Guest Columnist

2020 brought unforeseen issues to city agenda

Those of us with privilege have to learn to give on issues so the community as a whole can benefit

Lynette Jacoby (left) of Coralville, Iowa, and Janice Weiner of Iowa City, Iowa, organize donated goods to be distribute
Lynette Jacoby (left) of Coralville, Iowa, and Janice Weiner of Iowa City, Iowa, organize donated goods to be distributed to residents in need at the Community Storm Relief Effort at Linn County Public Health in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. The effort is a clearinghouse where volunteers meet and are given assignments collected from residents in need. Supplies such as water, snacks, flashlights and batteries, diapers and other hygiene supplies are distributed, residents can obtain information on assistance. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

I approach the task of focusing on what I hope we as a council can accomplish in 2021 with great humility. I say that, not because I don’t have goals, but because 2020 demonstrated that no matter how thorough our plans, they can be quickly overtaken by events.

One year ago, I assumed that we would focus on zoning, climate change-related issues, the transit study and affordable housing. None of us could have imagined that a pandemic, combined with a long-overdue social justice movement, would come to the forefront.

City Council and staff have worked hard on COVID-19 in terms of preparedness, flexibility, helping those in need, following the science, communicating and coordinating with other governmental entities, the university, student government, Johnson County Public Health, the business community and nonprofits. This work will not end on December 31.

As the self-appointed COVID bulldog on Iowa City Council, I will continue that work as we strive to keep people as safe as possible, support our health care and essential workers, help as many as we can and get people vaccinated. We must deal effectively with COVID to allow other crucial aspects of our daily lives to recover.

Black Lives Matter is indispensable work that will continue for the duration of my term on council and beyond. Whatever we do — from our 17-point resolution to standing up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to working on reforms to our police department, shifting tasks to those better suited to work on them, coordinating with the new GuideLink Center, improving education, healing, seeking equity, access and transparency — it is ongoing, necessary work. The plan to restructure and reform our police department will require considerable time and energy and buy-in from us all. Black lives matter.

I hope the coming year will be one of gradual recovery. It is an opportunity to knit community together at all levels, including the arts and business. I aim to continue to work across government entities and with our nonprofit community in a meaningful way, much as we have on COVID, because coordination allows us to learn from one other and avoid duplication of efforts. We also need to focus on lessons learned that can instruct future preparedness. Those lessons, I have no doubt, will include new best practices.

Those goals are foundational. I would also like to spearhead changes to our zoning laws to make it easier to create the missing middle and simplify requirements where possible. We need to grow, and we can steer that growth to ensure it is smart and sustainable. I’d like to explore how to reinvigorate the Sycamore Mall area and see if it is possible to create a safer link between the South District and that area under or over Highway 6. I want to continue to focus on creating a new affordable housing plan — bringing all stakeholders to the table, including those who know the cost to build, nonprofits that support affordable housing and those who live in affordable units.

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We must also view everything we do through the climate change lens. With the benefit of hindsight, I view the Waterworks Park solar project as a lost opportunity. Many of us — especially those of us with privilege — have to learn to give on issues so the community as a whole can benefit. As many have said, our house is on fire, and we must to do all in our power at the local level to extinguish it.

Going forward, we must also focus on improving communication. That means coordinating better with commissions, nonprofits and neighborhood associations. It means communicating what the city is doing or proposing and why, as well as two-way communication with our community. We have always done this, but the pandemic and BLM have taught us that we need to expand the modalities via which this happens.

Finally, it will always be about public service — serving our people and our community. It will be about appreciating our people — both staff and volunteers, who showed enormous flexibility and grit throughout 2020, as did our citizens — and continuing to endeavor to make our city a better place to live.

Janice Weiner was elected in 2019 to the Iowa City Council.

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