Mayoral Candidate Positions: River

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 the James River, provided by James River Association. Responses have been published as received; no content has been edited beyond being formatted for the web.

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?

JON 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.

JACK BERRY: The James River is an incredible natural resource, a wilderness in the heart of an urban area.  In addition to being an ecological treasure, a water source and an economic driver, the river is an amazing recreational resource that enables citizens to experience the natural world here at home.  It must be protected at all costs, nurtured and made more accessible to the public.  The Park system is straining under the pressures of over a million visitors.  The Park has long been understaffed and underfunded, but has been sustained and improved by a small but incredibly dedicated staff along with committed organizations and dedicated volunteers.  The Park System should be viewed as one of the City’s most important assets, and should be treated as a higher priority than most of the latest and greatest pet projects.  Maintenance of the park should be viewed as a fundamental and essential function of City Government.  I will be a champion for sustained investments in manpower and phased capital improvements.  I will build a strong City organization that gets things done.  City government will become a capable community partner that is able to leverage resources and show results.

BOBBY JUNES: Two aspects to support James River Park System. One element is protecting the natural wildlife - birds, fish, mammals. Second element is to keep water quality at a acceptable minimal pollution level. The JRPS central location gives / makes it a prime location with which to attract and entertain local as well as metro area residents. With Stone Bewery project already in initial stages of development the City's eastern boundary is set, and it should draw more visitors to JRPS.  Secondary - subordinate - plan would be to expand the bike / walk trail east to west.

JOE MORRISSEY: The James River Park System is one of Richmond's treasures.  The most effective way I can support it is for me to have a clear understanding of those things that only city government can provide: infrastructure, public access, code enforcement pertaining to water quality, and legislative advocacy.

MICHELLE MOSBY: I believe that this 2.25 miles stretch is an absolute jewel for the city and holds the key to many recreational and economic development opportunities. I look at cities such as Baltimore and Norfolk and am taken aback by the power of the water. I’m not just talking about the class 4 rapids and the James but the latent potential of everything around it. Everyone in the country knows it. It is time for us to actualize it. The challenge is always “how do you pay for it” and yet we will find a way to responsibly and incrementally execute aspects of the 2012 plan. Funding for projects is important and provides tangible evidence of progress, yet education and access must be incorporated into everything we do because building a love and passion for the river is vital to creating long-term, sustainable support for its successful future.

LEVAR 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.

BRUCE TYLER: The James River Park System is the crown jewel of our city.  As a member of Council I voted for the ordinance to protect the James River Park System by designating it a conservation easement.   I look forward to supporting park superintendent Nathan Burrell.  

LAWRENCE WILLIAMS: I have had the pleasure to work with Nathen Burrell as a fellow founding board member of GroundworkRVA . Together we have focused on building the organization as an environmental advocacy organization. We encourage students to be environmental stewards . As Mayor I am fully committed to recognizing the River as our Central park and maintaining its environmental quality for future generations.

I was amazed at how few City of Richmond employees maintain the River. I thank the many volunteers, however Nathan and his volunteers are over worked. To help, I will work to find more National, State and private sector funding to service and promote The James River Park System and related watersheds. New development along the River's edge will be monitored closely by this mayor. I would also like to see stronger relationships with Richmond Public Schools and local Colleges promoting and education future environmental stewards.

I have been on the steering committee for the Downtown Master Plan appointed by Melvin Law of the Planning commission I have reviewed the proposed amendment to it: The James River Park Master Plan.

I will work closely with the Council to review proposed resolutions and ordinances that have been vetted by appropriate stake holders and citizen advisory boards established by the Mayor's Office. Please review my web site to review my 10 point Revitalization Platform Plans to get a full perspective on Richmond's future and to determine how the James River Park System will compliment Richmond's central core.

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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.

