Russ Stephenson (D)

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Age: 55
Occupation: Architect and Urban Design Consultant
Website: www.russforraleigh.com

 

How long have you lived in Raleigh?
Short answer is since 1975.

Why did you decide to run for office?
I’m running for my fourth term. The reasons for wanting to do it haven’t changed. They have to do with the fact that I have deep family roots here in the City of Raleigh. I met my wife at the School of Design. My training as an architect led me to be very interested in problem solving and making people’s lives better — that’s what architecture is all about. Raleigh has a great history and a great potential and it’s just an amazing place to be and to be involved in making decisions about what the citizens of Raleigh want their city to be and how to maximize the quality of life.

What do you think are the three biggest issues the city faces?
Making sure that we provide high-quality, sustainable growth. Making sure that we continue to provide a setting for high-quality jobs. And that we do both of those things in a way that has a minimum cost to the citizens. That’s what it’s all about. So the reason why you should vote for me and not the other guy is we’ve got the people who are already succeeding in national rankings in all these ways, and that’s the reason why you should keep these people doing what they’re doing rather than rolling the dice with someone else.

What do you think are the best and worst decisions the current city council has made?
I’ll start with the best, and I’m going to dodge the answer, because there is no one best decision. It’s a combination of looking at a lot of decisions in the context of a long range goal. The short answer would be to recognize the importance of all the significant investments that have gone on before and make sure that the decisions we’ve made in all the areas of economic development, transportation, growth and development, and quality of life are made in the context of understanding how we’re building on what has come before us. What we’re doing is going to grow on that. The other thing that occurs to me is the comprehensive plan. You only do that once every 20 years. I’m the only councilor who actually helped write elements of the plan. This plan is much more aware of this idea of having a healthy and competitive city in the long run. That’s the blueprint for our next 20 years.

For the worst, a development company bought up a bunch of land in our long-term service area, just about as far out in the ultimate limits of growth as you could possibly be and said, “If you run water and sewer from this side of the Neuse River over to us and agree to annex us, we’ll agree to pay for all the costs to run all those utilities way out there.” Even if they pay for utilities out here, that’s just going to foster more sprawl development along where there’s access on the line for water and sewer densities, these areas are not suitable for urbanization, even at a suburban level. But somehow in the course of negotiating the thing, they were able to convince the majority of city councilors, all except for [Thomas] Crowder and myself, this was something that was a benefit. So we annexed this thing out there. Now they’ve subsequently gone bankrupt and so they’re not going to be building water and sewer. But we got this one little piece of Raleigh hanging out in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t vote for it. I hope we’ll never do anything like that again.

What are most important issues facing your district (the city) and how do you plan to address those?
That goes back to the comments I made before — how to grow in a way that protects the quality of life for the people that are already here. Once you do a comprehensive plan that is aspirational, then after that you take your old out-of-date zoning, which is all the rules and regulations for development, and that’s what we’re doing right now.

It’s called the UDO (Unified Development Ordinance). The new rules reflect the aspirations, and these were all citizens and stakeholder involved processes, so for me the best plan for the future is one that most of the people were involved in making reaching consensus on.

What do you think the city should do to house its public safety functions?
We should provide new facilities for all our critical services. That includes 911 call center, emergency operations center, highway transportation and data server center. That building has two parts to it: all the critical services and headquarters for police and fire. When we started looking into [the proposed Clarence E. Lightner Public
Safety Center] in detail, we became convinced that this proposed building was not going to be as safe and it was going to be more expensive than it should be.

How do you feel about impact fees?
My top campaign issue back in 2005, in the development boom days, was first and foremost about raising impact fees. Back then taxpayers paid about 90 percent for roads and parks. That’s great for subsidizing sprawl development, but not for people who are already here paying taxes to have that kind of growth pattern being encouraged by that kind of fiscal policy. So I said let’s raise impact fees. So now instead of 90 percent, it’s now about two thirds. The vision going forward is that impact fees are great, but it’s sort of a blunt tool. We’d like to see more graduated impact fees.

What are your ideas for public transportation?
I’m a strong advocate for public transit, to the extent that it supports our longterm goals for sustainable development and reducing single-occupancy trips and the impacts that has on the quality of life of the citizens of Raleigh. It is a major concern because it’s expensive both in terms  of generating more trips, more congestion, more pollution, more time lost that could have been used productively, or money spent to build infrastructure, consuming more land that could be used more productively. Public transportation is a major key to our city’s health and competitiveness in the long run.

How should the City of Raleigh plan to meet its future water needs?
We need to protect our existing water supplies first and foremost. Clearly the quality of life for us now is intimately tied to the quality of our water. Fortunately, we’re ranked as having some of the best quality water coming out of our water treatment plants in the nation. We’ve seen in the drought that there are severe limitations to providing adequate drinking water to our population. Conservation is a way to ensure our long-term water supplies, while keeping the cost down for rate payers in the long term. The reuse system is great — let the users who benefit pay the capital cost and in times of drought use that as drinking water for the citizens.

The city has been given a million dollars to do with whatever it wants. What do you do with it?
It would be great to put a million dollars toward buying the Dix property from the state. Of course it’s much more than that, but in terms of having a place to take a pot of money and put into a long-range benefit, I think everyone in Raleigh understands that is an incredible piece of open space. It could be a great amenity and place for development around, not in, the park. We’ll put it on layaway.

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