Do-good discount

You get what you incentivize, or so hopes Todd Neal, a Northside Nancy Oateslandlord. Neal sees the benefit of having more people in the neighborhood who care about the community. To attract those civic-minded tenants, he is offering a rent discount of up to $50 a month to tenants who will volunteer up to 6 hours a month at St. Joseph’s food bank, across the street from one of his properties.

Neal said his goal is to create a tighter relationship and better mutual understanding between student and non-student residents.

Over the past several years, Northside has been losing the battle to remain a family neighborhood. Northside is the historically black neighborhood whose residents in years past provided the manual labor needed to keep the university and hospital functioning — laundresses, groundskeepers, cleaning staff, orderlies, and other modestly paid positions. But over time, as Northside homeowners retired, moved away or died, they or their heirs often sold their homes to investors who rented the compact homes to students.

Landlords found they could increase their profits by renting by the bedroom, which caters to students, than by the house, which fits families better. Thus a three-bedroom, one-bath house that in any other neighborhood might rent for about $1,000 to $1,500 a month would rent for $1,800 to $2,400 a month at the going rate of $600 to $800 a bedroom.

As the mother of two former college students, I’m not going to issue a blanket criticism of student behavior. Some students are loaded down with responsibilities and take their commitments seriously. Others are exploring the limits of their freedom for the first time in college and don’t think about how their actions affect others. Northside residents have had to contend with more than their share of long, loud parties, more parked cars than there are spaces to park them and trash piled near, rather than in, trash receptacles.

Neal hopes other landlords will pick up on his marketing idea. He’d love to see a volunteer workforce of, say, 50 students connecting with some of the need for mentors, tutors and other service work at the Jackson Center and neighborhood nonprofits and churches. Right now his offer is only for prospective tenants in his two vacant properties, but he may extend the deal to some current tenants. As the discount comes out of his profit, he has to work out the details as he rolls out the program. He says he is open to ideas.

The deal is a win-win-win: His offer appeals to more civic-minded, responsible students who presumably will treat his rental property with respect. More serious students moving in leaves less room for hard-partiers. The neighborhood benefits from a small influx of young people interested in contributing to the community.
– Nancy Oates

What makes a house historic?

Last week, the Historic District Commission reluctantly pulled the plug Nancy Oateson a house in the Gimghoul Historic District by approving a request by the owners of 704 Gimghoul to demolish the home.

The couple had purchased the house in March 2015 and had come to the HDC with a plan to make it live better for them — adding a main-floor master’s suite so they could age in place and adding space so they could entertain easier. The HDC approved the plan in August, pleased to usher this home, built in the 1920s, into a new generation.

But the estimates for the renovations came in double what the couple expected, so they returned to the HDC asking for permission to tear down the historic house and build a new one in keeping with the neighborhood.

Yet even if the owners were to build an exact replica of the original house, it would not be historic. It would be beautiful; it would fit in with its neighbors; but it would chip away at what is both a National Register historic neighborhood and a local one.

The HDC essentially had no choice but to approve the demolition. Had they denied the request, state law allows the owners to wait a year, then tear it down. The commission decided it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose to ask the owners to pay for an engineering report to document that the house was structurally unsound, nor to allow the house, which is vacant, to deteriorate into a neighborhood eyesore for a year, given that it was inevitable the owners would tear it down.

Such situations illustrate the pressure Historic District commissioners face in their decisions. Many historic homes are in very desirable, expensive neighborhoods. These days, buyers of historic properties have to be well off financially, and the wealthy often live differently than the rest of us. They entertain large groups frequently, for instance, and want more interior space and outdoor living space for entertaining; they want extra parking, fences for security and outbuildings for guests.

Often the buyers of these homes are well-known in town, perhaps are well-connected and may have made significant contributions to the community. They may have worked hard all their lives and now are in a position to afford their dream home. That makes it all the harder for the HDC to have to turn down requests for expansion and renovation that change the character of the historic property.

Historic District commissioners bring nuance and balance to their work. They are protecting something intangible that goes beyond cost and design. They preserve structures that carry the story of our community from the past, through the present and into the future.

Especially as our town grows and changes, we rely on those preservationists to escort us from who we were to who we will become.
– Nancy Oates

The Woman Card

It didn’t take long, after Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of gainingNancy Oates an advantage in the presidential race by playing the Woman Card, for an editorial to circulate on the Internet delineating the advantages of having a Woman Card — like receiving a 25% discount on your salary and paying 10% more for personal care products identical to men’s only pink.

