By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]
For coverage of the first of two council candidate debates, click here.
Democratic City Council candidates gathered in the second of two virtual City Council debates held by the Alexandria Democratic Committee ahead of the June 8 Democratic primary.
This second forum consisted of challengers Bill Campbell, Sarah Bagley, Kirk McPike, Kevin Harris, Patrick Moran and incumbents Amy Jackson and John Chapman.
Moderated by Alexandria Gazette Packet contributor Michael Pope, candidates voiced their thoughts on growth and development, affordable housing, flooding, collective bargaining, the city’s broadband capacity and road diets.
Pope began by asking whether candidates support minimum or maximum parking requirements, to which Bagley and Chapman said they lean more in favor of the latter.
McPike, Jackson, Moran, Harris and Campbell argued that different neighborhoods warrant different requirements.
“If we’re building a walkable, urban, modern community … then parking maximums are necessary to take. We can’t parking-lot our way to having enough parking,” McPike said. “And in some of our other neighborhoods we might want to take a different approach, but whatever we’re doing, we need to make sure that we’re making transit accessible and network-viable.”
When asked about placing affordable housing in schools, a concept which has received pushback from some residents, Harris, Moran, Chapman and Campbell expressed support.
Moran said that co-locating school staff would be a top priority for him, as it is often difficult for employees to find housing in the city and it would also assist in attracting and retaining high-quality educators.
“We have to look at everything to ensure that we’re attracting teachers, not losing them to surrounding jurisdictions, and that ultimately they’re invested in our community,” Moran said. “Having teachers that live in Alexandria is going to be a core component to ensuring that we’re delivering a world class education to our Alexandria students and ultimately that they’re prepared to thrive in the community, in society and in the economy.”
Campbell also expressed support for co-located housing, stressing a need to create diverse housing options for the city’s diverse residents.
“If we believe in diversity and we want to maintain our diversity, then we need to look at all options in regards to housing because if we cannot maintain various housing options, we will not be able to maintain our diversity,” Campbell said.
But McPike and Jackson indicated that they are not in favor of co-locating on school properties, citing safety and capacity concerns.
“The educator in me and now during COVID-19, we need that property for our kids, for the schools. That’s where it needs to stay,” Jackson said, who also voted against council’s adoption of an accessory dwelling unit policy earlier this year.
Other issues, however, garnered more unified support.
While candidates firmly agreed that council must prioritize stormwater mitigation through utilizing federal funds, applying the newly updated capital improvements budget and engaging the citizen’s advisory committee, Bagley said that the mental health impact can’t “get lost” amid the long-term investments.
“Can you imagine when the clouds roll in and the rain starts to fall – the seizing effect that must have on people?” Bagley said. “… Specifically, we need to consider the next two or three springs for so many of [the affected] families, and how we can help them get to the end of these massive infrastructure projects … We owe that to our citizens.”
Chapman, who is running for his fourth term on council and acts as the council liaison to the citizen advisory committee, echoed Bagley’s sentiments about the importance of a short-term solution. He noted that council recently pushed forward a grant program for homeowners that would aid in fixing their properties while larger-scale capacity and localized spot projects remain in the works.
“[The advisory committee] will work with staff and hold the city accountable for making sure we complete the projects we said we [would]. We have to. And frankly, they’re going to push us to move up some of these projects,” Chapman said, adding that while these projects are included in a 10-year CIP budget, council “knows we can’t wait” that long.
Harris contended that council has already waited too long to take action. The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority president said residents have been vocalizing frustrations for years and labeled the issue “an urgent matter.”
Harris said that encouraging the use of permeable surfaces in new developments and changing “the way developments are done” could actually provide job opportunities for community members while assisting with stormwater and flooding solutions.
“We’re talking about this, but it’s something that really needs to take place,” Harris said. “This is real. This is a serious situation. It can’t just be some campaign jargon; it’s something that has to be done.”
Campbell called the topic of broadband expansion an equity issue, noting the importance of schools providing connectivity to students who can’t afford it. “It comes down to prioritizing this. We know now from the pandemic that things are not equal if you don’t have the same technology and access to technology,” Campbell said.
Regarding the controversial Seminary Road diet, which saw residents facing off around the reconfiguration of a 0.9 mile stretch of the arterial road, Pope asked if candidates would spend the necessary amount of money to “undo” the lane reduction implemented in 2019. Jackson and Chapman, who both voted against the project, said they would, while Harris, Campbell and McPike said they would not.
Chapman pointed out that Seminary Road was “one of the only” road diets he voted against, due to the inherent limits it placed on an east-west arterial road.
Bagley and Moran each said their answer is contingent on what precisely the “cost of congestion” would look like. Moran expressed interest in receiving a report of these findings post-pandemic, once traffic resumes.
“Folks sitting in traffic, not being able to work, not being able to pick up their kids and do everything else, that’s a cost,” Moran said. “If that cost exceeds the cost of repayment, then I think we absolutely should look at it.”
Bagley said that while she appreciates the fiscal analysis, the other side of that coin is “the cost of a human life,” which she said is what led to the Seminary Road diet in the first place.
Moran asserted that the city should leverage technology so as to allow neighborhoods more policy influence in the decision-making process. “The basis on which council is evaluating their opinion, their judgment, and their endorsement of issues [should be] tit for tat with, ultimately, who they represent,” Moran added.
The full video of the ADC’s second City Council debate can be viewed at www. alexdems.org/elections. The Democratic primary takes place on June 8.