2017 Council primary guide — Vijay Kapoor

by David Forbes October 1, 2017

Name: Vijay Kapoor

Profession: Municipal Budget and Compensation Consultant

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

In one brief sentence, describe yourself and why you’re running: I’m the child of immigrant parents from India and Poland, have worked in and around local government all my professional career, work nationally on public sector budget and compensation issues, and I’m running to ensure that all Asheville residents go to sleep each night feeling safe, fed, healthy and valued.

General questions

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

1. Of the current top city officials that answer directly to City Council — City Attorney, City Manager and City Clerk — which ones would you favor retaining or firing? Why?

Having not had the chance to meet with any of these officials regarding job duties or performance, I cannot comment. More generally, as someone who deals with employment matters in the public sector, it’s very important to have annual performance reviews of all City employees at all levels.

2. The powers granted to the planning and zoning commission are a key point of debate in how Asheville should deal with growth and how much of a direct role elected officials should play. Do you think those powers should change, If so, how?

Land use directly impacts the lives of all residents. On any City Council agenda, there is likely some land use issue requiring Council’s approval. Residents expect that their elected officials will be accountable to them for land use decisions affecting them and their neighborhoods. At the same time, having appeared before planning and zoning and City Council on behalf of residents fighting certain developments, I appreciated the land use expertise of planning and zoning members – even when I didn’t agree with their ultimate decision. I have found planning and zoning members to take their role seriously, to look at the evidence before them, and to make their decisions within the powers/constraints that they are given.

That said, I like the idea of having a commission with expertise recommend matters from their technical perspectives, but then to have Council make the ultimate decision. Whereas planning and zoning looks at things from a technical perspective, Council looks at things from a more wholistic and policy perspective. It’s important to have both. Despite what some may suggest, land use policy is not simply an equation where you enter some variables and the answer pops out. It impacts the lives of residents, neighborhoods, and the City itself. At the same time, the technical aspects are also very important.

Finally, I reject the argument that by giving Council back some of the powers that it delegated, we’re making the process “political” and therefore suspect. Having worked in the public sector, I’ve noticed that it’s often those who disagree with a decision who refer to it as “political” as compared to “objective.” Whether it’s the decision itself or the rules that guide the decision – those were all put into place by political bodies and therefore by definition the whole process is “political.”

3. Some Pisgah Legal Services attorneys recently criticized city staff’s enforcement of tenant protections, asserting that they don’t sufficiently enforce the written ordinance and place additional burdens on tenants dealing with bad landlords. How would you change or reinforce the city’s tenant protections and their enforcement?

At the outset, we need to understand that tenants currently have little leverage over their landlords. Given demand, especially in certain neighborhoods, a landlord can quickly replace a tenant which makes it less likely that a tenant may make a complaint. At the same time, we have a minimum housing code that residents and tenants expect the City to enforce. My view is that we need to have a specific phone number for tenant code complaints and to directly assign individuals to investigate these complaints (if that is not happening already). I do not believe that tenants should be expected to give written notice to their landlord before the City takes any action – if that is the practice, it should be stopped. Pisgah Legal has noted that Buncombe County appears to have a better practice where a tenant need only contact the fire marshal’s office and that office will determine whether the matter is a code issue and, if so, will investigate. A similar process would seem to me to make sense for Asheville. Perhaps this might be an opportunity for the City and the County to collaborate.

4. In response to a community push that cited the de facto segregation shown in reports like the State of Black Asheville, the Buncombe County Commissioners recently supported taking funds intended for a jail expansion and instead putting them towards community support and rehabilitation. Do you favor a similar shifting of Asheville’s law enforcement funds? If so, to what extent and to what kind of programs?

No, not at this point. We appear to have a significant turnover problem among police officers and we need to better understand the extent to which compensation plays a role. Otherwise, we are simply spending money to train police officers who will leave after getting experience.

5. What course of action do you favor in dealing with Asheville’s Confederate regime and segregation-era monuments?

State law prevents local governments from removing or relocating certain monuments on their own. I strongly believe that local governments should have the right to determine which monuments exist within their borders and that this law should be repealed. There are three monuments in Downtown Asheville with ties to the Confederacy – a small obelisk by the Buncombe County courthouse in commemoration of Buncombe County Confederate soldiers, a stone with plaques commemorating Robert E. Lee in Pack Square, and the Vance memorial. Personally, I would like to see: 1) the small obelisk by the courthouse relocated to a museum or Civil War battlefield, 2) the stone with plaques commemorating Robert E. Lee removed, and 3) the Vance monument rededicated.

