Diluting the Minority Vote in Raleigh

From the Congressional Research Service:

Another federal requirement comes from Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), as amended, which prohibits states or political subdivisions from imposing any voting qualification, practice, or procedure that results in denial or abridgement of the right to vote based on race, color, or membership in a language minority.

Under the VRA, states cannot draw district maps that have the effect of reducing, or diluting, minority voting strength.

Last night the lines of Raleigh’s Council districts were redrawn to reduce District B’s minority population from 62% to 54%. This was done by moving 55,000 people (nearly 12% of Raleigh’s population) of whom 54% are minority – even though Raleigh is predominantly white. In District B 70% of the people redistricted were minority.

Why was the majority that were redistricted minorities? Why were Raleigh’s minority neighborhoods the ones that were targeted for redistricting? Why wasn’t an option developed that did not dilute the minority vote in District B?

Unmasking

The indoor mask mandate was put into place to help limit the spread of coronavirus in our community. If the Mayor lifts the indoor mask mandate, we should still take precautions to prevent a repeat of the increase in community transmission.

With the end of mask mandates we will enter a new phase where you could potentially come into close contact with people without masks. These will include cashiers, wait staff at restaurants, hair dressers, etc. Adopt a “defensive driving” approach – especially if you are immune compromised or have health risks.

Be sure to be fully vaccinated including boosters. Continue to avoid crowds, wash your hands regularly, and continue to wear a mask whether mandated or not. Patronize businesses that take public safety seriously. If possible, patronize businesses such as grocery stores and hair salons that offer cashiers and customer service by people who do wear masks. Avoid crowds, shop at off hours, shop online, etc. If possible, continue to work remotely.

Despite all this, there will remain issues with our youngest children and others who cannot get vaccinated. Some will be able to avoid exposure and infection. And those who do get infected will benefit from effective treatments. But, sadly, some will not.

As we have learned, with coronavirus and COVID, there will never be 100% certainty. But if we act defensively, then maybe we can prevent another resurgence.

Why I Don’t Vote Republican

I grew up in predominantly Republican rural Pennsylvania. My Grandmother was Republican. There is even a newspaper article about my fourth great grandfather who, at 94 years of age, went over four miles to vote for Lincoln in 1864. I spent my teen years being a member of my church youth group and ushering each week during church services. The first day of deer season was a school holiday.

Despite Republican and conservative influences in my life, I do not vote Republican. One main reason is the consistent war that Republicans have waged on universal healthcare and health insurance.

Common sense says that we should all pay into a fund so when we do get sick there will be money to cover medical expenses. Modern, high-tech healthcare is expensive. Have a heart attack and you will spend a week in the hospital and rack up nearly $200,000 in expenses. Health insurance is society’s way to cover those expenses. We pay into a fund when we are healthy confident that there will be money available when sickness happens.

Under the affordable care act there is a mandate that everyone participate in insurance. If you chose to not participate in insurance, then you were assessed a tax. The tax was an incentive for purchasing insurance and helping to keep funding from drying up. After all, you can’t cover medical expenses, if there is no money coming in.

In 2017 Trump and the Republican Congress eliminated the tax if you don’t purchase health insurance. This means that those who are young and healthy can choose no insurance and be free of any consequences.

This is one example of how Republicans want to whittle away health insurance. The vast majority of Republican politicians say that they want to overturn the Affordable Care Act. However, the ACA also ensures that everyone can obtain insurance. Until the ACA it was legal for insurance companies to deny you coverage if they decided you were a health risk. The ACA requires that coverage be provided to everyone including those with preexisting conditions.

Ask a Republican politician about preexisting conditions and they will likely say that they, too, want to continue coverage for everyone. Ask them how they intend to ensure that insurance funds stay solvent without mandating coverage and they are silent.

Despite all the time that has passed since the ACA was first adopted, Republicans have never offered a way to pay for health insurance. If you don’t offer a way to pay for health insurance, then you can’t be serious about wanting to cover people including those with preexisting conditions. Eliminating the incentive for buying insurance simply whittles away the ability to keep insurance funded to cover the medical expenses of each of us when it comes our time to need help.

