Name as it appears on the ballot: AJ Williams
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.ajfordurham.com
Occupation & employer: Ideation Labs Director, Southern Vision Alliance
Years lived in Durham: Lifelong resident
1) Given the direction of Durham government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
Durham City Council must be nimble and creative to adapt to the significant changes our city is facing. I appreciate the values direction reflected in this year’s 2021-22 Durham City budget passed by Durham City Council, with the expert leadership of new City Manager Wanda Page’s team. I applaud this year’s investment of our public dollars in social and environmental improvement including:
● Continuation of the Durham Expunction And Restoration (DEAR) program, removing significant barriers to housing, jobs, and mobility by offering legal assistance through a racial justice framework
● Creation of several hundred new affordable home-owner opportunities; improvement of existing affordable housing, and improved services for residents living without homes
● Establishing green, equitable infrastructure like sidewalks, trails, and greenways to connect us with neighbors, and proactively support our mental and physical health by being outdoors
● Continuation of fare-free public bus rides to help Durham residents get to work and around town, and to encourage more sustainable transportation
● Availability of legal assistance for residents seeking an immigration attorney
● A $500,000 contribution to the Long-time Homeowners Grant Program in collaboration with Durham County
● Retroactive premium pay for frontline workers and bonuses for City workers making lower salaries
● Prioritizing equitable engagement to seek input from community partners on planning through Neighborhood Improvement Services Facing the extraordinary loss and hardship brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, City Councilmembers have moved swiftly to make decisions with all residents in mind, particularly those who have been disproportionately affected. In 2019 our City Council committed $1M towards the creation of the innovative Department of Community Safety, an outcome of an organizing effort I helped co-lead with Durham Beyond Policing. Last year, the Racial Equity Task Force, assessed the state of Durham’s Black community following the uprisings in our nation, and in our FY21-22 adopted budget, the City committed $6 million dollars towards reparations and green and equitable infrastructure in Black communities. City Council re-implemented the indoor mask mandate as the Delta variant has swept through our nation. In August 2021, elected officials publicly pledged to welcome Afghan refugees to Durham following the recent crisis in Afghanistan. As a City Councilmember, I want to continue and deepen the best work of our current Council, and keep an open, agile posture towards developing fresh solutions, particularly with regards to addressing violence and harm, creating equitable opportunity and growth, and winning housing justice.
2) Please identify the three most pressing issues you believe the city faces and how you believe the city should address them.
As a City Councilmember, my first priority will be to support the hiring of qualified unarmed, skilled crisis responders, and administrative personnel to staff the Department of Community Safety and work with the Community Safety & Wellness Task Force to develop hiring criteria for new staff. I’d also like to introduce a proposal for a city-funded initiative and training program to hire Durham residents from impacted neighborhoods to be Care Responders in the Department of Community Safety. This will strengthen community engagement and build restorative responses to harm between residents including developing holistic, skilled, care-based options that do not rely on law enforcement officers for resident emergencies to handle mental health situations and quality of life calls.
Our City needs a more thoughtful approach to being in conversation and relationship with communities impacted by cycles of violence, interpersonal harm, and criminalized behavior. People are hurting, and young people are dying. We need more intentional interventions that are not purely reactionary, but taking action focused on the lived experiences of those who live everyday in the crossfire.
We need stronger youth programming that prioritizes the short-term and long-term leadership development of Durham’s youth. I’ll be working on longer term investments in pilots for violence interruption and addressing interpersonal conflict through restorative justice models. We need to seek out leaders from impacted communities who have the respect, history, voice, and presence to influence change in a real way. City electeds often have the power to convene people around issues. As a City Councilmember, I am prepared to be in conversations, and in active listening so that we can make the interventions, and interrupt the cycles of violence before they happen.
