[Note: This post is a lengthier version of “Governing for Inclusivity, Justice, and Sustainability, ” The Gazette (January 1, 2017), p. _.]
In a guest opinion for The Gazette last January, I wrote, “First you campaign and then, if elected, you have to govern.…The four people who were elected to Iowa City’s City Council on November 3  campaigned on themes orienting around the idea of creating an inclusive, just, and healthy city.…But what actually gets adopted and what City government actually does in 2016 will affected by the context provided by Iowa City’s Council-Manager form of government and the existing set of City policies, codes, budgets, plans, and personnel. Very little of this context can or will be changed overnight.…Change will instead proceed incrementally…in a way that builds on what is already great about Iowa City but also leads in a creative new direction.…”
So, what has Iowa City’s City Council accomplished over the past year? And what do we hope to accomplish in the coming one?
A Very Productive 2016
We have had a very busy and productive year. The most significant actions include the following:
We adopted a new Strategic Plan, which highlighted actions we would take to forge a city that is inclusive, just, and sustainable.
We amended the City Manager’s proposed FY17 budget to make it incrementally more consistent with our Strategic Plan. The budget also reduced the City’s property tax levy for the 5th straight year, this time by 7 cents, while also maintaining the City’s AAA Moody’s bond rating.
We responded to the departure of Tom Markus by hiring a truly outstanding young man, Geoff Fruin, as our new City Manager. Geoff later hired an outstanding young woman, Ashley Monroe, as our new Asst. City Manager.
We began televising our work sessions and Economic Development Committee meetings to be more transparent about how City government works.
We conducted 5 listening posts in diverse parts of the city, and I conducted 5 “Mayor’s Walks” through our city’s neighborhoods.
We recently initiated a search for a new City Clerk to replace the irreplaceable Marian Karr.
We approved a comprehensive Affordable Housing Action Plan to improve the overall affordability of housing in the city, to increase the supply of housing that lower income households can afford, and to help the School District achieve better socio-economic balance within its schools.
We amended the City’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) policy to require that 15% of units in new developments that request TIF assistance must be affordable, and, with the help over 60 individuals representing diverse interests, have nearly completed a rigorous review of our overall TIF policy.
We adopted a new “Inclusionary Housing” ordinance for the Riverfront Crossings District, and we adopted an ordinance which will facilitate establishment of a new “Housing First” facility for chronically homeless individuals.
We provided transition payments to former tenants of Rose Oaks Apartments who were displaced by the new owner’s desire to renovate that complex.
We initiated use of a Racial and Socioeconomic Equity Toolkit within five City departments on a one-year trial basis, and we created a new Social Justice and Racial Equity Grant Program, which will be administered by the Human Rights Commission.
We responded to the retirement of Police Chief Sam Hargadine by approving the City Manager’s recommendation to hire Jody Matherly.
We strengthened the Police Department’s ability to serve and protect the city’s diverse neighborhoods by hiring a new Community Outreach Officer and three new black officers.
Our Police Department responded very skillfully to an alleged hate crime.
We approved the hiring of a consultant to help us begin devising new “Form Based Codes”—which will help us ensure that new or infill developments are inclusive, affordable, walkable, and compatible with existing surroundings—for the Northside neighborhood and the area around Alexander Elementary.
We took major steps toward making Iowa City a Gold Bike Friendly City. This will be facilitated by the hiring of a consultant to help update the City’s Bicycle Master Plan, and we authorized the staff to convert parts of Mormon Trek, 1st Avenue, Madison, and Clinton Streets to 3 lanes with bike lanes on both sides.
We adopted a new ordinance requiring multi-family units to include recycling facilities, and to begin collecting household organic wastes at the curbside.
We initiated an inventory of trees on city property, which will help us be more strategic with our tree planting efforts in light of the Emerald Ash Borer infestation.
We hired consultants to help us update our Parks Master Plan and prepare a new Natural Areas Master Plan, and we approved plans for the development of Frauenholtz-Miller Park on the east side of town near St. Patrick’s Church.
We adopted a goal for reducing city-wide carbon emissions, and are very close to hiring a consultant and appointing a community-based advisory committee to help us determine how to achieve that goal.
We helped celebrate completion of the University’s new Hancher Auditorium, Voxman Music Building, Visual Arts Building, and (almost) Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
We have almost finished construction of the 1st Avenue railroad overpass and the reconstruction of two blocks of Washington St, and are on schedule toward building the new Park Rd. bridge and reconstructing/elevating N. Dubuque St.
We have supported a tremendous amount of construction, including “The Rise at Linn and Court,” the Hilton Garden Inn on Clinton St., townhouses and a new parking structure on S. Dubuqe St, and many other locations; we supported a Workforce Housing Tax Credit application for a proposed 7-story building at 7 N. Linn St., and we have been honoring the prior Council’s contractual commitments to “The Chauncey” on College and Gilbert Sts.
We rezoned a significant stretch of the west side of S. Gilbert St to a new zoning designation that is consistent with our Riverfront Crossings District Plan, and we supported Big Grove Brewery’s renovation and reuse of a building within that stretch.
We adopted a new storefront design and signage ordinance for the downtown.
We co-sponsored an enormously successful UCI World Cup Cyclo-Cross Race.
We extended MidAmerican’s gas and electric power franchises for another 10 years.
And we adopted an ordinance permitting companies like Uber to operate in Iowa City.
Looking ahead to the coming year, we plan to proceed step-by-step toward fulfilling our Strategic Plan priorities. Key elements of our Affordable Housing Action Plan will be enacted. We’ll work with the City Manager and new Police Chief to reduce disproportionality in traffic stops, searches, and arrests. We will work with other key stakeholders to provide homeless people with stabilization and recovery services in a single “Access Center.” With the help of a consultant and a community-based advisory committee, we will determine how best to achieve our carbon emission reduction goal. Several major development projects will be (or nearly be) completed, and we expect to see several major new development proposals come our way. We look forward to working with the developers and the public to ensure that their projects will serve Iowa City well.
But the political context for our work will be quite different in 2017. In my January 2016 op-ed, I wrote, “we are not completely the masters of our own fate. We will encounter unexpected events.” Sure enough, just such an event took place on November 8. The shift in political control produced by that election will present us with major challenges over the coming year. Like former heavyweight boxing champ Mohammad Ali, we’ll have to be nimble on our feet, adjusting quickly to adverse circumstances and unexpected opportunities as they arise. And we will need the help of this beautiful and diverse community of which we are a part, especially with regard to protecting the most vulnerable of our residents.