The following are my responses to local media and special interest groups during the 2020 campaign cycle.
Newport This Week
Why are you running?
Exciting phase in city’s development – requires long-term planning and vision for our future, with engagement from residents across all of Newport
Proud of how the workings of city council have been made more public – democracy is messy, but it requires that we hear what our citizens think, and want.
If elected, what are your three top priorities?
Planning – strategic plan, Master Transportation Plan, Green and Complete Streets, resiliency planning – for both natural and disasters of the pandemic/natural gas outage types
Openness – encouraging citizen involvement
What steps should the city take to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks in the city. What should the city do to enforce restrictions?
I’m the organizer of the Zorro Brigade – it was my resolution that led to the executive order requiring masks
Promote outdoor activities, following through with “Take It Outside” initiative
I’d like a conversation with police after the summer’s experience with passing out masks – talk about how they can be more visible so residents feel they have our backs – in general, we want to feel that the police work with us to support what improves/maintains quality of life.
Does Newport rely too heavily on the tourism and hospitality industry? What alternative industries should the city look to develop?
We need improved broadband – optical fiber – this would serve businesses, distance learning, and working from home
Blue economy – it’s a natural for us, and we need to support our existing businesses. Newport and the region’s businesses are engaged in some of the most sophisticated technology with materials in the boat building – whether we mean building the highest level racing yachts, or suppliers to the DOD and all the defense support industries. We attract international attention on this basis, and we should tap that. We also have world class technology at NUWC and Electric Boat. We have a lot of interest from businesses wanting to locate here and yet it’s difficult to actually make it happen so meanwhile let’s support Newport-grown business, such as Inspire Environmental at Innovate Newport.
What could the North End be?
Most of all, integrated with the rest of the city. Broadway is often cited, with justification, as a neighborhood that works – with a variety of housing options, small businesses, locally owned, and vibrant street life with attractive restaurants. One thing it’s short on is attractive open space.
The North End should be a model for showing respect for the natural topography, with daylighting the stream that has been “disrespected” for far too long and contributes to drainage issues – exemplified in the recent storm that saw the Connell roundabout underwater. We need more housing there for our workforce to keep families in Newport, and a village feel to the new development.
Do you support the school bond question? If not, or if the bond fails, what should the city do to address school building needs?
I believe we need to pass this bond. If we don’t we only reinforce the impression that we don’t care about our infrastructure. Unfortunately, this is the public impression, both statewide, and most hurtfully, with our neighboring communities. But Rogers was allowed to deteriorate for years, without proper maintenance. (Who was minding the store?)
We heard the message over the past year that we were coming hat in hand to propose regionalization. I believe in a regionalized high school, but when our interlocutors don’t see that but instead see us as poor cousins, we need a complete reboot to restart that conversation.
I’m proud of what we’ve done with our zoning. When the city had failed to understand that we needed to change our zoning in order to comply with our Comp Plan, we took back the reins a year ago and now have the North End Urban Plan, and the community is formulating a vision with robust public engagement. We need to do the same with our schools and correct past oversights.
Do you believe systemic racism is a problem the city and state need to address? If so, how?
Yes, absolutely. Along the lines of Ibram Kendi’s thinking, “racist” is perceived as a pejorative term and can serve to end a conversation that badly needs to happen. We need to think of that word as a descriptor of policies. Kendi says a racist policy is one that results in racial inequity. In contrast, he says that antiracist policies lead to racial equity. I believe we need to tap into our empathy and develop our curiosity, and learn about not only the history of African contributions to Newport’s early years, but also how the policies of the 20th century – red-lining, an obvious example – have contributed to and maintained the inequities. We need to have this in mind with every policy we enact and promote. It’s not just February.
How would you make Newport a more attractive and affordable place to live?
Improved transportation and parking options
Affordable housing for workforce
Newport Daily News
1) Rank these 3 issues in terms of what you believe is most important to a successful future for Newport and explain why you ranked them as such.
