Mary-Ann Baldwin

Raleigh COVID-19 Update, Reimagining Policing, Micromobility, and more

 August 21, 2020

The City Council held our regular meeting and work session this week to receive updates on Raleigh’s economic recovery, our COVID-19 response, as well as new policing practices from Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown. It was also our first meeting with our newest council member Stormie Forte, who was appointed to fill the vacant District D seat last month. We are grateful for her willingness to serve and all look forward to working together.

During the meeting, the Carolina Panthers announced a $150,000 donation to create a challenge course at Barwell Road Park in southeast Raleigh. This will be the first NFL Play 60 course in the Triangle. The course is expected to be completed next spring. You can learn more here. Thank you to the Carolina Panthers for your support and partnership!

Chief Deck-Brown provided an update on how the Raleigh Police Department is changing the way it responds to emergency calls dealing with mental health, homelessness or substance abuse issues. As a part of reimagining policing in Raleigh, spots originally designated for police officers will be filled with social workers, who will work in partnership with police to assist those in crisis and get individuals the support they need. This is a step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing the program developed and implemented. You can watch Chief Deck-Brown’s full presentation at the City Council meeting here.

The City Council also voted to move forward on options for bringing micromobility (such as scooters) back to Raleigh. The Transit and Transportation committee will approve new language for agreements with these companies next week. 

The City Council is also seeking to fill five vacancies on the Human Relations Commission. The Human Relations Commission works to promote equal opportunity and diversity in Raleigh. You can learn more and apply here if you’re interested in serving. Specifically, we need a representative between the ages of 16 and 21 years old. Please share if you know someone in this age group who may be interested. 

In the interest of public health, we made the decision to cancel all city-permitted major events through the end of the year. We are working with Artsplosure to come up with a First Night event, either virtual or drive through, to celebrate ringing in 2021.  

As NC State and other universities in the Triangle are again moving to remote instruction due to COVID-19 breakouts, I want to remind everyone to please continue to wash your hands, practice social distancing, and wear a mask in public. We are starting to see some encouraging trends, which means it’s more important than ever that we act responsibility to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a mask is no different than wearing a seat belt or a helmet. It is meant to protect all of us.

 

Building a More Equitable and Affordable Raleigh

July 8, 2020

Big changes are coming to Raleigh. Yesterday, the City Council took major steps forward to make our City more equitable, affordable, safer, and welcoming to all.

After several months of staff research and planning, we followed through on our promise to allow the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as granny flats, by right in every residential district of the City. At the suggestion of Councilor Stewart, we eliminated a rule limiting occupancy and will allow live-work units as well as short-term rentals. I’ve asked staff to look at ways that we can encourage the construction of more ADUs. Not only does this give Raleigh residents more control over their own property, it will increase housing choices and availability. We also expanded cottage courts – an example of the “missing middle housing” we are encouraging -- and eliminated minimum parking requirements downtown and in transit overlay districts. The latter change will allow housing to be built less expensively and moves us toward creating a less car-dependent city. 

Additionally, Raleigh voters will officially have the opportunity to vote on an $80 million affordable housing bond this November, as we voted to move forward with the bond at our council meeting yesterday. The bond includes funding for the construction of housing through public-private partnerships, low-income affordable housing, a first-time homebuyers program, and a home repair fund.

I, along with many of my fellow council members, campaigned on getting these things done, and yesterday we delivered. 

The City Council also voted unanimously to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday in the City of Raleigh following a motion from Councilor Corey Branch. This was long overdue and an important way to honor and recognize those who didn’t gain their freedom until long after our country’s founding. But we know it is not a substitute for the reforms people have been advocating for. The council unanimously approved a letter authored by Councilor Jonathan Melton that begins a dialogue with our state government on how we can work together to increase transparency and accountability and improve the relationship between the police and community. We hope that the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Inequity in Criminal Justice helps foster this conversation. 

