Archive for Friday, February 25, 2005

J-W candidate questionnaire — Greg Robinson

February 25, 2005


These are the responses from Greg Robinson, city commission candidate, to the Journal-World's candidate survey.

1. Name: Greg Robinson.

2. Occupation: Self-employed attorney, contract Lansing City Attorney.

3. Date of Birth: February 19, 1965.

4. Years in Lawrence: 10+

5. Family: Pamela, wife, Brian, son (Senior - FSHS), Hilary (Freshman -- SWJHS)

6. Religious Affiliation:

7. Previous Political Experience: None.

8. In July, a ban on smoking in most indoor public places was implemented by the city. Do you support the ban, and why or why not? As a life-long nonsmoker I personally enjoy the smoke-free environment in all public facilities throughout Lawrence. In fact, I would not be opposed to the federal government raising the tax on cigarettes to $5.00 per pack to help pay for rising health care costs. However, at the local level I do believe that our restaurant and bar industry has had a tough adjustment period. Since the ban has been in effect now for over six months, I will support revisiting the issue to determine to what extent the smoking ban has hurt local business. I would only support allowing a business to seek a variance to the smoking ban if two conditions are met. First, the affected business must verify with an officially-certified accounting document or official tax receipts that revenue has decreased in the last six months in comparison with the same time the previous year. Second, if the business is able to show a substantial and serious detriment to its revenue, the business could propose and show its plan for an air exchanger which would quickly and efficiently exhaust the smoke from the building. Therefore, if a business meets these two conditions then the City should have a mechanism in place to allow smoking for those businesses which have invested thousands of dollars into their establishments. One should not forget that decreased revenue for local businesses is a decrease in city revenue.

9. What's your opinion on how the city has managed and planned for growth during the past five years? I believe the City had the appropriate procedures in place to ensure predictable and consistent growth over the last five years. The one problem that has been raised recently regarding growth is the apparent change of definitions in the zoning codes as made apparent in the litigation currently pending in Douglas County District Court. It appeared from news reports that the City simply got cold feet about allowing a big-box type development at 6th and Wakarusa when the public began to complain. As determined by Judge Malone, it appears the City did not follow its own procedures and had to pay the plaintiffs' attorney fees as a result. If it is determined that the City willfully an purposely did not follow procedures due to pressure based on the desire to kill the project, those individuals should be dismissed from employment with the city as such decisions have caused a significant financial burden on the city and significant liability issues. The City of Lawrence is here to guide growth but it is up to the private sector to grow the community. The city cannot be an impediment to those who want to take the risks to grow this community.

10. The city has begun a study to determine the fiscal impacts of growth on the city's taxpayers. Do you believe that residential growth pays for itself or costs existing taxpayers additional dollars? If you believe it does not pay for itself, how would you address that issue? There is no question in my mind that the city's residential and commercial growth pays for itself. The explosion in growth has occurred in south and west Lawrence. The added property valuation added to the tax rolls because of these developments over the last five years should have more than paid for the additional services required as a result of such development. If the added revenue did not provided the necessary revenue, one need not look further than the current commission as it was in control of approving the fiscal budget during this period of time.

11.City officials have begun using roundabouts and traffic circles as traffic calming control devices on some Lawrence streets. Do you believe the devices are effective and a good use of city funds? Short answer: roundabouts and traffic calming devices are proven solutions to slow traffic and reduce impact points at intersections. However, I will not support the policy of constructing roundabouts in neighborhoods which were not designed for such public improvements, e.g. 19th & Louisiana. I also will not support the placing of other non-aesthetically pleasing traffic calming devices, e.g. Harvard Street, such as lane constrictors which cause the curb appeal of homes to deteriorate. It is interesting that the current commission came up with this solution which is a direct result of its failure to properly review and approve proper development plans. An example of the Commission's failure is Harvard Street in west Lawrence. In this area west of Monterey Way, Harvard Street is a collector/arterial street which is designed to move traffic quickly and efficiently between Monterey Way and Wakarusa. However, the problem is poor design, e.g. excessive driveway accesses, not fast drivers. The road is doing what it was designed to do. Worse yet, the Commission did not have the experience or training to understand the future problems associated with such design errors. Solution, the houses along Harvard should have been built facing away from this arterial street and reverse frontage roads should have been designed to direct traffic to properly designed intersections. This design flaw was allowed to proceed unchecked before both the Planning Commission and the City Commission.

