JON BALILES

Jon Baliles suspended his mayoral campaign Nov. 2, 2016.

Jon BalilesCandidates for Richmond mayor received questionnaires from local nonprofit organizations James River Association, Richmond Forward, RVA Rapid Transit, Sports Backers, and Storefront for Community Design. Their responses — regarding public education, transportation, urban planning and the riverfront — will guide the Mayorathon, a candidate forum scheduled for Sept. 29.

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Candidate Jon Baliles’ responses to the questionnaires appear below.


Responses have been published as received; no content has been edited beyond being formatted for the web.

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EDUCATIONNEIGHBORHOODS | RIVER | TRANSIT

Biking / Walking

QUESTION 1 - TRANSPORTATION EQUITY

Biking and walking not only improves public health, but it is a prevalent form of transportation for people who can’t afford a car and/or gas, are too young to drive, or are not mentally or physically able to drive. According to Census data, nearly 22 percent of Richmond households do not own or otherwise have access to a car. The challenge for Richmond is to increase access to safe biking and walking for opportunities for all citizens. 

What measures can we expect your administration to take to expand access to safe walking and biking infrastructure for all Richmond residents?

JON BALILES: As a Council member, I have added funding for increasing bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian crossing infrastructure as a category in the Capital Improvement budget. As mayor, I will continue to do this. It is essential as more people are biking and walking that we make crossings and streets as safe as possible. I have been demonstrating that, not just promising it.

QUESTION 2 - COMPLETE STREETS

In October of 2014, Richmond City Council passed a Complete Streets Resolution (No. 2014-R172-170) that states the City will – within one year – modify street design and construction manuals, codes, ordinances, and standards to reflect that “all transportation improvement projects in the city be planned for, designed, and constructed to provide appropriate accommodation for persons of all ages and abilities, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit passengers, and motorists, while promoting safe operations for all users.” Nearly two years later, these changes have not been adopted.

If elected Mayor, how would you work to implement the City’s Complete Streets Policy?

BALILES: As a member of City Council that approved this resolution and the Highway Safety Commission, I am very familiar with this policy and embrace it wholeheartedly and will work to implement it. We must work to find a balanced approach for our streets that incorporate these guidelines and promotes all modes of transit on our streets.

QUESTION 3 - VISION ZERO

Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. On March 7, 2016, Richmond City Council passed a Vision Zero Resolution (No. 2016-R011) that “supports the development of a Vision Zero program for the City of Richmond with the goal of reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries in road traffic to zero by the year 2030.”

As Mayor, what policy steps would you take to improve education, engineering, enforcement, and emergency response with the purpose of achieving zero traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030?

BALILES: Part of the solution involves working with the state and DMV on the test drivers are required to take to make them more aware while they are on our streets. Along with implementing the complete streets policy and increasing enforcement, everyone deserves to be safe. Over time, this will serve to help us achieve the Vision Zero goal.

QUESTION 4 - INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

In May of 2015, the City of Richmond finished work on the city’s first Bicycle Master Plan, which calls for implementation of 135 miles of new bikeways by 2025. By the end of 2016, the city will have 25 miles of bikeways on the ground, all of which have been “low hanging fruit”. However, few if any of our new bikeways connect to each other or major destinations.

As Mayor, how would you grow the mileage of bikeways in Richmond to fill in the gaps and form a connected network?

BALILES: First, find the corridors that are both popular and safe. Then look to try temporary closures and "trial runs" where the impact of biking/pedestrian/running lanes can be measured and receive feedback from those living nearby. We’ve learned that forcing plans on neighborhoods does not create buy-in. Therefore, working with neighborhoods to expand our bikeways network is the best way to grow it in the future.

QUESTION 5 - FUNDING

Establishing safe and accessible places for people to bike and walk for transportation will require additional funding for capital projects, either in the form of Federal grants, State revenue-sharing, or the City’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP). In May of 2016, Mayor Jones proposed $500,000 in the FY2017 CIP budget for bicycle infrastructure – more than any previous fiscal year – in addition to funding for sidewalks, crosswalks, and traffic calming. Furthermore, City Council added $300,000 to fully fund the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge, a walking and biking bridge from Brown’s Island to Manchester.