As a result of the recent damage to downtown businesses (on top of the hit they had already taken from the COVID-19 pandemic), the Council voted to allocate funding to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance to help promote and restore downtown. Through the end of July, business owners can take advantage of an expedited permit process for storefront repairs. You can learn more and apply here.

We also made the tough decision to cancel or postpone all festivals, road races, parades, and other large gatherings in Raleigh through at least the end of October. COVID-19 is not going away and while we are disappointed, it is not safe or responsible to allow such events to move forward.  

As you may know, we are currently accepting applications to fill the vacant District D council seat. We are committed to bringing underrepresented voices to the table and hope to have a diverse pool of applicants. If you or someone you know is interested, you can learn more about the process and apply here.

Please remember to wear a mask when you are around others outside your home and practice social distancing. The City of Raleigh has been working with WakeMed to provide free masks to people in the hardest impacted areas of our community. There will be another free mask giveaway this Saturday, July 11th from 12pm to 3pm in Roberts Park. 

  

A First Step

June 10, 2020

Yesterday, with the support of the City Council, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown announced the adoption of several new policies, including a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds, to bring our City in alignment with Campaign Zero’s 8 Can’t Wait recommendations for policing. We appreciate the sense of urgency and the transparency with which this was done. The City plans to post police policies on our website shortly for the public to review and is also engaging an independent group of experts to review the police response to the protests. 

 

I want to thank all who have and continue to reach out, advocate, and make their voices heard on these and many other needed reforms. We’re listening, we hear you, and we know this is not enough. This is only the first step of a larger conversation we must continue to have on how we increase accountability and transparency – and build a city that is safe and equitable for our black community. I look forward to discussing the next steps, such as how we can reallocate resources within our police department to add more civilian social workers to aid our homeless community and those who need mental health support. We will also make appointments to our new Police Advisory Board at our meeting on June 16, which will begin reviewing police use of force policies when they convene. 

As I said last week, we are living in an important time in history and that becomes clearer every day. I’m committed to working with our City Council and all of you to seize this moment to create real, lasting change in our community. We have a lot of work to do. 

Stay safe and please continue to practice social distancing, wear a face covering, and wash your hands to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

 

 

Phase Two and City Council Update

May 22, 2020

Today at 5:00pm North Carolina will move into Phase Two – a “Safer at Home” recommendation. Restaurants, personal care services (salons and barbershops), and pools will be allowed to open at 50% capacity with additional restrictions. Bars and nightclubs, museums, playgrounds, gyms and fitness studios, and indoor entertainment venues will remain closed. You can find more details about Phase Two from DHHS on my Facebook page here. While Phase Two allows for a limited reopening of some businesses, please continue to stay at home when possible, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, and wear a face covering when you do go out.

This week, the City Council held a productive virtual meeting to take action on a variety of items. We reviewed the recommended city budget from our city manager. While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on our city’s finances, the budget includes no tax increases or cuts to city staff. We are able to save money through a freeze on non-essential hiring, reducing training and travel, and cancelling or postponing some events and projects. Due to the large crowds it attracts, the budget also recommends cancelling the Fourth of July fireworks celebration usually held at the fairgrounds. The budget includes over $6 million for affordable housing as well as funding for our new Office of Equity and Inclusion. 

The council is also considering an added public safety package to fund critical needs for our police and fire departments. The package would require a property tax increase of roughly $17 for the median home valued at $255,000, and would fund 50 new police officers and firefighters. The package would also create a special unit to work with our homeless community and those suffering from mental illness and expand services in our domestic violence unit.

The virtual public hearing on the budget will be held Tuesday, June 2nd at 7:00pm. Please share your thoughts at the public hearing on June 2nd by speaking or submitting comments ahead of time. You can also email me anytime at mary-ann.balwdin@raleighnc.govYou can read the budget and learn more on the city website here.

