Helen Tart's Sierra Club Questionnaire

Answers to the Sierra Club's At-large Candidate questionnaire. Questions are in italics, answers in regular type. Last Questions listed first.

October 7, 2007

Why a blog?

Since the Capital Group Sierra Club website doesn't list the answers for all the candidates that returned questionnaires, I'm listing my answers in this blog. It also allows readers to respond to my answers. This questionnaire was completed in early August. My position on some of these issues has developed and matured in the process of the campaign.

All of my positions continue to be based on citizen involvement, neighborhood preservation and environmental stewardship with the goal of preserving our quality of life and expanding the prosperity of some areas to all areas of our city.


27. What, in your opinion, is the best way to use tax dollars so that environmental quality in the Triangle is improved?

Education of citizens of the consequences of allowing the environment to be damaged.

28. What is your position on development impact fees and other cost sharing options to pay for the incremental costs of new roads, schools and other infrastructure?

I am in favor of increased impact fees and of the land transfer tax and anything else that can help reduce the financial drain of growth can put on the City's resources.

29. Would you support increases in fines and staffing in Inspections departments to increase enforcement of the City’s environmental ordinances?

Yes, if it will decrease violations and increase the heath of the environment. Also the Planning Department needs to make sure our development plans don't lead to violating those ordinances.


23. Currently, Raleigh’s recycling efforts are focused almost exclusively on residential recycling. In reality, 42% of the waste stream is commercial and industrial, 30% is construction and demolition, only 28% is residential. State waste reduction goals cannot be met targeting only the residential sector. What do you think the city should do to encourage businesses to recycle?

As much as possible….However, getting businesses to reduce and recycle waste is going to be more successful if the economic benefit is made clear to them. The city can help by strongly encouraging them to do so. Possibilities could be reduced rates on their other garbage collection, recognition by the City Council of companies that reduce waste, working with the Chamber of Commerce to have the Chamber commend responsible companies, maybe work with Wake County to increase landfill fees. The Council should be open to ideas from the community about how to reduce this waste stream-- again an opportunity for the Sierra Club and other civic groups to help the Council address problems.

24. Waste services for multi-family residences in Raleigh are currently provided through a low-cost franchise arrangement with the City. Would you support a reciprocal arrangement requiring multi-family residences to recycle? Maybe.

Please explain.

I don't know enough about what you're talking about to be sure. We can discuss it in the interview, but I would support any proposal that would make recycling easier and more cost-effective.

25. Raleigh residents only pay a one-time fee of $40 for an extra garbage cart and NO additional fees for all the extra waste produced. Would you support incentive-based options, such as “Pay-as-you-Throw,” to off-set the waste management costs, encourage recycling, and reduce the waste stream?


Please explain.

If it was combined with an extensive education effort so that peer pressure would discourage people from just throwing their extra trash in the dumpsters in the parks or at businesses or construction sites.

26. Most cities have staff dedicated to specific areas of waste management and reduction, for example, Charlotte has specialists specifically for Residential Waste Reduction, Multi-Family Waste Reduction, and Construction & Demolition. Do you support using revenues generated from incentive-based programs to increase the staffing levels necessary to effectively manage Raleigh’s recycling efforts?


Please explain.

I think it would be more effective if Raleigh coordinated with Wake County's Solid Waste Department to learn from their experiences, before making changes to our department. I would get the opinion of Linda Leighton, Raleigh's Waste Reduction Specialist, before I recommended any changes. Linda has proven to be a talented and resourceful advocate for reducing waste for the city for at least 10 years. I would also investigate the resources that the state Office of Waste Reduction, the Triangle J Council of Governments, and the League of Municipalities can offer on programs that have been proven effective.


20. Would you support significant local funding for the Triangle Transit Authority’s plans to build a mass transit system linking Raleigh, Cary, and Durham?


Please explain.