BERRY: The Riverfront Plan is an excellent example of an inclusive planning process that galvanized the community to appreciate and invest in the riverfront.  The Plan focuses on creating a cohesive system with good public access and strong connections to the communities on both sides of the river.  Priorities include projects that improve connections, like the completion of the Potterfield Bridge, the Missing Link, the Manchester Canal Trail, the 13th Street Tunnel, Pipeline, etc.  To ensure that additional open space is protected and available for public use for future generations, a plan to acquire private property should be developed targeting Mayo Island and USP.  The City should evaluate organizational mechanisms that facilitate acquisition, implementation and maintenance of Riverfront Plan components.

JUNES: Not just targeting the producers of energy but also teaching people to reduce the amount of pollution that they are currently, actively, involved in creating. Show them pictures, visual  illustrations, and short documentaries reflecting the before pollution, after pollution, and after cleanup scenario. Priority projects to be those that are wetland related. Regeneration of a parcel of land back to a natural state.   

MORRISSEY: I will continue to work the Richmond Riverfront plan.  My priorities are those activities that build the ongoing framework of public infrastructure needed to assure public access and spur private investment.

MOSBY: I think we must continue to plan for the long-term, but implement small-scale, short-term projects that provide more access and use of the riverfront- getting real bang for our buck. This way when we are able (through grants, funding freed up through paying off of debt, even new revenue produced by economic development projects) we can commit dollars to bigger projects.

Priorities

  1. Pipeline walk retrofit
  2. Missing Link Trail
  3. Browns Island and River front terminal
  4. Riverfront Access of the Manchester side of the river (River Terrace) Manchester Green
  5. Farther down the line improvement further development of both Mayo and Belle Island

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.

TYLER: We should continue to concentrate on the Priority 1 projects as outlined in the Richmond Riverfront Plan.  Projects that increase access to river would be my first choice such as the Missing Link and the Chapel Island Access Trail.

WILLIAMS: First and foremost, I feel that environmentally appropriate, river edge design is important to the park system and adjacent development. To think we can design the rivers edge is at best hopeful. The river was here long before and will be here long after. Our goal is to respect and allow the river to design itself in a self-sustaining cost effective manner. Natural edges vs. crumbling concrete, algae, edges requiring greater long term maintenance may not be appropriate. As Mayor I pledge to support the James River Park System and to participate in the "Value Engineering" of its' elements. Ultimately, the Mayor has to be a salesman for riverfront growth. Our challenge, as I see it, is to design for an adequate population around it to generate more than enough tax revenue to maintain this regional amenity. New York's Central Park 2,800 ft. by 13,500 ft. = 37,800,000 square feet approximately has a high enough density around it to animate that amenity. The James River Park system from Lee Bridge to Rocketts Landing is 2,500 ft. x11,000 ft. = 27,500,000 square feet approximately. A proportionate, similar level of population density is required to effectively utilize such large amounts of new open spaced proposed by the James River Park System. As Mayor I will fight to maintain, vistas, pedestrian access, new building setbacks and explore new environmental options.

I will review priority projects with vested parties as part of my Williams Blue Ribbon Citizen Advisory Boards of experts, volunteers, Council and the James River Park System staff to use numeric objective, evaluation of first priority and highest return on investment projects. As Mayor, I do like that the south bank railroad yard will be filled with new topsoil and replanted in a self-sustaining original river bank pasture environmental manner. I too will  keep in mind that the River, a living place/thing, and the citizens ultimately will design the River Park System.

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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.

BERRY: The City’s CSO system is a source of significant pollution during major rain events, particularly in the downtown and Gillies Creek areas.  There have been massive projects to convey CSO flows away from recreational areas of the river and to catch the first flush at the Shockoe Retention basin.  These projects have been funded by State, Federal and local funds and the effort dates back over 40 years.  The efforts are very expensive and depend on all levels of government.  It is important for the City to be able to keep making incremental progress and to execute grant funded projects expeditiously.  It is a long term effort but persistent, steady progress each year will produce results over time.