I think about that every time I see an ambulance taking someone to the emergency room. We need to work together and contribute together to ensure viable healthcare for everyone. But Republican politicians don’t want that.

And that is one of the main reasons I don’t vote Republican.

Why a Land Trust is Better than Up Zoning for Affordable Housing

Why I voted against up zoning city property near City Market…

Last night I voted against upzoning property that the city owns near Moore Square while the rest of Council voted in favor. The rationale given for the upzoning is that the greater entitlement will allow the city to sell the property to a developer with conditions that the developer will provide some “affordable” units.

However, if the city sells the land, then any developer must recoup that cost. And with the price of land downtown, that cost will be high.

If the city really wanted to build affordable housing, then the first step would be to place the land under a land trust similar to what is done in Durham.

With a land trust, the city retains ownership of the land. Then the city contracts with a developer to build affordable units. Because the developer doesn’t pay for the land, that cost is not passed on to the tenants. And because the city owns the land, the city can guarantee affordable housing into the future.

This model is nearly identical to the land trust model used by Durham. It is well tested and it works.Lately, I have been reading about “social cybersecurity” and the tactics used by groups to spread misinformation. Distortion is one of the 16 tactics used to spread misinformation. Distortion works by claiming to do something you never really intend to do.

Up zoning the land to increase the value of the land and passing that cost onto future tenants will never result in affordable housing. The plan will not bring affordable housing no matter what anyone says. Claiming otherwise is a distortion of reality.

For more information about land trusts in Durham follow this link:


https://www.dclt.org/why-a-community-land-trust/how-it-works/?fbclid=IwAR0SmhSKiR82x9nV_HYpE_6HREnnyH8bva9KK6-9hs47JI18sGQWYeutOF8

It’s another blow for local democracy

Raleigh’s Citizen Advisory Councils were a longtime Democratic institution created by Raleigh’s first Black Mayor, Clarence Lightner. For nearly 50 years citizens gathered in 19 neighborhood CACs and discussed city issues and collectively through votes on those issues provided feedback to City Council and city government.

And for nearly 50 years citizens elected the leadership of the CACs. Those leaders then worked together as the Raleigh Citizens Advisory Council to ensure and continually improve citizen involvement in local government.

When this Council took office the Mayor and majority voted to abolish CACs.

On Tuesday this Council will receive a recommendation for forming a new board of political appointees to manage citizen involvement with local government.

I anticipate that will be no elections for these board positions by citizens as was done with CACs and in line with a philosophy that citizens are to be governed rather than working together in partnership.

I do not support and will not support this clearly anti-democratic approach to the citizens of Raleigh.

January 6, 2021

Union veterans telling stories to a group of boy scouts at the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1938. Source: https://www.achs-pa.org/

Regarding January 6, 2021

To understand the meaning of democracy we need to reflect on our history. I start with the final words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Those very last words – government of the people, by the people, for the people – are the cornerstone of our democracy. We cannot accept people storming the Capital in Washington to get their way through violence and force.

There will always be transitions in government and we must rededicate ourselves to ensure that those transitions are peaceful and orderly and determined by elections. We can never accept the chaos and tyranny that we saw on January 6, 2021.

Nor can we accept as leaders of our Country those who would stand by and allow it to happen.

The Future of Raleigh City Council

Hello Everyone,

Recently the City of Raleigh began a poll regarding the future structure and compensation of City Council. The poll asks five questions. Before I present these questions, I want to first offer my own opinion about the future of Raleigh City Council.

Raleigh is a big city. The latest census shows that 467,000 people now live in Raleigh. Currently, Raleigh City Council consists of five district Council Members, two Council Members elected at-large, and the Mayor for a total of eight. Each District Council Member represents more than 90,000 citizens. Thus, each district is as large as a small city. And each district covers a large geographic area. Raleigh’s total geographic area is 144 square miles. Each District covers nearly 29 square miles. Despite the City’s growth both in geographic area and population, the Raleigh City Council has remained unchanged for 50 years.

Now is a good time to consider change and I propose that the City of Raleigh should double the number of District Council Members from five to ten and eliminate the two at-large Council Members. Doing so would increase the Council from eight members to eleven. Moreover, this change will greatly improve representation on Council and give even
more people the opportunity to serve.