Equitable Economic Opportunity and Growth
We cannot have a real conversation about addressing gun violence, and other criminalized behavior like theft or robbery, without also discussing their root causes, including children not having options to expand their horizons and perspective because they cannot explore beyond the 300 foot radius of their block. Criminalized behavior is correlated to poverty. I will work to reduce the wage gap, increase city-funded vocational and trade certifications to lower income residents, and offer supportive services to ensure success and completion of those programs.
Durham voters strongly supported the $95 million Affordable Housing Bond, the largest housing bond in North Carolina history, and created a fund to preserve and develop affordable housing units, in combination with $65 million of local and federal funds to address homelessness and evictions. Many Durham Housing Authority properties are being renovated to be made more livable and up to code. I would work hard to ensure that residents are provided rent stabilization, with long-term protections for tenants and more notice before evictions on RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) conversion units and units subsidized by the city, with lower thresholds on AMI for lower to mid income residents. I’d ensure that there are open lines of communication between DHA and tenants, so that no one is falling through the cracks, and that residents are given first right of return as a guarantee after renovations are complete.
I want to work with our state delegates to get state preemptive laws such as the ban on inclusionary zoning and rent control overturned so that more affordable housing units are available for lower to medium income residents who are being priced out by rising rents.
I believe we must implement a city-wide eviction moratorium pursuant to the City’s emergency powers, as we are still in a pandemic and our lowest wealth communities are in a serious state of emergency. Poor and working class people should not be penalized for failed public health crisis management from the top. I want to introduce a proposal to create a Developer Accountability & Oversight Committee led by neighborhood association leaders, housing organizers and activists to create standards by which developers are held accountable when investing in our city. I will push for community land trusts and protections for historically Black neighborhoods and districts. I will advocate for small area planning, recognizing that Durham residents are the best equipped to envision, honor, and improve their neighborhoods, in dialogue with their neighbors.
3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the city council and as an advocate for the issues that you believe are important?
For the past 4 years, I’ve been diving into municipal budgets through my work with Durham Beyond Policing to understand the ways that specific line items affect people’s lives. My biggest policy priority as City Councilmember is addressing the cycle of violence that plagues our neighborhoods, disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx residents and poor and working-class residents. As City Councilmember, I would answer the urgent call from Black-led racial justice movements to reallocate resources away from unjust policing and incarceration to create lasting investment in true public safety. We need unprecedented cooperation within and across municipal leadership bodies to really prioritize an end to the gun violence that is tearing apart our communities, and forcing our children to live in fear. We need long-term solutions, we need interventions to be simultaneous with community infrastructure investment, and we need directly-impacted community members to be heard and honored.
I believe that our political moment calls for courageous presence from people who have never been called to political office but have been called to serve the people. The ways we define who has valuable leadership experience and who doesn’t should be examined.
In terms of civic engagement, I have served for the last three years as an appointed member on The City of Durham’s Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee, working with budget delegates across gender, age, class, race and ability; as well as working directly with City staff from the Transportation Department and Budget and Management Services Department. I have over 7 years of experience in nonprofit work, and 4 years of experience in a Director level Finance role Southern Vision Alliance, a nonprofit grassroots intermediary that supports youth leadership pipelines, BIPOC-led (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) local community organizing, and fiscally sponsored projects. I hold a Certified Nonprofit Accounting Professional designation with Fiscal Management Associates. I participated in the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business’ Philanthropy U, earning a Certificate in Social Sector Leadership & Global Entrepreneurship.
I serve as a member on the movement board of The Cypress Fund, a Black, femme-led philanthropic entity, funding projects through a lens of reparations, and I’m also on a program design collaborator with We Are the Ones Fund, a City-funded initiative to address gun violence through community-authored solutions.
4) What’s the best or most important thing the city council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the city should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.
The most important thing our City Council has done is commit to invest in the community-led policing alternatives by creating the Department of Community Safety. While the $1M was a “down payment” earmarked towards community-led safety as described by Mayor Schewel, I would have liked to see our progressive council lead the way in the nation by making a far more significant investment, pulling from the $70M police budget, and calling on the brilliant and imaginative thinking of our city’s residents.
