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Candidate for Durham City Council

Diane Catotti 

Candidate for Durham City Council

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Diane Catotti
Full legal name, if different:
Date of birth: 12/13/1960
Home address: 4147 Deepwood Circle, Durham, NC 27707
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site: www.dianecatotti.com
Occupation & employer: Durham City Council, City of Durham; also Health/Policy Consultant.
Home phone: 919 490-0984
Work phone: 919-560-4396
E-mail: diane@dianecatotti.com


1) What do you believe are the most important issues facing Durham? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

I think Durham has several pressing issues, including degrading infrastructure – our streets, facilities, parks, and water and sewer pipes. We also have many blighted neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty, unemployment, and unsafe and boarded up housing. Meanwhile, we have rapid growth and increasing demands for land use and transportation. And, we must engage our youth and keep them out of harms way.

Top priorities if elected:

  1. Continue to develop stronger and safer neighborhoods. This includes expanding safe and affordable housing by cleaning up dilapidated housing, building new units, rehabbing existing structures, and providing transitional housing (for the homeless and victims of violence), as well as promoting neighborhood revitalization (where needed) and providing good guidance and mechanisms for neighborhood protection in land use and (re)zoning.

  2. Continue to expand opportunities for Durham youth, including jobs/training, expanded recreational opportunities, and after school programs. I see this as an important element of crime prevention and anti-gang initiatives. It’s also important to give our youth opportunities to grow, develop and enjoy life in safe surroundings and become healthy, productive adults.

  3. Continue efforts to address infrastructure needs– in our streets, facilities, parks, and water and sewer pipes – while assuring citizens that these efforts are efficient, transparent, and accountable.

During my service on Council, the City has dedicated resources – from annual budgets and bond issues – to help address these issues - to fix degrading infrastructure and rehab decaying properties, as well as build roads and more safe, affordable housing. To help address issues of poverty and unemployment, I have supported job training, economic development efforts, and funds for neighborhood revitalization. I have encouraged the Council’s direction that resources and attention be focused on several target areas from many departments, including police; neighborhood improvement services; housing & community development; and economic & workforce development. The needs vastly outweigh our resources, and state and federal funds are needed to help address infrastructure, job training, and housing problems. In addition, the City is encouraging creative approaches and more public-private partnerships for mentoring, job creation, economic development, and community reinvestment.

2) What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the council? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.

I have been hard-working, responsive, thoughtful, reasoned, and fair in making decisions. I am well-prepared and present at Council meetings and at the committee meetings where much of the work is done. I have worked hard to address deferred maintenance needs in City infrastructure, revitalize downtown Durham and surrounding neighborhoods, strengthen zoning regulations and housing code enforcement and expand opportunities for our youth. I advocated and voted for a Neighborhood Improvement Fund to support the economic revitalization of target areas and neighborhoods surrounding the downtown core, including the West End, Fayetteville Street, East Main St.-Alston-Angier Avenue, and Angier, Driver, and Holloway Street. I supported the revision of the minimum housing code, development of the Code Enforcement, Nuisance Abatement Teams (CENAT), increased funding for housing code inspectors and affordable housing units, and support for targeted neighborhoods, including the West End, Northeast Central Durham, and Southside/St. Theresa. I advocated for and provided funding for new and expanded after school programs and parks and recreation facilities, hours, and activities. I also have led the Council on environmental issues. These include:

  • As the former Chairperson of the Joint City County Planning Committee, I led the extensive review and passage of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The UDO includes significant environmental protections – steep slopes; stream buffers; protection of habitat/natural areas; enhanced open space; conservation subdivisions; floodway fill rules, etc.

  • I requested that Council adopt the Urban Environmental Accords;

  • I successfully advocated for a new Energy manager in the 2005 Council budget. (Unfortunately implementation has been limited);

  • I pushed to include a new Sustainability Director in the 2007-2008 Council budget and am actively involved in defining this position;

  • I played a key role in the establishment of the New Hope Creek Park – a multi-jurisdictional open space on the Orange-Durham County line;

  • I have argued on behalf of neighborhoods and protection of open space, natural areas, and flood way/floodplain protection in numerous rezoning requests;

  • I have been a leading advocate for trails, bikeways, and sidewalk improvements (e.g., Durham Walks plan; championed change of rules (lighting) on the American Tobacco Trail (ATT); and I pushed for full-funding of the ATT bridge over I-40;

  • I successfully advocated for approval of the East Durham Open Space plan;

  • As a member of the Transportation Advisory Committee of the Durham Chapel Hill Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (TAC, DCHC MPO) I have been very involved in air quality, public transit, and transportation issues.

