“[The Petition] Process Should Not Pit Neighbors Against Neighbors” (Mary-Ann Baldwin, 2013)

Excerpts from the Law and Public Safety Commission Meeting Minutes, March 26, 2013 (emphasis added) –

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Resident Comment: “I think before any…projects are to be planned and implemented by the City, the city should send out a formal letter to all affected residents informing them of the projects. A community organizer going house to house getting signatures does not cut it from my perspective.”

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The Law and Public Safety Committee of the City of Raleigh met on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. in the Room 303, Raleigh Municipal Building, 222 West Hargett Street, Avery C. Upchurch Government Complex, Raleigh, North Carolina, with the following present:

Mary-Ann Baldwin, Presiding
Mr. Randall Stagner
Mr. John Odom

Assistant City Manager Howe
Assistant Deputy City Attorney Leapley
Public Works Director Dawson
Transportation Planning Manager Lamb
Transportation Manager Kennon

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The Committee’s agenda included addressing the “…major projects process” –

Mr. Lamb suggested holding a pre-project meeting that would include project development participation.  He stated he feels a need to hold smaller meetings on a location by location basis and hold them onsite and see if there is something more powerful that the neighborhood is proposing.   He stated it is more important to dedicate a Staff person for the major projects.  They are looking at a Transportation Planning position that would be available to do project management for these type projects.  He briefly explained neighborhood streetscape projects.   They would create the dedicated Staff person that would be assigned to the streetscape and traffic calming projects. Tom Fiorello’s division would handle the minor projects.  They would like to educate as much as possible.  He stated moving the post preliminary process from the back end to the front end would be good. It is the neighborhood’s responsibility to circulate petitions.  They hope the above shown brochure would make people aware of official process and what it is they would be signing up for.  By educating on the front end people will understand what is being advertised. In sidewalk projects the use of direct mail has allowed the public to respond.  One suggestion is to use yard signs the same way they advertise for zoning cases.  He stated the larger the community is a great part of the problem.  He stated this would encourage too much participation from the outside.

After Mr. Lamb’s presentation the group had extensive discussion on ways to improve the traffic calming process.

Mr. Odom questioned whether these streets are just streets City Staff has decided to do a project for and just how Staff gets this type of list together.  He pointed out Brentwood was brought by the neighborhood.

Mr. Lamb pointed out the City is not doing any City initiated projects currently. Each project is initiated by a resident or citizen on the street.

Ms. Baldwin stated it seems with the Anderson Drive and Rainwater projects part of the problem was the shock of the visual.  She stated she feels the piece that was missing was that upfront piece of information stating what they are planning to do.  She feels Mr. Lamb’s suggestion to have some type of preliminary meeting where you demonstrate or provide the visual would be very helpful.

Mr. Odom pointed out he wasn’t on the City Council when Anderson Drive’s project was done.

Mr. Lamb gave a brief description of what this project contained.  He pointed out the pre-marking stage is very important as it relates to these projects.  This has been universal to all projects.  This really gets a reaction.  He briefly explained this process.

Charles Dooley, 1720 Briar Forest Place stated Mr. Lamb has hit on some good issues.   He is concerned and feels pre-marking should be done and brought to the front of the process.  He stated he would like to see the City take more ownership of the petition as opposed to an HOA coming around and making this to complex.

Ms. Baldwin asked if a neighbor comes to Mr. Dooley and ask him to sign a petition if he would be more inclined to sign because it is his neighbor.  There are a lot of good things that happen by getting the neighbors together and talking amongst themselves.

Mr. Dooley answered in the affirmative.

Transportation Manager Kennon pointed out this has been discussed when Staff was sending out the pre-letter if having a brochure like the brochure mentioned above in this document would be a good idea. .  He expressed great concern for the community continuing to handle the petition process.  He stated this needs to stay in place.

Ms. Baldwin pointed out if the City sent the letter out the City would set the tone.

Mr. Dooley pointed out they received the letter on Rainwater Road after the pre-marking.  He stated he would like to see Mr. Lamb in front of the process and pointed out he has been at the front of the process. He pointed out they marked the streets and they then received the letter and it is like it is all done and the community has nothing to say about it.

Cheryl Dooley, 1720 Briar Forest Place thanked Staff for their hard work.  She stated with signing petitions she is not sure full information is available to someone who is asked to sign.  She pointed out they did not have enough knowledge of the project and they were told point blank it would not be island.   People circulating the petitions are not giving the full story or correct information.