• North End Development
• A new Rogers High School
• Reducing the reliance on tourism
All three are essential components to Newport’s future, thus this question presents a true “Sophie’s choice.” If forced, I would rank #3 as most important because #1 and #2 form the essential foundation for #3.
We need a new high school. It’s an embarrassment that we’re ranked last in the state for the condition of Rogers. I believe in regionalized high schools for the array of educational offerings and the greater diversity of the student body. Sadly, we don’t have partners currently on Aquidneck Island, yet now is when we must act. Newport needs to demonstrate that we’re prepared to invest in education – this is a critical message to send to our students, to businesses, and to people who consider moving here – but we need to spend the money intelligently and keep our eye on educational outcomes.
With North End development, it’s critical that we get it right. Our zoning should offer a predictable process that encourages developers and incorporates community benefits to develop an area that draws people with diverse interests. Increased commercial space for businesses with 8 to 12 employees will diversify our economy. Improving our infrastructure with high-speed broadband and a new facility for our outstanding vocational programs at Rogers will help attract businesses.
However, if executed poorly, new development could further entrench isolation and inequality of opportunity. To reduce our reliance on tourism we need to provide support for start-up businesses which allow the opportunity for advancement within the workforce.
2) What do you view as the best use of land freed up by the realignment of the Newport Pell Bridge ramps and why?
We’re learning the amount of developable land is not what we imagined a few years ago. We’re coming to terms with sea level rise and recognize the value of the marshlands that’ve been compromised over the years. The Newport Grand property is privately owned. The City Yards, our utility area, occupies approximately 13 acres, and relocation will be costly.
I fought for the moratorium so the city could pause six months and allow our newly reconstituted Planning Department to direct our planning and zoning decisions. Our laws needed to be updated to comply with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan passed in 2017 and I’m proud of the work the city has done.
The result is the North End Urban Plan, produced by our consultants, NBBJ. I’ve believed, consistent with the Comp Plan, that this area should be mixed use. We see the success of this approach in vibrant areas such as Broadway. We need housing that’s affordable for Newport’s workforce; small business retail and restaurants, providing for diversity in our economy which is our lifeblood; and upgraded amenities such as fiber optic broadband to support growing businesses using innovative technologies. The area needs a transportation hub so cars entering Newport can be diverted here, with easy connections to attractive public transportation. Good news is a sizable portion of the available land needs to be open space, due to its topography.
Overall, this development should be a model for racial and economic diversity and empowerment, with meaningful input from the bordering communities.
3) How would you ensure Newport remains a welcoming place for residents of all races?
It would be an exercise in white privilege to state that Newport is currently perceived as a welcoming place for all races. Of course from my vantage point I would have to agree that it feels welcoming, but it’s not really for me to say.
We begin by listening, and we need to create a space that will be comfortable for the array of voices. I am currently reading “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. The first great insight is that it’s counter-productive to call people racist. Instead we should focus on policies that result in or enshrine racial inequities. This certainly isn’t the only book out there, but I believe white people need to nurture their curiosity about the experience of non-white people in this society. As for what the council can do, we should train ourselves to look for the unintended racial inequities that may result from the policies we promote. And the city should do everything it can to promote hiring a diversity of voices.
Finally, we must not leave it to non-whites to advocate for equitable results. Change can begin when we all recognize the fundamental need, and we all work equally to promote that change.
Alliance for a Livable Newport
1) Do you support the November ballot question for Newport to issue more than $100million of bonds to be used to expand The Pell School and replace Rogers High School? If no, explain your reasons. If yes, what do you say to Newport residents and business owners concerned about the impact on their property taxes? If yes or no, what action(s) would you promote if the ballot question is defeated?