The Federal Transit Administration now requires a larger percentage of local financial participation than was required when the TTA plan was designed. The Charlotte system was funded because they had a half-cent sales tax in place to fund their transit system. We should do the something similar, making sure that the amount of funds raised would trigger increased federal funding. We should not raise taxes for roads unless it includes dedicated funding for TTA rail.

21. Please describe your vision of an “integrated” transportation system for the Triangle and how you would fund these projects. Among the items to consider are highways, mass transit/light rail, and bike and pedestrian elements.

Integrated transportation starts with design and land use.

- You have to have homes, work places, and shopping within close proximity. Incentives need to be in place for businesses to encourage at least some of their employees to live near their job. The old model of the store owner living above the store was not such a bad idea, except now the store manager gets to live in the condos a five minute walk from the store as part of his benefits. It's not going to work for everybody, but an integrated system includes a range of answers -- one of which is reducing the need for transportation. It would take cooperation with the business community, but business people are by-and-large sensible people. This is a practical answer to some of our transportation needs.

- If there are pedestrian and bicycle connections to the larger community then it becomes easier and safer to walk and bike to work or shop. Benches to rest at on the way and bike racks at destinations are amenities that can be added to make the trip more pleasant and more convenient. Raleigh's Greenway system can serve as important bike and pedestrian links to many popular destinations. I would work to complete the network.

- Bus access can be designed into a shopping center. For example, having a roof over the entrance of an anchor store with enough room to allow for a bus stop under that roof. You could even have an indent in the sidewalk so a bus could pull over out of the way of other vehicles. You also have to remember that not all buses are public transit. Churches, retirement villages, even private charter buses could use this space to deliver customers to businesses.

- Rail is the engine that could energize the entire process. TTA had a plan in place to do just that. The new plan may still accomplish it. Sierra Club has members on the task force that is developing a new plan, so you can have a big part of making an integrated transportation system possible. Any kind of rail system is going to need a dedicated source of funding to build it.

- When you focus only building roads, you lose opportunities: to build community, to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, reduce impervious surface runoff, and reserve open space. My approach to roads would be a temporary means to deal with transportation until we get the other parts of the system in place.

You asked for a vision. I have one. I'm also eager to hear what other people think about improving the transportation system so it is more effective and less damaging to the environment.

22. Do you believe that pedestrian and bicycle travel should be encouraged and that safe transit for pedestrians and cyclists, bike lanes and sidewalks, should be added to our roadways when new roads are built or existing roads are widened?

Yes, in most cases.

Please explain.

I don't think bicycle and pedestrian facilities should be limited to the same paths as roads. For example, a path from an apartment complex to the shopping center close to it doesn't have to follow the same route that a car would have to take. Also in some routes, a sidewalk can end up in the same location as a road without following the exactly the same path. In some situations doing that could make the new road less damaging to the environment -- for example, avoiding damage to a heritage tree or disturbing less of a wetland.



17. Dorothea Dix hospital is scheduled to close, opening up more than 300 acres of state-owned land between downtown and N.C. State’s Centennial Campus. What do you think would be the best use of the Dorothea Dix property?

I am not sure. I've attended some of the meetings and read some about it, but not nearly enough to feel confident about exactly what needs to happen. However when dealing with environmentally sensitive lands, I think it's important to choose the less invasive options.

18. For Raleigh to continue to be a great place to live, our City needs both adequate organized recreation facilities (soccer, baseball, football fields) and to protect our best natural areas for high quality natural-resource based recreation experiences. How would you balance the needs of both? Do you believe that active recreation and nature-based recreation can coexist in the same location?

I think we need to look for locations for active recreation near areas that are already developed. There are a lot more places that a ball field or soccer field can go, than an undisturbed natural area. I don't see the need to combine them, except of course the financial reasons of Raleigh already having the land. I strongly support partnering with Wake County on combination school/park sites.

Again, the Comprehensive Plan can deal with some of these issues by identifying naturally sensitive areas.