Nino Masnari, 7017 Rainwater Road, 27615 stated there should not be “for” or “against” up front.  There should be a notice of a public meeting where options can be discussed.  He stated some people felt backed against the wall.  The density of homes on one stretch of road skews the petition process.  He suggested on Rainwater Road that you do this step by step and then the others can see which one works.  He confirmed that Rainwater Road and Anderson Drive are collector streets.  He explained extensively how the process was handled and how bad the traffic is that relates to this site.

Ms. Baldwin stated this process should not pit neighbors against neighbors. She feels there is a need to have a kill switch somewhere prior to Council should be built in.

Mr. Stagner stated he appreciates the fact that everyone is present to talk on this issue as well as City Staff.  He pointed out he was involved relatively early in the process.  He was contacted by a citizen from Rainwater Road.  He thought that he would be able to make some minor adjustments but the process kept coming up.  He feels a flyer is good and maybe have Staff accompany the petitioner.  He feels up-front expertise will make a big difference.   He expressed concern for public safety.  He stated when citizens signed the petition they had different visions for how it would turn out.  He stated he accepts recommendations made by Staff but the question is if the Committee needs to continue to look at this item.

Mr. Odom does not support door to door Staff involvement.  He feels it is the responsibility of the neighborhood to make this happen.   He feels the costs for this would not be cost effective.

Ms. Baldwin agreed with Mr. Odom that it would be tremendous costs. Maybe alternatives for early education so when people sign the petition they know what they are signing.  She would like to keep the item in Committee.  She would like for Staff to concentrate on pre-project process to make this as transparent as possible and provide as much information as possible.  She would like to bring the item back two weeks from now.

Mr. Stagner pointed out Staff would have to give the worse case scenario every time.

Ms. Baldwin feels Staff can give different examples.  She reiterated keeping the item in Committee because she feels it warrants further discussion.  She would like for Staff to come back with specific recommendations.  She feels what Staff has come up with so far is pretty good but maybe composing a sample draft letter would clear how this can be approached.

Assistant City Manager Howe confirmed the following suggestions:

      1. Pre Project process
      2. Pre Project Meeting\Brochures
      3. Petition Process
      4. Design Process\Small Meetings On-site
      5. Dedicated Project Manager (Internal Implementation)
      6. More Involvement By The Streetscape Planning Staff
      7. Early Education In The Process
      8. Pre Kill-Switch Point

Mr. Dawson pointed out this is a citizen driven process.  They are willing to make changes to the petition process and they do not want to give the impression the City is forcing this type project on a neighborhood.  It should remain a  citizen driven process.

Mr. Howe stated it seems like the Committee wants mainly for Staff to concentrate on a pre-project process.

Mr. Odom suggested a form for signage that states if the petition is signed by an individual they are agreeing for the project to move forward in front of there home.

The item was held in Committee so that Staff will have time to report back with some recommendations and options that were suggested by the Committee.

Ms. Baldwin would like to address this in two weeks.

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Please comment on any elements of the traffic calming process that you [residents] think could be improved:

I think before any TC projects are to be planned and implemented by the City, the city should send out a formal letter to all affected residents informing them of the projects. A community organizer going house to house getting signatures does not cut it from my prospective.

There should be a clearer up-front discussion of the multiple possibilities of calming, including no calming whatsoever. Early discussions should clearly recognize the differences in streets- collector/connector streets; high volume/higher speed streets; less-traveled residential streets; etc. These should be factored into the discussions in addition to the critical issue of safety. If safety were the only factor we would be calming every high-volume street in the city; e.g., Falls of Neuse, Six Forks, Spring forest, etc.

City planners should have listened more to the people in these meetings; they seemed to have their own agenda and did not want to entertain ideas –because the process is driven by residents getting these petitions, create a one pager that explains to residents that once they sign the city has the right to develop and proceed with the project. That was not communicated. Devise a template for the petition that states this, and let people acknowledge they understand it by signing the petition.

At the public meetings, I think that only those residents who are directly affected by the project should be allowed to have input. People outside of the project scope should NOT be allowed to take control of a meeting from the City staff. Either that or the City staff needs training in crowd control and assertiveness!

City staff personnel should give one warning to those disruptive in the community meetings, then throw them out. our community meetings were not civil due to two-five individuals who were disruptive, antagonistic, argumentative and basically rude to their fellow neighbors as well as city staff. grown adults sometimes need to suffer consequences of childish behavior by being evicted from community meetings!

Take politics out of the process….

Would be more helpful if more of the effects could be seen on each individual property in real life rather than on a draft plan.

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