Rob Axtell | Candidate Questionnaires - Wake County | Indy Week

Elections » Candidate Questionnaires - Wake County

Rob Axtell

Raleigh City Council (At-Large)


Rob Axtell
Occupation: Service Manager in the Multifamily Housing Industry

Years Lived in Raleigh: Born here, 48 years

Between gentrification in historic neighborhoods and expensive rentals downtown, Raleigh has struggled with questions of affordable and workforce housing. In June, the city council set a goal of fifty-seven hundred more affordable units over the next decade. With burgeoning growth and rising housing prices, what additional steps should Raleigh take to create more affordable housing?
Affordable housing is vital to Raleigh’s future. Beautiful luxury housing is being created all over Raleigh, but high costs are pushing out teachers, first responders, city workers and Raleigh natives. I propose offering innovative, new incentives to developers who build and maintain affordable housing, and promoting existing incentives for affordable housing via targeted marketing campaigns. 5700 more affordable housing units over a decade is a great start, but will not be sufficient for a city that will have over 500,000 people in the next few years. It really comes down to convincing developers to add affordable housing to their portfolios, demonstrating to them that there is a huge demand for it and showing them that they WILL make money. In addition, historic neighborhoods need to be protected and preserved, whenever possible, to keep the character of Raleigh from being destroyed by multi-million dollar homes.

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? County voters approved a transit referendum last fall that will eventually create a bus rapid transit system and commuter rail line. What more should be done?
We need a robust and comprehensive transportation system, and we need to start working on it NOW. There needs to be an aggressive push to physically connect the whole city, so that Raleigh is fully accessible for EVERYONE. This means that light rail, commuter rail, BRT, more dedicated bike lanes (not just a bike symbol painted on the road), more sidewalks, improved roads, upgraded lighting, improved signage and “smart” traffic signals need to be implemented. I also support HOV lanes on 440 and 40. Other major cities have them, and it is time to adopt HOV lanes here to reward people with a faster commute if they have 2 or more people in their vehicle.

Given the inflamed racial tensions after the recent events in Charlottesville, what steps should Raleigh take to position itself as a guardian of social justice? How would you characterize city leaders’ relationship with Raleigh’s communities of color, and what should be done to improve that relationship going forward?
One of Raleigh’s greatest assets is its richly diverse population. There is a wonderful mural in downtown Raleigh that states: “All Are Welcome”. This is how I feel about Raleigh, and is the overriding message that I feel needs to be emphasized in and by our great city. Overall, Raleigh city leaders do a good job of supporting all of our citizens, but there is always room for improvement and opportunity to do better. I would like to see more positive stories recognizing the achievements and valuable contributions of Raleigh citizens of all races – particularly African-American citizens, businesses and social groups. Raleigh can and should do more to promote events like the African American Cultural Festival, and highlight stories on its websites, in print and in the news that showcase the rich and beautiful diversity of our citizens. In addition, Raleigh should aggressively push back against State and Federal attempts to pass laws that harm our communities of color and the LGBTQ community. Lastly, the Civil War ended in 1865 with almost 750,000 people killed. The Union won and the result was the United States of America that flies one flag. Decades later, Confederate statues were added to the Capitol grounds. Raleigh should have a robust discussion with their citizens, particularly African-Americans, to listen to their concerns about these symbols and whether or not some of them belong in a museum, instead of on the Capitol grounds. I would also like to see more statues/plaques that honor the many achievements of our African-American citizens.

Given the recent creation of the community engagement board, what do you believe the role of citizens advisory councils should be? What features and levels of involvement do you want to see incorporated into the new structure?
I support the CACs and am concerned about the CEB taking input away from the CACs. Policies, zoning, transportation issues, etc. should have citizen involvement in their creation. Therefore, the CEB needs to make sure they are truly taking recommendations from the citizens and not from special interest groups. I want to see the CEB be transparent, engage the CACs and truly keep the citizens informed as decisions are made. The CACs should continue to meet and be vocal to all groups to ensure that their concerns are heard. In the end, if more citizens become engaged in decisions the city of Raleigh makes, that is a positive step forward.

