We’re hosting an AMA for one of the at-large candidates in the 2022 City of Raleigh elections. Jonathan Melton has agreed to answer some questions right here on the Community on Friday Oct. 7, 2022 from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM.
Feel free to post questions ahead of time right here.
Thank you for coming on here, councilman! For context, you’re in pretty friendly territory here, as far as urbanism-related issues go, but we’ll be looking forward to reading about your detailed thoughts.
I guess it makes sense to start with some of the same questions I asked mayoral candidate Terrance Ruth:
Where do you personally draw the line between seeking community consensus and being decisive as a representative of your constituents?
In your opinion, what would be the best / most constructive way for residents who do want to see Raleigh continue to grow towards being a dense walkable city to convey that message and support initiatives that help us get there?
Also, some Raleigh citizens have begun to embrace a new flag for Raleigh, with the eventual goal of making it a casual, alternative (not replacement) version of the city’s current formal flag. Could you share your thoughts on that, as well?
Is there one or two things that need to happen, from a politics or budgetary point-of-view, in order to really elevate our bike infrastructure game? Yes, we see new lanes being added here and there but I’m of the opinion that they are not being taken very seriously and very few riders use them. I’m of that mindset because it’s easy to spot cars parked in bike lanes, bike lanes covered in debris, and some of the oldest need to be repainted. I also don’t think people use them because they aren’t safe or comfortable to be in. The riders I do see are hardcore riders rather than casual ones.
The bike network just doesn’t feel like it’s clicking yet. What’s it got to take to make Raleigh a more bike-friendly city over the next 5-10 years and what could you do about it?
Ideally what other zoning changes would you like to see in Raleigh?
As for missing middle - how would you explain the benefits to fearful residents of SE Raleigh. I know it’s easy to show on paper how this can tame rising property values but how would you explain in your own words?
What is the single biggest thing holding downtown Raleigh back?
If missing middle were to somehow be reversed, in your mind what would the implications be?
On a lighter note, what is your favorite thing about serving Raleigh?
I welcome discussions with anyone; I’ve taken the approach that I’ll meet you any place, any time to discuss an issue, and I often talk to folks who I know disagree with me on many issues. But I also think it’s important to know when to listen and when to act. I try to keep in mind that we’re a city of almost 500k, and often we hear from the same 10-15 people about every issue. That likely means we’re on the right track.
I actually don’t think the Office of Community Engagement is intended to replace the CAC system; in fact, I don’t think there will be a direct replacement- and that’s a good thing! How we send/receive information has changed substantially from the 1970s when CACs were created, and we have to do things differently. Surveys showed few Raleigh residents knew what a CAC was and fewer ever attended a CAC meeting. Attendees skewed older and not representative of the overall community. That can’t be the sole form of city-sanctioned engagement. We need to decentralize. In person meetings are important and will continue to play a role. Groups called CACs still exist and meet, and the city offers a neighborhood registry program where neighborhood groups can register to get access to staff resources and community centers for meetings. But we must take steps to engage with a more diverse, representative community and provide greater access. We included renters in all mailed and posted notices for city issues (rezonings, street projects, etc.). We funded a Community Engagement Bus to go into traditionally disengaged communities and meet people where they are. And the new Office of Community Engagement I think will help embed engagement in all city departments. For a long time I think community engagement in Raleigh was a noun, a place you had to go to engage. It should be a verb, an action embedded in all of our processes and continuously worked on for improvement. I think that’s how we work to better involve constituents in decision making and gain trust.
Yes, this city/region should’ve made transit a priority decades ago; we’re behind now but it’s not too late. I think the efforts planned to make sure there’s access to retail, employment, and affordable housing along BRT corridors are appropriate, specifically the transit overlay district (TOD) and Equitable Development Around Transit Fund (EDAT, it has a new name now but I can’t ever remember it). But one thing I would do differently is map and apply the TOD quicker and sooner, and not wait for the station area planning process to fully complete first. Our land use planning isn’t keeping pace with development, and we’re at risk of losing opportunities along our BRT corridors. An unfortunate example is the KMart redevelopment site.
There’s plenty other cities could borrow from us! For the past 3 years Raleigh has really been a leader on many progressive policy reforms, including changes to eliminate exclusionary zoning, parking minimums/maximums, etc. For that reason, it’s tough to identify something another city is doing that Raleigh hasn’t tried recently. A few smaller initiatives come to mind, Denver has an e-bike rebate program for low income residents and some municipalities out West have offered low interest loans or grants for ADU construction if the ADU is offered as an affordable rental. I’d like to explore both of those options. Portland is also doing a lot of good work on ACUs and corner stores which is one piece we haven’t fully unlocked yet due to some limitations in State law to regulate alcohol and fire arm sales. I’m determined to find a way forward on this issues next term, hopefully.
We often only hear from folks who are upset or opposed to something. A quick email to the entire City Council is actually really helpful, or if you have time, showing up to public comment or public hearing to express support is even more helpful.
My first term was (for lack of a more appropriate term) WILD. I’m not sure I’ve even been able to fully process yet the experience of being elected and immediately thrown into unprecedented global and systemic challenges. I’m sure as more time passes more lessons will come to mind. For now, two things I think should’ve been handled differently are the CAC vote and discussions about the election. I think both should’ve been placed on the public agenda. For CACs, it was brought up during the part of the agenda where any Council Member can raise any issue for discussion. For the election, I wish this discussion had occurred at public meeting, but the city attorney put it on a closed session agenda due to what she believed to be legal issues/consequences. I think that was the wrong place to discuss and vote, and I’m happy to share my thoughts publicly at any time.
I want to legalize (isn’t that a weird term to have to use for housing?) SROs (single room occupancy) housing, and there’s more work to do to put goods and services to where people live. But I also think a priority for next term also needs to be giving all of the policy reforms we made this term time to take hold; basically, we need to hold the line.
Providing examples. No one likes change, but if you can show someone an example of that change it becomes less scary. Luckily, there are tons of examples of missing middle housing already in Raleigh, in our oldest most beloved neighborhoods that pre-date the enactment of many exclusionary zoning laws. Also, many folks go to Europe and vacation and enjoy cities built in a way that’s not legal here - dense, mixed use, walkable, bike/ped friendly. They spend money to spend time there, take pictures, and then come home and protest (some, literally) the types of changes that would make those places a reality here. Pointing out examples like that helps, I think.