3) How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I consider myself a pragmatic, progressive person. I am a trained economist and public health professional. I have worked in the health and policy field over many years. I also am a life-long democrat. I am fiscally responsible, have experience in cost-benefit analysis, performance improvement approaches, and program evaluation, including municipal management assessments.

I ran on a platform of the following (from my October 2003 campaign postcard):

  1. to be open, fair, and effective, and

  2. address needs in Durham, including:

    • Safer neighborhoods;

    • Safe, affordable housing;

    • Activities for our youth;

    • A thriving downtown;

    • And efficient, accountable government.

My record clearly illustrates that I have made good progress on the issues that I ran on and that are important to me and many citizens. That said, I believe there is still much work to be done. I want to continue my work on Council to keep Durham moving forward. If re-elected, I will continue to provide leadership to support effective fiscal management and accountability, stronger and safer neighborhoods, more safe and affordable housing, good jobs and balanced growth, and expanded opportunities for our youth. I also will continue to help address pressing economic concerns, including degrading infrastructure – our streets, facilities, parks, and water and sewer pipes, as well as blighted neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty, unemployment, and unsafe and boarded up housing. I also will continue to provide leadership to address increasing demands for land use and transportation. I will continue to encourage creative approaches and more public-private partnerships for mentoring, job creation, economic development, and community reinvestment.

4) Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

In my years on Council, I have voted my conscience and convictions and sometimes lost political support from voters for those decisions. The most recent example of a difficult vote was deciding in August whether to rescind the sale of surplus city property to Housing for New Hope to provide 10 new housing units for formerly homeless persons against the wishes of the residents of the Cleveland-Holloway Street neighborhood. I was balancing the need for transitional housing and intent to implement the City’s 10 year plan to end homelessness with neighborhood concerns. I voted to support Housing for New Hope, but also in a follow-up vote supported efforts for neighborhood protection through a planning process to include a master plan or neighborhood protection overlay or similar mechanism.

5) Last year, the city withheld testing data that showed that the city’s drinking water failed to meet federal health standards. What can the city council do to increase transparency in city administration and prevent future breaches of the public’s trust?

Just like any organization, there are areas where the City can improve. The key is that when problems develop, staff accepts responsibility and makes necessary changes. On the issue of lead in the water, the City conducted a broad educational campaign regarding the negative effects of lead in the water and how citizens can reduce their exposure to it, and provided leadership in the creation of the Durham Environmental Lead Collaborative (DELC) and hosted the first ever Lead Summit.

I believe information and timely communication are key to transparency and public confidence. The lead problem was complicated by conflicting regulations and by scientific uncertainty as to the causes of the elevated lead levels, but an open approach to the problem serves both citizens and City. On the lead issue, I advocated for several improvements designed to improve the public’s understanding of what they can do, including expanded hours for water test drop-offs, more information on the City’s website, and providing Spanish language information, among others. On other issues, including the 2005 bond implementation, I (and Council) directed that more information be made available to citizens – on the city’s website, through libraries, mailings in the water bills, public service announcements, and posters on our city buses, among others. Citizens can track progress on bond projects, see who the staff and contractors responsible for projects are, and project timelines and progress. I, along with Council, also supported the Durham One Call system (560-1200) which allows citizens to call a single number and note concerns on a variety of issues, have the concern documented and the information forwarded to the appropriate department for action.

6) What specific policy solutions would you advocate to abate Durham’s problems with violent crime?

I support Durham’s strong community policing strategy and good neighborhood involvement. The Partners Against Crime (PAC) districts, community policing, and citizen patrols are all important tools in communicating and addressing crime. The City is active in Project Safe Neighborhoods and Weed & Seed efforts, and these should be continued. The city also targets resources – as shown with our most recent pilot initiative (Operation Bulls Eye – in a one mile radius from Wall Street in NECD) where representatives from the Durham Police Department and other departments, including Housing & Community Development; Neighborhood Improvement Services; and Parks & Recreation, are going from house to house to talk to residents about what their problems, concerns, and needs are. Resources will be targeted accordingly. We also continue to pursue and receive federal and state money for gang enforcement, prevention, and suppression. While we will always need to be vigilant, I believe we are making progress. The crime rate for Durham is average for a city of our size; violent crime rates are falling (while they are rising across the country); we have high clearance rates for violent crimes committed; and we have active gang prevention and enforcement efforts. We have strong data-driven targeted efforts to address our crime problems. And, we are transparent about crime activity, posting information on the web where people can track incidences of crime in their neighborhoods.