19. The City’s park planning policy (Resolution 2003-735) ensures meaningful citizen involvement in City park planning and a healthy planning process. Will you support the use of this policy if you are elected to Council? Under what circumstances would you not support following this policy?

I would support the policy and can't imagine a situation that I wouldn't follow that policy. That policy is clearly based on increased public participation as well as environmental stewardship. The Council's and staff's increasing disregard for the public's right to be involved is the primary reason I decided to run for Council.


16. Air in North Carolina frequently exceeds the national ozone standard. For example, the Triangle is ranked in the top 20 metropolitan areas in experiencing unhealthy air quality according to the American Lung Association. Much of this increase in air pollution is due to increased motor vehicle traffic in rapidly growing areas of North Carolina, such as the Triangle. What measures would you introduce or support to reduce air pollution in the Triangle, including keeping the number of “Bad Air” days (i.e., those days on which air quality is below EPA standards) to a minimum?

First we should continue with the efforts we've been making in the Triangle. We have actually been making a difference in reducing ozone, according to information that was reported at the 2006 Triangle Air Awareness awards luncheon sponsored by NC Division of Air Quality.

The vision I describe in the Transportation section of this survey will be key reducing miles traveled.

Some specific things the City could do now are: increase support for the Smart Commute Challenge by giving it more publicity, help companies take advantage of the tax breaks for bus passes, look for ways to reduce the miles traveled by city employees while doing their jobs, investigate ways to bring more alternative fuel vehicles into the city fleet. The opportunities are numerous, and I'm sure the Sierra Club members can add even more.


10. In the Southeast over 50% of the electricity generated is produced from coal-burning power plants, a significant source of air and water pollution in our State. The Southeast suffers disproportionately from the impacts of coal-burning power plants because this region uses almost 30% more energy per capita than the entire country. Many mayors have signed on to the US Mayor’s Climate protection Agreement with targets for energy conservation. What is your position on this agreement and what do you think the City can do in support of this agreement to help curb climate change and conserve energy?

I support the agreement. The City just needs to expand the efforts it has made, such as replacing the parking deck lights with LEDs and adding natural gas vehicles to the city fleet. If I am elected, I will vote to increase the City's actions. For example, the new nature parks would be a perfect place to use solar lights where appropriate (ie: without having to cut down trees to get enough sunlight to the photovoltaic cells). There may even be grants available for just such a purpose. We could increase the use of the hybrid shuttles downtown so people will park their cars and leave them instead of driving from Moore Square to Glenwood South. There are dozens of other opportunities and lots of examples from other Cool Cities to choose from.

11. Space conditioning (heating, cooling, and hot water) demands more energy than industry and even more than transportation. The bulk of global energy consumption is from commercial and residential buildings (38%). Would you support changing the code of ordinances to include green building and energy conservation incentives for property owners and new building construction?

Yes. I would also recommend that City-sponsored construction, such as affordable housing and redevelopment of areas near downtown, at least follow energy conservation measures like double-paned windows and Energy-Star appliances.

12. The economic and energy conservation potential of alternative work schedules (flextime, part-time permanent, and compressed workweek) and telecommuting is significant. What measures would you take to encourage business to adopt alternative work schedules?

First, I would find out if any City regulations or rules discourage those options and work to change the rules if they do. We can include a special recognition in the Smart Commute program for businesses that use those options. I don't know of any other ways the City can encourage those options, but am open to suggestions.


13. The Falls Lake watershed is the main drinking water source for over 350,000 people. However, the lake and many of its tributaries are showing the effects of excessive nutrient pollution, resulting from runoff and from upstream sewage treatment plants. What local measures, if any, would you support to protect the Falls Lake watershed and future water sources?

14. Drought and increased water use due to population growth are outpacing water supplies, even in years of normal rainfall. What options would you propose to conserve water and meet Raleigh’s water supply demands to prevent building a new dam and reservoir on the Little River?

