Walkable West Palm Beach candidate Questionnaire – Twelve questions with Commissioner Keith James
Many thanks to Keith 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 would be in favor of both economic hunting (where we try to attract the “big game” companies to West Palm Beach), and economic gardening (where we target existing growth companies and help them thrive). I think a combination of both approaches would be advisable. Yes I would consider taking steps to have West Palm Beach certified as a Level II economic gardening program.
- 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?
Each real estate development project should be assessed on a case by case basis to ascertain its fit within our City. If a project fits within a permitted use for an area, chances are it would not even come before the Commission. I would certainly be in favor of more flexibility and creativity when it comes to “retro-fitting” some of our older buildings to make them more attractive to entrepreneurs.
- 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 would commit to implementing at least one of the action items within the first 60 days of my new term as a Commissioner.
- Is transportation planning best in the engineering department, or under Planning? Which department leads in the vision for street design?
Transportation “planning’ is best left in the Planning Department, but there must be collaboration between both departments. The ultimate vision will still have to flow from the top, i.e. the Mayor and Commission.
I would hope that the 2 departments would and could work together in implementing the vision that is established by the Mayor and the Commission.
- 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?
Yes I agree. Shade trees are more conducive to “walkability”. I would explore the feasibility of removing them and re-planting them elsewhere in the City. I would like to see them replaced with better shade trees if cost-feasible.
- 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?
As part of the budget (and the strategic planning) processes, I would make sure funds were allocated for maintenance.
It is the Mayor’s call as to which department she wants to put that under. Whichever department is responsible, I would ensure that funds were allocated for the purpose.
- 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 I would.
- 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 strongly believe that is something we can do immediately.
- 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?
I strongly believe that these corridors should be modified to enhance the potential of the businesses located on the roads, and the nearby neighborhoods. I am a strong advocate of putting more “feet on the streets” in these areas.
- 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?
I believe there is sufficient parking downtown. It may not all be as convenient as some merchants would like (i.e. on the street directly in front of the establishment), but it is not such a bad thing if people have to walk a few blocks to their parking. That puts more feet on the street, and could enhance businesses throughout downtown. In short, I would favor the shade trees over the on-street parking.
- 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 would encourage bringing the County, State and City together to address this problem. All stakeholders should be prepared to identify potential funds for any proposed resolution.
I would consider a local match; I would favor investing City dollars in a proposed solution.
- 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?
I would like to see a RR crossing at 7th Street. I would also explore the feasibility of having 3rd Street opened up in that neighborhood.
Yes I would consider a plan for such connector streets. How would such improvements be funded? I can’t answer this question until I get an accurate estimate of cost.