Mayoral Candidate Positions: Neighborhoods

Candidates 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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Below are the candidates’ responses to the questionnaire focused on neighborhoods, provided by Storefront for Community Design. Responses have been published as received; no content has been edited beyond being formatted for the web.

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?

JON 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.

JACK BERRY: The recent planning processes for the Downtown Plan and the Riverfront Plan were excellent models for engaging citizens in the public policy-making process of City government.  The level of public involvement in these plans was remarkable, reflecting a high level of passion for our city and its future.  An inclusive process that allows genuine participation by all citizens creates broad ownership in the policy outcomes.  Access to information empowers citizens to make a difference in their community.  As Mayor, I will assure that the upcoming master planning process reflects the same robust civic engagement process. I will ensure that there is effective communication throughout the process, solid research that is shared with everyone, opportunities for citizens to share ideas and influence the plan, multiple options for everyone to consider, and a genuine effort to build consensus. The best way to ensure active participation is to demonstrate that the plan will actually be implemented and that citizens will actually see the results of their work.  A renewed commitment to implementation of the recommendations of the existing Downtown Plan and Riverfront Plan will generate huge interest in the next City Master Plan process.  We need to build a strong organization that can execute on plans, not just write plans. 

BOBBY JUNES: Continue with the same past tradition demonstrated in both the prior Master Plan as well as within the Riverfront Plan by encouraging citizen participation. Will advocate a progression of our current traditional profit orientated model to a expanded open ended ACE (Active Citizen Engagement) model. Move from a passive public participation mode to one whose emphasis is a active public participation mode. A public participation continuum - 5 steps (publicity, public educ., public input, public interaction, & public partnership) - to get, keep, utilize and engage citizens input. Planners must develop public participation program that meet specific goals, objectives, and circumstances of each project. I will stress the public interaction (two way communication)  aspect.

JOE MORRISSEY: As Mayor of Richmond, I would call for a civic engagement process populated by a mix of especially elected resident stakeholders, subject-matter experts, and members appointed by the Mayor and City Council. Often such groups are all appointees.  Having popularly elected city residents as part of the civic engagement process will help assure that their deliberations are inclusive and robust. All Master Plan activities will be fully transparent and comply with regulations as described in the Virginia Administrative Process Act.

MICHELLE MOSBY: I plan to be a Mayor that the people of this City “can touch” much the same way that I have been a Councilwoman that my District has been able to touch.  This has been a consistent part of my platform since my first campaign in 2012. My constituents (most of them I believe) will tell you that I make special efforts to both educate and empower through information and dialogue. I have always striven to place all options concerning policy making on their proverbial “tables”; to provide all necessary information.  I expect (and will continue to expect) all of those who work for me to mirror such a commitment to being a true public servant; with all of that said the Master Plan (everyone will agree) is outdated and in need of revision particularly as it relates to the potential of the Southside. We can’t continue to virtually ignore 50% of our resources (both in land mass and people) and believe to get the best outcomes. 

LEVAR 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.  

BRUCE TYLER: The city of Richmond is past due for a citywide master plan update.  I am excited to see the process is starting.  I look forward to having a comprehensive plan so we can have responsible responsive development that enhances our city.   I look forward to having the professional consulting firm with extensive master planning experience guide us through a participatory process.  

As we go through the process citizen input will be the cornerstone for the master plan.  We will rely on community meetings to obtain input, report on findings, and review recommendations. This master plan will look at each of our neighborhoods to recommend improvements that will preserve our stable neighborhoods, allow for responsible development in emerging areas like Scott’s Addition, all to create a vibrant future for our city. 

LAWRENCE WILLIAMS: I was asked by Planning Commission member, Melvin Law to serve on the Downtown Master Plan steering committee and enjoyed working with Rachel Flinn, the planning director at that time. I was impressed with the town hall meetings. What must impressed me was the commitment City Council made to fund the process with national experts at the helm.

