Last week, the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association held the second of many planned candidate forums for the three nominations for Charlottesville City Council. The event began with opening statements beginning with Dashad Cooper who was unable to attend the May 10 event I co-hosted with Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum. (view that event)
“As a Council member, I believe it is crucial that we have an open and honest discussion about the vision of Charlottesville, and I’m here to share my vision,” Cooper said. “Together I believe we can work towards a solution that would benefit all members of society.”
Cooper is a social services assistant who said he sees many people struggling with mental health issues who are affected by increases in rent.
“I think mental health has been overlooked for far, far too long and the pandemic has put the mental health at the forefront and the people need help now,” Cooper said.
Former City Councilor Bob Fenwick used much of the same opening statement he made at the May 10 forum but leaned in with his skepticism of the city’s ability to provide solutions for one intractable problem.
“The notion that affordable housing can be addressed with yet another program without better management, including adequate funding for all of the peripherals that go with it is very much in the air,” Fenwick said.
Fenwick said the big issues he is hearing about are the zoning code rewrite, increased property assessments and public safety.
“And the biggest issue tonight is probably going to be the zoning rewrite as well it should be as it hasn’t been fully crafted and is virtually incomprehensible,” Fenwick said.
Challenger Natalie Oschrin also used much of the same opening statement as the May 10 event but I’ll quote different parts from a previous story. She said her primary job has skills that would apply to time on Council.
“I’ve worked in the hospitality industry for over ten years, mostly planning and organizing weddings,” Oschrin said. “As you might imagine there’s a lot of coordinating and managing in addition to cajoling and negotiating that needs to happen to pull the event off successfully and within budget.”
Oschrin said she supports efforts to build more places to live within the city.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people who have to commute from outlying communities for their job in the city [and] that means close to an hour in the car each way,” Oschrin said. “Our teachers, nurses, firefighters deserve to live in Charlottesville and not be pushed out by high housing costs.”
Councilor Michael Payne is seeking his second term and also had many of the same introductory comments.
“For those of you who don’t know me, I grew up in the area and after college moved back here and worked for Habitat for Humanity of Virginia in affordable housing as well as gotten involved in politics through community organizing with Indivisible Charlottesville and the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition and have been on Council since January 2020,” Payne said.
Payne said the past few years have been difficult for city government but Council has begun to make progress with the adoption of a climate action plan and an affordable housing plan that comes with $10 million a year in funding.
“We’ve started to stabilize city staff and build a strong staff team within the city as well as made historic investments in schools and are moving toward being able to create a regional transit authority to strengthen our bus system,” Payne said.
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook also addressed many of the same themes as the May 10 opening statement beginning with a general slogan for his campaign in 2019.
“My overall slogan was ‘Let’s Work Together’ and ‘Let’s Try to Make Charlottesville Work again,” Snook said.
Snook said he and Payne both voted to adopt that affordable housing plan in March 2021 and they worked together to identify the funds to invest in the renovation and expansion of Buford Middle School. He said he wants four more years to ensure that work is completed.
“Not only make sure that Buford gets finished but also start thinking about the next step in the school reconfiguration process,” Snook said. “That’s to look at Walker and the elementary schools.
In his opening statement, Snook pointed out that many of Fenwick’s critiques of the zoning code were inaccurate given that a final draft has not been presented to Council yet.
For more on that topic, take a look at my next column in C-Ville Weekly, out on newsstands Wednesday. Now I have to write it. (view the 20 articles I’ve written to date)
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