Penny Rich | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Penny Rich 

Candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Penny Rich
Full legal name, if different:
Date of birth: 05/27/1959
Home address: 109 Oldham Place, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Small Business Owner (personal chef)
Home phone:
Work phone:

1. What is there in your public record or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be an effective leader? Please be specific about your public and community service background.

I am an active volunteer for the Inter-Faith Council's Community Kitchen and serve on the Ironwoods Home Owner's Association where I am the chairperson of the Neighborhood Impact Committee.  I was a member of the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) Board of Directors from 2001-2007, and held the positions of vice chair, secretary of the board, chairperson of the human resources committee, and chairperson of the natural resources committee.  I also served on the OWASA community outreach, art, and property committees.  I am a former member of the Chapel Hill Technology Advisory Committee and the SGC at Seawell Elementary School.  I served as President of the Chapel of the Cross Pre-School Board of Directors where I was also the fundraising chairperson.  I am a member of the North Carolina Sierra Club, Lillian's List, the NRG and Orange Democratic Women.

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

I am a progressive liberal with many of the attributes associated with that title, including strong environmental protectionism and an understanding of the importance of social justice. My work with OWASA, the Neighborhood Impact Committee and the Inter-Faith Council reflect this, as does my campaign's emphasis on social and environmental sustainability. My past achievements and present campaign platform go beyond my political leanings, however. As a woman I understand the importance of women's voices in the political sphere. As a mother I feel strongly about efforts to improve educational opportunities for all Chapel Hill children. As a small business owner I am an advocate of local businesses. As a citizen I feel compelled to serve.

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

Banning plastic bags in local retailers. I expect there to be pushback from businesses, as paper bags are more expensive than plastic bags, but if the Outer Banks can successfully implement such a policy, then Chapel Hill should be able to do so as well.

4. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

I will help build a just community by empowering citizens by giving voice to their concerns. Simply stated, I intend to be a voice for the people. Since announcing my candidacy in early June, I have been actively seeking an understanding of the issues that are most important to the people of Chapel Hill. To that end, I held several Community Conversations and Meet and Greets. I shared coffee with local officials and community leaders. I created a survey that is available on my website. Through all of these efforts I have gained a thorough understanding of what the average citizen needs and wants, and I will not let them down.

5. In the midst of a difficult economic situation and a tough budget year, what's one thing that the town is cutting that you would save and what's one thing that's been saved that you would cut?

I would save cost-of-living increase for town employees. Though their salaries and benefits have been maintained, I fear we will lose town employees to surrounding areas where the cost of living is lower. I feel that town employees should be able to afford to live in town.

Chapel Hill residents can no longer be responsible for paying the majority of the cost of operating a library that benefits both town residents and county residents. Orange County and Chapel Hill should work together in revising library budgets and funding methods to resolve this issue. Though this is not something that has been "saved" per se, it is a budgetary issue that once resolved, will ease the pressure on the town's budget.

6. What's your approach to growth in Chapel Hill? Where should the town grow? How do leaders manage it?

It is my opinion that the governing body of Chapel Hill must have a holistic approach to growth and density that emphasizes citizen input and continually revisits planning documents to ensure that they accurately reflect the needs of the community. As we cannot grow beyond the rural buffer that protects our wetlands and agricultural resources, it will become increasingly important that we manage the space available to us in an intelligent manner.

My priorities regarding growth and density in Chapel Hill are as follows:

• Protection of property rights

• Affordable and diverse housing options

• Pedestrian and bicycle friendly roadways

• Protection of open spaces for recreation

• Preservation of historic places

• Sustainable economic development

• Heightened citizen participation in direction setting and growth

7. Do you think recent efforts to revitalize Franklin Street, such as adding welcome flags, using new parking rules, implementing Touchdown Carolina, etc. have been effective? What more needs to be done downtown? What would you do to increase occupancy rates and make Franklin Street a more vibrant and economically successful entity?

