Policy Priorities (2016-2019)

Summary of policy priorities:

  1. Analyze the costs and benefits of growth by creating transparent tools that calculate available capacity and public investment in infrastructure
  2. Incrementally raise development fees for roads, electricity, water, and sewer to cover at least 50% of the cost of expanding infrastructure for growth
  3. Adopt a "smart growth" zoning code that is predictable and encourages dense, mixed-use, transit-oriented, and affordable development
  4. Create "Public Ombudsman" position to inform and empower neighborhood voices and fairly mediate development disputes
  5. Engage the community in a public safety planning process to set goals and develop a strategic plan for CPD, that are supported by voters
  6. Propose a property tax for law enforcement to fund the strategic plan, including community policing, consistent with public input
  7. Create an "Office of Equity" to implement the City's strategic plan for social equity through a focus on underserved neighborhood, community policing, diversity in hiring, etc.
  8. Host a social entrepreneurship recognition event and encourage REDI to emphasize support for social businesses
  9. Create a Community Land Trust to provide permanently affordable homes, as recommended at the Affordable Housing Symposium
  10. Offer incentives for affordable and mixed-income housing construction, such as expedited permitting and development fee discounts
  11. Expand City funding for public transit operations and engage Missouri Students Association and MU Administration to participate in the costs and benefits
  12. Adopt a Vision Zero Policy to protect pedestrians and bicyclists, and improve traffic safety for all modes of transportation
  13. Maintain ambitious renewable energy goals and achieve them by investing economic development resources in clean energy production
  14. Adopt a resolution supporting carbon pricing and lobby Missouri's congressional delegation on the importance of a progressive national energy policy

During the spring of 2016, based on hundreds of conversations with constituents, I developed fourteen policy priorities for the next three years. Please read the vision statement and list of current problems in each of seven key areas of City government that led to these proirities.

In order to evaluate/confirm public support for these proposals and identify which were the most popular, I conducted a Policy Priority Survey in June, 2016, and received responses from 104 constituents. Here are the results.

Infrastructure

Vision Statement: The financial burden of building and operating the City's public infrastructure systems will be equitably allocated such that the systems are maintained in good condition and expanded as required by growth.

Problems to be Solved:
  • City spends ~$15 million/year to expand infrastructure systems for growth
  • Development impact fees only cover about 20% of this cost and remainder is funded from general rates and taxes
  • There is inadequate funding for repairs and maintenance, so existing systems are in poor and deteriorating condition
  • Residents feel City staff approve developments when inadequate infrastructure capacity exists
Policy Priorities:
  1. Analyze the costs and benefits of growth by creating transparent tools that calculate available capacity and public investment in infrastructure
  2. Incrementally raise development fees for roads, electricity, water, and sewer to cover at least 50% of the cost of expanding infrastructure for growth

Growth and Development

Vision Statement: Columbia will grow in a manner consistent with community values, as defined in the Comprehensive Plan, and disputes over development proposals will be resolved through fair and transparent processes.

Problems to be Solved:
  • Columbia has an extremely low population density (2,000/sqmi)
  • Low-density sprawl leads to unsustainable public infrastructure costs and is unattractive to the millennial generation
  • Some developers have "ridden roughshod" over neighborhood objections, and have been rewarded by P&Z Commission and City Council votes
  • Residents are disempowered in the development approval process, and do not trust City Hall
Policy Priorities:
  1. Adopt a "smart growth" zoning code that is predictable and encourages dense, mixed-use, transit-oriented, and affordable development
  2. Create "Public Ombudsman" position to inform and empower neighborhood voices and fairly mediate development disputes

Public Safety

Vision Statement: Columbia Police Department (CPD) will have adequate budget and staffing level to implement a comprehensive community policing strategy and work in partnership with residents to prevent crime.

Problems to be Solved:
  • CPD is understaffed/overworked and officer morale is low
  • Residents want CPD to implement a community policing philosophy, but feel the City does not listen to them
  • Community policing requires higher levels of staffing and training, but yields multiple societal benefits including enhanced crime prevention
  • Voters have low confidence in leadership and rejected tax increase in 2014
Policy Priorities:
  1. Engage the community in a public safety planning process to set goals and develop a strategic plan for CPD, that are supported by voters
  2. Propose a property tax for law enforcement to fund the strategic plan, including community policing, consistent with public input

Social Equity

Vision Statement: All Columbia residents, including historically-marginalized groups, will have expanded access to good jobs, safe neighborhoods, and the opportunity to contribute to the success of the community.

Problems to be Solved:
  • Unemployment in Columbia is 4% for Whites but 15% for Blacks
  • More than 50% of Columbia schoolchildren qualify for free or reduced lunch
  • Inequitable federal, state, and local policies make it almost impossible for racial minorities and poor Whites to escape from poverty
  • Social entrepreneurs, working to correct these problems are not supported
Policy Priorities:
  1. Create an "Office of Equity" to implement the City's strategic plan for social equity through a focus on underserved neighborhoods, community policing, diversity in hiring, etc.
  2. Host a social entrepreneurship recognition event and encourage REDI to emphasize support for social businesses

Housing

Vision Statement: Low-income Columbia families will be able to afford to rent or own houses in safe neighborhoods without risking eviction, and children will have stable homes, so they can thrive in school.