Yes/No questions

These questions are about specific proposals Asheville City 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. Answers in this section that do not begin with “Yes” or “No” will not be published.

6. Earlier this year, the local NAACP — backed by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice — called for several reforms in an attempt to address racial disparities in the APD’s traffic stops. Those reforms included: ending regulatory stops for minor issues like expired registration or a busted headlight, written consent for a driver agreeing to allow a vehicle search and a transparent investigation into why full stop numbers may not have been reported to the SBI. Do you favor the full and immediate adoption of these reforms?

No, not all of them yet. Before taking any actions on the regulatory stops or written consent, I would want to speak with the police chief to better understand her perspective. I’m not ruling out adopting those reforms, but it’s very important to me to understand the impact it might have from a police operations perspective. As to why full stop numbers may not have been reported to the SBI, I would like to get to the bottom of that question. I heavily rely on data when making decisions and I want to make sure that it is reliable.

7. Do you favor extending the ban on whole home/apartment Airbnb-style rentals to areas where the practice is currently allowed, such as downtown and the River Arts District?

Yes, because I support short-term rentals only as homestays – meaning that the host needs to be on the premises of the rentals regardless of where the rental is in the City. I think having a host on the premises will significantly cut down on any noise issues and will also provide a direct point of contact to address any problem. Furthermore, with regard to whole home/apartment rentals I am concerned about the “hollowing out” of communities. By permitting short-term rentals as homestays, we allow people a limited way to use their property to participate in the tourist economy. I’m not persuaded by the argument that downtown or the River Arts District is “commercial” and therefore should have different rules as to whole home/apartment short-term rentals.

My view generally on short-term rentals is that I would like to see enhanced enforcement of the current rules in order to reduce the number of STRs operating illegally and I am willing to consider a pilot program for ADUs (again, as homestays) limited in time (18 months) and number (125) to gather data and evaluate their impact. In coming to my position, I worked with a UNC student over the summer to learn more about the issue by talking to residents and some who served on the ADU Task Force, reading reports, and conducting our own analysis and research. We spent considerable time researching how other cities including New Orleans addressed these issues. For my in-depth position, please go to the “Issues” section on my website www.kapoorforcouncil.org.

8. Do you favor the city establishing a rental crisis fund that would give direct monetary assistance to those in danger of being pushed out by rapidly rising rents, with priority given to those in the most marginalized and rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods?

No, not yet. At the moment, I have too many questions about the mechanics of how this might work – would it just be temporary assistance to get through an emergency (i.e., medical emergency, short-term job loss, etc.) or would this be a more long-term subsidy? I don’t want to foreclose support of such a fund completely, but I’m not a place now where I could say that I could support it.

9. Lambda Legal and other civil rights groups have dubbed HB142 a “fake repeal” of the HB2 legislation that discriminates against LGBT (especially trans) people and sued to overturn it. Should the city of Asheville formally condemn HB142, pass a non-discrimination ordinance in defiance of it and prepare to defend that ordinance in court?

Yes, but not immediately. Given that the ACLU and Lambda Legal have already amended their complaint in federal court to challenge HB142, I would like to first explore other options that the City might have currently to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people. I would support passing a non- discrimination ordinance that would become effective in 2020 (when the HB142 prohibition provision expires) or when a court invalidates it, whichever comes first. Given that the ACLU and Lambda Legal are in the process of challenging the validity of HB142 in federal court, the legal challenge has already begun. Though I realize that this may not go far enough for some, the fact is that HB142 is currently the law and this state legislature (as a whole) is not going to take any steps to protect LGBT people. I’m also proud to note that Equality NC has endorsed my candidacy.)

10. Should the city of Asheville declare itself a sanctuary city, as some social justice and immigrants rights’ advocates have called for?

No. Declaring Asheville a sanctuary city will put a target on the backs of the very people who supporters are trying to protect. I believe that the current approach that the City is taking is the right one. My concern is that if Asheville declares itself a sanctuary city, we risk placing residents in harm’s way by those who will want to make Asheville an example.