Name as it appears on the ballot: Sam Hershey
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: SamforRaleigh.com
Occupation & employer: Founder Evim Solutions (software)
Years lived in Raleigh: 20
1) Given the direction of Raleigh government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
We are on the right track in the city in many ways, but we also have some big areas for improvement. There are a lot of reasons why Raleigh is consistently voted as one of the best places to live but Raleigh can do a better job of creating opportunity for everyone and not just for those already succeeding. Nowhere is this more evident than with the city’s affordable housing crisis. I have a plan to address this that I cover in detail in questions below. I also think we can be smarter about how we channel Raleigh’s growth, so that we keep up with housing demands by increasing affordable housing and promoting density, we upgrade our aging infrastructure, and we do these things while protecting our environment.
2) If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identify your priorities for your district. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces.
My priorities for the district start with constituent services. The number one job for any elected official is being available and responsive to the people they serve, so their needs can be represented and addressed. Beyond that, a huge issue is that our district and Raleigh in general have to tackle our growth in a smart way that is forward-thinking. We need to upgrade our aging infrastructure when it comes to stormwater drainage and sewers to protect our environment, and we need to alleviate traffic congestion wherever possible by increasing public transit options and encouraging bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly development. We also have to be open to increasing density, both as a way to tackle the city’s affordable housing crisis and to combat sprawl. That means lifting zoning restrictions to allow multi-family housing units like duplexes, triplexes, and quads. We also need to increase pay, staffing, and funding for our first responders.
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?
My experience as a small business owner/operator and coach over many years provides me with all the skills necessary to succeed as a City Councilor. There are so many life skills learned, from the value of listening, to knowing how to get the best out of each employee and team member, to the art of asking the right questions that apply directly to being on City Council. One major skill I’ve learned over the years, which is vital to succeeding as a City Councilor, is the importance of having a vision, as well as the process needed to achieve that vision. This is why from day one of my campaign I have laid out my vision for Raleigh and included detailed steps on how to achieve that vision. That’s why as a City Councilor, I’ll be able to advocate successfully for things like expanding solar in Raleigh, raising private money to help address our affordable housing crisis, and getting more firefighters and police officers hired with competitive salaries.
4) Most people agree that Raleigh faces a housing affordability crisis. Do you believe the council made a wise decision not to place a bond on this year’s ballot? Why or why not?
The council should have put a bond on the ballot. This is a critical issue facing the city and deserves immediate attention, but it’s important that the bond and the plan to use it be well thought out, and it’s also important that a bond not be the sole effort when it comes to tackling the affordable housing crisis. I will explain in greater detail in the question below.
5) Assuming the council places a bond referendum on the 2020 ballot, how much money do you believe the city should ask for? What do you believe it should fund? Outside of a bond, what steps should the city take to promote housing affordability in Raleigh?
I think the initial ask is $50 million with a plan to do a second bond two years later. Now here is where one of my opponents comes up way short on affordable housing—outside of a bond we should be doing three different things: One, we need to raise at least $50 million from the private sector to go into a housing trust fund. Charlotte accomplished this goal in less than a year, and if the private sector is giving for Dix Park, we can find sources willing to give for affordable housing. Second, we need to get banks to step up with a commitment in the $50 million dollar range to provide low interest loans to private developers building low income housing and affordable housing. Third, we need a campaign to raise more money specifically for rent relief programs. The goal should be a minimum of $15 million from the private sector and potentially with a funding from a small percentage of late property tax bills into this fund. Another item that should be a part of development is community benefit agreements. These are done between communities and the developer, and they ensure the community receives some appreciable benefit in return for community support for a development project. One of the biggest problems I see around affordable housing is the lack of vision and the lack of leadership to go get private money. We cannot simply put the total cost of affordable housing on the backs of taxpayers, especially when there are other supplemental options out there.
6) Discussions surrounding housing often turn on questions of protecting neighborhoods’ characters or promoting density in the city’s core—i.e., what kinds of new housing the city should add, and where? At the crossroads of this conversation is the rapid gentrification of Southeast Raleigh. What role should the city play in ensuring that the longtime residents of those neighborhoods can continue to afford to live there?