Last week the NCAA followed suit, playing a Woman Card in its new Notice of Allegations. Even though the long-running academics and athletics scandal first came to light when a football player’s tweets implied he’d received impermissible benefits, the NCAA has cleared the revenue-generating football and men’s basketball teams of any untoward involvement, blaming it all on women’s basketball, which doesn’t make much money for the school or NCAA teams.

Into this atmosphere comes Anne-Marie Slaughter to give the Commencement address to UNC’s class of 2016. Slaughter wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” published in The Atlantic in 2012 and ranked as the magazine’s most-read article. Chancellor Carol Folt had billed Slaughter as “absolutely magnetic.” Her Commencement speech was short, though, so maybe she edited out the riveting parts.

Basically, Slaughter’s message to the graduates was: Care is as important as career; career is investing in yourself, and care is investing in others. She proposed that men be allowed to spend more time in caregiver roles, saying that it’s time to break the mold of expectations for how men should lead their lives as we have broken the molds for women.

Slaughter’s most interesting insight was that despite the importance of caregivers, we pay them on par with what we’d pay someone to walk our dogs or park our cars. Maybe her point was that if we paid caregivers more, then society would begin to see the value of caregiving, and that, along with higher pay, might draw more men into caregiving roles.

I wanted something more inspiring. I’d spent the previous several days talking with people who had graduated decades ago, and some who were set to graduate on Mother’s Day. And despite all the differences between those generations, kids today are fighting the same battles I fought when I was their age — the ability to obtain a safe, legal abortion; electing a woman as president; equal pay for equal work — and that the 50th reunion alums fought — for civil rights and against state legislature obstruction to our choices.

We have so much serious work to do that we can’t afford to get sidetracked by semantics, excuses and blame. That’s true for Town Council as much as for presidential candidates. Flashing a Woman Card won’t help. We need to look at the facts and the data and do what needs to be done.
– Nancy Oates

Voices Together

I breezed into the Stanback Middle School auditorium last Wednesday to Nancy Oatescatch the Voices Together Spring Concert. The nonprofit music therapy program works with kids who are autistic, developmentally delayed or have other serious communication challenges. Through music and rhythm, the therapists help students interact with one another and to emerge from their own worlds to be part of a group.

The concert featured special needs students from elementary and middle schools in Orange County. Each group performed a song or two as an ensemble, with opportunities for each child to shine individually. What I saw moved me to tears — not the performances by the students, who expressed different levels of enthusiasm as the microphones approached, but by what I recognized in the parents, that pride and joy all of us take in our children’s accomplishments.

The last time I went to an elementary school concert was about a dozen years ago, when my daughter (and Sally Greene’s son) were in a talent show in a gifted program at Glenwood Elementary. The main difference between the Stanback and Glenwood audiences was that in the Glenwood gym, I’d bet that most of us parents expected our children would stand out; at the Voices Together concert, I sensed parents wanted their kids to join in.

Parenting a special needs child is infinitely more taxing than raising a child who can function normally in the world. And the parents in the Stanback audience had figured out, perhaps earlier than the rest of us, that what makes life worthwhile is interacting with one another and being part of something bigger than ourselves. Those were the messages they hoped their children would incorporate.

Parents at the Voices Together concert cheered the performances not because a child remembered all the words to a verse or hit the right notes. They celebrated the children wanting to participate and for being able to pay sufficient attention to repeat back sounds in the right sequence or know at what point in the song to make a sound. Not to show off individual gifts, but to engage with those around them.

The concert helped reorient me, just in time for a council meeting that night. We are meant to be part of a community. Our worth comes not in excelling as individuals, but in engaging with one another to make a strong community, to be sufficiently in tune with the greater good that we know at what point in the song to make our voices heard.

To find out more about the excellent Voices Together programs, go to: www.voicestogether.net.
– Nancy Oates

Shout Out!

A T-shirt affixed to the wall at the library during the Orange County RapeNancy Oates Crisis Center’s Shout Out Against Sexual Violence last week read, “Being drunk and wearing skimpy clothes does not equal consent.” I wondered how many men don’t believe that.

April has been deemed Sexual Violence Awareness Month, and the event last Thursday was one of a handful aiming to break the silence about the pervasive attitude in our society that unwanted advances are somehow the victim’s problem. At the Shout Out, women read essays and poetry about their experiences; one person sang a song and another showcased a “sound performance.” The open mike section, when all of us sat rooted in our chairs, locked in our own thoughts, demonstrated how strong the need is to break the silence, and how difficult that is to do.

