What the mayoral candidates said
Columbia City Council candidates for the Third and Fourth Wards participated Tuesday night in a virtual forum on climate and energy concerns.
Incumbents Karl Skala and Roy Lovelady are vying for the Third Ward seat, while Erica Pefferman and Nick Foster are running for the Fourth Ward seat currently held by Ian Thomas, who is not seeking re-election.
The mayoral candidates had the opportunity to answer the same questions on February 23.
Candidates received the seven questions before the forum in order to prepare the answers and conduct the necessary research.
Forum organizers include Citizens’ Climate Lobby of Columbia, Climate Leaders at Mizzou, Mid-Missouri Peace Works, Osage Group Sierra Club, and Renew Missouri.
The municipal election is set for April 5.
Here are four questions posed to candidates and excerpts from their responses:
Would you support the 2030 target date for 100% renewable energy in Colombia?
“We have to do everything we can to make sure we tackle this aggressively,” Skala said.
The council needs to re-examine the city’s coal contracts and consider getting out of it, he added.
“We have to start now,” Lovelady said, echoing Skala’s statement. “We need to think about how to get the ball rolling now, so that we can actually get going, move forward and conquer that renewable energy goal by 2030.”
Lovelady said that if elected, one of his priorities while working towards the goal would be to ensure the measures taken are affordable and fair for all citizens, citing concerns about potential rate increases for already vulnerable populations.
Pefferman said she, too, is wary of potential rate increases that could come from the transition to renewable energy, which would put a greater strain on low-income people.
“The city must be willing to invest resources to pay for it in a way that we achieve it without overburdening those who are less fortunate or don’t have the money to make the necessary changes,” he said. she stated.
Foster also expressed support for the 2030 goal, but expressed concern about the feasibility of the goal with the coal contracts the city still finds itself in.
“We have to move faster and we have to move forward with intention,” Foster said. “I believe we can do it as a city.”
What policies would you suggest to increase the use of public transit to reduce the use of fossil fuels?
It’s important that the city’s bus system remains free for all residents, but new routes should be considered, Lovelady said.
“The system itself as we currently have it is not adequate,” he said.
Lovelady spoke about his personal experience with the routes, adding that he had to walk 30 minutes from his home to catch the bus. Getting from one end of town to the other took nearly two hours, he said.
“We haven’t aligned with a transit-centric system yet,” Skala said. “We have the bare bones of a mass transit system.”
The city has been working to transition to an electric bus fleet, and it will continue to advocate for those changes, Skala said.
“Addressing transportation is a critical element in achieving greenhouse gas reductions,” Foster said. “…We need a robust public transportation system that becomes second nature for use by all of our residents.”
Such a system has been done in other cities similar in size to Columbia, which makes him confident it can be done here, Foster said.
“Right now, (the public transit system) is not usable by the people who need it the most,” Pefferman said. “…A public transport system – healthy and robust – is one of the key elements of a scorecard that identifies a thriving city.”
Pefferman rounded out the conversation by saying she supports changing the messaging surrounding the transit system to encourage increased use.
Do you think it is appropriate to delay annexation in sensitive areas of Columbia, including Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and Gans Creek Nature Area?
Each candidate spoke about the importance of preserving Columbia’s natural areas and using science-based regulations to move forward when discussing potential annexation and development in those areas.
However, neither candidate supported the idea organizers brought to the table to remove R-1 zoning from the city’s zoning ordinances.
“I think the city and the community would benefit from working on the same definition of what are sensitive areas with respect to further development,” Lovelady said. “It would help bring everyone to the same understanding, working towards the same goals.”
A better understanding of the impacts of development on sensitive areas and their adjacent lands could help protect them, he added.
Skala continued the conversation by stating his support for delaying annexation in sensitive areas of Columbia.
“My inclinations are to lean towards protecting some of these protected areas and to negotiate very rigorously with some of the developers,” he said. “… Public involvement and some from the development community and the environmental community can get us to the right place.”
All groups need to be included in the conversation to reach compromise and achieve goals, Skala said. Protecting Columbia’s natural areas is vital, he said.
Foster reflected on his experience when speaking with a resident of the Fourth Ward who said he recognized the need to protect the land, but the lack of housing might be seen as a bigger concern.
“I believe we can be both practical and protective,” Foster said. “…Times demand creative approaches to protecting the environment while maintaining and improving the quality of life for all our citizens.”
Increased density and infill potential must be considered when implementing development plans that address both housing need and environmental impacts, he said.
Pefferman added that when considering potential solutions, it’s important to recognize that “none of them are black or white or yes or no” to move forward.
“I certainly think it’s appropriate to delay any annexation until the UDC (Unified Development Code) is revised, and it needs to be revised for many reasons,” she said. “When it was originally developed, it was with the intention that it would be revised and revisited as unforeseen consequences occurred. It has been many years and it has yet to been done.”
Would you be in favor of a policy of setting up an energy score for rental housing in order to improve the energy efficiency of housing?
More than half of the housing in Colombia is rental housing. Many have energy efficiency and weatherization issues, causing tenants to become energy guzzlers and spend too much of their income on utility bills, the start of the candidate question read.
Each candidate spoke in favor of improving the energy efficiency of rental housing in Colombia for the benefit of tenants and as a way to make progress towards achieving climate action goals.
While all the candidates were in favor of some form of energy rating, none believed that making it mandatory would help make progress towards the goal of reducing energy consumption.
“We have to do something, we have to do it now,” Skala said. “We need to stop making excuses for why we can’t afford or can’t do what we need to achieve those goals.”
Skala cited a history of tension between the tenant community and landlords when addressing issues of energy efficiency and utility assistance.
“It’s always been a problem trying to figure out what the incentives are to encourage landlords to make their properties more energy efficient,” he said.
Lovelady expressed her view that both sides could be defended, citing her belief that the energy rating would lead to higher rent, but the current inefficiency is already weighing on people with high utility bills.
“We need to fix what needs to be fixed so that tenants are not significantly impacted by the cost of energy inefficiency,” he said. “I don’t know if I would go so far as to create a policy, but I would definitely find a way to incentivize it for owners.”
Pefferman added that she was concerned that requiring energy ratings for rental units would reduce enthusiasm for playing a role in meeting climate action goals.
Instead, she said, the necessary resources should be provided to landlords to incentivize and lead them to want to pursue energy ratings for the benefit of their homes and the people who rent them.
“I think we should use a great communication plan to explain why it’s important and not use a tactic of forcing people into a situation,” she said. “…Making it harder, mandating and intimidating people is not a good idea, but giving vision, giving them incentives, providing resources and encouraging them to do what enables us to achieve our goal , that’s the right way to do it.”
Foster echoed a similar sentiment, saying the energy rating could lead to lower tenant sales because high rent and utility costs wouldn’t have the same burden.
“When those who struggle struggle less, we all benefit,” he said. “…I would support an approach such as energy rating for efficiency standards that would at least give potential tenants a good idea of what their energy costs will be and, more importantly, reduce the energy expenditure of rental housing in their whole.”
He added that any approach used will require the support and participation of landlords, landowners and tenants to take full advantage of it.