I think these efforts should be commended and feel that we must continue to develop programs that promote convenience and accessibility to downtown. Downtown is the heart and soul of Chapel Hill. As we work to improve downtown, we should do so with an eye to linking Chapel Hill's history and tradition with new ideas and attractions. For example, we should encourage re-development that promotes cultural tourism, such as the proposed conversion of the Varsity Theatre, a Chapel Hill landmark, to an Arts venue. In addition, I feel that we should work with landlords to provide incentives to fill empty office spaces and storefronts downtown.

8. While Greenbridge has been lauded as an environmentally friendly housing development, there are also concerns that it threatens adjacent lower-income neighborhoods. What do you think the town's strategy should be in regards to gentrification?

I feel that the Greenbridge approach to building is exactly how we should be building. That said, I feel that that Greenbridge has a responsibility to protect the integrity of the surrounding neighborhood, and should be held to each and every promise they made to the Northside Neighborhood during negotiations. Though Greenbridge is a sustainable building, we cannot be sustainable as a community if we do not protect our diversity. Sustainability encompasses not only environmental sustainability but social sustainability as well. Gentrification is a social justice issue and should be treated as such. I do not believe that growth need bring negative consequences for those in the surrounding area, and feel that this outcome indicates a failure of the governing body to manage growth wisely.

9. What is your opinion Chapel Hill's inclusionary zoning procedure and its intent? Are the right people being served by it? Are the right types of properties (ie) condos, single-family homes, etc) available through the program? Should payment in lieu be accepted? Is the program, as it stands now, in a position to provide long-term success for residents?

I feel that the intent behind inclusionary zoning is noble, but that in practice it can fall short of its goals. A family of four cannot live comfortably in a 600 sq. ft. condo. The program will remain successful only if we build and maintain sustainable housing that can accommodate residents ranging from the single town employee to a family with children. More could be (and should be) done to serve the community that inclusionary zoning aims to help. At the same time, the council should be commended for the implementation of inclusionary zoning. Viewed from the national stage, our program is a success, and we should be proud. Chapel Hill currently has 137 homes designated as "affordable." Within two years 78 downtown condominiums will be added to the mix. This will present a unique challenge for the Home Trust management as they work to find the right occupants for these units. Another concern is the fact that Home Trust predicts up to a 3 million dollar deficit in the next five years related to home management, maintenance and re-sale. Because of these challenges I am in favor of payment in lieu, but feel that it should not mean a builder can automatically avoid the 15% policy. I suggest that each project be reviewed individually to determine the best approach for that particular development.

10. What makes Chapel Hill unique to you? How would you preserve that while advancing it?

When I was driving to the UNC vs. Citadel football game yesterday, my family and I were marveling at the tree canopy and how beautiful it is. We feel lucky to have landed in the southern part of heaven. Whereas I recognize the need to grow and do not lack a vision for the future, we cannot take away the distinctive features that make up the fabric of Chapel Hill. Again, I stress a sustainable approach -- respect for rural buffers, re-development downtown, and intelligent growth.

11. With that in mind, the town's comprehensive plan emphasizes regional planning and cooperation. How should this collaboration take place? On what kinds of issues? And, what strategies would you borrow from your neighbors that could work in Chapel Hill?

Chapel Hill's Planning Department's cooperation with other planning departments in the region is crucial for promoting sustainable growth patterns, and should be implemented on issues relating to economic development, land use control, connective transportation, and environmental protection. Though it is not in our planning district, a strategy that I feel Chapel Hill could borrow from our neighbors is Durham's emphasis on supporting the Arts, as they have done through the Golden Belt Artist Cooperative. I feel that Chapel Hill would benefit from a stronger emphasis on cultural tourism, particularly downtown.

12. How do you view UNC's relationship with the town? What's the state of it, given recent Carolina North developments? How will you help further that relationship in the future?

I feel that the relationship between UNC and Chapel Hill is strong, and I commend the new chancellor for his efforts in working with the Town, such as when he tabled the siting of a new airport in Orange County. I feel that the relationship will be strengthened by increasing citizen trust in the University. In my survey of over 100 citizens, I have found that there is a wide range of opinions on Carolina North. Many people feel that the negotiations between the University and the Town went on for too long and that they were not able to follow the progress and therefore lost interest. Many felt that there was not enough transparency or a great enough availability of information provided in a timely manner. In the future I feel that it will be crucial to allow citizens to have greater input in partnerships between the University and the Town, and to provide them the resources necessary to facilitate their involvement.

