This election, Chapel Hill's identity is at stake
(and it's not about the buildings)
I first ran for Town Council in 2017. The Chapel Hill I knew, as a native, was progressive, welcoming, and proud of its history as a state leader in environmental protection, civil rights, and social justice. The reason I ran, per my platform at the time:
“We talk about wanting to retain Chapel Hill’s character, usually by referring to locally owned businesses, ivy-covered buildings, and the sense of charm our community is famous for. Those are important characteristics of our Town. I would also like our conversation to include a community discussion about how we retain the values for which Chapel Hill has historically been known: values of inclusivity and equity, of progressive leadership and vision… We are a town that was proud to be singled out by Jesse Helms as a liberal “zoo” to be fenced in. That passion and courage of conviction is a critical part of Chapel Hill’s character.”
That is the Chapel Hill I have fought for over the past six years, along with my colleagues, who have been committed to centering equity in our policy-making, expanding access and opportunity to all our town has to offer, and mitigating the harms of the past perpetuated by the history of racism and segregation that is an inextricable part of our country and town’s history.
This Council has had a vision of Chapel Hill as a truly vibrant, equitable and welcoming town. We want those words to not just be aspirational but the lived experience of all who reside, study, visit, and work in our town. We have worked especially hard over the last two years to push past the status quo that has held the town back from truly achieving that vision. There is much more hard work to do, but I am proud of what we have accomplished.
Election day is on Tuesday. There is a lot at stake. As when I ran in 2017, I do not see this election as a choice between tall or short buildings, as some would have you believe. This election is about who and what we value as a community – and I am deeply concerned about the direction in which the outcome of this election could take us.
Last week, the Town Council received the following email:
Along with the massive crowding, the recent incidents in Eastgate are only the beginning of what’s to come in the high density, “affordable housing” area of Chapel Hill. Are you surprised?!
While this is public record, I will not name the author, but will share that this same individual is quoted as an endorser on Adam Searing’s campaign website. While the message is shocking, it is sadly becoming one we hear with increasing frequency.
Searing and his “slate” have been clear: they oppose the direction the current Council has been moving our Town in, one that has been guided by the values Chapel Hill has long held dear – one of being welcoming and inclusive, with housing and jobs for all; one where renters’ voices are as important as those of homeowners; one where we are proud that we commit significant funding to affordable housing and fare-free transit; one where we invest in greenways that allow kids to get to safely to school and all of us to stay out of our cars; one whose police department prioritizes community health and safety over punishment; one that invests in parks and green spaces for all to enjoy; and one that values trees, while also caring deeply that there are too many members of our community who are forced to live unsheltered among them.
Much has been said about this current Council – and let me tell you, you have to have a thick skin to serve this town. But most people don’t see what it really means to be on the Town Council. It means doing the hard work, knowing most community members will never know what you have done. So, I want to share just a few examples:
They won’t know how Tai Huynh started the Summer Careers Academy partnership with Durham Tech, motivated by his experience as a first-generation college student and son of refugees, who wants others like him to have greater access to opportunity.
They might not know how Paris Miller-Foushee, a member of a multi-generational Northside family and incredible community advocate, has ensured that the Reimaging Community Safety Task Force’s recommendations, crafted in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, continue to be funded and implemented.
Or how we can rely on Amy Ryan, a landscape architect by training, to ensure mature trees and ample tree canopy are preserved as part of any development we approve.
How Jess Anderson advocated year after year until we found the budget to bring on an Urban Designer, who has brought his expertise to our vision of placemaking in all of the Town’s new development - which is a key component of the Complete Community strategy.
How Camille Berry has made it a priority to spend meaningful time with staff in each Town department so that she can understand and advocate for their needs, helping to ensure they have the tools, resources, and support needed to carry out the Council’s vision.
And how Michael Parker knows our local, county, and regional transit systems inside and out, and led the creation - with local, county, regional, and state counterparts - of a visionary transit plan that prioritizes safe and accessible alternatives to driving.
And for me, I’m most proud of bringing forward the affordable housing petition that resulted in meaningful changes to the Town’s housing policies and ordinances, allowing us to get more affordable housing and get it approved and built faster.
We are your elected leaders. On any given night, my colleagues can inspire me or drive me bonkers (depending on how late the hour). We are very different and don’t always agree – which is as it should be – but we have come together around a shared vision and the willingness to do the hard work to collaborate, deliberate, and balance the competing priorities of our community.
When you go to the polls on Tuesday, please remember what this election is truly about. The soul of Chapel Hill is at stake.