QUESTION #1 (PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT)
Over the past few years, Charlotte has adopted a number of planning and development plans and policies, including the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). Going forward, the Charlotte City Council will be responsible for overseeing rezoning efforts and making any necessary amendments to the UDO.
The UDO is informed by the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, an important vision that will shape the equitable growth of our city, livability, and our climate resilience. For the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan goals to be realized, city council will need to uphold the requirements in the UDO, approve text amendments that are in line with the 2040 Plan, and deny rezoning requests that allow the rules to be skirted.
Will you honor the work that has been done to create this plan and ordinance? What will you do to ensure consistent implementation of the UDO and adoption of text amendments necessary to keep its implementation aligned with the goals of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan?
Misun Kim (R, Mayor):
Kim has not responded.
Vi Lyles (D, Mayor)(i):
Lyles has not responded.
Rob Yates (L, Mayor):
“I am opposed to central planning and government choosing winners and losers. As well intentioned as it might be, it inevitably leads to poor outcomes and missed goals. I would advocate for and work toward providing each respective community the appropriate support to allow their residents to prosper and thrive. There are many opportunities to do this in a way that is sustainable for our planet and for the people living there, including fostering economic opportunity and driving down living costs.”
QUESTION #2 (STRATEGIC MOBILITY PLAN)
In June 2022, City Council adopted the Strategic Mobility Plan (SMP) to help realize the vision laid out in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. One of the main tenets of the SMP is a 50-50 mode-share goal to balance mobility choices so residents need not depend on a car for transportation.
In order to fulfill the goals laid out in the SMP, a major, dedicated source of revenue is needed and a countywide “One Cent for Mobility” sales tax has been suggested to reach our mobility goals. However, there has been little visible progress on moving this forward, even as federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill creates time-sensitive opportunities for our area to compete for federal dollars that will require a local match.
Do you support the need to secure a local funding source to realize the goals laid out in the SMP? If so, what will you do as an elected official to move the process forward in a transformational rather than incremental way? If not, what do you propose as an alternative to support mobility for all residents?
Rob Yates (L, Mayor):
“I do not support any tax increases. Mobility is only a problem insofar as it concerns one's ability to get where s/he needs to be. I know that sounds obvious, and ridiculous, but indulge me for a moment :), as this ties into affordable housing, too. If your job is walking distance, and the things you need are in close proximity, your need for longer-distance mobility is lessened. Zoning restrictions that are flexible only when big-donor developers ask, along with onerous occupational licensing requirements, on top of the absurdly high costs of starting a business, create an insurmountable barrier to entry for people to invest in the neighborhoods where they live. Instead, they face long commutes through ever-more-congested traffic with increasingly expensive fuel costs. Remote work is an attractive option, but the people who are able to work from home tend to have jobs with more income security (though inflation has put all but the most wealthy on tenuous financial ground).There are smart investments that can alleviate transportation and financial burden, improve neighborhoods, and bring about prosperity in a sustainable way. I am against taxing to increase spending, but I recognize that not everyone feels the same, and I will be the mayor for everyone. While I work to implement structures that incentivize prosperity for all of Charlotte, I believe there are opportunities for the city to hasten this transformation, and point it in the right direction. Two things, in particular, that I would focus on are:
- Expanding the greenways. We have a beautiful greenway system. It makes the city prettier, encourages pride and personal investment, gives trees and tree canopy a guaranteed place to persist and expand, encourages exercise and socialization, and - if done right - creates a completely carbon-free and healthy way to commute.
- Improve bus stations with solar panels. We have something like 60 bus routes with just under 3000 bus stops. One of my top priorities would be to work with utility companies to get coverage at every bus stop with solar panels on top. I would also want to plant two trees at every stop, as practical (this plan is more complicated, so forgive my lack of nuance in this space - I am trying to convey the intent, if not all the details). People would be able to use the bus system more comfortably without exposure to the elements. Meanwhile, the solar panels would contribute to the grid overall, and the power generated could be distributed to lower people's energy bills. They could help in re-charging EV, and even contribute to community garden development (another one of my key initiatives). Potentially, we could even explore installing heating and/or cooling that the panels power, but that is tricky, as solar panels are weather dependent and the heating might tax the grid on cloudy, blustery days.”
