Roads, economic development and schools top city council election issues April 23, 2013
By A. Lee Graham
For Ross Haynes, the May 11 city elections boil down to roads and retail.
And the bakery owner is not alone.
From older Southside neighborhoods to newer digs up north, residents echo a similar refrain when it comes to what they want from their elected representatives.
“Improvements that have been done north on Evans, bring them down here,” said Haynes, whose Cakes by Delessa has done business on Evans Avenue just east of Interstate 35 for 15 years.
As the Evans and Rosedale Urban Village just north of Haynes’ cake shop helped revitalize that neighborhood thanks to local and federal funding, Haynes watched as little happened along his block. He wants that to change.
Would District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray be the one to push through that change, or would challenger Kathleen Hicks be more effective in ensuring street improvements?
Voters will decide on May 11 when the two candidates battle it out. With three other council seats up for grabs as well, the races are likely to put fresh faces in four of the city’s nine council seats. Council members serve two-year terms.
Asked to name issues of highest importance, most candidates cite similar priorities.
For Gray, increased code compliance, economic development and homeownership are top priority.
“We have and will continue to push harder for increased code compliance, we must have economic development that is equitably spread throughout the entire district, we will continue to work to revitalize our commercial corridors, and we must create quality market rate and affordable housing choices,” said Gray, who is seeking her first full term for a seat vacated by Hicks when she forfeited her seat to run in the District 33 Congressional race’s Democratic primary last year.
Hicks lost to U.S. Rep. Mark Veasey (D-Fort Worth).
If she wins back her council seat, Hicks vows to aggressively pursue street paving funding in the city’s 2014 bond plan.
“We must be aggressive in the upcoming bond election to ensure that the district receives its share of the proverbial pie,” Hicks said.
If elected, Hicks vows to use the sort of economic redevelopment tools that helped create a tax increment financing district for East Berry Street, which was realized during her tenure.
“I will also remain committed to promoting new housing opportunities if elected, such as the recently built Terrell Heights and Sierra Vista developments,” Hicks said.
Similar concerns exist up north, where District 2 Councilman Sal Espino is running against former Councilman Jim Lane.
“Quality of public education in our public schools is the most important issue in District 2,” said Lane, a lawyer, who served as District 2 councilman from 1993 to 2005.
He acknowledged the council’s limited role in public education while citing its prior involvement with devising a program for gang intervention and after-school programs.
Citywide, Lane pointed to public transportation and jobs as top issues. As with other candidates, he cited a need for street repair.
“Some streets need to be rebuilt, especially in the historic North Side and Diamond Hill. The newer parts of District 2 outside Loop 820 need all of the city services,” Lane said.
Espino also considers infrastructure repair vital.
“If we cannot move, the lack of mobility and congestion … impacts economic development, air quality and the quality of life in our neighborhoods and in our city,” said Espino. He pointed out that $196 million of the $276 million bond program awaiting voter approval in May 2014 is planned for road and transportation infrastructure.
Espino said he would like to see the formation of a nonprofit community development organization, similar to Fort Worth South Inc., but for northern neighborhoods. He also cited the need for more economic development to ensure solid employment and tax bases.
When Espino was elected to the council in 2005, the city faced $400 million in neighborhood street needs and $585 million in needs for larger arterial roads. He cited a $150 million capital needs package in 2007, a $150 million bond package in 2008 and the imminent $276 million bond program as helping meet those needs.
Roads, roads, roads also is the mantra of Russell Fuller, president of the North Fort Worth Alliance, which represents 20 homeowner associations with about 54,000 households.
“We’re concerned about building adequate arterials,” Fuller said.
“We understand up here that this is a balance; we’re not the only squeaky wheel in the city. I think that’s where this election has got to come in; the candidates need to say what they are able to do,” Fuller said.
Surging population numbers and a need for new streets also affect District 4, which stretches from just east of Interstate 35W to Eastchase Parkway in East Fort Worth to North Tarrant Parkway north of downtown.
Running against incumbent Danny Scarth is Paul Gardner, an Autobahn Porsche salesman and former member of the city’s Residential Board of Adjustment.
“The overwhelming immediate issue in District 4 and the city is infrastructure and the need to not only build new streets to support explosive growth, but also maintain the ones that are already existing,” Gardner said.
In northern portions of the district, Gardner cited a need for communities to play a role in managing growth. And in the southern end, he stressed the need for a strong council member to fight for economic development.
“These areas are some of the most beautiful parts of the city, and our district needs a representative who recognizes the value of these communities and can get businesses to come in and rebuild in them,” Gardner said.
Meanwhile, Scarth named transportation in northern portions of the district and economic development in southern parts as the most important issues. To that end, he organized an effort to create an economic development plan for parts of east and northeast Fort Worth.
“This process has identified strengths, weaknesses and needs of four specific regions,” said Scarth. He also cited the need for a multipurpose municipal center to include a municipal court, a new library and police facility as needed in far North Fort Worth.
Improving city roadways also ranks high among Scarth’s priorities.
“The unprecedented growth over the last 10 years has naturally brought pressure on the existing road system, and while the city has made great strides in building new and wider roads, there is still much work to be done,” Scarth said.
In District 5, Gyna Bivens and John Tunmire are challenging Councilman Frank Moss’ reelection bid.
“The need for sustainable development is very great,” said Bivens, who was asked to name the most important issue facing the district, which stretches from Interstate 20 and Loop 820 in South Fort Worth northeast to Texas 360 near Euless.
“Whether a development similar to the Wal-Mart at Mitchell Boulevard and East Berry, or the recruitment of a manufacturing company, we need to aggressively recruit companies who will take advantage of the training opportunities from Tarrant County College District Opportunity Center and make a commitment to recruit workers from the district,” said Bivens, president of North Texas Leaders and Executives Advocating Diversity (LEAD) and a former Fort Worth Transportation Authority board member.
Also ranking high for Bivens is promoting urban villages and reducing structural neglect.
“The blight, scores of boarded-up buildings and neglect need to be aggressively tackled,” she said.
For Tunmire, tackling unemployment and protecting city police and fire department budgets rank as top priorities.
“The most important thing is getting jobs and companies here in this district,” said Tunmire, a real estate developer.
“I’d also support the police and fire departments and try to get them more money,” Tunmire said.
Moss considers quality housing and economic development as district priorities, while transportation issues – including rail support, as well as street and highway improvements – rank as his top issues on a citywide basis.
“On a District 5 basis, I would continue to work with the Housing and Economic Development staff on projects to bring new housing into the core of the District 5,” Moss said.
The councilman also stressed the need to encourage development in core neighborhoods and the overall district.
All candidates face something their predecessors did not: redistricting.
When the 2010 U.S. census found that the city’s population had grown by 38.6 percent between 2000 and 2010, officials turned to redistricting to balance disproportionate growth in council districts. After discussing whether to retain the existing eight-district configuration or add two districts, the council stuck with eight but redrew District 8 to reflect its rising Hispanic population. The May 11 city elections will be the first conducted under the new district boundaries.
“Redistricting has caused more people to become interested in our local government and provided a unique opportunity for new representation in our district,” Tunmire said.