Matt Westmoreland, Incumbent
Candidate for Atlanta City Council Post 2 At-Large
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What immediate actions can city council take to aid in curbing the violent crime occurring in Atlanta?
Atlanta must be a city where residents feel safe and our first responders feel supported. And that means having fully-staffed, well-trained, competitively-paid and community-focused police and fire departments.
This past June, we allocated funds in the current budget to hire an additional 250 police officers. We also increased funding for our Pre-Arrest Diversion program, which focuses on providing services in nonviolent situations so our officers can focus on those.
Over the last three years, we have instituted historic, 30% pay raises for our men and women in both the Atlanta Police Department as well as Atlanta Fire & Rescue Department. Competitive pay is an essential component of recruiting the right individuals to serve and protect our city.
Earlier this year, Council began an independent of our licensing and permitting division and strengthened enforcement mechanisms for violators. We have also partnered with the Atlanta Police Foundation and others to make significant investments in technology, initiated the repeat offenders task force, and opened a second @Promise Center to help engage our youth– with a third Center under construction. This past January, I was proud to contribute $25,000 from my Council office budget to help expand programming at these three Centers.
Looking to the future, Atlanta needs a new training center for our first responders– as well as several new police precincts and fire stations.
We also have to think and act with a longer-term and systemic focus: Deploying trained crisis teams to respond to nonviolent calls, allowing police to focus on violent crime; better addressing the trash, blight, and vacant lots that research shows negatively impact neighborhood safety; investing in proven programming to help our younger residents avoid, de-escalate and manage situations that can turn violent or deadly.
Finally, Council and Mayor must better partner with our public schools to ensure every child enters kindergarten ready to learn — and graduates from high school headed to college or a career that pays a living wage.
Will you make affordable housing a priority of your term on the council, and what actions need to be taking to insure meeting the goal of 20,000 affordable homes by 2026?
This issue has been one of the most important to me during my first term on Council. I was incredibly proud of Council’s vote in January 2021 to authorize a $100 million housing opportunity bond, which constitutes the City’s largest-ever investment in housing affordability. These dollars will be used to build and preserve 3,500 units of affordable housing citywide.
Regular issuances of housing opportunity bonds are an important tool on this front– but we also need a dedicated, recurring and meaningful local funding stream. Identifying and implementing this proposal will be one of my top priorities in the next year or two.
Invest Atlanta has done a remarkable job in both 2020 and 2021 of using lease-purchase bonds, tax-exempt bonds, and TAD grants to help create or preserve thousands of units of affordable housing– the vast majority of which are for residents earning 60 percent or below of the region’s median income. This laser focus must obviously continue.
Finally, the City and its quasi-government partners own thousands of acres of vacant land across Atlanta. Council adopted a resolution at the start of 2021 to push the conversation that will help expedite development here, and that also must be a top focus in the coming months– along with targeting vacant and abandoned homes and code enforcement violators to revitalize existing housing stock, and working with our partners at the Metro Atlanta Land Bank and the newly revitalized Atlanta Land Trust.
Will transit on the Atlanta BeltLine corridor be a top priority and how will you work fast-track it?
Yes. Thanks to our current representation in Senators Warnock and Ossoff and Congresswoman Williams, I believe we are uniquely positioned to receive federal dollars that will be needed to help fast-track this work.
What can the Council do prioritize combating climate change?
I think this issue really falls into three categories: The policy changes we can and need to make within city government, examining ways we can incentivize or mandate more aggressive progress among non-government entities within the city (especially through lease-purchase bonds, grants, or loans at Invest Atlanta), and continuing to work in public and behind the scenes with bringing about change the state level, especially with the Public Service Commission.
In February 2020, I authored legislation through which Atlanta officially joined the “One Million Trees Initiative,” partnering with 10 Metro Atlanta cities and 10 local nonprofits to plant and save one million trees in the metro area over the coming decade. Those efforts will collectively mean capturing 1.4 billion gallons of rainwater and 530,000 tons of CO2 annually, reduce stormwater runoff on our streets, and improve water quality.
In April 2020, Council unanimously adopted legislation to purchase the 216-acre Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve in Southeast Atlanta– and is slated to purchase and preserve up to 250 additional acres of mature forested land in the final four months of 2021.
As Chair of the Community Development and Human Services Committee, I led efforts in February 2021 to update the city’s impact fee ordinance for the first time since 1993 — which will generate millions more annually for greenspace expansion and preservation.
I’m also currently leading efforts to update and strengthen our Tree Protection Ordinance for the first time in 20 years — and hope to have that work completed by the end of the calendar year.
For years now we have discussed undertaking a rewrite of the City’s zoning code, and it appears 2022 will be the first year of concrete conversations around that effort. I believe this is our opportunity, using Atlanta City Design as our guide, for us to articulate and execute a vision around land use for our City.
What are three issues specifically affecting your district that you plan to address while on council?
As one of Council’s three at-large representatives, I view all our issues with a citywide mindset and perspective. While the issues discussed above are all important, I will add two more—human and physical infrastructure.
On the human infrastructure side: Atlanta has among the widest income inequality and lowest social mobility rates in the United States. Aggressively addressing that harsh truth is at the core of several initiatives over the last three years– starting with our economic mobility plan.
I was proud to author a budget amendment in June 2020 to create within Invest Atlanta a Middle-Wage Jobs Fund, the first-of-its kind initiative in Atlanta, solely for growing high-quality jobs with salaries between $40,000-80,000– with a focus on roles that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Invest Atlanta will use these dollars to help directly connect residents in historically underserved and disinvested neighborhoods to these positions.
Looking forward, four areas of focus come to mind. City government must partner with APS and the philanthropic and business communities to expand access to quality Early Childhood Education for our youngest residents. It is, without question, one of the most-significant investments we can make to improve opportunity and choice (and address economic mobility and the racial wealth gap).
After years as a much-troubled agency, we have begun to see a turnaround at WorkSource Atlanta over the last two years. We must stay very focused on ensuring that progress continues — as well as continuing to ensure every Atlanta resident can benefit, without concern to cost, of the programs offered at Atlanta Technical College and the Center for Workforce Innovation.
Finally, one of the keys to wealth building in this country is through home ownership (even as Black Americans were historically denied the opportunity to take part in numerous government programs). I’m committed to spending this next term determining ways we can continue our down payment assistance program, as it could also make a meaningful difference in addressing our racial wealth gap.
On the physical infrastructure front: I joined Council after passage of the Renew Atlanta program in 2015 and the TSPLOST authorization in 2016. But I was present for the rebaselining work that was needed after the cost to deliver everything on the initial project lists far exceeds funding available
Between actual project costs that are significantly higher than original estimates, quickly rising construction costs, and lower-than-anticipated sales tax revenue, the City overpromised in 2015 and 2016 what we would be able to deliver.
For that, we owed folks an apology — one I personally made in February 2019. But that doesn’t change the fact we continue to face a significant infrastructure backlog– one that will require another infrastructure bond and TSPLOST reauthorization. The former should also seek to address the significant needs we have as it relates to infrastructure in the public safety realm as well as parks, recreation, and greenspace.
To regain trust in the public, we must present a detailed project list with very specific budgets and timelines — and then deliver those projects on budget and on time.
Finally, I’m proud of our work earlier this year to update our impact fees for the first time since their creation 27 years ago. Phased in over the next 2.5 years, this new framework will provide millions of dollars a year in much-needed sidewalk and road improvements, greenspace expansion and new multi-use trails and public safety infrastructure.