Name as it appears on the ballot: J.B. Buxton
Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Campaign website: www.jbbuxton.com
Occupation & employer: Founder, Education Innovations Group (public education strategy consultant)
Years lived in Raleigh: 19 years (moved here in 1993 but lived in Princeton, NJ and Washington, DC from 1997-2000)
Please return with a digital photo to firstname.lastname@example.org
1) Given the current direction of Raleigh city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?
Raleigh is generally on the right track—today. However, the pace of our population growth, increasing competition from cities nationally, and a lack of state leadership on education and jobs present significant challenges to our future. Raleigh city leaders need to chart a strong course in the coming years on transportation, education, the environment and jobs.
I believe the times call for the following changes:
1. Grow up, not out. We need to focus growth and height in geographic centers (e.g., downtown, Brier Creek and North Hills) and along major transit lines where jobs, schools, mass transit and residences come together to create dense, walkable communities.
2. Create more intentional city-county partnerships to ensure strong public education, including planning for more downtown and midtown schools with smaller footprints, joint use agreements with groups like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs, and affordable housing for teachers.
3. Deliver more frequent bus service (15-minute headways) and peak time rail options to improve the environment, traffic congestion, and access to jobs.
4. Expand the jobs pipeline by expanding significantly the summer youth employment program for teenagers and working with businesses and state government to increase apprenticeships, where participants earn wages while training for high-skill jobs.
2) If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identity your priorities for improvements in the district if you’re elected.
In addition to the priorities outlined above, I would add the following improvements important in District A:
• Implement the Six Forks Road Corridor Study to create a more dense, walkable and bikable Six Forks. The plan will increase access to services and transit and decrease traffic congestion;
• Ensure the new transit plan adequately covers areas of north Raleigh to provide transportation options;
• Implement low-impact development strategies to reduce pollution coming from stormwater runoff; and
• Maintain the Falls Rules and the city’s commitment to watershed protection.
3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of Council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to be an effective advocate for them?
For the past four years, I’ve served on the Raleigh Planning Commission—at a time of unprecedented growth and the adoption of a new development code. I was recently elected Vice-chair. My service on the Commission has included reviewing and suggesting modifications to the UDO before its passage by City Council and making land-use decisions with a code that has shifted from a suburban to a more urban one. In addition, I have served as co-chair of the Transportation Committee and helped draft changes to the transportation section of the Comprehensive Plan.
With decades of work in public education at state and national levels, I also bring experience in governing and public policy. I have worked as a senior education advisor in the governor’s office, managed a state agency, and advised policymakers, foundations, and companies on education strategy. I understand state-local relationships, how business and government can work together, and the importance of public-private partnerships and innovation to address the challenges of a growing and dynamic city.
4) Please give one specific example of something you think City Council has done wrong or that you would have rather done differently in the last year. Also, please tell us the single best thing the city’s done during that span.
The City Council’s handling of the UDO remapping process was symptomatic of the lack of communication in general on the direction of the city and our vision for where Raleigh is headed in the next 10 years. Four years ago, there was an understanding of the city’s strategy to create a more vibrant downtown core with the opening of Fayetteville Street, the construction of the convention center and the arrival of a more vibrant nightlife. In the last year, in addition to remapping, issues like affordable housing, food deserts, downtown nightlife, Airbnb, and development have arisen and been met with little communication to place them in context of how they fit into the city’s vision for its future. Raleigh’s residents deserve better communication, and their reaction to many of these issues illustrates their frustration.
The development of a forward-thinking affordable housing plan by city staff was a clear bright spot in the past year. This issue has languished and life was finally breathed into it. There will need to be effective communication and opportunities for public engagement in the coming months. Important Council decisions lay ahead in order to implement the plan, but at least there is a plan to debate.
5) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?
I’m a Democrat who has worked in Democratic gubernatorial and presidential administrations. That said, after spending my professional career working at the state level, one of the things I most enjoy and appreciate about my experience in municipal government is how people of different parties and philosophies work together to solve problems. Party affiliations, for example, are of little import on the Planning Commission. While I see myself as progressive, I have long prided myself on being able to work with folks across (most of) the political spectrum to solve common challenges to building community and creating individual opportunity.
6) The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. If elected, how will your service in office help further that goal?
One of my favorite observations on building community is from Joe Riley, the longtime mayor of Charleston, SC: “You can’t have a great, successful city unless it’s a just city.”
To help create a just city, I would provide leadership in three key areas:
• Ensuring affordable housing options for both low-income residents, as well as middle-income residents who serve our city’s residents in our schools, on police force and solid waste crews, and in our service sector;
• Reconnecting disconnected youth to opportunity through programs like Youthbuild (a federally-funded program for 18-21 year-old out-of-school youth to provide education credentials and workforce training); summer internships, and apprenticeship opportunities;
• Working with the Wake school board and commissioners to ensure quality public education; and
• Building a robust transportation system that provides greater mobility and access to jobs for all residents.
