Questionnaires

Candidates for Chapel Hill Mayor

All candidates for local offices were sent the same ten questions, and were given two weeks to complete it. These are the answers that were given by the candidates, with no editorial changes.

Zachary Boyce

Did not submit a questionnaire

Hongbin Gu

1. The Orange County transit plan currently identifies only $300,000 for new or expanded transit service in the coming year. This is barely enough money to run a bus that comes every 30 minutes for only 6 hours per weekday, with zero weekend service. What are your thoughts on expanded transit funding?

  • Current the Town’s public transit fund is well supported by the continued funding from our partners and the federal American Rescue Plan funding.  The most challenging issue we are facing now is the shortage in bus drivers. It’s a crisis cross different bus systems in the region and around the country.  
  • The Congress’s bipartisan infrastructure bill under discussion commits $39 billion in new funding for local public transit. We hope that it will improve the quality of buses and bus stops, more frequent services, expansion to weekend services. 
  • At the state level, NC is expecting 6.9B surplus in the next 2 years. We should actively engage, and petition the money to expand our public transit capacity.

2. The NS BRT is a vital service that Chapel Hill Transit is developing for our community. Recently, due to delays in state funding, the projected opening date has been pushed back to 2028. How will you support and champion this project?

  • I’ll petition the continued funding from the Orange County to sustain and complete the 90% design for the BRT. Without the funding, it will set us back in the federal application process and risk the progresses that we have accomplished so far. 
  • We need to lobby the NCGA to recommit the state funding. NC is expecting a 6.9B surplus in the next two years. We should petition the state to use this as an opportunity to invest in our community
  • In the meantime, we should implement traffic signal priority system at our intersections along MLK and other bus corridors. It will collect valuable data, provide insights on a key component of the system and create buy-in from the public to see the benefit and impacts of an improved transit system.  

3. What are the top three things you will do as an elected official to address climate change?

  • Retrofitting public facilities and public housing to meet energy efficiency  building standards. We have delayed/neglected basic maintenance of our facility for too long. This is an urgent issue to tackle while significantly boost our climate goal.
  • Reduce car dependence: transportation contributes to 1/3 of our GHG emission. This initiative will include sensible parking reform, safe sidewalks, bike lanes and greenway connections, and land use planning with higher density along transit corridor with easy access to jobs, schools and neighborhood stores. 
  • Community-wide Green recovery initiative: It takes community engagement to tackle big issue of climate change. We can provide funding and tax initiative to make this happen for people to adopt community solar & electric cars/bikes, install a network of storm water green infrastructure of rain garden and harvesting facilities in their back yards, plant trees and community gardens, and to clean creeks and remove invasive species
  • Work with UNC to bring urgency to phase out the coal plant, design sensible housing/mobility/energy strategies that will reduce the University’s carbon footprit 

4. “Complete streets” are streets that provide users with multiple options for getting around by accommodating people on bicycles, walking and in cars with safe facilities such as off-street bike lanes, sidewalks, and safe roadway crossings. To provide complete streets, would you support removing a travel lane for cars? If yes, where?

Yes, Cameron Avenue is the perfect candidate to get us started.  It’s one of the most heavily used roads for cyclists, connected to Carrboro student housing through the Libba Cotten Bikeway, and, along with Rosemary, is governed by the town. It will have little disruption to businesses during construction. 

5. Aside from projects currently underway or recently completed (e.g. the Estes Road connectivity project, the Fordham Blvd. sidepath, protected bike lane on Jones Ferry Road), what accessible biking and walking facilities should be a priority? Would you support speeding their development and construction, and how would you do so?

Yes, I’ll put biking/walking facilities that connect community to schools at the highest priority. Morning/afternoon school rush hour cause a lot of frustration to kids, parents and schools and unnecessary traffic jam, delay and gas exhaust. Prioritizing safe connections from communities to schools will create the community buy-in for more investment in biking/walking facilities around town.

6. Free parking is a manifestation of white supremacy culture. Explain your understanding of this statement.

Parking is expensive. Each parking space costs 20K-50K to build, especially at premium downtown real estate market. When parking is “free”, it actually means that it is paid by the government with public fund or by the merchants who later charge the cost to its customers. The cost is distributed to everyone even the people who don’t drive/ don’t own a car. Historically, low income, minority communities have a much lower car ownership rate than the white affluent communities, but they will be taxed at the same property tax rate and pay the same merchandise price as the white affluent communities who are the only ones benefitted from the free-parking. 

