Portsmouth’s municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Below, City Council candidate Robin Vogt responds to PortsmouthNH.com’s candidate questionnaire.
Occupation: Special Education Paraeducator
Civic experience: Activist | Co-Chair of the New Hampshire Progressive Coalition
Years living in Portsmouth: 5 Years
1) Do you think the city should impose any new measures or mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic at this time?
The City Council can work closely with our community health partners and hospitals to establish consistent COVID-19 community testing centers and set the standard on how to create best practices for future pandemics and/or emergency operations. If we have learned anything about COVID-19, it is that we know absolutely nothing about its patterns and its true presence in our community. We need to work closely with our state and national health partners to develop solid exposure data and act upon it immediately. At this time, continuing to encourage mask wearing inside of locations and in large crowds is the best practice. Encouraging vaccinations, boosters and mask wearing (unless otherwise directed by a medical professional) is critical to our ability to be in public and enjoy every single thing that makes Portsmouth so special.
2) Do you think the Prescott Park Master Plan should be updated in any way? Specifically, do you think the stage should be temporary or permanent? Covered or uncovered?
I truly believe that the Prescott Park Master Plan should be and needs to be updated to reflect the growing arts community that is Portsmouth. Our neighbors in Portland, Maine and Lowell, Massachusetts have been able to establish large outdoor concert / performance spaces to increase both their tourism industry and solidify their growing arts community. Our stage should not only be permanent, it should be covered and be available to the public for usage similar to Henry Law Park in Dover. Our city thrives when people of all generations come together safely in a space to enjoy live music, performances and community activism events. There is no reason why as a City Council, we cannot rework the Prescott Park Master Plan and make this possible.
3) How do you feel about the current pace of development in Portsmouth?
A very simple answer. Our development rate is appropriate for the region, however, we are not building smart, affordable, and for the long term. I would like to see this next City Council work closely with our community leaders to define what smart development is, and work off of a universal definition that can be applied to every single project that goes through City Hall. If a project does not meet specific criteria such as affordability, cost to build efficiency and flexibility for those who work in our city, then it is halted until a further discussion is had. We leave our neighbors out of the conversation at every single turn and rely on headlines to make the final decision. I will bring every single member of the community to the table, and have serious conversations around what defines a development project for a better Portsmouth.
4) What, if anything, do you think should be done to increase access to affordable housing?
Work closely with our State Legislators on raising the minimum wage to $25 an hour, and help negotiate a living wage for all in the City of Portsmouth. To afford a 2 bedroom apartment in the city, you would have to make more than $30 an hour for it to be a comfortable situation that allows for flexibility in funds. At this time, our housing is structured to meet the high wage jobs, not $13 to $15 an hour jobs. To build affordable housing, I will work closely with the Seacoast Workforce Housing Coalition and other housing authorities to establish “what is affordable in today’s market” and use that as a baseline for how we improve our acceptance of housing projects throughout Portsmouth.
5) What changes, if any, should be made to the city’s bike lanes?
We need to reinstate and modernize every single aspect of our bike lanes in Portsmouth. Not only is this the most eco-friendly mode of transportation in our city; it is the one mode of transportation that will determine how we progress as a city too. There is no reason why as a City Council, we can’t develop a city-bike program for hop-on hop-off travel and openly encourage the use of a modernized bike lane system throughout town. Like anything else, the answer will reside in our ability to bring our bike riders to the table alongside community leaders, and work closely with our city planners to design bike lanes like our friends in Europe have. Portsmouth has a unique and special opportunity for our biking community ahead that we cannot miss out on.
6) Regarding the McIntyre building, what do you feel is the best path forward to avoid litigation and get the project done?
I will not make a comment at this time pertaining to the McIntyre Federal Building redevelopment, however, will offer this comment. There are many other items that need to take focus. Many of these items are hitting our neighborhoods head-on and are jeopardizing every single individual, family and loved one who calls our amazing city home.
7) What additional measures do you think the city should take to slow climate change and prepare for its impacts?
As a municipality, we need to do comprehensive work around the implementation of solar panels and other climate friendly practices across the city. Our municipal buildings, including our schools, should be outfitted with the latest eco-efficient pieces of technology and be renovated (specifically New Franklin School and Little Harbor School) to meet the latest and greatest standards. When it pertains to alleviating climate change and elevating our green-practices across the city, we need to work closely as a City Council with organizations and groups such as Blue Ocean Society, Seacoast Science Center and statewide climate activist networks to determine what our best practices should and will be. Our efforts have been solely focused on baseline climate friendly practices when we should be establishing committees and citizens groups to bring together the greatest minds around the science of climate change. As a City Councilor, I will help in every single possible way to make this happen for our collective future, because we have no other choice.
8) Do you support the idea of seasonal road closures and/or barriers to accommodate outdoor dining at restaurants — even after the pandemic has (hopefully) subsided?
I am in complete support of seasonal road closures and/or barriers to accommodate outdoor dining for our restaurants. I am a big proponent of year-round outdoor eating and the development of permanent outdoor dining arrangements for our eateries. As I have mentioned above when it pertains to bike lanes, our neighbors across the pond in Europe have successfully implemented outdoor dining year-round, even into the depths of Winter. The reality that faces us right now is quite clear; the pandemic is going to see ups and downs, and we will have to adjust as so for a long time. This is why outdoor eating and dining setups for Portsmouth is so crucial to our combined success as a community.
9) What do you think the council can do to cultivate an environment of respect and collaboration and minimize hostility in local government?
Educate. Educate, educate and educate the public about municipal government and its role in our lives at every opportunity. The hostility and confusion amongst the community that we see at times is simply because we have failed as a society to inform and share HOW our structures of local government work. An environment of respect and collaboration with all who call Portsmouth home will start when we begin to develop new and exciting ways to educate the public about how their municipal government ACTUALLY works for them, and how we can work together to solve the greatest issues ahead of us and today.
10) Aside from the issues already raised in this questionnaire, please outline ONE other priority you would address as a city councilor over the next two years.
There is one major item that needs to be addressed, and that is Police accountability and budget here in the city. Not only have there been countless community members and grassroots groups calling for the implementation of body cams for all Portsmouth Police Officers, but some of our own current council members have been wanting to see this as well. Whether the statistics show low interest in this important accountability measure or not, having body cams in place means community safety and transparency across the board. It is so important that we continue to pursue and finally take hard action on this, while also addressing the police budget that has been used to buy drones and other police tech across the years. We have to ask ourselves as a community, what is more important? Police drones and updated cruisers, or more iPads and accessible technology for our special education programs within our local Portsmouth schools? This WILL be addressed and is a main priority of mine.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
This is such a great question, and I still don’t know just yet. Portsmouth Halloween Parade goers will just have to guess this year!
To see other candidates’ responses, click here.