In anticipation of the state moving into Phase Two this week, we discussed the potential for closing sections of streets and parking lots or expanding sidewalk space for outdoor dining, which would allow restaurant employees and their patrons to more safely practice social distancing. We are researching ways to implement this equitabily. No decisions have been made yet, but we plan to continue the discussion with new details at our June 2nd council meeting. Given the increased bicycle and pedestrian traffic, the council also directed city staff to examine how we can restrict vehicle traffic on key streets near greenways to allow for safer shared use of the roads.

The Affordable Housing Bond Advisory Committee presented their recommendations for an affordable housing bond to be placed on the ballot this fall. The presentation included the results of our affordable housing bond survey, which showed strong support for the effort. The committee recommended a bond of $80 million for affordable units at 30% of the area median income with an additional city subsidy. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit low-income families the hardest, and housing affordability will be more important than ever as we grapple with the economic fallout. We are still considering a variety of proposals and will vote June 2nd on whether to place the bond on the ballot this fall and at what final dollar amount.

The city voted to enter a 15-year partnership with the Dix Park Conservancy, a non-profit committed to building Raleigh’s Dix Park into a world class destination park. While we have decided to delay a potential parks bond due to economic constraints, this marks a significant step forward in the build-out of Dix Park.

I’m also excited to announce that we appointed 15 members to our new Hispanic and Immigrant Affairs Board. We created this board earlier this year to give this vital part of our community a voice in city affairs. I’m looking forward to hearing the advice and recommendations of this board.

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, I hope you’ll join me in taking some time to honor and reflect on the lives and service of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. Let’s also remember the fallen frontline workers who put everything on the line to save lives during this pandemic.

 

Advisory Boards and City Council Update

May 16, 2020

This week, the City Council held a virtual work session to discuss the city budget and receive updates on two new boards we created this year – the Hispanic and Immigrant Affairs Board and the Police Advisory Board. We received 57 applications for the Hispanic and Immigrant Affairs Board and have begun the process of reviewing applications. 

We voted to reopen applications for the Police Advisory Board to encourage more people to apply so we can have the most diverse pool of applicants possible to reflect the diversity of our city. This is an important board that will foster needed conversations, review Raleigh Police Department procedures, help create policy, and build trust with our community. Please consider applying or sending the application to someone you know who may be interested. You can learn more here.

The application for the Raleigh Small Business COVID-19 Relief Fund is now live. Up to $10,000 is available to local businesses with 49 employees or less and an annual revenue under $2.5 million. The application will remain available through Thursday, May 21st. You can learn more and apply here.

As a reminder, Raleigh will begin limited curbside yard waste collection on May 19th, following our state’s phased reopening plan. Learn more about how to prepare here.

Next Tuesday, May 19th, the City Council will hold a virtual meeting at 1PM where we will discuss the budget and the recommendations of the Affordable Housing Bond Advisory Committee. As always, you can watch live on the City websiteYouTube, and RTN 11. If you aren’t already, you can also follow my Facebook and Instagram pages for updates.

 

City Council Meeting and COVID-19 Update

May 8, 2020

This week, we recognize National Nurses Week and Teacher Appreciation Week. I want to express our city’s gratitude for our nurses who are on the frontlines of this pandemic, saving lives and keeping our community safe and healthy every day. Raleigh’s teachers are also working harder than ever to adapt to digital learning and providing our students with the resources they need to be successful. Thank you for all you do.

The City Council held a virtual meeting this week to move forward on regular city business, receive updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, and allocate relief funding. We held a public hearing on federal CARES Act funding and voted to allocate $1.8 million for rent, mortgage, and utility assistance for households below 50% of the area median income, and $1 million in funding for eviction and homelessness prevention for families below 30% of the area median income.