Our City had difficulty with the Shockoe Bottom master planning options because it did not include funding for adequate independent professionals facilitating citizen in put like the Downtown Master Plan. When additional financial analysis was requested there was no funding in place for design development floor plans leading to hard cost. The project halted. I fear the same will occur with North Boulevard proposals added to the Downtown and Uptown ( North Blvd) Master planing efforts. That is why I prepared a land use plan as part of my campaign platform with detailed land use and stadium plans to save the City years of delay and wasted planning studies costing hundreds of thousands of city payer tax dollars. 

Having, full week, open office citizen input was,  I found, the most effective way to get local professionals and citizens to have detailed input.. Also under my administration a new planning office will have an open door policy with project display corridors on the City Hall 5th floor, 1st floor lobby and the council chamber rear wall and 2nd floor lobby walls.

As mayor I will establish what I would call "The Mayor Williams Blue Ribbon Steering Committee" of individuals familiar with Richmond, to make certain that Council first allocates predevelopment money to major project master plans development  first to insure developers entering into contracts with city are singing from the same hymn book. If City Council wants good design and detailed answers they must allocate funds for decent economic and inhouse predesign. An example of this is the North Boulevard proposal presented on my website that illustrates no cost to tax payers, paper right of ways in place offered as a community service. This allows citizens to have a framework to tell developers what they want on the designated right of ways and block faces. Selected  big box developers do not have adequate time to prepare a well thought through land use plan in 30 days.  In reviewing Rocketts Landing, Stone Brewing  or North Boulevard proposals, such additions to the Master plan and related zoning ordinances require initial citizen, local and national planning firm input. As Mayor I will champion this approach. 

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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.

BERRY: Equitable development creates healthy, vibrant communities where residents are able to shape their neighborhoods and create affordable housing choices, good schools, public transportation, job opportunities, safe streets, recreation, and access to healthy food and desired services.  Equitable development requires community engagement in the planning process, especially by those who will be affected by change.  Tools to help achieve equitable development include the City’s Housing Trust Fund, emergency funds for rental assistance, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, inclusionary zoning, partnerships with non-profit housing organizations, job training, economic development initiatives, transportation choices, delinquent tax sales of vacant, blighted properties, etc.  The CIP and CDBG funds should be aligned and there should be a clear leader in City Hall for all housing initiatives. The Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building is a groundbreaking initiative to bring a comprehensive array of strategies to build healthy communities and should be strongly supported by the next mayor.  Change is coming as RVA becomes more and more attractive as a place to live.  That change must be matched with a commitment to making sure that existing community residents benefit and participate rather than being displaced or disaffected. 

JUNES: Time to come full circle with this issue. As long as the city's poverty rate continues to grow - the city will continue to be actively engaged in guiding as well as strengthen good values in school, workplace, and home areas. Start by acknowledging the importance of the role education plays in the process. This is one area where we have chance to make change.

MORRISSEY: The Office of Community Wealth Building is an excellent start at promoting what is, and is perceived to be, equitable development for the city of Richmond. The Office collects and distributes measurable data on well researched key indicators of community need and achievement.  Before proposing additional tools or groups I want to see another two years of information from the Office of Community Wealth Building.

MOSBY: I am a believer that all good change starts from the bottom and works its way up, otherwise you have a few persons making decisions without input and/or institutional background knowledge of the communities affected.  I do like the efforts (at least in part) or the idea of MPACT but would like to see its role expanded as I would also like to see a more diverse representation on various Boards and Commissions.  These boards that make recommendations to our governing bodies should reflect our entire RVA community. In order for all voices to be heard they must first be in the room.   

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.  

TYLER: We must work with our nonprofit partners to continue to create affordable housing throughout our city with initiatives like Choice Neighborhood in the east end of our city.  This program has the ability to transform our most disadvantaged neighborhoods into affordable mixed income housing with wrap around services for our most disadvantaged citizens.  

