Editor’s note: PortsmouthNH.com sent a questionnaire to all 18 candidates running for Portsmouth City Council in the Nov. 7 election. Some of the questions were suggested by readers, while others were generated by the PortsmouthNH team. For information on polling hours, voting locations, voter registration, and more, contact the city clerk’s office.
Name: Cliff Lazenby
Occupation: Director of Information Technology, Ocean Properties (Portsmouth company, employed 15-plus years)
Years lived in Portsmouth: 14 (16 in Seacoast)
Public service experience:
• Chairman – Citywide Neighborhood Committee
• Selectman – Ward 4 (elected 2015)
• Vice Chair, Board of Directors at 3S Artspace
• Elementary School Facilities Committee member
• School Technology Committee member
• Vice President, PTA at Dondero School
• Sustainable Portsmouth member
Q1: This year, the City Council has taken up several resolutions in response to comments or actions by President Trump.
A) Do you think it’s appropriate for the City Council to vote on resolutions concerning national/international issues?
While there are many other pressing local issues that generally take precedence, I do think it appropriate for the City Council to be active as a political voice in our region. There are times when state, regional, or national issues warrant constructive input on behalf of our residents and Portsmouth is in a position to provide leadership.
B) Explain your position on the following resolutions:
- In April, in response to President Trump’s comments and executive orders regarding immigration, the council passed a “welcoming and diversity resolution.”
I support this resolution as it represents fundamental American ideals and reinforces a positive message that Portsmouth is indeed the “City of the Open Door.”
- In June, after President Trump announced plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Mayor Jack Blalock (with council approval) signed a letter supporting the goals of the accord.
I support this letter, which aligns directly with Portsmouth’s commitment to be an eco-municipality. As a former member of Sustainable Portsmouth, and one who continues to pursue sustainability practices, I believe this position is not only good for our city but provides a positive example to other communities in the region.
- In October, the council passed a resolution denouncing President Trump’s recent comments criticizing professional athletes who choose to take a knee during the national anthem.
While I definitely support the idea of free expression for all citizens, including athletes, I am not convinced the City Council needed to address this issue.
Q2: Regarding the Prescott Park Arts Festival (PPAF), please share your thoughts on the following:
Please note, most of my views are rooted in respect for the detailed analysis and recommendations from the 2017 Prescott Park Master Plan process. A Blue Ribbon Committee spent more than a year gathering input from residents and leaders in the community. The resulting Prescott Park Master Plan contains many thoughtful and specific recommendations related to Prescott Park. The Master Plan process is a valuable and balanced method for gathering and reporting the will of the community.
- Should there be fewer PPAF events each year?
We should continue to carefully monitor the impact of the PPAF on neighborhoods nearby Prescott Park. While I have not seen justification to specifically reduce the number of events per se, it is worthwhile to consider a limit on the number of large-impact events.
- Should there be limits on audience sizes?
Yes, like any facility or venue, there should be a limit on quantity of people that can safely and comfortably fit in Prescott Park for these events. It is critical that the PPAF cooperate with the Police and Fire Department to work within guidelines of what can be a safe and secure environment for hosting events.
- Should PPAF events end earlier?
In deference to nearby neighborhoods, I think perhaps ending events a bit earlier could be considered. It would obviously be difficult to do for films that cannot start until it is dark, though these are likely less disruptive.
- Should the volume of events be reduced?
Efforts this past season to monitor and enforce sound limits are helpful and should continue.
- Is consumption of alcohol during PPAF events a problem that warrants stricter enforcement?
The enforcement of laws for PPAF events seem to be working well and I have confidence that Chief Merner and the Police Department will continue to do their jobs capably.
Q3: Regarding government transparency and accessibility:
A) Do you think the council has been transparent enough over the last two years? If not, what can be done to improve transparency?
I do think the City Council has made great efforts to be transparent, though there is room for improvement at the overall city government level. I would like to see the Council call for more detailed and open explanation of the impact of commercial development in terms of cost and capacity drain on water/sewer, police and fire services. We all need clarity that those costs are being paid for appropriately and that our services can meet added demand. I also believe the city should be more pro-active in notification, explanation and timing of issues like Tax Revaluation.
