Asheville City Council candidate guide — Julie Mayfield

by David Forbes September 27, 2015

Name: Julie Mayfield

Profession: Co-Director, MountainTrue

In up to two words, describe your political affiliation: Pragmatic Democrat

In one brief sentence, describe yourself and why you’re running: I’m running because I love Asheville and my background as a public interest environmental attorney can help us through this transformative time of growth and change that will determine whether we are still a great city to live in 10 years from now.

General questions

These questions are about problems, challenges or topics facing city government and how you would try to deal with them if elected.

1) According to recent studies, Asheville has an extremely low amount of available housing and the city’s currently making national lists as an unaffordable place to live. What steps would you pursue to deal with this issue?

In addition to simply adding to the sheer volume of rental housing that is available in Asheville, there are proven strategies we can adopt: 1) gear policies, incentives, and the development process to significantly increase housing density for low and middle income residents downtown, within a one mile radius of downtown, and on transit corridors; 3) support the Housing Authority’s transition to increased density/mixed use developments; 2) increase funding to the Affordable Housing Trust fund and for related capital improvements; 3) build affordable housing on appropriately sited city-owned land; 4) acquire (land bank) key parcels; 5) continue partnering with nonprofit partners and look for new, private partners; 6) work with Buncombe County, especially in discussing inclusionary zoning; 7) expand the reach and frequency of our transit system; and 8) view affordable housing as inseparable from transportation.

Inclusionary zoning is a proven tool to address affordable housing, but doing it in Asheville has statewide implications and we need to be thoughtful about it. Also, if only Asheville adopts inclusionary zoning and not Buncombe County, then we may effectively push multi-family housing into the county, which creates other problems such as sprawl and increased transportation costs.

2) During the past year, we’ve seen an increasing numbers of concerns raised about de facto racial segregation in Asheville, an issue worsened by the impacts of redlining, racism, urban renewal and the state of public housing. If elected, what specifically would you do to help address this problem?

This is an important issue that needs a thoughtful strategy. There is no silver bullet and, in addition to your list, I would add that our transit system keeps many people of color from fully engaging in our community and finding a path to success. The City can support infrastructure improvements, such as expanding transit, building more sidewalks, and rebuilding our public housing developments so that poor communities of color have quality places to live and an easier time getting around. The City can also: encourage all of its employees, especially those who interact with the public, to go through Building Bridges; seek diversity in hiring and in recruiting citizen leaders for boards and commissions; hold public meetings in communities of color; support community efforts such as the Racial Justice Coalition and ABCRC; and launch a reconciliation initiative that would acknowledge African American history in Asheville, from pre-civil war to urban renewal, and create permanent reminders (markers, monuments, photographs) of those events.

3) From internal disputes and problems with morale to concerns about racial disparities, many are wondering about the state of the Asheville Police Department. What specific steps do you see as necessary to reform the APD and improve relations with the community?

There is a plan to address many concerns within the Police Department, and we should give newly-appointed Chief Hooper a fair opportunity to establish her leadership, build a strong team, and work the plan. If she determines the plan will not get us where we need to go, she should have the flexibility to change it but, at this point, we – the public and council – should support her, encourage her, and work with her to make the APD a stronger institution.

4) Wages in Asheville are well below the state average and federal data shows pay for many jobs here remains stagnant despite the tourism boom. If elected, what specific steps would you pursue to help boost local wages? 

We are hampered in large part simply because people want to be here and will come here even though wages are lower. Asheville is just a great place to live, and we certainly don’t want that to change. However, the City also should not just stand aside on this issue. The Economic Development Coalition just announced its new 5×5 plan that sets a goal of bringing 3000 jobs with an average wage of $50,000 to Asheville in the next five years. That is a goal worthy of the City’s support and investment. The City could also advertise its preference for and solicit bids from contractors who pay a living wage (since we cannot require it), and the City should support businesses that pay a living wage where possible, such as through purchasing. The City could also open a dialogue with the tourist/hospitality industry about wages, the challenges that industry faces in paying higher wages, and exploring options for those businesses get on a trajectory to do so.

5) The last city budget estimated the total cost of the city’s infrastructure needs at around $400 million. What steps would you encourage to address this problem, what funding sources would you use and what would the top priorities be?

We need to have a community conversation about how to pay for our infrastructure needs – from transit and sidewalks to greenways and parks. These investments make our city more affordable, healthier, and improve the quality of life for everyone. The City has limited options for raising new funds – property and sales taxes and fees – and we need to determine which of these makes the most sense and at what level we are willing to tolerate to improve Asheville. Our growth alone will provide more tax revenue, but to address these long-term and long-standing needs, I believe we need a dedicated source of revenue that will allow the City to plan and work methodically toward meeting these needs. It would be pre-mature for me to state what the City should do – that decision should come only after an extended community conversation about it. My priorities for infrastructure improvement would be our transportation system – sidewalks, transit, greenways, bike lanes, traffic calming, and repaving.

Yes/No questions 

These questions are about specific proposals Council has or may consider, and how you would vote on them. The first word of each answer must be Yes or No. An explanation of one’s position — or an alternative proposal — may follow.

1) A majority of Asheville City Council recently approved increased fines and enforcement to strengthen the ban on short-term rentals (i.e. Airbnb and similar sites) in most areas of the city. Do you support this move?

Yes. I agree these are appropriate steps to defend the very fabric of our neighborhoods from outside, predatory investors who want to make money off of Asheville but not invest in our community long-term. If we could have different rules for Airbnb owners who live in Asheville, that would be worth considering, but we are not allowed to make the distinction. It is important for those who currently own illegal Airbnb’s to understand and acknowledge that the choice is not between making lots of money and making no money. These homes can be converted to long term rentals and still provide their owners with income while also helping alleviate Asheville’s housing crisis.

2) City staff recently proposed a detailed plan to restrict busking in downtown in three major spots, with specific rules on the numbers of performers and the amount of space they can occupy. Do you support this proposal?

No, because the buskers expressed significant concern with the process used to draft the rules. Process is enormously important, and it makes sense for this process to involve the buskers more going forward. There can be legitimate disagreement on the outcome, but everyone must be at the table in the appropriate way for the discussion.

3) Do you support a $12.50 minimum wage for all city of Asheville employees, regardless of classification or status? Yes.

4) Will you approve city funds to support the proposal, backed by the city-county African-American Heritage Commission, for a monument on Pack Square marking the contributions and history of Asheville’s black citizens?

Yes. I would also expect there to be contributions from private donors, as is frequently the case with public monuments, memorials, and parks. And I hope the City would explore monuments, memorials, or historical markers in other locations to remind us of the vibrant African American communities that existed here prior to urban renewal.

5) This year’s city budget included a property tax increase, with a majority of the current Council, claiming this was necessary due to revenue changes at the state level. Do you support that increase?

Yes. I supported the property tax increase for two reasons:  I would not have wanted to cut services as a result of the legislature’s elimination of the business privilege license fee; and I agree that the City should set an example by paying a living wage. If elected, I do want to identify a way for Council to have a more meaningful review of the budget to identify opportunities for savings. This is a challenge in a $154 million budget, but that is our obligation.