7. The town recently committed to funding a $39 million parking deck with debt, even though Chapel Hill residents may be able to tell their autonomous cars to return home and pick them up 2 hours later in the timeframe that the debt on the deck will be paid. Yes or no – should the East Rosemary Parking deck be the last parking deck the town of Chapel Hill ever builds?

Parking needs to be part of the strategic planning for its size, location, revenue structure, purpose it serves and short-term and long-term efficient use of the space. The Rosemary deck is poorly executed because we again reacted to a developer’s pitch without considering the Town’s strategic goal and financial viability. It puts the town in a capricious financial position, and encourages workforce car-driving which is the most impactful for car-dependency. It creates a car-centric place which is counterproductive to its goal of economic development. Numerous studies have shown that downtown vibrancy depends on bringing in more people, more destinations and more diverse uses across different hours to the limited space. It won’t work not only because it encourages car dependence and a huge financial risk for the town, it also because it’s based on a failed economic model of the last century that many cities are shiting away from. I won’t completely rule out the need in the future for a strategically-placed, right-sized parking deck that serves the town’s strategic goals, but the Rosemary deck is a failed investment. 

8. Recently, the City of Durham engaged the community in a participatory budgeting process in which ordinary people identify, discuss and prioritize public spending projects to allocate a portion of the city’s budget  (https://www.pbdurham.org/) . If elected, would you support engaging the community in a similar process? Would you do this in the same way as Durham? 

I’m open to the idea of more community engagement and more direct power to the people in influencing the budgeting process. However, I also see that it might put people in minority communities in a disadvantaged position as their needs/voices being consistently overwhelmed by the majority.  I think we can try this in a smaller scale and see how it works in Chapel Hill dedicating a small budget, say 10K-50K, to a few community-initiated projects, and let the community decide which projects they want to support. We can collect data and fix problems along the way. I have made my name while serving on the Council to be accessible to constituents, come to where they are, listen to them, understand their perspectives. I’ll continue to do so as a Mayor. I’ll welcome community-initiated projects to encourage public engagement, innovation and responsiveness in our municipal government. 

9. Have you taken any anti-racism training? If so, which one(s)?

Yes. I have taken DEI workshops offered by the UNC medical school: Unconscious Bias, Respecting All and Racial Justice. 

10. What are your thoughts about how budgets for law enforcement are allocated and what services should be provided by other agencies outside of law enforcement? 

For a very long time, our law enforcement has become the “catch-all” of many forms of social ills, from homelessness, substance abuse, to domestic violence. Many of the functions will/should be better served by social workers or mental health professionals. With sufficient funding and well-trained professional personal, we will be able to provide safer and more effective services to the community. I’m glad that our Community Safety Task Force is fully engaged in addressing these issues and look forward to supporting their proposal ensure safety for everyone in our community. 

Pam Hemminger

1. The Orange County transit plan currently identifies only $300,000 for new or expanded transit service in the coming year. This is barely enough money to run a bus that comes every 30 minutes for only 6 hours per weekday, with zero weekend service. What are your thoughts on expanded transit funding?

It is critical that Chapel Hill and our regional partners continue to expand our transit services.  Over the past six years, I have worked through the MPO, Metro Mayors and Orange County Transit Partners to advocate with the state and federal governments to have more dollars come to support transit systems along with bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

We’ve had some success – getting the General Assembly to restore the State Maintenance Assistance Program (SMAP) funds for urban bus systems and getting NCDOT to agree to allocate funds to bike/ped projects, not just roads. 

Locally, our transit system is funded through a partnership with Carrboro and UNC.  I would like to see UNC Health become more involved, especially now that Eastowne has come on-line.

We are also keeping an eye on the federal infrastructure bill which includes funding for transit.  At this point, the bill seems to focus heavily on electric buses.  As we are in the process of transitioning our fleet right now, we will do everything we can to capitalize on these funding opportunities.

2. The NS BRT is a vital service that Chapel Hill Transit is developing for our community. Recently, due to delays in state funding, the projected opening date has been pushed back to 2028. How will you support and champion this project?

Delays will result in rising costs so we have been working with the MPO (which is very supportive), the NCDOT board and through Metro Mayors to get this back on track.  

We are still moving ahead with planning and design so that we are shovel ready for early release of any funding.  This has worked to our benefit in the past.  

