LEVAR STONEY

Levar StoneyCandidates 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 Levar Stoney's 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?

LEVAR STONEY: The city has done a great job of going after “low hanging fruit.” We need to stop thinking in terms of “the show” and start thinking in terms of the user. In my administration I will work with organizations like Sports Backers, along with neighborhood and civic associations and City Council, to think about where we are putting lanes and work to finish the Bicycle Master Plan. The blueprint is finished, now it’s time for City Hall to get to work. I will find the political will necessary to fully implement the Bicycle Master Plan by actively engaging the community and having a working relationship with City Council. I have experience building coalitions to implement real change - as Mayor, I will use that experience to harness the city’s momentum and put us on par with other cities who are becoming more pedestrian friendly.  

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?

STONEY: Richmond has developed a reputation for debating, planning, and then not implementing. This is about transforming City Hall. On my first day of this campaign I called for a complete performance review and audit of every city department - I want to know who the top performers are and who the under performers are. As Mayor, I’m going to lead from the top down and transform the way the city operates. People pay a premium to live in Richmond, but we are not getting premium services. As Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Virginia and as Secretary of the Commonwealth, I ensured efficiency and accountability. As Mayor, I will do the same. It is unacceptable that some of our residents are unable to experience all our city has to offer because of the design and construction of some of our streets. As we become a more pedestrian-friendly city, we must continue to improve infrastructure and create safe, accessible, and user-friendly options for ​all​ ​of our residents.  

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?

STONEY: I would look for innovative solutions like the ones currently being used in Portland where they have mapped-out traffic safety hot spots and use the data to make informed decisions about infrastructure improvements and safety information. Using data-driven governance to ensure safety is working in cities across America, and it can work here too. We are living in an Xbox era, but there are people in government still using Ataris. Bikers need to feel safe in Richmond - the city has invested in other safety measures and now it’s time to make bike safety a priority as well. This is also an education issue - we need to make sure our children understand the importance of road safety from a young age, whether as a pedestrian, a cyclist, or a driver.  

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?

STONEY: The top priority in terms of ​walking, biking, and infrastructure needs to be building out a comprehensive, thoughtful, and safe network. We need to move out of phase one and connect the segments - and with them - connect more cyclists to our communities. We also need to think about diversity of the user and keep safety requirements in mind. This is a priority in terms of continuing to attract tourism and adapting to the more pedestrian-heavy city Richmond has become. I have already committed to doing quarterly office hours in all nine districts and to attending City Council meetings. I will engage the community and build the political relationships necessary to actually get things done. As Mayor, I will grow mileage by finding the political will to proceed with the implementation of the plan. The blueprint is complete, what’s needed now is collaboration and leadership to actually add the miles and finish what we have started.  

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?

STONEY: Cities of similar sizes are making this investment and Richmond should be too. With the right leadership and vision, outside dollars will be more than happy to invest in projects like these. I have already said that I will be creative and think outside the box in terms of finding additional dollars for the city - working to find corporate partners, philanthropic dollars, and bringing the nonprofit, private, and government sectors together to achieve common goals. Right now, City Hall is lacking a leader who is championing all that makes Richmond great. We’re a top destination for outdoor recreation, as Mayor, I will make sure folks know about it - attracting investment and tourism along the way.  

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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?

STONEY: For me, this is about transforming City Hall and the way things are done. That’s how I have approached all of the positions I have held. In working as Executive Director of the Virginia Democratic Party and Secretary of the Commonwealth, I wasn’t just pushing paper. I was managing multimillion dollar budgets and recruiting, inspiring, and motivating diverse staffs who were effectively creating change. As Mayor, I’ll do the same. I will be a hands-on, visible, transparent leader. When the election is over, I’m not going to stop knocking on doors. I will be collaborator-in-chief, the chief accountability officer, and the buck will always stop with me. I plan on surrounding myself with the best talent and leading from the top down. If individuals are not interested in improving the overall quality of life for Richmond’s citizens, they will not have a place in my administration. 

As the first in my family to graduate high school or attend college, I am the education candidate and will be the education Mayor. The Superintendent and the Mayor should be partners working together to achieve goals. Right now, there is nothing formally requiring the Mayor to have a relationship with the Superintendent. I believe that needs to change and I hope the Superintendent will accept my invitation to attend all of my cabinet meetings as a key stakeholder in improving the lives of Richmond’s children. I look forward to being a partner with not only the Superintendent, but the School Board, CIty Council, state government, and federal government as well. The Mayor should be the person bringing all of these players together to get things done and actually improve education. It’s time to break down the silos, define responsibilities, stop fighting, and start working together.

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?

STONEY: Providing sustainable funding is an important responsibility the Mayor shares with the School Board, City Council, state and federal government. As a nation, we’re not investing enough in public education. If we truly believe, as I do, that the path out of poverty is education then we can never be investing too much. As the first in my family to graduate from high school or college, I am proof positive that kids can prove the statistics wrong if they’re given an opportunity to succeed. Being a strong Mayor is about more than just writing a check to RPS and cleaning your hands it is about collaboration. As Mayor, I intend to team up with the Superintendent and the School Board to actually set and then achieve our goals, whether it is improving attendance, graduation, or teacher retention rates.

