Tonight, I answered questions about policy and issues with my Ward 3 City Council opponents Lizzie Haskell and Brian Pine at the Channel 17 Live Town Meeting Forum for Ward 3 candidates. Morgan True of VTDigger moderated the live TV broadcast, produced by Kim Villemaire. The CCTV crew was kind enough to send the questions in advance, which allowed me to prepare the answers below, which were my loose references during our conversation. Thank you to everyone who made the forum possible, and to everyone who tuned in!
Why are you running and what qualifies you for the position? What is your political philosophy?
I’m running because I’ve spent the last 20 years as a citizen coming to recognize how our city government is structured to prevent citizen participation in the decisions that define our future. We haven’t had leadership bold enough to confront our outdated status quo and take action to give us a fair, transparent and inclusive city government, in all the ways it could be. We’re on a path to making Burlington unaffordable for rent or homeownership for those of us who want to live humble lives in the city we call home. City Council has to be visionary enough to protect us from the displacement caused by gentrification before it’s too late. And we have to be responsible for our public commons like Memorial Auditorium, making sure that the infrastructure we inherit is treasured and maintained and not lost to negligence or sold off.
Professionally I’ve led an entrepreneurial nonprofit organization that has served Vermont’s youth, preserved its cultural history, fostered community and economic development, contributed to cultural heritage tourism, and harnessed emerging technology to accomplish these goals. As a nonprofit administrator, a community builder, a volunteer and a respectful and civil citizen activist, I’ve built a skill set that fills a void at city council. We need councilors who are determined to build relationships, not divide us among political tribes. We need to inspire collaboration and citizen empowerment, not make decisions that come across as self-serving and disconnected. I’m prepared to bring our voices together in cooperative deliberation — the kind that grows a strong democracy.
My philosophy is to be sure that people of all ages feel included in the work that gives us a future to look forward to; that our city make all its decisions with our most vulnerable in mind; that the work of city leaders be aspirational and committed to a better future and not just reactive to issues as they arise. The city must hear and understand the needs of those who don’t have the resources or background to speak up for themselves; it must always improve the quality of its democracy. Burlington should celebrate its strengths and build from them; we should all have a sense of ownership and pride in the plans and accomplishments of the city.
Perspective: Could you tell us who you know who is a renter, or on food stamps, has trouble paying medical bills, or makes less than $15 an hour and how that will inform your Council seat?
I know musical and visual artists who balance more than one job just to survive. Nothing about employment is normal for them — they work nights, weekends, and live on a financial knife edge. Rents are too high for artists, for young people, and for our elders who want to live out their lives in their Burlington homes. I’ve know artists who have their teeth crumble for lack of ability to afford medical care. The livable wage in Burlington for an individual is even higher than the $15 minimum wage we’re working toward ($17.64, Basic Needs Budgets and the Livable Wage, by Joint Fiscal Office, Feb. 2017). As we make multi-million dollar investments in Burlington, and operate city offices like CEDO dedicated to creating opportunity, I’ll make sure those opportunities are available to all, especially to those who need them the most.
Airport: Should the Airport be managed by a regional governance model? Should the surrounding communities have more say in key decisions that Burlington now makes?
South Burlington, Winooski, Williston, and Colchester are directly affected by the operations of the airport, especially by noise, safety and traffic in the air and on the ground. The demolition of houses at the airport to prepare for increased noise by F-35s based there affects the availability of affordable housing throughout our region. The F-35s that will arrive at the end of 2019 are four times noisier than the current F-16s based there and will be destructive to the health of residents of South Burlington and Winooski even more than those in Burlington. Burlington does not have the ethical privilege of making decisions about the airport that affect the lives of people in so many other towns. Local regionalized ownership with governing representation by these other towns is the appropriate future for the airport and for our own integrity.
Housing: What is your solution for housing in Burlington that is truly affordable for any income including minimum wage workers? What is your view of the recent Housing report?
Almost 25 percent of the Burlington population spends more than 50 percent of income on rent. If we’re in that unconscionable situation now, it means the work we’ve been doing to create affordable housing isn’t enough. We have a long history of accessing Federal subsidies and growing land trust properties. Those go-to resources should be respected, while we pursue new models. We should be inspiring privately developed cooperative housing and supporting any other innovative or entrepreneurial private sector solutions; making accessory units convenient to convert or build; zoning for tiny housing; pursuing a hotel surcharge that supplements affordable housing funding in Vermont and Burlington; exploring new revenues that subsidize our local housing fund’s ability to expand its number of properties; incentivizing the sale of houses in densely student-populated neighborhoods, making them available affordably to single-families, restoring quality of life and diversity; and our colleges should require students to live on campus through at least the first three years of their undergraduate careers.