QUESTION #3 (VISION ZERO)
In 2018 Charlotte adopted a Vision Zero goal to end traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. CDOT staff are working with Vision Zero Task Force members to achieve this goal.
What investments and/or policy changes, including funding for mobility in the CIP, do you believe are most important for Charlotte to fulfill its commitment to Vision Zero and ensure that our streets are safe and well-connected for people of all ages and abilities to walk, bike, and ride transit?
Rob Yates (L, Mayor):
“I see no viable path to reducing traffic fatalities to zero without ceasing traffic function and that is not a realistic goal worth spending public time and dollars to chase in futility.”
QUESTION #4 (ACCESS TO PARKS AND GREENWAYS)
Although building parks and greenways is primarily the responsibility of Mecklenburg County, the City of Charlotte has partnered with Mecklenburg County to build the Cross Charlotte Trail and also supports access to parks and greenways by providing connectivity for people who bike, walk, and ride transit.
What would you do as an elected official to support residents’ access to outdoor recreational opportunities and greenways as part of the broader transportation network?
Rob Yates (L, Mayor):
“Herein lies one of the greatest fundamental flaws of a top-down, government-guided approach to governance. Those of us who reside in Charlotte are subject to the whims of an entity which has competing priorities. Why should Charlotte residents depend on approval from a central authority so far up to improve their neighborhoods? As I mention above, expanding the greenway system substantially is a priority for me. This is an inexpensive way to foster both beautification and exercise, to improve neighborhoods, to alleviate transportation burdens, and to expand tree coverage dramatically, especially when routing through areas that currently lack canopy coverage. As a second step, I would redirect money that, for example, is subsidizing a billionaire's tennis court vanity project, toward community gardens. We are just a few generations removed from the knowledge and daily process of producing the food - healthy, nutritious, environmentally friendly, and financially sustainable - that we and our families needed to live. We have replaced that with processed junk pumped full of sugar and chemicals. Community gardens, done right, cost only the initial investment setup amount. After that, they are fully self-sustaining. When they produce excessive amounts of food, they can even create an income source. Finally, as it made sense for different areas, I would support the development of parks, playgrounds, courts and fields, and other recreational facilities within walking distance from neighborhoods that are lacking them.”
QUESTION #5 (BUS NETWORK)
CATS has undergone significant changes in this past year, which have resulted in reduced frequency of service on several bus routes. However, research shows that public transportation is most effective and successful when service is fast, frequent, and reliable.
What role should Charlotte City Council play in supporting CATS’ goal of increasing frequency on all core bus routes to run every 15 minutes or less and ensuring that CATS has the necessary resources to implement the recommendations identified in the Envision My Ride Bus Priority Study results?
Rob Yates (L, Mayor):
“CATS is a disaster. From end-to-end, with a management style that defies absurdity, ten years of declining utilization, repeated audits (which cost money) that found the same problems for years on end, employee morale in the dumpster, fundamentally flawed financials and zero transparency into where the money disappears, absolutely no accountability, serious safety concerns, inconsistent reliability, and no answers in sight, I do not think we should be looking to put more burden on a broken system. Before any talk of expanding CATS services, I would focus on fixing the mess that is CATS.”
QUESTION #6 (STRATEGIC ENERGY ACTION PLAN)
Although Charlotte has received much attention for winning Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge status and funding, the Environment Committee has been combined with other interests and its role has been minimized at a time when it should be highly active. Almost five years have already passed since the Strategic Energy Action Plan (SEAP) was passed, and there has been little discourse around progress on the stated 2050 goals.
What actions will you take to ensure the SEAP goals and plan stay on course?