As Mayor, I will work with community leaders and the Office of Community Wealth Building to put together a private/public partnership to transform concentrated areas of poverty into mixed-income housing.  This will be in addition to the Choice Neighborhood program.

WILLIAMS: As an Afro American Architect, still living in Church Hill, I am well aware of the effects of gentrifications and the availability of decent affordable housing. As stated in my 10 point revitalization platform I will support The Office of Community Wealth Building and expand it to include, The International Social Research and Development Center. The Center (ICSRD) would be dedicated to researching successful programs around the world and determining how they could be combined with existing and new service providers to serve citizens. The center would be a store-house for such research with distribution throughout our region. Regional funding may prove appropriate.

I support initiatives occurring in Richmond's East End that reduce the concentration of poverty. I support land trust that can be maintained to insure long term affordable and sustainable neighborhoods. As a Mayor /Architect, I will have special concerns that neighborhood density street-face and facade rhythm must be maintained to insure strong sense of place for many years and not be some passing fashion. This is a major problem with the existing public housing stock. What would Richmond be like if more public housing streets were designed with the street-face setback and single family brick homes having 30ft wide massing similar to the homes along West Franklin or Chimborazo Blvd. with great parks and schools. That would have been a fabric we could have worked with today. Richmond is masonry strong. Together I know this town is small enough that we can correct the mistakes of the past. With green ways, a strong housing stock and nearby job opportunities, I am confident, we can make Richmond the most livable city in America.

Please review the role of the International Center for Social Research and development as discussed in my 10 Point Revitalization Platform. Visit: www.lawrencewilliamsarchitect.com.

Tools to strengthen our communities include: RRHA, Community Development Nonprofit Organizations, (local and national),Community Center Schools,(RPS), Federal and State Grants,and most importantly, Civic Association growth and support through such organizations as Storefront for Community Design, GroundworkRVA and the  other nonprofits that serve Richmond. The private sector when orchestrated properly, through good zoning and community leadership has the greatest impact. As a candidate for Mayor, I feel I have the best community proven, commitment and skill set to implement lasting change in under served communities and move the all our City forward.. 

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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.

BERRY: I will re-create the Neighborhood Teams process to provide a better opportunity for neighborhoods to have a voice in the planning process and for neighborhoods to have an effective mechanism to address concerns.  The former Teams process empowered neighborhoods to be involved in land use cases and infrastructure investment decisions.  It fostered communication within neighborhoods and between neighborhoods.  It encouraged neighborhood leaders to step up.  I will re-establish some form of this engagement process to better connect the City government organization to the communities it serves.  In addition, I will personally be involved and visible in neighborhoods, working closely with citizens and City Council leaders to make our neighborhoods stronger.  I will work to empower neighborhoods by building a city government team that is a capable partner with them.  I will listen and I will bring the community into the process of governing and serving. There is an incredible amount of talent and passion among the people of our city.  We just need to invite everyone to play a role in building RVA. 

JUNES: Main challenge engaging and keeping one's finger on pulse of city is by being open to prime issues confronting the city, metro area, and state. By attending separate city council district monthly community meetings. Target a bi-monthly scheduling process. The community to best assist by realizing that there are five steps involved with Active Citizen Engagement process. Start from a passive state progressing to active state involvement. That they realize there are unique needs of each undertaken - they are designed to function within available Time, Personnel, and Budget items of each individual project.    

MORRISSEY: I will ask for their prayers and good will.

