine tree this time, what will they do next? I was told by Duke Energy I would get a 3 day notice. I got no notice. Pictures to validate this situation are available upon. There must be great profit in spraying the right of ways.

    Tommy

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