JUNES: This is a prime example of whereby a long term problem requires a long term solution. The city is enrolled in state plan that target a larger Chesapeake Bay preservation project. Part of the effort is to clean up or improve the water quality standard. City's CSO combines both storm / sewer water systems as one together. Citizens can now be made more aware that those using the system have a net impact on the quality of overall pollution. Especially when dealing with the nitrogen and phosphorus ingredients.   

MORRISSEY: I will continue to support the City's CSO system.

MOSBY: I think that our city's DPU does a stellar job and is the best like it in the state. The department has over 1 billion dollars in assets and is well run. We have made improvements/upgrades in the past to avoid overflow and flooding and will continue to do so under my administration. For me, a successful system requires strategic, forward-thinking planning and implementation. We have both the staff and expertise to do just that, but we also need to make sure the resources (funding and staffing) are in place for our future.

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.

TYLER: I will pursue every alternative to improve water quality on the James River.  Like all older cities, Richmond’s CSO system is a scourge on water quality.  I will continue to seek funding from the state and federal government to reduce the amount of discharge in our CSO area during rain events.

WILLIAMS: I had the pleasure of working with Howell Todd a planning Director in the 1980's in the early days of planning the River Front Canal system. I walked in his home and on his dining room table was a model of the river front canal. It took a salesman to get it done. Can you imagine selling this concept to Council today? The CSO system was combined with this project and the flood wall to justify and pay for the CSO system downtown.

As Mayor and trained architect, I will also try to leverage other assets and projects as we obtain Federal and state grants. To illustrate my long term past commitments to such issues, I have long promoted retention lakes in Shockoe Valley North as a part of the Shockoe Valley/ Flood Plane/ water shed. Please visit: http://www.lawrencewilliamsarchitect.com/#!SHOCKOE VALLEY MASTER PLAN.jpg/zoom/c1zy6/image217j

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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.

BERRY: It is important for localities to do their part in reducing the pollutant load that harms the Chesapeake Bay.  There are many approaches to reducing pollution including stream restoration, rain gardens, retention ponds, reductions in impermeable surfaces and tree planting.  It is important that choices are made based on which approaches provide the best benefits and least negative impacts.  Availability of grants is one of the criteria but should not be the determining criterion.  As with any project that creates neighborhood impacts, there should be considerable public education and input prior to choices being made.  The City must earn the trust of the community when pursuing disruptive and controversial projects.  The City has the burden of demonstrating convincingly that the project is truly beneficial, that other alternatives are less beneficial, and that the stream and associated tree canopy will not be unnecessarily harmed.  In the case of Reedy Creek, that apparently has not happened.  Communication of the facts with integrity and openness is important in every project of this nature.

JUNES: By promoting cleanliness. Letting the citizens know / reminding them that this is a community project that is already in motion. That through the efforts of all parties together that we have began the process of water quality revitalization. Encourage civic groups, neighborhood associations, and non-profit entities to sponsor / highlight local neighborhood projects that impact / effect cleaning up of the Richmond area. Urban style regeneration of a property back to a more natural state of usage.

MORRISSEY: The Mayor is responsible for the executive leadership of the entire city while individual districts, precincts, and neighborhoods have their elected City Council members to assure their concerns are heard and addressed. Water quality issues, however, are not confined by political boundaries. As Mayor, I will work with City Council members to continue improvements in water quality, balancing neighborhood and city-wide considerations.

MOSBY: People will support efforts that they truly understand and believe. Helping a cause for something is much more likely when there is a passion behind it. All of this comes from education and awareness. We must help people understand how a small neighborhood can affect the larger system for water quality. What we do in our neighborhoods directly affects our enjoyment of the James River. When people truly love and respect something, they will make the effort to protect it. These smaller tributaries offer a wonderful opportunity to help people engage with the river at a smaller scale and closer to home. We must provide access to them and educate people on how they can do their part. As we move forward with more city projects, people will understand, support and encourage our efforts to protect not only the James River, but their neighborhoods as well.

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.