I first ran for City Council in 2015. Running for Council can be a daunting prospect. When running for Council you want to meet people to tell them your story and explain why they should vote for you. I have been extremely fortunate to have had a number of volunteers who contributed countless hours knocking on doors in the extreme heat of the summer months. And I have been fortunate to raise enough money to pay the printing and postage to send mailers throughout my district.

But these expenses and the large population and geographic area are a significant barrier to conducting an election campaign. Because of these barriers most very qualified individuals never consider running for public office. These barriers are a disservice to the citizens of Raleigh because the field of candidates becomes limited to those with deep pockets and wealthy contributors. It really is a fluke when someone can run an effective grassroots campaign and actually win in the City of Raleigh.

We can level the playing field a lot by increasing the number of District Members from five to ten. Doing so will result in Districts that are both half the size geographically and half the population. Each District would have about 45,000 citizens or about 19,000 households. Smaller Districts eliminates barriers and makes mounting an effective campaign much easier thus opening the door to greater participation.

Moreover, with more Districts, there is better representation. Rather than the Council being dominated as it has been historically by individuales who live inside the beltline, more districts will ensure that representatives are elected from all quarters of the City.

More Districts also eliminate any argument for changing from two year terms to four year terms. It is being argued now that it is too difficult to run a campaign every two years. I argue that small Districts make it much easier to run a campaign. Thus, any “practical” need for four-year terms is eliminated. Moreover, two-year terms give the People the opportunity to change Council and provide a check and balance on elected officials – something very much needed in today’s world.

And isn’t that the purpose of democracy? To ensure that people are heard and are truly represented in the important decisions that affect their day-to-day lives. And that those elected are held accountable through regular elections.

Let me now return to the City of Raleigh’s poll about changing City Council. Unfortunately, that poll does not consider the points that I just presented. Instead, the poll presents far more limited choices.

Should City Council transition from two-year to four-year terms?

Should City Council increase its size to nine by adding one district seat?

Should City Council increase its size to nine by adding an At-Large member?

There is no option in this poll for adding more than one District Member. Moreover, it asks if an at-large member should be added. In my opinion, another at-large member would not increase representation or participation on Council. Instead, it will result in a Council that is dominated by the few who have the connections to wealthy donors to get elected.

Today you can make your voice heard by answering this poll. I ask that you consider responding as follows:

Answer DISAGREE on changing from two-year to four-year terms.

Answer DISAGREE on adding an At-Large member.

Answer AGREE on adding one district seat.

While the last option doesn’t get us where we truly need to be, for
the purposes of this poll, it is, in my opinion, the best answer.

The remaining two questions on the poll concern compensation for the
members and the mayor. I offer no opinion on those questions.

To participate in the City of Raleigh’s poll, please visit this website:

https://engage.raleighnc.gov/Q5453

Please pass this post on to others in your community by copying this link:

http://dcoxforcouncil.com/2021/11/the-future-of-raleigh-city-council/

Thank you,

David Cox, PhD
Member, Raleigh City Council, District B

Rezoning Near Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve

Recently a request was submitted to rezone land directly across the Neuse River from Raleigh’s Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve. The property fronts Louisburg Road adjacent to the bridge over the Neuse River.

The hearing for this case has not yet been set. However, it could be as soon as December 7, 2021. The public will be able to sign up to speak at the hearing. Please check back for updates!

We have received a number of messages from people truly concerned about the impact that this rezoning and development could have on the Nature Preserve. I compiled a list of key questions about this proposal and have received feedback from the Raleigh Planning Department.

Background:

The current zoning of the parcels in question is R-4. The proposed rezoning is for RX-4-PL-CU. Approximately 10 acres is developable and approximately 30 acres are in the 100-year floodplain or floodway of the Neuse River.

R-4 stands for Residential – 4 units per acre which would have limited development to 40 homes. However, City Council recently changed the City’s development ordinance to allow more than 4 units per acre. As you will see below, R-4 can now allow approximately 171 dwelling units. Maximum height would be limited to 45 feet.