We also acted on our continued goal of improving community engagement and giving residents more opportunities to have their voices heard. Earlier this year, we took several steps forward to make it easier for the public to be heard at council meetings and significantly increased the window to sign up for public comments at council meetings. We also voted this week to hire Mickey Fearn, a professor at NC State University with an extensive background in community relations and engagement, to begin gathering input from community members to craft a plan for an expanded and accessible system of neighborhood engagement on important city policies and decisions.

I’m also excited to announce that applications for the $1 million Raleigh Small Business Relief Fund that the City Council approved will go live on Monday, May 11th. You can learn more on the Carolina Small Business Development Fund website here. For more information, you can watch a webinar held earlier this week here.

I also want to thank our corporate community for stepping up to help our small businesses. So far we have $310,000 in commitments to match the City’s funding of the Relief Fund from Duke Energy, PNC, Wells Fargo, Biogen, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Capitol Broadcasting Company, First Horizons, Clancy & Theys Construction, Heritage Properties, Martin Marietta, Bank of America and Engineered Tower Solutions. Thank you!

Earlier this week, the Governor announced that our state will move into Phase One beginning today, May 8th, at 5 p.m. Phase One will allow retail businesses to open at 50% capacity only if they are able to introduce social distancing and increased sanitization measures. I support our Governor’s plan – it is thorough and backed by science and data. This is not a “reopening.” The stay-at-home order remains in place, and I ask that you continue to stay at home unless you need to go out for an essential reason. If you do go out, please practice social distancing and wear a face covering to protect yourself and others.  If we all work together, other businesses, including restaurants barber shops, and salons, etc., will be able to re-open sooner.

As we head into Mother’s Day weekend, I want to recognize all of Raleigh’s moms who are wearing more hats than ever during this pandemic – mother, teacher, caretaker, and more. You are all amazing and have my utmost respect.

In the spirit of togetherness this Mother’s Day, I’ve partnered with The Sunday Supper to help raise money for the North Carolina Restaurant Worker’s Relief Fund. For every image of a Mother’s Day meal shared on social media using the hashtags #TogetherAtOneTable and #ReclaimSunday, The Sunday Supper will donate $1 to the Restaurant Worker’s Relief Fund. While we are unable to come together for a large gathering, I hope that you are able to gather with your family or friends with you at home and set 1,000 supper tables to show gratitude.

  

Raleigh Needs to Wait on Reopening

May 1, 2020

Earlier this week, The News & Observer published an op-ed I wrote on the COVID-19 pandemic and how we move forward on reopening Raleigh. The column in its entirety is included below. 

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Mayor Baldwin: Raleigh needs to wait on reopening

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives in ways that we couldn’t have imagined just a few months ago. It’s kept us away from our friends and families. Raleigh’s cultural soul – our small businesses – have been forced to close. And hundreds of thousands across our state have lost their jobs. This crisis has hit the most vulnerable among us especially hard. These are some of the most challenging times our city has ever faced, but we will get through it together if we continue to stay at home, socially distance and follow the advice of our public health experts.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our city, county and state implemented strong measures to slow the spread of the virus. The data shows that the actions we’ve taken are working, but the numbers also show that now is not the time to reopen. We’re beginning to see early signs of the curve flatting, but just last week, North Carolina saw its second largest day-over-day increase in new cases of COVID-19. I fully support Gov. Roy Cooper’s extension of our statewide stay-at-home order and his plan for a gradual, phased re-opening only after we have strong evidence that new cases are declining. 

Everyone is ready to return to a sense of normalcy and bring stability back into our lives. We will get there sooner rather than later if we continue to stick together in staying apart.

In the meantime, Raleigh sees you, hears you, and we are doing what we can to ensure you are supported. One of the first steps our city took was to reconnect all water and sewer accounts that were suspended due to non-payment. More recently, we raised the consumption tiers for residential water rates to ensure that families aren’t penalized for increased water use. In recent weeks, we’ve allocated city funding for our homeless and housing insecure and have begun crafting a plan to use federal CARES Act funding to provide rent, utility and mortgage assistance as well as eviction prevention for families below 30 percent of the area median income. Last week, we acted to support our small businesses community. We established the Raleigh Small Business Grant Fund and committed $1 million in funding for businesses. with fewer than 49 employees and annual revenue under $2.5 million. 

