City Commission Candidates Call For Tougher Affordable Housing Measures in Decatur
(Read Decaturish Article)
This map shows the housing units in the City of Decatur built from 2004-2019.
Number of units on each dot.
Pink dots are proposed/planned housing units.
Blue dots are under construction.
Orange dots are completed units from 2004-2019.
Green dots are the number of affordable/workforce rentals (outside of Decatur Housing Authority).
Gray dots are DHA assisted/subsidized rentals that were renovated.
3,000 units. Only 27 units (21 at the Arlo) and 6 "Cottage Courts" under construction now are affordable/workforce housing.
*Compiled by Lesa Mayer for Decatur City Commission Campaign from City of Decatur Housing Report
Lesa on Affordable Housing:
"We must make affordable housing for ALL a priority in our city-- for our workforce, our seniors and young people wanting to move to Decatur. In the last 15 years, we’ve added close to 1500 housing units. Only 21 units are affordable workforce housing. There are approximately 1500 additional units either proposed or currently under construction and only SIX of those units are classified as affordable. That is completely unacceptable!
We had a good discussion last night at the Candidate Forum on Affordable Housing and Diversity, and I was happy to have the opportunity to hear all the candidates voices on the issue. It’s a priority for all, which is an exciting step in the right direction. We have to get creative and use a combination of the tools available: mandatory inclusionary zoning, exemptions, land trusts, subsidies, tax abatement, to allow for housing no matter your age, race or income. The map in the picture demonstrates the construction that occurred over the past 15 years and the lack of inclusion of affordable units in those developments. As Commissioner, I will work to improve those figures."
LESA MAYER LETTER TO DECATUR BICYCLE COALITION
I have received some very helpful feedback, that my responses to the survey that you sent were not completely clear. I appreciate the insight, and as a response to the constructive feedback, I would like to simply and concisely share my position with you.
Regarding alternative methods of transportation:
I believe that I am the only candidate that actually uses walking and Marta as my primary mode of transportation to get to work. Because of this, I have firsthand knowledge of the challenges that pedestrians experience while trying to get around Decatur safely. Actions must be taken to address these issues. I also believe that we should take an active approach to educating and encouraging city residents to use alternate methods of transportation. A shift is needed in the way that we, as a community, view alternative transit and I am open to using new and innovative ideas to encourage this shift.
Regarding the PATH plan:
I believe that a connected system of walking and cycling paths is important and that we should move forward to complete a plan that would allow for that. After all, I would be a direct beneficiary of these paths and so would my children. However, I believe that the current plan should be reassessed and that the placement of the paths should possibly be reconsidered for the following reasons:
We have a real traffic problem in Decatur that can’t be denied and must be addressed
The Commerce Drive traffic study that is posted on the city’s website is from 2014. A new study needs to be completed, taking into account the traffic patterns of the residents who will be moving into the new residential development, currently under construction directly behind Decatur High School and across the street from the DeKalb County Courthouse.
There are a number of individuals who work in Decatur, who are unable or choose not to live in Decatur and must commute into Decatur by car. Many of them will be affected by and will contribute to the increased congestion in Downtown Decatur and the eminent spill-over of that traffic into our neighborhoods, in an attempt to find an alternative route into and out of Decatur.
I think that quality of life is incredibly important and that people should have a safe way to commute, whether they choose to do so by walking, biking or driving.
Future development of Decatur:
I do not think that the City Commission should approve any future medium or higher density development without taking into account the future iteration, location and implementation of the PATH plan. If we, as a city, state that we are committed to implementing a plan that would allow for a connected series of paths for walkers and pedestrians, the development of future buildings and complexes should correspond, and optimally, meld seamlessly with the PATH plan and the needs of Decatur residents, not work against it. This is what I mean when I speak about “Common Sense Growth.”
Sidewalks near Talley Street Upper Elementary:
While I was not asked directly about this in the survey, I think it is too important not to mention that sidewalks need to be installed on streets near Talley Street School to protect the safety of the small children and parents who want to walk to school instead of drive. Parents who live on or near Shadowmoor have shared with me how they have had to shield their children with their bodies from passing cars and that they have been encouraged to take circuitous routes in order to ensure their safety while walking to school. This is unacceptable and I plan to address this issue collaboratively, yet firmly and swiftly.
I would love to hear more of your thoughts and ideas. My email address and cell number are listed below, if you would like to reach out to me with any questions or for further discussion. I am available to meet for coffee tomorrow and Sunday morning, for more in depth conversation
I sincerely appreciate your consideration of my candidacy and of the important balance among the needs of all commuters that I am working to achieve. I will need your help and guidance to be able to make that happen. I look forward to further conversation.
Lesa Mayer Letter: In Support of Calm Candler
I wanted to reach out to you directly to express to you my commitment to your efforts. It has been brought to my attention that, though I have consistently made statements that support the reduction of the speed limit on Candler, my language has not been perceived as strong enough. Please understand that, while my language may be polite and diplomatic, my fierce resolve to drive for solutions is strong and bold. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and champion for issues that matter. The safety of pedestrians, cyclists, the safety of your children crossing the street to get to school, are issues that matter.
