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Less than three weeks before the upcoming election, City Council candidates know what the issues are in Virginia Beach.
During a candidates’ forum Thursday evening at the Oberndorf Central Library, they had a chance to address some of them, including Hurricane Matthew, which has left more than 100 families uprooted from their homes, and the need to bring millennials to the city. The discussion, which attracted a mostly non-millennial audience, was moderated by Karen Forget, executive director of Lynnhaven River NOW. Panelists were Wendy Vaughn, conservation chair of the Garden Club of Virginia, and Sam Reid, president of the Virginia Beach Council of Civic Organizations.
With the event coming almost two weeks after the storm swept through Hampton Roads, current council members reacted strongly to questions about the city’s response and how the community might avoid a similar crisis in the future.
“We are prone to floods second only to New Orleans,” said council member Amelia N. Ross-Hammond. “We still need to applaud our city for its response.”
Rosemary Wilson, another council member, shared details about council projects that are currently in the works.
“We have supported legislative action, and we’re asking the governor to put in a cabinet position for sea level rise,” she said. “But something people don’t realize is that a lot of cities have deep water wells. We were forward thinking enough to get our water from Lake Gaston to keep from depleting our wells. So that’s a really good thing that we’re doing.”
Courtney L. LaLange, a candidate for council, had a more pointed assessment of Virginia Beach’s storm- water capabilities, and how the city should move forward as it rebuilds.
“We know that our infrastructure for storm water damage is not sufficient — and that there’s no budget for it,” said LaLonge. “However, we’re not the only city dealing with this. We need to align in our region to start setting ourselves up to receive federal funding to start fixing this billion dollar problem.”
Disaster prevention was not the only big-dollar project discussed during the forum.
The proposed light rail project, which would create a roughly three-mile extension of the Tide light rail from Newtown Road to Virginia Beach’s Town Center, was a hot topic among candidates, as well as the audience. The proposal will be the subject of a non-binding referendum on Nov. 8.
Mayoral candidate George Furman had sharp words for the light-rail extension, which Mayor Will Sessoms supports.
“$300 million for three miles? I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a lot of money,” he said. “Responsible individuals should not leave their grandchildren a debt that they cannot pay. If you vote yes to light rail, you’re voting for taxing your kids for the rest of their lives.”
Ben Davenport, a council member who represented Sessoms at the forum in light of his absence, explained the mayor’s views.
“Mayor Sessoms is a big proponent of light rail, and the fact of the matter is that when they said it won’t reduce congestion is just incorrect.” he said. “Mayor Sessoms has emphatically stated that it would be a mistake to turn down the money provided by the state for this project.”
Several candidates also saw the light rail as a way to cater to millennials–a population the city has struggled to maintain.
Others, including candidate Jessica Abbott, whose bio for the forum said she is an entrepreneur and flood-insurance agent, pointed to the need for a wider variety of career options throughout community.
“We need to implement programs that are alternates to college, like trade schools, vocational schools, and entrepreneurship opportunities,” she said.
Another candidate, Pam Witham, whose bio said she is a wife, mom and businesswoman, also felt a young population could be best maintained through better career and lifestyle options.
“We need better offerings in marine biology or environmental diversification–jobs that would environmentally benefit the city,” she said. “We also need to start thinking about how to create safe, affordable housing for recent college graduates.”
Shannon Kane, a council member, echoed their concerns on catering to recent graduates.
“We need to keep tracking down advanced manufacturing jobs, and industries that export goods outside of our area so that tax revenue can come in to Virginia Beach, not just from it,” she said.
The polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8th. If you are unsure of a polling location, go to https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation.
This event was sponsored by Lynnhaven River NOW, The Virginia Beach Council of Civic Organizations, the Virginia Beach Garden Club and the Princess Anne Garden Club.