In light of the economic hardship that so many have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, I can understand why some are frustrated and are calling for a reopening of our city and state. But I believe calls for reopening are misguided. We need to put science first. Once we have the testing capabilities and observe a significant trend of declining cases, we can start the process of reopening.

Raleigh will come together again, and I look forward to that time. Our local businesses will be open and thriving, we’ll enjoy the atmosphere of our favorite restaurants and bars, city streets will be busy, art galleries and museums will showcase the creativity and vibrant culture of our community, and Raleigh will again feel like the home we love. But in order for that to happen, we have to make sure our friends, neighbors and loved ones are still here tomorrow. Raleigh has survived difficult times before and we will survive this too. Stay home and take care of yourselves.

 

Supporting Small Businesses and Keeping Raleigh Safe

 April 24, 2020

I want to wish Ramadan Mubarak to all in Raleigh who are celebrating this month. I hope you and your family are able to find peace and happiness even in this difficult time. 

The Raleigh City Council held a special virtual city council meeting this week to provide support for small businesses and the housing insecure as we continue to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on our city. The council also moved to allow virtual neighborhood meetings for rezonings so that our residents can continue to remain engaged while staying at home during COVID-19.

To assist Raleigh’s housing insecure, the city began crafting a plan to provide rent, utility, and mortgage assistance as well as homelessness and eviction prevention for families below 30% of the area median income using CARES Act funding. The plan requires a public hearing that will take place on May 5th

We also approved $1 million toward a grant fund to help Raleigh’s small businesses, as many have been unable to get immediate assistance from the federal government. Raleigh’s 33,000 small businesses are the cultural soul of our community and I’m proud and excited to step up to support them. Small businesses can learn more about the program here. We are working to open applications as soon as possible, and hope to have it up and running by May 5th. Please continue to check the website daily for any updates. 

On Thursday, the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce held a call to request corporate support for the Raleigh Small Business Fund. We challenged them to match the $1 million from the city to further support our small business community. Thank you to the 44 corporate partners who joined us. If you are interested in helping (any dollar amount will be appreciated), please reach out to me or Adrienne Cole at the Chamber.

Yesterday, the Governor announced that our statewide stay-at-home order will be extended until at least May 8th.  He also unveiled a phased plan to reopen our state. I fully support our Governor’s plan, which is driven by data and the advice of public health experts. The leaders of Wake County’s 12 municipalities will be discussing how to modify our own stay-at-home order next week. Before we begin a phased reopening, we need to greatly ramp up our testing and tracing capabilities and we need to see a real trend of decline in cases. We are just not there yet, but we can get there with our continued efforts to stay at home. We are doing the right thing and it’s working. 

 

Staying at Home is Working

 April 17, 2020

Yesterday, Wake County, in coordination with all 12 of its municipalities, extended its stay-at-home order through April 30th. I stand with our county leaders and my fellow mayors in supporting this effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Under the updated stay-at-home guidelines, all retail businesses in Raleigh and countywide will be allowed to operate if they provide delivery or curbside pickup options for customers. The new order also allows faith organizations to hold drive-in services if social distancing practices are followed. 

These have been some of the most challenging times we’ve faced as a community, but I want to emphasize that staying at home is working. We are still working with health officials to gather the most up-to-date local data possible, and we are seeing evidence of the curve beginning to flatten across North Carolina. This wouldn’t have been possible without your continued commitment to staying at home and following social distancing guidelines. Eventually, there will be a time to discuss how we begin to relax restrictions and reopen some businesses, but we can only do so based on definitive data, the advice of our public health experts and an ample supply of testing and PPE. Please continue to follow orders from our city, Wake County and our Governor to keep our community safe. 