Problems to be Solved:
  • Columbia has a severe shortage of affordable housing
  • More than 15,000 Columbia households (57% of renters and 23% of owner-occupiers) are "cost-burdened" - meaning more than 30% of their income is consumed by rent, mortgage, and utilities
  • Hundreds of Columbia school-children are homeless, resulting in lower educational achievement and decreased opportunity for future economic success
Policy Priorities:
  1. Create a Community Land Trust to provide permanently affordable homes, as recommended at the Affordable Housing Symposium
  2. Offer incentives for affordable and mixed-income housing construction, such as expedited permitting and development fee discounts

Transportation

Vision Statement: Levels of service (LOS) for walking, biking, and taking the bus in Columbia will be increased so that residents have a genuine choice between several viable modes of transportation for journeys within the city.

Problems to be Solved:
  • Fewer than 10% of trips in Columbia are taken by walking, biking or transit
  • COMO Connect's level of service (LOS) is so poor that no-one uses the bus unless they have absolutely no other options
  • Most University of Missouri (MU) students commute by car or use parking shuttle, unlike college towns with a student activity fee for transit
  • In a recent period of just 6 months, 4 pedestrians were killed and 6 others were seriously injured
  • Many low-wage workers in Columbia use taxicabs for commuting to and from work
Policy Priorities:
  1. Expand City funding for public transit operations and engage Missouri Students Association and MU Administration to participate in the costs and benefits
  2. Adopt a Vision Zero Policy to protect pedestrians and bicyclists, and improve traffic safety for all modes of transportation

Energy and Environment

Vision Statement: Columbia will be a national leader in reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to a clean energy economy - creating sustainable local jobs and improving the public health in the process.

Problems to be Solved:
  • Climate change, caused by the combustion of carbon fuels, represents a serious threat to human existence
  • Cities and towns like Columbia will be on the front lines in the fight to mitigate the catastrophic human impacts of climate change
  • Columbia Water and Light, and other public and private energy utilities are responding too slowly to scientific realities because of an outdated culture and the power of special interests
  • Proposed national economic policies that put a price on carbon emissions are very promising but need local support
Policy Priorities:
  1. Maintain ambitious renewable energy goals and achieve them by investing economic development resources in clean energy production
  2. Adopt a resolution supporting carbon pricing and lobby Missouri's congressional delegation on the importance of a progressive national energy policy
Ian leading a meeting
- Photo by Benita Brown

Campaign Platform (Spring, 2016)

I have identified public safety, infrastructure, local economy, and social equity as the most pressing policy issues facing the City of Columbia today. These priority areas also provide the framework of the 2016-2019 City of Columbia Strategic Plan, which is fitting, since I took a leadership role in developing that plan. In the following sections, I will describe my position on each issue - positions that I have developed based on my own instincts, research in best practices, constituent and community dialogue, and my first-term experience on City Council.

  • Public safety: Public safety is the primary role of local government. I support increased funding and increased staffing levels for our Police and Fire Departments to bring Columbia into line with similar cities. I also believe it is essential to move quickly towards a "community policing" model, like the one I observed in Gainesville, FL, during a recent Chamber of Commerce trip. This philosophy starts with pro-active outreach into the community to build trust between law-abiding residents and enforcement officers, and emphasizes alternatives to arrest and prison for minor offenses. In this model of law enforcement, significant effort is placed on crime deterrence in addition to crime response.
  • Infrastructure systems: Columbia's infrastructure systems are in poor condition. Much of our storm water, sanitary sewer, and transportation infrastructure is aged, poorly maintained and rapidly deteriorating. Constituents in the Fourth Ward and elsewhere endure flooding, sewer overflows, and crumbling roads in part because revenues from current rate-payers and taxpayers are often directed to building infrastructure for new development at the expense of fixing existing problems. I will campaign to ensure a more equitable balance between these competing needs. I will also work with the University of Missouri to improve our public transportation system, so that college students have a reliable alternative to private cars. Having fewer student drivers on our roads will allow us to use our limited transportation dollars more efficiently.
  • Local economy: The local economy determines our collective quality of life - everyone needs a reliable income and secure housing. Unfortunately, these basic essentials are not available for a significant proportion of Columbia residents. Unemployment among African Americans stands at 16% (versus 4% for Whites), about half of all Columbia schoolchildren are living in poverty as measured by eligibility for free or reduced lunches, and we have a desperate shortage of affordable housing. To improve economic opportunities for all, we need to provide suitable training, create more entry-level jobs, and invest in local entrepreneurial initiatives — especially those that keep our dollars in Columbia, such as those involving renewable energy and the local food system. This is a critical moment - while Columbia is growing rapidly, outwardly affluent, and with an engaged citizenry, many of our constituents are disengaged - for them, the day-to-day economic struggles consume their time and effort. As a Council, we must be responsible and responsive to all citizens.
  • Social equity: Social equity means we must create the conditions under which every Columbia resident has the opportunity to succeed. The issue surrounds the other three. In public safety, it's important for law enforcement officers to understand how the poverty trap leads to criminal activity, and to use evidence-based community policing strategies that prevent crime. Public funding for building and maintaining our infrastructure systems should be allocated more equitably, so that low-income neighborhoods are not neglected and low-income people receive the services they need. And, in the area of creating an equitable local economy, the City of Columbia must lead by example, by developing and implementing hiring policies that provide more opportunities for minority and low-income youth.