The overall theme celebrated the strength of survivors, but of course, that wouldn’t be necessary if they hadn’t been subjected to the experiences they had in the first place. You couldn’t escape the evening’s dark side. The most discouraging aspect, for me, was that the sexist attitudes my generation tried to eradicate through the Women’s Movement in the 1970s still plagued young women my daughter’s age. Ideas like: It’s a woman’s job to tame a man; fake a laugh to deflect and reframe an assailant’s boorish behavior.

A teenager told of a sexual assault in her shop class that was interrupted when the teacher came in, but not before the girl was hurt. When she reported the assault to school authorities, she was told, “We want everyone here to feel safe — so don’t tell anyone what happened to you.” The boys weren’t punished, but they were told who ratted them out, leaving the young woman vulnerable to new forms of derision.

A college student told a friend about an encounter with a frat boy at a party, and her friend brushed it off with, “Yeah, everyone knows he’s creepy.”

He’s a creep; she pays the price. That’s not a transaction any of us should tolerate.

“Everyone knows” turns too easily into “everyone tolerates.” Those of us who know what’s right and what’s wrong need to break our silence.
– Nancy Oates

Horsetrading at the Council Corral

Two weeks ago, Chapel Hill hired a new planning director, Ben Hitchings,Nancy Oates who came to the April 11 Town Council meeting. Much to my surprise, he did not resign immediately; in fact, he participated in our work session two days later. That says he’s a man undaunted by challenges.

In a nutshell — we embarrassed ourselves, council and planning staff alike. That Monday night meeting revealed some of what needs fixing about our development approval process.

The agenda included Capkov Ventures’ final public hearing on its high-density housing development on 27 acres along Homestead and Merin roads. The plan proposed 62 detached houses sited compactly on tiny lots, plus nine townhouses affordable to people earning 80% to 100% of the Area Median Income, close to but not in compliance with the town’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, which calls for 15% of new construction homes to be affordable to people making from 65% to 80% of the AMI. (I pushed for the developer to comply fully with the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, but got no support from other council members.)

Capkov built a nearly identical development in Carrboro, minus the affordable housing piece, some years back that has been tremendously successful, as I believe the Chapel Hill version will be, too, and that will bring value to several of our constituents.

The development partner making the presentation last Monday got off on the wrong foot by promising to be brief but wasn’t. Council became restive. Note to developers: By the time you get to the final public hearing, understand we have seen your project at the concept phase and at advisory board meetings, reviewed your written materials and questioned you at prior public hearings. By the final hearing, best to focus only on what’s changed.

Capkov had agreed to all staff modifications, except a nearly $90,000 payment-in-lieu for recreation. Given that Capkov had provided 115% of the recreation space required by town ordinance, the PIL felt to the developer like an impact fee.

Council members were divided on whether to impose the PIL. For a while, it looked like council was going to postpone the vote on approving the rezoning and SUP to give the developer a chance to renegotiate with planning staff. Then a council member made a counteroffer, and the horsetrading commenced. At one point, the development partner threatened to withdraw the project and build the traditional residential subdivision he was allowed by right. My disappointment with that idea would have been mitigated by the fact that the project then would yield at least three houses affordable to people at the 65% AMI level.

Ultimately, the developer agreed to split the difference with planning staff, paying $45,000. Council approved the project, in a 6-3 vote (Jess Anderson, Sally Greene and I voted no). What should have been a celebratory moment, instead left a bad taste for everyone.

Another concept plan comes before us tonight, and once again, the developer seems to labor under the belief that the town won’t follow its own rules. We need to fix our broken process. I’m hopeful our new planning director can help.
– Nancy Oates

Another side of Chapel Hill

I suppose on some level I realized that when I read the staid reports ofNancy Oates drug arrests printed in the newspaper’s police blotter not all of those suspects submitted to custody willingly. But this is Chapel Hill. Those drug busts you see on TV — armed officers surrounding a car or battering down a door — they just don’t happen here, right?

Oh, but they do. And even more typical scenarios — a couple at home in a loud fight; a well-being check on a neighbor who has been going through rough times; a possible burglary in progress in broad daylight — are rife with risk that police officers have to be able to assess in an instant. Overlooking something could cost officers and others their lives.

