Bonner Gaylord | Candidate Questionnaires - Wake County | Indy Week

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Bonner Gaylord

Raleigh City Council - District E


Name as it appears on the ballot: Bonner Gaylord
Party affiliation, if any: Unaffiliated
Campaign website:
Occupation & employer: General Manger – North Hills
Years lived in Raleigh: 37 (Entire life)

Bonner Gaylord
  • Bonner Gaylord
1) Given the current direction of Raleigh city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?

Raleigh is generally on the right track. We are one of the best places in America to live, raise a family and find a job. However, there is much we can do to build on the momentum we have. The major changes I want to push for in my next term are forward-looking plans for managing our growth and improving our transportation options. The decisions we make today will affect how successful we are for decades to come. Managing our growth is the most important task the council has right now because it affects job creation, economic development, the preservation of our environment and our overall quality of life. In my next term, I want to continue using smart growth principles like investing in transportation infrastructure and encouraging dense, walkable development in certain areas.

I would also like to see us pursue some innovative solutions to our challenges. For example, we may want to expand the availability of city land for urban agriculture to combat food insecurity. The city could explore how new driverless technology for buses and cars could improve our transportation system. We should also keep pushing for a bike share program to augment our transportation options. I think we could revisit backyard cottages as an affordable solution to the strain on our housing supply. I have thought about bringing in a whitewater park to help add to our tourism and recreation options. I also believe we should keep working to be a more environmentally friendly city. We have made good progress on becoming a more green city, and in my next term I will look for ways to reduce our solid waste output, continue implementing sustainable practices in city buildings and increase charging stations for electric vehicles.

2) If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identity your priorities for improvements in the district if you're elected. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces and how you will address them?

District E has some exceptional issues with traffic congestion because our area has grown very quickly. The traffic challenges we face show just how badly we need a smart, sustainable, forward-looking plan for growth. We have to encourage new development to concentrate in dense areas so people can walk to restaurants, shops and cultural destinations. Our planning also includes improving our transportation infrastructure so people can have multiple options for trips that are too far for walking. This type of growth management helps reduce the need for driving, which reduces the amount of traffic on our roads.

District E also faces a challenge because it is home to some of our most established neighborhoods as well as many of our newest. One of my top priorities is remaining a growing, successful city while still preserving the quality of life that makes Raleigh such a great place to live. The recent changes to our zoning and development guidelines help us protect our neighborhoods by encouraging new growth to be concentrated in compact areas instead of spreading into some of our older residential areas.

One of my other primary areas of focus will still be economic development and job creation. As the General Manager of North Hills, I have overseen the addition of hundreds of jobs in that area alone. In my role as a city councilor, I have worked with the public and private sectors to ensure Raleigh is a city that continues to attract new businesses and jobs. Much of the city's growth is occurring in District E, which means it is home to many of our new jobs, as well.

3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of Council? If you've identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to be an effective advocate for them?

I took city planning classes in graduate school and frequently take inter-city visits with a the Chamber as well as Transportation for America as part of the Transportation Academy to understand how other cities have addressed growth challenges. I know how important it is to plan not for the city we are, but for the city we will become. In my time as a city councilor, I have worked to forge consensus within the council, facilitated public-private partnerships and brought an entrepreneurial mindset to city operations. For example, I brought the SeeClickFix app to Raleigh so citizens could have a more direct line of communication to the city when they identify potholes or graffiti that needs to be fixed. I also worked to push the development of a Downtown Raleigh app that helps residents and visitors find and navigate to shopping, dining and cultural amenities downtown. The way we interact with the world has changed and Raleigh has to stay ahead of the curve to remain competitive globally.

4) Please give one specific example of something you think City Council has done wrong or that you would have rather done differently in the last year. Also, please tell us the single best thing the city's done during that span.

One thing the council didn't get right was the inability to move forward on a bike share program. I voted for it because I know that cities that will be globally competitive in the future will offer innovative transportation options like bike share programs.

