Issues

These platform ideas are based on my current understanding of the most pressing issues facing City government. This is a living document; I will continue to update and refine it over time as I learn more, especially from my neighbors in Ward 5. Please feel free to use my contact form to share your perspective on these or other issues.

Contents

A Progressive Voice

The word “progressive” is used a lot in politics these days, but it can mean different things to different people. This is what it means to me.

pro•gress•ive prə-grĕs′ĭv adj. 1. Moving forward; advancing. 2. Proceeding in steps; continuing steadily by increments. 3. Open to or favoring new ideas, policies, or methods.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th 

The root word is “progress,” or advancement toward a goal. Most political progressives favor goals of equity, justice and inclusion, and policies that are characteristic of the social democracies of Europe. We believe a more equal society is healthier, more resilient, and more prosperous.

Without intervention, wealth tends to concentrate over time, which creates stressors that can destabilize society. Extreme inequality weakens the checks and balances that make a society responsive to risk. Every successful civilization has found some way to rebalance wealth; in the U.S. it’s done with taxes, government spending, unions and labor laws.

A progressive tax imposes a higher rate on the rich than on the poor. It’s based on the taxpayer’s income or wealth.

The Balance

Federal and State Income Taxes are progressive, with a series of steps that increase the tax rates at higher incomes. The property taxes that form the City’s income base, however, are “flat.” All homeowners pay the same tax rate regardless of whether they’re living in a trailer or a mansion, or whether they own a single family home or a 100-unit complex.

It’s also common to offer tax abatements to new developments, which reduce their initial property tax to zero, then step it up gradually over time until it becomes the same as the tax rate paid for older homes. This creates a “regressive tax”, where developers pay a lower tax rate than the rest of us. This is justified with the argument that new developments are providing direct community benefits, which serve in lieu of their first few years of taxes. Assessing the balance between community benefits and concessions to developers is an important part of the work of City government.

Economic Recovery

The pandemic has put enormous stress on our residents and local businesses. NY’s new Emergency Rental Assistance Program will reduce the risk of homelessness, but it will take time for our economy to recover. Local small businesses have been disproportionately harmed, and disruptions to schools have been especially hard for working (or formerly working) women. We need a strong economic recovery plan, that includes the following elements:

  • Housing for the homeless
  • Support for local businesses
  • A living wage for all
  • Support for micro-businesses to make a living wage possible
  • Improved internet service
  • Increased local labor in construction
  • Improved access to child care
  • A search for additional income sources to fund our recovery

Public Safety

Last summer’s protests hit me pretty hard. The neighborhood I once lived in, in South Minneapolis, burned to the ground. My sister-in-law Betty is African American. I’ve watched two nephews grow up into young men who “fit the profile”, and I feel fiercely protective of their safety. I can’t fix Minnesota, but I want to do what I can for Ithaca.

This is a time of revolutionary change in our understanding of public safety. In response to a state mandate, both Tompkins County and Ithaca’s Common Council have passed versions of a new Reimagining Public Safety Report, which proposes dramatic changes to the way we do policing in Ithaca. NY State’s recent “Say Her Name” reforms and legalization of marijuana also create opportunities to restore communities, and start to dismantle the New Jim Crow.

The report recommends the following core changes:

  • Transform the way we respond to crisis calls and health and human services needs
  • Redesign training programs to emphasize de-escalation and mental health skills
  • Support the mental health of public safety staff
  • Use more inclusive recruitment strategies to diversify the department
  • Track and review data on public safety activities, and improve oversight and accountability
  • Create stronger ties between staff and community, and seek to address and heal from past trauma

To implement this plan successfully we need to bring in new people with sophisticated skill sets that our current public safety employees don’t have. The City ordinance that passed in March promises job security to current staff, so we will have to pay careful attention to job re-training programs to develop new skill sets, and find effective ways to shift staff expectations about how their job is, or should be, performed. We will have to track and evaluate their performance in their new roles. The number of new positions we’re able to fund is critical, and so is the authority granted to employees with high-level de-escalation and crisis management skills. Careful and ongoing attention will be needed to ensure that changes to the department produce deep and lasting change, and are not merely cosmetic.

Other elements of public safety reform that seem important to me include the following:

  • Use unarmed staff wherever possible, reserving guns and badges for situations that genuinely need them
  • Stop prosecuting victimless crimes and defund the “war on drugs”
  • Strengthen mutual aid and other community support systems
  • Address poverty and inequity, to reduce the stresses that lead to breakdowns in public safety. 