I believe that I am the only candidate who actually uses walking as my primary mode of transportation to work, so I experience safety challenges firsthand. When I do drive on Candler- I drive less than 30 miles an hour. I do this because my friend, Laura McKinley Spriggs, told me early this year about your concerns and the efforts you were taking to address them. I immediately adjusted my actions to support you in making Candler safer. I have demonstrated my support of Calm Candler with my actions and I will continue to support Calm Candler with actions as Commissioner.
I am happy to speak to you personally to address your concerns and answer your questions. My email and cell number will be listed below. I will also be walking down Candler on Saturday, reaching out to neighbors. I hope to have the opportunity to meet with you. While I hope to earn your endorsement and your vote, I also hope to work closely with you to accomplish your goal of making Candler safer for all of us.
Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.
ON THE ISSUES
1) Why are you running for Decatur City Commission?
Many neighbors feel detached from the decisions that are made in the city. Many are concerned with some of the decisions that have been made and do not feel as though they have been engaged in the processes that drive the decisions that are made on their behalf. I share many of my neighbors concerns regarding some of the changes that we have experienced in Decatur and feel that, with my experience in the community, I can help to bridge the disconnect in communication between the city and its residents, drive meaningful and productive conversations and push for changes that will help Decatur retain the charm and uniqueness that makes it so appealing.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
I have a unique perspective from my opponent that will drive my engagement with the community and ultimately, the progress that we will make collectively. My 16 years as a resident in the city of Decatur provides me with a deep understanding of the changes that we have experienced in as a community and how they have impacted us as residents.
3) What do you think is Decatur’s greatest strength?
Decatur’s greatest strength is its residents, diverse people from all walks of life who are willing to roll up their sleeves to make the community a thriving, welcoming place to live work and play.
4) What do you think is Decatur’s biggest challenge?
Lack of affordable housing options, which directly contributes to diminished diversity in our community is Decatur’s biggest challenge.
5) How would you address Decatur’s biggest challenge?
Taking a bold and progressive approach to affordable housing across many different levels of income is the only way that we preserve Decatur’s valued diversity and inclusion.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on as a commissioner?
Insuring that there are affordable housing options at a variety of income levels is a top priority. Addressing infrastructure issues caused by rapid growth in the city is another top priority.
7) Every year, the Decatur City Commission holds its annual retreat at a location two hours away from the city of Decatur. The meeting is technically open to the public, but the public can’t easily attend and there are no video or audio recordings of the meeting. The City Commission does record and publish minutes, but they are a short summary of a two-day long discussion. This is an important public meeting that sets Decatur’s agenda for the entire year, but very few people get to see it. If you are elected as a commissioner, will you continue to participate in these retreats, or will ask the City Commission to hold its retreats in a location that is more accessible to the residents of Decatur?
I will participate in the meeting, because it is a critical strategy session that helps to set the plan for the entire year. I think that steps can be taken to utilize technology to make the meeting more accessible to residents, as transparency is extremely important. If the location of the planning meeting becomes an issue of priority for the residents, I am open to discussing viable alternative locations.
8) A recent Decaturish editorial called for several reforms in city government following an investigation into the city’s vendor cart pilot program. One of our recommendations was requiring members of the Decatur Development Authority board and city employees overseeing economic development activities to file financial disclosure forms. These reports would list sources of income, any ownership interests these individuals might have in other companies and any property they own. Currently, the only people legally required to file them in the city of Decatur are the city commissioners and school board members. Do you think members the DDA and city employees involved in economic development activities should file financial disclosure forms? If not, why not?
Elected officials should be held to a greater level of transparency and the choice to serve the community by running for an elected office implies that the candidate accepts the responsibility of such transparency. Individuals who are employees of entities, whether private or public, have an expectation of a certain degree of privacy. Violating that privacy in any workplace environment should not be done without a considerate review and deep understanding of the potential implications of that decision.
9) Recently, a consultant for the city floated the idea of asking voters to approve a tax increase to subsidize affordable housing in the city of Decatur. Do you support this idea? Why or why not?
Making housing less affordable for some, in order to make housing more affordable for others is not an approach that I would support.
10) If you are elected to the commission, one of your first duties will be to choose a mayor. (The mayor in Decatur is chosen by his or her fellow commissioners at the beginning of each year.) What is your opinion of Mayor Patti Garrett and do you think she should be reelected as mayor?
Mayor Garrett has served Decatur well. Her responsibilities as Mayor do not greatly exceed those of all of the other Commissioners. Our structure, which allows five representatives to make decisions on behalf of their community, is more inclusive than allowing one individual to make executive decisions on behalf of the community.
11) What is your opinion of the city of Decatur’s current tree ordinance and what changes would you make to it, if any?