As Mayor, I will also ensure we receive more than our fair share from the state and federal government. We suffer from the poorly structured Local Composite Index funding formula, which rewards localities with significant enrollment growth and fails to factor in the poverty of the students. This means that counties like Henrico and Chesterfield are receiving more money from the state than Richmond, which has substantially more poor students and a far greater need for state funding.

You’re going to see me tirelessly beating down the doors of our state and federal officials many of whom I have a great working relationship with. I will be a champion for education, and a tireless advocate for Richmond students, who is going to fight for what we deserve. We need to be expanding resources strategically and focusing our efforts on providing students with the best 21st century education possible.

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?

STONEY: This is exactly how we should be asking this question. As I have stated, I believe we need to transform the way we approach these issues as I have done in the past. This is about more than qualifications, it’s about who has vision and the ability to drive the education agenda everyday. We need to bring the private sector, nonprofit, government, and communities together to achieve our goals. Programs like the Richmond Teacher Residency Program at VCU are a great example of work that’s already being done on this front. It’s time for City Hall to start celebrating and expanding programs like this and stop thinking in compartmentalized ways when approach the economic development, community enhancements, and education. It’s also time for government to recognize it often uses it’s own language, and we need to break down the barriers that make it hard for communities to collaborate starting with communication and engagement.

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?

STONEY: We need to make the business community want to invest in RPS. Our City has a public relations problem we need someone inside of City Hall championing all of the good work we do and encouraging more of it. For example, I met a group of graduating students who were residents of public housing and had all been accepted to college. There are many examples of achievements at RPS, like the work happening in Franklin Military Academy, which has a tremendous robotics program. They should be amplified and celebrated. As Mayor, you’ll see me celebrating the great work teachers and students at RPS are already doing and making sure residents know about it.

We need to maintain focus on the challenges in our school district, but it’s time we start celebrating and promoting achievements as well in order to attract investment. There are already great partnerships with corporations like Altria and Dominion. There are also great partnerships currently in place between local schools and small businesses as well, like the work the RJ Smith Companies are seeking to do. In recruiting business to come to Richmond, we need to be making their contributions to RPS a priority. We can be doing a better job of reaching-out to the private sector to help us achieve our goals. I will be a leader who brings the private and nonprofit sectors to work together with government and invest in education.

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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?

STONEY: As Mayor, I’m going to be hands-on, visible, and transparent. I’m not going to stop knocking on doors once the campaign is over - people are going to see me. We need to completely rethink how City Hall engages with the community and take a more active role in collaboration and communication. Often, programs come out of City Hall with an already fixed solution in mind. We need to be working with our community partners on the development and implementation of the programs, which will also increase engagement. As an example, the Richmond Transit Network Plan has set a gold standard for how we should involve residents in decisions that will impact their day to day lives through their regular public meetings and easy-to-navigate online surveys.We can’t expect that people will come to us first, we need to be engaging citizens on every level. I will lead from the top down and set a standard within my administration that encourages active community and civic engagement.  

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?

STONEY: I applaud the vision behind the Office of Community Wealth Building, and as Mayor I will enhance and expand it. I was knocking on doors in Laburnum Park recently and met an elderly woman whose home had been in the family for generations. She worries every day that she will be pushed out of her neighborhood, since her fixed income can not keep up with the rising cost of living. There is a great City program that offers tax breaks to seniors on a fixed income, and we need to work with community partners to encourage our seniors to enroll. In my administration, we will aggressively seek support from grants like Choice Neighborhoods and work with groups like the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust so that as Richmond grows, everyone can benefit.  

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?

STONEY: I am committing to having quarterly office hours in every district. I am also committing to being a champion for the city. I have said from day one that I will be a hands-on, visible, transparent leader. I want to engage people one-on-one, whether it’s knocking doors, supporting local business, or visiting schools. People are going to see me out walking the streets of our city, whether it be enjoying one of the many events RVA has to offer, or going door to door with Chief Durham after a neighborhood tragedy. In return, I challenge the people of Richmond to play their part too, engaging with their community and working to become to clean, safe city that I know we can be.  

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?

STONEY: I would like to see the superlative “Richmond on the Rise” - because I know it truly is. Despite being on the rise though, we find ourselves at a crossroads. That’s where the community comes in. We can either accept more of the same or look for a fresh, new, dynamic leader that will harness our momentum and get us to the next level. The community has already stepped up in places where government has lagged behind. I plan on being a leader who will match the community’s efforts and then challenge us to achieve even more. Together, we can tackle the issues we face and grow to be mentioned in the same breath as cities like Atlanta, Nashville, and Charlotte.

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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?

