Policy Platform (2019-2022)
Posted 28 October, 2018; updated 9 December, 2018
I recently decided to run for re-election as the Fourth Ward representative on the Columbia City Council. This document lays out my policy platform.
My philosophy of public service has always been to listen to the concerns and suggestions of all constituents, integrate those ideas with my own research and experience in community building, and then develop policy positions and push for change that improves the quality of life for all Columbia residents.
Over the last three years, I have:
- Helped establish the Columbia Community Land Trust, creating a growing supply of permanently affordable housing;
- Advanced the creation of a city-wide community-oriented policing program, leading to less crime and better police relations in our strategic neighborhoods;
- Spearheaded the adoption of Columbia's Vision Zero policy, setting a goal of zero traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030; and
- Led a community conversation about poverty and racism.
As I look at the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for the City of Columbia, I plan to emphasize three main areas in my 2019 policy platform:
Planning for Growth
Columbia is one of the most rapidly-growing cities in the U.S. Since 1980, we have almost doubled in size, and our annual population growth of 1.5 - 2.0% means we are adding about 2,000 new residents and between 500 and 1,000 new homes every year.
Such high-speed growth sustained over multiple decades has created problems in Columbia, as annexation and new development (both sprawl and in-fill) have outstripped our ability to conduct proper community planning. As a result, we have inefficient land-use patterns, dangerously under-funded public infrastructure systems, and long-time residents who have not been given adequate opportunity to provide input on the process – or be heard.
The good news is that Columbia is the kind of community where people want to live, bringing economic investment and new, progressive ideas into the city. However, that desirable situation will not continue unless we address critical growth-related issues with some urgency.
Cost of Infrastructure
It costs about $35,000 to build the public infrastructure for each new home in Columbia. This is the amount the City and School District spend to expand the capacity of the sewer system, water and electric utility, fire protection, schools, roads, etc. to accommodate population growth.
Unfortunately, our current ordinances only recover between $5,000 and $10,000 per home in development impact fees. The remaining cost of infrastructure expansion is charged to existing residents through our taxes and utility rates - since we are building up to 1,000 new homes every year, that amounts to an annual subsidy of about $25 million. One of the main reasons the City is struggling financially is because that $25 million is not available to repair our existing infrastructure or pay adequate wages to staff such as electric line workers, police officers, and trash collectors.
In my time on the Council, I have led the charge to ensure new development pays its fair share of the cost of growth and we have some real traction right now. A recent constituent survey shows overwhelming support for this policy and my proposal that we conduct a “Growth Impact Study” and implement appropriate development fees and connection charges was included in the current City budget.
I also support a financial audit of the cost of growth, in order to shed more light on this problem. Over the last 20 years, Columbia’s population has grown by 50%, while the City’s annual revenue, expenses, and “Pooled Cash Account” balance have all tripled. It’s time to shift the cost of growth from taxpayers to the new development that is driving those costs.
I believe these changes should be enacted incrementally, and in collaboration with developers.
Compact versus Sprawl Development
Even if we recover the cost of infrastructure expansion from new development, we have a separate problem that is related to the pattern of development in Columbia.
Annexation and low-density sprawl over recent decades have led to a low population density (fewer than 2,000 residents per square mile) and high per-capita infrastructure costs. It is very expensive to keep up with maintenance of hundreds of miles of roads and sewer pipes, our under-staffed Police Department has more than 65 square miles to patrol, and we need to keep building new fire stations in order to keep response times down.
Columbia residents have called for an emphasis on "smart growth" development, and yet these principles have not yet been enacted in the City Code. As the city continues to grow, it would be wise to guide those private investment dollars into more compact, mixed-use, and pedestrian-friendly designs. We must protect our existing established neighborhoods, while encouraging the creation of transit-oriented “urban villages,” with small-scale shops and services, at the nodes. Minimum parking requirements are not helpful – they should be reduced or eliminated where possible.