RX-4-PL-CU stands for Residential Mixed Use – 4 stories (not 4 units per acre). The PL stands for parking limited which allows parking next to the street. Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan specifies that the frontage should be Parkway and should provide significant trees and vegetation using a 50 foot wide protective yard. CU stands for conditional use.

The primary condition for this case is to limit the number of units to 375. Buildings can be as high as 68 feet. Mature trees on the site as well as at Horseshoe Farm Nature preserve are 30 to 35 feet tall.

Another condition says that the developer will build a ten foot wide multiuse path from Louisburg Rd to the Neuse River Greenway as long as the path is NOT required by the City of Raleigh or Federal Law to be ADA-accessible.

Instead of providing a 50 foot protective yard as required for Parkway frontage, the proposal calls for a 20 foot wide strip landscaped with 4 trees and 15 shrubs per 100 feet.

With this background, here are specific questions and answers from the Planning Staff:

What is the potential development intensity on the site?

Existing R-4 zoning does not require a street protective yard as a Parkway frontage would, but does require tree conservation.  It is staff’s judgement that the existing zoning’s tree conservation standards would result in a comparable level of vegetation as the parkway frontage.   Existing zoning would allow for approximately 171 dwelling units.

Under the proposed zoning (RX-4-PL-CU), total development would be limited by zoning conditions to 375 units.   Staff believes that more than 375 units could be placed on this property with the parkway frontage applied, absent the aforementioned zoning condition restricting the unit-count to 375 units.

What is the maximum height in the existing R-4 zoning?

The maximum height is 40 feet for the Detached and Attached building types. It is 45 feet for the Townhouse building type.

Provide a visualization of whether the building would be visible in Horseshoe Farm Park

The applicant has agreed to provide this information at the hearing. Mature trees on the site and in Horseshoe Farm park are 30 to 35 feet tall.

How could the request mitigate visibility from Horseshoe Farm Park?

By reducing maximum building height via zoning condition.  Sixty-eight feet is the maximum allowed in the proposed zoning (RX-4-PL-CU). 

Life of a Firefighter in Raleigh

It is 2021. Raleigh has 29 fires stations and 544 firefighters. So far this year Raleigh’s firefighters have:

responded to 16,026 rescue & emergency medical service incidents
responded to 682 fire incidents
responded to 1817 service calls
responded to 3073 false alarms and false calls
responded to 4203 good intent calls
responded to 6 severe weather and natural disasters
responded to 12 special incidents

A Raleigh firefighter typically works a schedule that repeats every nine days: one day on, one day off, one day on, one day off, one day on, four days off. For each “on” day the firefighter works for 24 hours and “sleeps” in the station. In a given month a firefighter works 9 to 11 “on” days. Including sleep time, this comes to somewhere between 216 and 264 hours a month. Compare that to a “regular” employee who works 40 hours a week or 160 hours a month.

Some will argue that during an “on” day a firefighter will “sleep” during that 24 hour period. I put “sleep” in quotes because often the nights are interrupted for calls (see above, 16,026 rescue and emergency medical service incidents in 8 months not to mention other types of incidents).

Each month a firefighter accrues a certain number of “days” vacation depending on length of service. For example, a firefighter with 10 years of service will accrue 1.5 “days” of vacation every month. The formula is the same for other City of Raleigh employees.

For regular employees an accrual of a day vacation is an accrual of 8 hours. If you want to take a Friday (or a Monday) off for a long weekend, you can do so by using one day vacation.

For a firefighter it is different. Their day of vacation amounts to 12 hours. To take an entire day off (remember, firefighters work 24 hour shifts), they must use two days of accrued vacation.

One of the things that I would like to do is to change how firefighters use their accrued vacation – allow them to take one 24 hour day off using one day of accrued vacation.

Let’s recognize that the life of a firefighter is very different from regular employees such as office workers. Firefighters are at their workplace 216 to 264 hours a month. Even though they can sleep at the station, that sleep is often interrupted and they are expected to respond in top form day or night. So far this year that has meant responding to more than 16,000 rescue and emergency medical incidents – in top form.

I think that using one day of accrued vacation for a 24 hour period is fair given the hours worked, the nature of the job, and how many of us literally depend our lives on them.