At the Community Police Academy I attended last week, Chapel Hill Police gave us a peak at a side of our community I was glad I don’t have to see every day. And by the time our classes ended, I felt relieved that we, as a town, are in such good hands. CHPD officers have the training and the tools, along with good judgment and unflappability, to handle just about any situation I could imagine and some that I couldn’t.

A theme throughout the 8 ½ hours of classes was selecting the right tool for the situation. In our session on lethal versus non-lethal force, the bravest among us volunteered to respond as police officers to virtual calls via interactive videos in a simulator. The scenario would unfold differently, depending on the volunteer’s actions. Volunteers had an array of options — pepper spray, a Taser, a firearm — and the choice police rely on most frequently, their mouths. Police often can reduce the risk in a situation by what they say. Not so, the rest of us. Suffice it to say, our volunteers had a high mortality rate. I came away with words of wisdom worth taping on my refrigerator: The best way to win a fight is to not get in one.

In other sessions, we learned what investigators do at a crime scene to collect evidence that will stand up in court, beginning with a search warrant. The officers debunked some elements of TV crime shows: In real life, a DNA analysis can’t be done in 60 seconds.

In other sessions, we saw demonstrations of the K-9 unit and the rescue of a wounded victim by using an armored vehicle and sharpshooters. We learned what the crisis team responds to, including the astounding number of domestic violence incidents and having to inform families of a death. We revealed some of our biases in a session on Fair and Impartial Policing. We saw an amazing array of equipment — cameras to see under doors or up in attics, flashing light balls to distract perpetrators, bars to break windows and doors, a 50-pound armored vest — none of it fresh-out-of-the-box shiny new. And the officers had stories to go with all of it.

Our community survey, year after year, confirms that people in Chapel Hill feel safe. After completing the Community Police Academy, I can see why.
– Nancy Oates

#WeAreNotThisEither

Years ago, Chapel Hill adopted a campaign contribution policy to encourage Nancy Oatesvoter-owned elections and make it harder for donors to “buy” elections. Individual campaign donations were limited to $336, a sharp contrast to the $5,100 limit for county commissioner, U.S. president and other partisan elections. Given the recent news about campaign finances of council member Donna Bell and former mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, it appears that developers, many of them not voters, own Chapel Hill elections.

A story in the April 3 edition of the Chapel Hill Herald looked at Bell’s end-of-year campaign finance report that was due Jan. 31 but which Bell filed March 11, and noted that of the $13,743 Bell raised in her 2015 Town Council re-election campaign, $10,294 came from developers or their family members. Many of those developer-related contributions were from out-of-state firms that had projects in Chapel Hill approved by council in the months before the election. George Cianciolo and County Commissioner Barry Jacobs took this approach, too, in their campaigns.

Campaign contributions by themselves don’t mean an elected official is bought and paid for. Political influence is rarely so crude as to ask for a favor in exchange for a donation. People and organizations donate to candidates who are most likely to represent the donors’ interests. What troubles me is that those elected officials did not report the contributions when they came in, instead waiting until after the election to make them public; that the out-of-state donors benefited financially from those votes; and that Bell has voted in favor of projects by some of her big donors in at least two instances since she was re-elected (East-West Partners’ The Station and Scott Murray’s Stancill Drive Car Wash).

In the Herald article, Bell stated that she raised so much money because the “dynamics of the campaign changed my tactics.” Developers from all over lent a hand, and the principle of voter-owned elections fell by the wayside.

The editor in me has nits to pick about Bell’s disbursements, too. Her financial forms leave blank a box that requires her to explain why she paid $2,000 to Mark McCurry, her campaign manager. The $1,184 paid to Gephart Marketing perhaps covers signs that appeared late in the campaign promoting a block of incumbents and Michael Parker (the cost for those signs did not appear on the financial reports of any of the other candidates). And the $6,638 to Targeted Persuasion for single-color campaign signs seems quite high. Maybe it covered her direct mail and phone bank as well, as neither was disclosed in her financial reports.

In the campaign, all of the candidates came out in favor of transparency, and Bell espoused voter-owned elections. How can the Board of Elections and our own town policies ensure we achieve our goals of transparency and integrity?
– Nancy Oates

HB-2 & You & Me & Us & Them

I wish our state lawmakers would do something useful like pass legislation to Nancy Oatesquell the sex life of trees. My allergies tell me pollen season has started with a vengeance.