Rob Yates (L, Mayor):
“The SEAP does two things that I particularly like. One, it identifies the problems that need to be addressed. Two, it relies on public / private partnership to address the problems, instead of heavy-handed mandates that hurt in so many ways but fail to achieve their intended outcomes. As I have outlined above, I will prioritize adding a significant solar element to the power grid, I will increase trees and canopy cover substantially, I will lessen the emissions burden of transportation by removing restrictions that create the need for longer transport times, and I will empower people to grow their own communities, which inevitably leads to neighborhoods that are safer, more prosperous, and more sustainable, and which maintain these characteristics over time. The biggest single source of emissions in Charlotte is the big buildings. While there is nuance around total emissions and emissions per capita, the fact remains that more emissions in our city come from that concentrated source than any other direct source. Fortunately, there are a number of ways buildings can be made significantly less carbon intensive. For one, supporting the building of more nuclear plants leads to carbon-free electricity. This is obviously a more distant solution and one that is outside the ambit of a mayor's responsibilities, but there is always opportunity for influence. The sentiment carries through in my solar panels on bus stops plan. There is also significant opportunity to incentivize building owners, tenants, and managers to purchase offsets, which have become both affordable and reliable with technological advances (I wrote an article on this: https://owlesg.com/2023/04/21/the-case-for-ignoring-scope-3-emissions/). One idea I have, which I haven't fleshed out but am exploring, is finding areas in our city where we can sell offsets. If this is possible, we can generate revenue and have outside financing of things like tree plantings and our community gardens.”
QUESTION #7 (FOOD SECURITY)
Access to fresh, healthy foods are of particular concern to many of our neighbors, particularly those in food deserts.
In keeping with the 2040 Comprehensive Plan’s goal of 10-minute neighborhoods, what will you do to ensure that residents have access to public gardens and healthy food in their neighborhood?
Rob Yates (L, Mayor):
“I am not in favor of the 2040 plan, or any central planning or top-down approach, and I am also against the restrictive requirements inherent to the creation of "10-minute" neighborhoods. What I do support, as I have indicated in other answers, is providing each community with the foundation on which it can build the infrastructure it needs to flourish in its own unique way. I do not believe it is the city's, or any government's, job to dictate where and how food choices are available. Instead, per my previous answers, I want the city to provide the necessary space and tools to create and maintain community gardens in neighborhoods where people are engaged and supportive. Successfully implementing community gardens involves education, restoring the knowledge that was passed down generationally for most of human history. In providing the resources for educating people on managing and maintaining a community garden, there is ample opportunity to also provide education on exercise, healthy eating habits, the importance of sleep, ways to destress, and a wide range of other wellness knowledge to which people often don't have easy access. Instead of finding a video on Tik Tok to inform dietary and lifestyle choices, qualified experts can teach communities, who then have that knowledge as a resource forever. Further, connections to the food we are eating elevates its importance psychologically. Armed with knowledge around healthy living, this connection creates a new opportunity for farmer's markets to thrive, as people will understand what they are buying and why it is important. I am in favor of eliminating sales tax for any local goods sold at farmer's markets that establish themselves in food desert neighborhoods, and I would seek additional incentives for them to operate during hours - especially evenings and weekends - that are generally more accessible for working people.”
QUESTION #8 (TREE CANOPY)
Charlotte has a goal of building the city’s tree canopy coverage to 50% by 2050, but some now view this as aspirational and unattainable. The tree canopy coverage has actually been declining. As of 2019, the canopy cover is approximately 45%, down from 49% in 2012.
What will you do to help preserve and enhance our tree canopy?
Rob Yates (L, Mayor):
“How sad, but unfortunately typical of government, is it that we set a goal to do something as simple as planting trees, and we are going in the wrong direction. As I have described, I will develop outdoor spaces with additional canopy coverage, I will seek to plant trees around bus stops (where they won't block the sun from the solar panels, though!), and I will explore creating carbon offset credit viable areas in our city, where outside entities can finance green-reclamation projects and receive the credits for the carbon removed from the atmosphere through those areas.”
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