I think the recent 6-1 vote from Council to add 5 positions to the Department of Community Safety, from vacancies within the Durham Police Department, wasn’t ambitious enough. We could have easily pushed the needle further, and committed to a reallocation of 20 positions at the top of this fiscal yearThere is urgent work to do to transform the systems and institutions that have devastated Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities and as a Councilmember, I will commit to making bolder, more significant investments in our communities. In collaboration with Durham County leadership, we will decriminalize mental illness, poverty, and substance use.
5) The city has seen an uptick in gun homicides since 2018, including recent tragic deaths of children. Gun violence is obviously a multifaceted problem with no simple solution. But, in your view, what can or should the city be doing to stem the tide of violence that it isn’t doing now?
The issue of gun violence continues to plague our city. Every murder breaks my heart, especially the children caught in the crossfire. I am troubled by the disproportionate impact of gun violence on Black, Latino, and immigrant residents. Since the pandemic began, our communities have struggled with widespread income loss, evictions and housing instability, childcare loss; lack of healthy food; illness, death, and grief; mental health suffering; and academic struggles. While many forms of criminalized behavior have gone down since the start of the pandemic, the rate of homicides and shootings have increased. Intimate partner violence has increased. As City Councilmember, I will fight to fully fund root-cause solutions to gun violence: affordable housing; culturally relevant youth leadership development; equitable economic growth; community-led safety and wellness; equitable and sustainable zoning; access and mobility; and I will support public education. Increased policing or surveillance technology do not prevent gun violence. Police can only investigate shots fired after they have already taken place.
The City has done well on several intentional efforts to address the causes of gun violence, and we have much farther to go.
Bull City United Violence Interrupters program has grown and is now housed within the Department of Community Safety. The expansion of the program includes the addition of 18 positions, eight outreach workers, 8 violence interrupters and 2 supervisors.
Our current Council, in a 6-1 vote, expanded their original commitment to the We Are the Ones Fund (WATO) from $78K to the full request of $250,000 from July 2021-June 2022. WATO is a community violence intervention fund that I’ve proudly been active in as a design team partner. This investment allowed the project to fund a selected 12 initial grantees representing $73,340 in funds to be distributed in the local community.
The City of Durham is envisioning a long-term, multi-prong approach in addressing the root causes of gun violence, and adapting based on the current conditions through the one year gap plan as highlighted in the FY22 adopted budget. The gap plan emerged “to give City Staff time to develop a post-pandemic Strategic Plan.” The larger Strategic Plan includes a focus on the priority areas of Racial Equity, Equitable Community Engagement, Crime and Community Policing and Emergency Call Analysis and Pilots.
The Durham Police Department budget is over $70.2 million according to the FY21-22 adopted budget or 55.72% of the Public Safety Budget, and 29% of the General Fund. By contrast, currently, Community Safety only accounts for 3.25% of the Public Safety budget, and 1.67% of the General Fund, and that contribution was hard-fought, through unwavering organizing on the part of working class Durham residents and residents of color. With sustained, significant, and equivalent investments in community-based alternatives, we will see measurable life-saving success. Durham has the unique opportunity to raise the bar.
In 2019, Durham Beyond Policing put forth a Community-led Safety & Wellness Task Force Proposal, where we called for City and County funding to support deeper, community-led structural solutions to the issue of public safety. We won the approval of the Taskforce in a 4-3 vote.
The new Department of Community Safety, and the Community Safety & Wellness Taskforce was the direct result of our on-the-ground organizing. As soon as I’m sworn-in, I will be fully in support of reallocating the 15 positions to the Department of Community Safety and Wellness, and it will be at the top of my to-do list. I trust and expect our community to hold me accountable on this.