Please address, in detail, the following major issues in Raleigh:
7) Now that the city has acquired the 306-acre Dorothea Dix Park, what are some specific things you would like to see the city do with it?
I see four priorities for Dix Park. I would like to see these addressed as part of a robust public input process that will inform the Park’s development.
• A mix of active and passive recreational space. Dix should have active uses like soccer and softball fields, volleyball and basketball courts, as well as open and forested recreational space.
• A significant cultural amenity inside the Park that attracts families and tourist traffic.
• Nearby residential development that ensures an active environment in the Park that is safe and welcoming. Piedmont Park in Atlanta is a good example.
• Connections to the city and NC State. The current downtown plan envisions connections for Dix to downtown, Pullen and other parks. In addition, Dix needs a stronger connection to NC State’s Centennial Campus.
8) Between gentrification in historic neighborhoods and expensive rentals downtown, the city has struggled at times with questions of affordable and workforce housing. What concrete steps can or would you take to help ensure that, for instance, hospitality workers can afford to live in Raleigh and especially its urban core? For example, there has been some talk of density bonuses to entice developers to include affordable units in their downtown developments. Do you believe this is a viable idea? Why or why not?
First, I would work to establish a specific goal for affordable units for which the Council is accountable. Second, I would push for dedicated, long-term financing—possibly through a synthetic TIF approach for acquiring, preserving and constructing units. Third, I would advocate for a number of strategies called for in the city’s new affordable housing plan, including partnerships with non-profit and for-profit developers, cash and other incentives, and locating units near major transit stops. Finally, as discussed previously, I would like to see affordable options for teachers and other civil servants as part of the city’s priority for developing a diverse housing stock.
While I would consider density bonuses, I am not aware of evidence that they have been successful. I believe it is more likely that cash incentives will lead to increases in affordable units.
9) Related to affordable housing and affordability in general is viable public transportation. What steps can the city take to improve mass transit throughout the city? Will you actively support the transit referendum that Wake County will likely put to voters next year?
I would actively support the transit referendum as a member of the City Council. The simple fact is that Raleigh’s capacity to accommodate growth, ensure environmental health, attract and grow jobs, and maintain quality of life will be dependent in large part on a robust transportation system. We need to take the following steps:
● More extensive bus and rail options, including shorter bus wait times that make travel predictable and reliable;
● Rapid Bus Transit in key locations, such as the New Bern Avenue corridor between WakeMed and downtown;
● A commitment to work with Orange and Durham on commuter rail in the region; and
● A focus on development and density along priority bus and rail lines.
We have two near-term challenges: 1) passing a ½-cent sales tax referendum for transit that will allow us to fund the implementation of the Wake Transit Plan and 2) staying committed to development density which will make the transit system feasible. Longer term, we need strong regional collaboration with our neighboring towns and Orange and Durham counties to develop and implement regional strategies.
10) The city came under fire at Council meetings in July for the proposed remapping under the Unified Development Ordinance. It is safe to say there was a lot of uncertainty and distrust. Broadly speaking, how do you think the city should approach issues of density and neighborhood livability? And if the city had it to do over again, what about the UDO remapping do you believe should have been done differently, if anything?
On the UDO remapping, the City Council should have used the same process we used on the Planning Commission. In short, we reviewed the remapping recommendations neighborhood by neighborhood and invited everyone who had asked a question, made a comment, or requested a change to appear before the Commission. In all, we heard 177 cases. We also held numerous meetings on certain neighborhoods that faced significant changes. At the very least, I would like to have seen the city conduct the neighborhood meetings they are doing now in advance of the public hearing process—not the other way around.
Broadly speaking, Raleigh should make dense, walkable communities in geographic growth centers our development priority. These are places where we can go higher, achieve greater people density, attract employment, and make transit feasible.
11) Also on the subject of livability: The issue of regulating sidewalk patios hints at the difficulty this city (like other cities) faces in striking a balance between making its downtown more of a neighborhood and the needs of the businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry, that currently exist. How do you think the city should go about balancing these needs? What does a successful downtown look like to you?
Raleigh needs a clear, long-term vision for downtown development. Former Mayor Meeker’s leadership included a compelling vision for what downtown could become. The current issues and debates demonstrate the need for a clearer road-map and improved public communication for what we are trying to create today.
Great cities have a healthy mix of retail, restaurants, offices, residential, cultural amenities, and public spaces in their core. To get there, we need a constructive and ongoing dialogue with downtown business owners, many of whom took big risks to help create vibrancy downtown. Ultimately, this isn’t about negotiating a set of rules. It’s about a shared vision for vibrancy, predictability for business investment, and quality of life in our city.