Despite my opposition to roundabouts in older neighborhoods, I will support the construction of roundabouts and other traffic calming devices in areas of new development since such design engineering will have been incorporated from the initial design phase.

12. City commissioners have authorized officials with the Lawrence Public Library to explore the possible construction of a new multimillion dollar library in downtown, or the expansion of the current facility at 707 Vt. Do you support moving forward with the project? Such a tremendous expenditure will have to be examined in great detail. I support the local library and its role in the community; however the multimillion dollar cost must make one pause to consider the benefit to the community as a whole. If such a huge expenditure is to be made, would it be better to renovate the current location and construct a satellite location for those in the southern or western parts of the city? Another aspect of the library system as a whole must be studied. Is the current library system going to be in place in the next 25 years? With the advances in technology and the ability for the average computer user to acquire much of his or her research information via the internet, is it economically prudent to invest such a tremendous amount of tax money into a system which may give way to technological advances within the next two decades?

13. The city's task force on homeless services is currently drafting a report for a community wide strategy of providing services to the homeless. What's your philosophy on whether or how the city should provide services to the homeless? As a former Lawrence Police Officer, I have observed first hand the results of the City's efforts to assist the homeless. I clearly recall a bitterly cold February night when a crack addict told me as I transported him to the LMH emergency to warm up that he chose Lawrence as his home because he could get his SSI government checks at a mail box provided by a local agency. As a commissioner, I will only support those private and public organizations which have implemented as its mission statement the philosophy to provide a hand-up and not a hand-out. Furthermore, I will also only support those organizations which subscribe to demanding accountability for those receiving aid. Simple fact is that the citizens of Lawrence are not being told the truth regarding the homeless issue. Lawrence is and will continue to be a target by out-of-state homeless individuals because it well known that Lawrence is a great place to "call home" due to the outstanding services provided to them.

14. Specifically on the homeless, do you support an idea that has been introduced by a task force of Downtown Lawrence Inc. that would require homeless individuals to show a city issued I.D./service card before receiving certain services, such as food and shelter? I will only support those programs which make accountability part of its mission statement. I fully subscribe to the social philosophy of a hand-up, not a hand-out. For over a decade now, the city of Lawrence has become a destination for homeless from around the country and a commissioner I will not continue to support any cause which "invites" the homeless to populate our town.

15. Do you believe Lawrence has an affordable housing problem, and if so, how would you address it? What is affordable to one individual is not affordable to another. So what is the definition of affordable housing. Is this housing which a person can purchase with the "living wage" of less than $10.00 per hour. If this affordable housing, then Lawrence does in fact have housing shortage. I believe in market economics and the market place will set the price. If housing is considered expensive, then it is because Lawrence is a desirable community in which to live. I do not believe that local government should become involved in the housing market and attempt to alter the price set by the market. I will not support tax increases to subsidize housing. However, I would support local government studying ways to provide low interest loans to those who would use the money to purchase and renovate houses in the city's older neighborhoods. The loans would be guaranteed by the city and repaid to the city over a twenty-year period. The money could be used for downpayments and renovations.

16. Please comment on your fiscal philosophy and whether you would envision the need to raise taxes during your term on the city commission. My fiscal philosophy is simple. I believe in strong fiscal management and will only approve those expenditures which are clearly justified. I do not believe there would be a need to raise taxes. The growth the city has experienced over the last decade along with the annual raise in tax valuation of real property should have been sufficient to keep pace with additional services. I will not vote to raise the mill levy on real property if elected commissioner.