Do you support pursuing additional funding (in the CIP or other sources) for biking and walking infrastructure? If yes, how much?

BALILES: I have done so in my term on City Council, and led the effort to increase funding for the Riverfront Plan money for three straight years ($2.7 million in FY2015, $1.5 million in FY2016, and $300,000 in FY2017). The mayor had proposed zero funding in FY 2015 and 2016. This is a commitment that I’ve already demonstrated is a priority and will continue to do so if elected.

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Education

QUESTION 1 - INTER-GOVERNMENT REFORMS/INTENTIONALITY

Richmonders are long tired of stories of inter-government dysfunction and miscommunication between the Mayor, City Council, and School Board when it comes to education. Prime examples include the annual contentious budget season and the discoordination in school construction and operation that led to the failed opportunity with a new MLK Middle School.

What will you do to ensure that your office bolsters inter-governmental efforts to support a world-class education system?

BALILES: I have already begun doing this, so it’s more than just a promise. I have forged a strong partnership with the Superintendent and School Board while serving on City Council to provide significantly more resources to improve our schools. That commitment will continue as mayor and be even more effective. Every budget year, I will follow the example of Henrico County and sit down with the Superintendent in October BEFORE the mayor’s budget is drafted to begin collaborating. The Superintendent will have an open door policy with my office with no appointments necessary.

QUESTION 2 - SUSTAINABLE FUNDING

An increased and sustainable stream of education funding will be needed overcome the backlog of facilities needs caused by systemic disinvestment, and to meet the needs of educating students from highly-concentrated poverty. With Richmond’s limited bond capacity, revenue streams, and disadvantage from state funding policies, this will not be an effort that Richmond’s residents can bear alone.

What is your plan to identify the necessary combination of state, private, and local revenues to provide sustainable funding for an education overhaul?

BALILES: A solution begins with real commitment. I have put forth two ordinances for city council consideration this fall to finally create a minimum stable level of funding for our schools. This will allow school administration and the school board to financially plan for its long-term future. One ordinance would dedicate at least 60.8% of real estate tax revenues to our schools, while another would dedicate one cent of the six-cent meals tax revenues. Stable funding is essential if we are to transform our school district.

QUESTION 3 - TRANSFORMATIVE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Recent events have shown the immense goodwill of our community for city schools: citizens came out in droves to support funding for Richmond Public Schools. Likewise, Richmond's business community contributes amply to education initiatives every year. With all this good intention, we still lack transformational partnerships between the schools and business, neighborhood, or philanthropic service providers.

What will you do to maximize community support for public education by establishing transformative partnerships which empower individuals towards sustainable change?

BALILES: I will consider my term as mayor a success if we never again see 76 people come out and plead for more money for our schools at a city council budget public hearing. That should not have been necessary. I will work with businesses, volunteer groups, and philanthropy to continue and increase their efforts to improve our schools and brighten our children's futures. I will also lead by example by being being positively involved instead of combative and dismissive. Our schoolchildren will get my full attention when they need it, not a fraction.

QUESTION 4 - STRATEGIC ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

A combination of tax abatements and incentives used to attract businesses, develop historic properties, and boost tourism have nonetheless diminished the taxable property base in Richmond. Private market trends have shifted considerably in recent years, but our tax policies and economic understanding continue to leave Richmond Public Schools’ funding – which many voters claim is a top investment priority – short.

What is your economic development strategy to provide incentives or negotiate benefits, which recognizes education as a priority?

BALILES: The best economic strategy begins by making education a real priority. I agree with Dr. Bedden when he says that education prevents poverty, reduces crime, improves health, and drives economic development. 

Setting a stable stream of funding will enable the schools to begin to plan long term. It is an economic driver on multiple levels that will enable the city to prioritze teacher packages like we do for public safety packages - we can only hire and retain the best and brightest in these two fields - now more important than ever - if we are competitive. Better schools lead to better jobs and more of them as businesses start up and relocate to areas with skills, talent, and a good quality of life. 

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Neighborhoods

QUESTION 1

The City of Richmond has undertaken some successful planning processes in the past decade like the Downtown Master Plan and the Richmond Riverfront Plan. Each of these processes valued civic engagement and put forth results that have been embraced by the public.