15. Wake County Watershed Management Task Force concluded that sediment is the biggest reason for lake and stream degradation in Wake County. Further evidence of this is the recent designation of the Neuse River as one of the Top Ten Most Endangered Rivers in the Nation according to American Rivers. Do you think existing erosion control programs are effectively protecting water quality? What would you do to regulate land disturbing activities for new development to prevent erosion and sedimentation that pollute our waterways?

I would look for guidance on water quantity protection and improvement from the many experts we have in this area: Jean Spooner, Jeri Gray, Vic D'Amato, Sherry Johnson, to name a few. I am looking forward to learning more about it, but know enough to know I'm not qualified to answer these questions yet. I do know that water is our most limiting resource, but we have not done enough to protect that resource.


6. Do you support broadening of State enabling legislation to increase the City’s ability to protect trees?

I'm all for increasing the City's ability to protect trees.

Please explain.

I don't know what exact legislation is referred to in this question. However, I would ask our Senators Janet Cowell and Neal Hunt for advice what the State can do to help, to sponsor appropriate legislation, and work with them to build support from all stakeholders.

7. Do you think the Raleigh tree conservation ordinance should increase the required percentage of tree conservation area on developing lots?


Please explain.

Trees help protect our water supply and reduce stormwater runoff. We should be especially careful to protect trees in riparian buffers required by the Neuse River rules. In other areas, the percentage saved depends on the amount of wooded area on a tract of land to begin with. If there aren't many trees to begin with, maybe you save 100%. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer wooded lots left in our region.

8. Do you think the Raleigh tree conservation ordinance should require more lots to be subject to tree conservation by changing the lot-size requirement from two acres to something smaller—say one acre or less?


Please explain.

Protecting the root systems of existing trees on lots smaller than an acre can be difficult -- especially for large trees with extensive roots systems.

Another risk with proposing something like that is owners might rush to cutting down trees before the rules are changed to avoid having to preserve them later. Educating people on the value that trees add to their property might ultimately be more effective. Citizen groups like the Sierra Club and even business groups can help with that education. There is solid economic evidence to support trees making property more valuable. Significant incentives and credits could be given for actually saving quality trees.

9. Do you think the Raleigh tree conservation ordinance should protect large trees, often called heritage or specimen trees?


Please explain.

The tree conservation ordinance does make provision for protection of "Champion trees" which includes trees with the "Capital Tree" designation. Identifying more "Capital Trees" could conserve more of these trees. The City should also help fund this program. Sierra Club members could be especially helpful in nominating possible Capital Trees. More information on the program is at: http://www.wakegov.com/recycling/kab/captreesprogram.htm


One of the fastest growing counties in the nation, the population of Wake County is expected to double to 1.4 million by 2030 and 27 acres of natural land are being developed daily. Development is already straining our sewage treatment plants and causing increases in storm-water runoff—the leading cause of water pollution in the state.

3. What actions would you take to encourage development within Raleigh’s urban centers, and discourage sprawl?

The Comprehensive Plan update is key to guiding future growth. We should start by identifying natural areas that need protecting and reserve them. New development around those areas should be less dense.

- Areas that are already heavily developed should only be allowed to add new development if the infrastructure -- including transit service, bicycle and pedestrian facilities -- is in place or will be when the development opens.

- I would encourage more neighborhood planning processes such as that used by the Hillsborough Street Partnership.

- I would support TTA's original rail plan. The TTA plan gives an opportunity to focus to growth around the station locations which are in areas where people already want to live. Mixed-use developments have already been approved based on that plan. TTA has public/private partnerships with developers to build appropriate developments around the station locations.

- I would look for ways to encourage people to live near where they work.

- I would seek additional incentives and partnerships to actually implement smart growth.

4. What should be the role of the Mayor and City Council in mediating disputes between a neighborhood group and a developer?