Thinking about the current direction of Raleigh city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific changes you will advocate if elected?
In general, Raleigh is headed in the right direction. However, a more cohesive and robust transportation system is needed, more affordable housing options are needed and more managed growth is needed. I will push for a comprehensive transportation system (including light rail, HOV lanes, dedicated bike lanes, and more), push for more renewable energy (including utilization of electric buses where possible), push to market more to developers to bring more affordable housing options here (including increasing incentives and promoting existing incentives), push for more public art, push for more aggressive stances against harmful State and Federal laws/policies, and advocate for workers’ rights/the needs of the most vulnerable in our community.

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.
Transportation, Affordable Housing and Managing Growth are the most important issues, and all three are interconnected. Current transportation options are lacking; there is an immediate need for light rail, more rapid buses, HOV lanes, more dedicated bike lanes and more sidewalks. Teachers, first responders, city workers and many life-long Raleigh residents are being pushed out of the city due to ever-increasing housing costs; there needs to be more affordable housing options within Raleigh for everyone. City growth creates more job opportunities, but also generates more traffic and pollution, and can lead to a more disjointed city if not managed properly. To address all three concerns, I will support the upcoming transportation bond and will aggressively push for a comprehensive transportation plan that ensures ALL parts of the city are connected and readily accessible by ALL of Raleigh’s citizens. To increase affordable housing options, I will propose increasing incentives to developers and aggressive marketing to them to show them current, financial benefits. To help manage growth, I will propose more incentives to bring people back inside 440. There could be more incentives to renovate or repurpose buildings, for example. I would also push for more mixed-used development, which would help with all three of these areas by allowing more people to live within walking distance of goods/services, and increase density within the city.

What in your public or professional career shows your ability to be an effective member of the city council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to deal with them?
I have lived in Raleigh my entire life and am ready to give back to my community. In addition to graduating from NCSU and Wake Technical Community College, I have over 25 years of experience in the multifamily housing industry. During this time, I have interacted with citizens of all income levels, ages, races, religions, political beliefs, professions, physical/mental abilities and backgrounds. In addition, I interact with both small/large businesses, developers and local government entities in providing service to our residents. Therefore, I am well aware of the needs of a diverse population and deliver professional service to them every day. I would do the same if I am so honored to be elected to the City Council At Large. As a Service Manager, I am a hands-on problem solver and that is what Raleigh needs. I am not flashy. I am not wealthy. I am not a career politician. I am simply a Raleigh native who loves my city, truly wants to give back to my community, and wants to keep Raleigh moving forward.

Please give an example of an action by the city council in the past year that went wrong or should have been handled differently. Also, what was the city’s biggest accomplishment during that period?
Not passing clear rules on short term rentals has caused confusion and uncertainty; perhaps gaining more input and support from members before voting would have been better. Also, the city spent $150,000 to study wages around the country before considering higher increases for first responders. I feel that it was clear that wages needed to be increased and that this research could have been done by staff, members themselves or even volunteers without spending additional money. There are numerous positive accomplishments by the city council but one that sticks out for me is acquiring Dix land to make into a city park.

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 consider myself somewhere between a moderate and a progressive. I think there needs to be a better balance between business interests and the interests of the citizens.

Now that the city is moving ahead with plans for the 306-acre Dorothea Dix Park, what are some specific features or focuses you’d work to see as part of final design?
I am a regular user of City and State Parks and want to see features that can be utilized by all citizens. Therefore, I would like to see walking trails, bike trails, a dog park, a playground, interactive art that can be touched (with braille/audible descriptions), multi-purpose fields, water features, bird houses, gardens, picnic tables, benches, plaques/statues honoring Raleigh residents, amphitheater for small concerts, and a building to showcase Raleigh photographs, artifacts, nature and history.

If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
Raleigh has too many stray animals. I would like to see a more aggressive push to get residents to spay/neuter their pets and to treat their pets like the family members that they are.

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