  1. What are the top three things you will do as an elected official to address climate change?

Cities and towns need to do everything they can to engage their entire community in reducing our carbon footprint and improving resiliency.

The Town of Chapel Hill accounts for a small percent of the energy usage and greenhouse emissions in our community so, to truly achieve our climate goals, we need everyone to participate.

Three top things I am doing to address climate change are:

1. Giving my full support to implementing our Climate Action & Response Plan.
The Chapel Hill Climate Action Plan identifies five “Top Action Categories”.  Within these, focusing on buildings and transportation have been identified as areas where we can have the most impact and get the greatest “bang for the buck” so I am currently focused on efforts to: 

  • Add solar to the roofs of town facilities like Public Works and Transit
  • Create a community solar farm
  • Complete bikeways and greenways to support multi-modal transportation 
  • Green our fleet (including our buses) 
  • Plan for and create an EV charging network 

Other areas of focus for me include: 

  • Partnering with the University around their plans for growth, student housing and climate action
  • Looking at how we can preserve green space, tree canopy, and wildlife corridors in ways that best support the overall health of our community
  • Working with local restaurants to reduce waste by opting into the county composting program.


2. Working at the regional, state and federal level to implement programs and advocate for funding and policies that support climate action.

  • In 2017, I worked with TJCOG to found Jordan Lake One Water (JLOW) to restore water quality in the Jordan Lake watershed by bringing together staff, experts and elected officials representing 10 counties, 27 municipalities and nearly 700,000 water customers.  Our Vision & Recommendations document is complete and we are moving on to next steps.
  • In 2018, I joined the NC Cities Initiative, a collaborative effort to reduce GHG emissions in our state.
  • Since 2016, I have been an active member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Climate Mayors, NC Metro Mayors and other organizations and have worked with these organizations on advocacy efforts at the state and federal level.  Most recently, I joined a group of Southeast Mayors in calling on Congress and President Biden to adopt a Clean Energy Standard which would require energy companies (like Duke Energy) to move to 80% clean energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

3.Motivating the entire community to take action and make changes.

Given the crisis we face, I am hopeful that our residents and local businesses will follow our lead – switching to LEDs in buildings and parking lots, putting solar on roofs, moving toward electric vehicles and e-bikes, walking, biking or taking the bus to work, compositing, planting trees and more.  

Where possible, I will look for opportunities – through federal grants and other programs – to provide necessary education, outreach, funding and resources to help people and organizations make some of these changes.

Examples of efforts I have been working on include:

  • Conducting energy savings audits and helping to weatherize homes
  • Completing bikeway/greenway projects to improve access to jobs and amenities, reduce transportation costs and provide recreational opportunities 
  • Planting trees in low wealth neighborhoods to add shade, reduce energy costs 
  • Providing resources to at-risk populations vulnerable to climate change impacts such as flooding
  • Working with the Chamber of Commerce to identify and encourage climate action opportunities for our businesses

4. “Complete streets” are streets that provide users with multiple options for getting around by accommodating people on bicycles, walking and in cars with safe facilities such as off-street bike lanes, sidewalks, and safe roadway crossings. To provide complete streets, would you support removing a travel lane for cars? If yes, where?

Yes.  I support removing travel lanes to create more bike lanes in town, especially where we have a central turning lane that can be converted and when we can combine the project with planned NCDOT efforts.  Also, where we have wider lanes that could easily be converted to include a bike lane.

We have taken a firm stance with the MPO and NCDOT that we want 15-501 to be bike & pedestrian friendly as opposed to being just car centric.  That this perspective needs to be the top priority.  That “if” another lane is added that it needs to be for a bus lane that has multimodal connections.  When this project comes forward, NCDOT has committed to funding a complete streets project!  We have already taken steps with Wegmans & Eastowne to install safer roadway crossings, better multimodal path connections and transit connections that are protected.  Those improvements are coming soon!

We have already taken this step in some places – including, most recently, along Culbreth Road where we took advantage of an NCDOT re-paving project to remove the center turn lane along most of the road to add five foot bike lanes.  We have another opportunity, upcoming, when NCDOT resurfaces West Franklin Street between Colombia Street and Merritt Mill Road.  Restriping there would allow us to add bike lanes and other amenities to create a much more pleasant, walkable and bikeable area.

5. Aside from projects currently underway or recently completed (e.g. the Estes Road connectivity project, the Fordham Blvd. sidepath, protected bike lane on Jones Ferry Road), what accessible biking and walking facilities should be a priority? Would you support speeding their development and construction, and how would you do so?

