Meet Justin Shields, candidate for Cedar Rapids City Council District 5
Name: Justin Shields (i)
Address: 3201 Pebble Dr. SE
Seat seeking: District 5
Occupation: District 5 Council Member; Mayor Pro Tem
Educational background: High School graduate
Why are you running for council?
I have shown the necessary skills to work with people throughout all stages of their lives and want to continue that work. I have the ability to get things done and am always looking ahead for new and better ways to accomplish goals.
What are the three largest issues facing the city? How will you address them?
1. Streets - I was instrumental in the Paving for Progress program and will continued to find additional ways for Street repairs.
2. Crime - Crime is an on-going problem for all cities. I will continue to work to ensure the City and staff are equipped with the most up-to-date equipment as well as training. I will continue my fight for well trained and responsible Police & Fire employees.
3. Jobs and education - Having initiated the Iowa State University - Cedar Rapids Partnership, I will continue serving on the Advisory Council Meeting as well as promote other Economic Development initiatives.
The city is facing some major revenue losses. The Iowa Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold a lower court decision to turn off traffic cameras on I-380, which have generated more than $3 million per year for the city. Now, the state is threatening to do away with the backfill, which in Cedar Rapids is worth about $4 million per year. What is your plan to balance the budget if those losses come to fruition?
Shields: The State made a promise on the back fill that I expect them to keep, just as all people are expected to keep their word. Regarding the cameras - I think we will win that appeal. The State approved the cameras and their location in the first place or we would have never had them. The City would not have been allowed to install them without the States approval.
Some big fish have expressed interest in opening shop in Iowa, including Amazon and Toyota and Apple recently announced plans to build in Waukee. What specifically would you do to put Cedar Rapids in the best position to land a major new company?
Shields: I will continue to promote our great City to confirm that we have one of the strongest work forces in the Country. We have land, water, and sufficient infrastructure needed for growth and expansion.
There’s very real possibility one of the area’s largest employers, Rockwell Collins, could see its HQ leave Cedar Rapids. This would lead to a negative impact on jobs and philanthropy to local nonprofits. What would you do as an elected official to prevent this from happening or to minimize the impact?
Shields: We must do everything we possibly can to halt any negative impacts, knowing and understanding everything that could possibly happen in these types of situations and work with all the players to make any changes a success for everyone involved.
One of residents top complaints in road conditions. Now we are a few years into a 10 year, 1 cent local option sales tax targeting street repairs. It’s called Paving for Progress, and we’ve started to see streets improved, such as 42nd Street. What is your assessment of Paving for Progress? Is it working or isn’t it? And, do you favor extending the LOST tax to continue the program?
Shields: Yes, Paving for Progress is working just as we expected it to. Yes, I most certainly favor extending the LOST tax to continue the program and to continue all street repairs throughout the City.
Another frequent complaint from residents is the city’s efforts to become more walkable and bikeable, notably building sidewalks in established neighborhoods and road work downtown which has included converting one way streets to two way streets, removing stop lights in favor of stop signs and adding bike lanes. Do you support these efforts and why? And would you do anything specifically to speed up or halt these initiatives?
Shields: Yes, I agree with and fully support these efforts. The City has completely changed after the flood of 2008. With all the people living downtown and considering all the activity in the downtown area, both day and night, these changes have become necessary.
Cedar Rapids is some $200 million short of the money needed to build a flood protection system. Elected officials and city staff have tried a variety of methods to shake loose federal money for flood protection. They’ve lobbied local congressmen and senators, lobbied in Washington D.C., worked with the Army Corps, and pushed unsuccessfully for a local sales tax increase for flood protection. What would you do differently to get federal aid for flood protection? What if any back up plan do you have to fill the funding gap?
Shields: I never give up. I will continue working with the above named people and groups and will continue to look for new ways to accomplish this goal.
Last year and earlier this year, the City Council faced a difficult decision when CommonBond Communities wanted to build an affordable/homeless housing complex called Crestwood Ridge Apartments in a northwest neighborhood that vehemently opposed the project. While several neighbors pointed to concerns about traffic and stormwater runoff, others said that type of project would bring down property values and could introduce questionable people into the neighborhood. City Council members were torn about whether to side with the electorate or endorse a project many acknowledged was needed in the community. How would you have voted and why?
Shields: I voted for the project because at the end of the day, it was what was best for Cedar Rapids.
Cedar Rapids has leaned heavily in recent years on Tax Increment Financing to incentivize development with programs for downtown development, job creation, restoring brownfields and grayfields, historic restoration, sustainable improvement, community benefit, and urban housing. Virtually every high profile development has included some form of public subsidy. As one example, the city is proposing a $20.5 million public subsidy for a 28 story, $103 million downtown high rise with a grocery store and hotel called One Park Place. Is this the right approach? Is it too generous? Please explain.
Shields: The project has not been worked out yet, so I don’t know where you’re getting your information. I am in agreement with the project if it is the best way to improve the City of Cedar Rapids.
Following a series of shootings involving teens, a joint task force of city, school, police and community leaders joined forced to develop a plan called Safe Equitable and Thriving Communities. City staff and council have said they will work to implement the plan although some have questioned the level of commitment and progress and whether the city should bring in outside help. What do you think of the city’s progress on the SET program and what approaches would you advocate to address youth and gun violence?
Shields: I do not believe youth should be running our streets, carrying guns, for any reason. I do believe we should let the professionals deal with this and we should take their advice on methods to address the problems.
Are there any other issues you believe are critical for voters to know?
Shields: We must grow one city. Stop the bleeding of so many people moving to neighboring communities and loosing so much of our tax base.