City Council Candidates, District 5

4 Mar

District 5 is a highly contested race with seven candidates running for the seat that Colleen Brennan was just elected to by the rest of the sitting City Council about a month ago. Today we’ll hear from four of them: incumbent Colleen Brennan, Destiny Stark, Jeff Moore, and Patrick Leahy.

{ID: Colleen Brennan is standing outside, smiling at the camera in a white jacket with blue shirt with blond hair. Destiny Start is wearing a red sweater with a D embroidered on the right over a navy collared shirt and glasses with dark curled hair against a gray background. Jeff Moore is wearing a bright blue crew neck shirt under a gray jacket and is smiling against a brick background. Patrick Leahy has a white collared shirt on under a dark gray jacket and is also standing in front of a brick background.}

What are Omaha’s most pressing transportation needs? If elected, how will you address these needs?

Colleen Brennan: “If Omaha is to become a truly world-class city, we must have a transportation system that can support the needs of a more densely populated urban area. That means high-tech, efficient, effective, environmentally friendly, affordable and safe options for our population. I am completely on-board with pushing for those advancements in our transportation system.”

Destiny Stark: “Expanding affordable public transit to connect more area’s of the city, in a timely manner. It will increase individual independence, decrease the need to own and maintain a personal vehicle and the vehicles on the road, which will decrease time in traffic. Look at what has already been approved in years past, much like part of ORBT funding came from a 2014 federal transportation grant, continue to assess what grant opportunities we can obtain and what has worked in other cities to increase passenger’s on public transit.”

Jeff Moore: “Some transportation needs are starting to be fulfilled with ORBT. As we move along, we will need to expand the routes to include a north/south corridor and possible a southwest/northeast corridor. We must provide access to the people of Omaha who do not want or cannot afford a car.”

Patrick Leahy: “Based on your Mode Shift Omaha video for city candidates and possible solutions, I support each of them and would work to make possible thru new policies. Agree wide streets do not solve the traffic problems but make them worse over time by encouraging suburban edge development. Bike routes should be connected and an integral part of transportation system, more orbit routes connected housing centers to job centers.more auto speed enforcing and self enforcing through street design. We think a lot alike, is there and Urban Planner in your group? Clearly from the video you have many very engaged thoughtful Citizens in your group. Vested in a better Omaha. For more info about me please check out my website Leahy4CityCouncil.com or Facebook page or better yet let’s schedule coffee or lunch. Contact me at leahy.p@cmbaarchitects.com or PatrickLeahy4CityCouncil@gmail.com”

Should the Planning and Public Works Departments have separate directors, or should they be combined into a single entity?

Colleen Brennan: “I’m not sure what the advantages of combining these departments would be, but I would be willing to hear arguments in regard to that change. As I understand it, Planning is focused on researching and developing goals and objectives, while Works is focused on day-to-day management and implementation of those goals. Reading between the lines, I’m guessing the problem has a lot more to do with who is determining priorities rather than the actual structure of the departments. Again, I’m open to this discussion.”

Destiny Stark: “If they were to be combined, they would still need a chain of command with director, deputy director(s), assistant director(s), department head(s), etc. to be highly committed to working together and frequent communication to ensure projects are seen through concept-completion in a timely manner. For the time being, they should remain separate.”

Jeff Moore: “They should continue to have separate directors. As a member of the Omaha Planning Board, the planning department is far too busy to have the Director also trying to manage the roads. I feel the Director of the Public Works should focus solely on the repairs and snow removal of our roads.”

Patrick Leahy: “One. Based on what I know, I believe planning of city should be by by a great urban planner and they should set a progressive and sustainable vision. Public works should implement and maintain vision and report to and coordinate with Planning department. We need Form Based Codes that allow more option of quality design, less minimum parking and more.”

Last year, Omaha approved $200M in bonds to close the funding gap for street maintenance for five years. Is this a good long-term solution for funding our street maintenance needs? If so, why, and if not, why not?

Colleen Brennan: “Our long-term goals cannot be focused on maintaining and building streets. Clearly, we have problems in that regard, but we must begin to direct significant resources to minimizing traffic and addressing broader transportation needs.”

Destiny Stark: “It will not be a great long-term solution. It will continue to keep many residents working minimum wage job’s from home ownership, as property taxes continue to increase they will find themselves unable to save money as they continue to pay for the increase at their rental. However, I will likely vote in favor of bonds such as this to be put on the ballot for voters to decide.”