It will also be critical to plan for more efficient transportation options. Improving conditions for walking and bicycling, and expanding public transit services will stimulate local economic development, make transportation more affordable, improve public health and quality of life, and reduce our carbon footprint.
With the exception of transit, we have made progress in these areas in recent years. Looking ahead, I believe we need to do more to integrate these principles into our long-range planning process, while continuing to study and discuss the advantages of compact development.
New Comprehensive Plan
While the City's most recent Comprehensive Plan, Columbia Imagined, included goals related to the cost of infrastructure and in-fill development, many of the strategic implementation steps were missing.
However, we will have an opportunity to correct that when we start developing our next Comprehensive Plan within the next 1-2 years. As previously, the Community Development Department will facilitate a multi-year community engagement and planning process to create a vision for Columbia in 2040.
I will work hard to ensure everyone's voice is heard in this process and represented in the new plan.
Taxing Online Sales
While not a direct consequence of growth, the decline in sales tax revenue due to the shift towards online shopping has compounded the City's financial difficulties brought about the failure to adequately charge for the cost of infrastructure expansion.
However, the good news is that, following a recent Supreme Court ruling, the State of Missouri can now authorize cities to collect "Use Tax" (equivalent to sales tax) on online purchases. I support efforts to convince the State Legislature to make that authorization and then ask then voters to approve a Use Tax.
Equity in All Policies
In 2016, I voted with a unanimous City Council to adopt a new Strategic Plan, focused on social equity.
Unlike “equality,” the concept of “equity” recognizes the differing needs of different people. Historical injustices and other factors have perpetuated severe disparities in economic opportunity, neighborhood safety, health status and student achievement. The goal of this initiative is to correct these disparities and make Columbia a place where “all families ... can thrive.”
Our initial efforts in three neighborhoods where residents face the greatest challenges have been successful. By adjusting the City's budget priorities, we have been able to engage residents, implement community-oriented policing, and fix infrastructure deficiencies. Crime is down and citizen satisfaction is up - these residents are better connected with the City, and better able to contribute to society and the local economy.
However, we have a long way to go, if we want to create real opportunity for everyone! Poverty and injustice are still deeply embedded in our community - in order to dismantle these disparities, we will need to center "equity" in all our policy and budgeting decisions. I have several specific strategies for moving forward.
Columbia's affordable housing shortage is an enormous barrier to families getting out of poverty.
More than 12,000 rental households in Columbia (about 57% of all renters) and about 3,500 owner-occupied households (23%) are "cost-burdened" by 30% or more. Because at least 30% of their income goes to housing and utilities, these families and individuals are in a fragile economic situation and at high risk of becoming homeless. Because the housing market is unable to provide affordable housing on its own, government can and should help address this problem.
In 2016, we established the Columbia Community Land Trust (CCLT), which uses federal grants and other sources to purchase land, partners with non-profit housing developers (such as Jobpoint, Habitat for Humanity, and CMCA), and then sells the homes to qualified low-income purchasers while retaining ownership of the land. This approach creates permanently affordable homes, but the CCLT is very limited in the number of new units it can construct each year.
A more productive (and complementary) strategy for creating affordable housing would be to adopt an "Inclusionary Zoning Policy." Under this type of ordinance, a private developer who requests a building permit for a subdivision or apartment project involving multiple dwelling units is required to make a certain percentage of units (usually 10%) permanently affordable. An alternative version of the policy offers incentives (such as increased density allowance and reduced parking requirements) to developers if they build affordable units.
In communities that are growing rapidly (like Columbia), Inclusionary Zoning is a very effective tool for increasing the number of affordable homes and creating more integrated neighborhoods, which has been shown to reduce socio-economic inequities. I plan to prioritize efforts to adopt an Inclusionary Zoning policy in Columbia.
The "Disproportion Index" for Columbia's African American drivers was 4.30 in 2017, according to the Attorney General's Vehicle Stops Report. That means that, if you are African American in Columbia, you are more than four times more likely to be stopped by a Columbia Police Department (CPD) officer than if you are White.