B) Do you think city government has been accessible enough for residents? If not, what can be done to make it more accessible?
City government has been reasonably accessible but has room for improvement. In recent years, worthwhile efforts have been made to provide numerous opportunities for public hearings and public input, and make use of “discussion forums” as a way to invite more substantial public input. The recent changes to add “dialogue” to the public comment section of City Council meetings is a step forward. In the last two years, as chair of the Citywide Neighborhood Committee, I introduced “Neighborhood Forums” in each of the five wards. These events were effective in bringing city leadership out to the residents and providing opportunity for open and granular discussion about neighborhood issues. I would support continuing this type of cycle in the future.
Q4: Housing costs continue to rise in Portsmouth. Do you think the city should add more housing supply to ease pricing pressure? If so, what land could be used for this purpose?
If we are serious about pursuing diverse housing affordability, we may also need to investigate expansion of public housing inventory through organizations like the Portsmouth Housing Authority. Housing affordability is a major challenge that we face — for workforce of any age, for older residents with limited income who want to remain, for younger residents starting out. Businesses wanting to grow in or locate to Portsmouth are already looking elsewhere because employees cannot afford to live here.
We should carefully pursue density incentives to encourage development that results in better diversity of housing stock. I support the recently proposed zoning changes to provide “Gateway Districts” that allow increased density in currently under-utilized commercial zones like the Kmart Plaza or Frank Jones Center. Density bonuses in a development like Chinburg at Brewery Lane can provide real potential for affordable rents.
I am open to all input on locations that may lend themselves to opportunities for increased housing supply.
Q5: Regarding residential and workforce parking:
A) Do you think Portsmouth should develop a downtown parking program for people who work in the city? If so, how would it work?
We should consider an updated Parking Discount program for residents while we work with employers to encourage parking validation programs for employees. While limited parking supply exists, raising parking fees and increasing hours is the most effective way to provide inventory turnover so that customers can find spots available. However, businesses already receive more of the benefit of parking rate management as well as city investments like the Foundry Place garage. While visitors and tourists happy to find a spot can bear more of the burden, businesses can extend that benefit to employees, while a resident discount program allows residents to share in the benefit,
B) Do you think Portsmouth should develop a neighborhood parking program for people who live in the city? If so, how would it work?
We should consider Neighborhood Parking programs with first priority to address neighborhoods near downtown who need on-street parking for their homes. Other cities have implemented successful programs that we can learn from. It will likely involve some combination of resident stickers, guest passes, and, of course, enforcement.
Q6: Do you think the city should cut spending in order to lower taxes? If so, where specifically would you make cuts?
Every year the budget needs scrutiny and should include only items that are necessary and justified. We should always look for ways to eliminate redundant or wasteful expenses while not negatively impacting essential safety and emergency services, infrastructure, and quality of schools.
Portsmouth citizens have demanded a high quality of service from their government while the current City Council has kept budget increases modest at a level below inflation.
I encourage greater ongoing citizen engagement in the budget process so it best reflects citizen priorities for spending. Engage in the budget process! Read the documents, attend hearings, communicate with those making the budget. If citizens demand cuts in services, we can cut the budget accordingly, but the trend seems to be that demands increase, not decrease.
We should also look to increased revenues that lower resident burden — fight for a “Homestead Exemption” for longtime residents, and doggedly pursue changes at the state level that would retain more of the Rooms/Meals tax that our businesses collect.
Q7: The council is attempting to take 4.6 acres of land containing a city sewer line from Toyota of Portsmouth owner James Boyle. In March, Boyle said he was seeking about $10 million in a settlement offer, but no settlement was reached.
A) Should the council have settled with Boyle at the amount he requested?
Given that I am neither an attorney nor familiar with the significant background and detail on this specific case, I defer to the city manager, city attorney, past/current City Council, and other staff regarding what is in the best interests of the city of Portsmouth. Given the opportunity to study in greater detail, I could provide more informed input.