No one should ever have to find themselves being priced out of the community that they’ve lived in and invested their time, energy, and passion in. We need to build housing ranging from low-income housing to missing middle housing in an effort to increase overall supply. We need to be creative in building multi-family units that don’t gentrify those neighborhoods. Even though there have been robust discussions about the pros and cons of Overlay Districts across Raleigh, I do think that if used properly, they can be an effective tool to combat gentrification and protect multi-family housing. For low-income long-term homeowners, I would like to explore tax abatements that are paid later, once the property is sold.
7) The city currently has twenty neighborhood conservation overlay districts, which can restrict new development. Do you believe this tool is being used effectively? How would you change the city’s approach to NCODs, if at all?
Overlay Districts, if used properly, can be great for Raleigh. Having neighborhoods with distinct characteristics adds to the charm of a city, and NCODs are a tool, as mentioned in the answer above, that can be used to stop gentrification and protect multi-family units from being torn down in favor of single family homes. I think there are instances where NCODs have been used ineffectively, and we certainly haven’t stopped gentrification in the city. We should be examining which neighborhoods really need protection from gentrification, and we should also avoid having Overlay Districts that freeze zoning in place permanently or reduce housing density.
8) If you could change anything about the city’s unified development ordinance, what would it be and why?
One big area we need to change is the stormwater runoff control, which states that “the peak stormwater runoff leaving any site for the two-year and ten-year storms shall be no greater at every point of discharge for post development conditions than for pre-development conditions.” Given how climate change has increased the severity and frequency of storms, we should increase the stormwater runoff control for development. I’m not sure if this means redefining two and ten year storms or using the 25 year storm definition instead of two and ten year storms, but we need to change the rules to keep up with the changing climate.
9) Earlier this year, the council required homeowners who wish to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property to petition their neighbors through an overlay district process. So far, no neighborhoods have started the application process. Do you believe this is the right approach to ADUs, or do you believe they should be allowed by right? Please explain.
We should allow ADUs with a few restrictions in place, but the current process is overly burdensome and too restrictive. Raleigh is a growing city, and we have to be willing to expand our options as our population continues to rise. ADUs can be a great way to increase affordable renting options and build density without changing the character of a neighborhood.
10) When considering new downtown development projects—e.g., John Kane’s proposed tower on Peace Street or new developments in the Warehouse District—how much consideration do you believe the council should give to automobile traffic and parking concerns?
We have to give a lot of consideration to automobile traffic and parking concerns. The fact is that we currently live in a car-centric world, and while we are working to transform downtown to be friendlier to alternative transportation, that transformation is going to take time. We can’t ignore the realities of what we are while we strive to become something else.
11) Developers are eyeing at least three parcels on the outskirts of the downtown business district for twenty-plus-story buildings. Do you believe this area is an appropriate place to add height and density? What conditions should the city attach to such projects, if any?
They certainly could be appropriate places to add height and density, but I don’t want to prejudge projects without knowing more about them. From day one of my campaign, I have stressed the need to build more density downtown and in select areas around the city. As with any issue, my leadership style as a City Councilor will be to approach issues with an open mind, listen to what all the stakeholders have to say, and ask the right questions to get fully informed before making decisions. As part of this process, I’m not going to say we should attach conditions without learning more, but the city should work to facilitate win-win situations with development. At times, it will be more appropriate for communities to work directly with developers, without the city being heavily involved, to work out Community Benefit Agreements.
12) What are your thoughts on the city’s approach to alternative transportation options downtown? Is the city handling issues such as regulating e-scooter companies and building protected bike lanes the right way? Why or why not?
It’s smart for any city to look for alternative transportation options downtown, and our focus should be making sure the infrastructure is in place. This starts with protected bike lanes. Our city has not done a great job with this issue, but we have time to get this corrected. I’m not sure what the right way is to build protected bike lanes, and this is where, as a city councilor, I would rely on city planners, models in other cities, and the cycling community’s input. Also, I don’t think the e-scooter issue was handled very well. We need to encourage competition by having multiple scooter companies, we should have a dynamic cap based on usage to calculate how many scooters should be in the city, and we should designate parking areas or corrals for scooters on every block.
13) Earlier this year, the city passed an ordinance banning whole-house rentals and regulating other short-term rentals. Are you concerned about claims that this ordinance might conflict with state law? Do you believe the city’s policy is the best way to regulate Airbnb and other short-term rentals? Why or why not?
