Walkable West Palm Beach candidate Questionnaire – 12 questions with Paula Ryan
Paula Ryan is the commissioner-elect for District 3. Many thanks to Paula for taking the time to answer the questionnaire.
- What is your approach to economic development? Do you favor ‘economic hunting’ or ‘economic gardening’, and which approach or combination of approaches would you pursue if elected to office? Would you consider certifying West Palm Beach as a Level II economic gardening program to support existing businesses and entrepreneurs?
I think you need both. I am a big proponent of helping those businesses that are already here and have spent time, money and personal resources to be successful. As the climate changes, they should be supported to help them adapt and the infrastructure should be improved in anyway necessary. If an additional designation will be helpful, we should do it. I am also a big supporter of the Business Development Board who spends their time and resources approaching companies to relocate or add additional offices in WPB. They have done a great job promoting and working to help the City understand the changes that we need to make to be more competitive.
- How would you remove impediments and make it easier to build small projects, rather than the half or full city block development that is prevalent?
We are an Infill City and that requires changes in zoning that make it easier and more business friendly. I have several initiatives I would like to propose, it all centers around small groups of professionals and more staff focused specifically on addressing what smaller projects need in order to be successful.
- A City committee recently listed 17 action items that are ‘ready to go’ in the Jeff Speck study. Would you commit to implementing at least one of these ideas in your first 60 days in office, or do you believe more traffic studies are warranted before anything is implemented?
I have seen a fairly large list of things that the Mayor currently has the Planning and Building Departments working on to implement. I will support these efforts and watch the process closely so that nothing gets left behind. As a representative of the downtown I will make it my priority that funds are available in the 2015-2016 budget to implement the more costly and difficult projects get implemented
- Is transportation planning best in the engineering department, or under Planning? Which department leads in the vision for street design?
The major problem is that we have two engineers working on this for the whole City. To be successful, we need to allocate more resources from the budget to staff the departments with the right number of talented professionals. Where they are housed is not as important as getting the staffing levels up so that all the needs can be addressed
- In his downtown Walkability study, walkability expert Jeff Speck states that while palms can be beautiful, in an urban environment they do not provide the many benefits of street shade trees and therefore we should focus on street trees that provide shade in downtown. Do you agree with this assessment? How would you respond to the diseased palms on Clematis that were planted two years ago?
Of course, but the study talks in general and only specifics in some areas. The ability to provide tree canopy coverage involves the evaluation of existing underground infrastructure, streetscapes and space. I believe we should like at all options for coverage and it includes new technology and creative “out of the box” thinking. The first thing that comes to mind is Sails.
- Street trees often suffer from maintenance neglect, despite the fact they are one of the highest returning investments a city can make in its urban infrastructure. It is common for city departments to ‘pass the buck’ in order to avoid responsibility. How would you correct the issues with maintenance neglect and ensure this valuable civic infrastructure is protected and nurtured? Who would be responsible?
The answers to these questions lie within the City Budget. I think it is easier to say no, then to find alternatives to achieve the intended goal. I will work to bring new ideas and funding resources. The City is understaffed and no one wants to take responsibility for something their department does not have the resources to complete. I believe the City’s focus has been on cutting costs and the resulting impact has been cutting services and investment. Small investments in things such as trees can yield dividends, but not if there is no one taking ownership in that investment. It is more like a – check that off the list and move on, versus ongoing oversight and evaluation. I believe we make a decision, and evaluate the success on an ongoing basis. If something requires more than that which was initially identified, we need to see a progress report regularly and not be afraid to make changes or even go in a different direction if new technologies come into existence.
- West Palm Beach has a strong track record of innovation in livable streets and walkability enhancements. A Transportation Concurrency Exception Area east of I-95 makes it easier to do livable street design without Level of Service obstacles. Would you consider assigning a Livable Streets Transportation Engineer, such as West Palm Beach had in the past, to manage these areas in order to insure we continue to make our city more livable and walkable?
Yes, it means we have to make it a budget expenditure priority.
- Would you favor implementing a parking wayfinding signage program for downtown immediately? Or would you wait to create a master plan for the entire city before acting? How would such a program be funded?
I am a huge proponent of wayfinders. Short dollars, and easily updated and changed as necessary. Always one of my big hot button issues.
- Where do you stand on the Broadway corridor and South Dixie Corridor efforts? Do you believe the priority for this right of way should be the convenience of drivers passing through it, or enhancing the potential of properties and neighborhoods located adjacent to it?
Ok, you are asking me, Paula Ryan. I think it is pretty clear where I stand. We raised $125K to get things started on S. Dixie. I am already talking to other parts of the City and helping them to develop strategies to get things moving now!!!
- In a 2012 “Face of the City” proposal, 10 new tree planters were planned on Clematis Street in order to accommodate new shade trees on the street. Doing so would have meant the loss of 7 on-street parking spots. How would you balance the important placemaking and economic benefits of street trees against the parking needs of downtown?
See my answers above. Why do we need an either or? Life is never so black and white and we should not be limited in sacrificing one important element to a vibrant downtown to another. Placemaking is Economic Benefit!!!! The numbers speak volumes from examples around the country.
- Okeechobee Boulevard is a real liability for the city. To encourage non-motorized mobility across the boulevard, and then not strive to provide safe passage, is a serious problem. How would you work to make Okeechobee Boulevard east of I-95 a more inviting place for people on foot and on bike, and how would you propose to fund such plan? Would you consider a local match using City funds such as CRA TIF dollars if it would move the project ahead?
I have a plan that will be hard for others to understand. It must be done and I would prefer a one on one meeting to discuss. My ideas would shock the current thinking that traditional conversations have been centered around. I have shared my ideas in many one on one setting and have received overwhelming support. It’s complicated, but we have to make the walkability a priority if we are going to achieve the greatest economic benefit to the City.
- The Northwest neighborhood is harmed as a result of being disconnected from the rest of the urban fabric. Banyan Boulevard, the FEC railway, and the Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard bridge serve as ‘border vacuums’ that blight adjacent properties and inhibit redevelopment. Would you make this removing these impediments a priority? Would you consider the creation of connector streets between Douglass and Division Avenue to tie into the greater downtown urban grid network? How would such improvements be funded?
The Northwest have been harmed by more than this. I have lots of programs with implementable steps to help achieve the goal without tearing up the communities, displacing the residents and would not cost huge amounts of money. You see neighborhoods all over the Country that have been cut off. Some things can be done, but there are things we need to be doing to help them thrive. I have a whole plan that addresses this and was done with Andres Duany, the financial institutions and another Arch/engineer firm. I’d love to show it and share it. You have to remember, it was the 1994 Master Plan that cut Quadrille and cut off the thru ways. They did this to help neighborhoods develop a sense of place unique to their community. Unfortunately over the last 20 years the City has done nothing to help make that happen.