Ultimately, I’d like to advocate for more investment in communities impacted by gun violence, and would push for the creation of a City-funded initiative and training program to hire Durham residents from impacted communities to be Care Responders. This program would serve as violence and harm intervention, working within impacted communities to develop community-wide interpersonal conflict training, de-escalation and responsive alternatives. I would like to continue to draw from the excesses in the police budget, with the goal being to incrementally and significantly reduce police presence in Durham; replacing it with alternatives that address the root issues of violence, interpersonal harm, and criminalized behaviors such as substance use, and mental illness in non-reactionary ways.
I fully relate to resident frustration with feeling like the City isn’t doing enough. We didn’t arrive at this place overnight. When larger systemic issues go chronically unaddressed or only partially addressed, we lose more of our loved ones to the increased gun violence. The hurt and pain is real, and if we keep avoiding the real issues, we’re going to continue to miss the mark. It’s going to require the buy-in and participation of community members, elected officials, faith leaders, community organizers, and families to holistically change how we’re addressing safety.
As a Council Member, I will advocate to hold citywide community conversations that center the experiences and voices of Durham residents who have been most impacted by gun violence and over-policing. I will partner with the County Commissioners and the Board of Education and my colleagues on Council to create spaces and opportunities for marginalized communities to receive access to high quality mental health treatment, training for good-paying jobs, and affordable housing; and addressing the root cause issues that lead to gun violence.
6) Do you support transferring 15 positions from the Durham Police Department to the newly created Community Safety Department for its new pilot programs? How should the city further grow the Community Safety Department if the pilot programs are successful?
The creation of the Department of Community Safety, along with a $1 million dollar pledge to fund the Community-led Safety and Wellness Taskforce, emerged from work I helped lead with Durham Beyond Policing. We now have 5 positions that have been moved from DPD’s vacancies into the Department of Community Safety, and 15 frozen vacancies that City Council will vote on whether to allocate to the Department of Community Safety to employ skilled, unarmed crisis responders at the end of this year. According to the RTI 911 Calls for Service Research: Understanding Alternative Responses study, only 20% of calls for service involve “violent or property crime.” This means 80% of the calls are for quality of life issues, assistance, traffic incidents and interpersonal disputes. This is a significantly opportune moment to start assessing the immense benefits of rolling out robustly-funded pilots employing unarmed crisis responders to begin to address those 80% of 911 service calls.
As a City Councilmember, my commitment to fully fund the work of the Department of Community Safety will allow Durham residents to reach out for nonviolent assistance to address a concern or de-escalate an interpersonal dispute.
7) Given the influx of people and money Durham has seen in recent years, and recent plans for Google and Apple to open offices in the area, gentrification has become a major concern in East Durham but also in other neighborhoods close to downtown. In what ways can or should the city intervene?
Gentrification and housing disparity are part of the history of Durham. Since the 1930s, Black people have been excluded from being able to purchase homes or securing federally insured mortgages due to redlining, and there is clear evidence of the geographical segregation that still haunts our city when many majority Black neighborhoods pre-1980s were up-zoned to heavy commercial and industrial use, causing major degradation of communities as a result, and lowering property values.
Often home-ownership is a cornerstone step in that direction, and it has historically been an obstacle due to geographic segregation, redlining, and wealth inaccessibility. I believe that reparations include undoing past harms and creating opportunities for Black people to build communal resources over multiple generations. I am committed to protecting historically Black districts and communities, heir properties, and helping our communities pool resources to create community land trusts.
The City has purview over zoning restrictions though very limited control regarding private development in Durham, resulting in few protections for long-time residents who are being pushed and priced out of neighborhoods due to rising property taxes. The Community Development Department is working towards an extension of the Long-time Homeowner Grant program, as the current program works within the threshold of targeted areas (including NE Central, SW Central and Southside.) I am in full support of this, as the options being considered in terms of homeowner eligibility (between 30-60% AMI) would serve the highest need group and the lowest income households.
