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Name: Rebecca Perkins Kwoka
Years living in Portsmouth: 6.5
Public service experience: two-term city councilor
Q1: What can the city do to increase its supply of affordable housing?
I’m so glad to see this as the first question! This is the issue I ran on in 2015, as I wrote my Masters thesis on zoning ordinances and how they affect affordable housing supply. I think it is the most important issue facing our city, and one the Council can impact. The first thing I did to increase housing supply was form the Housing Committee, which drafted the Housing Policy and the Gateway zoning changes, both of which were adopted by the Council in 2017. These zoning changes utilize density bonuses for including permanently affordable units, and have already resulted in two proposals, including 272 units on the Frank Jones parcel. In my second term, I have formed the Residential Housing Study Committee in order to pursue housing at Pease. For my third term, I hope to continue pursuing ways to increase housing supply, including any recommended tweaks to the zoning changes, upzoning, and addressing non-conforming properties. I have spent a tremendous amount of time on this issue already and plan to continue for it to be my focus.
Q2: Are there specific areas in the city budget where you think spending cuts can be made? Are there specific areas where you think spending should be increased?
Yes, and I have proposed such cuts in previous budgets, which have received little support. Such measures are necessary to ensure we prepare for the future and are comfortable with our budget in economic downturns.
Q3: Do you support a citywide ban on single-use disposables such as plastic bags, plastic straws, and Styrofoam containers?
Yes, I do. I lived in New York City and Washington, D.C., a decade ago and a ban had already been enacted at that time. While it causes minor inconvenience, it is hugely important that we act on climate change, and Portsmouth should be a leader on this issue.
Q4: Regarding the McIntyre redevelopment project:
A) Do you support the Redgate/Kane plan?
B) Do you think the Council should step back and consider other plans, such as the one put forth by Bill Binnie?
I do not. There are a few reasons I voted the way I did on the McIntyre application. The two most important are the fact that I believe strongly that we have run an excellent process, and that the “alternative” proposal was not a thoroughly prepared document for us to evaluate. It concerns me greatly to consider deviating from the very thorough and professional process the city undertook. This is a big project with a lot of dollars at stake, and a priority for actions by the city is to create predictability — in all things, not just McIntyre. We most certainly would have been open to litigation if we had deviated from the competitive process we set out two years ago. In addition, I am not convinced that the “alternative” was a thoroughly vetted proposal. As an example, one of the main selling points of the alternative plan was additional parking; the number of spaces offered kept shifting down until it was eight more than the Redgate-Kane plan by the night of the vote. I suspect many other “benefits” of this plan would have experienced the same decrease by the time the kind of materials the actual bidders submitted were prepared.
Q5: What can be done to clean up and prevent PFAS contamination and other chemical contaminants on the Seacoast?
This will be a huge challenge. We are just learning how prevalent the over 3,000 different PFOS contaminants are in our world — in chocolate cake, for instance, carpets and chicken. The city has acted immediately in every circumstance where we have discovered concentrations above known safe levels. Going forward, we will need to learn everything we can about PFOS and PFAS and control where such substances are used and disposed. NHDES is developing soil disposal guidelines now, among other rules, that will provide clarity to everyone in the state.
Q6: Do you feel that development in Portsmouth — particularly of luxury condos, hotels, and other large-scale buildings — should be curtailed?
I believe in a comprehensive community vision, which I believe our Master Plan represents. As long as our zoning reflects our Master Plan, then individuals should be allowed to exercise their private property rights. We are lucky to have activity here in Portsmouth — many other places around the state would be thrilled to have so many projects occurring in their municipality.
Q7: What are your feelings on the idea of building a permanent covered stage in Prescott Park for festival events?
The Master Plan for Prescott Park is complete, and does include a covered stage. Though this stage can be removed in the offseason, it is identical to a covered stage and is the most efficient to maintain. I am a strong supporter of the PPAF and hope they remain our partners for years to come!
Q8: Should the city add more bike lanes and/or take other measures to improve bicycle safety and/or reduce motor-vehicle traffic downtown?
Yes — pursuant to our bike-ped Master Plan, I support continuing to expand this important part of our city. Such measures also help expand the area in which housing is attractive.
Q9: Are there any significant projects that should be undertaken outside of the downtown area and Islington Street corridor?
Yes, these are items that don’t get discussed enough. I’m happy to see movement on our multi-use fields, sidewalks, and bike lanes on Route 1 and Banfield Road, the sound barriers for Pannaway Manor, and the rail trail connecting the entire East Coast.
Q10: A times this summer, there were road closures on Islington Street, Woodbury Avenue (by the traffic circle), Maplewood Avenue, and other roads all at once. Is there a way to reduce the heavy concentration of road work that creates detours and traffic congestion in the summer?
Yes, we can ask DPW to coordinate its work better in the future. I agree that this congestion was very difficult on residents.
Q11: What actions should be taken at the city level to address climate change?
Anything we can! I do think it is important to consider how rising sea levels will impact the city. The city has done an incredibly thorough analysis of what sea-level rise is predicted and recommended several changes we can make, which are being implemented. Our groundwater table is also rising, which will be the first thing to impact many residents. These include voluntary actions, such as building to a higher code than what is required and raising ground floors. Eventually, other actions will be recommended, though none are mandatory yet.
Q12: Name one of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest opportunities Portsmouth will face in the next 10 to 20 years.
Our biggest challenge is affordable housing, which will continue for 10-20 years. We also face a challenge of diversity, which I think Portsmouth should actively work to improve.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
We will be Harry Potter characters and dress our newborn daughter as a snitch.