13. The 10-year plan to end homelessness is underway. How will the town monitor progress on the plan? What accountability measures are or should be in place? What are the hurdles to accomplishing it? How can the town overcome those obstacles? What is not in the plan that should be?

I believe the goals of the 10-year plan to end homelessness should be more realistic and should stop speaking of human beings as statistics. Every person is different and the reasons for homelessness are unique to each individual. The 10-year plan does not take into account the level of service needed to sustain programs and the facilities at the Inter-Faith Council. It should support the IFC relocation plan for the Community House and Kitchen and should prove to be a stronger partner, particularly in providing services needed for the shelter and in preventing people from returning to homelessness. The IFC is underfunded by local governments and relies on the goodness of citizen volunteers, synagogues and churches for donations. One very important donation made last year by the late Joe Hertzenberg for more than $385,000 bought the IFC time and will play an important role in the big move from Franklin Street to their new location. As a volunteer of the Inter-Faith Council, I am on the front lines of this issue.

More specifically, each of the 5 goals stated in the 10 year plan need to be monitored and revisited frequently to see if the goals are being met.

1. Reduce Chronic Homelessness

Establish an evaluation system to measure the cost of chronically homeless individuals to the town before and after they receive housing.

2. Increase employment

Evaluate and monitor employment and training programs and make sure there is employment available after the training process is complete.

3. Prevent Homelessness

The major causes of homelessness need to be addressed. Providing safe and supportive environments where people can seek help before they become homeless will promote success.

4. Increase Access to Services

Monitor people in need of help before they fall though the cracks of the system.

5. Increase Public Participation in Ending Homelessness

Publish success stories so more people will volunteer. Their success will breed more volunteers.

14. What important town departments or agencies have been, in your opinion, chronically underfunded? What have been the ramifications of that shortage? If elected, where would you find the money to more fairly fund these areas? Conversely, what town departments or agencies have been overfunded?

When elected I will review each program and department with the town manager to ensure that funds are distributed in a way that will preserve a balanced Chapel Hill while providing the services that citizens deserve.

The planning department really struggled with the recent Carolina North Agreement. This department was underfunded and understaffed throughout the processes, which led to late postings of amended agreement policies and mistakes in reporting. UNC was well staffed, which gave them a clear advantage in negotiations. Although the police and fire departments seem to be well funded, I would like to see more officers on the beat, walking or biking on Franklin Street to ensure the safety of visitors downtown and to enforce panhandling rules.

I applaud free transit and the purchase of hybrid busses but feel that the Public Works building to house them came with a price tag too high for taxpayers to absorb ($50,000,000). This is an example of poor budgeting. The town should have considered more reasonably priced options for building on the land that came practically free from the University at 1.00/year.

I would continue to fund the development of greenways and Parks and Recreation programs. I would not cut benefits to town employees. They are barely surviving on their salaries and asking them to give up benefits or even partial benefits would be a mistake. Finally, I feel that with the current economic downturn the decision to wait on the library expansion was necessary.

15. Many of the town's workers live in outside communities due to the high cost of living in Chapel Hill and the lack of what some term "a living wage." What would you do to address this? Should it be addressed? Is it important for our police, firemen and public works officials to live in the community that they serve?

This is an issue that has come up repeatedly in my meetings with citizens. In my survey of over 100 Chapel Hill residents there was an overwhelming call for more entry-level housing. The residents of Chapel Hill agree with me that it is important that town employees are able to afford to live in town. If Chapel Hill grows more and more expensive we will become a one-dimensional town with no diversity, and no town can remain sustainable without diversity. "Diversity" includes a diversity of housing options. We must insist that developers do not focus residential development exclusively on luxury housing, but also work to include affordable entry level housing (beyond the requirements of inclusionary zoning) so that the people who keep our town safe and who educate our children can also live here. This absolutely must be addressed, and it must be addressed soon.

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