As the City’s Master Plan is updated in the coming years, how will you as Mayor ensure that the city has a robust and inclusive civic engagement process?

BALILES: The Downtown Master Plan process in 2007-09 set the bar for successful community involvement because it included so many community voices. I was a citizen participant in that process, and later an assistant to planning director Rachel Flynn who spearheaded that process. As mayor, I will make sure the planning director and mayor replicate that process as much as possible. Our goal should be to get a wide variety of perspectives and feedback from those living in the communities we are planning.

QUESTION 2

As the population continues to increase in the City of Richmond, conversations about displacement, housing affordability, and neighborhood change are top of mind for Richmonders. One effort to tackle these challenges was seen through the establishment of the first Office of Community Wealth Building in the nation.

Building on this framework, what tools do you think the City could use to promote more equitable development?

BALILES: In addition to the planning process mentioned above, the city needs to work more on converting our many vacant buildings into affordable housing. This can help rejuvenate neighborhoods where vacant structures increase crime, affect health, and lower property values. There are many tools to do so, and the city also needs to make a commitment to code enforcement so properties do not slide into disrepair and then vacancy. It is a cycle that can be prevented with the right focus.

QUESTION 3

The great neighborhoods that make up the City of Richmond each have different stories, legacies, histories, and tomorrows. People, your constituents, continue to work for a better quality of life for themselves, their families, and their friends.

How will you engage with Richmond neighborhoods to keep your finger on the pulse of our city? What will you ask of the community to help you with your job?

BALILES: There is little disagreement that Richmond needs a mayor that is accessible and engaged. This is not rocket science. I will be a hands-on mayor that will stay in touch with our neighborhoods through regular contacts, visits, and meetings. As a board member of my neighborhood association for a decade, I know how important it is, and I'll actively listen to  concerns and help provide answers to their questions. An effective community relations approach is much more effective than press releases.

QUESTION 4

You’ve read the many superlatives given to Richmond over the past few years, for our great food and dining communities, our hospitality industry, our river, and our entrepreneurial culture just to name a few. These come from specific neighborhoods and cover the community at large.

What superlative would you like to see for our as a headline? What role did the community play in its own transformation?

BALILES: I want Richmond to be known as a great place to live, work, and visit. I also want it to be a city of opportunity, and that's why our schools are so important. So far, the community has been ahead of our government in rejuvenating our city. Community efforts set an example that should be embraced by city hall. Together, we can further hasten Richmond’s progress and solve the problems that still plague us, and make our future better than our past.

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River

QUESTION 1

The James River Park System saw more than 1.3 million visitors in 2015, making it the most-visited attraction in the region. Many believe the park system is underfunded and understaffed.

What is your plan for supporting the James River Park System?

BALILES: My plan is already in action to provide more funding and support for JRPS. Budget amendments submitted by me last year added $100,000 for two full time staff members and $400,000 for capital improvements. It was the largest single infusion in the system since the 1980’s. That commitment will continue as Mayor. 

QUESTION 2

Richmond's riverfront is experiencing a transformation catalyzed by public and private investment. The City's ability to fund capital projects may be limited in the coming years.

How will you continue implementation the Richmond Riverfront Plan? Which projects are priorities?

BALILES: I have done so in my term on City Council, and led the effort to increase funding for the Riverfront Plan money for three straight years ($2.7 million in FY2015, $1.5 million in FY2016, and $300,000 in FY2017). The mayor had proposed zero funding in FY 2015 and 2016. Once current projects are completed, I would like to see the river terraces on Brown’s Island and near Lehigh complete as well as the Chapel Island improvements begin. 

QUESTION 3

Water quality in the James River is improving thanks to the City's Long Term Control Plan and the Stormwater Utility.

How will you address the City's Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system and ensure water quality improvement continues?

BALILES: Continue to use stormwater funding to make sure our system continues to upgrade to meet all mandated requirements while at the same time making sure our water treatment plant continues to perform at a high level. I have seen this facility in operation up close and know that Richmond’s water quality is excellent and must remain so.

QUESTION 4

Tributaries of the James River (Reedy Creek, Upham Brook, Gillies Creek) are experiencing water quality improvement thanks to the efforts of City staff in recent years, but these projects do not come without controversy.