The rollout and expansion of this program could be significant in providing Durham residents who have been here for decades and generations, the opportunity to keep their homes. With the production of more affordable rentals and market rate, for-sale units, high density rezoning in Single Family residential areas in accordance with Expanded Housing Choices, and neighborhood stabilization through funding deferred maintenance and repairs, eventually the market should even out, and high rents will be driven back down. I would be willing to raise taxes to fund this program in order to give long-time residents the chance to stay afloat with the changing tides of gentrification.
8) How should the city address housing for people who currently make less than the $15/hour minimum wage? How can the city ensure more people make the current living wage?
As City Councilmember, I will advocate to permit and encourage the construction of more affordable rental housing and affordable homes for purchase in areas where opportunity is high, and advocate for the improvement of existing dwellings and neighborhoods, to benefit lower and middle income households across a broader spectrum than is being currently served.
The core problem here is that many workers are doing vital labor that our community needs and raising households on incomes less than $15/ hour. I will support state initiatives to raise wages for lower income households, like raising the minimum wage and offering tax credits. North Carolina is long overdue for setting a higher minimum wage than the federal standard, and it is wrong that North Carolina’s preemption laws currently prohibit municipalities from setting our own higher standard. Durham’s own City and County public worker living wage standards raised the bar for local businesses and for the Southern region, and we have a long way to go before the lowest-wage workers have their needs met. I believe in listening to organized labor formations to understand what workers are facing, and addressing income inequity accordingly.
9) What are the city’s most pressing transit needs? How should the city expand bus services to reach more riders?
The most pressing infrastructure need is the permanent establishment of fare-free public transportation. The $25 million dollar American Rescue Plan Act funding has yet to be allocated. I’d like to see a portion of this funding go towards this expansion. Additionally, Durham’s Transportation Department Director has made a commitment to provide fare-free bus “service for essential trips in our community — for as long as it is safe and appropriate to do so.”
We’ve also seen a number of bus routes for riders be discontinued during the pandemic. While the City initiative to provide riders with Lyft vouchers may have been well-intentioned, an option would be for the City to ask the County to allocate the $30 million in sales tax collected for the light rail project to be rededicated to continuing the existing bus routes and expanding GoDurham. We must ensure every resident in our city is able to get to their homes, schools, and jobs safely.
We should also begin to think about how we can create more opportunities for multi-modal transportation and ensure there is an equitable distribution of resources across the city, particularly sidewalks. The $2.9 million allocated for sidewalks in our City’s FY21-22 budget is a good start but given how high a priority sidewalks are every year in the annual resident survey, it is clear that access and mobility are important to Durham residents across race, class, and geography and need increased investment. 3. https://godurhamtransit.org/news/starting-monday-godurham-will-go-fare-free-institute-rear-boarding Starting Monday, GoDurham will go fare free, institute rear boarding. `
10) How should the council improve transit infrastructure for cyclists, who aren’t protected from traffic by physical barriers and don’t always have options for coordinated bike lanes?
As a City Council member, I will continue to support projects in motion, such as the GoDurham Better Bus Project, and Bicycle Boulevards plan. Our city’s adoption of the Vision Zero program speaks to eliminating traffic fatalities and creating safer roadways for all travelers, including cyclists. The city has received federal funding for the $645,000 project to create 7 miles of bike boulevards. The routes will include signage, speed limit reduction and wayfinding to assist bikers and to signal to all travelers that they are on a bike route. Expanding public transit, including reinstating discontinued bus routes, increasing options for multi-modal transportation, and building more sidewalks are all ways our city can reduce the number of cars on the road and make it safer for bikers.
11) How do you think the city’s policy of Expanding Housing Choices will work to increase density in Durham’s urban core? Will the policy work to create more mixed-income communities? Should it work this way? What more could be done to add density or relieve pressures on home values?