12) Some downtown businesses have worried that the parking-deck fees scheduled to go into effect at the end of the year will adversely impact them. On the other hand, there are obviously costs associated with both building and maintaining garages, and most other cities do charge for their use. What would be your ideal solution?
Parking deck fees should be phased in along with our increasing transportation options. As residents throughout the city have greater (and more frequent) bus and rail options to come downtown, we will want them to use those options and stay out of the car. Parking deck fees will be an incentive to make that choice,
However, in the short term, these fees are serving as disincentives to coming downtown and supporting businesses that have taken risks and made downtown more vibrant. There will be a time for fees, but they need to be concomitant with transit options.
13) Some recent legislative actions have seemed, to some extent, antagonistic toward the state’s cities: specifically, the repeal of business privilege taxes and the movement toward redistributing sales tax revenue. In your view, how should the city respond to these (potential and actual) revenue losses? Will the city’s property tax rate need to increase? Will services or new initiatives be curtailed? How should the city address its fiscal challenges going forward?
It is important to recognize that North Carolina has moved into an era of reduced state leadership and support in areas such as education, environmental protection, and economic development. Cities like Raleigh can no longer count on the state’s historic role to support the capacity of its cities to attract and grow companies and jobs.
Raleigh city leaders will need to chart a strong course in the coming years on transportation, education, the environment, and jobs. City leaders also need to be forceful advocates for county and state budgets that support—and don’t undermine—Raleigh and its role as one of the state’s chief economic engines. State spending decisions and tax policy should spur, not harm, our business climate and ability to create jobs. And we have to join with other metropolitan areas in the state and be much stronger in advocating our interests—and making clear to our own legislative delegation what we expect from state government.
Decisions about revenue must be guided by clear strategic choices for driving economic vitality and quality of life. Potential cuts or increases will be determined by looking at what is needed to maintain strong neighborhoods, quality education, reasonable costs of living, manageable commutes, vibrant downtown and growth centers, and access to parks and culture. Raleigh needs to protect these assets and focus our investments in these areas which have provided a proven return.
14) The city has about 230 employees who earn less than what is generally considered to be a living wage, about $31,000 a year. In your view, is this problematic or something the city should concern itself with?
Full-time employees of our city should receive wages that allow them to support their families. They should also have access to transportation and housing that does not force them to make decisions between which basic needs can be met. I am not clear whether $31,000 is the right number or not, but ensuring that the city’s employees are compensated with a family-supporting wage is important. Fair compensation will allow the city to better attract and retain skilled employees, and improve turnover and productivity in the workforce.
15) When is the bike share program going to happen?
Go to cities like Miami and New York and you will see the “CitiBike” programs. Operating without city subsidy, they are bikeshare programs sponsored by Citigroup. Raleigh should first look to see if it can find a corporate partner like Red Hat, Citrix or Wells Fargo to help underwrite a bikeshare program here. It would be a fruitful and cost-effective partnership for both. While I would not be opposed to a program funded jointly by city resources and federal grants, I would advocate first for a public-private venture.
16) What do you believe the role of Citizens Advisory Councils should be? If you are running for a district seat, how closely would you work or have you worked with local CACs?
I have worked with the CAC’s in my role as a member of the Raleigh Planning Commission. CAC’s provide important venues for input into planning decisions, and as an opportunity to weigh in on those decisions. To that end, I would like to find ways to increase CAC attendance so that their votes are as representative of neighborhood concerns as possible.
My commitment as the District A Council member would be to attend the CAC meetings that cover my district and listen to feedback on key issues and Council agenda items. I would also be prepared to serve as a resources when needed. Finally, I would plan a standing meeting with CAC chairs from District A to discuss issues and concerns needing attention at the CAC meetings.
17) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
I want to highlight three specific initiatives I am calling for in Raleigh:
• Increase teen employment. The numbers of teenagers in our community with job experience has dropped almost in half since 2000 (45% to 25%). Our teenagers need job experience to prepare them for the workforce. One approach is a stronger commitment to summer youth employment. Similar programs in Louisville and Baltimore involve 2,500 and 5,000 youth respectively. Durham has a program with nearly 500. Raleigh’s program? 165.
● Reduce solid waste. We are a city of great natural resources and protecting them is critical. With our growth, reducing solid waste and the pressure on landfills is a priority. Cities across the country are using innovative efforts such as alternative pricing structures that provide incentives for lower consumption, less trash and increased recycling—and reduced solid waste fees for residents. On this issue, Raleigh should be a leader.
● Improve our jobs approach. We should launch a Raleigh-Wake economic development cabinet comprised of local government, education and business leadership that defines the credentials and two- and four-year degrees our economy needs to grow sectors like IT, healthcare, consumer goods, energy and clean technologies—and the public school, community college and university strategies that will get us there.