I think that the impact and value of mature trees should be given consideration earlier in the planning process of developments. I believe that the tree canopy is vital to this community and part of what gives Decatur its charm. The importance of trees and their impact to the ecosystem and the infrastructure should be understood and considered.
12) Parking remains a contentious issue in the city of Decatur. While the city says paid spots are necessary to ensure a steady flow of traffic to nearby businesses, residents and visitors have complaints about space availability, affordability and the practices of booting companies who patrol private lots. Some businesses that have left Decatur have cited parking as a reason for their departure. Do you think parking in Decatur is a problem that needs to be fixed, or do you think this issue is overblown?
Parking issues absolutely exist in some areas of Decatur and influence the decisions many residents make when it comes to how and where they choose to spend their money. Improvements can certainly be made to facilitate easier access to businesses in Decatur and the business owners who have the most at stake should have the greatest input in the discussions for a solution.
13) What is your opinion about the planters on West Howard Avenue?
I understand the purpose of the planters on West Howard is to provide a buffer to The Path, which makes that route a safer option for cyclists, while calming the traffic to allow for the safer pedestrian crossing of West Howard. In spite of the good intentions of the project, the execution left much to be desired. The planters are unsightly and the communication of why the planters were being placed on West Howard and the plan for transitioning to a more permanent option should have been more broadly communicated.
14) Residents living around North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue have been complaining about conditions there for years, citing numerous accidents. What would you do to improve this intersection?
Unsafe intersections in Decatur should be evaluated, with the best corrective option implemented in a manner that is least adversely impactful to those who live in and around those areas. Residents of the streets that are impacted, along with drivers who frequent those intersections must be engaged in the process and informed of timelines and impacts of improvement projects.
15) Shirley Baylis, downtown program manager in the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development has said there has been a “significant increase in the number of homeless people in the downtown area and on the square. Businesses have started having more issues with people panhandling or harassing their customers and, in some cases, threatening their employees.” What can be done to address these concerns while still showing compassion for people who are homeless?
Panhandling and homelessness are two separate issues. There are a number of individuals within our community who qualify as “homeless,” many of whom are employed and some may have children attending schools in or near Decatur. These people must not be villainized. To address panhandling, we must insure that the Decatur Police Department is equipped with the most current information possible related to resources that are available for those who are in need and that they continue consider the dignity and safety of these individuals, as well as Decatur residents and visitors, while enforcing the law.
16) Marijuana possession has been decriminalized in neighboring cities, including Clarkston and the city of Atlanta. Do you support decriminalizing marijuana possession in the city of Decatur?
I think that this, too, should be handled using a common sense approach. Decatur’s reliance of DeKalb County Jail facilities, and the moratorium that DeKalb County has placed arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana, would suggest that Decatur, by default would make similar adjustments. I think that the safety and health of all of Decatur’s residents, but especially our youngest residents, should remain a primary focus.
17) What is your opinion of the city of Decatur’s current budget? Are the any areas of the budget that you think need to receive more funding? Are there any expenses in the budget that you think should be reduced or eliminated?
A deeper evaluation of the potential impacts of increasing funding or eliminating funding should be completed and all potential impacts should be assessed considerately, prior to making a determination of this nature.
18) Recently, the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce has suggested that the city change the name of Commerce Drive. The road was once called Oliver Street in honor of a notable black entrepreneur, Henry Oliver. In 1984, the Chamber of Commerce convinced the city to rename the street to Commerce Drive. Now the Chamber’s president is recommending the city change the name of Commerce Drive back to its original name to recognize Henry Oliver’s contributions to the city. What is your opinion about changing the name of Commerce Drive back to Oliver Street?
The name change of Commerce to Oliver Street is one of many ways the city can recognize the accomplishments and contributions of Henry Oliver. I hope that as many options as possible are considered in order to select the most impactful tribute.
19) Are you satisfied with the current plan for developing and maintaining Legacy Park, formerly known as the United Methodist Children’s Home? If not, what would you change about it?
I believe that there is a greater opportunity to do more with Affordable Housing and more with options for housing or individuals with varying abilities. We have an opportunity to do something innovative and groundbreaking, that can become a model for future developments in similar communities. I think there is potential to do more with this extraordinary opportunity.
20) Do you support annexing additional areas into the city of Decatur? If so, what areas should be annexed?
Annexing additional areas into Decatur should be done in concert with City Schools of Decatur and opportunities for non-residential tax income should be a main consideration, for any future annexation.
21) What do you think of the city’s efforts to make its streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, like cycle tracks on city streets? Do you think the city needs to invest in more projects to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety?
The City acted on the requests of many residents who wanted to increase the safety of cyclists in Decatur. I think that, while these bike lanes are essential to an active Decatur, we must evaluate the impacts of these lanes to traffic and consider innovative approaches to evaluating these impacts. We must insure that residents and visitors to Decatur can commute safely and efficiently, regardless of their chosen method it transit.
22) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?