The Charlotte City Council will look very different in December when four new members take their seats on the dais. On Nov. 8, Charlotte residents — at least 16 percent of them — elected two new at-large Council members, Democrats Beth Pickering and Claire Fallon, unseating Republican incumbent Edwin Peacock in the process. Voters also elected new representation for Districts 3 and 5, Democrats LaWana Mayfield and John Autry.
So, where do the new members stand on some of the city's bigger issues, such as increasing job prospects and improving blighted areas?
Political newcomer Pickering said one of her main issues is getting economic development into struggling neighborhoods. "The Beatties Ford area has been mentioned many times, and one thing that I've been thinking about is the fact that we always seem to be waiting for companies to come in," she said. "I'd like to identify, with the neighbors, who they'd like to see come in."
Fallon, who has served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission since June 2009, said her focus will be on economic development and job creation. "Businesses come in here and they say, 'We have jobs but no one has our skills,'" Fallon said. Her solution: create vocational training opportunities, so businesses that come to the city can train people on the specific skill sets those industries need. In addition to bringing jobs and businesses to Charlotte, Fallon also plans to focus on the city's crumbling roads and infrastructure.
Mayfield and Autry have more specific issues to address in Districts 3 and 5, as their areas have more immediate needs. Both council elects spoke with Creative Loafing about some of those needs and how they plan to address them on Council.
Creative Loafing: With delays continuing on Boxer Property's redevelopment of Eastland Mall into a Latino-themed neighborhood mercado, the embattled 90 acres of brick-and-concrete sprawl remains an eyesore for east side residents. How do you plan to deal with this?
Autry: The Urban Land Institute conducted a study that presented three options. I like option three. This option calls for a mixed-use development with a lot of public space. I favor more of the park aspect of public space, which would involve [input from] the county. A large portion of the 90 acres developed as public space could become a centerpiece and a symbol for the revitalization of the east side. The public, especially the surrounding communities, will have to be heard also, regarding a solution.
One of the cultural highlights of District 5 is the presence of taco trucks and other mobile food vendors. Will you have Council reopen the discussion of the ordinance that's put many of them out of business?
I will seek a solution with the help of staff that permits the small-business spirit to thrive while protecting the brick-and-mortar operations that see a conflict or an unfair advantage to the mobile vendors operations. Other large cities have dealt with this issue, so can Charlotte.
How will you lobby for new businesses to locate to east Charlotte?
I worked as a filmmaker in Charlotte for almost 30 years. I'm familiar with the branding and re-branding of products, people and places. Businesses considering the east side should be exposed to the hidden jewels in District 5 — the neighborhoods you don't see when traveling down W.T. Harris, Albemarle or even Monroe Road. These mature middle-ring neighborhoods are well-established, and the residents have disposable income. They are frustrated by the distance they have to travel for commercial services.
Will you work to move affordable housing into other districts of the city?
Affordable housing is a necessity for any community. That residents on the east side feel they have their fair share is well-documented. I don't think moving affordable housing out of District 5 is a possibility, but I will be vigilant in scrutinizing any new development. [East side] residents aren't NIMBYs, but they believe we have our fair share.
CL: What's your plan to bring more jobs to District 3?
Mayfield: The first step is looking at what's already here and what's scheduled to happen. There are already some rezoning permits out there looking at some growth. My first objective is to identify the current plan we have in place and where that growth is happening. And then building relationships with the business owners and the community to make sure that the community's voice is heard. We need to look at how we expand the growth throughout the district and not just in places that have been viable.
Your predecessor was instrumental in bringing good public transportation into District 3. How will you look at transportation going forward, taking into consideration the Charlotte Area Transit System budget and expansion of the light rail?
When you look at parts of District 3, like Wilkinson Boulevard, then you look at the Sprinter [bus] line that comes from the airport — yes, we have room for growth with our public transportation. But a good part of District 3 has accessibility to public transportation through CATS, or the rail line, if you live in South End, or has transportation to get to one of the stations on South Boulevard. My goal, as I think would be the goal of any newly elected council member, would be to research what we can realistically bring into the district over the next two years.
District 3 has an inordinate number of abandoned buildings. What are your plans with regard to absentee landlords?
It has been a major concern, and it was a concern that was discussed repeatedly on the campaign trail. Charlotte does have ordinances in place. There's going to need to be more communication with the community. There is a process in place for identifying absentee landlords, finding them and then making a decision that they are going to make all of the repairs that are needed to make the home livable or rentable or that they are going to sell the property. One of the parts of my agenda is identifying the current ordinance, because [landlords] can do some remodeling on the home and that starts the process off. I really want to navigate through the policy that we have in place and look at the possible loopholes and look at closing them so that we can create safe communities for the residents who live there and to try and reduce the amount of crime coming into those areas.