These disproportions may be due to a whole host of causes related to CPD's internal procedures, as well as racial profiling by individual officers. To help us understand and resolve this distressing issue, I called for the City Manager and Police Chief to conduct an analysis of the data, develop an explanation for the racial disproportions, and present their findings to the public and City Council.
On the whole, I was pleased with the presentations given by police officers during a Council Work Session in August, 2018. They demonstrated that they receive more reports of crime and calls for service in African American neighborhoods than the average for Columbia. As a result, patrol officers are more frequently dispatched to these areas, where they spend a disproportionate amount of time, and issue more tickets - mostly for minor offenses.
However, several important policy questions remain unanswered:
- Does swarming these areas with police officers actually help prevent crime?
- How many of the "investigate stops" and "pretext stops" conducted by officers generate leads that help solve crimes?
- What impact does this strategy have on the vast majority of law-abiding residents of these neighborhoods who are stopped by police officers over and over again?
- How effective is this strategy, when compared with an alternative approach in which officers build trust and positive relationships with neighborhood residents?
- What does all this have to do with community-oriented policing?
Having spearheaded the creation and championed the adoption of Council Resolution R 23-18, "Declaring the City Council's support for community-oriented policing, ... and directing the City Manager to design a citywide community-oriented policing program for Columbia," I hoped these central questions would be addressed in the report written by Sgt. Robert Fox this summer, under the supervision of City Manager Mike Matthes.
However, I was deeply disappointed in the report because it failed to engender a collaborative spirit between the police and community, and often presented an “us vs. them” mentality, which is the exact opposite of a community policing philosophy. I felt this response to the Council’s call for change missed the opportunity to chart a new vision for CPD that will better serve police officers and the public. This led my loss of confidence in the City Manager and call for his resignation in November, 2018.
Looking for some specific next steps to move this process forward, I was impressed by the Lincoln, Nebraska Police Department's 2017-21 Strategic Plan, which is included as Appendix C in the Community-Oriented Policing Report. This 20-page document, which was developed by a 43-member Strategic Planning Committee made up of sworn personnel, civilian staff, and community stakeholders, defines a common vision for the department, as well as attainable goals in four focus areas:
- Community Policing
- Staffing and Facilities
In contrast, CPD's Strategic Plan (included as Appendix B) consists of brief vision, mission, and values statements that have not, to my knowledge, received any community feedback. Therefore, I believe we should assemble a diverse planning group consisting of police officers at all levels, residents from various different neighborhoods, and community stakeholders, and engage an experienced facilitator to help us develop a new CPD Strategic Plan that will define Columbia's community-oriented policing philosophy, training program, and internal policies and procedures.
Public Transportation Funding
Columbia's public transportation program was desperately under-funded before City Council against my recommendations imposed severe service cuts in the current budget.
Our operating budget (per capita) is between one-fifth and one-third of the amounts invested in transit in other college towns such as Lawrence, Champagne-Urbana, and Ames. As a result, our level of service (frequency, hours of service, coverage of routes, etc.) is so poor that the only people using the bus system are those with no other choice!
However, if we were to increase the public transit budget and put on additional routes so that most residents lived within a 5-minute walk of a bus stop, so that buses were coming every 15-20 minutes and operating 7 days a week including late evenings, then we would see a significant increase in ridership as taking the bus would become much more attractive for many people. Improving public transportation in Columbia would enable low-income families to access work, education, health care, and other services more easily and more affordably. Since the average cost of owning and operating a car in the US is $9,000 per year according to an analysis by AAA, it would also enable some families to save a lot of money by reducing the number of cars they own.
I do not believe we can realistically increase taxes for public transportation at this time. My preference is to re-allocate some of the sales tax revenues that go to the Columbia Regional Airport. While I supported this large public subsidy when the airport was struggling several years ago, things have changed dramatically:
- Enplanements have increased ten-fold in the last ten years, and there are now 16 departures and arrivals every day;
- In addition to $3 million in annual transportation sales tax revenues, the airport receives $700,000 from the lodging tax increase passed by voters in 2017;
- It is also in line for federal grants totaling tens of millions of dollars within the next few years, for construction of a new terminal.