TYLER: Neighborhood-scale water quality improvements are essential to cleaning up the James River.  At the same time we must be respectful of our neighborhoods and ensure that water quality improvement projects can meet the objective without undue harm to homeowners.   Since these projects can be controversial I would try to make this option  one of the last options the city explores in trying to meet its obligation for water quality.

WILLIAMS: Domestic piped water, waste water, and storm water management are basic services that must be at the highest levels of efficient delivery, health and environmental quality.

As Mayor, I pledge to uphold the levels of quality now achieved by the City of Richmond.
With that being said, I would like to begin with improved storm water, curb and gutter upgrades on the south side of the river in the 8th and 9th Council districts.

Improvements to watersheds in Shockoe Valley North and Reedy Creek tributaries are also of equal concern. And in summary I would like to improve youth environmental awareness, presently conducted by such organizations as GroundworkRVA.

As Mayor I pledge to work with neighborhood associations to solve community domestic water, storm water, curb and gutter sidewalk and utility issues. As mayor, I will begin testing domestic water especially in what I call, "end of line communities", and how older lines may impact neighborhood mental health. Again,watersheds should become neighborhood amenities, not health concerns.

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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.

BERRY: Exposure to new experiences and opportunities is critical in expanding the world of possibilities to young people.  With new experiences and knowledge, children expand their horizons, set new expectations for themselves, and have more reasons to apply themselves in their school work.  Many children are deprived of outdoor recreation experiences and miss the health benefits and joy of being amidst nature.  I saw the impact of these experiences first hand as the director of an urban backpacking program for 13-15 year-old disadvantaged kids.  Many students had never been outside of the city and had never challenged themselves to the rigors of a 40 mile backpacking trip. The accomplishment and adventure was life changing.  Today, I care for a cabin on the Appalachian Trail as a volunteer of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.  As mayor, I would love to enable many Richmond kids to experience the Shenandoah National, the trail, and this particular cabin.  As mayor, I would encourage and support these kinds of opportunities and programs offered by City Parks Department and by RVA non-profits.

JUNES: Start with a River Art school project. Tie art with natural environmental setting. Leave the specifics to individual school or sponsor. Wildlife session showing / learning how to protect different animals. Ability to identify the separate rodents, types birds, and larger mammals. The older children can later be entailed with similar session regarding plants, trees, and vegetation. That RVA has a great park system. By keeping it that way we all, young, middle, as well as old age can enjoy the outdoor life as it is meant to be.

MORRISSEY: Kennedy, my 4-year-old, says James River Park is her "favorite magic place - just like where Snow White lives."  My responsibility as a father is to expose my children to the wonders and learning opportunities of outdoor education experiences.  My role as Mayor is to assure that every child in Richmond has public access to those same outdoor experiences. City government should fulfill those roles only they can provide - infrastructure, legislative advocacy, and access.

MOSBY: The Mosby Administration includes providing opportunities- continue to build the bike paths, provide improvements to the river including access and environmental initiatives, and programmatic initiatives through the City Parks and Recreation Department and the Mayors Youth Academy. To promote these opportunities, we should support PSA’s and social media to inform citizenry. I will work for collaboration with partnerships among groups such as the Mayor's office, schools, businesses, non-profits and most importantly residents. This is our city and yet many do not take in the full experience that is RVA.

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.

TYLER: As Mayor, I would promote our James River Park System to our community as the James River is an asset to our city.   I would establish a James River educational day where we invite our families with children to participate in a day of experiential learning.  Also, I would encourage Richmond Public Schools to look for ways to implement more educational programs that would allow for our students to have a day of education on the river.  

WILLIAMS: As a graduate from Richmond Public Schools, I strongly feel this mayoral candidate will inspire our city youth to participate in environmental programs. Field trips to Maymont and the James River are important. I was 30 years old before I explored the James Rivers shores, here in the City. In speaking with Richmond's teachers, they stress that teaching to the Sols should be combined with more field trips. Destination sites should in turn meet SOL step standards. As Mayor I will work closely with educators and advisory boards to make all our environmental asserts, "Community Education Friendly".

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