7) Durham’s south side is experiencing rapid growth. What impact do you expect that growth to have on the city? What are your plans for handling that development?

The Southpoint area has undergone rapid change from rural neighborhoods and farms to the mall, big box retail and chain stores, along with some office and residential housing. The surrounding remaining neighborhoods and the rural area south of the mall on Fayetteville Road are under pressure of further commercial encroachment. Kentington Heights is already designated as commercial in the Comprehensive Plan. I believe that further non-residential development should stop at Massey Chapel Road. To this end, I recently voted against an office development on the south side of Massey Chapel Road.

Commercial development in SW Durham competes against our existing retail centers downtown and elsewhere. The Council must take great care in these zoning decisions.

8) Private developers are in the process of revitalizing Durham’s Tobacco District, just as city crews are putting the finishing touches on the downtown streetscape. What kinds of policies should the council implement to ensure that downtown becomes a thriving commercial and residential neighborhood?

I believe the key to attracting residents to downtown is having attractive, exciting places to visit and work and supporting services. We have made great progress in the 4 years I have been on Council in revitalizing downtown. We also are beginning to make progress on supporting and revitalizing surrounding neighborhoods. The City Council has supported special zoning and design specifications for downtown, with the DDO (downtown overlays) and DDRT (design review team). We also have supported significant infrastructure improvements, including the now visible downtown streetscape, improvements planned just west of downtown in the area of the Blue Devil historic renovation; running WiFi in the downtown area; and supported a new performing arts center. The city also has targeted economic development and incentive funds to revitalize and memorialize (living history) the Parrish Street corridor, support façade improvements downtown (and elsewhere), and new highly-structured loans to entice employers to the downtown target area. City bond funds also have been dedicated to improving City facilities in the downtown area, including needed renovations to the Carolina Theater, the Arts Council, the Armory, and city parking decks, among others. The city also supported the development of the Farmers market pavilion and the downtown trail (and bridge through Central Park). The City also supports entertainment and recreational events throughout downtown – with the Warehouse Blues series, music and other events at American Tobacco and city plazas. I, along with Council, also have supported the ADF, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the Durham Symphony, and other popular attractions.

All these efforts help to ensure that downtown becomes a thriving commercial and residential neighborhood. And these efforts are showing results. We have high occupancy rates in downtown offices and significant demand for downtown properties. New residential construction is growing rapidly. And, every day there are new and growing opportunities downtown – with new plazas and open space, the new farmer’s market, new restaurants, gallery space, and entertainment venues. I would continue to support such programs and policies to encourage a lively and well populated downtown. I also would support additional efforts – to acquire the Duke beltway for additional walking and biking trails downtown and to extend additional entertainment to the new CCB plaza downtown.

9) What are Durham’s most pressing capital improvement needs? Please be specific.

I think Durham has many pressing capital improvement needs, including addressing degrading infrastructure – in City streets, facilities/buildings, parking decks, fleet, parks and recreation facilities, and water and sewer infrastructure. We also have rapid growth and increasing demands for land use, parks and recreation facilities, and transportation needs– including the widening and repaving of current streets, paving of dirt streets, replacement and additional DATA buses, replacement and new sidewalks, trails and greenways, and new roads. The 2005 bond helps fund many of these critical infrastructure needs. Council has committed to addressing these needs, but we face significant shortfalls. In road resurfacing alone, estimates are that $30million is needed in the near term. If passed, an additional bond in 2007 would help fund approximately half that amount. The needs vastly outweigh our resources, and state and federal funds are needed to help address infrastructure needs.

10) What steps can the council take to promote strong town-gown relations, especially regarding infrastructure improvements in the neighborhoods adjacent to Duke University?

Through the city council, I support ongoing communication and collaboration with NCCU, Durham Tech, and Duke on a variety of issues, including planning and (re)zoning, infrastructure improvements, development of gateways to the community, and police cooperation agreements, among others. Regarding neighborhoods adjacent to Duke and NCCU, I have encouraged improvements along Fayetteville Street, Alston Ave, Chapel Hill St., Erwin Road and Cameron Boulevard, including new or repaired sidewalks and traffic signals, and facade improvements. I supported the development of a Neighborhood Improvement Fund, and approved funds for the Duke-Durham Neighborhood partnership for infrastructure improvements in the Chapel Hill Street corridor. The City also has dialogued with Duke about improvements to Anderson Street. And, I supported the rezoning of Central Campus. I have participated in numerous forums and events on the NCCU and Duke campuses. I will continue to encourage ongoing communication and collaboration.

  • Candidate for Durham City Council

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