Jeff Moore: “It is a stop gap measure because we have fallen so behind on our road repairs. It is a way to get caught up on road repairs while not increasing property taxes. Omaha probably will need to increase their road budget over time so that we don’t fall quite so far behind and won’t need to have such a large bond in the future.”

Patrick Leahy: “We need streets maintained, but we also need dedicated separate protected bike lanes and more Orbit bus routes that are connected.”

Which issue is of greater importance to our city moving forward: transportation accessibility or average commute time?

Colleen Brennan: “Transportation Accessibility”

Destiny Stark: “Transportation accessibility, it can positively or negativity impact commute time.”

Jeff Moore: “As we grow our city up instead of out, accessibility is more important. To attract and keep people living and working in Omaha, we need to make sure that our focus is on how we can move people from their home to work without a car. Busing, biking and walking all have an important future as we continue to move forward.”

Patrick Leahy: “Transportation accessibility,”

Much of our current transportation infrastructure excludes people who cannot drive for reasons of age, ability, or financial means. What will you do to make sure that Omaha accommodates the transportation needs (equitable access to employment, commerce and services) of all citizens?

Colleen Brennan: “I will always take a comprehensive approach to determining our overall transportation needs. I may represent the Southwest suburbs, but transportation must be viewed in the macro to make sense for Omaha.”

Destiny Stark: “Coming out of the financial losses related to COVID-19, we will need to increase private sector funding to keep fares low. Ensure all sidewalks are clear of snow or other objects to allow for ongoing safety and mobility. Look at adding public transit, including but not limited to trolleys options during large, multi-day events such as CWS, Olympic Swim Trials, to promote alternative means of navigating the city and taking advantage of what businesses and public spaces have to offer outside of time spent at the venue alone.”

Jeff Moore: “Honestly, I will have to study this topic more. During Covid, I’ve watched delivery service explode from Amazon, pharmacies, grocery stores and restaurants so I think that has helped serve some of the community without transportation accessibility. Expanding the ORBT line north and south would also be of great importance.”

Patrick Leahy: “love the idea of reducing bus fares by 1.50 per rides and transfer reduction of .25 per transfer. We need more interconnected routes east west north south and diagonally cross the city to connect housing centers with density to job centers with density. Make bus stations and bus access accessible to those with disabilities and meet the Americans with disabilities act.”

How often do you or your family use active modes of transportation such as a Metro bus, bicycling, or walking?

Colleen Brennan: “My husband and I walk every day, and the children we have still at home walk and ride bikes almost every day, weather permitting. Mostly due to a lack of convenience, we never ride the Metro Bus, but my father-in-law, who was in the senior management of a downtown corporation, took a Metro Bus to and from work from Millard for almost twenty years. Further, my husband used public transportation exclusively for many years while residing in Washington, DC.”

Destiny Stark: “When time and weather allows, I walk or ride my bike for errands that are around 1-2 miles away from my home, about once a month. It is more frequent in warmer months, when I ride my bike longer distances. Current Metro bus schedule, route and location is not currently practical for my live-work situation.”

Jeff Moore: “My job does require me to do a lot of traveling so I do use my car to get to and from work. I bicycle and walk on occasion for exercise.”

Patrick Leahy: “I biked a lot more when I lived closer to a bike route in the summer. I walk at least half my daily trips on average and walk more on the weekends especially during the campaign i’ve walked to nearly 1000 doors in a month and plan to do the same for the next three months.”

Do you support expanding the city’s recently-passed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy to additional corridors/neighborhoods, including allowing home owners to construct Accessory Dwelling Units on their property?

Colleen Brennan: “I’d like to watch how this unfolds, but I’m open to further expansion and see no problem with allowing home owners to construct ADUs.”

Destiny Stark: “Yes.”

Jeff Moore: “As I have answered in the previous questions, I think it is very important to expand the TOD corridors. Along with these lines will bring about additional development which will include retail and housing. The development is important for the success of the lines. If people don’t have access to a car, they want the line to be able to get them to their needs, ie a grocery store. I do support the ADU on a home owners property. It will give people an affordable option to live on the corridor and it will give the home owner some additional income.”

Patrick Leahy: “Yes, I am a member of the missing middle housing group here in Omaha. I was asked to join after I represented the AIA Nebraska government affairs committee as their chair and was a proponent testifying at the Nebraska Legislature hearing on the adoption of a missing middle housing policy state wide in January 2020.”

Do you support Metro Transit converting to a Regional Transit Authority under Nebraska Law with an elected board of directors?

Colleen Brennan: “Yes”

Destiny Stark: “Yes.”

Jeff Moore: {no answer submitted}

Patrick Leahy: “Yes. More community input and put is always better for Public policy.”