17. The city currently offers a fixed route public transportation system. Do you believe the system, the T, has been successful and is an effective use of city funds? First, I have lived overseas in Europe where public transportation is common place and a joy to use. I support the idea of public transportation; however, I do not believe in its current format the T will succeed. Currently, the "T" is receiving about 1.5 million in city subsidies and an increase in ridership plus a reduction in ticket price is not going to close the gap, thus the "T" will always be a tax burden to the taxpayers of Lawrence. It is my opinion the only way for the "T" to successful in Lawrence is to attack the problem on two fronts. First, the policy of allowing urban / residential sprawl to continue will only further exacerbate the problem by allowing people to become even more detached from the urban center. Thus, the city and citizens would have to come together to promote a build "up" and not a continuing build "out" development philosophy. I am not sure that Lawrence or even the rest of society is ready for such a commitment. Second, if the philosophy cannot be changed then the "T" cannot continue to be a small scale operation. As stated above, I lived in Europe and loved to use public transportation, but I only had to walk approximately 50 meters to catch either a trolley or a bus which could then take me anywhere around the city or to anywhere in Europe if I chose to travel to the main train station. If the "T' is to truly become a partner in developing the city, the system must be convenient for the citizens to use. Stops must be convenient to where people live. If citizens are to use the "T" they must be able to get to the bus stop in under a couple of blocks or they will not ride. Further, the "T" must be available about every 7-12 minutes so that people do not have to stand in the weather for long periods of time. If the citizens will not support such an expansion, i.e. additional expenditures, then the continued subsidies will simply be used to support a system which will never fully become a partner in city development.

18. The city currently operates a municipal golf course, Eagle Bend, which has been operating at a loss during the last several years. Do you believe the golf course is an effective use of city funds. I believe the concept of a municipal golf course is a good one. However, if the course becomes continuous tax burden the city must look for ways to remove itself from such a failing enterprise. Though not an avid golfer, I have played golf at Eagle Bend and it seems to be a very nice course; however, if it continues to be a drain on tax payers then the city should seek out private investors and see if the course can be sold. Since the course is below Clinton Dam and may be on Corps of Engineer property this may not be an option. If not, the per round fees will have to adjusted to make the course more self sufficient.

19. The city currently is involved in litigation to stop Walmart from building a new store at the corner of Sixth street and Wakarusa Drive. Do you believe that corner is appropriate for a big box retail development such as Walmart has proposed? The question is not whether I believe the corner is suited for such development but whether city code and zoning allows such development. Judge Malone has already determined the city erred during the process and ordered the city to pay for the litigants' attorney fees. The city then had to back and do the process according to city rules and found a Wal-Mart type store did not meet the requirements for the zoning. I believe that the city was unprepared for such large development and hesitated at allowing such a large development after numerous complaints from citizens. Such change of heart decisions are unfair to developers who have expended tremendous amounts of financial resources to develop these areas and then have the carpet pulled from under them. If the city does not want such developments in certain areas of the city, the city must make these decisions prior to development. A long answer to say that I support development which conforms to the city's codes and zoning.

20. The city currently has a ban that prohibits the use of most fireworks within the city limits during the Fourth of July holiday. Do you support the fireworks ban? I do not support the fireworks ban. If elected and if the issue is brought back before the commission I will vote to overturn the ban. Scare tactics about safety will not dissuade me from this issue. Should the city ban electric heaters, cigarette lighters, wood stoves, fireplaces, etc.? Basically, the issue for me is that older commissioners must not be able to remember the fun they had as children and young adults when they were able to participate in such activities. I would support 1-2 days set aside for fireworks prior to the 4th of July.

21. What's your position on whether and where the South Lawrence Trafficway project should be completed? The SLT should be completed. To much time, energy and money have been spent to improve the traffic conditions for the citizens of Lawrence. The parties must reach a compromise solution as the environment will only become worse in those areas where increased traffic loads are forced to go. Does Lawrence really want vehicles that would by-pass Lawrence to pass through via 23rd Street. I would support a compromise alignment which would not significantly impact the Baker Wetlands

22. If elected, what would be the top three issues you would seek to address during your term? 1. Look for every possible way to decrease taxes. 2. Demand a sensible fiscally prudent budget. 3. Provide the necessary support for the improvement of the city's infrastructure, i.e. roads, sewers, storm water, waste water treatment.

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