Instead, the N.C. General Assembly that wants to see a driver’s license before you vote, now wants to see a birth certificate before you use a public restroom.

Last week — ironically, during the Christian Holy Week — the N.C. General Assembly panicked and spent $42,000 to call an emergency session to rush through in a matter of hours a new law that apparently will prevent local municipalities from prohibiting, in certain circumstances, discrimination against the LGBTQ community. The legislation, known as House Bill 2, ostensibly came about to counter action Charlotte’s city council took that allows people to decide for themselves whether they should use the men’s or the women’s public restroom.

Which public restroom to use can be a source of anxiety to transgender people who know their anatomy doesn’t match the gender they know themselves to be. Evidently not knowing the gender recorded on the birth certificates of others in a public restroom stall strikes fear in the hearts of Republican lawmakers and nearly a dozen Democrats in North Carolina. They cobbled together a bill that tied birth certificate gender to public restroom use, and tacked on rules to prevent local governments from enacting anti-discrimination practices. For example, towns can’t preclude hiring a contractor who discriminates against gays.

There will be legal challenges, for sure. But the bill has a severability clause, which means a court will have to prove each discriminatory measure invalid before HB-2 is struck down. This could take years, and taxpayers will foot the very expensive legal fees. All this from a huddle of elected officials who campaign against government interference in citizens’ lives and who won’t spend taxpayer money on a safety net for the financially vulnerable in our community.

On Saturday, Carrboro’s board of aldermen called a special meeting and passed two resolutions: one objecting to legalizing discrimination and the other denouncing the lawmakers who voted for HB-2. Chapel Hill Town Council will hold a special meeting tonight (March 28, 6 p.m. at Town Hall) to consider the most effective way to respond to HB-2.

I don’t understand how someone with the body parts of a man can be a woman, or how a man can have the anatomy of a woman. But I learned decades ago in a calculus class that just because I don’t understand something doesn’t make it any less true, any less real. In deciding what we as town representatives can and should do about HB-2, I will take my lead from those who have been denied dignity because of who they are.

I don’t know what would be most helpful. I do know we need state lawmakers who don’t try to force on the public only the narrow view of life that the homogenous legislators understand.
– Nancy Oates

Who’ll ride the rails?

Imagine pitching a project to potential investors and not knowing whatNancy Oates your project will cost or how it will benefit stakeholders. Kind of like those anxiety dreams where you arrive at an important meeting without your pants on.

GoTriangle lived that mortification at the March 7 Town Council meeting when a council member asked how the Durham-Orange Light Rail would benefit Chapel Hill taxpayers, and the presenter didn’t have an answer. The Go-T rep said he’d only received the question that afternoon and hadn’t had time to prepare.

The DOLRT line has been in the works for years. You’d think someone early on would have run a cost-benefit analysis for Chapel Hill taxpayers, who will be shouldering a disproportionate share of the expense of the 17-mile track connecting UNC’s hospital with Duke’s.

The Go-T rep also didn’t know who would ride the train. Go-T’s studies looked at who rides the bus and extrapolated that those same riders would hop on the train. But the studies may not have looked at where riders start their trip. Many UNC workers live south and west of town, so while extended bus service would help their commute, the UNC-Duke shuttle train would not. And in other cities, light rail tends to cater to financially secure riders, whereas the more modestly paid ride the bus.

At the presentation to council, we heard about the train line’s capacity — more than 100,000 passengers — but some of the train stations don’t have parking lots. The largest parking lot planned on the Orange County side will hold only 472 cars, and the Go-T rep expressed reservation about building a parking deck at the Gateway station, off I-40. (A planned deck at the Alston Avenue station in Durham will hold 940.)

Go-T pointed out the many buses that run to UNC Hospital and campus already, implying that bus service had reached its limit. But perhaps so has UNC. Anna Wu, assistant vice chancellor of facilities operation and planning, had presented UNC’s development activity report earlier that evening, and while it showed many proposed renovations, it had no plans for any significant growth in capacity. Like many hospitals, UNC wants to open outpatient clinics away from the main hospital campus, beyond the train line’s reach.

The DOLRT has an estimated price tag of $1.6 billion, and that’s without the inevitable cost overruns and ongoing operating and maintenance expenses. Establishing a Bus Rapid Transit system and expanding bus service to towns south and west of campus would serve UNC employees better. We need to stop dreaming of a lifestyle that includes overpriced trains and focus on improving function by investing in BRT and expanded commuter buses.
– Nancy Oates