Jobs and economy: Winston-Salem is dealing with economic challenges on two levels. First, there is fallout from the continuing weakness in our national economy. We’re facing the unavoidable effects of mismanagement on an historic scale in Washington: a return to massive deficits, growing trade imbalances, and the skyrocketing costs of health care. Cities cannot change the poor policy choices made on the Potomac, but we can be undercut by them. Second, our region is especially vulnerable to the bleeding of industrial jobs. The just-announced reduction of the R.J. Reynolds workforce by 40% was not a surprise, but is a leading example of the ongoing loss of jobs in what was once the most stable of economic bases. Manufacturing facilities in textiles and furniture are closing or scaling back across our region.
All of this makes our continuing efforts in local economic development even more critical for the long-term health of our community. Wake Forest University Health Sciences’ apparent readiness to commit $100 million to the expansion of the Piedmont Triad Research Park demands a continuing readiness in turn by our local and state governments to facilitate those efforts with the necessary public infrastructure. We cannot be spendthrift—but we must keep working together.
In the meantime, other local job recruitment efforts continue. Bringing in jobs in increments of 50, 75, or 100 from firms like Tangent Technologies, Charter Medical, and Jennico 2 (detergent manufacturing) will help. So will keeping and expanding homegrown firms like Krispy Kreme (at their planned new Unity Place headquarters) and Truliant Credit Union (at their own new headquarters site recently approved near I-40 and Hanes Mall Boulevard).
Downtown revitalization is a key part of a comprehensive economic development strategy. Building up our educational institutions in the biotech area is another. Adequate industrial park space is also an important tool. Overall, we must remember that while the private sector is the most important part of the economy, responsible and appropriate public investment is necessary as well.
Clean air update: I’ve periodically updated you on progress in our efforts to clean up our urban smog problem—especially that associated with our high summer ozone levels. We were reminded again just last month of the seriousness of that problem, with the release of national study data showing that the Piedmont Triad’s ozone pollution grew by the fourth fastest rate of any urban region in the nation over the past decade. As study participants such as the American Public Health Association and the American College of Emergency Physicians remind us, that pollution has direct adverse health consequences. Asthma attacks and complications of heart disease increase markedly, especially in the elderly, children, and those already in poor health.
That note is intended as a "why it’s important" introduction to this latest status report on our Piedmont Triad Early Action Compact’s (EAC) development of a local cleanup strategy. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m serving on behalf of Winston-Salem as chair of the EAC "Stakeholder Committee" developing the strategy. In September, the committee received a report from the state Division of Air Quality (DAQ) on how much additional pollution reduction we still need to achieve, in order to meet federal requirements. At our October 6 meeting, we’ll select recommendations on strategies which can meet those reductions. Between then and December, we’ll be looking for feedback from local government, business and industry, and the public at large. Our first big public briefing and comment opportunity will come on Wednesday, October 22, at 7 p.m., Winston-Salem City Hall South (5th floor). Please consider yourselves invited to attend and participate.
Police Department issues: For the past two months, there has been periodic media attention to recruitment and personnel questions regarding the Winston-Salem Police Department. The issues raised have been reviewed by the City Council, including its Public Safety Committee, and discussed at length. I personally have reviewed the issues with officers in the department and city management responsible for overseeing the department.
Based on that review, I share the conclusion of the Mayor and six out of seven of my colleagues on the City Council, that Police Chief Linda Davis and her management team are doing a good job. Winston-Salem exceeds state standards for training and hiring of police officers. The WSPD has provided timely and satisfactory responses to the personnel questions that have been raised.
In all candor, we can expect to see these and similar questions raised on a recurring basis. An employee association which represents many police officers on a national scale is undertaking a continuing campaign to change police department grievance procedures to a system in which officers have a greater role in hearing and deciding their colleagues’ grievances. This is a legitimate policy position. Unfortunately, such campaigns for policy changes also tend to produce publicity efforts that can leave inaccurate impressions. In our local situation, that tendency has been exaggerated by the fact that one of my City Council colleagues is running for Congress and appears to perceive this as a campaign issue. In that process, these serious issues have been unfortunately sensationalized. (I’m trying to be polite here.) So when you see these issues in the news, please keep in mind that we’ve entered the political campaigning season.
Zoning case—Harper/Goodyear proposal: The City Council decides a number of zoning cases every month, and these normally include cases in the Southwest Ward. From time to time, one of these will present a public policy question worth noting in these reports, and September saw an example of that. In summary, we heard a request to rezone a residential lot on the corner of Harper and Goodyear, in the South Fork area near Silas Creek Parkway. The request was to rezone the lot for construction of a dental office. In this case, the design and landscaping of the proposed dental office were reasonably well done. The problem with the request was broader. Harper Street is the principal entrance to a modest but attractive residential neighborhood which is facing commercial transition pressures on two sides—its Silas Creek Parkway frontage to the east and its Country Club Road frontage to the north. Rezoning the lot at the corner of Harper and Goodyear from residential to office would not only have increased traffic from that location. It would also have increased commercial penetration into the residential area, raising the likelihood of other commercial intrusion requests. At some point, the balance would tip away from continued residential viability, and the neighborhood as a neighborhood would decline substantially. To guard against that prospect, the Council overrode the recommendation of the Planning Board, and denied the rezoning request. In doing so, we followed the original recommendation of the Planning Department staff, and agreed with the neighborhood residents who appeared at the Council meeting to request denial of the rezoning.
Sidewalks: I hear a number of requests for sidewalk construction, and others for sidewalk repair. There are many locations in the Southwest Ward (and elsewhere around the city) where sidewalks would enhance public safety and the attractiveness of neighborhoods—Westview Drive, Lockland Avenue, Atwood Road (to name just a few of many). The catch, of course, is money. It isn’t there in the budget; the bonds approved in 2000 were earmarked for other specific projects. I think it’s time to begin consideration of whether sidewalks and other pedestrian projects (such as greenways) need to be addressed through a new public bond issue vote. I have begun to raise the question with my fellow Council members, and I would welcome your reactions as well.
In the meantime, there is an interesting relevant program planned at the annual meeting of the Winston-Salem Neighborhood Alliance this weekend. The meeting will take place Sunday October 5, from 2 to 4 p.m., in the MESDA Auditorium at 924 S. Main St. in Old Salem. The speaker will be Bill Holman, director of the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and the topic will be financing the conservation of open space, including parks and greenways.
SPECIAL NOTE TO ARDMORE RESIDENTS: Ouch! I wrongly assumed that our annual Ardmore Neighborhood Association meeting would be on a Thursday evening, and two months ago I promised to speak to a group in Greensboro on the evening of Tuesday October 14. I apologize in advance for missing the ANA annual meeting at 7 p.m. that night. If you live in Ardmore, please go if you can! (And please let our neighbors know why I’m missing and convey my apologies…thanks very much!)