Questions to be asked at SENU At-Large Candidate Forum 7/9/2015
1. If elected, how will you partner with district council members to assure that all residents throughout the city are given a chance to be heard on issues affecting their respective area?
A:My door, phone, and email will always be open, and I will keep an eye on what’s happening around town and be proactive when I think it’s appropriate.
2. The citizens of Southeast Nashville have worked closely with our elected Metro council members and state representatives to revitalize our community by successfully lobbying for the Nashville State Community College South Annex, the new state-of-the art Southeast Library and Community Center and the Ford Ice Center and many other amenities. We have not yet resolved all our needs for retail development, businesses offering good paying jobs and affordable housing. What specifically will you do to help our Southeast District council members in meeting these needs?
A:My platform is based in meeting those needs not just in SE Nashville but all over Davidson County, by developing locally owned retail and other businesses that feature employee/customer control, financing affordable housing and creating neighborhoods that are owned and controlled by their residents through community land trusts, and doing all of this in walkable neighborhoods so that citizens can work, shop, and send their kids to school without needing an automobile to do it.
3. After Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston , what will you do to begin/ improve the dialogue that must occur among the many diverse racial, religious and ethnic groups that call Nashville home?
A:We are fortunate here in Nashville to have an intelligent and sensitive police chief who, as far as I can tell, has set a good tone for the police force as a whole. To improve this situation even further, I am proposing that we assign officers to patrol the neighborhood where they live, and make them answerable to a new-old body, the local neighborhood association. This is only one of the functions of the neighborhood associations I would like to see established in Nashville, which would take on not only this function but zoning and codes issues, possibly schools, and various kinds of community organizing.
4. The Metro schools budget comprises roughly 40% of the entire Metro Nashville budget. What actions do you believe you can take that will assure the best working relationship among the Metro Council, elected School Board members, the Director of Schools and the Mayor?
A:That has been a contentious tank of fish, and it might be difficult for a newcomer like me to make much of an impression, but I would remind them that we’re not in this for ourselves, we’re in it for the good of the city. I would work to help different parties understand each others’ viewpoints and counsel that often, there is more to be gained in listening than in talking.
5. The Metropolitan Board of Planning and Zoning and the Board of Zoning Appeals have a huge impact on every neighborhood and on the preservation of historical buildings and sites. The current members of both these Boards include a majority of members who are developers or have strong ties to developers and who typically live on the west side of the City. (a.) What will you do to educate citizens in Southeast Nashville about the importance of these boards? (b.) Will you pledge to nominate to the Mayor for appointment to both these boards, citizens from Southeast Nashville who are NOT developers or have strong ties to developers?
A:The developer-friendly nature of the planning commission/zoning board has long been a concern of mine. My long-term proposal, as I mentioned above, is to give zoning issues back to the neighborhoods, in the context of widespread establishment of community land trusts, which will enable neighbors to literally own their neighborhood as well as their own homes. In other communities, this has proved to be an excellent bulwark against redevelopment and gentrification. In the short term, yes, I would certainly nominate non-developers to these bodies, and I would ask for the resignation of many of the current members of those bodies.
6. Nashville has become a favorite tourist destination for people from many states and foreign countries; however, in some neighborhoods, it is not a great place to live and work. What suggestions do you have for enabling citizens to improve our living and working conditions so that Nashville is not just a great place to visit, but also a great place to live?
A:As I mentioned above, I would like to completely shift the city’s focus, away from big projects downtown, and into making all our neighborhoods livable, walkable, and enjoyable. I’ve written a lot more on this on my website and Facebook pages. Website is holsingerformetrocouncil.wordpress.com, and Facebook is “Holsinger for Metro Council.”
7. Much is being said about affordable housing and gentrification of areas around Nashville. What is your definition of affordable housing and what do you think an at-large council member can do to help provide affordable housing for middle income citizens who are being forced to move to surrounding counties because of the high cost of housing in Nashville?
A:Affordable housing is housing that doesn’t cost more than 30% of a family’s income. The first thing I would do is push for a 0.1% tax on all real estate transactions, which would add $8M a year to the Barnes Fund for affordable housing. That would just be the beginning. The city has spent about a billion dollars on big ticket infrastructure projects that mostly benefit the wealthiest people in Nashville, who are the only ones who can afford the big ticket prices to get into venues like The Schermerhorn and LP Field, or whatever we’re supposed to call it now. The $3M that Mayor Dean had the gall to proudly announce as the city’s contribution to The Barnes Fund is 0.3 % of that. Am I the only person who thinks this is a scandal?
Beyond that, I would look into using the city’s power of eminent domain to take properties away from large-scale landlords and create neighborhood urban land trusts, a setup in which people own their own individual homes, while the land trust, which they are all members of, owns the land under the house. This has been shown, in numerous other cities, to work well at keeping housing costs affordable and at creating friendly, interconnected neighborhoods. People who own, or are buying, their own homes are in a much better position than people who are on the rent treadmill, and I think it is definitely in the city’s interest to use eminent domain to achieve this goal.
8. Recent criticism of the Mayor’s office has centered around the assertion that the Metro Council members have too often rubber-stamped the Mayor’s proposals without fully vetting the real impact on neighborhoods. What will you do to change that?
A:I will bring my strong populist sensibilities to Council meetings and express them as politely as is possible and as forcefully as is necessary.
9. What attribute do you possess that you believe better qualifies you, over the other candidates, to serve the citizens of Nashville?
A: I have rarely earned much more than minimum wage. My current income level is well within the “poverty” range. I raised a family that way, and my kids have turned out pretty well. I think my viewpoint is worthy of representation in Nashville politics—and state and national politics, too, for that matter.
10. What elements of Nashville’s infrastructure do you think need the most attention and why?
A:I think we need to turn Nashville from a centralized big city into a network of interdependent, walkable neighborhoods.
11. Sidewalks and bike lanes contribute to the livability of a neighborhood. With increasing demands on the Metro budget to meet the city’s indebtedness, as well as meet the other non-negotiable demands on the budget, how do you propose we find the capital to fund more sidewalks and bike lanes?
A:An add-on gasoline tax might be a good place to start, or perhaps a motor vehicle sales tax, which would be a more equitable way to distribute the burden, since people with more money tend to spend more on cars, while the amount of gasoline a person buys is not necessarily a reflection of their income level.
12. Transportation / traffic congestion is a huge issue in all of Nashville, but especially in the Southeast corridor on I-24 and other streets and roads. What do you propose to help solve the crisis that threatens our citizens’ ability to travel around the city?
A:As I’ve said earlier in these questions, my overall idea is to turn Nashville into a network of walkable neighborhoods in which it will be possible to walk to where you shop, walk to where you work, and for your children to safely walk to school. In other words, I think the best way to ease the traffic situation in Nashville is to lower the number of people who need to drive anywhere, and provide frequent, fast, affordable public transportation to the greatest extent possible.
What is behind a lot of my vision is the notion that increasing resource scarcity(lessened availability of not just petroleum products but other commodities considered essential to our way of life) and climate change are about to alter our culture in way that we can scarcely imagine. The overall result, it seems to me, is that we will need to find ways to meet our needs more locally, and more simply, than importing lots of things from across the ocean and buying them at the big box store. We need to start making the shift now, while times are still relatively good. If we wait too long, it will be too late, and we risk slipping into chaos. I’m an old man and I would like to die on a peaceful planet, so I’m doing what I can now to, hopefully, insure that outcome.