Meet Dale Todd, candidate for Cedar Rapids City Council District 3
Name: Dale Todd
Address: 1821 Grande Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Seat seeking: District 3
Occupation: Vice President Development, Hatch Development Group
Educational background: Mount Carmel High School, Chicago, Illinois 1974; Coe College 1974-78; Mount Mercy University BA, Political Science, Criminal Justice 1983; Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind., Executive Development Program for Park and Recreation Professionals 2002
Why are you running for council?
Todd: Having recovered from the flood of 2008 I believe that our community is at a crossroads. Having successfully recovered in many sectors from the flood we are faced with the question of “how do we take our city to the next level?” In order to grow and thrive we need to deal with some complicated challenges that our complex and daunting. Having served previously on the Cedar Rapids City Council, I believe that I bring a level of skill, knowledge and compassion to these future discussions and decisions that will help effectively support continued revitalization efforts and make Cedar Rapids a better place to live, work and play.
What are the three largest issues facing the city? How will you address them?
Todd: 1. The lack of full funding of our flood protection system for downtown, Czech Village and other neighborhoods. This is needed to protect the new investments in the core of our city and attract new investments. Without flood protection there are additional risks and costs that work to discourage investment in these neighborhoods. By protecting these districts, the city will have the ability to attract amenities like housing, industry and retail to areas that in the past have been blighted. The additional growth in New Bohemia can be directly attributed to the advent of flood protection; we need to replicate this in other neighborhoods.
2. The need to implement economic development and revitalization strategies similar to what I have been able to accomplish in New Bohemia as Chair of the Southside Investment Board these last eight years. These strategies build upon the innovation and the strength of neighborhoods and capture the excitement found in places like the Iowa Accelerator and New Bo Co. This effort creates jobs and helps retain employers like Rockwell Collins and potentially attract new employers like Toyota. In conjunction with this revitalization will be efforts that stabilize and strengthen neighborhoods to decrease gun violence and crime. Businesses stay and relocate to communities that are safe and vibrant; improving our core neighborhoods with a revitalization policy that provides opportunity for more citizens will be part of my comprehensive economic development strategy. It can be done, other cities are doing it.
3. Challenge the City Council and our community to develop a bold vision for where we want our city to be in the next five years, ten years and twenty years. This is why I have led efforts to revitalize Cedar Lake and the Sinclair site. These are quality of life initiatives that citizens have embraced and are close to being implemented. The question now becomes “what do we do next to maintain our momentum forward as a community? How do we keep our community vision relevant to others who might be interested in moving to Cedar Rapids?” These are questions that need answers; it is a discussion that should be occurring right now. It is about strong leadership that is experienced and inclusive that drives a winning outcome for the entire community.
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?
Todd: Our city budget has always been tight. This was the case when I entered office in 1998 and still is the case today. It becomes particularly more challenging now since disaster recovery funds have been depleted. You work with your staff to identify efficiencies, you become creative in finding new sources of revenue and work hard to be transparent, building bonds of trust with taxpayers so that they understand and value the ways in which you spend their money. This is where experience makes a difference, having a sense of past city budget challenges, future city councils will need to weigh the need to operate efficiently, with the challenge to maintain our city’s momentum. This involves avoiding worst case “doom and gloom scenarios,” but being proactive, creative and smart. As the state’s second largest city we will need to work with the Iowa Legislature to make sure that past commitments are maintained and that cities and the state work in better partnership together.
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?
Todd: It is my belief that progressive industries open shop in communities based on a quality of life index. This means the quality of schools, parks, infrastructure and local labor pool. The days of handing out large uncompetitive tax breaks to corporations is unwise and is unsustainable. This is why investments in roads, schools, recreational amenities and infrastructure make sense in the long run. The revitalization of Cedar Lake and new bike trail developments like the Sleeping Giant Bridge is part of this equation. Similarly, the development of the NewBo City Market and McGrath Amphitheatre all help us in our economic development messaging. These types of projects are important to help not just attract new business but are important to helping to retain existing business and employees.
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?