I do support the ballot question. What I say to our residents and business owners who are concerned, is that this has been a tough decision. The bottom line is that Newport needs to demonstrate that we are prepared to invest in education – this is a critical message to send to our students, and to businesses and people who might consider moving here. We just need to spend the money intelligently, and keep our eye on educational outcomes. We need to ensure that a new building supports improved outcomes with classroom design that has been tested and proven successful. We should innovate, but we should be careful about another “experimental” design like the current Rogers High School was in its day.
Our Finance Director released a report in July showing the short-term impacts on property taxes would not be onerous. Because of the structure of municipal bonds the bulk of the impact on taxes would occur in the first five years and level off after that, using a combination of short-term notes to begin and shifting to long-term bonds as direct expenses with the construction reach their peak, anticipated in years 3 and 4. We couldn’t ask for a more favorable financial climate for borrowing so we can anticipate financing the debt at a low rate of interest. At this time we anticipate a rate of 52.5% reimbursement from the state.
The July report from the Finance Director projected a total impact on a $400,000 home of $156, graduating to $312 for an $800,000 home and $585 for a $1.5 million home. The impact on a $1.5 million business is projected to be $870. This total impact figure would not be reached until 2025; the increases would be incremental in 2022, 2023, and 2024, reaching the figures I’ve cited in the year 2025. A new school represents faith in our future, and “smart money” would counsel us to invest now.
The unknowns include the impact of the Covid pandemic on our local businesses and our economy, as well as the budget for the state of RI. The projections I cite above are based on the assumption that the state of RI will reimburse the expenditures on new schools at a rate of 52.5%.
2) Traffic and parking problems in Newport persist and seem to be getting worse despite being the subject of countless studies and ad hoc committees. What specific measures (other than forming more committees and conducting more studies) would you promote to alleviate the problems?
I introduced the resolution to commission a Master Transportation Plan last September, which passed 7-0. The Request for Proposals was prepared by the Planning Department after vetting the issues with representatives from a wide range of community organizations including the HEZ Transportation Group, the Hill Association, the Point Association, Discover Newport, the Preservation Society, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, the Cliff Walk Commission, and the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission.
If I am reelected I will work to ensure that the Master Transportation Plan benefits from widespread community input and takes a fresh look at all the issues facing Newport’s transportation problems. I also worked with community groups before presenting the resolution for the city to implement a Green and Complete Streets ordinance. I would expect to see those principles reflected in the Master Transportation Plan.
We now have a revitalized Planning Department which is more than capable of guiding the implementation of such a plan. I believe the time is right and the community is ready to move forward to address these problems, particularly as the Pell Bridge Ramp redesign is fleshed out and we see more detail in that proposal.
I will seriously consider the recommendations in the Master Transportation Plan. My own input to the process would include these ideas:• genuinely user-friendly, affordable, convenient and attractive public transportation, addressing both tourists’ needs and the needs of residents of the city who want public transportation to get downtown;
• alternative transportation avenues for bicycles and pedestrians that will lure people to shopping and recreation;
• public parking so that tourist traffic to Newport can be rerouted and when tourists leave their cars they will enjoy using public transport to get around,;
• the possibility of weekly or monthly parking for residents who don’t need their cars on a daily basis, in an effort to free up parking space on our streets; and
• all proposals must recognize and address our need for resiliency in the face of sea level rise and storm surges.
My philosophy is that Newport was not originally designed for the automobile traffic we see today, and we should honor our history. We should implement plans which de-emphasize reliance on single-occupancy vehicles. We should take a hard look at the expectations underlying convenient street parking and ask if there are better alternatives. I’m an avid reader of Jeff Speck, who promotes walkable cities.
3) Newport’s economy is closely tied to tourism. The risk of that dependence has been made abundantly clear by the Covid pandemic. What, if any, alternatives do you see to the reliance on tourism? Based on your answer, what specific actions should be taken to further promote tourism and/or what specific actions should be taken to expand the economy beyond tourism?
With the impact of the Covid pandemic, I seek opportunities to do things differently in the future, to address the underlying needs which have been laid bare by the pandemic.