Yes, I support moving forward with multimodal projects as quickly as we can.

The Town took an important step toward advancing multimodal transportation throughout Chapel Hill with the adoption, in 2017, of our Mobility & Connectivity Plan which identifies next steps and priorities for making bicycle and pedestrian connections throughout Chapel Hill and to key destinations in Orange County.  In 2020, the plan was updated and now reflects 2019 NCDOT updates to their Complete Streets policy around including and funding multimodal facilities in major NCDOT projects.  We are currently in the process of constructing two major projects (Fordham Sidepath and Estes Drive Connectivity Plan).  All total this year the Town expects to complete 5 projects and to advance 7 more.  

The Town works hard to require multimodal amenities (sidewalks, bike lanes, greenway connections, transit stops) as part of any new development or redevelopment application and, currently, I am in conversations with Glen Lennox and UNC about a bike lane and sidewalk improvements up Raleigh Road which would allow people to bike, e-bike or walk from Meadowmont to campus and downtown.

As federal and funds become available, having plans in place and being shovel-ready, puts us in good shape to receive project funding and we are continually working with our MPO and NCDOT partners to garner necessary support.

When the debt capacity becomes available, will want to consider a bond to move forward with additional mobility projects.

  1. Free parking is a manifestation of white supremacy culture. Explain your understanding of this statement.

All parking decisions are political; deciding to provide free parking is a decision to subsidize those with money over those without, which often correlates to race. We can help make the system fairer by providing transit for those without cars, and charging for parking for those who can afford to drive — and using that money to benefit the rest of the community. 

7. The town recently committed to funding a $39 million parking deck with debt, even though Chapel Hill residents may be able to tell their autonomous cars to return home and pick them up 2 hours later in the timeframe that the debt on the deck will be paid. Yes or no – should the East Rosemary Parking deck be the last parking deck the town of Chapel Hill ever builds?

There are several things I’d like to clarify about the East Rosemary parking deck:

The $39 million investment will be paid for with parking fees. By consolidating two decks plus  (ultimately), Lot 2 into one place, we are supporting better use of nearby properties, increasing property tax revenues for the town County and schools, adding more year-round employees and visitors to support downtown businesses, making downtown more walkable, and adding public green space.

In this case, we are taking advantage of the time limited opportunity zone to add density and create the year-round community we need downtown.

As to the question about whether the Town should build another parking deck:

As you point out, the window of time is closing on people driving and parking at work.  People may not even own their cars after a while so vehicles  will just be a utility and there will be significantly less need to park.   We are not quite there yet, but starting another new deck without the ability to pay for the 20 year loan would not be a good long term investment.

8. Recently, the City of Durham engaged the community in a participatory budgeting process in which ordinary people identify, discuss and prioritize public spending projects to allocate a portion of the city’s budget  (https://www.pbdurham.org/) . If elected, would you support engaging the community in a similar process? Would you do this in the same way as Durham? 

Would be happy to engage residents in a public process.  We do not get enough people to engage in our budget hearings and only those with inside knowledge or loudest voices show up to participate.  The budget is complicated but is for the public so we need them to help us decide what the priorities will be for the coming years.  We use the bi-annual customer satisfaction survey to help inform us along with communications from the public.  A forum would be a better idea and go into the communities to have these discussions.

9. Have you taken any anti-racism training? If so, which one(s)?

Yes, twice.  Once while on School Board and once with Town Council Members in 2016.

10. What are your thoughts about how budgets for law enforcement are allocated and what services should be provided by other agencies outside of law enforcement? 

We will be hearing back from our Reimagining Public Safety Task Force next week.  The findings support our Crisis Outreach Team and having more social workers on staff.  We need more training for our officers and we have just hired a DEI officer to help with reviewing our practices and policies and well as helping to inform us of how to deal better with our public.  We have also reduced our police officer FTEs and changed some strategies on how we handle mental health related issues and other non-threatening violations.  The majority of our policing budget is our people and we are trying to stay competitive with surrounding jurisdictions so that we can attract, train and retain the officers that will uphold our communities values of RESPECT for all.

We also have invested a great deal of resources in our Housing & Community Department that works with our Public Housing residents, our affordable housing partners and with our crisis unit when people are in critical situations, especially families.  During covid we were able to help over 900 families stay in their homes and rapidly rehoused over 80 individuals.