Food Policy: Burlington once had a goal of producing 10% of its food within the City. What do you think should be the City’s current food policy? What more could we be doing to eliminate hunger and give equal access to nutritious food while growing the local economy?
It isn’t reasonable to consider local food production the answer to affordability, but a culture of local food production contributes to our success in other ways. The entrepreneurialism of local food producers; the environmental benefits of not transporting food long distances; the pride we can have in being a little more self-sustaining are all important, too. The city can support home and school gardens, making sure green houses and hoop houses that help grow food at home or schools in cold-weather aren’t restricted by zoning and don’t cause tax burdens. The city could reinforce the civic pride in home, school, or community gardening, promoting their social benefits so younger generations grow up with a healthy local food production mindset. City infrastructure, including City Hall Park and Memorial Auditorium — where the Burlington Farmer’s Market hopes to return to — should align proactively with supporting the local food production industry.
Community Culture: What do you plan to do to address systemic racism in Burlington? How can Burlington do a better job of weaving together a community of diverse backgrounds and interests?
I’ve written and spoken publicly about the process that created the Everybody Loves A Parade mural and how it was one of political choices within a political system that was not inclusive. A small number of officials within a city department made choices about how to represent our city during a private deliberation, and they failed to represent our community’s diversity. The process demonstrated structural racism, an institutional ‘norm’ that sustained racial inequity. Our city government has no policy or template for inclusive, equitable public participation in its decisions. It should have a standard policy for public input, and it should be a policy that’s developed and vetted by our various under-represented or marginalized residents. They aren’t reached out to proactively or effectively enough to be included fairly.
Transportation: Do you support improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure at the cost of on street parking? What prevents us from having a world class transportation system?
The city’s vision for transportation must be a modern one that prioritizes people. Every mode of transportation should be safe to the highest global standards, because city leaders should value the lives and quality of life of our residents most of all. On foot, on bicycles or skateboards, Burlington deserves the protected bike lanes, roundabouts, and modern transportation planning that would make it as safe and efficient as the northern European countries that are mastering these ideas. On-street parking is a necessary anachronism — it supports our economy while reminding us how dominant our automobile culture has been for a hundred years, and how little we’ve done to improve parking solutions, public transportation, and innovate solutions that make transportation safe and convenient for everyone. We need to have a better understanding of modern global best practices for transportation planning and we need to choose safety for all over convenience for automobiles.
Memorial Auditorium: Why, after so much interest in the community about Memorial Auditorium and such a lengthy period of inactivity is Memorial Auditorium not on the Ballot in March? – To new candidates, would you have pushed for the matter to be on the Ballot after such a pubic expression of interest?
City leadership failed utterly in its responsibility to Memorial Auditorium, inherited from a prior generation that imbued it with a noble purpose and trusted us and future generations with its upkeep. It’s not on the ballot in March because it has not been a priority of the administration until recently when pubic pressure to save it became intense and Memorial Auditorium was used as a campaign wedge by an opponent of the mayor. Mayor Weinberger intends for Memorial to have place on the November ballot — when a cost for redevelopment and a plan for programming and a contractor to oversee it will have come together. No, I would not have requested a ballot item for March until a purposeful understanding of redevelopment costs was achieved and the administration made a firm commitment to its responsibility for preserving Memorial Auditorium as treasured pubic infrastructure with a critical social purpose. Without that statement of values and vision, a path is open to potentially tragic privatization or other ‘stakeholder’ interventions that dilute public ownership or stewardship of the building.
Sustainable/ Resilient City: Burlington has been known in the past for its leadership as a sustainable city, not just in energy and climate change but including economic opportunity and social equity. What is your vision for Burlington as a sustainable city? What more would we be doing under your leadership in the next 3 years?
Burlington’s biggest hurdle right now is living up to its own values. The people of Burlington need to feel that they play a part in decisions, but the quality of public input processes is uneven and culturally deaf; there is no purposeful effort to improve community inclusion in public meetings or public offices like city commissions. Outdated governance systems prevent real representation and city advisory boards are even now creating limitations on public involvement by changing their bylaws to do so. Our City Council should be making commission appointments transparent and democratic. The city council itself should be getting larger, not having its responsibilities shrunk while the number of voters grows. We can harness the wisdom, experience and resourcefulness of Burlington’s people when the city’s leadership improves the quality of our democracy and welcomes civic engagement. I stand for that and demand it of our current and future city councilors.