As an alternative to tourism, we need to make smart investments sending a message that we support our local businesses as they seek to grow and thrive. Prominent among these needs is 21st Century high speed internet. City government should work with our state representatives to expand service from the “middle mile” of fiber optics which runs approximately from Newport Hospital down Broadway to City Hall. Currently our connectivity is based on cable. That’s older technology, and Cox maintains it reactively. An upgrade to fiber optics should lead to increased availability of high-speed internet at a more affordable rate because Cox would face competition. This would not only support distance learning for our students but would also send a message to businesses which are considering locating here, with the need to be able to rely on sophisticated technology infrastructure.
I’ve been a leader in the city’s response to the pandemic. To support our tourism industry I presented the resolution to require masks on our busy streets, and I organized the Zorro Brigade, a band volunteers who are out on America’s Cup, Thames, Bellevue and the Cliff Walk, passing out masks provided by the City, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. I don’t believe those who work in the tourist industry should have to ask people to put masks on in order to be safe at work. I believe we have a responsibility to protect these workers.
I support finding a way to turn more street space over to expanded outdoor dining so that our restaurants can increase their capacity and get back to making a profit.
I also think we should market Newport as a safe destination for people who want to come here and feel safe, and we should ramp up testing capability to allow for weekly testing of those working in the hospitality industry – and when we have that in place we should advertise that in the region to promote tourism. This would set Newport apart as a tourist destination. (Please see my response to the question regarding the Visitors Center for further expansion of marketing Newport as a tourist destination.)
I also believe that we need to preserve the little that remains of our working waterfront with a waterfront zone, and place my faith in a solid urban planning process to ensure orderly growth that promotes sustainability, and allows for the preservation of our waterfront. I believe our waterfront is our ultimate tourist attraction in dire need of protection.
Finally, we should remember how we were blindsided by the pandemic as a city, state, and nation, and learn from the experience. Our city administration has responded effectively, as it did during the natural gas outage. However, I would like to see a mechanism for public input as part of the process for continual assessment of our disaster preparedness.
4) The closure of the Visitors Center was announced recently. What do you propose should be done with the property?
There are many opportunities to consider for the Visitors Center, and I will bring an open mind to the question as we move forward, but the idea most intriguing to me at this point is the opportunity to take a fresh approach to marketing tourism in Newport. Our beaches and bars are overcrowded.
What makes Newport unique is our history – in so many aspects, whether architecture, sporting history with sailing, golf, and tennis, or colonial history and the history of Newport’s relationship with the slave trade, currently being brought to life through the Newport Middle Passage Port Markers Project and the RI Slave Medallions Project. Given the shift to online travel research and planning it makes sense to combine, in the ground floor space, the museum function of the Newport Historical Society together with the tourist services offered by Discover Newport. Newport is rich in educational experiences available to those coming on vacation and we should strive to teach our visitors about our history. If all the tourist attractions in Newport could be gathered under the “roof” of the Newport Historical Society’s museum and shop, these attractions could be perceived in their historical context.
The Visitors Center also enjoys a prime central location which is already well established as the first stop in town for tourists. As such, I would like to see it bolstered as a hub for public transportation, depending on the recommendations of the Master Transportation Plan when it is completed. (Please see my response to the question regarding Traffic and Parking.) This area could be the central hub where visitors let go of their cars and begin to rely on a user-friendly public transportation system.
5) A Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) template is being considered as part of the North End Urban Plan (NEUP). What would you like to see included in the CBA template? What measures will you promote and support to put the NEUP on a clear path to implementation?
The CBA concept embodies my major reason for first running in 2016. I became First Ward councilor that year with the mission to bring forward the voice of the community that would feel the greatest impact from development in the North End in conjunction with the Pell Bridge Ramp redesign. There are other communities who feel the impact, including the Tradesmen, the Swamp, and the Point, but I saw that the population in the North End north of Admiral Kalbfus was especially lacking a direct voice in civic affairs. Four years later we’re discussing incorporating a process that could ensure community engagement in large scale development, with benefits that could range from a minimum wage guarantee, paid the workers who are hired for operations, to funding of a community space.
