Name as it appears on the ballot: Joshua James Levenson

Age: 34

Party affiliation: Dem 

Campaign website: Joshforchapelhill.com

Occupation & employer: Canvassing for Grassroots campaigns ACLU and Yoga/math teacher

Years lived in Chapel Hill: 1

1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the town council do differently or better over the course of your term?

Building Community around a Sustainable Future

IMPROVE PUBLIC SPACES AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT:

— I will expand the utility and beauty of public spaces, as well as cultivate community involvement through special cultural events and initiatives.  Expanding on the open streets project gradually until one day we will see several times throughout the day where all cars take a break and the streets fill with families walking, biking, roller blading and utilizing any other form of human transportation to see a healthier happier community connected to each other and our beautiful surroundings without the need for constant fossil fuel consumption/pollution.

*    SUSTAINABLY EXPAND AFFORDABLE HOUSING:

        —  I will stop developers from tearing down our last affordable housing without guaranteeing to at least build 15% more.  I will initiate green tiny home/apartment public housing programs to not only offer an earth-friendly alternative to traditional building.

*    MAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION MORE EFFICIENT AND INTERCONNECTED:

        —  I will enhance bike lanes and walkability of the town along with new green alternative means of transportation like the electric scooters and support expanded BRT.        

*    INCREASE ACCESS TO EARLY CHILDHOOD AND INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION:

        — I will increase funding for pre-K, after school and holiday programs through parks and recreation for low-income families, to begin addressing the injustice that has three times more wealthy white students per capita finishing high school scoring ready for college. 

*    IMPROVE ENERGY EFFICIENCY FOR LOW-INCOME HOUSING:

        — I will weatherize low-income homes that are losing energy due to easily repaired flaws in insulation.  This will also help to support the most vulnerable members in our community to be more resilient during disasters or power outages.

 Why should voters entrust you with this position? 

I am a Teacher and a gifted problem solver whose policies are the only ones courageous enough to address the issues we are facing. 

2) Given the direction of Chapel Hill government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?

Because Chapel Hill has decided to cut taxes for wealthy property owners instead of investing in youth programs and community centers that all children can access we have seen the opportunity gap grow to be the second worst in the Nation.  Ignorance or helplessness are no longer tolerable excuses for this laissez-faire foundation of systemic racism. As an educator who has seen the widest spectrum of classical classrooms and alternative support systems it is clear students who access quality tutoring and supplemental services will succeed and when no support is available there is only a small chance remarkable students will scrape by or catch up.

Restoring public resource investment to 2009 levels for social programs must not have a regressive effect on low income community members. Families who have already spent disproportionately far more of their disposable income on Chapel Hill and Orange counties flat property Tax which is average for the US but higher than other parts of NC where conditions are even worse across the board.  This is why the first step in Tackling our global issue of climate Justice must also invest back in low income homes to not only reduce energy consumption and save families on their energy bill but also to increase resiliency for households that do not have the resources to invest in themselves.

3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.

Poverty relative to opportunity and the effects on marginalized youth is the most pressing local issue.  Globally we are also one of the greatest per capita contributors to climate change and the floods, droughts and natural disasters which not only devastate our neighbors in the southeast.  But also exasperate suffering across Yemen, India, Africa and most of the impoverished equatorial world. Simple morality demands that we slow down our consumption and hopefully repurpose surplus resources for the common good. After supporting low income homes and youth programs I hope we grow to expand investment in alternative transportation and safe enjoyable biking/walking greenways.

4) What prior experience will make you an effective member of the town government and advocate of the issues listed above? Please note any endorsements you have received that you considered significant.

Simply I have lived these projects for 6 years around the world searching out the most progressive environmental and social projects.  I am an elite problem solver and integrative planner and after over 30 years of avoiding communication oriented projects I have also discovered in the last couple years that when given the time I can be a highly capable collaborative communicator.

5) What concerns do you have related to short-term rentals? What regulations do you believe the town should enact? What municipalities do you believe have put in place successful models?

AirBNB rentals should not have any new regulations Incase’s where residents are renting a few rooms to help them get by.  But large Scale operations renting more than 5 units which hurts affordable housing should have similar limitations and restrictions as hotels.

6) Last year, town voters approved a $10 million affordable housing bond, but affordable housing remains a concern. UNC students consume a large portion of rental units throughout Orange County, while zoning and historic preservation rules sometimes the supply of housing. What are the next steps you believe the town should take on the affordability front?

Tiny homes paired with Micro apartment units on arterial public transit routes zoned for taller inset buildings that allow for a smaller footprint with greater green space and more units should be supported in addition to a slightly greener modified version of the towns current approach.

7) In what ways do you believe the town should seek to grow its tax base? What are the best methods to encourage business growth in Chapel Hill and attract start-ups to promote economic development?

Chapel Hill does not need an amazon shipping center or another coal plant.  High end businesses already thrive off Chapel Hill’s wealthy consumer base. Chapel Hill needs to encourage affordable, socially minded, sustainable businesses that service our whole community.  This can be done by supporting affordable multipurpose space and awards for projects, especially in their early years.

8) On September 25, the town council unanimously sent to staff a Downtown Partnership petition seeking a traffic impact analysis for the restriping West Franklin Street that would add protected bike lanes and reduce pedestrian-crossing distances, and generally slow traffic. With the caveat that the analysis has yet to be conducted, how would you describe your vision for the future of West Franklin? What would you like to see happen to this part of Chapel Hill over the next decade?

I would like to see all the parking pushed underground and a new town commons public park space lifted above parking and above the road to connect the south side of franklin with the library.

9) Relatedly, what changes, if any, would you like to see in the parking system downtown? Do you believe there is a more efficient way to create parking?

I would like to eventually remove one side of street parking and add a protected bike lane buffered from traffic by a barrier and parking on the other side. I would hope that instead of building up excessive parking decks downtown we again push parking underground gradually increasing parking fees on peak hours.  Creating a parking pass system that also supports low income residents to access parking freely and easily several times a week when scheduled in available time slots. During busy events able bodied visitors should be encouraged to use outer park and rides that are serviced by BRT every 5-10 minutes. This system should also be used during peak traffic hours to support those commuting from out of town to access cheap day parking when working in town in a similar way to(and maybe symbiotically with) the universities.

10) The town has environmental awareness as one of its goals. Name three ways you believe Chapel Hill can work toward this goal.

First helping reduce energy consumption in low income family dwellings and municipal building.  Then transforming our transportation in the ways discussed and more not excluding e-scooters, commuter rail on the current heavy rail line and expanded hours for BRT.  Finally the thousand other essential parts for cleaning up our consumption especially compost support, collection and education.

11) In what ways can the town foster a more inclusive environment and better engage with historically marginalized groups?

I have focused most of my efforts related to this question in education and youth programs because I have seen them as the most direct way to affect lasting foundational change. But this is a huge question which supporting the countless projects that organizations like the NAACP are beginning to addressing may further inform leadership to see everything through a historical and racial equity lens.  Even Though these overwhelming issues may seem daunting every step counts like expanding programs by the Jackson center like the good neighbors program and learning from successful models.

12) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

When everyone in Chapel Hill can access a just and joyful life I think will rapidly expand our success to serve and support neighboring communities in NC and globally which ultimately may be our only hope of slowing the species extinction and ecosystem collapse which we are currently most responsible for causing.