I’m not concerned with claims that this ordinance might conflict with state law. There are parts of the city’s policy that is are fine and parts I would like to see changed. I agree with requiring people to register, but I would waive the permit fees, or at least make it only a small one-time fee for life. I would be fine allowing more adult guests, but I’d like to hear from those that list on Airbnb about the impact of that regulation. I also support allowing whole house rentals on primary residences for several weeks over the course of a year, but I’m against whole house short-term rentals on secondary residences. Having some whole house short-term rentals is good for attracting events like conventions and the World of Bluegrass Festival. But I’m against it on secondary houses, because we don’t want to encourage the buying of houses to effectively use as hotels, which among other things plays into the affordable housing crisis. I also would support putting exceptions in place, so that certain AirBnB restrictions could be lifted in the case of disaster events such as hurricanes to provide emergency lodging options for affected people.
14) Do you think Raleigh’s system of Citizens Advisory Councils is the best way of fostering engagement with local government? If not, how do you believe the CAC system should be reformed?
I don’t know if it’s the best way, but it’s certainly a good way to foster engagement with local government. As far as whether they need reforming, the CACs are always looking at themselves individually and as a group to see if they can improve. Recently they updated bylaws related to several topics, including making the officer election cycle and process consistent across the CACs. They also began to engage the city council on a regular basis, appearing quarterly at city council meetings to provide a report of CAC activities, issues, and achievements, as well as to invite feedback from the council. Another area being studied is looking at the size of CACs (some are very large geographically) to determine what changes might be needed, since it relates to mission manageability, effectiveness, and equitability.
15) Four council members have called for the city to join a lawsuit over the RDU Airport Authority’s quarry lease with Wake Stone. Do you support RDU’s quarry lease? Do you believe this case is something the city should involve itself in? Why or why not?
I do not support RDU’s quarry lease, and I do believe the city should be involved as we should allow the courts to determine if we have standing. There are a couple of items that are not really discussed that I want to address, since it’s well documented that I am opposed to the quarry.
One, the city of Raleigh should do more to support RDU. They are a vital part of our economy, and we should work with them and the state to better support our airport. Two, we should never again allow another City Councilor to serve on the Airport Authority. It can create a conflict of interest, even when the person is ethically above reproach. This was a mistake from the beginning but something that we can get right in the future.
16) When Mayor McFarlane announced her decision not to seek reelection, she cited increasing incivility among council members. Do you agree with her assessment? If so, what would do to lower the temperature in city government and make the council more productive?
There has been some incivility, and there are some deep divisions on the council, but as a new City Council member who is not part of the political establishment, I’m going to start my term with a clean slate relationship-wise. I will work with whomever is on council with me. As relationships are developed with councilors beyond the campaign trail, they will learn that when we do disagree on an issue, I will look for win-win solutions or compromises, rather than taking an all or nothing approach. Also, my leadership style is one of listening to all sides of an issue and involving all stakeholders before making decisions. Each councilor and all affected parties will always have a seat at the table with me and be a part of the discussion, even if we do not agree in the end. I think that this approach goes a long way towards dispelling incivility.
17) Do you believe the city needs a community police oversight board? If so, what should the board look like, and what powers should it have? Do you believe the city can or should challenge the state law that blocks access to certain police personnel records?
I do support a community police oversight board. Here’s the process I’d use in creating a board. First, choose the type of board and determine primary/secondary objectives- (examples: oversees internal affairs investigations or investigates citizen complaints). Second, determine the makeup of the board (community activists, retired law enforcement, etc). Third, develop training and tools needed for the board to accomplish their objectives. Fourth, ensure full funding for long term success.
18) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
It’s important that we do our part to fight climate change at the local level. We’re feeling the impact of climate change from hotter summers to more intense weather systems. Since the beginning of my campaign, we’ve had an easy to execute plan to do our part. We start with expanding solar across city using small grants for nonprofits. This will increase renewable energy, create jobs, and help nonprofits redirect money into their services rather than into their energy bills. Another program will be to look at the use of solar canopies across parking lots in Raleigh. Aside from all the renewable energy being created and the local jobs, there would be shelter from the elements and more charging stations as electric cars become the norm. A third step will be to transition the current bus fleet to electric buses instead of transitioning them to compressed natural gas. With real, achievable policy, we can do our part to fight climate change.