The best thing we did in the past year was acquire the Dorothea Dix property to preserve it as a park for my children and my children's children in the heart of the city.

5) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you're a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?

I'm a moderate. I have been unaffiliated since I first registered to vote and have always thought that as a councilor it's better to be pragmatic rather than ideological because it is imperative that we don't have the same dysfunction in Raleigh that we see in Washington, DC.

6) The INDY's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. If elected, how will your service in office help further that goal?

Raleigh has to get this issue right if we want to be a great city instead of just a good city. Part of growing smartly is growing for all people and it's critical that as we grow we create a city that works for all our citizens. That means good jobs, efficient transit, strong schools and affordable housing options for all our residents. People have to be able to find work, access their jobs when they get them and live in quality housing. I've stood up for those issues in my three terms on council and will continue to push for them in my fourth.

In order to better understand how to build a just community here in Raleigh, I have reached out for community input in a variety of ways. I hosted several town hall meetings; one of which was about homelessness and food insecurity, and one that was based around substance abuse issues. I also met with local African-American entrepreneurs to get advice on how Raleigh could improve diversity in business ownership. Furthermore, when a family from my district faced racial discrimination at a local business, I invited them to speak about the experience before the city council. I know that creating a truly just society requires hearing the voices of everyone who lives in that society and have done my best to hear a wide range of perspectives during my time as a Raleigh City Councilor.

Please address, in detail, the following major issues in Raleigh:

7) Now that the city has acquired the 306-acre Dorothea Dix Park, what are some specific things you would like to see the city do with it?

There is no end to all the ideas I have had for Dix Park since we first started to pursue it. For example, I think we could build a lake with an island stage at the bottom of the Dix hill that faces downtown. Then, during concerts or theater performances, the Raleigh skyline would be highlighted in the background and reflected in the lake surrounding the stage. However, the most important thing is that we listen to the residents to find out what they want to see done with the park. I did a survey on my website to give people the opportunity to weigh in with their thoughts and there were so many creative, visionary ideas that I know we will find the right use for the park as long as we listen to our citizens.

8) Between gentrification in historic neighborhoods and expensive rentals downtown, the city has struggled at times with questions of affordable and workforce housing. What concrete steps can or would you take to help ensure that, for instance, hospitality workers can afford to live in Raleigh and especially its urban core? For example, there has been some talk of density bonuses to entice developers to include affordable units in their downtown developments. Do you believe this is a viable idea? Why or why not?

Housing affordability is absolutely critical and is a question we have to get right if we want to be a world-class city. In the research I've done, density bonuses have proven to have only limited success. I think that our staff has put together a great ten-part plan that shows real long-term viability. I have championed pursuing all ten of these recommendations and I am confident that workable solutions will emerge from them.

9) Related to affordable housing and affordability in general is viable public transportation. What steps can the city take to improve mass transit throughout the city? Will you actively support the transit referendum that Wake County will likely put to voters next year?

I will certainly support next year's transit referendum and believe it will be a strong step in the right direction. However, a critical contemporaneous step in improving our transportation system is being smart about how we grow in the first place. If we concentrate our growth in dense areas with mixed uses, more people will be able to actually connect to transit. Further, people who live in dense, mixed-use environments can get around on their own two feet – the original transportation option. Beyond that we should add more buses to our bus system to cut ride and wait times. As we plan for the future of our Raleigh, all options for better transit should be on the table. I am a member of the Wake Transit Advisory Committee and the Transportation for America Transit Innovation Academy and have seen the successes and failures in other cities' transportation planning. The most important thing is to plan for the city we will become, not just the city we are.

10) The city came under fire at Council meetings in July for the proposed remapping under the Unified Development Ordinance. It is safe to say there was a lot of uncertainty and distrust. Broadly speaking, how do you think the city should approach issues of density and neighborhood livability? And if the city had it to do over again, what about the UDO remapping do you believe should have been done differently, if anything?