Omaha recently hired a Vision Zero coordinator. What are your expectations of the role they will play in trying to eliminate traffic deaths in Omaha?

Colleen Brennan: “I am optimistic the new Vision Zero Coordinator will be helpful in improving public safety. As is always the case in creating new positions, much will depend on both internal and external factors. From what I’ve seen, people are supportive of the addition.”

Destiny Stark: “To bring their experience to identify and prioritize high traffic accident area’s first, make continued comprehensive recommendations for or against how to improve safety for vehicles, bike and foot traffic. Listen to public input for additional information to increase safety around schools.”

Jeff Moore: “I am a State Farm agent and was excited to see the city hire a Vision Zero coordinator. It is a terrible tragedy to lose someone in a traffic accident that is largely preventable. Many of these accidents are a result of not paying attention to the road because of cell phone use or other distractions. Anything the coordinator can do to reduce the number of traffic deaths will be an absolute positive.”

Patrick Leahy: “Narrow streets well painted crosswalks not requiring the beg button to get a walk signal. Through design, slowing traffic and doing less traffic stops & more auto enforcement with cameras at intersections and speed cameras.”

Ten years ago, Omaha was promised a protected bike lane on Harney Street and it was never built. What will you do to ensure that project is completed in 2021?

Colleen Brennan: “As I understand it, this is no longer a city project but remains active as a collaboration between Metro Smart Cities and Bike Walk Nebraska. Hold-ups have apparently been created by higher than expected construction bids and Covid. I don’t know many of the how and why details of this project, but I will be looking into it. And I will do what I can to make it a priority moving forward.”

Destiny Stark: “With financial budget shortfall related to COVID-19, if the funding has not already been approved, acquiring the financial means for a protected bike lane in 2021 may not be possible without outside funding from a federal grant or private investors. If funding isn’t an issue, brining awareness to this topic at meetings until the project moves forward. This also includes inquiring about job openings in public works to get them filled by qualified candidates to ensure we have the human power.”

Jeff Moore: “If elected, I would begin my seat on the Omaha City Council in June. I can’t tell you with honesty that I could get that lane done in 2021. I would look at why it was never done and see if we could get the project on board for 2022. I don’t believe 6 months is enough time to get it completed after it being shelved for 10 years.”

Patrick Leahy: “I would study the Harney Street route and implement it especially if it connects up other bike routes that are currently disconnected. I studied the bike routes in depth when I first got my new bike and was disappointed with the lack of connection and if they just follow the creeks from northwest to southeast and they may connect clear down south near Bellevue somewhere but it would be impossible to cross town east to west on dedicated bike routes as a way to get to commute to work or school from most of the city. A big disappointment for me”

Finally, if you could magically make one change to the transportation environment in Omaha, without consideration of cost or political consequence, what would it be?

Colleen Brennan: “A high speed, above ground system of monorail lines looping from Western Douglas County to the airport, downtown and down Dodge Street West. Oh, I’m good at dreaming!”

Destiny Stark: “Rapid transit system that connects the entire city, nearby cities in other counties and operates 24/7.”

Jeff Moore: “Well, I am not really a magic kind of person but I will take a stab. If we did not have ORBT and hopefully future expansion, I would like to see a rail car that would again run east to west and north and south. I would like that rail car to be able to go to Lincoln so that we could reduce traffic on the interstate. I would like bike lanes to be protected or see the trail system in the city be expanded so that commuting would be easier and at the same time promote exercise for our citizens.”

Patrick Leahy: “Top Three: 1. Complete Streets, retail 1st level urban areas. 2. Connected bike Routes, separate protected lanes Missing 3. More Orbit routes that connect across the city better see answer to 5th question above about transportation access equitably. – Anything is possible with cultural support and broad public support, culture can eat policy for lunch. – I have changed building codes statewide and know we need to work at both the state and city level. As chair of the AIA NE government affairs committee I already testify personally or recruit and train testifies to issue of environment, sustainability, missing middle housing and would like to add streets; Biking, transit, walkability, traffic safety and enforcement. In 2019 I initiated a building policy change, found a state senator sponsor, lined up many testifiers, testified personally at the hearing, and got it past state wide. It took some work and it took a team of partners but it can be done, I know how to do it. It takes dedication, people and time/patience. I know several state senators and city councilman and I know how to get things done and find support of elected officials.”

One Response to “City Council Candidates, District 5”

  1. marybamesberger March 4, 2021 at 8:05 pm #

    Thank you for this relevant interview. I found it practical & helpful.

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