In 2019, our City Council approved an amendment to its Unified Development Ordinance, giving property owners permission to add multiplex and ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Units) in single family residential areas. This increase of supply to respond to the high demand would allow for higher density and developers would reap benefits in the form of bonuses, as a trade off for providing low income units. Though, without critically sound oversight, this could potentially mean bigger high-end developments for the sake of a few affordable housing units, potential environmental justice concerns, and a question of whether the means justifies the end.
If done right, the original intention would be a significantly positive outcome; to undo the racist and classist harms of Single Family, low-density zoning which historically has meant less options for people across a spectrum of income and family types (or more simply put, disproportionately affecting Black, Brown and low-income communities who can’t access these home types). We can learn a lot from frameworks like Just Transition, which focuses on moving away from extractive economies to regenerative ones, and paying attention to the ways gentrification and urban planning often run parallel to environmental racism. The conversations about zoning reform in the form of density redevelopment, could bring about a significant change in the volume of affordable housing, but we need to keep our eye on significant environmental impacts as noted in the Expanded Housing Choices Memo (TC1800007, September 3, 2019), including ‘impact to tree canopies’ and increased impervious surfaces, which result in impeding of ‘infiltration into the soil,’ more stormwater runoff and flooding, and potential for contamination of water sources.
In planning, we must also consider the ways that historically marginalized groups can benefit from early interventions that prevent the harms of inequitable zoning practices. The City has named immediate remedies such as directing downspouts to pervious areas, and “maintaining or planting 2 trees.” I think solely focusing on the urban core of Durham without assessing land use and zoning reform in suburban areas would overlook the history of white flight and suburban sprawl.
As City Councilmember, I will work towards developing a wider array of land use options in alignment with the Unified Development Ordinance amendment staff recommendations and the Planning Commission to “consider the suburban tier”, with heavy scrutiny on developer incentives, to create more opportunities for affordable housing, combined with equitable planning practices.
While I am in support of including at least 20% small dwelling units, the challenge is that Durham does not have inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to allocate a percentage of units as low-income. Density bonuses to developers would theoretically counteract this, but if the small dwelling units are not priced in a way to accommodate low to medium income residents, then it won’t do much good. If the 20% small dwelling unit policy was incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan, it would always be a consideration during zoning cases. I’d likely make very few exceptions, because developers need to be held accountable to standards that prioritize the needs of our residents.
I want to work with our local State delegates to explore solutions and how to overturn the preemptive law that bans inclusionary zoning.
12) New census data shows that 19 percent of Durham’s Black residents live under the poverty line, while about 7 percent of whites and a third of Hispanic residents do. A 2020 Racial Equity Task Force report found growing wealth disparities between Black and white residents that were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. How (if it all) do you think the city should use the report’s findings to make the city a more equitable one for all residents?
I think the 2020 Racial Equity Taskforce Report is an absolutely inspiring achievement; a highly accessible and comprehensive document breaking down the racial disparities and inequities that are not unique to Durham, but affect our city in ways mirrored across the country.
The authors of the report ask that there be a collection of baseline data to track the current conditions and call for evaluation of those conditions, and an accessible presentation of that data. I’d like to see the build out of the recommendation for a racial equity tool to assess municipal policies, so that potential adverse impacts are assessed in the first place, and affected communities have the ability to chime in from the beginning. I’d like the city to commit resources towards implementing a city and county-wide project that effectively collects measurable data documenting the manifestation of racial disparities in Durham, and use the funds allocated towards their recommendation for a Racial Equity Fund to fund initiatives directly correlated to each of the key areas of their report, including Criminal Justice, Health and Environmental Justice, Housing and Education.
I’d like to specifically move forward with their recommendation that “the City and County, along with community partners, work to implement policies that result in the decriminalization of substance use/abuse, mental illness; and poverty in Durham.” (p. 15) with more specific recommendations such as offering “restorative justice processes” vs. punitive ones when harm is committed, and fully funding programs like the Community-led Safety & Wellness Taskforce, and the recommendations that come forth from that body.