We should look at density and livability as intrinsically linked. People are moving here at a rate of 63 people per day and a kindergarten class is born here every day. All those people have to go somewhere. If we strategically encourage growth to occur in dense, urban areas, it preserves the quality of life we enjoy in established neighborhoods and rural areas.

When it comes to the UDO hearings, we must pursue more thorough community outreach strategies in the future. For example, we could work to better distribute information via the CACs and existing community organizations with established roots in areas all over the city.

11) Also on the subject of livability: The issue of regulating sidewalk patios hints at the difficulty this city (like other cities) faces in striking a balance between making its downtown more of a neighborhood and the needs of the businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry, that currently exist. How do you think the city should go about balancing these needs? What does a successful downtown look like to you?

We don't want Fayetteville St. to look like Bourbon, Beale or Broadway, but we don't want it to look like sleepy Main St., Mayberry either. The balance is somewhere in between. Our goal should be to have the kind of thriving downtown entertainment options that people want in a city, while also being a comfortable place to live. Residents want to live close to these amenities and businesses want to be accessible to customers. A successful downtown is one with stable residents supporting successful businesses and vice versa.

12) Some downtown businesses have worried that the parking-deck fees scheduled to go into effect at the end of the year will adversely impact them. On the other hand, there are obviously costs associated with both building and maintaining garages, and most other cities do charge for their use. What would be your ideal solution?

We need to move towards equitable payment for parking deck facilities, however we cannot afford to move too fast. I have advocated for a phased implementation of parking fees to allow for a complete understanding of their impacts to businesses so we can dial them back if necessary.

13) Some recent legislative actions have seemed, to some extent, antagonistic toward the state's cities: specifically, the repeal of business privilege taxes and the movement toward redistributing sales tax revenue. In your view, how should the city respond to these (potential and actual) revenue losses? Will the city's property tax rate need to increase? Will services or new initiatives be curtailed? How should the city address its fiscal challenges going forward?

Generally speaking, I think we should push back on harmful legislation with a unified voice. We can't just stop picking up trash because our revenue options have been curtailed. We have to keep providing the services our citizens require and will have to first analyze how we can contain costs without hurting quality of life. If the state's actions threaten our status as one of the best places in America to live, work and find a job, increased revenue options will have be on the table to preserve everything we have built over the years.

14) The city has about 230 employees who earn less than what is generally considered to be a living wage, about $31,000 a year. In your view, is this problematic or something the city should concern itself with?

As an employer, I think we should always be paying a living wage to our employees and the city must examine whether its pay schedule is appropriate.

15) When is the bike share program going to happen?

I can't say for sure when a bike share program will come to Raleigh, but I can say that I voted for it and have continued to work on ways to bring it to fruition.

16) What do you believe the role of Citizens Advisory Councils should be? If you are running for a district seat, how closely would you work or have you worked with local CACs?

CACs need to be strengthened and we should consider how to improve them so that they can provide even better independent, actionable feedback to the city council and act as even better mechanisms for the distribution of city information to citizens. I believe that CACs function best when they work as intended – a body of citizens that are free from council influence unless they request input.

To that end, I have told CAC leaders that their input and feedback is always welcome and that I am happy to come to their CAC meetings whenever they feel my presence would be helpful. I use a variety of methods to gather feedback from constituents - town hall meetings, online surveys, social media interaction, public hearings, one-on-one meetings and phone calls – and the CACs will continue to be a part of that mix.

17) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

Raleigh has thrived by encouraging collaboration between academia, nonprofits, the faith community and businesses. We should continue to pursue opportunities for the best and brightest from every corner of the city to work together to find innovative solutions to our challenges. As a city councilor, I have and will continue to facilitate that kind of collaboration by listening to citizens' concerns, brokering public-private partnerships and pursing innovative technologies that break down the barriers between Raleigh citizens and our government.

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