How will you ensure neighborhood-scale water quality improvements continue and address community concerns?

BALILES: Like with any project, the city should engage neighborhoods affected by projects but also look for alternatives and options. Choosing projects because matching funds are available or score higher on some graph does not mean it might be the best for a certain community. A balance must be found that finds a solution that works for all involved.

QUESTION 5

The James River Association is a part of the No Child Left Inside Coalition, working to increase every child's access to environmental education and meaningful outdoor experiences.

What is the Mayor's role in ensuring every child has access to outdoor education experiences?

BALILES: The mayor should represent the active, outdoor spirit of the city by participating in and promoting all of the great outdoor activities like biking, hiking, and river safety. As I do in my private life, so will I as Mayor to showcase these great aspects of our city and encourage groups, churches, schools, and youth centers to participate and promote the use of these great resources. 

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Transit

QUESTION 1

State and federal plans are in the works to make Richmond a stop on a proposed higher speed rail route along the eastern seaboard.

Do you support a higher speed rail connection between Richmond and the Northeast Corridor?

BALILES: Absolutely, especially faster reliable rail service between Richmond and Washington. Anyone who has experienced Interstate 95 on a busy weekend during the summer knows that reliable timing and sustained speeds will do wonders for rail travel.

QUESTION 2

The station options being proposed for a higher speed rail connection in Richmond are Main Street Station, a Broad Street Station, and a Boulevard Station.

Which Richmond station option do you think offers the greatest opportunity for economic development and connectivity?

BALILES: The best potential for overall positive economic impact is in the Boulevard/Scott’s Addition/Broad Street area, although service to Newport News should be preserved at Main Street Station. There is major potential for development not only at the 60 acres on the City's Boulevard property but on another 100 or so acres in that area that is currently zoned industrial. That area could be developed in the future to include mixed use development that is new, more dense, and has a substantial impact on the city's tax revenue base.

QUESTION 3

The Richmond Regional Transit Vision Plan will be complete in the fall of 2016. This project, which is being undertaken by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation in partnership with the jurisdictions of Metro Richmond, will offer the layout of a regional public transit network, but one premised on regional cooperation.

What are the barriers to regional cooperation from your perspective, and how do you intend to foster more collaboration in order to bring this much-needed plan to fruition?

BALILES: Building regional trust begins by picking up the phone. Municipalities can't enter into large cooperation agreements if trust is lacking, as it is today. Smiles and handshakes at breakfasts are one thing, expanding transit is another. That starts with working with Henrico to expand transit along Broad Street westward where the jobs are located. That should be the first step, then work on the next corridor, either Route 1 north and south or Route 360 east and west. I rode the bus to work when I was a City employee and I will do so as Mayor with my regional counterparts to show them that transit can work to everyone's benefit.

QUESTION 4

The Broad Street BRT route will be a first of its kind in our region.

What do you think is the next key corridor to focus on expanding our BRT system? Why?

BALILES: West Broad in the direction of Short Pump because that is a major jobs corridor. This line can be extended without dedicated lanes, which makes it more cost affordable, yet it can still operate with speeds that make transit more reliable.

QUESTION 5

The most successful transit networks in the country have a dedicated revenue stream, and our lack of dedicated funding for public transportation has been cited as the number one challenge to providing transit for the region.

Do you support a dedicated source of funding for transit? If so, what funding source would you prefer? If not, why not?

BALILES: The best way to achieve this is to get approval from the General Assembly to lower the bar for applying for regional transportation improvement funds. Currently, only Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia qualify. If so, a regional authority could be created to significantly enhance our shared transit network.

QUESTION 6

The Richmond Transit Network Plan (RTNP), which will be complete in January 2017 and is being undertaken by the City in consultation with Jarrett Walker + Associates, is an incredibly unique opportunity to enhance the bus lines for which the City pays, particularly in coordination with the BRT.

How will you personally play a role in the creation and implementation of this plan, regardless of the outcome of this election?

BALILES: I will ride the bus, as I have in the past, and continue to advocate for better public transit. That’s because it is essential for economic development, connecting people with jobs, and serving those in need. There is no better way to lead than by example.

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