First, as city regulations require, insist that the two groups talk to each other. Council can make that easier by assigning city staff to mediate if needed. Staff will also need to be involved to make sure any promises the developer makes to the neighborhood are binding. Staff can help neighbors do research to evaluate the validity of their concerns. If that process is unsuccessful, then the Council has to get involved.

Many of these disputes can be eliminated by the expansion of the Neighborhood Planning process and by the updating of the Comprehensive Plan. City Council can only do so much without developers challenging their decisions in court, unless the dispute has been dealt with in the Comprehensive Plan. However it is Council's responsibility to make sure that staff is following the Comprehensive Plan, and when required to hold the developer accountable for their actions -- possibly to the point of tearing down a structure. That would only have to happen once before developers realized that the City will honor the Comprehensive Plan as a contract between the City and its citizens.

Council and staff should investigate when watchdog groups such as the Sierra Club, the Neuse River Keeper, People for Parks and Audubon Society make them aware of possible violations.

5. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the City of Raleigh is set to begin updating its Comprehensive Plan. How do you believe the Comprehensive Plan can be improved and how should it be enforced? Do you support incorporating the Urban Design Guidelines into the Comprehensive Plan?

The Comprehensive Plan can definitely be improved. One of the reasons I am running for Council is to make sure that the natural-systems based process (described in the presentation at the Capital Group meeting recently) stays in the plan. The parcel-based approach proposed by the staff should make it easer for staff, developers, and citizens to know what is allowed, without compromising the natural-systems protection. Non-complaint plans should denied.

As far as the Urban Design Guidelines, I'm not sure which version you're referring to. It appears almost every state and city has a set. I think it is safer for the environment and for neighborhoods to focus on the needs of specific neighborhoods and natural areas and not use a one-size-fits-all approach.

Top Three Goals

2. What top three goals would you like to achieve during your term in office?

My top three specific goals are:

-- To make sure the redesign of the CACs includes current CAC members and other members of the public, not just staff and Council members thus increasing the effectiveness of this crucial source of citizen input.

-- To assure that the updated Comprehensive Plan is based on natural systems as is the Planning Department’s intent and includes the CAT and TTA transit plans.

-- To give all neighborhoods the chance to develop a Neighborhood Plan to address problems and protect it from inappropriate development.

Increasing citizen involvement, neighborhood protection and environmental stewardship are the general goals that will guide my decisions on Council. I believe that education, incentives, and enforcement are the best tools to use to accomplish those goals--starting with education.

Environmental Group Memberships

1. What environmental groups are you a member of and how long have you been a member?

Right now, just Capital Group Sierra Club, since the mid-90s. I was a steering committee member, starting in 1997, of what became the triangle Smart Growth Coalition, which was funded by a National Sierra Club EPEC grant.

Beginning in the early 1990s, I have also been a member of many other groups: the Conservation Council of North Carolina, the Umstead Coalition, the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, the Audubon Society, the League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, American Rivers, American Farmland Trust, Friends of the Earth, probably a few others. I’ve stuck with the Sierra Club because it seems to get the most done. I've also been a strong supporter of local park preservation efforts at such as those at Lake Johnson and Horseshoe Farm Parks.

About Me

I ran for City Council because Raleigh is my home and I believe I can help it to stay the healthy, uplifting place that it is. My goal on the City Council will be: first, to help the citizens of Raleigh understand what the city is doing now and why. Second, make it easier for citizens to communicate with the city and to have that communication respected and remembered. I will strive to let Raleigh’s residents to help the city in day-to-day activities -- like running a dog park. I think this will lead to more effective and less expensive solutions to Raleigh’s problems and opportunities. BIO: I'm a native of rural eastern North Carolina, moved to Raleigh in 1975 to attend NCSU, graduated, and never left the city. I worked throughout my education. My husband and I bought our house on Monroe Drive in 1989. I started working for the News and Observer's production department in 1980 and worked there until November 2006. I have participated in numerous public service initiatives, and wish to take my expertise to the next level.