My core issue is to support the planning process, and I credit the expertise of our consultants, NBBJ, and our Planning Department and Planning Board, and I look forward to seeing the final draft of the NEUP, probably later this month. This process, and this product are the rationale for supporting the moratorium last September. I’ll work to see that the Council adopts the North End Urban Plan even if it requires modification. If the NEUP is in conflict with any portion of our Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP, adopted in 2017) we should update the CLUP. I will push for that to proceed. The final step is to bring our zoning into compliance. This is where, I believe, the CBA process would be enshrined.
The concept of CBA is essential because the time has come to leave behind the systemic marginalization of our communities that are uniquely impacted by the structural nature of income inequality. The CBA delivers on its promise when a community organizes and present its needs and wishes to a developer. This offers a win-win and allows predictability for the developer. The challenge is organizing a coalition of community groups that can speak for their constituents, educating those constituents regarding the nature and impacts of the proposals, and securing legal representation for the coalition so the negotiations with the developer can be done on a more level playing field. I’m still exploring the mechanisms for how this could best be done; I think of approaching the RWU Law School for pro bono assistance as I’m familiar with the clinical model in which students take on representation under the supervision of a law professor. I believe it’s essential that the negotiations be done independent of the planning review and council approval process, so that they occur between two arm’s length parties. I’ve discovered in my study of CBA’s that government officials shouldn’t be deeply engaged in the negotiation process, to avoid legal challenges by the developer.
An alternative would be to build some baseline community benefits into our zoning scheme. We could also require as a baseline that the developer produce Community Impact Reports. All of these zoning tools, however, require intensive engagement with community organizations to be successful.
6) What do you most want Newport voters to know about you? (Limit response to maximum of 250 words.)
My parents grew up in England in a setting which was not automobile-centric. My father became an accountant and my mother an architect. WWII was the defining event in their lives, my father serving six years on the front in North Africa and Asia, holding the rank of Major when he was demobilized, while my mother lived through bombing raids and food rationing. Ultimately they immigrated to Seattle and founded a successful landscape design and construction business. I grew up amid conversation about how homes and gardens and structures and neighborhoods should fit together, how people move through space, and especially how deference to cars diminishes neighborhoods and cities. I bring to my seat on the Council a lifelong sensitivity to thoughtful urban planning and design.
I myself became a lawyer, advocating on behalf of individuals with immigration needs and civil rights issues for over 30 years, in Seattle, New York, and Rhode Island. I went into law to represent people whose voices were marginalized, often by overzealous government action.
On the Council I bring an independent voice. The major projects now in our sights require thoughtful planning and design that works for every sector of our community. I work to ensure engaged participation – from design professionals, entrepreneurs and small business people, and particularly those in the North End whose quality of life will be directly impacted by development there. Newport’s diversity is our strength and with good planning we can celebrate that.
What is your vision to help people ride and walk safely in our community? What actual steps might you take to achieve your vision?
I’ve been working with the community since my first campaign in 2016 to improve safe and attractive options for bicycles and pedestrians in Newport. I worked with an array of community organizations to sponsor and promote the effort toward a Green and Complete Streets ordinance, and to develop a Master Transportation Plan for 2020 and into the future. I’ve worked with RIDOT to advocate for lessening the impact of increased traffic on our residential streets with the Pell Bridge ramp redesign, and with both RIDOT and NBBJ to be sure they understood the desires and needs of Newport’s bicyclists and walkers. I am working to include a process for Community Benefits Agreements in the North End Urban Plan, and in subsequent zoning changes arising from that.
I support the mission of Bike Newport to train kids to ride with safety in mind and to maintain their bicycles with that goal. Newport is a city that is already attractive for walkers, and I am working with Bike Newport to advance the goal of creating pathways that are attractive and easy for pedestrians and bicyclists to travel.