August 2002 Highlights

Piedmont Triad Research Park:   August saw the announcement of a proposed major expansion of the Research Park, in conjunction with the Wake Forest School of Medicine.  The downtown-located Research Park has been the site of a small but growing number of pharmaceutical research and development operations.  Meanwhile, the medical school has been at the heart of its own expanding research facilities, but is out of space at its Hawthorne Hill location.  (Expansion through further intrusion into the adjacent Ardmore residential neighborhood has become clearly unacceptable.)  The solution:  Team up with the Research Park in a greatly expanded plan for a joint downtown research campus.  The approach offers the prospect of drawing biomedical firms and new jobs by the thousands, while spurring the redevelopment of a part of the city which has suffered from decline and decay.  Including a substantial initial donation of land and facilities from R.J. Reynolds corporation, the effort will be financially fueled by private investment, with initial city support in the form of planning assistance.  Other supporting institutions will include Winston-Salem State University.  This was an economic announcement of state-level significance, and should be very good news for Winston-Salem.

Budget:   Finalization of the city’s annual budget was delayed again due to the state legislature’s continued wrangling over the state budget.  The existing state biennial budget projects approximately $7.6 million in reimbursements from the state to the City of Winston-Salem during 2002-03, but none of that can be assumed as reliable until the legislature finally acts on the current year’s budget.  In other words, we may have to fill a hole in the city budget of up to $7.6 million if the state government once again uses local government funds to “balance” its own budget.  Final city budget adoption is currently set for early September.

Trash wars:   Never doubt that people get passionate about their trash options.  When I ran for alderman last year, I was surprised by the number of people who raised the issue of backyard vs. curbside trash pickup.  To me it has always seemed to be a fairly simple, straightforward question.  Do we as a city pay a little more for a higher quality of service, one that is especially valued by senior citizens who have difficulty with heavy lifting?  It’s also important to those who object to seeing trash cans (and spilled loose trash) left out on neighborhood streets.  Last year, many more people seemed to express their strong preference for continuing backyard pickup.  In response, I promised that I would support continued backyard pickup.

Little did I realize that I had just entered the Twilight Zone of city politics.  Ever since taking office, I have been pressed from all angles—city staff, passionate budget-cutters, newspaper columnists, and even some angry constituents—to  support curbside pickup.  Their basic position, that backyard service is not worth the money, is a perfectly reasonable opinion to hold.  Some of the related arguments frankly do not hold water.  For example, converting to curbside pickup would not help with this year’s budget crunch.  Capital costs for new collection trucks would delay any savings to the next fiscal year, at best.

From a personal standpoint, let me be direct:  While I recognize that there are valid pros and cons to this issue, I effectively made my own decision on it last year when I promised to support maintaining backyard pickup.  I believe strongly that people are entitled to be able to trust the commitments made by their elected representatives.  I will keep my word on this issue.

So when the Board debated last month on a so-called “pilot project” to convert part of the city to mandatory curbside pickup, I spoke and voted against the proposal.  The proposal failed by a 5 to 2 vote, and the issue is a closed question for this year.

Traffic safety:  In late August, I and several city staff members met with representatives of neighbors living along southern Jonestown Road, to discuss how to deal with speeding on that stretch of road.  We discussed the fact that just changing a speed limit sign doesn’t affect the problem drivers, who base their speed on what feels safe to them.  After looking at the options, we agreed to a plan which we think will help “calm” the traffic there by making speeding feel more dangerous to the drivers themselves.  Without changing the actual width of the road itself, re-painting the lines to make the driving lane look narrower causes drivers to slow down.  Placing the slightly raised reflective markers on the road lines at the curves also affects the thinking of drivers, who slow down rather than drive over the rougher/noisier surface of those lines.  These are some of the techniques that can be studied and applied on a site-specific basis at safety hot spots under a systematic “traffic calming” strategy.

Sara Lee acid spill update:   Sara Lee and local emergency management officials met with concerned residents on Mission Road regarding a spill of sulfuric acid near their property.  From the facts reviewed, it appears that the spill was controlled and cleaned up in a prompt fashion as required by law.  However, it also appears that errors in judgment were made in not promptly and systematically informing all neighbors about the spill, some of which leaked off-site (unknown to the company at the time) and seriously injured a neighbor’s dog. 

I have asked for details on local procedures in Forsyth County for public notification of hazardous spills, and I have not been satisfied with the response.  I will ask the city’s Public Safety committee to review those procedures and suggest improvements to help keep problems like this one from happening again.

“Restaurant row” loans:   Many people have asked about the city’s decision in August to loan part of the startup costs for the new Tim Duncan restaurant on 4th Street downtown.  Why should city tax money go to such a loan, especially given our budget situation?

Answer:  City tax money is not going to that or the other “restaurant row” loans.  The money is coming from a federal Housing and Urban Development grant made exclusively for the “restaurant row” development program.  We can’t use those grant funds for anything else.  We could give the money back to HUD, for similar use in Virginia, Texas, or some other state.  However, the point of the program is to help revitalize downtown as an economically active city center.  That will be useful to our economy—but only if it happens here rather than in Dallas or Richmond, for example.  Under the circumstances, I saw no reason not to have the money invested in our local economy.

Constituent service notes: I’ve been contacted by residents of Hinshaw Avenue about reports of illegal drug activity in their neighborhood.  City police are working on the problem.  There’s interest in setting up a neighborhood watch, and I will work with neighbors and police to set up a meeting to discuss it.

Some residents of Mission Road have complained of 2 a.m. waste bin dumping noise at nearby businesses on Stratford Road.  I spoke with city sanitation office head Becky McBride about the problem.  She identified the waste pickup companies involved, contacted them, and they have agreed to adjust their collection schedule to deal with the problem.

Residents on Greenwich Road are concerned about the property value effect of modular units placed on adjacent church property for a preschool program.  I attended a meeting between neighbors and representatives of the churches involved in the program.  The churches will involve neighbors in landscaping and screening planning to reduce the visual effects, and they are discussing time limits on the modular units’ presence.