Todd: The reality is that one can only to so much. I have am aware of the challenges that shuttered businesses have had on our community in the past. The loss of Farmstead and McLeod, and the impact that the recession and flood have all had on our community are all real life examples that I have lived through. While on the Cedar Rapids City Council in 2000, we were successful in working with Quaker Oats and their local labor union to keep the plant open here in Cedar Rapids by providing an economic development package of incentives. We will do all that we can to work with United Tech and Rockwell Collins to maintain their operations here, but only time will tell. Everyone is working hard to do the right thing, I will make sure that the city does all within their capacity to encourage the right outcome for our community.
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?
Todd: It is working as best it can. It is incredibly complex job coordinating the work among local contractors but city engineers are doing the best they can. I know there are times when the public is frustrated with the work but it is the price we pay for the improvements that we need. I would extend the tax but it would be in conjunction with a discussion that needs to occur about paying for future flood protection costs.
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?
Todd: Walkability is critical to the sustainability of a city. Sidewalks are certainly needed in neighborhoods where safety and walkability are an issue. We are behind other communities in this area. The construction of new sidewalks in existing neighborhoods is always controversial and fraught with angst. In these cases the city needs to do more to explain the logic behind the need and also help with the costs so that these projects do not become an undue burden for existing property owners. I am supportive of bike lanes and how they are utilized to move people around our city. Regarding the removal of stop signs in downtown, I hope it works, but I have seen too many car collisions and near misses in the heart of our city to make me feel warm and fuzzy. One of the most pressing issue for trail users and traffic engineers right now is “how to safely get bicyclists across 1st, 2nd, 3rd and Eighth Avenue during peak traffic periods?” As trail usage increases, we need to proactively address this issue before there is a fatality.
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?
Todd: It is painfully obvious that the federal government may not provide additional money to supplement our local efforts for the construction of our flood control system. I would support a local-option sales tax that could be applied to assist with these costs. In March of 2011, a similar effort was defeated by 1 percent of local voters. Today, since the benefits of flood protection can be more fully understood by the public and the design of the system is closer to completion, citizens should revisit this funding mechanism as a viable means to help pay the costs. To do nothing or pretend that another flood will not occur is foolish.
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?
Todd: I would have voted in support of the proposal. CommonBond is one of the most respected operators of affordable housing in the country. The proposal had been vetted by staff and deemed appropriate. It was a tough vote for council members, but I have had to make even tougher votes in the past. The need for affordable housing in our community is strong and will continue to be strong if we are to compete effectively for new and expanding industry. For me, the real issue is the “management of affordable housing properties,” once they are completed. Bad projects and absentee and neglectful property owners have helped create a negative perception about affordable housing in our community. We must all work together to change that perception.
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.
Todd: The city will need to maintain a level of investment in these projects in we want to maintain momentum and effectively compete with other cities for business and new industry. TIF and tax abatement are one of the only tools the city has at their disposal. This is particularly critical in the development of projects that are affordable and where the value to the public is tangible. Market rate projects are easier to finance because the majority of the costs are passed on to the property owners. Keeping rents affordable to insure diversity and inclusiveness require financial assistance to help decrease the financial gap. This is what successful communities do. Regarding the One Park Place project, at this point in time there appears to be a significant funding gap. The city is using the right approach, however there still is more work to do between the developer and the city is this project is going to happen.
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?
Todd: Combating gun violence and working to decrease the level of violence in our neighborhoods is one of the primary reasons for my candidacy. While levels of violence seem to indicate somewhat of a decrease in certain categories, the trends that I see in our neighborhoods has not been reassuring to me or many of the people I talk to. The SET Task Force which I have served on from its inception has been a useful vehicle to explore many of the issues that lead to crime and violence, but my only criticism is that it has took us a pretty significant amount of time to arrive at our recommendations. This is the nature of our volunteer effort. Our next phase will involve more community outreach with outcomes and timelines and the assignment of specific tasks. While certain departments like the police department have been fully engaged and supportive, it is readily apparent to me that others have been somewhat reluctant. I expect this to change as we move forward as a community.
Are there any other issues you believe are critical for voters to know?
Todd: Stabilization and reinvestment in our core neighborhoods is a critical element of the ongoing discussion that is being conducted by the Cedar Rapids Community School District for the future of our public schools in Cedar Rapids. The City of Cedar Rapids needs to be fully engaged in this study and it’s outcome should be supplemental to revitalization efforts for our community. I have been a member of the district’s facilities study committee and realize the importance of reinvestment in our schools but want to make sure that decisions are make that are beneficial to both the City of Cedar Rapids and School District.