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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Interview with Jake Gibbs

Jake Gibbs is running for 3rd district city council in Lexington.  He secured frontrunner status after beating out Daniels and Ellinger in the primary, he'll face Ellinger in the fall.

Like him on Facebook here, I've had the pleasure of helping Jake on his race and interviewed him:

LIK: Do you have plans to help the homeless here in the city?

Jake: Lexington has recently allocated 3.5 million dollars to aid the homeless and create more affordable housing. The city created an Office of Affordable Housing and recently hired a director.  These are important steps.  I will work to secure continued funding in the future.

The homeless problem is difficult. That population is comprised of several different types of people. There are people and families who have some income but barely make ends meet, and one financial disaster can land them on the streets. These folks can be aided by vouchers to get them in affordable housing. Such a program has the added benefit that any landlord accepting the government issued vouchers would have to maintain their property well.

There’s also the chronically homeless, a large percentage of whom have mental health issues. I would like to see permanent housing built for them that includes periodic visits from health care professionals. The evidence shows that such housing cuts down on police calls and emergency room visits to the point that it’s cheaper for the community to house people than to have them on the street.

I think such humane treatment of the homeless is the moral thing to do. But it is also cost-effective and will improve the quality of life for everyone in the community .

LIK: What can we do to provide and help to create affordable housing in Lexington?

Jake: A definition of affordable housing may be helpful here. Housing is considered affordable if it consumes 30% or less of a household’s income. Say you work a minimum wage job and rent an apartment by yourself. Your income is $1160 per month (assuming you don’t get sick or otherwise miss work). 30% of that is $348. If your rent is more than $348 your housing is not affordable.

As mentioned already, some money has been allocated and it is likely to be used for vouchers to subsidize the rent of qualified renters. These people would be less burdened financially, less likely to fall into homelessness and more likely able to move into better quality housing.

We could also mandate that new developments in the urban core designate a portion of the housing units as affordable for low-income people.

Another thing that would help people seeking affordable housing is an increase in the minimum wage.  Hopefully the federal government will take care of that but if they don’t I would like to see state and even local options explored.

LIK: Centrepointe. What's your take on the project?

Jake: Centrepointe highlights a governmental failing. The buildings on the block should never have been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that many were beyond hope. I wish we could have kept many of those building and done small and mid-size infill projects. I liked the mix of businesses. The Dame, Mad Hatter, Mia’s Restaurant and the drug store are the sort of business I patronize. I would like to have seen more of that sort of thing with residential above. Of course, that didn't happen.

I’m not excited about the design but it’s better than what was originally proposed, which looked like something from suburban Atlanta. It’s too bad Jeanne Gang’s employ was so short.

I hear some people say they’d rather have the green space back than the finished Webb product. I disagree. We need density, jobs and tax revenue. As much as I’m disturbed by the 6+ year ordeal, I hope it gets built, fully occupied and contributes jobs and tax revenue for the city. Hopefully we've learned the lessons. We need Code Enforcement to protect our older structures.

LIK: What's your opinion on density in the downtown and student areas?

Jake: Of course there are potential drawbacks to density, e.g., increased noise, but in most cases I think dense is good. We've allowed too much sprawl and now we reap the “rewards” in the form of traffic congestion, air pollution, and over-reliance on the car. More density in the downtown/university area will lead to more people walking and biking with the health and environmental benefits that come from these activities. Also, density will lead to more retail development allowing many people to cut back on trips to the mall. With more people walking there are more, what Jane Jacobs called, “eyes on the street,” making the area safer.

That said, we need to be sure that new projects are well-designed and that Code Enforcement has the tools to make sure owners keep properties clean and safe.

LIK: In regards to the Urban Service Boundary, should we examine developing some of that area?

Jake: I don’t see a need for an expansion of the Urban Service Boundary. At this point there is considerable opportunity for rehab of existing structures and new development within the current boundary. As mentioned above, I believe the negatives of density are more than outweighed by the benefits.

LIK: How do we ensure Lexington will continue to draw talent in and retain it?

Jake: The trend in America is for young professionals to desire living environments that are walkable and bikeable. Also, homeownership is a priority for fewer of them than in the past. So, we need rental units near the city center. I think Lexington is on the cusp of having a great downtown. If we can get more housing built in the area the increased population density will lead to increased retail. We will have a city that is very attractive to the workforce and that’s where companies want to locate.

LIK: One could criticize Lexington for a lackluster public transit, or a poor one. What do you think needs to be done to increase mass transit or streamline it?

Jake: I’d characterize LexTran as “lackluster” but it’s not from lack of trying. I ride the bus two days a week. I work at BCTC and the easiest way to get from Cooper Campus to the Newtown Campus is the bus. The buses are generally on time and the drivers friendly.

The Colt Trolley has been a nice addition. I can take it from near my Bell Court home over to Jefferson St for dinner at Stella’s or County Club and then a beer at West 6th Brewery  or Blue Stallion. Sure beats driving. Residents of the 3rd District are especially well-served by the Colt.

My main complaint about LexTran is that the buses run infrequently. But when they do run, at least on the routes I ride, they are under-utilized. It’s hard to justify running more buses when the current runs are significantly less than full.

I think the key to a better bus system is to somehow convince a significant number of car drivers that they’d be better off riding the bus. I think that’s a hard sell. Appeals to environmental issues will affect few. But if the cost of gasoline and parking increase that may cause more interest.

LIK: Why do you think you are the best candidate to represent the 3rd District?

Jake: I know the district and its people very well. Most of my 36 years in Lexington have been spent in the 3rd. My kids went to Maxwell School. I owned a business here (Alfalfa).  I received two graduate degrees from UK and have worked at BCTC on Cooper Drive for 30 years.

My main mode of transportation is walking. From my Bell Court home I walk to the YMCA most mornings and then to work. I walk downtown for most of my entertainment. I see the district up close – the good stuff and the bad.

I teach history and have a strong interest in urban history. That, with my extensive travels to Europe and around the USA, have given me a sense of what works in cities and what doesn’t. I also teach logic so I know good reasoning from bad.

If elected I will cut back to part-time teaching so I have the time to devote myself to the needs of the labor-intensive 3rd. I love Lexington and I will devote myself to making it even better.

The fact that my yard signs appeared at so many homes that are owner occupied is testimony to my roots in the community.

My opponent has been on council for 12 years and has very little to show for it. His signs seem to show up mainly in the yards of rental properties. That should concern voters in a district where poorly maintained rental properties are a major problem.

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