STONEY: I believe the James River is a jewel - “Richmond’s Wet Central Park.” As Mayor, I will make sure more people and communities will have access to it. Working to fund priorities, find corporate and nonprofit sponsorships for programs, and connecting students to the James River will all be part of my focus in supporting the James River Park System. I will be a champion in City Hall for things like the JRPS. It’s time to start celebrating what makes Richmond great - and the JRPS is
a key part of what makes us an attractive place to live, work, and visit. I will be advocate for connecting the JRPS to all kids in the city. Richmond is a destination for outdoor recreation, but we need to ensure that _all_ of our residents can take advantage of it.

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?

STONEY: I see the role of Mayor as the “Grand Convener” of the public, private, academic, and nonprofit sectors. I will work with the James River Association on assessing the priorities and setting and achieving ambitious goals. There has already been a lot of work done - but we still have work to do. The City's Downtown Plan, in particular, set forth terrific goals for the Riverfront but most have not yet been achieved. People in Richmond are tired of seeing City Government make plans, debate, and then never implement what it has set out to do. In my administration, City Hall will be acting - not debating - and working to expedite progress on the Richmond Riverfront
Plan.

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?

STONEY: It is 2016, not 1816 - we should not be worried about clean water for our citizens. This needs to be a public health and an environmental priority. This will require collaboration with the state government and innovative thinking. Something I bring to the table is great working relationships with the General Assembly on both sides of the aisle. Beyond that, we need to educate the public about the river without causing panic. It will be a priority of my administration to partner with groups like the James River Association, collaborate with the state government, and implement innovative and creative approaches to solving our problems.

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?

STONEY: I absolutely think that the community needs to be included in process - making it transparent and accountable. I have already committed in this campaign to doing quarterly office hours in all nine districts as an example of the community engagement I will promote.

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?

STONEY: We need to be connecting more people - especially children - to our resources. I plan on working with City Council, the School Board, and the Superintendent to give kids access to the types of resources we have here in Richmond that kids in other cities can only dream of. I view Parks and Recreation as a wraparound service and as Mayor, I will be making sure we’re opening the doors of City Hall to our students and providing them with more of these services. I have committed to expanding afterschool and summer programs to more of our children so that every child has access to an outdoor education experience. We must be doing all that we can to improve the overall quality of life of our children. Outdoor education is a key part of that.

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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?

STONEY: Absolutely! Richmond is at a crossroads - literally. We are the gateway to the “New South.” We can either move forward and become competitive , or, we can fall further behind. High speed rail is a game changing dynamic. If we’re going to be competitive with other cities we need to embrace connectivity to other regions of the east coast.

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?

STONEY: There are pros and cons to all options and everything needs to be on the table. I will say that having a “downtown to downtown” connection would be an ideal scenario. Furthermore, we have already made investments to improving the Main Street Station, which will be directly connected to the BRT. Advantages to a Boulevard Station would be a brand new, completely functional and modern complex in a burgeoning neighborhood. When it comes to these decisions, we must look for the most practical and cost effective solution. As Mayor, I will work with outside partners and the state and federal government to achieve the best deal for the city. I also believe we can’t be thinking in the context of having just one station with access to higher speed rail. Other cities on the line have two stations servicing them - that should be an option for our region as well.

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?

STONEY: As Mayor, I plan on being collaborator in chief with our friends in the surrounding counties. I have established relationships - and the leadership and vision necessary - to get everyone around the table. If we want to grow our economy and take our region to the next level, we need to work together to create a comprehensive and competitive transportation network that will allow all of us to grow and win. With clear direction, a fresh approach, and commitment to collaboration, I will tackle any barriers standing in the way of regional cooperation that can move us forward.

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?

STONEY: Whatever your opinion about Bus Rapid Transit - I personally supported it - it is critical that we acknowledge that BRT is the beginning of a wider, regional transit network in Central Virginia. The Broad Street line is a good start and provides transportation from east to west, but I would want to explore a North/South corridor next - perhaps along Jefferson Davis Highway and Chamberlayne Ave. This is about economics: transportation connects people to jobs, and additional routes will improve the quality of life for all Richmonders.

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?

STONEY: We need to be doing a better job of beating down the door of state and federal government officials, this is a shared responsibility and I vow to be a champion for transportation funding. I will use my relationships on both levels and build new coalitions to find the funds necessary to make transportation a priority. A transformative, 21st century transportation plan not only puts Richmond on the map, it improves the quality of life of those living here. The resource are there - and as Mayor - I will show leadership in tirelessly advocating for them.

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?

STONEY: I applaud the RTNP for their efforts to intimately involve members of the community in the design process for the new transit network, whether through regular community meetings in all corners of the city, or through the easy-to-navigate web surveys. As a candidate, I encourage all residents to engage with the RTNP planning process now - that way, people are informed when Jarrett Walker + Associates present their three options to City Council in 2017. As Mayor, I will be hands-on in these discussions, so that when Council make their choice, I can head back out into the community and involve residents in the development and implementation process, too. RTNP are setting a gold standard for how we should engage Richmonders in decisions that impact their day to day lives.

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