Mayoral candidates differ on vision, role of government
Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 5:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 5:44 p.m.
When it comes to city government, Ed Braddy and Craig Lowe disagree on almost everything.
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With early voting in the Gainesville mayoral runoff beginning Monday, incumbent Lowe and Braddy, the challenger, differ on the role of government in economic development, transportation and energy policy.
They also disagree on whether it is appropriate for the mayor to have a “vision” for Gainesville.
On the campaign trail, Lowe speaks broadly of a long-term vision for the city, one in which the local economy continues to develop because of the quality of life Gainesville offers.
For his part, Braddy finds it troublesome for a politician to announce a vision statement for the city, saying that is when government “tends to be more intrusive into how people live their lives.”
For City Hall itself, he has a vision of sorts: smaller government and reduced regulations.
Lowe says local government should primarily be an advocate for the community, touting to companies the quality of life Gainesville offers through its parks, greenspace, arts and culture, neighborhood and environmental protections, and city government's broad anti-discrimination policy.
Lowe also supports the use of targeted incentives on a case-by-case basis to draw in businesses or retain businesses that have an eye for expansion. Those goodies include the rebate of property tax revenues for businesses and development within a Community Redevelopment Agency district and a local contribution through the state's Qualified Target Industry to businesses that bring in a certain number of jobs.
Technology firms Mindtree and Prioria are among the companies for which the City Commission has approved future incentives based on job creation.
CRA incentives, Lowe said, are useful “to stimulate economic activity that will have a wider impact than just one particular business.”
Braddy says the city should foster economic development by reducing the “barriers to entry for small businesses.” The city's regulatory and permitting processes are too difficult and bureaucratic for small business owners to navigate without spending a significant amount of money hiring a land use attorney, he said.
While serving on the City Commission in 2005, Braddy voted in favor of CRA incentives for a former incarnation of the University Corners mixed-use development, which is planned north of the University of Florida on the intersection of University Avenue and 13th Street.
In 2007, he voted against incentives for the development.
Today, Braddy said he is “largely cool” to the idea of taxpayer incentives to private development. “It should be limited in scope, dollar and duration because otherwise it becomes sort of a blank check,” he said.
On transportation, Braddy, the executive director of the American Dream Coalition, a nonprofit group critical of smart-growth policies, has been an outspoken critic of the City Commission's long-term plan to develop a bus rapid transit (BRT) system. It is an expensive plan — long-term projections exceed $300 million — that the city does not have the population density to support, he said.
With the Hawthorne Road corridor currently not included in the planned first leg of the system, Braddy said BRT would not adequately serve a large swath of the city's eastside, even though the system was first proposed in the Plan East Gainesville document.
Instead, he said it will be used to “lure affluent suburbanites out of their cars” in the western area of the city.
He opposes plans to take vehicle travel lanes off roadways in favor of either bicycle lanes or on-street parking, something the City Commission is now mulling for Northwest Eighth Avenue and South Main Street.
He says more money needs to go toward road repair and resurfacing and that $3 out of every $4 in new money that flows into the Regional Transit System should go toward improving bus service in east Gainesville.
If elected, Braddy said he plans to propose “innovative and progressive changes for RTS.” Outside of the heavily used UF bus routes, he would float the idea of moving away from “fixed routes and fixed schedules set by a bureaucratic system” and toward an on-demand transit system with smaller vehicles. His plan has a private company running the system through a contract with the city and mobility vouchers available to assist low-income residents.
Lowe said the city needs to fund a comprehensive transportation system that includes road repairs and new construction, bicycle/pedestrian facilities, bus service and, in the future, bus rapid transit. Lowe is supportive of a potential 2014 sales tax if it funds all those areas.
“It is not an either/or,” Lowe said of funding roads and a BRT system.
To Lowe, bus rapid transit will help spur the economy. It will move people more quickly to employment centers such as UF and the Innovation Square and retail hubs such as The Oaks Mall. He envisions businesses such as restaurants and coffee shops locating around the system's transfer stations.
In recent years, Gainesville has approved the country's first solar feed-in tariff program and the 30-year contract to purchase power from the biomass plant. Lowe says those decisions will have long-term benefits by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and moving toward renewable energy sources. Lowe said the city should consider whether it is time to phase out the feed-in tariff because it has served the purpose of promoting the installation of solar systems.
While in office in 2008, Braddy made the motion, after listening to opposition, to enter negotiations on a contract for the biomass plant. He had hit term limits by the time the contract came back for a vote in 2009.
Campaigning now, he's been an outspoken critic of the biomass contract, saying it will drive up electric rates that already rank toward the high end of the state at most usage levels.
He's also described the feed-in tariff as a “regressive” program since all utility customers pay to subsidize solar power, including low-income residents who cannot afford the installation of a system.