The Sound’s 2015 Portsmouth City Council Voter’s Guide: Eric Spear

Portsmouth Voters Guide
Eric Spear

Eric Spear
Age: 46
Occupation: President of a higher education technology firm
Years living in Portsmouth: 17
Prior public service experience: Eight years on the city council

How often do you walk into downtown or use public transportation? What can the city do to encourage more pedestrian traffic and public transit use?
I walk or ride my bike downtown every day. People respond to incentives. So, making walking and biking easier and more accessible than driving is the best way to encourage more use. For example, I had been pushing for a bike rack on Market Street for six years. Finally, this summer, the city installed one on a pilot basis. This sends a clear message to everyone, and the message is that we encourage everyone to consider biking downtown rather than using a car. In a similar fashion, we can adjust the traffic signals to prioritize pedestrians over cars.

How would you address growth and development throughout Portsmouth?
I am concerned that the endless appeals and cumbersome and lengthy approval process discourages investment, and diminishes creativity, especially downtown. I’d like to help the land use boards expedite the process. It will be easier for the developers, the boards, and the public if we can be more efficient. I would also continue our capital spending in non-downtown infrastructure. When done right, private investment follows public investment. We see that on Route 1, Atlantic Heights, and perhaps soon on Market Street Extension.

What can the city do to restore public confidence in the police department and the police commission?
I have long advocated for the abolition of the police commission. All of the problems we are having with the department are due to elected civilian oversight, and we’d be better off with professional management through the city manager, and with policy and direction set by the council. In lieu of that, I challenge the voters this November to choose two commissioners who will restore confidence and integrity to the department.

How can Portsmouth encourage the development of more affordable and workforce housing?
Affordable housing must be considered in a regional context. Portsmouth already has half its housing stock in the form of rentals, and a lot of that is heavily subsidized. We compare strongly in those metrics when compared to our surrounding Seacoast towns. In addition, while Portsmouth provides substantial funding for COAST (bus service), other Seacoast towns choose to withhold their funding entirely. And of course, Concord contributes nothing. I mention this because public transportation is in fact part of the affordable housing equation. Finally, I want to remind everyone that the council has put in place multiple incentives for developers to build affordable housing. However, I have seen many examples where nearby residents vigorously oppose the affordable housing units. The city will continue to advocate for affordable housing. But now the time has come for citizens to also stand up and be heard whenever an affordable housing project works its way through the land use process.

What role should the council have in working with the Prescott Park Arts Festival to address residents’ complaints about noise?
The council has two roles: First, (in early September), I proposed that the council initiate a community discussion centered on our vision for Prescott Park. The council agreed, and having the council invested in the success of that discussion will ensure its success. Finally, the council must sign-off on the completed vision, which in turn will drive the lease agreement between the park and the festival, and the stage relocation/reconstruction.

How can Portsmouth respond and adapt to the impacts of climate change?
Portsmouth has undergone massive sewer upgrades over the past 15 years. These projects reduce flooding during our larger and more frequent storms. In terms of new development, the council and planning board have both required improvements in storm water management.

What is one recent change for the better in the city, and one you hope to champion as a councilor?
The council approval for a second parking garage was a huge success for anyone living or working downtown, and for any taxpayer. I had been pushing for another garage for many years, and I’m excited to see it closer to reality. As it comes online, I’d like to see us re-purpose our existing surface parking lots into better uses. These could be parks, buildings, market venues, or other possibilities.

What was the most recent cultural event you attended in Portsmouth?
I attended the Bela Fleck concert in Prescott Park.

What is the most important issue facing the city that no one is talking about yet?
While we have spent a lot of time discussing and designing the new sewage treatment plant, another EPA issue is upon us. We will soon need to tackle stormwater, and it may require new fees or taxes. I think this is going to be a big challenge for all of us.