Affordable Housing

Ithaca continues to be seen, not just locally but nationally, as a desirable place to live, and as a result our City is growing even though the population is shrinking in other parts of the state. Cornell has also grown, and their student housing has not kept pace. We need more housing to accommodate our new neighbors, but many long-time residents are unhappy about the proliferation of high-rises and luxury apartments. Hundreds of new units of rental housing are being built by large developers, in a City whose housing is already skewed heavily toward rentals over ownership. And low-to-moderate-income residents are still left with too few options. Both rents and purchase prices are out of reach, forcing lower-income workers and families to move farther and farther out of town. We need to:

  • Build the right kind of housing to meet our needs
  • Encourage affordable condos and co-ops as a path toward lower-cost ownership
  • Encourage cooperative living options
  • Support the needs of tenants and small-scale landlords
  • Evaluate risks and benefits of rent stabilization & inclusionary zoning
  • Create a more progressive structure for property taxes
  • Reduce inequality to increase buying power

Green New Deal

Living at Ecovillage at Ithaca for 13 years, and — since I moved to Fall Creek — renovating and doing energy upgrades to two older homes, has given me knowledge and experience that will be valuable in moving this work forward.

We should continue building on the great work that is already being done to make our community more sustainable and climate ready. Ithaca’s new Energy Code Supplement, which establishes green building standards for new construction, was passed by Common Council on May 5, 2021. The next, and hardest, task needed to meet our Green New Deal goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 is to develop a transition plan for existing buildings.

  • Find ways to balance the needs of homeowners with the urgency of reducing fossil fuel use
  • Find ways to support low-income residents to make energy retrofits possible
  • Ensure that both rental and owner-occupied properties are addressed

In addition to changing the energy footprint of our buildings, a complete long-term sustainability plan should include the following elements:

  • Sustainable, walkable & bikeable neighborhoods
  • An expanded and more efficient public transit network
  • Improved resources for ride sharing
  • Job training and support for local green industries
  • A comprehensive community food policy that emphasizes local and regional sources
  • A shift away from car-centered mall strips toward walkable “village centers”
  • Continued improvements to flood readiness

Striving for Equity

All our City’s challenges are made worse by systemic inequities. Historically disenfranchised groups are the first and worst affected by setbacks, and the last to reap the benefits of positive change. The concentration of stress in black and brown communities makes all of us less safe, and the concentration of stress on women harms families and children. These are just two of the groups affected by inequity. We need to consider ways to address those impacts in all our government policies.

I was inspired by a resolution passed last summer in Asheville, NC in response to the global George Floyd protests. It could serve as a model for a similar resolution here in Ithaca, to create accountability and help us meet our own responsibility to dismantle systemic racism.

What I’m Hearing From You

This section contains a grab bag of ideas picked up from my visits with neighbors in Ward 5.

  • Create a teen center, somewhat like a cross between the Ithaca Youth Bureau and a college Student Union, which provides teens an opportunity to come together to hang out and socialize, listen to music, practice self-governance, and participate in a variety of activities. Evaluate the old Masonic Temple as a possible location.
  • Create programs that forge *ongoing* relationships between public safety officers and at-risk teens — e.g. joint sports teams — as a way to foster empathy & improve community relations.
  • Repair the backstop/address the fencing situation in Auburn Park.
  • Work with intercity bus lines to re-establish more frequent bus service.
  • Need a champion on council to focus attention on making the City more bikeable.
  • Support Vision Zero traffic safety program and on-demand shuttle service.
  • Concerns about traffic speed on both Cayuga and Lincoln streets.
  • Pass Ranked Choice Voting locally, to increase familiarity with it and grow support toward its passage at the State level.
  • Make our new buildings more attractive to look at.
  • Work with other municipalities to develop a unified County-wide Development Plan, based on the concept of nodal development described in the County’s Comprehensive Plan. Our community is larger than the City proper, and planning on that larger scale could improve our growth from a small to a mid-size City. Consider where we could support the establishment of “squares” or “village centers”, with improved public transit networks, to improve walkability in surrounding areas and alleviate some of the development pressure downtown.
  • Respect the expertise & contributions of City and County staff. We don’t need new ideas as much as we need the resources to implement them.
  • Inclusionary zoning, if we implement it, should be sensitive to individual differences between properties, such as lot size and distance from neighboring houses.
  • We need property tax relief for small homeowners; stop asking them to pay more to subsidize large developments. Consider a stepped tax system like in MA or CA, where assessments are increased only when property is sold.
  • Tax abatements are in part a response to risk — “Ithaca is a hard City to build in, and developers need the promise of a large return to be willing to take a large risk.” Consider whether there might be ways to reduce risk, as an alternative to increasing returns.
  • Encourage Cornell to provide more student housing.
  • Improve and expand financial supports for first-time homebuyers.
  • Organize a Meet the Candidates event that includes both me and Rob.
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