MOSBY: I will employ a concept I have been developing I entitled Mosby’s Minutes throughout the City.  Above all things I absolutely love engaging in real dialogue.  I relate to people and I believe they can relate to me if we simply take/make the time to be in each other’s spaces (not to be confused with faces!) I will hold scheduled meetings often throughout the City (I will come to them) and will additionally make myself available if/when an unexpected need arises.  I will be responsive via email and will also continue to be available via social media (I often dialogue with constituents via Facebook ©).  I will attend City Council meetings when my schedule permits and if invited will also attempt to make various Council District and Civic Association Meetings. What I would hope for is candid yet respectful two way communication- what I insist on would be open hearts and minds predisposed to compromise based on realistic options; I look for “win-win” scenarios. Lastly, I want to earn everyone’s trust that if it can be done (and it’s a great idea that should be done) than we will do it and if it can’t be done then I will be trustworthy and transparent enough to explain to citizenry why it can’t. 

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.  

TYLER: As Mayor, I will hold town hall meetings in each of the nine districts.  Joining me at that meeting will be the Council and School Board Member to meet with citizens.  Together we will listen to our citizens so that together we can address the issues of each district.  Strong neighborhoods create a strong city.   

WILLIAMS: Past Mayors were strong hands on administrators, others were more ceremonial, not close to daily life in average communities. The Mayor Williams Blue Ribbon Citizens Strategic Planning and Budget Committee would be used to evaluate citizen and budget matters. Outlined in my 10 Point Revitalization Platform are several opportunities for citizens to participate with mayor lead initiatives. Again the four community development pillars of Mayor, Council, School Board and RRHA will be represented in community dialogue to insure seamless transparent progress orchestrated or conducted by a Mayor/Architect trained to facilitate meetings that lead to innovative solutions. I look forward to participating in neighborhood civic association sponsored events. As sincerely as I can state this, at this point in our history Richmond needs a humble, knowledgeable, minority, small business owner, Architect as it's Mayor to move this city forward.

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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.

BERRY: RVA: Creativity and Community.  Twenty years ago, Richmond faced enormous challenges.  Richmond was crime ridden and the city was hemorrhaging population, jobs and investment to the counties. Many Richmonders were pessimistic, even cynical about the city’s future.  But the community never gave up.  VCU believed in the City and invested heavily.  Several major corporations invested in downtown rather than fleeing to the suburbs.  And entrepreneurial pioneers began reclaiming old buildings and turning them into loft apartments.  Organizations like Venture Richmond, GRP and the City began promoting the heck out of the resurgence, and pretty soon the momentum became unstoppable.  Richmond realized that it was in fact a very creative city that was attracting innovative people and businesses.  That creativity was fueling a new vibrancy characterized by world class festivals, a nationally recognized food scene, plus a robust arts scene, music scene and beer industry.   Recently, a collaborative branding effort between the City, universities, several marketing firms, non-profits many other stakeholders created a stronger identity for Richmond as a creative city. The RVA identity was an open source experiment that has become a powerful brand.  It is an example of visionary leadership, collaboration, and grassroots involvement and ownership that has helped transform the way that Richmond thinks of itself.  This approach to collaborative leadership will work in the Mayor’s Office, just like it has worked at Venture Richmond, and just like it has worked in the community as a whole.   

JUNES: Superlative headline to communicate our ability to turn around a current schools image of offering substandard or minimal quality academic performance to one that is in-line with state standards. Secondly, a community transfer role as one which progress through the steps as well as process of a ""passive" to a "active" type of citizen engagement program. 

MORRISSEY: [No response provided]

MOSBY: I would love to see RVA touted as America’s most inclusive City, the City that has something (whether it be opportunity, education, recreation, and/or sense of belonging) for everybody. How does community play a part? Through dialogue, through shared responsibility and accountability, through shared respect and humility.  We do it through an unwavering desire to see it happen and a “willing to do whatever” attitude to make it happen. 

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.  

TYLER: Community involvement is the cornerstone of our city.  A Mayor, I know the importance of community input and will continually seek and create opportunities for citizens to weigh in on important matters.   I am inventing a descriptor called “OneCommunity ”, that is my superlative

WILLIAMS: Richmond: Righteous History,Righteous People 
Lawrence Ellis Williams'2016

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