With the improved financial condition of the airport, and a dire situation for transit, I believe it is time to reconsider the allocation of transportation sales tax funds.
Climate Action and Adaptation Plan
Climate change is an equity issue because its catastrophic impacts will disproportionately harm poor people and future generations.
Columbia has been a leader in implementing strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change for many years. In 2004, voters overwhelmingly approved setting renewable energy goals for our City-owned electric utility, to incrementally replace our use of coal, gas, and oil, with wind, solar, and other environmentally responsible energy sources. In 2014, I voted to increase those goals and accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels – more than 15% of our electricity is now generated by renewable sources and our next target is 25% by 2022.
Last year, I helped establish the Mayor’s Task Force on Climate Action and Adaptation Planning. City Council has now adopted the Task Force’s ambitious but achievable goals for reducing and eventually eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors – 35% by 2035, 80% by 2050, and 100% by 2060.
I am a strong supporter of Columbia’s continuing role as a national leader in this effort – it will require increased energy efficiency, mode shift towards public transportation, and an end to sprawl development.
Full-Time Paid Council Members
In 2014, the City of Columbia introduced Council stipends. As a result, the Mayor receives $9,000 per year and the other Council members receive $6,000 each.
While the stipends provide some compensation for the many hours of work it takes to serve on the Council, they fall far short of providing a living wage. This means you effectively have to be independently wealthy or retired on a pension in order to take on this job, greatly limiting the type of people who are given the role of representing the whole of Columbia.
Therefore, in order to expand economic, cultural, and social diversity on the City Council, and thereby expand equity in all of our policies, I propose incorporating full-time, paid City Council positions into the City budget, starting in 2022 or 2023.
With the population of Columbia approaching 150,000, now is the time to make this decision.
The proper role of City Council members is to serve the residents they represent.
Therefore, I have always taken government transparency very seriously and invested a lot of time and energy in effective constituent engagement. As I plan for another term on the City Council, I shall continue to listen carefully to constituents and facilitate an open and honest dialogue on all issues.
I maintain this website where residents can read about City issues, review my position on specific policy questions, sign up for my newsletter, and check the dates of upcoming Constituent Conversations.
Throughout my six years on the City Council, I have written a monthly electronic newsletter for constituents with an interest in local public policy.
I use this newsletter to discuss current policy issues, share my thinking on how the City of Columbia should address specific challenges, and ask constituents for feedback. Periodically, I design online surveys to collect more in-depth information and opinions from residents.
Everyone is welcome to sign up for the newsletter and there are now more than 2,700 residents on the list. About half of these recipients live in the Fourth Ward with the others living elsewhere in Columbia or Boone County.
Archived newsletters are available at my website.
Constituent Conversations at Dunn Bros. Coffee
Two or three times every month, I host an event called Constituent Conversations at Dunn Bros. Coffee on Forum Boulevard.
The sessions are from 2:00 – 4:00 pm on Sunday afternoons and no appointment is needed - constituents are invited to drop in, enjoy a cup of coffee on me, and discuss City issues. I like to facilitate these discussions as one large conversation, involving everyone who’s in attendance, often as many as 10 or 20 folks. Each person has the opportunity to introduce a specific policy topic or question, I provide information and share my thoughts on the issue, and then we open it up for everyone else to weigh in.
Dates for upcoming Constituent Conversations are always available online.
Constituent Questions and Requests
Every month, I receive between 30 and 50 specific questions and requests, ranging from “Can you fill this pot-hole on my street?” to “What are the laws regarding Air BnBs in neighborhoods?”
If I know the answer, I respond immediately. If not, or if it is a request for some action by City staff, I have a system for obtaining official responses from Department Directors. Although the turn-around time for some of these enquiries can be a few weeks, I make I sure get a reliable response to every one.
If elected for another term, I will continue to make all of these constituent engagement channels available and look for other ways to ensure everyone's voice is heard.