B) Should the city proceed with efforts to take the land by eminent domain?
Eminent domain should generally be used as a “last resort” and the city should look to make transactions via other means when available. However, again, I defer to the city manager, city attorney, and other staff who know more of the specifics of this issue. Given the opportunity to study in greater detail, I could provide more informed input.
Q8: What is your stance on the regulation of short-term rentals, such as those offered through Airbnb?
While I think we should find ways to accommodate positive marketplace developments like Airbnb, to do so without any regulation would threaten both quality of life for residents as well as potentially devalue our real estate. There is a reasonable regulatory compromise that can be struck.
Q9: What is your stance on allowing Keno gambling in the city?
I have neither seen nor heard significant interest from Portsmouth residents or the bars that would host Keno to bring added gambling to the city, therefore I see no justification for inviting it. Until there is substantial interest, what would be the justification for doing something as extraordinary as putting it to a referendum vote? In terms of reaching “ballot referendum” status, Keno should be held to the same standards of public interest as other issues. Personally, I am not a fan of gambling, particularly in our own community. The “revenue” it raises is not without significant negative impact and typically is drained from a socio-economic sector that can least afford it. I am much more interested in raising revenue via a local “pillow tax” that would add a dollar to tourist-paid hotel rates.
Q10: Looking 10 to 20 years into the future…
A) What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Portsmouth?
*Economic balance – affordable housing for all ages and various employee levels; gain of revenues to offset residential property tax burden; proper payment of impact by commercial sector.
*Climate change and sea level rise – where will our coastal city be if (when) sea levels rise? What are we doing to prepare?
*Drinking water quality and quantity – we need to be active in addressing water contamination issues for our own residents and mitigating problems that our Coakley involvement may have caused. We also need to be aware of shrinking supply of drinking water overall as a region and country.
*Substance use disorder and support for recovery – the greater Portsmouth region has a problem with use of opioids, heroin, fentanyl, and other serious substances. It is a community problem with costs we all bear; the solution in supporting recovery efforts demands awareness, attention, and funding from our community.
B) What do you see as the city’s biggest opportunities?
Portsmouth continues to be a desirable place to live, work in, and visit. All of the reasons why should continue to be nurtured — whether culture and historical charm, a vibrant arts and technology economy, first-rate cuisine, or engaged citizenry. We need to keep focus on economic balance in order to maintain diversity in terms of skills, socioeconomic background, and to ensure our community is as friendly for older folks as it is attractive to the younger workforce. We do have an opportunity to be demonstrable leaders in terms of ecological health and climate change. We can be responsible regional citizens in openly pursuing good water quality for residents and those impacted by the Coakley Landfill. We can become pioneers in the desalination industry to help with drinking water supply. And, in terms of substance use disorder, Portsmouth can set the tone regionally on recovery initiatives.
C) How can the city start preparing for these challenges and opportunities now?
We need to continue to aggressively pursue multiple streams to achieve more affordable housing — density incentives for new development, affordability mandates, investigation of additional public housing. We need to pursue revenues to help offset residential tax burden — reclaim Rooms/Meals tax, consider an additional locally-collected “pillow tax,” confirm that commercial impact is sufficiently paid for by developers. We need to continue to make climate change preparation a priority by participating in regional, state, and national efforts — coastal resilience initiative, other vulnerability assessments. We need to aggressively pursue modern scientific monitoring methods to ensure healthy water and mitigation of contamination issues. And, in terms of substance use disorder, we need to begin with greater awareness and embracing of recovery as a positive force in our community. We should support organizations like the Safe Harbor Recovery Center, properly equip and train our first responders, and support integration of those in recovery into the workforce using resources like the NH Drug Monitoring Initiative.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
My wife Stephanie and I are dressing up as the “Spartan Cheerleader” characters that Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri played on “Saturday Night Live.” Who’s that Spartan in my teepee!
See responses from other candidates:
(Candidate Brenna Cavanaugh declined to participate, citing time constraints. Candidate Rick Becksted did not reply to messages left by phone or email.)