I realize not everyone has the luxury of staying at home, and that many of Raleigh’s residents rely on public transportation to get to work, the pharmacy, and grocery stores. The city is taking every precaution to ensure the safety of bus drivers and other frontline workers by providing them with sanitization pumps and PPE and focusing on social distancing. If you do have to go out for an essential reason, I strongly encourage you to wear a face covering in the interest of your safety and the safety of others. You can learn how to make one at home from the CDC’s website here.

This week marks National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, and I want to thank the men and women of Raleigh and Wake County who respond to emergency calls and save lives in our community every day. They are some of the unseen heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. I also want to thank all of Raleigh’s public safety employees, our health care workers, and all city workers who are on the frontlines of this crisis.

Next Tuesday, the city council will hold a special meeting to discuss a grant fund for small businesses in Raleigh as well as distribution of emergency funds from the CARES Act. In the meantime, small businesses and impacted workers can find coronavirus-related resources from the City of Raleigh and more here. The meeting is virtual via Webex and starts at 1pm. You may watch on the City’s websiteYouTube, or RTN 11.

COVID-19 and City Council Meeting Update

April 10, 2020

This is a special week for many of us as we celebrate Passover and Easter, even if it’s not the way any of us imagined spending it. Even though we are physically apart, I hope you are able to enjoy the holidays with those you do have at home and keep in touch with your friends and family remotely.

This week, the city council held its first ever virtual meeting as we continue to monitor and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ll get to new actions we took in a minute, but first, I have a special request:  I and all members of the city council are making donations to three non-profits that are on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 in Raleigh – Oak City Cares, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, and the NC Restaurant Workers Relief Fund. We’ve already raised $6,500, and an anonymous donor has just pledged to give $50,000 if we can raise another $10,000.  If you’re able, please consider donating here.

In our virtual meeting, we received updates on the state of COVID-19 and discussed how we can further act to slow the spread in Raleigh. One of the first actions we took at the beginning of this crisis was to reinstate all water and sewer services that were disconnected due to non-payment. This week, we voted to expand the consumption tiers of our residential water rates, preventing those that are staying at home from being pushed into our highest rate for increased water usage. The city is continuing to work closely with local non-profits and our county to provide shelter with appropriate social distancing measures for our city’s homeless and housing insecure, as well as providing staging areas for food distribution across Raleigh. We voted to allocate $100,000 in emergency assistance to individuals and families with children living in hotels, understanding that these members of our community are some of the hardest impacted by COVID-19. 

Over the past week, Raleigh has taken further steps to modify public transportation and city services so that we can continue to serve the public in this crisis while keeping everyone protected. We have limited bus routes except to those that serve hospitals and other essential facilities, instituted social distancing seating policies, and provided sanitization pumps for all bus operators and the public. We are continuing to work to protect all city workers by limiting exposure to each other and the public, including providing PPE to all front-line workers and temporarily limiting some solid waste services.

Protecting Raleigh’s 33,400 small businesses and their workers remains a top priority and we are continuing to research ways to support our business community. I provided some resources for small businesses and employees here. You can find even more resources on the Office of Economic Development and Innovation’s website here.

I also announced this week that due to the stress COVID-19 has placed on city resources, we will not be moving forward with a parks bond this year. Parks and greenways have become our refuge over the past few weeks, but we now have an economic crisis looming. We will continue to pursue placing a housing bond on the ballot this year. 

Finally – some good news that I’m excited to share. Software communications company Bandwidth has chosen to expand Raleigh, bringing 1,165 new jobs to our city. The company is also investing $100 million in a new campus on the Blue Ridge Corridor. It’s a great reminder in these difficult times that Raleigh’s best days are still ahead.

As we head into the holiday weekend, please stay safe, be kind, and enjoy time with friends and family over the phone or through video conference. We are Raleigh, and we will get through this together.