Every line item held in our City and County of Durham annual budgets as well as the Capital Improvement Plans have a bearing on racial equity in our City and County, as well as equitable outcomes along gender, sexuality, immigration status, ability, and class. I would like to see a racial justice and equity lens applied to our choices in every aspect of governance, and I feel concerned about the ways that a Race Equity Fund could be used to sideline or underfund the work, rather than engaging in deep structural transformation. That said, I could support Durham establishing a dedicated Race Equity Fund that helps advance this overall strategy of structural transformation and reparations. With the development of our Equity and Inclusion Division, we have the infrastructure to hold this fund, and implement the recommendations inside of the RETF 2020 Report. If we are able to fund cutting-edge City and County-wide research that not only results in quantitative, but rich qualitative data and story-telling that identifies the impact of long-term racial disparities in Black communities through a Racial Equity Fund, I would be willing to explore the idea.
13) The city council established a Durham Workers’ Rights Commission in 2019. What do you feel it has achieved so far? What should its role and focus be, and how should it achieve its goals? Has the city supported it adequately?
Last year, City Council approved the Worker’s Bill of Rights, a document that came forth from The Durham Worker’s Rights Commission. The document outlines a number of crucial workers protections such as Paid Safe & Sick Leave, Fair & Democratic Wages, Right to Organize Without Retaliation and Workplace free of Discrimination. This is a monumental achievement for our City. In 2019, when Durham Beyond Policing won approval from Council for the Community-led Safety & Wellness Task Force, effectively blocking the addition of 72 additional police officers over 3 years, we joined forces with our UE150 public sector workers union local. Together we made a compelling case that the costs saved by not hiring the new police officers would allow the City to raise the minimum wage to $15/ hr for all city workers.
Currently, North Carolina is one of the 44 southern states with preemptive laws that make it impossible for local municipalities, including Durham, to support and protect worker rights. Currently, North Carolina has preemption laws for minimum wage, project labor agreements, paid leave and gig economy. This is another issue where I’d like for our city to be in deeper conversation with our local state delegates to work on getting preemption laws overturned. While I believe elected city officials have done what they have been able to within their scope of power, as it stands, the city can only provide limited support in enacting and enforcing the recommendations made by the Commission. It feels important that the Workers Bill of Rights not only be a symbolic effort, but a real one that produces tangible improvements in worker conditions. As a City Council Member, I want to support the repeal of the bans on public sector collective bargaining for instance, bringing North Carolina in line with the rest of the country. I am also in support of Senate Bill 673 and House Bill 612 to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour.
Unions are one of the last standing institutions where democracy still exists in its purest form. Unified efforts from workers to push for protections that improve our collective quality of life makes our city thrive, and keeps employers honest.
14) What is the city doing currently to ensure environmental sustainability in new construction? What more could it do?
According to the Resolution of the Durham City Council Supporting a Transition to Renewable Energy and Carbon Neutrality In 2018, Durham City Council adopted Strategic Plan Goal # 5, Sustainable & Natural Built Environment with objectives that include investing in sustainable infrastructure, and an initiative to “Develop a new Comprehensive Land Use Plan that aligns infrastructure, service standards, and capital and operational budgeting priorities with desired future land uses in Durham.”
Additionally, an initiative under the objective to “Create a Sustainable Durham” is to “Increase the amount of green infrastructure in the City of Durham by developing recommendations to reduce barriers created in city code.”
Our City Council has the responsibility to set standards so that developers are aligned in values and understand what it means to truly make equitable investments in our city. I believe we need a well thought-out Developer Accountability & Oversight Committee, led by community stakeholders who have been cut out of the conversation, but are nearly always impacted as a result of aggressive development. That includes considerations around sustainability and making decisions that will have a significant impact on the environment.
I would like to see Durham engage in generative planning that considers the impact of urban design and development on future generations.
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