First-term accomplishments (2013-2016)

  • Responsive to Residents: Since joining the City Council in 2013, I have worked hard to respond effectively to every communication I receive from Fourth Ward residents and others. In addition to sending an initial acknowledgement to every enquiry within a few days, I have a system through which I forward more technical questions and requests I cannot answer (10-20 every month) to City staff. I then follow up with constituents, as indicated, depending on staff’s detailed responses and action on constituents' concerns.
  • Homelessness and Affordable Housing: There are about 100 chronically homeless people in Columbia, and one-third of households are "cost-burdenend," meaning rent or mortgage payments consume more than 30% of their income, putting them in an extremely insecure financial situation. With Columbia's annual growth rate of 2.5%, hundreds of new homes are being built every year - however, almost none of this additional housing stock is affordable for the 12,000 cost-burdened rental households or the 3,500 cost-burdened home owners. I have taken a leadership role in this area, by initiating a process that led to Columbia's first Affordable Housing Symposium, pushing for Council's discretionary funds to be used to support the Room at the Inn (RATI) emergency winter shelter, and also volunteering there along with members of my family.
  • Reducing Public Subsidies for New Development: In 2014, I conducted a research study and released a report showing that new development receives between $10 million and $15 million per year in public subsidies for water, sewer, electric, stormwater, and road infrastructure. These funds, collected from current ratepayers and taxpayers, are used to build capital projects that expand the capacity of our public infrastructure systems directly because of population growth. Since completing this study, I have led the effort to roll back these subsidies so that new development pays a fairer share of the costs, including successfully passing a policy that will increase sewer connection charges so that they will eventually cover 75% of the cost of new sewer capacity. I fought a losing battle last November over Proposition 2, however, which would have increased the roads development charge, which currently covers about 10% of the cost of road expansion, to approximately 20%. I am now working with City staff to develop an Electric Utility Line Extension Policy, which would function like an electric connection charge (which we currently do not have).
  • Adopting and Implementing Community Plans: I believe strongly that high-quality local government requires on an authentic process of community engagement, coupled with development, adoption, and measured progress of action-oriented plans, based on transparent interpretation of community input. I believe the three-year process that led to the City Council's 2013 adoption of our Comprehensive Plan, Columbia Imagined, was a model of good planning and I have been a champion of its nineteen policy recommendations (which include increasing affordable housing and requiring new development to pay a fair share of infrastructure costs). Other recommendations I have worked to implement include neighborhood planning, mixed-use and form-based zoning, growth management, open space preservation, expanded public transportation, and local economic development initiatives. I also led Council efforts to develop and adopt the City's 2016-2019 Strategic Plan, with its focus on "social equity" - in fact, this plan provides the framework for my current policy platform.
  • Leadership on Race and Equity: Over the last few years, I have become aware of the enormity of the economic disparities in Columbia, the hopelessness of those in poverty, and the fact that much of the inequity stems from unjust racist policies and structures, some of which persist today. Therefore, I was not especially surprised when MU students started protesting against racism on campus, but it did give me the impetus to start a discussion of the difficult issues of racial and economic equity, and ask how the City should respond. In my view, race and equity may be the most difficult policy issues of our time, but they cannot be ignored. Columbia's 2016-2019 Strategic Plan gives us a great foundation for this important work.

Philosophy of public service

  • Community: As an experienced community builder and facilitator, I believe strong neighborhood associations are critical to ensuring that citizens and their elected representatives have an open and effective communication channel. I support an expansion of community policing, including walking and bicycling beats, to maximize citizen-police interaction and prevent and address neighborhood crime. And traffic solutions must be acceptable to the neighborhoods they will impact.
  • Innovation: Through my work as a health and transportation advocate, I am familiar with dozens of progressive communities around the country that have developed innovative solutions to common community challenges. Form-based zoning, health impact assessments, transit-oriented development, and multi-jurisdictional planning are some of the strategies that have been successful in resolving conflict, promoting local economic development, and creating healthy and sustainable communities.
  • Balance: The key to successful government is to balance the concerns of constituents. As your City Councilperson, I will ensure that students' needs are balanced with those of community members; that developer priorities are balanced with neighborhood concerns; that economic development is balanced with health and sustainability. When an organization is in balance, it is best able to serve the needs of its members and respond effectively to external forces.